William Selden was born in 1741 at Princess Ann County, Virginia, the son of John and Grace Boswell Selden. From 1752 to 1755 Selden studied at William & Mary. He originally pursued a career in law, but after several years of practice he switched to work as an Anglican Minister. As early as 1765 Selden applied for the position of rector at the Elizabeth City Parish, Virginia but the position was given to Thomas Warrington. However, upon Warrington’s death in late 1770 Selden was unanimously chosen as rector of the parish. In early 1771 he was ordained and by March 1771 Selden was officially licensed by the Virginia Colony to serve as a minister of the Elizabeth City Parish. Sources indicate that throughout Selden’s tenure at the Elizabeth City Parish tithes increased, starting in 1770 with 1,179 and by 1776 reaching 1,246. While the disestablishment of the Church later forced a drop in tithes, numbers had sufficiently increased by 1784 to 1,051. In addition to these financial aspects, during his time Selden also owned a number of slaves which he used for various economic undertakings.
Sources also show that during the American Revolution Selden placed his loyalties with the American cause. William Selden served at the Elizabeth City Parish until his death in 1783. On May 29, 1767 Selden married Mary Ann Hancock (1745-1789) of Princess Ann County. The couple later had eight children, two of whom are known to have lived to adulthood, Sarah H. Selden (1769-1810) and William Boswell Selden (1772-1849). Upon Selden’s death in 1783, Mary Ann Hancock Selden oversaw her late husband’s financial affairs, often renting their slaves to nearby estates, until her death in 1789.
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- William Selden in the SCRC database.
- Patterson, Susan Louise. “Biographical Sketches of Anglican Clergyman Trained at the College of William and Mary, 1729-1776: A Study of James Blair’s Plan and its Results.” MA Thesis, College of William and Mary, 1973, 68-70.
- Goodwin, Edward Lewis. The Colonial Church in Virginia, with Biographical Sketches of the First Six Bishops of the Diocese of Virginia, and Other Historical Papers. Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1927: 305-306.
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