The reach of religion in the Shenandoah Valley in 1860

Posted on September 15, 2013 by


In part, my interest in looking into churches in the Shenandoah Valley is to see if there is any connection to the literacy rate. I’m also curious how the denominations reflect anything that may help me further in my understanding of Southern Unionism in the Valley. Though I don’t think I have anything that gives me definite answers (in other words… more work required), I do have some interesting stats to mull over, after having done my analysis of churches in the Valley, as of 1860.

"Pastor Bjoerling" (played by Denver Pyle), in the movie Shenandoah.

“Pastor Bjoerling” (played by Denver Pyle), in the movie Shenandoah.

According to the 1860 census, the ten counties of the Shenandoah Valley had a total of 325 churches, serving a total of 116,511 white citizens (how many free blacks and/or slaves did the churches serve is hard to figure out, but between this fact and the fact that the “total white population” should probably be reconsidered… based on ages 10 and above, perhaps… leaving the number as is probably comes close enough). So, what we have are 325 churches serving an average of 358 per church. That’s not to say, however, that this is the reality. As one might expect, the capacity of each church varied. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Another important thing to point out is that, in the Valley, thirteen denominations were represented in the Valley. That’s not to say that each denomination could be found in each of the ten counties. For example, in Warren County, only four denominations were represented, while in Augusta, Berkeley, and Frederick counties, nine denominations (each) were present. Yet, which denominations dominated?

Some might anticipate, because of what some perceive as a strong Scots-Irish presence, the Presbyterians led the

Friends/Quaker Meeting House, near Clear Brook, Frederick County, Virginia, which... dating to the 1700s... was among the churches whose "aggregate accommodations" were being tallied.

Friends/Quaker Meeting House, near Clear Brook, Frederick County, Virginia, which… dating to the 1700s… was among the churches whose “aggregate accommodations” were being tallied.

way… while others, focused on the heavy German-Swiss settlement patterns might anticipate Lutheran and other denominations of German influence. The fact is, however, that… neither is correct. The dominating denomination in the Shenandoah Valley in 1860 was… drum-roll please… Methodist (118 churches). In fact, of the ten counties, one would be hard-pressed to find as many Methodists churches as any other in each of the counties (but, there are a couple exceptions*). If we were to create a “top 5 list” of denominations in the Valley, Methodist were at the top, followed by Presbyterian (51.. but this also includes Presbyterian Reformed… which only existed in Rockbridge County), Lutheran (38), Baptist (35… yet, if I also added the Baptist Tunker and Baptist Mennonite, this would add another 23 churches, putting them ahead of even the Presbyterian churches), and then the Episcopal churches (17… but, if the Baptist Tunker were separated from the Baptist as a whole, this would be a tie for fifth position between the Episcopal and Baptist Tunker… with 17 churches each).

Breaking-down the denominations, the following applies to total ranking for the Valley…

1) Methodist (118)

2) Presbyterian (47)

3) Lutheran (38)

4) Baptist (35)

*5) Episcopal (17)

*5) Baptist Tunker (17)

6) Union (16)

7) German Reformed (11)

8) Friends (9)

9) Baptist Mennonite (5)

*10) Presbyterian Reformed (4)

*10) Roman Catholic (4)

11) Christian (3)

Here’s the breakdown showing the top two or three dominant denominations per county…

Augusta County (out of 54 total churches): 21 Methodist churches. Next highest… Presbyterian (12)

Berkeley County (out of 23 total churches): 6 Methodist churches. Next highest… Presbyterian (5)

Clarke County (out of 18 total churches): 9 Methodist churches. Next highest… Episcopal (4)

Frederick County (out of 51 total churches): 25 Methodist churches. Next highest… Lutheran (7)

Jefferson County (out of 26 total churches): 9 Methodist. Next highest… a tie between the Episcopal and Lutheran (4 each)

*Page County (out of 21 total churches): a tie between Methodist and Baptist-type (Baptist with (5 each). Next highest… a tie between Lutheran and Union (4 each)

*Rockbridge County (out of 34 total churches): 16 total between Presbyterian (12) AND Presbyterian Reformed (4). Next highest… Methodist (10)

Rockingham County (out of 41 total churches): 15 Methodist. Next highest… Baptist Tunker/Dunker (9)

*Shenandoah County (out of 34 total churches): 8 Lutheran. Next highest… Lutheran (8). Methodists ranked third with 7.

Warren County (out of 23 total churches): 11 Methodist. Next highest… Baptist (10).

I’ll expand that a bit more. I’ve looked at each county, ranked the top four denominations per county, and put them into the chart below (I’ve excluded Presbyterian Reformed since it only appears in Rockbridge County)… and then added numbers regarding the “aggregate accommodations” per denomination, per county…

County M P L B E BT GR
A 5,525 5,800 2,400 450 1,150 900 1,200
B 1,390 1,355 800 525 725 0 400
C 2,000 600 300 1,600 1,400 0 0
F 8,485 2,300 2,000 1,250 750 0 250
J 3,100 1,400 1,700 300 1,500 0 500
P 1,500 0 1,350 2,500 0 300 300
RB 3,150 5,450 350 1,700) 500 0 0
RH 7,500 2,650 1,250 1,400 0 7,900 1,050
S 2,500 1,100 3,150 200 0 1,550 0
W 2,325 500 0 2,250 500 0 0

Note: Because of graphics issues, I had to be short in my naming of counties and denominations AND had to exclude stats for Friends, Baptist Mennonite, and Union churches. A key to the above chart is as follows: Counties, from top to bottom… Augusta (A), Berkeley (B), Clarke (C), Frederick (F), Jefferson (J), Page (P), Rockbridge (RB), Rockingham (RH), Shenandoah (S), Warren (W). Denominations: Methodist (M); Presbyterian (P); Lutheran (L); Baptist (B); Episcopal (E); Baptist Tunker (BT); German Reformed (GR). Maybe I should update this with two charts… maybe…

Now, I could also throw-in the value of each denomination per county… but that might complicate things. The wealth might not necessarily be where you think it is.

Bottom line, if we look at what we have here, and look at the literacy figures from my post from the other day… do we see anything that suggests… something… anything?

What about these numbers when we consider slavery in the Valley… or, more specifically, the dominance in some counties here more so than others?

What about the education rate among former slaves in the 1870s (since we see what appears to be an amazing figure considering the literacy level of African-Americans in Shenandoah County in 1870)?

I’ll add… from what the above information reveals to us, does this challenge, in any way, what you might have been thinking about your county/counties of interest… or even the Valley as a whole?