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St. James Parish

Author:  Steve Avent

Did you know that St. Peter’s established a mission church, here in New Kent County? It was named St. James Church, and it existed from 1858 to 1888. It was financed by the Duval family, which owned a plantation named “Roslyn”, which stood near Dispatch Station, between present-day Orapax Farms, off Rt. 613 (Dispatch Rd.) and the Chickahominy River. The house is long gone, but the site is still marked by several ancient old oak trees.


Mr. Randolph Duval and others who lived in the vicinity decided to build a Chapel near Roslyn, and construction was completed in 1858, at a cost of $1396. Also acquired at the time was a melodeon for $65, a scarf (?) for $11.45, Communion service for $22, books for $10 and a stove for $22. It was located in a grove of old oak trees a short distance from Roslyn. Specifically, it was on the west side of present-day Rt. 613 (Dispatch Rd.) opposite the entrance of Thompson Rd.. The oak trees which surrounded the old church are still there, as well, though the entire area is now heavily wooded.


Bishop John Johns consecrated the building on May 9, 1858. The Rev. John Tevis Points, Rector of St. Peter’s, added St. James to his duties. War came to New Kent not long after this and St. James, like St. Peter’s and so many other local landmarks, suffered from its effects. In April of 1862 a Union corps, 30,000 strong, under Gen. Keyes was camped in the vicinity, and they turned the church into a hospital, moving the pews into the oak grove and breaking them up to make headstones. In May, following the battle of Gaines’ Mill, Gen. Lee sent Confederate Generals Dick Ewell, who was serving under Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart, from the Cold Harbor area down Dispatch Rd. to gain possession of Dispatch Station. The Union forces set up a skirmish line on the ridge along present-day Thompson Rd. and in front of St. James Church. I can personally attest that many relics of the fighting have been recovered from the area along that ridge though most of them, unfortunately, not by me.


St. James Church was caught up in the war again in 1864 when Gen. U.S. Grant sent much of his army down Dispatch Rd., heading for Long Bridge and eventually Petersburg. Union soldiers further desecrated the church and on the wall above the pulpit was later found the following graffiti:
A Toast
Here’s to US Grant
May he be hung, drawn and quartered
Hung with the laurels of victory
Drawn in a chariot of peace
And quartered in the White House in Washington


Following the war, the church was restored to use, but the local area was too devastated by the war to keep it up. Membership declined, the building fell into decay, and finally a family with 5 children occupied the building. The Duval family decided to move the church to Richmond, donating it to St. John’s Church for use as a mission. Work began September 7, 1888 and was completed by September 14. The building was moved to a new location on 28th Street, where it was ready for service on October 7, 1888. Many of the original pews were used, still bearing epitaphs from when they were used as headstones for Union soldiers. Presumably, the Union soldiers were re-interred in National Cemeteries before their headstones were removed.


It was renamed the Church of the Good Shepherd, and there is still a church by that name located at 28th and R Streets, in Richmond. I have in my possession a copy of an old photograph of the church, and it looks strikingly similar to the present-day church.