The Elk Run community and church

“I am deeply awed by all of you for creating history here. History is ambivalent. There are facts, but facts are useless until you make something of them. We know, and we knew for a long time, that there was an Elk Run Church… but it is thanks to you and all your volunteers that have actually turned this into a reality…. It can only grow as time progresses.”

—Colonial church historian Carl Lounsbury, Williamsburg Foundation

Early History

The Mannahoac Indians lived in several towns in Virginia’s northern piedmont area, above the falls of the Rappahannock River as far upriver as the Rapidan River.  They were allies of the Monacan Indians to the south, and like the Monacan they spoke a Siouan language.  The Mannahoac initially confronted Captain John Smith when he explored the Rapphannock River in 1608.  Using the information they gave him, Smith mapped three Mannahoac towns on the map of Virginia he published in 1612.

Like most Virginia Indians at the time of English contact, the Mannahoac farmed, hunted, fished, and supplemented their diet with fruits and nuts they gathered. Little information about them remains, as they successfully avoided European contact for decades.

Accounts from early European visitors indicate that the Mannahoac were no longer living in this area by the late 1650s.  It is likely that they moved due to increasing attacks from Iroquoian speaking tribes from the north, such as the Susquahannock. Some of them may have joined the Monacan to the south.  They may also have suffered from exposure to English borne diseases. [1]

European settlers began moving into this region of Fauquier County in the early 1700s. By the establishment of Hamilton Parish in 1730, there were several hundred people living in the Elk Run vicinity of northern Virginia. A wooden Chapel already existed by 1744 when Prince William Minute Books makes note of road repairs being done in front of the Elk Run Chapel. This wooden church structure served Anglican communicants in Elk Run and provided pastoral care as well as secular administration for this active frontier community.

The Church served respectively as a governing and administrative body under British colonial rule, and the bustling village of the 1750s boasted a tavern, a blacksmith shop, an ordinary, and was a stopover point for travelers going north or west in the constant expansion into what later came Fauquier County.

The first permanent minister, The Reverend James Keith, a native of Scotland and grandfather of Chief Justice John Marshall, served this church and the rest of Hamilton Parish from the 1740s until his death in 1752. He supervised the building of a brick cruciform structure to replace the first, wooden church in the 1750s. This structure was first noted on the 1755 Fry & Jefferson map.

Elk Run was a stopping point, for both rest and supplies, for military and militia during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and the Revoluntionary War (1775-1781).

The 19th Century

As the village grew and agriculture flourished, a post office was established in 1803. The church, however, once the very landmark of the community, fell into disuse after the Revolutionary War and the separation of church and state.

After 1811, Elk Run Church fell into disuse and ruin. The church began to disappear as local villagers used its brick, wood and stone in building their houses.

“It was a substantial brick church — cruciform, I believe. I am not certain that the roof was on it when I first saw it in 1811. Its walls continued for many years after this, and I saw them gradually disappear during my annual visits to the convention.”

—Bishop William Meade of Virginia, 1857

Early 20th Century

By the early 1900s, Elk Run was a considerably smaller place but still had three general stores, a tavern, and a post office. The post office closed in 1907 and moved to the Midland community further north. A one-room school was still in use in Elk Run until circa 1925.

Current History

Re-discovery of Elk Run and Fauquier County’s First Anglican Church began in 1998 when a neighbor started clearing brush on the Elk Run property. Less than a year later, members of St. Stephen’s Church in Catlett began to uncover the remains of what was the first brick church in Fauquier County’s mid-1700s frontier.

Until now, the church foundation and artifacts had been hidden from view for about 170 years. Community volunteers under the direction of volunteer archaeologist Dr. John Eddins dug a total of 34 controlled excavation units between April 2000 and June 2002. Findings are plotted on a grid to help track their spatial relation¬ships within the site. To date, found artifacts include handmade nails, ceramic dish fragments, 19th century coins and Indian arrowheads dating back 5000 years or more.

1) Narrative on Mannahoac Indians was provided by Deanna E. Beacham, Virginia Council on Indians, Office of the Governor, and primary source material for the narrative came from sources listed below and edited by Edward W. Haile:

1996 England in America: The Chesapeake Bay from Jamestown to St. Mary’s City, 1607-1634. Towns from Smith and Zuniga maps on a modern base map. Dietz Press, Richmond, Virginia.

1998 Jamestown Narratives: Eyewitness Accounts of the Virginia Colony: The First Decade 1607-1617. RoundHouse, Champlain, Virginia.  (John Smith’s writings are included.)

For more information on Virginia Indians.

For Virginia Council on Indians suggested educational resources.