Brief Historical Sketch of the Tomahawk Presbyterian Church

Edited by William D. Moore, CLP



      Two hundred and fifty years ago Back Creek Valley was the frontier of civilization; the white man had pushed the Indian farther back into the wilderness. The Scotch Presbyterians emigration from the North of Ireland to America was in full swing. Beginning early in the eighteenth century, that movement continued in increasing volume to about the year 1750. In the last decade of that period they were coming at an estimate rate of nearly 12,000 a year. They first located in Pennsylvania but finding that they were not welcome in the province of William Penn, many of them moved South, down the Susquehana Valley, then the Shenandoah Valley, across the Potomac, into this section of Virginia. They normally built churches wherever their settlements were formed and established.

     Just what time the tide reached Back Creek Valley we do not know.

     Dr. James R. Graham in his book, THE PLANING OF PRESBYERIANISM IN THE NORTHERN NECK OF VIRGINIA, speaking of Back Creek says.. " The valley is very beautiful, and early attracted the emigrants who were seeking homes; many choosing the smooth lands along this creek in preference to the strong limestone land in the Valley between the North Mountain and the Blue Ridge.

     During the French and Indian War - 1754 to 1763 - the settlers were so harassed by the Indians that a large part of them crossed the North Mountain and settled on Tuscarora creek and at Falling Waters. The movement of these people materially strengthened the growth of churches in those places.

     But many years before the migratory movement began, the settlers who were largely of the Presbyterian lineage and faith had established a church in their own valley. Dr. William H. Foote, a church historian, places the organization of the Back Creek Presbyterian Church at about 1740 - 1745, although this can not be confirmed.

      Some of the old records of Donegal Presbytery, which included this territory, are lost and the name of the church does not appear in the existing records until 1760. There is a gap of about fifteen years when church records of this area from that Presbytery are lost.

     Quoting Dr. James Graham again, … " In April 1760, Rev. John Hoge is ordered to supply Back Creek:" For the next nine years Presbytery furnished this church repeatedly with supplies [ ministers ] in connection with Tuscarora or Falling Waters. In October 1770, Rev. Hugh Vance, who had just been licensed, was laid before Presbytery from Back Creek and Falling Waters to become their Pastor." He seems to have been installed and continued as Pastor for more than twenty years, until his death in 1791.

     During Mr. Vance’s pastorate, Back Creek church must have been one of the strongest in the county, as will appear from the following entry in the diary of a certain Mr. Fifthian: "Sunday, June 18, 1775, over the North Mountain I rode to Mr. Vance’s meeting house at Back Creek. The sacrament was administered. Ninety-three communicants. Vast assembly."

     Then the area was thrown into the tumult of the Great War of Independence from Great Britain. The area produced two companies of men to answer the call from the Continental Congress. Captain Hugh Stephenson raised a company at Shepherdstown and at Winchester, Virginia, Captain Daniel Morgan recruited a company that included many men from the area.

     During the years of struggle of sacrifice the church continued on, but records are lost to antiquity and not much is known --- except that the church survived. It appears that ministers of Falling Waters and Tuscarora were preaching at Back Creek but not as the established pastor.

     On to the scene comes the person of the Rev. James Brown. He came to Berkeley County in the late 1820’s to begin his work as Pastor of Falling Waters and Tuscarora churches.


     With true missionary spirit, he found time to minister to the people of the Back Creek Valley church. He found there six members and a dilapidated log church. He left them with 37 members and the stone church, which is still in use.

     The Rev. Payton Harrison, who was Pastor of the Martinsburg church from 1837 until 1844, supplied the pulpit at Back Creek for a while. His name appears as the moderator and clerk of Session for one year , 1838- 1839.

From 1846 to 1859 the Rev. James H. Jennings was Pastor at Back Creek, also Bloomery. His name is signed to all Sessional records during that time. Henry Kitchen was for a while the only Elder; Jacob Siler was elected elder in 1851 and after the death of Mr. Kitchen, Robert Wood was elected Elder in 1858.

During that time period the members received were: Eli Siler, Miss Hannah Stuckey, Mrs. Elizabeth Jennings, James M. Kitchen, Robert Wood, Misses Susan and Mary Snodgrass, Mrs. Julia Richards, Mrs. Maria Stuckey, Philip Murphy, Mrs. Lucinda V. Tabb, Miss Hannah Helen Snodgrass, Is. Wood, Peter Hess and Nancy Hess his wife.

     Up until this time Mr. Jennings was the only resident pastor the church ever had. At all other periods when it had a pastor, it was grouped with Falling Waters or Tuscarora or both and the Pastor lived east of the mountain.

     Work had begun on replacing the old log building as early as 1830. Records show several receipts being given for work on the building.

