George Washington’s Virginia church researches, acknowledges enslaved laborers who built it

By ENS staff
Posted Mar 16, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] Pohick Church in Lorton, Virginia, best known for its 18th century origins as George Washington’s home church, unveiled plaques this week acknowledging that the historic structure and its furnishings were produced by enslaved and indentured laborers, and with the financial support of early parishioners like Washington who owed their fortunes to slavery.

“The clergy and people of Pohick Church recognize the vital endeavors of all who participated in the construction of this church,” one of the plaques reads. “We are grateful for their contributions to Pohick’s history and ongoing spiritual legacy.”

Washington, who lived about six miles away at his Mount Vernon plantation, helped lead construction of the church and attended services there after it was completed in 1774. The congregation included other renowned slaveowners, such as George Mason and George William Fairfax. A second plaque unveiled this week acknowledges those slaveowners’ contributions to the founding of the church while also listing dozens of names of laborers who helped build it, some identified as enslaved or indentured.

“We were able to identify many different individuals,” the Rev. Lynn Ronaldi, Pohick’s rector, told the Washington Post. By studying vestry records and receiving additional help from Fairfax County Circuit Court Historic Records, the congregation’s researchers determined that the laborers included at least 25 enslaved people.

The parish dates to 1724 and its colonial congregation had worshipped in an older structure, until its vestry, with Washington’s support, decided in 1767 to build a more stately place of worship.

“We fully embrace our historic and spiritual heritage,” Ronaldi told the Post. “We are also aware that our church was built in part by slave labor. So it became a passion to recognize all who came together ‘as a village’ to build Pohick Church, including and especially those who had no choice.”

The two plaques were installed inside the church on a back wall and will be dedicated in a ceremony on March 18.