|Born||November 11, 1789
White Post, Virginia
|Died||March 14, 1862
|Known for||Third Episcopal (Anglican) Bishop of Virginia|
His father, Colonel Richard Kidder Meade (1746-1805), one of George Washington's aides during the War of Independence, after the conflict ended sold his estate at Coggins Point on the James River near Henricus and bought 1000 acres and moved the family to the Shenandoah Valley. Thus, William Meade was born on November 11, 1789 at "Lucky Hit" plantation then in Frederick County, near White Post, in what is now Clarke County, Virginia.
The boy was home-schooled until he was ten, then sent to a school run by Rev. Wiley on the estate of Nathaniel Burwell. Rather than attend the College of William and Mary in Virginia, which some considered irreligious by the time, young Meade and his fellow student William H. Fitzhugh entered the college of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1806. Meade graduated with high honors and as valedictorian in 1808.
At the urging of his mother and his cousin Mrs. Custis, Meade studied theology privately under the Rev. Walter Addison near the newly established national capital, and lived for a time in Alexandria, Virginia across the Potomac River from Rev. Addison's parish. He was particularly impressed by Soame Jenyns Internal Evidence of Christianity and William Wilberforce's Practical View. Meade also returned to Princeton in 1809 to continue some graduate studies in divinity (since it had been organized by the Presbyterian Church), but caught a near-fatal fever, and so returned home to work on the farm as well as to build his own Shenandoah valley home at Mountain View (an estate which remains today, although no longer in Meade family ownership).
Since this Meade later published genealogies of Virginia families, and in one pamphlet distinguished the Episcopal Church from the "Romish," he acknowledged the first of his ancestors to arrive in America was Andrew Meade, a Roman Catholic who emigrated to New York and married Quaker Mary Latham of Flushing. The couple moved to what was then Nansemond County, Virginia, where great-grandfather Meade "abjured his allegiance to the Roman Church" and became a vestryman of the Suffolk Church. His son David married a daughter of North Carolina's last proprietary Governor, Sir Richard Everard, 4th Baronet, who could trace descent from Richard Kidder, Bishop of Bath and Wells. One of their sons, Richard Kidder Meade (b. 1746), married Jane Randolph, daughter of Richard Randolph of Curles, whom the family noted was a descendant of Pocahontas as well as grandfather of John Randolph of Roanoke. However, they had no children. After the Revolutionary war, in 1780, Col. R.K. Meade married Mary Randolph, the daughter of Benjamin Grymes and widow of William Randolph of Chatsworth, who bore him four daughters and four sons, including the future bishop.
Young William Meade married Mary, daughter of his Frederick County neighbor and lay reader Philip Nelson, on January 31, 1810. She bore his three sons before dying on July 3, 1817 and was buried at Old Chapel, as later would their sons Philip Nelson Meade (1811-1873) and Francis Burwell Meade (1815-1886). Three years after her death, on December 16, 1820, William Meade remarried, to Thomasia, daughter of Thomas Nelson of Yorktown and Hanover, who zealously assisted him in his ministry for two decades but died on May 20, 1836 and was buried at Fork Church in Hanover County. Bishop Meade's middle son, Richard Kidder Meade (1812-1892) became a clergyman, as did five of his grandsons.
The elderly bishop James Madison of Virginia ordained Meade as a deacon on February 24, 1811. Meade afterward recalled that the congregation consisted of fifteen gentlemen and three ladies, almost all of them his relatives, and that on the way to Bruton Church many more gun-toting students and hunting dogs had passed them. When Meade traveled back through Richmond, the newly-ordained deacon noted that the city's only church St. John's was only open for communion occasions, and that the Episcopalian Dr. Buchanan and Presbyterian Dr. Blair alternated Sundays. Bishop Madison died about a year later, and at least two men declined offers to become his successor.
