George MacLaren Brydon (27 June 1875–26 September 1963), Episcopal clergyman and historian, was born in Danville, the son of Robert Brydon, a pharmacist and native of Scotland, and Ellen Page Dame Brydon, the daughter of George Washington Dame, an Episcopal minister in Danville. His sister Mary Evelyn Brydon became a physician and public health administrator.
Even before Brydon graduated from Danville High School in 1892, he had decided to enter the Episcopal ministry, and he supplemented his coursework in Latin with private lessons in Greek. The Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia, in Alexandria, had closed its preparatory school and recommended instead that young men preparing for the ministry attend Roanoke College, in its judgment the least denominational of the state's small colleges. Brydon graduated from Roanoke in 1896, after serving as president of his senior class, and from the theological seminary in 1899.
Ten of the seventeen members of Brydon's class volunteered for missionary work. He was one of four who applied for service in Japan, but the bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia demanded at least one of the new deacons, and Brydon went instead to Randolph Parish in Halifax County for a year. On 31 May 1900 he was ordained and again applied unsuccessfully for service in Japan. After eight months as an assistant at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Brydon became rector of three churches in Loudoun County. What made that call attractive to him was the parish rectory, where a married man could live comfortably. On 5 September 1901 Brydon married Nathalie Page Coleman, whom he had met in Halifax County. They had three sons and one daughter.
Brydon returned to Baltimore as rector of Emmanuel from 1904 to 1907 and then served for four years as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Morgantown, West Virginia. From 1911 to 1914 he was rector of Saint Paul's and Hanover Parishes in King George County, where the church buildings that survived from the colonial era triggered his lasting interest in the church's early history in Virginia. Brydon also became concerned about the state of public education and invited Jesse Hinton Binford, of the Co-Operative Education Association of Virginia, to organize neighborhood leagues to support the public schools in King George County. That work drew the attention of the bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, who in 1914 called Brydon to Richmond as executive secretary of the Diocesan Missionary Society, church missionary for the city of Richmond, and Archdeacon of Colored Work for the diocese.
Brydon held the post of city missionary until 1917, when he became rector of Saint Mark's Church. His effectiveness in administering the Diocesan Missionary Society soon brought him additional responsibilities. The diocese reorganized its finances under a single officer in 1919, and Brydon in effect took charge of the diocese's headquarters by becoming treasurer, executive secretary, and secretary of the council of the diocese. In 1920 he also became secretary and treasurer to the board of trustees of the diocese's new Corporation of Church Schools, and he became registrar of the diocese in 1922.
Brydon's policy as Archdeacon of Colored Work from 1914 to 1930 and from 1937 to 1941 was to make the small African American congregations self-supporting. Since the 1880s the Diocese of Virginia had administered the black Episcopal churches under its missionary program, which limited the participation of priests and laymen in diocesan councils and probably contributed to the slow growth in the number of African American communicants of the Episcopal Church. When Brydon took office in 1914 the diocese had four black ministers, seven congregations, and about 400 communicants. In 1937 he reported that although the numbers had not increased significantly, the churches were on more solid footing. The diocese also changed its policy and admitted black clergymen to seats on the diocesan council, and Saint Philip's Episcopal Church in Richmond was admitted as a congregation with the right to lay representation.
Brydon's resignation from Saint Mark's Church after his election as treasurer left his Sundays free. He organized a group of lay readers and clergymen to hold services in every vacant parish within an hour's drive of Richmond. In time this program expanded to the entire diocese, but it also resulted in a call to return to active ministry. Brydon served as minister at Saint James the Less, in Ashland, from 1926 to 1949.
In May 1925 Brydon was elected historiographer of the diocese. Because of his many other duties historical research and writing remained an avocation, but he published numerous articles and pamphlets on the early history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia. Brydon sat on the editorial board of the Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church from 1932 until his death and served the Virginia Historical Society (later Virginia Museum of History and Culture) as a member of the executive committee from 1934 to 1960, as vice president from 1941 to 1960, and as president in 1960. He became active in a number of patriotic and genealogical societies and was chaplain of the Virginia Society, Sons of the American Revolution, the Virginia Society of Colonial Wars, and the Virginia Society of the Cincinnati. Roanoke College awarded him an honorary D.D. in 1928, and the Virginia Theological Seminary honored him with another in 1942. Brydon was then hard at work on a history of the Episcopal Church in Virginia. To obtain more time for the task he resigned as treasurer in 1940 and as Archdeacon of Colored Work the next year.
In 1947 Brydon published the first volume of Virginia's Mother Church and the Political Conditions Under Which It Grew. The work treated the years 1607 to 1727. Brydon updated and significantly revised William Meade's Old Churches, Ministers, and Families of Virginia (1857). Using documents unavailable to Meade, Brydon argued that the church in colonial Virginia was far more stable and the clergy more effective than Meade had recognized. Reviewers generally greeted the book warmly, but some remarked on Brydon's partisanshiphe wrote as a proud Virginia Episcopalianand suggested that the copious extracts from contemporary documents made the text slow going. The second volume of Virginia's Mother Church, carrying the narrative up to 1814, appeared in 1952. Brydon did not lament the rise of other denominations during the eighteenth century or the disestablishment of the Episcopal Church after the American Revolution, but he concluded the volume with the seizure of the property of the parishes of the former established church, which he regarded as an injustice. Without formal training as a historian, Brydon did thorough research and argued fairly from the evidence. Students of Virginia's colonial history still consult his works today. Brydon collected materials for a third volume to carry his church's history into the twentieth century, but he did not complete it.
Brydon held definite opinions, such as strong opposition to desegregation, but at the core of his personality were generosity and irrepressible humor. He and his wife opened their Richmond home to innumerable guests of all types who needed a place to stay, sometimes to the consternation of their children. Even in retirement and poor health, Brydon continued to work. He founded the diocesan library in 1960 and bequeathed it $5,000. For about forty years he sat on the board of Saint Paul's College, a historically black institution in Lawrenceville that enjoyed Episcopal support, and in his will he left $3,500 for aid to its students. George MacLaren Brydon died from the effects of arteriosclerotic heart disease on 26 September 1963 and was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Richmond.
Albert C. Muller, "George MacLaren Brydon: A Memoir," and Lawrence L. Brown, "The Rev. G. MacLaren Brydon, D.D., and the Historiography of the Episcopal Church," Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 32 (1963): 285–286 and 287–288 (frontispiece portrait); Philip Alexander Bruce, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, and Richard L. Morton, History of Virginia (1924), 4:76–78; George MacLaren Brydon Papers (including diary, 1898–1899, and autobiographical "My Obit," typescript dated 7 Sept. 1960), and Protestant Episcopal Church, Virginia Diocese, Papers, sections 15, 10, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond; Marriage Register, Halifax Co., Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; Anne Page Brydon, "Lame-Duck Lodge," Richmond Quarterly 7 (summer 1984): 42–45; Richmond Times-Dispatch, 31 Aug. 1956, 16 Sept. 1960; George MacLaren Brydon, The Episcopal Church Among the Negroes of Virginia (1937), esp. 21–26, and "The Unity of the Church," Episcopal Churchnews, 24 June 1956; obituaries in Richmond News Leader and Richmond Times-Dispatch, both 27 Sept. 1963; editorial tribute in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 29 Sept. 1963; memorials in Diocese of Virginia, Journal of the Annual Council 169 (1964): 53–54, 105–107, 111–113.
Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by John T. Kneebone.
How to cite this page:
>John T. Kneebone,"George MacLaren Brydon (1875–1963)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Brydon_George_MacLaren, accessed [today's date]).
Return to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page.