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Historical Notes on the Founding
of the Achilles Friends Church

By L. Roane Hunt

Achilles Friends Church
Gloucester, Virginia

    In the late nineteenth century, missionaries from the Ohio Friends found "fertile ground" in Southeastern Virginia. The group known as the "Hall Band Evangelists" established their headquarters in Washington D.C. where they launched their many preaching tours into the South. Two siblings, Frank J. and Phoebe Hall, who were missionary preachers, spearheaded this work, and their greatest success was in Virginia. They preached two distinct works of grace for salvation and for sanctification; this was a version of Wesleyan doctrines. Within the Methodist Churches, the second work of sanctification was in dispute, and the leadership seemed to be de-emphasizing it to the disappointment of those who leaned toward the "Old Methodism." Therefore, the Hall preachers had a ready audience among some Methodist, confirmed by the fact that their new churches were established in the strongest Methodist communities. Thus Achilles Friends Church was established in 1899 in the Southern part of Gloucester County near Bethlehem Methodist Church, one of the earliest Methodist churches in the County. Achilles was first listed in 1921 in the minutes of the Yearly Meeting of Ohio Friends. Like the first century church that began with the Jews and then added Gentiles, the Virginia Friends began with Methodist and then added other converts from family and community.

Frank J. Hall

    The effectiveness of the Hall Band was demonstrated in the Roane family of the southern part of King and Queen County. Their involvement with the Hall Band in many of these churches best illustrates how this movement took such a stronghold on families and communities. One family member, Claude Roane, had just reached adulthood when the Halls arrived. He participated in every aspect of the local work, and later moved to Ohio and took a major role in shaping the churches to confront the modern era. Although he retired in 1951, his leadership is widely appreciated among the churches. The story of the Hall missionary work in Virginia and their interaction with Claude Roane and his family is a true testimony of the goodness of God in the redemption of His people.

    The Ohio Friends.- The minutes of the Yearly Meetings of the Ohio Friends include very interesting reports and other references to the work of the Home Mission Board’s efforts to evangelize the South by sending out members of the Hall family, referred to as the "Hall Band Evangelists." In the 1883 record, Frank Hall was listed as a member to the Home Mission Board. In 1885 both Frank and his sister Phoebe were listed on the board. Then, in 1886, Phoebe was listed in the Ministers Recorded section on page 10. A very detailed written report entitled "A Voice from the South" and dated August 6, 1888, was included in the minutes. It was signed, "Frank J. and Phoebe Hall." They had held meetings in eight states and nineteen cities. In Virginia they held meetings as follows: six in Richmond, three in Lynchburg, one in Roanoke, and two in Norfolk. "More than three thousand ship-wrecked souls escape safely and anchor on the Rock of Ages, and hundreds of Christian believers accept the more abundant salvation and go over to possess the inheritance among the sanctified." Their congregations represented "the best people of every branch of the church in the South" and many "who do not enter the church." "The ministers in general do not teach the doctrine of Holiness as an experience to be obtained in this life, and some oppose it." The report also included their finances. "The cost of our portable church for four years has been nearly $1600; expenses of travel, board, etc., nearly $4000. We carry besides tent and fixtures, 600 chairs and a company of from three to six persons . . . We are in debt $400, but hope to double our work this coming year and get clear of debt."

    Another detailed report was included in the minutes by a letter dated August 15, 1889, from Washington, D. C. The report opened by describing the meeting in Portsmouth, Virginia, beginning on August 12, 1888, that continued for seven months. The tabernacle that seated ten or twelve hundred was not large enough to accommodate the crowds. They estimated that more than five hundred souls were pardoned, reclaimed, or sanctified. Other parts of Virginia where meetings were held included Centerville (lower King and Queen County) and Newport News. They also reported the following item about Portsmouth: "Was pressed by a direct providence to return to Portsmouth, Va. On the 11th the books were opened, and sixty-five, many of them the salt of the city, were enrolled as members of a church. Frank J. Hall installed pastor unanimously. The glory of the Lord so filled the tabernacle as to put to silence all the gainsayers." The report concludes by saying, "We believe it is our Father’s will that a work of holiness be established here in the capital of the United States." It was signed by the "Hall Band" with Frank J. and Phoebe Hall. Josiah Hall and his wife and two daughters, Cora and Blanche, were included. (My great grandmother used these names for two of her own daughters.)

