Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bethlehem Baptist Chuch

This past year Bethlehem Baptist Church celebrated its 132nd anniversary. The church stands as an on-going titan from which the community and the metropolitan area draws for guidance and spiritual comfort. I wish to give a little insight into Bethlehem's history for the many new members that have come to be a part of this historical community.

It was 1863, the Civil War was raging and the United States legislature was engaged in physical fights over the topic of slavery. Abraham Lincoln was physically and mentally exhausted from the burdens of the Civil War. Charles Sumner and Frederick Douglass were lobbying Lincoln to free the slaves. It was also in 1863 that Samuel K. Taylor, refugee slave from Caroline County, Virginia, came to Gum Springs and formed, from the depths of his soul, a star called Bethlehem.

He was born a slave in Caroline County in 1836, the son of John and Agnes Taylor. The Taylor family lived and worked on the plantation of William P. Taylor. Samuel Taylor was converted at the age of 17 and became a member of the church to which the enslavers belonged. His love of God was great and all consuming; for not long after his conversion, he had a spiritual experience whereby he felt God had chosen him to go out to the masses and spread the Word. He was permitted to preach to his fellow slaves on Saturday nights and Sundays on the plantation where he lived. Taylor would eventually escape from his bondage and travel to Gum Springs. After securing lodging, his ministry continued, meeting in various homes to conduct services as he had done previously. It was not until the end of the war that a building was raised to hold religious services for the Gum Springs community. The lumber to build the new church was provided by the federal government. This lumber was originally from stables used to house the horses of the Union Army. One can only surmise what may have been the thoughts of the church members at using lumber that was once a stable. Were their thoughts of shame because their church was built from lumber that was once a dirty stable; or thoughts of honor and glory, for it is said that "the horse is a noble beast that will not tread upon one whom has fallen".

The first building was used for both a church and a schoolhouse. Many of the first members were originally members of the First Colored Baptist Church of Alexandria, known today as the Alfred Street Baptist Church. These members asked for and received their church papers. Along with Samuel Taylor, they formed the First Black Baptist Church of Gum Springs. The Rev. Samuel Madden, then pastor of Alfred Street Baptist, looked upon Gum Springs with fatherly love and care. Madden performed holy communion and baptismal until Samuel Taylor's ordination in 1882. The relationship between the two was always that of a close-knit family.

On April 27, 1884, Bethlehem placed a second cornerstone for the new church. The size of the new church structure was 26' by 36'. The people were very excited about their new church and conducted prayer services once and sometimes twice a week. One night the men would lead the service followed the next night by the women. During a prayer meeting conducted by the women, a fund from the offering was established to purchase a pulpit set. In 1889, a pulpit set was purchased and presented to the church. Portions of that set are still being used in the church today.

By 1912, Rev. Taylor was 76 years old and had served for 47 years. Although his strength was not what it once was, he was still baptizing. During this time, baptisms were conducted at Little Hunting Creek, located at the intersection of U.S. Route 1 and Old Mount Vernon Road. On one such occasion, Rev. Taylor did not change his clothes immediately after a ceremony. He became ill and on Monday following the fourth Sunday in October, 1912, Rev. Samuel Taylor passed from labor to reward.

Article Written by Ronald L. Chase for History In Motion the Gum Springs Historical Society Magazine

Pictures from top to bottom: Bethlehem Baptist Church, 1993; The First Church, 1864; The Second Church, 1913; The Third Church, 1930; Rev. Sam K. Taylor, Bethlehem's Founder.

From the President's Desk

I would like to thank everyone for their patience regarding the printing of the fall edition of the Societies News Magazine. Our new format is courtsey of our new designer Chase Graphic Communications. Much has happened since our last magazine. You may have noticed the placement of the Welcome to Gum Springs area signs. They are located at Sherwood Hall and Parkers Lane, Richmond Highway and Fordson Road. Our third sign which was located at Richmond highway and Sherwood Hall Lane, was removed due to construction, however it will be replace by the Virginia Department of Transportation when construction is completed.

