|Pittsylvania County, Virginia
|Greenfield Church & Tanyard
|September 12, 1769, the Church of England ordered a new church built "at Thomas Mustein's
(usually spelled Mustain) at the old muster place between Abram (or Abraham) Shelton's and
Abraham Shelton owned a square mile (640 acres) of land at Chalk Level, Virginia, on both sides
of Hickey's Road (now State Road 685) [note 1]. The old church was most likely located in the
area of Brown's Tavern on the road that is now State Road 685 (Chalk Level Road), between the
present State Road 40 and Stinking River.
At some early date during the turbulent times when the Americans were breaking their ties with
England, the Stinking River Meeting House became known as the Stinking River Baptist Church.
Records of the church survive back to April 27, 1816, when they were still meeting in the old
Stinking River building. Records mainly concern members being received into fellowship and
dismissed for improper conduct. Disputes and misconduct were judged and the offender was
either forgiven or denied fellowship.
It is interesting to note that slaves were taken into the fellowship. On August 23, 1817, it was
noted that John Coles' slave Nicholass "has taken in preaching." A. Mustain, L. Dove, C. Shelton
reported they had been informed that Nicholass "had taken a privilege to great, he may preach in
the Bounds of the Church." Unfortunately, on January 26, 1822, Coles' Nicholas was found guilty
of crimes; and on March 23, the case against him was dismissed "within consequence of his
On January 24, 1818, Griffith Dickenson, Thomas Mourning, Cole Shelton, John Douglas, and
John Brown were ordered to represent the church in making application to Henry Motley for land
to erect a Meeting House. By May 2, 1818, the Stinking River Baptists had their deed for the land
of the present church. Henry Motley, together with William I. Lewis gave two and one third (2 1/3 )
acres of land "whereas it is intended to erect by voluntary contribution in the old field near the
tanyard of H. Motley a House for Devine Worship." There were deed restrictions which stated the
land was "for this particular use and purpose in trust that the present Stinking River Baptist
Church is to have exclusive priviledge of Devine Worship in the building which may be thereon
erected on the day and times of their stated and regular meeting for Devine Worship, and at
other times the building and ground aforesaid to be free for the use of every or any other
religious sect or denomination whatsoever for the purpose of Devine Worship."
This deed stated that the new property lines began at a black gum on a small branch and to a
pine in the old field near the tanyard. The tanyard or tannery was called Markham's Tan Yard in
some early deeds. James Whitehead and his son-in-law William Markham operated the tannery
as a partnership for a time. Whitehead bought the property, which was then 126 acres, from Joel
Shelton on February 14, 1808. The property where the church and tannery were located was in
and out of Shelton ownership for more than one hundred years after Hugh Innes sold part of his
land grant to Benjamin Shelton in 1772.
By January 16, 1863, the tan yard property had been reduced to 4 3/4 acres. On that day,
William C. Shelton paid $2,000 when he purchased from Henry Faris the property, "including the
buildings near Greenfield Meeting House in County of Pittsylvania containing four & three fourth
acres more or less including the Tanyard & all the fixtures and tools appertaining thereto."
This high price was likely the result of the high demand for leather during the War Between the
States. Those who purchased property with their Confederate money were more fortunate than
those who had stacks of the worthless currency after the War had ended in 1865. After the Civil
War, when the property of the deceased William C. Shelton was sold at auction in May of 1869,
his tanyard and fixtures only brought $900. William's father-in-law, William Reese, and a Mr.
Parker bought the tan yard.
In November of 1994, I visited the site of the tanyard. John Bailey, who then owned the property,
took me to the old spring not very far from Greenfield Baptist Church. Along the spring branch,
the old wooden sills for buildings and the depressions where the vats once processed the leather
can still be seen.
1 - The old Lynchburg-Danville Stage Road followed Hickey's Road from Chatham to just north of
Chalk Level and then continued north by Brown's Tavern and across Stinking River to
Lynchburg, Virginia. Hickey's Road turned east and led to the James River, where ships from
England brought supplies. The road was called Hickey's Road across Pittsylvania County since it
led to Hickey's Store. The store was located near the present town of Henry, northwest of
3 DIARIES FOR THE YEARS 1850, 1851 AND 1852