" Rec’d Sept. 24th 1830 of Robert V. Snodgrass four dollars and 50 cents, the amount of my account for hauling sand and lime for the use of the Back Creek new meeting house. - Signed Jacob Myers "

" Rec’d Sept. 23rd 1830 of Robert V. Snodgrass on the behalf of the subscribers to the finishing of the Back Creek new Meeting house, forty dollars and thirty to and half cents, being the amount in full of my account for plastering said meeting house. - Signed Robert Halbert "

" Rec’d May 23rd 1831 of Robert V. Snodgrass six dollars and fifty cents the balance in full for the time furnished for the Back Creek new Meeting house - Signed Charles Stuckey "

" Back Creek Meeting House"

Memorandum of agreement made concluded and entered into by and between James Robinson ( of Isl.) and Robert V. Snodgrass, a committee acting by and on behalf of the Community of the Back Creek Meeting House of the one part - and -

Robert Halbert ( late of Carlisle ) of the other part - Witness that for and in consideration of the compensation herein after mentioned - he the said Robert Halbert hath agreed, and hereby binds himself to plaister the inside of the said Meeting House & to commence forth with and as soon as the materials are ready - at the rate of 12 ½ cts per square yard, he to put in the studing, strps between the rafters, curve pieces at the angles - board and tends himself - erect scaffles, and all other fixings that are necessary, and warrant the work to be done in a good workman like manner and if there should be any complaint about the goodness of the work to suffer the same to be judged by competent workman and sumbit to be curtailed in his price according to the judgment of said competent person, for which consideration they the said James Robinson ( of Isl.) and Robert V. Snodgrass as Committee as aforesaid, hereby bind themselves to pay said Robert Halbert the said sum of 12 ½ cents the square yard to be measured when the work is completed & also One Dollar as additional for the extra trouble of the curve pieces and studing $ to all which agreement the parties hereto, have hereunto interchangeable set their hands and append their seals this 22nd day of August 1830

James Robinson- seal / Robert V. Snodgrass - seal / Robert Halbert - seal

On the back is written: Halbert’s Obligation


Apparently there were other plasterer’s in the community and other proposal was given:

" Mr. Thomas Croney proposal for plastering & lathing Meeting House.

To wit - Plastering - lathing ) & if required will rive lathe 20 cents per square yard.

All materials to be found him on the ground - he scaffles - puts up stud and strips -

He will do plastering and lathing or if boarded and attended for half the sum - that is 10 cents per square yard.

Mr. Croney says it will take some 3,000 lathes & 20 lbs lathing nails & some other common nails to put up studing - 70 bushels of Back Creek lime and 16 bushels marble lime for white coating - 40 bushels of hair.

3000 lathes 150 cts the co to make it $1.00

70 bushes of lime at 10 Cts 7.00

25 nails - 12 ½ cents 3.12

40 bushels of hair 5.00

240 sqr yards - 20 cts per yard 48.00

Hauling 12.87

Total $80.00

1000 lathes will lime 50 yards

Would wish to commence the work as soon as possible as he is done with [ other job ] which in all probability will be 1st June but he would like to lath it before it is done. If this work is not contracted for before harvest, it will not suit him to do it before sometime this season. "


Mr. Halbert won the contract. The paper reads:

The Plaistering of the Meeting House

     Mr. Robert Halbert gives a price of $31.77 ½. He will undertake to Plaister the Meeting House and commence as soon as the material can be furnished - at the rate of 12 cents per square yard - he to put in the studing strips & curve pieces - erect scaffles, tend to and board himself - and warrant the work to be done in a good and workman like manner.

     We subscribers hereto, bind ourselves and our heirs to pay the several sums attached to our names and to create a fund to be expended for the completion etc of the new Back Creek Meeting House, payable as soon as required, April 1830. The first signature is that of R. Snodgrass for the sum of $5.00 and was marked paid.

[ Editors note: The entire list was in the Perkins Library at Duke University in the 1930’s and may still be there ]

Mr. George M. Tederick, an Elder in the Church in the 1930’s was in his 84th year when he interviewed about the church. He said that he had settled in the Tomahawk community in 1877, renting land from a Dr. Harper, who told him of a race between his team and another driven by a Negro belonging to to a family named Grantham in the building of the stone church. It was to see who would deliver the first load of stone for the building of the church. When Dr. Harper’s team reached the foot of the hill, the Grantham family was unloading stone at the top of the hill.

The name of the church changed from Mr. Vance’s Meeting House to that of the Back Creek Stone Church and then gradually it was changed to just the Stone Church at Back Creek because no other stone church existed in that area.

The church had been built on the private property of the Snodgrass Family. Later in the setting of the estate of Col. Robert Snodgrass that it was recognized in the splitting up of the Tomahawk Spring Farm. It was not until the last year of the life of Sarah Ann Snodgrass, wife of the Col. Robert Snodgrass, that the actual deed was drawn up giving the land to the church. Mrs. Snodgrass died on Nov. 24, 1891 at the age of eighty-five. With the passing of Mrs. Snodgrass the family’s association with the church and the community ceased.

The Snodgrass family held church offices, contributed heavily to the church and are buried in the adjoining cemetery to the church.