After the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia in 1786 was found legal by Virginia's highest court in 1803, the new Episcopal Church, which had over 180 priests at the start of the Revolutionary War, was desperately short of ministers. By 1811, with Bishop Madison very infirm, no one from Virginia attended the General Convention. The following year Meade and several other prominent Virginians convinced William Holland Wilmer of Chestertown, Maryland to move to Alexandria and the new national capital to serve as rector at St. Paul's Church after deacon Meade tried to serve those parishioners' needs for several months despite their significant distance down the Lord Fairfax Highway from his preferred home. Only seven Virginia priests (including Meade and Wilmer) gathered for the second diocesan convocation to select Madison's successor, many fewer than the priests and laity who had gathered in 1805 and declined their Bishop Madison's request to appoint an assistant for him (with rights of succession). Finally, Meade, Wilmer and several other prominent Episcopalians convinced Richard Channing Moore to move to Richmond, Virginia to become rector of Monumental Church, a significant parish then being rebuilt after a disastrous fire, and Moore in due course became bishop Madison's successor. Bishop Moore ordained Meade as a priest in 1814, shortly after his own election.
From his ordination until 1821, deacon and then Rev. Meade served as the assistant to Rev. Balmaine, rector of Frederick Parish and who usually served at Christ Episcopal Church in Winchester, Virginia about 15 miles away from Meade's home. Meade normally officiated every other Sunday at the Old Chapel near his family's plantations. On the alternate Sundays, his father in law served as the parish's lay leader, while Rev. Meade visited other congregations nearby or more remotely. After Rev. Balmaine died, Meade took on assistants who served at Winchester and Wickliffe, until those parishes were separated from Frederick Parish.
Meade also continued manual labor on his farm, and had specifically sought assurances from Bishop Madison before ordination that such work would not violate a longstanding church canon against servile labor, for Meade firmly believed sloth had helped all but destroy the Church of Virginia. He also home-taught his sons and nephew, both in scholarly work and manual labor. Later, Meade became known for his forays throughout Virginia, especially by horse even during severe weather, preaching among diverse parishes, until he ceded to old age and used a carriage (which some joked dated from his father's service with General Washington).
In 1818, Meade and Wilmer helped organize an education society in Alexandria. Five years later, after an unsuccessful attempt to establish a seminary in Williamsburg, both helped form the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria to train young men for the ministry in Maryland, Virginia and southern states. Meade also supported the American Tract Society, and the Bible Society, except as the former grew to support abolitionism, as discussed below. Later, from 1842-1862, bishop Meade served as the seminary's president, as well as delivered an annual course of lectures on pastoral theology. Meade also helped found the Evangelical Knowledge Society (1847) and served as its president. That organization opposed what it considered the heterodoxy of many of the books published by the Sunday School Union, and attempted to displace them by issuing works of a more evangelical type.
In 1829, after Rev. Wilmer's unexpected death and as Bishop Moore approached retirement, Meade became assistant Bishop of the Virginia. Three years earlier, he had refused suggestions that he apply to become the now-elderly Bishop William White's assistant in Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, Bishop White led several other bishops who gathered at St. James' Church in Philadelphia during Meade's consecration as Bishop Moore's assistant.
The new suffragan's first official act, on October 30, 1829, was consecrating a new building for Christ Church, Winchester. Meade then began an extensive traveling schedule which soon took him to Martinsburg, then through the Shenandoah valley (Woodstock, Harrisonburg, and Staunton) before conducting Christmas services in Halifax and returning north to Alexandria. In 1832, Meade traveled across the Appalachian mountains for visitations in Kentucky and Tennessee. He also served as rector of Christ Church, Norfolk in 1834-1836. In 1841, Meade traveled to London and met the future archbishop of Canterbury J.B. Sumner, among others. When Bishop Moore died later that year, Meade succeeded him as Bishop of Virginia, and soon consecrated Maryland native John Johns as his assistant (and successor more than two decades later). Whereas the diocese had 44 clergy serving 40 parishes and 1,1462 communicants when Meade was consecrated as suffragan, the numbers had risen to 87 clergy serving 99 parishes and 3,702 communicants by the year Bishop Moore died, and 116 clergy serving 123 parishes and 7,876 communicants by 1860.
