Our church origins extend back over three hundred years to the year 1701. The founding community of Huguenots was made up of French Protestants who followed the teachings of John Calvin. They had been forced to leave their homeland by the religious persecution that followed Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Fleeing to England, they became ardent supporters of William of Orange and helped him defeat James II. In gratitude for their support, William made it possible, in 1700, for many of them to move to the American Colonies by providing them with both land and financial aid.
On June 23, 1700, the first shipload of Huguenots arrived in Virginia, followed later that same year by two more shiploads of refugees. Further aided by William Byrd, they settled on land along the James River about twenty miles west of Richmond. Formerly a Monacan Indian settlement, the new community was known as Manakintowne. In December 1700, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed an act stating that the French settlers constituted a “distinct parish themselves” that would be called King William Parish. Additionally, they were exempted from having to pay any parish taxes and were allowed to determine the appropriate salary for their clergy. “The parish was duly organized and, by common consent or agreement, the liturgy of the Church of England was used in their services. There seems no reason to doubt that they might have retained a dissenting status and held services in their own language if they had so desired, as did the German Lutherans who came into the Shenandoah Valley forty years later. But certainly the Huguenots adopted the wiser course in holding their services in the language of the country in which they expected to make their future home.” 1
The first church, a small octagon-shaped log structure, was built in 1701 under the direction of its first rector, Benjamin de Joux. By 1710, another structure was built with logs at a cost of 21,600 pounds of tobacco to be paid over the course of three years. Around 1730, the site of the church was moved to a location near our present church. The church was destroyed by fire during the Revolutionary War. It was rebuilt in 1789 and served until 1894. At this time, with the congregation dwindling, the building had fallen into disrepair and was too large for the current membership. The vestry had it torn down and a smaller fourth church was built in 1895 for $129.00, using the materials salvaged from the old church. In 1987, the vestry of Manakin Church donated the fourth church building to the Huguenot Society and had it moved onto their property next to the Manakin Church property, where it still stands today. In 1954, the present brick structure was built with generous financial help derived from the sale of timber harvested on grounds adjacent to the church owned by the Huguenot Society of the founders of Manakin in the Colony of Virginia.
Many clergy have served Manakin. In leaner years, especially those following the Civil War, the church was served primarily by itinerant ministers, many of whom formed strong personal bonds with the people of the church. In 1960, The Reverend William Gerow Christian became Rector of Manakin-Saint Luke’s Cure. Manakin and its neighbor, Saint Luke’s, shared the rector, staff, and many activities. During the thirty-year tenure of The Reverend Lawrence Mason, 1967-1997, both churches grew and became separate parishes. He was succeeded by The Reverend Bruce Bevans, who served for two years. The Reverend Michael Stone was called by Manakin in August 2004 and retired in 2015. The Reverend Gini DiStanislao was called by Manakin in 2017 and began serving the Parish in December of that year.
While only a few of the original families are still represented on the church rolls, the strong sense of a community sharing its faith in God and its love for one another is as much a part of Manakin Church today as it was when it was founded over 300 years ago. A unique blend of past and present, the church looks forward to the future with the same strength and conviction its Huguenot founders displayed.
1 Virginia’s Mother Church by George MacLaren Bryden, 1947, Virginia Historical Society Press, page 263.