    The next detailed report to the Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends from the Hall Band was dated August 1895 from Portsmouth, Va. They described meetings in Phoebus in May and Mathews County beginning on July 3. In Mathews there was a call by the people for a Friends Church, and one was organized with sixty names on the roll. In response to their report, a telegram was sent to Frank and Phoebe Hall at West Point (across the river from Centerville) praising God for their good work. The Ohio Meeting expressed their appreciation and reported a collection of $31 for the new Meeting House for Mathews County.

    After 1895 there were no further formal reports from the Hall Band published in the minutes of the Ohio Yearly Meetings. Frank Hall was listed each year as a minister from Portsmouth through 1902. From 1903 until 1909 Frank Hall was listed as minister in various cities of Tidewater Virginia or Washington, D.C. About a year after Alton Roane Lively became a widow, she was listed as a minister at the Portsmouth Church beginning in 1896 and continuing until her death in 1927. Sister Lively was from Centerville of King and Queen County, Virginia and had moved to Portsmouth prior to 1885. Maria Roane Adams, sister of Alton Lively, was also a member of the Portsmouth Friends Church. Her daughter Bessie Adams married Claude A. Roane in 1900, and he was first listed as minister at Portsmouth in 1905. He served as pastor there and in Newport News until 1922. He then removed to minister in Ohio, and later held leadership positions for many years and was General Superintendent of the Ohio Yearly Meeting from 1949 to 1951.

Organizers of First Friends Church, Portsmouth, Virginia
(Phoebe and Frank J. Hall seated, lower right corner.)

    Tidewater Virginia made fertile.- The nineteenth century were years of change and shifting population. Major counties with relatively large population and with strong economies were on the decline because of changes in state and national industry. By the end of that century, the cities of Tidewater Virginia experienced tremendous economic and population gains that the counties were losing.

    There were two factors in Tidewater that affected both the local economies and the religious revivals in the Friends Church. The first was the shift by the railroad from West Point at the headwaters of the York River to Newport News and Portsmouth on the James River as the primary shipping ports for Virginia produce and resources. This major move weakened West Point and the surrounding counties that included the southern portion of King and Queen County. Although earlier studies had indicated that Yorktown on the York River would be the best deep-water port, the Old Dominion Land Company, owned and operated by Mr. Collis P. Huntington, chose the southern portion of the Warwick County on the James River as the location on which to create his new city of Newport News.1 Mr. Huntington also owned the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company and created a new major shipping port for coal and a new shipyard and dry-dock facilities there. Across the James River on the southern shore, the shipping port at Portsmouth was expanded greatly with increased railroad connections. Thus the James River, known as Hampton Roads, became Virginia’s inland harbor for shipping and shipyards for power-boat construction and repairs. In Kaplan’s history of King and Queen County, she describes the efforts of Mr. Alexander Dudley of the Richmond and York River Railroad Company to develop West Point and its port, and by 1887 West Point was ranked fifth largest cotton port in the USA.2 The Southern Railroad purchased the Richmond and York River Railroad, and in 1895 it moved the terminus to Pinners Point at Portsmouth.3 Therefore, the rise of the James River cities and their ports and the corresponding failure of the York River enterprise produced a great migration of residents to those cities on the James River.

    This migration of people was typified in the Charles Roane Family of King and Queen County. Following the Civil War, his oldest children moved south into Gloucester County and pursued mercantile ventures. However, the younger children went to Portsmouth and joined the economic boom. The families of Mathews County were affected in a similar manner with the decline of the their shipyards, which built the great sail ships. With the advent of powered ships, the advantage of Mathews County’s accessibility to the Chesapeake Bay was no longer useful. Modern powered ships could be built and repaired farther up the rivers in more protected harbors. Therefore, the population of Mathews and King and Queen Counties dwindled as the people moved to those new and expanding cities farther south.