Gum Springs was nominated by, Fairfax County's Mount Vernon Supervisor, Gerry Hyland to have Gum Springs History Week Proclaimed through out the county, during the week of 11-17 December. The Proclamation was received and passed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

New homes are being built in the community, it seems almost everyday, and of course with the building of something new something old is removed. In coming editions, the society will showcase some of the few older architectural treasures remaining in Gum Springs to give you an even greater appreciation of this wonderful community. In addition, we had two other events that were very important to the society that you may have missed. One, the society celebrated its Tenth Anniversary, which was a great success. Anniversary Souvenier booklets are still available through the society's tape and book order department. The second event was the society's annual Memorial Day Service where we honor past community leaders. Last year's guest speaker was Channel 4 News Anchor Ms. Susan Kidd. Rev. James Kearse, Bethlehem Baptist Church's 4th pastor. Dr. Battle of Howard University Spengarn Center

As Gum Springs evolves, the Gum Springs Historical Society's task of recording and preserving its history has an even greater urgency then ever before. Those who the society has relied upon for historical material and oral histories are gradually becoming one with the ages -- Frances Johnson-Washington and Hilcress Stokes just to name a few. The list is long, time is short, and a morning and an evening count.
Anyone with old photos, documents, and other material of historical value can contact the society to donate artifacts or have those artifacts cataloged. I would like to give a special thanks to Hanna Adams. She donated two porcelain decanters handed down from the George Mason Estate.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Wes Ford:

Gum Springs Patriarc - George Washington's Slave Son?

In light of the recent revelations about Thomas Jefferson, much has been written lately about the probability that George Washington also fathered children by slave women. The local Washington Area press seems to support the Mount Vernon Ladies Association's contention that this premise is false. But, they are vehemently opposed to conducting DNA tests. Why? It is common knowledge that slave owners used female slaves for sexual pleasure. Are we supposed to believe that George Washington didn't? It is also probable that many slave owners, as did Thomas Jefferson, fell in love with their slave mistresses. Was West Ford truly Washington's son? Isn't it about time for the truth to be told.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


The Gum Springs Historical Society membership drive is an ongoing endeavor. We are always looking to increase membership in order to raise funds to continue running and improving the Museum and Cultural Center. Membership entitles you to get the latest copy the quarterly magazine "History In Motion", a T-shirt and reduced prices on Society events. Please fill out the Application form and submit your dues online. If you do not want to submit dues online, you can complete the form, print it and submit it with your check or money order payable to: The Gum Springs Historical Society , to the address above. Alternatively, you can write your name and other information on a piece of paper and submit it with your check or money order. We're counting on your support.

Click here for a membership Application.

Slave Memorial at Mount Vernon

In February of 1982, supervisor James Scott read an article in the Washington Post written by Dorothy Gilliam regarding the lack of a memorial to the slaves of Mount Vernon. Scott called Frank Matthews of the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP. Scott informed Matthews that the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, who operates the restoration and upkeep of the Mount Vernon estate, was scheduled to request tax-exempt status for two restaurants on the grounds from the county board of supervisors.

Matthews attended this meeting and objected on the grounds that it violated the spirit and letter of the county's human rights ordinance. In addition, the ladies had not properly memorialized a burial site for the slaves.

Soon after Matthews, joined by the local black community, formed a committee to meet with the Ladies Association. A decision was agreed upon to build the memorial and a design was commissioned. Harry G. Robinson of the Howard University School of Architecture was contracted. A team consisting of ten students led by David Edge completed the design. It shows a tree-lined walk with a cut leaf column in the center. Three circles surround the column, symbolizing faith, hope, and love. Edge explained, "The source of the slaves' strength was hope, faith, and love. The column, known for its strength, represents the slaves' strength".

The Slave Memorial
The realization of the slave memorial at Mount Vernon established a precedence that opened the door towards greater cooperation. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association has implemented an outreach program involving local schools; they hired Gladys Quander Tancil, the only black descendent and member of one of the oldest black families descending from the slaves at Mount Vernon. They now produce an educational packet as well as have special rates for local school children during October.

The support of Mrs. Francis Guy of Richmond, the liaison for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and the late John Castellanti will always be appreciated because the task was not an easy one. Thirteen years ago, it was an awesome occasion to pay homage to those forgotten people and now, we can say that those forgotten people brought us, black and white, together.