1843- 1965 till the Present
(The following is excerpted by Beverly Whitley from “A History of Whitehead’s Grove Baptist Church from 1843 thru 1965”, by James W. Horne, III; up-dated by Betty Burris, present member and Rev. Russell Leonard, present minister)
Whitehead’s Grove Baptist Church, founded January 29, 1843, was originally named Bethesda Baptist Church. It was located ½ mile south of Scott’s Factory (an old textile mill, approximately six miles south of Smithfield that was destroyed by Union Soldiers during the War Between the States). Wells Chapel, a small one room building, was the site of the first meeting. The building had previously been used by a Christian Church. It was located in the vicinity of Vellines’ Store in Isle of Wight County, Virginia at the intersection of Bowling Green Road and Turner Drive. (A tombstone in Wesley Chapel cemetery has the name Sarah Whitley Vellines, 1896-1978)
A group of people met to decide if this church should begin. Their new pastor was Rev. William O. Bailey. He also had several other churches in the area. Because there were churches of different denominations near, Wells Chapel’s growth was slow. There were two years the church did not have a minister. During that time, they continued to be led by the Deacons of the church. When they were supplied with a new minister, he was a very strict disciplinarian. This led to the dismissal of a considerable number of members, made up of slaves, free Negros and whites. The offences ranged from drinking and stealing to adultery. All these circumstances hurt the membership for a period of time.
When the War Between the States began in April 1861 membership exceeded sixty. The majority were Negros. There were no records of church meetings from June 1861 until September 1866. In September 1866 there were seven members; one year later, there were 13; six men and seven women. Growth continued to be slow during the next several years. Although there were no records of name at this time, a letter was sent to the Portsmouth Association from Bethesda Baptist in 1867.
The church in 1871 rejected a proposal to disband. One member insisted they consider the children who would grow up without an organized Baptist fellowship. By 1874 they decided to rebuild the church thus they began a major fund raising drive in order to do this. The women proved to be the fund raising leaders by having dinners for the community and by 1875, they voted to build a new church. The land was donated by John Whitehead and a decision was made to build on the Old Stage road leading from Suffolk to Smithfield. Their church today is located on that site, on Route 10, two miles north of the Village of Chuckatuck in Isle of Wight County. While they were building their new church, Oakland Christian Church allowed the congregation of Bethesda Baptist to meet in their church. They sold their old Well’s Chapel church building.
The discussion of their new name began and it was decided to name the new church in honor of John Whitehead who gave the land for the new building. Attendance must have increased in 1887 as the women again began to raise money to repair and rebuild the church house and increase seating capacity.
In the years of 1903 until 1948 there was continued growth of membership and facilities. In 1949, they made the decision to call a minister exclusively for Whitehead’s Grove. Reverend Jesse H. King was called to be their first full-time pastor on July 9, 1950. During 1950-1955, activities rose to a peak. A new parsonage, built by the members, was completed in 1951.
The church began to focus on the youth. Elton Horne served as the first youth Pastor. During the next ten years, several served as pastors but during one year they were without any pastor. They used that time to pay many of their debts that were made previously. They were able to call another pastor after that year. By 1965 Whitehead’s Grove had developed into one of the best equipped rural churches in Virginia. They always looked to the future and planned effectively.
Today Whitehead’s Grove is a church in transition. Very few members within the church are associated with full time farming. As the community develops, the church has become less rural and more suburban; however Whitehead’s Grove is grateful for its heritage and the privilege of ministry within the community. Over the years, twenty-one pastors have served the 168 years of the church’s history to lead Whitehead’s Grove Baptist Church as a “Light on the Hill”.
James W. Horne, III ended this written history in 1965 with the following words: “May the present members of Whitehead’s Grove look to the trials and triumphs of the past with a renewed determination to bind themselves together in Christian fellowship, in order they might carry forward the work of the Master.”