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Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation Sites

Original Randolph-Macon College, Boydton Virginia

History
The original Randolph-Macon College was chartered by the Virginia General Assembly in 1830 in Boydton Virginia. This is the original site of the oldest Methodist-affiliated college, still operating in the United States. The college was named for Congressman John Randolph of Charlotte County, Virginia, and Nathaniel Macon of Warren County, North Carolina. It opened on October 9, 1832; however, in 1868, largely due to economic difficulties caused by the Civil War, the college was moved to Ashland, where it operates today.

The vacated buildings later housed a freedman’s school to educate recently emancipated slaves and later the Boydton Academy and Bible Institute that operated from 1879 until the mid-1930s.  Dr. Charles Cullis, a humanitarian from Boston, purchased the vacant property in 1878 and opened Boydton Academic and Bible Institute with the partial purpose of training African-American preachers and teachers. The school consisted 425 acres of land and the four-story brick former Randolph Macon Main Hall and Chapel; later a two-story house was added to serve as the headmaster’s home. Notables that attended Boydton Institute include Mozella Jordan Price, E.L. Baskervill, Kirke Smith, Vernon Johns, and the first Kenyan Maasai student in the United States, Molonket ole Sempele, from 1909-1912.

Location
Remains of the Main Building located .1 mile east of the intersection of U.S. Route 58 and Jefferson Street (at Triangle Grocery). Entrance between two brick pillars on the north side of Jefferson Street. Historical markers are nearby on U.S. Route 58.

Open visitors: dawn to dusk

Future Plans
In order to preserve this historic site, The Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation purchased 12.5 acres of the original nearly 400-acre college campus containing the remains of the four-story “Main Building” and the headmaster’s cottage of the later Boydton Institute. Only the walls of the old Main Building remain and are deteriorated beyond restoration for occupation.  Plans are to remove the brick wall height down to the top of the first story which will show the heart of the building’s use including its chapel and will allow for historical interpretation.

Interpretation will explain the history as a nineteenth century college in the South, its evolution pre Civil War through wartime to Reconstruction into the early 20th century. Exhibits will explore effects of slavery on the institution and vice versa; life in 18th century college; college’s impact on education in US by following alumni’s careers; explore college/school’ impact on the life of African-Americans post war.

Ebenezer Academy

History
Ebenezer Academy was established sometime between 1783-1793 by Bishop Francis Asbury, head of the Methodist church in 18th century America, and is thought to be the first Methodist school established in America. It passed out of the hands of the church but remained an important school for many years.

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. Bishop Asbury was pleased with the appearance of the school, writing in his journal that it was “well set out with windows and doors.” An 1835 petition to the Virginia General Assembly for funding (after it had passed to non-Methodist ownership) 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.” In the early years it was a day-school, but in later years teachers’ cabins were added, along with two student boarding houses. 

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. Though it passed out of Methodist hands around 1800, the building was used for academic purposes until the mid-nineteenth century. The school building was razed in the twentieth century and a memorial obelisk was erected from stones salvaged from the walls.

Location
Entrance driveway is on the east side of U.S. Route 1 in Warfield, Virginia, 6.8 miles north of its intersection with Route 46 (Christanna Highway).

Ebenezer Academy Park is open visitors 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Interpretation Plan
The school building no longer stands; the site is a quiet commemorative interpretive park. The school building outline is marked by the foundation stones with a memorial obelisk at its center. Plans are to provide more extensive interpretive signage. Funds and information are needed. Further research is desired on former students, the building appearance, and additional information on the Ebenezer Greys a local infantry unit of the Confederate Army.

Canaan, the Edward Dromgoole House, United Methodist Historic Site 564

By The Rev. Arthur Dicken Thomas, Jr., Ph.D.

            “Canaan,” a two-story white frame dwelling in Valentines, Brunswick County, Virginia, was built from 1796 to 1798 as the home of Edward Dromgoole, Sr. (1751-1835) and Rebecca Walton. It is the only home now standing within the bounds of the Virginia Conference that once belonged to an eighteen-century Methodist circuit rider and local pastor. Having built “Canaan” with ample space, Dromgoole led class meetings and worship services inside and invited noted Methodists such as Francis Asbury, Jesse Lee, Richard Whatcoat, and Nicholas Snethen to stay in his guest room and preach to his congregation that met both at “Canaan” and later at Dromgoole’s Chapel.

“Canaan” is listed as site 564 on the Register of United Methodist Historic Sites around the world on the website of the General Commission of Archives and History of the United Methodist Church (www.gcah.org). On October 31, 2020 the Virginia Conference adopted a resolution specifying its historic significance for worldwide Methodism.  See Resolution (pdf)

            Dromgoole arrived in Maryland from Ireland in 1770. With the backing of Robert Strawbridge, he began to preach in Maryland and later in 1775 ministered on the Brunswick Circuit in Virginia during the First Great Awakening. He preached with George Shadford and Devereux Jarratt and converted Rebecca Walton who became his wife in 1777. By the end of 1776 due to this glorious revival, more than half of the Methodists in America lived in the Brunswick Circuit, which is called the “cradle of Methodism.”

            He took the oath of allegiance to the American Cause during the Revolution and preached during the war. He wrote to John Wesley on May 22, 1783 telling him that American Methodists had great esteem for Francis Asbury and desired him “to superintend the whole work.” He attended the Christmas Conference of 1784 in Baltimore where Asbury became general superintendent or bishop.

            Dromgoole preached during the Second Great Awakening as an itinerant, then settled as a local pastor in 1786 and continued preaching until 1835. Adopting Methodist convictions of the injustice of slavery, he began emancipating 11 slaves in 1791. In 1805 he wrote Asbury that he wanted to live in “a state where none of the human race are in captivity would afford my mind more rest.” He bought land to move to the free state of Ohio, but circumstances did not permit him to leave Virginia. Besides preaching, he ran a store, operated a sawmill, farmed his plantation with 16 slaves he later acquired, and served as a magistrate for 45 years. “Canaan,” offers a glimpse of the life of a local Methodist preacher.

            In 1784 Dromgoole and Asbury helped establish Ebenezer Academy in Brunswick County, the first Methodist School in Virginia and America, and served as a trustee.

            On Asbury’s last visit to Dromgoole at “Canaan,” he ordained him as an elder in the Methodist Episcopal Church on February 12, 1815.

At the end of his life, Dromgoole became a Methodist Protestant minister. Dromgoole died May 13, 1835 and was buried at “Canaan.”

Approved by the Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation and the Virginia Conference Commission on Archives and History

Links for more information
Article from Heritage, Spring 2004 (pdf)
Article from Heritage, Spring 1981 (pdf)
Article from Lake Gaston Gazette, 2019 (pdf)

Location
2772 Christanna Hwy, Valentines, VA. The site is located .5 mile east of Route 46 (Christianna Hwy) and .8 mile north of its intersection with Route 626 (Gasburg Road).
Open by appointment only. Contact Jim Mott for tours at 804-301-0734.

Interpretive Plan
In 2008, in order to preserve this architectural and historical gem, the Foundation purchased the Rev. Dromgoole house and 16 acres. The long- term goal is to preserve and restore the house and grounds and to add a structure for meetings and retreats in this quiet natural setting. The house will serve as the focal point.  Visitors will be able to watch progress as the house slowly undergoes restoration.