A low Churchman, Meade strongly opposed the Oxford Movement, although he also strongly believed in evangelism and missionary work. He did not believe in the traditional Catholic doctrines of transubstantiation nor in prayers for the dead, which he thought inconsistent with salvation through grace. As bishop Meade actively participated in several episcopal disciplinary cases against high churchmen: against Bishop Henry Ustick Onderdonk (1789-1858) of Pennsylvania (who because of intemperance was forced to resign and suspended from the ministry) in 1844; against Bishop Benjamin Treadwell Onderdonk (1791-1861) of New York, who in 1845 was suspended from the ministry on the charge of improper conduct; and against Bishop George Washington Doane of New Jersey for misappropriation.
In 1851, some Virginians in counties north and west of Meade's home counties wanted to secede from Virginia, politically as well as by selecting their own bishop. Bishop Meade pointed out that the new section only had seven clergy, far less than the 30 required under church canons, and the proposal was defeated until after Meade's death.
Views on Slavery
Meade freed at least some of his own slaves, who moved to another state, pursuant to Virginia's laws at the time. On December 21, 1816, Rev. Meade traveled to Washington, D.C. for the organizational meeting of the American Colonization Society (ACS), thus helping Rev. Robert Finley (a Presbyterian), Francis Scott Key and U.S. Supreme Court clerk Elias B. Caldwell (son of the "fighting chaplain of the third New Jersey regiment") establish that organization. In 1819, Virginia's diocesan convention strongly supported the ACS, and Meade (as ACS's agent) traveled to Georgia to purchase slaves illegally brought into the state and whom that state sold publicly at Milledgeville.
However, Meade did not consider slavery a sin, instead urging masters to treat their slaves well. One of his earliest pastoral letters (in 1834) concerned religious instruction for slaves. In 1841 Meade reported for a diocesan committee concerning the best means for providing such instruction, urging clergyman to devote at least part of each Sunday's sermon at slaves, or hold Sunday afternoon or weeknight services for them, and that if lacking sufficient staff to catechize both white and black children, reserve those limited resources for slave children. Meade repeated the theme through his addresses and parochial reports, and in 1856 was criticized by an anonymous correspondent for remarks concerning slavery "in the presence of ten or twelve Negroes, who were candidates for confirmation."
In 1858, his suffragan John Johns took charge of the committee and changed its emphasis to missionary work among slaves. Johns later summarized Meade's position as disliking slavery and considering it politically disadvantageous to the country but relying on his own experience concerning manumission's failures. As Meade grew older, perhaps influenced by slave rebellions in Virginia or his family's business interests, his views concerning slavery became more conservative. Biographer Johns stated that bishop Meade wrote to an American Tract Society meeting in New York opposing "an attempt ... made to introduce the leaven of New England fanaticism" and that Meade was unable to attend such meeting, but failed to mention the year the Tract Society's directors then defeated the abolitionist resolution.
Rt.Rev. Meade fought against Virginians who threatened secession after the election of President Abraham Lincoln, preaching at Millwoods against the looming civil war on June 13, nearly two months after Virginia's secession. Still, Meade believed in state's rights and acquiesced in his beloved Commonwealth's ultimate decision to secede. Although near retirement (John Johns having become his suffragan decades earlier), Meade became a leading figure in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. In 1859, shortly after John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry (not very far down the historic Shenandoah Valley road from Meade's familial home and farm), the Episcopal Church held its General Convention in Richmond. There, the elderly Rt. Rev. Meade helped other southern bishops consecrate Henry Champlin Lay as a missionary bishop of the Southwest. Bishop Meade as the senior seceding bishop, led the convention in Columbia, South Carolina in October 1861, which drew up the incorporation documents. However, he did not travel to Montgomery, Alabama for the preliminary organizational meeting July 3-6, 1861. Thus, Bishop Stephen Elliott of Georgia became the Presiding Bishop of the Confederate Episcopal Church.
