About James City Chapel Cemetery
Historic James City Chapel Cemetery is located on the original site of the James City Chapel—a Methodist Meeting House that was erected in 1791. The location of the chapel is shown as the “Method. Chapel” on “The Stage Road” in the 1863 map below.
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The James City Chapel Cemetery is located on the original site of the James City Chapel which existed as a Methodist Meeting House from 1791 to 1891. The story of the James City Chapel Cemetery is so intertwined with the spiritual lives of the people of James City Chapel (1791-1890), Mount Vernon United Methodist Church (1887-present), and the Kelton Methodist Church (1890-1919), that the story of the cemetery would not be complete without including the stories of those places of worship. Many of the names appearing in those stories are also engraved on the headstones in the cemetery.
About 1790 a small group of believers came together in the vicinity of what is now called Norge, but at that time was simply a community of farming families. They became known as Methodists, and established the James City Chapel. In a copy of the Book of Trustees for James City Chapel Made on Tuesday March 3, 1805, the following statement is made. “Deed made July 11, 1791, giving a piece of land with the James City Chapel to the Methodist Episcopal Church.“
In 1797 itinerant Methodist preacher (and Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church], Francis Asbury, noted in his journal that ‘two good meeting houses’ had been erected since his 1790 visit to the Williamsburg area: one in James City County (the James City Chapel) and one in New Kent (The Tabernacle Church, near Holly Forks).“ (On the 1790 visit to the area, Asbury had preached at the Chickahominy Church.) The meeting house in James City was the James City Chapel erected in 1791 on the present day (2012) cemetery property that can be seen on the eastbound side of Route 60, across from the Norge Crossing Shopping Center
This little community of believers grew in number. In 1812, on March 2nd, Asbury noted in his journal: “I passed a night of great suffering. We came off this morning to James City, and preached in the chapel to many people. We had an evening meeting. (That night I) Lodged at John Taylor’s . . .” There are no records of James City Chapel for that time, so we do not know who John Taylor was, but we do know that the Taylor family has played a prominent role in the life of the James City Chapel and the community. One of the most prominent was Pinkethman A. Taylor, who according to his obituary, was “Born of the Spirit” during a camp-meeting at Bellamy’s (Farm) in Gloucester in 1840 at the age of 28. From 1840 until his death in 1867, “Pink” as he was called by friends, served James City Chapel as Class Leader [Lay Leader], Exhorter (Lay Speaker), and appointed as a Lay Preacher.
The first grave of James City Chapel was that of Edmund Taylor, the 4 month old son of Pinkethman A. and Susan B. Taylor buried in 1843. “Pink” and Susan would go on to bury three (3) more young children in the cemetery. Early history of James City Chapel has not been found, however, the “Church Book” of the Chapel offers insight into the families worshiping there from 1829 until 1871. Records appear again beginning in 1884 while under the pastorate of Reverend J. P. Woodward. “In that year, because the church was not thriving and the building was getting in disrepair,” discussions among the leadership of the Chapel began to consider moving the Chapel, or building a new church in Toano, previously called Burnt Ordinary. Perhaps those discussions were influenced because Toano had assumed some importance since the railroad came through in 1883. At the time the railroad crossed Church Street just at the bottom of the hill below our present day (2019) parsonage. On close inspection, the old railroad bed can still be seen in the wooded area. There were six passenger trains a day, in addition to freights stopping in Toano for water.
In 1952, members of Mount Vernon Methodist Church, whose family members were buried in the cemetery, saw the need for perpetual care of the cemetery, and organized the James City Chapel Cemetery Association for that purpose, under the oversight of the Mount Vernon’s Board of Trustees. Today, the cemetery, owned by the church, is operated and maintained by a modern version of the James City Chapel Cemetery Association. The goal of the association is to maintain an atmosphere of dignity and serenity, while providing safety for its visitors.
a. A note concerning the original 1791 deed was made in the Book of Trustees for James City Chapel on Tuesday, March 3rd, 1805 (Book 4, B4-16)
b. James City County, The Cornerstone of the Commonwealth, by Martha w. McCartney, The Donning Company Publishers, Page 545
c. Copy of “The Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury, Volume III, J Manning Potts, Publisher By Epworth Press and Abingdon Press, Book 2, B2-27A, Page 422
d. Francis Asbury’s America, Compiled and Edited by Terry d. Bilhartz, Pub. By Zondervan, 1984, Page 75
e. Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A