Family Stories

John Van Lear - Mossy Creek Church, Mount Solon, Augusta County Virginia

I came across this delightful article at The author, or presentor, was not named. It was part of a presentation made at the Mossy Creek Church Cemetery in 2008. A recheck in January 2015 found the website gone, so I wanted to share this great story of the Van Lear family.

Visits with Old Friends: A Walking Tour of the Mossy Creek Church Cemetery; 26 October 2008.

Gravesite 6; The Rev John Van Lear 1797-1850

Hello, my name is John Van Lear. Most of the people who started Mossy Creek Church were Scots-Irish, but my family was Dutch. My great ancestor came to New York in 1659. My grandfather settled in Augusta County and then my father moved to Montgomery County Virginia where I was born in 1797. I attended Hampton-Sydney College and felt the call to the Gospel Ministry. In 1817 I married Sarah Davis who died. I then undertook my ministerial education with The Rev. Conrad Speece, pastor of Augusta Stone Church. My first church was at Locust Bottom Church near Fincastle at the Forks of the James. While there, I married Jane Bell in 1826. In 1837, when I was 40 years old, I was called to be the pastor of the Mossy Creek Church. John Marshall McCue brought three four-horse teams to Locust Bottom and loaded all of our possessions on the wagons. After a long journey we arrived at Mt. Solon where we took possession of the Samuel Landes farm just a quarter mile below Mt. Solon on Mossy Creek. That was quite a move! During my years at Mossy Creek our family grew and you can see that many of them rest here near me. God willed that our congregation should grow and I was the first minister to serve only the Mossy Creek congregation. As our numbers grew, we were joined by neighbors who had German backgrounds. The Coyners and Harnesbargers have been members for many years. Additional new members with German names included the Cupps, the Props, the Karicoffs and the Crauns. Some of these came from the Emmanuel Church which consisted of several German denominations. Yet, two families, the Bells and the Irvines were most numerous in our congregation.

While I was pastor, a new brick church building was constructed and stood just over there. John Marshal McCue informs me that it is the fourth building occupied by the congregation since its founding. It was a great improvement over the old frame building. It had a raised platform for our choir and this helped with our singing. Members rented pews for the year. Some pews are for those who cannot manage to pay. There is a great stir over the issue of slavery. For a while the Presbyterian Church said that slavery should be discontinued as soon as it was feasible. We also sought to teach the slaves to read and write before state law prohibited such things. We then took the attitude that we should treat the slaves as members of our family as long as they keep their place. In my Will I instructed the children that my slaves Billy and Eliza should be allowed to continue to live with the family and should be treated with respect and kindness because of the honesty, the fidelity, and the kindness that they have displayed toward our family. The others are to be sold.

In 1849 when I was 52 years old my health began to fail. By August 1850 I knew that my days on earth were drawing to a close so I wrote the following letter to my friends in Lexington Presbytery which was preparing to meet at Goshen. Let me read it to you:

I have indeed greatly desired to meet once more upon earth a body of which I have for so many years been a member, in whose society I have enjoyed so much happiness, and for which I cherish the strongest affection. But such is not the will of God and I am content. My days are dearly numbered, and my last remove is directly before me. I record it to the praise of the glory of His grace that God hath counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry. I have loved the work. I have preached, as I have believed, in sincerity and truth, His gospel of salvation. I have tried to bring others to a like precious faith. I rejoice that I have been enabled to do this. But this is not the foundation of my hope. I trust in no labor of my hands. I fly to the cross and the covenant. There is my hope. There I rest my soul, and my heart and peace. This is my testimony.

Rev. Van Lear was 53 years old when he died. He lived just in sight of Mt. Solon across the road from where you turn to go into where Bill and Janet Joseph live today. His family remained active in Mossy Creek Church following his death. His son, J. N. Van Lear, served in the Virginia House of Delegates in the late 1800's.

Do you want to know more?
Link to John Van Lear

John Van Lear of Mossy Creek Church; contributed by Pamela Hutchison Garrett for Family Stories at website; 2015.