Here is a copy of the words of the original deed:

Grantor: Joseph H. Kitchen, Grantee Trustees of Presby. Church of Back Creek, Deed Book No. 89, page 127

This deed made the 31st day of October in the year 1891, between Joseph H. Kitchen and Catherine Kitchen his wife, parties of the first part, and James E. Murphy, Nathan P. Snyder and James W. Wood as Trustees of the Presbyterian Church and Congregation of Back Creek in the County of Berkeley and the State of West Virginia, parties of the second part,

Witnesseth: that in consideration of the sum of one dollar in hand paid to them by the said parties of the second part, their successors, and assigns, that lot or parcel of ground in the line between the land of Joseph H. Kitchen and the land of Levi Henshaw; thence N. 30 degrees E. 141 feet along said line to a stake; thence North 45 degrees East 5/10th of a pole to a stake; thence along said line North 30 degrees East 73 ½ feet to the place beginning, containing 23 ¾ square poles, and being a part of a larger tract of land conveyed by Sarah A. Snodgrass and others to the said Joseph H. Kitchen by deed dated March 27, 1866 and recorded in the deed book No. 63, page 505 of the land records of said County, to have and to hold the said lot of ground unto the said parties of the second part, their successors and assigns in trust for use and benefit of the Presbyterian Congregation of Back Creek as and for a place of Public Worship.

Joseph H. Kitchen - seal/ Catherine Kitchen - her X mark

Witness the following signatures and seals

Attesting witness - Rev. S. M. Engle

State of West Virginia

County of Berkeley, to Wit:

I, Joseph H. Alexander, a Notary Public of said County of Berkeley, do certify that Joseph H. Kitchen and Catherine Kitchen, his wife, whose names are signed to the writing above, bearing the date 31st day of October in the year 1891, have this day acknowledged the same before me in my said County, given under my hand and seal this day of December in the year 1891. - Joseph H. Alexander - Notary Public.




Rev. James Jennings is said to have lived in the old Alonzo Myers house. This place is also distinguished as the birthplace or early home of the Rev. John Calvin Siler, DD, a beloved son of the Tomahawk Church.

     In the records kept by Mr. Jennings the name of the church is given as " Stone Church, Back Creek, " and sometimes simply as" Stone Church." It stayed that way for many years.

     Again the desolation of War! This time a war where families were divided and the area was besieged by armies of both the North and South of the same country. Rev. Jennings pastorate closed in 1859 after the war and for thirty (30) years there are no records of Session meetings or activity of the church. The church had no regular Pastor and was well nigh extinct.

     But once more, in the providence of God, a young man of missionary zel and ability appeared in the person of the Rev. S. M. Engle, who was ordained and installed pastor of Falling Waters Church in 1891. In the old Back Creek Session book we find the following note written by Mr. Engle on the date July 18, 1892:

" This Session book of the Back Creek Presbyterian Church came to my hands from Mr. James Murphy near Tomahawk, West Virginia who took it from under a book under the pulpit in the Back Creek Church"

Rev. Engle goes on in his writing:

" When I came to the work at Falling Waters church in the summer of 1890 the Back Creek church had six remaining members of the original organization, which organized had been dissolved by the war. I began preaching there regularly every two weeks and after holding a protracted meeting in the fall of 1891, the membership was increased to such an extent that they made application to Presbytery in the spring of 1892 for reorganization. "

The church was regularly reorganized by a Commission appointed by Presbytery and now there is a membership of seventy (70), and a Sabbath school of something over a hundred members. The present Elders are Mr. James Murphy, Mr. Thomas Siler, and Mr. George Tederick. The Deacons are Mr. Daniel McDaniel, Mr. Robert Murphy, and Lewis Shriver. The date of the reorganization was not listed but the sermon was preached by Rev. F. M. Woods of Martinsburg.

Mr. George Tederick stated that at the time Rev. Engle began the work, the church was very much in need of repair, especially the roof, which had sagged and was leaking badly. The old rafters were made of hewn logs, and in order to straighten them, two by four sawed rafters were placed along side and fastened to them. Mr. David Miller ( nee Lefevre) was especially active in contributing and securing the necessary money and a roof was put on.

The pulpit was lowered, new pews installed, and other needed repairs were made. The work was well done and were in good order when the report was made in the 1930’s. The only major improvement that was added in the 1930’s was in the installation of an electric light plant, the gift of Mrs. Adelia Wood Todd, a former member living at that time in Lynchburg, Kentucky.

On May 21st in 1896 the Pastor at the time, Rev. E. R. Leyburn made this statement: " Session met immediately after the afternoon service in the Tomahawk Presbyterian Church." THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME THAT THE CHURCH WAS METNIONED INT EH OFFICAL RECORDS AS THE TOMAHAWK PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH…. And so it continues to this day.



The succession of Pastors since Rev. Engle is as follows:

Rev. E. R. Leyburn      1895-1902

Rev. John C. Leps       1902-1908

Rev. J. T. McBryde      1909-1912

Rev. Richard Lancaster 1913-1916

Rev. B. H. Franklin     1917-1920

Rev. Jos. A. M. McMurray 1921 -

[ When this listing was made the present active officers are the church were:

Elders: E. G. Hiett and Charles Coffinbarger

Deacons: Ben Myers, Peter Tederick, Alonzo Myers

Treasurer - C. T. McDaniel



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