As descendants of John Trammell, who donated land for the Falls Church Episcopal Church, my brothers and I strongly believe the property should remain with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia as it has for over 270 years. From our research and family histories, there is nothing to indicate that John Trammell intended anything other than that the land be used by the established, traditional church of that time, whose vestry would include George Washington and other establishment figures.
The official website of the church states in the lead paragraph of the section on its history: “The first church to be built after it was established by the Colonial General Assembly in 1732 was a wooden building on this site as a part of Truro Parish. It was completed in 1734 by Richard Blackburn on land donated by John Trammell. Until that time, this area was served by [a] clergyman who lived near present-day Quantico, and the nearest church was Occoquan Church near Lorton.”
Our great (6) grandfather (that is our great-grandfather’s great-grandfather’s grandfather), the John Trammell cited above, carved out enough land from his 250 acre farm for the new church to be built and deeded that land to what would become the Episcopal Church for that purpose. The historical marker at 312 Park Avenue in Falls Church notes the gift from the Trammell tract.
John Trammell’s farm was near what is now the intersection of Routes 7 and 29 in downtown Falls Church on land he had acquired in the 1720s. He was the son of indentured servants, Thomas and Dorothy Trammell, who, as teenagers, had secured their 1670 passage to the New World. After his four years of indenture, Thomas successfully sued for his freedom and then moved his family up the Potomac from Westmoreland County, where he and Dorothy had originally come, arriving at the area of the falls of the Potomac. Their children and grandchildren helped settle this area of northern Virginia, homesteading various parcels of land in what are now Arlington, Falls Church, Fairfax and Loudon Counties.
Today, as the descendants of John Trammell who provided the land for the construction of the church, we are deeply troubled by the efforts of the current congregation to remove ownership of this land and church from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and are of the opinion that our ancestor intended the land that he deeded be used by what eventually became the Episcopal Church. We do know of the patriotism and love of country that he must have instilled in his sons and grandsons who fought for American independence and do not believe that removing ownership of the land from what for him was the establishment church that would serve his family to be consistent with what we know of our ancestor.
We are deeply troubled by the efforts of the current congregation to remove ownership of this land & church from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.
We believe any religious congregation may change its views or its doctrine over time. And, in fact, it is fortunate for women, African-Americans and others who have been traditionally marginalized, that most religious congregations today are more inclusive of all of God’s children. Whether a congregation finds that church doctrine has become too liberal, too conservative or has changed in any other way not too its liking is irrelevant to the core question at issue here. Property titles do not change with change in doctrine or beliefs. If a property was deeded to a particular religious denomination, as the facts indicate in this situation, then that denomination should continue to hold that title, as it has in an undisputed fashion for over 270 years. If it is possible for a majority of any congregation to have the ability to opt to transfer title of a house of worship and the land upon which it is constructed to an entirely different denomination, regardless of the intent of the deed maker and hundreds of years of universal acknowledgement as being part of a denomination, then what other landmark historic church will be next to have its title “spirited away by the congregation du jour”?
As is the case today, at the time the deed was executed there were various sects of Protestantism. The Great Awakening of the earlier 1700s had brought alternatives to the established church of the day. Our ancestor, John Trammell, decided to provide the land for the building of a church, not one of the alternative more evangelical churches that had sprung up but for the established Anglican Church, renamed the Episcopal Church after ties to England were severed.
Today, the Falls Church and Truro parishes are receiving international attention over their struggle to transfer title to this land and the building to an international religious denomination, and take it from the U.S. Episcopal Church. We see nothing in our ancestor or family’s past that would support such a radical departure from the almost three centuries of tradition of this landmark church that our ancestor helped create for Northern Virginia.
Park M. Trammell & Robert D. Trammell contributed to this commentary.