    The second factor was a doctrinal controversy within the Methodist churches from their beginnings in the eighteen century. The source of this controversy was the teaching of two works of the grace of God by John Wesley, founder of the Methodist denomination. Although the first work was the traditional teaching of spiritual birth, the second work was an experience from God that sanctified a man to perfect holiness. The debate and controversy that continued from the beginning and existed in Tidewater Virginia in the late nineteenth century was whether Wesley’s second work of grace was to be practiced literally or spiritually. John Wesley defended his special teaching in the book entitled, "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, As Believed and Taught by the Reverend Mr. John Wesley, From the Year 1725, to the Year 1777." 4 The debate of the nineteenth century was in the physical expression of the personal experience of receiving the work that produces Christian perfection. Mary Rayne Roane, wife to Thomas and one of the Roanes living within sight of the Shacklefords Chapel Methodist Church in lower King and Queen County, was said to have been "by faith ‘old’ Methodist, and wore white hats with string under the chin." 5 The divisions among Methodist went beyond outward dress and included the outward expressions that were attendant to that second work of grace. Eventually, the Methodist would purge themselves of the emphasis upon a second work of grace as identified by an outburst of emotions of those participating in public meetings of worship. Thus, those wishing to continue this practice were open to Friends missionary evangelists who preached that interpretation of Wesley’s perfectionism.

Mrs. Alton Roane Lively
"Sister Lively"

    Therefore, the fertile ground for the Hall Band missionaries were the immigrants with strong "old Methodist" convictions from the rural counties seeking a more prosperous life in Portsmouth. Hearing the version of Wesley’s doctrine of holiness to their favor, they remembered the declining counties from which they came and sent the evangelist to those small population areas, such as Centerville of King and Queen County, where the "spiritual ground" was fertile. This trail of family migration from county to city was the path on which the fire of religious revival traveled to plant the Friends churches in the more remote locations of Tidewater Virginia.

    Family Ties.- Miss Alton Roane married Mr. Reverdy Lively, whose father had moved to King and Queen County as a teacher of high acclaim and had married Miss Deborah Roane. Alton Roane Lively’s father, Charles Roane, died in 1875; and his heirs dispersed to find their prosperity. While four of her siblings found their fortunes in lower Gloucester County, five of them went with their families to Portsmouth. Therefore, within the one Roane family there was a strong triangular connection formed between Portsmouth and lower Gloucester County and their home community in lower King and Queen County. Letters from both Alton Roane Lively and Mariah Roane Adams of Portsmouth to their brother Richard A. Roane (my grandfather) in Gloucester showed that they shared a strong spiritual faith and Richard held the Wesleyan view of the holiness experience.6 The thirty-one years of continuous service as a minister in the Portsmouth Friends Church is a testimony to Sister Lively’s contribution to its beginning and maintenance during those early years.

Richard A. Roane
with Elva and Son

    Richard A. Roane came to Gloucester and along with his brother, Luther, establishedstores, post offices, and the Roanes wharf along the southern shore of the Ware River. Richard spearheaded the formation of the Oak Grove Methodist Church that began about 1892 and met in his Selden Store near the Roane’s Wharf. Oak Grove Church was linked and shared pastors with Bethlehem Methodist Church at Bena, which was the oldest Methodist church in Lower Gloucester County. Later, Richard expressed his dismay with the Methodist ministers for not preaching holiness and not supporting the new holiness schools in his letters to the minister of his church.7 Therefore, Richard Roane was in a position to influence the disenchanted Methodists of Lower Gloucester County to support the formation of the Achilles Friends Church in its beginning in 1899. However, Richard Roane and his closest family members in Gloucester, maintained their connection with the Beulah Friends Church, located near the old home place at Centerville. The remainder of the Roane family stayed in the Oak Grove Church. Richard Roane maintained a close connection with the Friends although he and the Beulah Church united in 1908 to a national group of Pilgrim Holiness Churches that was formed by prominent Friends ministers, Seth Rees and Martin Knapp. In 1909 Richard married his second wife, Elva Maude Worrell (my grandmother), and Frank J. Hall came to Gloucester to perform the special ceremony.

