Grace Episcopal Church, Yorktown


Yorktown is quite now.  The occasional cannon clapping speaks to waken tourists with the thrilling BOOM!  But the booms are rare, reserved for special days of reenactment.  This year (2023) and last I visited Yorktown on a special day, Memorial Day, a day of some few tourists who wander the streets of historic houses and of many more vacationers who crowd onto the busy beaches along the water below the town.  Up here upon the hill, Grace Church (1697), built of the pre-Georgian style, the style of our nation when we were British.  Now, we are Americans, a licentious people forgetful of our grandparents and grandparents before, those who for love gave us liberty, wealth, and blood.

Grace Episcopal Church, cemetery monument

Grace Episcopal Church, cemetery. credit: M. Curtis

You will find in the shaded cemetery of Grace Episcopal Church many who gave of themselves that we might live; for instance, Nicolas Martiau, captain of the old militia, earliest native ancestor of General Washington, and here the grave of General Thomas Nelson, Junior, signatory of our Declaration of Independence, Virginia governor who followed Thos. Jefferson in that office.  During the British siege of Yorktown, Cornwallis employed Nelson’s house as headquarters.  It is reported that Gen. Nelson urged our cannon men to fire upon his house, offering five guineas to the first to make a hit.  Cannonballs can yet be found lodged into the brick of his home.  Yes, of course we won.  In those days we were resolved, were virtuous, were in the right with God and fellow men.  Cornwallis soon surrendered, Washington relieved the British of their weapons, and we became masters of ourselves, Americans.

Grace Episcopal Church, altar

Grace Episcopal Church. Yorktown, interior. credit: M. Curtis

Faded old records (1783) report that “The pews and windows of the Church all broke & destroyed. The church was used as a magazine.”  More destructive than broken windows, Yorktown’s 60% loss of population during our War for Independence.  And who owned the church.  Before the War, 1775, the Church was Anglican, the church of the King, and God.  After the war, 1781, the old religion was reorganized as Protestant Episcopal, a church the British did not recognize, a church that was burned when the British invaded (1814) during the Napoleonic Wars.  For 34 years the church remained unoccupied, though the walls were sound, being as they are constructed of stone marl cut from Yorktown itself.  In 1848 the sturdy, small, handsome church was re-roofed and renamed Grace Episcopal Church, its name to this day.

Grace Episcopal Church, marl wall

Grace Episcopal Church, wall section. credit: M. Curtis

Now, the church is a pale yellow, its forms are of the Greek Revival, fashionable before our War to End Slavery.  The interior is lovely, colorfully restrained in the Episcopal way, and there are touches of the Catholic, though it is a church of the Book rather than of the Magisterium.  The congregation is a corporate rainbow, a faith remarkably different than that of firm Christ who with a whip drove moneychangers from the temple, different than firm Washington and firm Nelson who expelled the British overlords.  Here, at Grace Episcopal Church, all are welcome in that comfy sponginess of Love, of the mistaken opinion that all love is love as God is love as daisies smile as roses breed with neither scent nor thorn.

Across the green, an obelisk upon which the names of those who sacrificed that we have life, and wealth, and ease, and liberty.  Here the names of 130 Yorktown men who honored Washington and Nelson and their nation’s tradition, and, we hope, who rest in God.  When you visit on a Memorial Day, you will witness a reading of names and will enjoy a smart fife and drum corps peopled by the handsome young, the youngest, twelvish, I would guess.  There will be a healthy smattering of people on this day.  A few more on our nation’s birthday, July 4.  And even more on the anniversary of Cornwallis’ surrender, Yorktown Day, October 19.  Whichever day you visit you will be rewarded by a stroll through Grace Episcopal Church, her cemetery, the many historic houses and historic sites, the War of Independence battlefield (125 American, 253 French casualties) and the War to End Slavery cemetery (2,000 plus rest here).

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In the quite of the afternoon, with a few in hearing at Yorktown’s obelisk, we read Steve Mason’s verse, The Wall Within, which is telling of a Progressive America that had neither national will nor purpose beyond squishy love and political patronage.  Mason, official Poet Laureate of the Vietnam Veterans of America, was typical of those who like Nelson, like Washington, like your ancestors volunteered, patriots who believed in liberty and goodness and truth, and who were disenchanted with an American dream managed by Progressive intellectuals, bureaucrats whose loyalty was to politicians, not to the soldier nor to the patriot.  That was then.  Today is worse.  Now, the Progressive will corrupt your children, steal from you and give to those who are certain votes.  Now, we are all cynical because we know that we live a lie.  Mason yet had hope that by admonishment we might again be worthy of our grandparents and grandparents before, Americans firm, strict, true, honorable, sturdy, simple and upright as is the old Grace Episcopal Church building.

The verse is long, very long, so below excerpts to provide color.  This link will take you to the verse in full.  Above, a brief video of the honorable Fife and Drums of York Town.


The Wall Within

Most real men
hanging tough
in their early forties
would like the rest of us to think
they could really handle one more war
and two more women.
But I know better.
You have no more lies to tell.

I have no more dreams to believe.
I have seen it in your face
I am sure you have noticed it
in mine;
at the unutterable,
unalterable truth of our war.
The eye sees
what the mind believes.
And all that I know of war,
all that I have heard of peace,
has me looking over my shoulder
for that one bullet
which still has my name on it–circling
round and round the globe
waiting and circling
circling and waiting
until I break from cover
and it takes its best, last shot…


Yorktown Veterans Obelisk. credit M. Curtis

Procession from Grace Episcopal Church to Yorktown’s Veteran Memorial Obelisk. credit: M. Curtis


The following verse too is telling: from, I looked death in the eye…

I have looked death in the eye
and spat blood
have faced life squarely
and made love
I am a combat veteran
of Vietnam
And not altogether certain
of my direction,
But sure of myself–
A delegate enroute
to a national convention
And proud to count for more
than my pain…

I reminded myself to
vote as a representative
not as an individual
And that conscience
without balls
becomes guilt
just as government
without philosophy
becomes only power

The door opened slow & wide
on the day of the Vietnam veterans—blue
& sweet
For men who have ratified
the constitution of this nation
with sweat & blood
And will now help
formulate its philosophy
with pride & truth.
Feeling profound respect
for all our fallen comrades
to the standing ovation
of our now grateful children…

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Video of “Fifes & Drums of York Town“, courtesy of Monica Mason.

Featured image: Grace Episcopal Church. Yorktown. credit: Susan Rissi Tregoning

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