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Ebenezer Academy

14680 Boydton Plank Road, Warfield, VA 23889
Brunswick County, Virginia

Ebenezer Academy, said to be the oldest Methodist school in American, had its genesis in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Some of the brightest lights of early Methodism such as Bishop Francis Asbury and Edward Dromgoole had a hand in its establishment, and though the exact date of its construction is not known, it is thought to have been established sometime between 1783 and 1793. Razed in the twentieth century, the building was photographed in its later years. It was located along Boydton Plank Road near Merritt’s Chapel in Brunswick County, Virginia (today near Warfield).

The first building on the 57-acre site was a 20’ by 40’ two-story building. The ground story was of native stone with a second story enclosed within a gambrel roof. The two end walls were each centered with an integral stone chimney.  At the second story level the end walls were of wood frame sheathed with weatherboards. An 1835 petition to the Virginia General Assembly for funding describes the academy as “a good, plain, substantial building of stone, having four rooms, with a fire-place in each; a few mathematical instruments, globes, and a small library.” Bishop Asbury was pleased with the appearance of the school, writing in his journal that it was “well set out with windows and doors.” In the early years it was a day-school, but in later years teachers’ cabins were added, along with two student boarding houses. 

The first principal was a Mr. Johnson of Scottish or Irish descent, perhaps both, who tried to establish a classical curriculum, but met with limited success. Eventually the curriculum was adjusted to the needs of the area. Enrollment declined over time, however.  With a lack of tuition support, financial problems ensued. Asbury also noted that “people, in general care too little for the education of their children.”  He said further, referring to the ill-health of the school, “our burdensome stone…gives us some troubles and some care.”

The rural setting with sparse population, coupled with widespread poverty and a lack of demand for an educated clergy, were primary reasons the Methodist efforts at Ebenezer Academy were fraught with problems.  Asbury’s building frustration can be seen in his journal entry for January 11, 1798, declaring, “Ebenezer Academy is under poor regulations; and what is more than all some gentlemen of Brunswick county had the confidence and want of propriety to wish to wrest it wholly out of our hands, after we had collected so much money to build it.” The school was incorporated by the Virginia Assembly in 1796 upon a petition signed by a number of inhabitants of Brunswick County.  The Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, December 1835, contains a plea from the trustees for a “liberal endowment or donation” in order to continue to provide a good classical education.  They received $200 that year from the surplus of the literary fund. The building was used for academic purposes until the mid-nineteenth century.  A.W. Cummings states in Early Schools of Methodism (1886) that “after causing no end of trouble, it passed out of the hands of the Methodists about 1800 and ceased to exist as a school about 1846.”

History records several notable events which took place at Ebenezer during the nineteenth century. In April 1826 interested Presbyterians assembled there to establish the first organized Presbyterian congregation in Brunswick County. In 1829 a subscription of $20,000 was raised in Brunswick to entice the proposed Randolph-Macon College to locate near Ebenezer Academy.  This offer was rejected in favor of Mecklenburg County. Ebenezer Academy became the training grounds for a company of Confederate soldiers organized as the “Ebenezer Greys” under the command of Dr. Thomas J. Taylor. They saw action at Fort Donelson and Gaines Mill as Company E, 56th Virginia Infantry Regiment.

After the conflict the building was used for residential purposes which it served until neglect and disrepair caused it to be vacated. Early in the twentieth century a group of Methodists in the Petersburg District became interested in saving the old Academy building and formed a board of trustees which acquired nineteen acres surrounding the decaying structure. They determined that the building had deteriorated beyond feasible recall so it was razed leaving about two feet of the exterior stone walls standing. Within this enclosure a pyramidal monument was erected of stones salvaged from the walls. In this state the site has continued under the auspices of the Methodist Church. At one time the grounds were considered as a possible location for construction of housing for retired clergy.

Upon establishment of the Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation the site fell under the care of that organization.

Proposed Work Program

  1. Research and write a factual and detailed account of the history and evolution of the Ebenezer Academy site. Research the names of Ebenezer Academy students and teachers.
  2. Compose and publish an illustrated tri-fold informational piece for the site.
  3. Maintain the existing stone monument and remaining stone perimeter walls in accord with the highest preservation standards. This will include removal of the crude Portland cement repairs now evident and proper repointing with lime-rich mortar skillfully applied.
  4. Compose and erect at least one illustrated weather-resistant informational sign at the site.
  5. Research the evidence of any plaque ever having been mounted on the stone including original appearance, material and inscription. Fabricate and install a replica.
  6. Upgrade the road along the right-of-way to provide an all-weather surface from U.S. 1 to the site. Provide necessary parking and turn-around space for safe public access. Provide a rack for bicycles.
  7. Provide an easily-maintained walkway meeting accessibility standards from the parking area to the site.
  8. Provide a suitable highly-visible entrance sign at U.S. Route 1.
  9. Fabricate and erect a modern metal gate on the access road to control public access to the site.

Updated Improvement Items –from September 2012

  1. Entrance directional sign on Route 1: 
  2. Two signs or one two-sided sign, with name and arrow placed at driveway meeting VDOT standards and location requirements
  3. Designated parking area:
  4. Defined by gravel/pavement;
  5. Bumpers.
  6. Marker(s) on obelisk :
  7. Front side and possibly back
  8. Suggest cast bronze
  9. Wording similar to what was or may have been on the original markers
  10. [research has been done to determine the original “missing” marker and has revealed a feeling that the intended marker was never installed]
  11. Interpretive kiosk or slanted information signs:
  12. Illustrated with pictures
  13. History of Ebenezer Academy and other use of site.
  14. Weatherproof information box for printed information, brochures and for guests to leave messages. Envelopes for making donations or memberships.
  15. Visitor sign-in log.
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