History: Rev. Lee Massey, Pastor and Friend of George Washington

History: Rev. Lee Massey, Pastor and Friend of George Washington

Lee Massey was born in 1732 in King George County in the Northern Neck area of Virginia. His mother was a member of the prominent Alexander family, after which the City of Alexandria was named. He began his professional life as a lawyer, reading law with George Johnston, a distinguished lawyer residing at Alexandria, and eventually married his daughter, Mary Johnston, in 1756.

Massey handled legal work in the courts for criminal trials and offenses, as well as legal papers, contracts, and wills. In that capacity he often handled legal affairs for the Mason, Washington, and Fairfax families. But his legal practice began to weigh heavily on his mind and soul. Massey found it a bitter moral issue to have to defend those guilty of crimes and to perform his duty to see them proved innocent, even when he knew they were guilty and deserving of punishment.

The death of the Rev. Charles Green of Truro Parish at the close of 1765 created the need for the selection of a new minister, and Massey submitted his case to George Washington for his advice on whether he should pursue ordination to take the late Rev. Green’s place. Washington heartily agreed, and so Churchwarden George Washington and the vestrymen of Truro Parish signed letters to the Governor of Virginia and the Bishop of London to recommend Lee Massey entering holy orders in order to become the rector for Truro Parish.

Lee Massey sailed off to London to read for ordination with the Bishop of London in 1766. On returning to Virginia about 10 months later, his letters of ordination being accepted by the governor and the Vestry, the Rev. Lee Massey was made rector of the two churches of Truro Parish. He began divine services and preaching twice a month at the old Pohick Church near Colchester and twice again at Payne’s Church (destroyed during the Civil War) about 10 miles to the west in what is now Fairfax Station.

In 1767, the same year that he was made rector, the Vestry decided to build a new Pohick Church of brick and stone (the old wooden church being well out of repair) at the corner of what is now Telegraph/Old Colchester Road and Route 1 in Lorton, a spot personally chosen and surveyed by George Washington. The new church was completed in 1774 and is the current Historic Pohick Episcopal Church.

During the colonial period most marriages, baptisms and funerals were performed not in church but in private homes. George Washington asked Rev. Massey to read the burial service for his stepdaughter Martha “Patsy” Custis when she died suddenly in 1773.

The Rev. Lee Massey, along with George Washington, George Mason, John Carlyle, and 21 others, also signed the Fairfax Resolves on July 18, 1774.

The Revolutionary War brought financial hardship to the area as well as to most of the colonial Anglican churches. Many of the country churches like Pohick began holding only occasional services. In late 1777 Lee Massey stepped down as full-time rector for public church duties. He then studied medicine as a means of relieving the poor of the parish, but even after his retirement, Washington always referred to his friend as the “incumbent of Pohick Church.”

Lee Massey continued to live at Bradley, his plantation a few miles away from Gunston Hall, until his death in 1814 at the age of 86. His tombstone can be seen today under the pulpit in Pohick Church, when it was moved from Bradley in 1908.

The author will portray Rev. Massey at the Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House on the morning of Feb. 19 before the parade starts.