William Fitzhugh Meade

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William Fitzhugh Meade

Birthdate: (72)
Birthplace: Frederick, now Clarke County, Virginia, USA
Death: March 14, 1862 (72)
Richmond, Virginia, USA
Place of Burial: Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Lt. Col. Richard Kidder Meade, Continental Army and Mary Fitzhugh Meade (Grymes)
Husband of Mary Meade; Thomasia Meade; Mary Meade and Thomasia Meade
Father of Philip Nelson Meade; Francis Burwell Meade; Philip Nelson Meade; Rev. Richard Kidder Meade and Francis Burwell Meade
Brother of Anne Randolph Page; Susan Burwell Bolling; Richard Kidder Meade, Jr.; David Meade and Mary Meade

Occupation: Protestant Episcopal Bishop
Managed by: Dan Cornett
Last Updated:

About William Fitzhugh Meade

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 'Meadea' near White Post, then grew up at Lucky Hit plantation in Frederick County but now Clarke County, Virginia. Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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.

Family 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 before Jane died. After the Revolutionary war, in 1780, Col. R.K. Meade married again, to 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 before dying on May 20, 1836. She 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.

Ministry 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.

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).

Views on slavery Meade freed his own slaves, who moved to Pennsylvania, since Virginia's laws at the time forbade emancipated slaves from remaining in the Commonwealth without special permission from the legislature. His views were influenced by his sister Ann Page (d. 1838) as well as his clerical mentors (who both freed slaves). 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.[23] In 1819, Virginia's diocesan convention strongly supported the ACS, and Meade (as ACS's agent) traveled through the American south campaigning for the removal of African American slaves to Africa. In Georgia he purchased slaves illegally brought into the state and sold publicly at Milledgeville.

However, Meade did not consider slavery a sin, merely a hindrance to economic growth. He believed Christian principles could teach masters to treat their slaves well. Thus, in 1813 Meade compiled and published a compilation of Christian proslavery tracts by authors including Anglican minister Thomas Bacon and Baptist Edmund Botsford. After his consecration, one of Meade's earliest pastoral letters (in 1834) concerned religious instruction for slaves.

Beginning in 1833, Bishop Meade, Judge William Leigh of Halifax and lawyer Francis Scott Key administered the will of their friend John Randolph of Roanoke, who died without children and who in his final testament directed his executors to free his more than four hundred slaves. The executors fought for a decade through Virginia courts to enforce the will and provide the freed slaves land to support themselves.

In 1841 Meade reported for a diocesan committee concerning the best means for instructing slaves, 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 the could not catechize both white and black children, reserve those limited resources for slave children. Meade repeated the educational 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."

Meade convinced himself of the reciprocal nature of the master-slave relationship, and by 1857 published Christian proslavery tracts in his own name, declaring in his historical masterwork "If the evil passions are sometimes called into exercise, the milder virtues are much more frequently drawn forth." In 1858, his suffragan John Johns took charge of the committee and emphasized 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.

Confederate bishop Rt.Rev. Meade fought against Virginians who threatened secession after the election of President Abraham Lincoln, preaching at Millwood 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. Two years later, 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. He arrived at the church in time for the consecration, but afterward was confined to 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, and who was married to the daughter of his sister Ann Page's best friend. Bishop Meade was reputedly 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, where bishop Meade's tomb stands slightly above the obelisk marking Bishop Johns' interment.

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William Fitzhugh Meade's Timeline

November 11, 1789
Frederick, now Clarke County, Virginia, USA
January 19, 1811
Age 21
Clarke Co., Va
October 31, 1812
Age 22
Clarke County, Virginia, United States
Age 25
Age 25
Clarke Co., Va
March 14, 1862
Age 72
Richmond, Virginia, USA