On March 6, 1862, the elderly and infirm bishop returned to Richmond for the last time in order to assist his suffragan and Bishop Elliott in consecrating Rev. Wilmer's son, Richard Hooker Wilmer, as bishop of Alabama at St. Paul's Church. Bishop Meade had traveled by train from Gordonsville, along with his son, Rev. Richard K. Meade, although coughing and obviously ill. Although he arrived at the church in time for the consecration, he was then confined to his bed at a friend's home, and died days later. According to tradition, the dying Virginia bishop gave his last blessing to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, whom he had long known from the days both had lived and worshiped in Alexandria. Bishop Meade was the only man who customarily called the general by his first name.
Death and Legacy
Bishop Meade died in Richmond, Virginia, aged 72, on March 14, 1862. After a funeral at St. Paul's Church in Richmond, his body was placed in a vault in Hollywood Cemetery. The monument and remains were later moved to the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.
Not long after Meade's death, the counties adjacent to Clarke seceded from Virginia and became the state of West Virginia. Meade Memorial Church in Alexandria, one of the city's historically black parishes, is named after the former bishop, as is a church near his family's estates in White Post, which contains many Meade family graves and a Confederate memorial.
Among his publications, besides many sermons, were:
- A Brief Review of the Episcopal Church in Virginia (1845)
- Wilberforce, Cranmer, Jewett and the Prayer Book on the Incarnation (1850)
- Reasons for Loving the Episcopal Church (1852)
- Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia (1857), a storehouse in two volumes of material on the ecclesiastical history of the state, republished several times.
- Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 566.
- Thomas John Chew Williams, A History of Washington County, Maryland: From the ..., Volume 1, Part 1, note at p. 141 available at google books, http://books.google.com/books?id=Q9AwAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA141&lpg=PA141&dq=william+h.+fitzhugh&source=bl&ots=hVXxORI7bJ&sig=Tqica-gTrwLTFIUKhMf5HbUq1kw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=DigKVLmKPJakyASM44CwCQ&ved=0CB0Q6AEwADgK#v=onepage&q=william%20h.%20fitzhugh&f=false
- Slaughter at p. 9
- Suffolk parish may have had two vestries. See http://glebechurch.org/GlebeHistory1.htm and http://stjohnssuffolk.blogspot.com/p/st-johns-history.html
- Slaughter, Philip, Memoir of the Life of the Rt. Rev. William Meade (Cambridge:John Wilson and Son, 1885) pp. 5-7
- Slaughter at pp. 12-13, 37
- Slaughter p. 42
- Slaughter at pp. 13-14
- Nelson pp. 51-52
- J.E. Booty, William Meade: Evangelical Churchman (alumni pamphlet in V.T.S. collection, dated 1962) at p. 1
- Johns at pp. 45-46 writes that Meade considered manual labor part of his daily devotion.
- R. Nelson, Reminiscences of the Right Rev. William Meade, D.D.: Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia from August 19, 1829 to March 14th 1862 (Shanghai, Ching-Foong General Printing Office 1878) pp. 24-25
- Yuill biography at p. 8, at http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_077_3_Yuill.pdf
- T. Felder Dorn, Challenges on the Emmaus Road (University of South Carolina Press, 2013) at p. 41
- John Johns, A memoir of the Life of the Right Reverent William Meade, DD. (Baltimore: Ines, 1867) at pp. 77, 475 available at google books and at https://ia700504.us.archive.org/22/items/memoiroflifeofri00john/memoiroflifeofri00john.pdf. Meade's farming operations concentrated on wheat, not cotton nor tobacco, although the biography does not mention the farm's business accounts, nor the contents of Meade's will, nor whether his sons owned slaves.
- Dorn at p. 39
- Dorn at pp. 43-46
- Dorn at pp. 48-49
- Dorn at p. 50 citing Johns biography at p. 119 which mentions a Virginia resolution concerning the ACS, although better cite would be pp. 473-77 concerning the Petersburg/Brunswick controversy
- Johns at pp. 203-204
- Dorn at pp. 99-100
- Dorn p. 107-120
- Philip Slaughter, Memoir of the Life of the Rt. Rev. William Meade, pp. 37-38 (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1885), available at google books
- ()Sermon by William White at the Consecration of William Meade
- () Online works by and about Meade
|Episcopal Church (USA) titles|
Richard Channing Moore
|3rd Bishop of Virginia
1841 – 1862