In light of the salary afforded colonial clergy, 16,600 pounds of tobacco, Parishes allotted farm lands for clergy to supplement their income. Instructions from England to Governor William Berkeley in 1642 called for “parish glebes to be at least 200 acres in size…” and later in 1661 were “‘for the better encouragement of ministers’ to provide parsonages and glebe lands. (Nelson, pg 50)
As can be expected, much of this royal mandate was subject to the Governor’s judgement for execution. In the end, Governor Berkeley held the minimum glebe size to be 100 acres and that a “convenient dwelling house” would be provided for the clergy. (Nelson, pg 50)
All was well and good for clergy and their glebes until the Revolution. Following which, there became pressure to take back public lands given to parishes to separate the church and the state (and arguably in direct response to the disfavor of all things Royal and remnants of the former ruler).
The Suffolk Parish Glebe – administered by Lower and Chuckatuck Parishes
Under 1802 law “Overseers of the Poor” in counties could seize and sell glebes and distribute the proceeds to the poor in their counties. The act “exempted from seizure and sale any personal donations of property to churches that had occurred before 1 January 1777.” (Webb, pg 10)
1803 the Court of Appeals was deadlocked 2-2 ruling on Manchester Vestry’s petition to declare the law unconstitutional thereby it could not overturn the lower court ruling thus allowing glebes to be sold. (Webb, pg 12)
The only Parish in Virginia retained its glebe, Suffolk Parish. They were able to keep their glebe because the glebe had been received as a gift and no public levies were involved. Their claim went unchallenged and Suffolk Parish retains over 300 acres of glebe land today. (Webb, pg 12)
Nelson, John K., A Blessed Company: Parishes, Parsons, and Parishioners in Anglican Virginia, 1690-1776, The University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, 2001.
Webb, Willard J. and Anne C. Webb, The Glebe Houses of Colonial Virginia, Heritage Books: Bowie, 2003.