Perhaps no other church in this study was as disrupted by the debate over the institution of slavery as was the Methodists. In fact, differing views over the slave trade would pit members against one another resulting in a full-blown split of the congregation. This denomination was established at a revival event recorded as the "Christmas conference of 1784," at the Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, Maryland.

The result was the official christening of the Methodist Church of America. Almost immediately upon its formation, the ordained superintendents of Methodism began an intensive campaign to spread their new theology across the landscape. Immediately a controversy erupted as the anti-slavery views of some of the church's first preachers did not sit well with many of the South's citizens.

In fact, just a few decades into its existence, the issue of slavery would once again rear its ugly head and ignite a feud within the congregation itself. The results would be drastic to say the least. Arguments over slavery in the Old Dominion had been a long-standing debate almost one-hundred years before the Methodists split over it. According to an article printed in an 1887 issue of American History Magazine:

In 1790, Virginia claimed 293,427 registered slaves, which was more than seven times the number in the northern states combined." Ironically it also states that, the Reverend Morgan Godwin of the early English Church is said to be one of the first clergymen "who ever lifted up his voice against the African slave trade.

Prior to the Civil War, the building housing the Methodist Church stood as a charming two-story brick structure located on the south-side of Hanover Street between Prince Edward and Princess Anne Streets. Attending members were estimated to be at approximately 115 white members and 53 black members. In 1848, a large portion of the membership began an exodus of their own due to the acrimonious debate over slavery and in 1852; they constructed their own meeting house (Methodist Church South) one block from the parent church.

In 1861 the original church rolls listed 164 members, while the new branch boasted 290 followers. Both sites would see significant action during the War Between the States and provide a gruesome service for the occupying Federal forces. I've mentioned throughout my talk tonight about the use of these churches as field hospitals, but I'd like to address that in more detail as FUMC had some striking recollections of these events.


Here is a photo of some of the U.S. Sanitary Commission who came to Fredericksburg to help administer aid and prevent the spread of disease. In essence, they were like the Red Cross Disaster Relief. Even some local civilians rallied together to provide charity and compassion to those in need, even if they were 'the enemy.'

A young soldier stationed in the 57th recalled an angel of mercy of his own that he met while lying in the Methodist Church. He wrote:

For the first few days at Fredericksburg it was almost impossible to obtain bandages. The women, with a few exceptions, were bitter rebels and would do all they could to prevent us from finding or buying a single piece of cloth. The bandage with which my own wound was bound up was part of the white skirt belonging to an elderly lady who brought roses into the Southern Methodist Church where I was lying, a Mrs. McCabe. Seeing the need of a bandage, she loosed her skirt, cut it into strips, and handed it to my father, who proceeded to dress my own and other soldier's wounds.

Casualties were separated using a triage procedure with all the wounded that could travel being loaded into mile-long caravans of army wagons (some designated as ambulances and some not). Those who were too seriously injured to move, or near death would be left behind in field hospitals that were usually established in whatever large buildings were available. Members of the Medical Corp., as well as the Christian and/or Sanitary Commission, and local residents would then be charged with caring for those left behind. In the case of a retreat, the fallen would inevitably be left to the care and compassion of the enemy.

Due to its relative close-proximity to the U.S. capitol, Federal wounded were continuously being evacuated back across the Rappahannock River and north toward the army hospitals in Washington DC. Many men were lined up in rows outdoors and prepped for transportation via water routes. The city's churches, farms, and even estates such as Chatham Manor were filled to an overflowing capacity with the dead and dying.


J.E.B. Stuart wrote of the suffering: The victory won by us here is one of the neatest and cheapest of the war. Englishmen who surveyed Solferino & all the battlefields of Italy say that the pile of dead on the plains of Fredericksburg exceeds anything of the sort ever seen by then…Fredericksburg is in ruins. It is the saddest sight I ever saw.

Like all of their neighboring congregations, Fredericksburg Methodist and its sister parishioners at Fredericksburg Methodist South emerged from the War Between the States battered, scarred, and traumatized. As the rest of the nation was in the process of reuniting and seeking both forgiveness and reconciliation, so too was the Methodist faith, which had been torn in half over the institution of slavery much like the rest of the country.

Following the South's surrender, the Baltimore Conference voted to become part of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, thus opening the door for a unification of the two split congregations. Eventually the George Street branch was absorbed into the Hanover Street Church and the Methodist family of Fredericksburg was finally together again.


Understandably, the tragedies and triumphs of the Civil War stuck in the hearts and minds of the South's inhabitants. In some cases it even widened a gap between many of the surviving citizens. Fredericksburg was no exception to this dilemma. It would take years for the town to recover both physically as well as mentally.

To the white residents who had supported or served in the Confederate cause, the South's loss left them with a bitter feeling of defeat. To the Unionist citizens who had voiced their loyalty in a risky and unpopular arena, the North's victory gave them a sense of validation. Certainly no one appreciated the struggle for independence more than the now-freed black citizens. Unfortunately their struggles were far from over.

As time passed, wounds were healed, yet there were battles that were still yet to come. Nearly a century later America still struggled over equality and was divided again. The efforts to end segregation in the South formed a new civil rights movement that reinvigorated the public in the fight to establish equal rights for blacks. Once again, Fredericksburg weathered the storm and emerged a stronger community.

Today, our city is a popular tourist attraction. And we are so very fortunate to live in a town that others travel across oceans to visit. Fredericksburg is also now a unique place memorializing Confederate, Union, and African-American pride.

Many people come here to visit a town whose legacy has been cast in the story of a nation divided. However, after completing my research into the churches of Fredericksburg, I am thoroughly convinced that the real story is more accurately that of a town reunited.

Thank you.