    Claude A. Roane was born near Centerville in 1877, and both of his parents were cousins of Richard A. Roane and his sisters. His maternal grandmother was Elmira Roane who married Logan Puryear Anderson, a prominent pastor of the Halifax Methodist Church for many years. She eventually returned to live with her daughter and was buried with the first members of what was known as the Beulah Friends Church near Centerville. Claude named his only son, Logan, after his famous grandfather, Logan Anderson. In 1900, Claude married Bessie Adams, daughter of Mariah Roane Adams of Portsmouth and niece of Sister Alton Lively and Richard A. Roane. Claude Roane became a minister of Portsmouth Friends Church in 1905, but letters to Richard Roane indicate that he was also active in the work at Achilles Church and Newport News Church and Rescue Mission.8 Richard Roane probably brought Claude Roane to the Achilles area to serve those that came out of the Bethlehem Methodist Church in that community. Claude Roane was the first pastor of the Achilles Friends Church.

Claude A. Roane
(about 1916)

    A similar situation probably existed in Mathews County. The residents who had moved to Portsmouth and Newport News probably alerted the Hall Missionaries of the good prospects in their home county of Mathews. Hence, the very successful tent meetings there in 1895. New Point Friends Church was first established not far from Bethel Methodist Church, and later, Mount Calvary Friends Church was established in the Northern part of Mathews. The Mount Calvary Church building was erected on the property of Will Crockett, who would eventually become a brother-in-law to Richard Roane. In 1906, Robert D. Hundley was listed as Elder in the Mount Calvary Church, and in 1912 he was listed at Newport News. He was included in the writings of Richard Roane.9 Eventually, the Mount Calvary Church building was moved to the Southern part of Mathews, and became the Penial Friends Church. In 1921, Elder Hundley was listed at Penial with Wilbur C. Diggs as Minister.

    The Tidewater Virginia Friends Churches were blessed by the good grace of the Lord Almighty through the work of the Home Mission Board of the Ohio Friends. They sent Frank J. and Phoebe Hall to preach throughout the South, and they realized their greatest success in Tidewater. Frank Hall remained closely associated to the churches of this area until his death in 1910. Claude Roane was elected Superintendent of the Hampton Roads Quarterly Meeting in 1911, and took over the local leadership of these churches until 1922 when he removed to Ohio. Eventually, he displayed an even greater leadership to all the churches connected to the Ohio Yearly Meeting. He defined and developed the position of Church Extension Superintendent, and he served in this official capacity from 1930 until 1949, when he became Superintendent of the Ohio Yearly Meeting of the Friends Church. In the absence of Claude Roane, Wilbur C. Diggs took up the leadership of the Hampton Roads Quarterly Meeting.

Claude A. Roane

    New Friends churches were planted and remained strong and fruitful. The doctrines on which they were based fulfilled a spiritual void and satisfied dissentions within the established churches. Family connections and the trail of urban-to-city migrants furnished the roads on which the old Wesleyan doctrine would propagate. The Friends Churches of Tidewater stand as a memorial of the original and continued success of the Lord's work by His people. Those roots planted in fertile ground have remained alive and fruitful. <



1. Newport News 325 Years, 1946.

2. Kaplan, Barbara Beigun, Land and Heritage in the Virginia Tidewater: A History of King and Queen County, 1993, pp. 159-160.

3. Ibid, pp. 185-186.

4. Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley (1872 ed. by Thomas Jackson), vol. 11, 29, pp. 366-445.

5. Selden, Jefferson Sinclair, Jr., Charles Roane the Immigrant and His Wife Frances Roane, 1982, p. 24.

6. Hunt, L. Roane, The Writings of Richard A. Roane, January 1995, pp. 46-48.

7. Ibid, pp. 35-37.

8. Ibid, pp. 34.

9. Ibid, pp. 28.



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