Leeds Parish, covering much of Northern and Central Fauquier County, was established in 1769 by action of the Virginia House of Burgesses and has been in continuous existence since then. The name of the new parish was taken from Leeds Castle in England, the birthplace of Lord Fairfax, whose colonial estates encompassed most of the new Church of England (Anglican) parish. Formal ratification of the parish occurred in December of 1769, and worship services began immediately.
Leeds Parish was fortunate that its first Rector was The Rev. James Thompson, a Scotsman, who served the parish from 1769 to 1816. During the colonial period, many of the Anglican clergy in Virginia and elsewhere were loyal to the English crown, so when the American Revolution occurred they left their parishes. The Rev. Thompson, however, was a staunch patriot and he remained at Leeds. He even used his sermons to recommend that parishioners contribute financially to the fight for independence. Leeds Church was represented at the first convention of the Diocese of Virginia in 1785.
In its early years, the Leeds Parish worship services were held in private homes and a number of wooden church buildings. In 1842, the present church sanctuary was built of brick and stucco in the early Gothic revival style, and was consecrated by Bishop William Meade.
Leeds Church was an eyewitness to history during the Civil War. The church building was occupied by both Northern and Southern soldiers; one wall was pierced by an artillery shell from a nearby hostile engagement. Lee and Longstreet’s troops marched past (on what is now Route 688) on their way to the battles of Antietam and Gettysburg. Confederate General Turner Ashby was a member of the parish.
In 1873, all of the church’s woodwork was destroyed by a fire, but was subsequently restored to the building as it exists today. In 1894, the stone wall around the church was completed with significant support from the congregation.
One of the great heroes of Leeds Parish was Dr. James Markham Ambler, a physician in the U.S. Navy. A member of the ill-fated Jeanette Arctic Expedition (1879-1881), Dr. Ambler’s willingness to sacrifice his own life to remain with his dying patients is a moving example of faith and courage. Dr. Ambler’s body is buried in Leeds’ churchyard; a tablet placed inside the church by the medical officers of the U.S. Navy commemorates his life.
The following link Tombstones contains photographs of many of the tombstones in Leeds Cemetery, including that of Dr. Ambler.
In the history of Leeds, many Rectors have served long and dedicated careers. In the last 100 years alone, three rectors have served for a combined 75 years:
The Reverend Fremont Newton Hinkel (1922-1956), 34 years
The Reverend Howard Llewellyn Fairchild (1967-1991), 24 years
The Reverend Linnea Summers Turner (1993-2010), 17 years
These long tenures reflect their synergy with the people of Leeds Parish and our desire is to always seek a balance between the leadership and common goals. This spirit has brought the people of Leeds continuing success in their mission to serve our Lord and the needs of others.
Today, Leeds Episcopal Church is an active and vibrant parish that cherishes its history of faith and community, while looking forward to the future in its fourth century of existence.