On April 14, the Frying Pan Spring Meeting House in Herndon was once again alive with the sound of the 4th Virginia Voluntary “Black Horse” Cavalry Regiment as re-enactors donned period uniforms and rode in on their steeds following the presentation of the meeting house’s third historical marker; this one commemorating its Civil War history.
According to the new marker, the meeting house witnessed much Civil War activity. Both Union and Confederate military records mention the location numerous times as a meeting place and a site of skirmishes in 1861 and 1862 when encampments of Confederate troops occupied the surrounding woods and fields. At least three Confederate veterans are said to be buried in the adjacent cemetery.
“Many skirmishes took place right here where we are standing,” said Frying Pan Farm Park Board member Richard Crouch to the 100 or so people assembled for the marker’s unveiling.
The meeting house is also historically noted for its service as a field hospital for the Confederate Army and for the meetings between Confederate Cavalry General J.E. Stuart and Colonel John Singleton Mosby. “This spot is hallowed ground,” said Civil War historian Don Hakenson.
But the meeting house’s history extends back much further than the Civil War, going nearly all the way back to the days of the American Revolution.
“Since the days of George Washington, this white structure behind me has been serving this community,” said Fairfax County Park Authority Board Chairman Bill Bouie during the marker presentation.
According to the Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park, Robert “Counselor” Carter donated two acres of his Frying Pan Spring property in 1783 to a congregation of Baptists so they could build a meeting house near the springs for their baptismals. The meeting house was constructed eight years later in 1791. “The Frying Pan Baptists, who were called old school, hard shells and primitives, were not allowed to call it a church,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Catherine Hudgins.
According to Herndon historian Chuck Mauro, the meeting house has four doors because each served a separate group. “White men, white women, black men and black women each entered through their own doors,” he said. “Blacks sat upstairs and whites downstairs, but although they sat separately, they all worshipped together.”
According to historian Debbie Robison, from its inception, African Americans, both free and enslaved, were welcome to join the Frying Pan Baptist Meeting House congregation. “The church minute books periodically recorded the name of an enslaved individual’s owner, though the owner was not always a member. This circumstance suggests the possibility that a certain level of freedom of movement was accorded enslaved individuals for the purpose of attending church,” she said.
According to an older historical marker in front of the meeting house, the owners of many area slaves were Episcopalian. Therefore the slaves became Baptists in an effort to worship under a different denomination than their owners.
According to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, on the eve of the Civil War, free blacks in Virginia numbered 58,042 , or about 44 percent of the future Confederacy’s free black population. Of the slave states, only Maryland had a larger population, with 83,942.
“There were 180,000 blacks who fought during the Civil War,” said John W. McCaskill, who portrayed an African American Civil War soldier during Sunday’s marker presentation. “Here at the meeting house, blacks had to go up to the balcony to pray. As an African American living in modern day America, with an African American President, every time I come here I go up to that balcony and I give thanks for all the prayers that were said there.”