Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Our Family's Colonial Era, Part IV

Mill Swamp and the Church
by Glenn N. Holliman

For the past three weeks, I have described a journey to our family roots in Isle of Wight County, Virginia. Just down the road from the Holleman House is a church that has become part of the family story.

The Mill Swamp Baptist Church, Isle of Wight Co., Virginia has been rebuilt many times in nearly 300 years of existence. The church and cemetery are adjacent to land owned by the Holleman's and Gwaltney's. According to cousin Jeanette Holiman Stewart, from 1798 to 1801 Jesse Holleman, Sr. was joint minister of the church with John Gwaltney. Later Jesse Sr., a direct descendant of Christopher Holliman, Sr. pastored the church alone from 1819-1820 when he was 83 years of age.

The first Hollimans were Anglicans, members of the Church of England. Until the American Revolution, there was only one official church in Virginia, and that was the Anglican or as now styled, the Episcopal Church. Our Virginia ancestors did not come to the New World for religious freedom. They came to better themselves economically, and Christopher Holliman, Sr. succeeded.

There were few Episcopal parishes in colonial days. Only one or two in each shire (as the first Virginia counties were called), and many persons felt something missing spiritually in their lives. Into that religious void came the Baptist Church, which gradually spread out of New England into the Middle Atlantic and Southern colonies by the early 1700s. Presbyterians and Methodists soon followed.

Our cousins and contributors, Ron Holliman and Maxine Wright, have pointed out that one Holliman, Ezekiel of Rhode Island, was a founder of the American Baptist Church. Ezekiel Holliman, from the same part of England as Christopher Holliman, Sr., baptised Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and the Baptist Church in America! More on this probable distant cousin in later posts.

One of the first Baptist churches established in southeast Virginia was located adjacent to Holliman and Gwaltney land. The Mill Swamp Baptist Church, founded 1719, was named after the marshy ground and a stream that ran nearby. This church's location proved perfect for baptisms and became the mother church of many others in the Virginia tidewater region. In the adjacent cemetery are numerous graves of 19th and 20th century Hollemans plus Cofers, Gwaltneys and Atkinsons, all who intermarried in the Holliman family. Photo by Barbara Holliman of Glenn, 2010. A list of those buried in Mill Swamp Baptist Church Cemetery can be found at

Yes, there truly is a Mill Swamp near the Blackwater River as noted on the 1684 patent for Christopher Holliman, Sr.

Next week we begin to examine the cash crop, tobacco, which was grown by the Holliman family in the Colonial Era.

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