St. John's Church
N 37° 01.551 W 076° 20.802
18S E 380213 N 4098587
Quick Description: St. John’s Church is the oldest English-speaking parish in America, founded in 1610. The church of St. John’s is a 1728 worship building displaying beautiful colonial brickwork.
Location: Virginia, United States
Date Posted: 9/17/2008 9:58:02 AM
Waymark Code: WM4PXJ
From church website:
The oldest Anglican Parish in continuous existence in America.
Established in 1610 at the founding of the settlement at Kecoughtan.
Settlement Begins 1610
English settlers established a community and church on the tip of the peninsula in 1610, three years after the colonization of Jamestown. A small group of civilians and soldiers moved to the fertile shores of Hampton Roads to escape the famine and disease which had decimated the residents of Jamestown. Here, with the friendly Kecoughtan Indians, they found a more congenial environment. But the killing of a settler ended the peacefulness, and the English took full possession of the area.
In 1619, "Kecoughtan" was named "Elizabeth City" in honor of the daughter of King James I, but the beautiful Indian name continued in popular use for another century. The settlement was then renamed "Southampton" to honor the Earl who was a major stockholder in the Virginia Company. In time the name was shortened to "Hampton." The church also evolved through the centuries. The following information will assist you in understanding and appreciating the great heritage, history, and Christian faith that is St. John's.
First Parish Site 1610-1623
Excavations in the Church Creek area of Hampton indicate that the earliest English settlements were near present-day LaSalle and Chesapeake Avenues. Tradition has it that services of the parish were held there, and a historical marker to that effect can be seen on LaSalle Avenue. The first minister of the new parish was the Reverend William Mease who was appointed by the Bishop of London to lead the church at Kecoughtan. After serving from 1610-1620, he returned to England, and then later returned to the colonies.
Second Parish Site 1623-1667
By 1623 the settlement had re-established itself east of Hampton River where the second church of Elizabeth City parish was built on a site that is now located on the grounds of Hampton University. Its foundations were discovered in 1910. It was a small wooded structure to which a vestibule was added later. Abandoned in 1667, it remained standing until 1698 when a levy of 400 pounds of tobacco was made by the vestry to one William Bailey to tear it down and to set up its seats in the courthouse.
This site has been painstakingly excavated. The original foundations and some of the brick floor can be seen at the second site along with conjectural paintings and other information. Artifacts found during the excavation are on display in the parish house museum
Third Parish Site 1667-1728
The third building of the parish was constructed more than a mile to the west of the second church at "Westwoods Town Quarter" indicating that there was growth of the settlement on the west side of Hampton River. Like the previous structure, it was made of wood and was of similar size. This building continued in use for about 60 years. The site is located off West Pembroke Avenue east of LaSalle Avenue and features a historical marker, building foundations outlined by bricks, several 17th and 18th century gravestones, and a protective brick wall.
The parish has retained ownership of both the second and third parish sites, and visitors are welcomed to visit these historic locations at any time.
Fourth Parish Site 1728 - Present
As the community progressed into the 18th Century, activity centered about the busy port which has become downtown Hampton.
The parishioners petitioned the Governor for permission to relocate their place of worship closer to the population center. It was granted, and construction of the fourth church on 1/2 acres on the outskirts of Hampton began. Henry Cary, Jr. of Williamsburg completed the present cruciform building in 1728. A belfry was added to the west front in 1762.
The British heavily damaged the church during both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. But more serious than the physical damage was the decline of religious activity. Not only this parish, but also the Episcopal Church throughout Virginia became so depressed that it was in danger of total ruin.
Among factors causing this decline were antagonism by newly independent Americans for anything English, withdrawal of tax support for the church, and the rise of denominations whose structure and style of worship appealed to the average person. Although several priests officiated in the parish in the late 1700's and early 1800's, its life could be described as moribund, and the building was severely neglected.
Then came a revival of interest. In 1825 funds were raised to restore the church, a vestry was elected and a new rector called. In 1830, the Rt. Rev. Richard Channing Moore, Bishop of Virginia, consecrated the restored Elizabeth City Parish church under its new name, St. John's.
The War Between the States was the occasion for yet another assault on the building, this time by Hamptonians themselves. On August 7, 1861, to keep the town from Federals hands, they set fire to their homes, businesses and the church. The great bell was destroyed, and only the blackened walls remained when Union soldiers camped in the churchyard. (See painting of ruined church. ) As a result of this fire, St. John's is the only surviving colonial structure in downtown Hampton.
At war's end, contributions to a widespread appeal to rebuild the "ancient church" were used to remove the ruined belfry and restore the building so it appeared much as it does today. Early in the 20th century the rear tower was added, the west gallery was built in 1957, the tracker organ installed in 1981, and the chapel completed in 1985.
(See web site for additional information.)
Type of site: Church
100 West Queens Way
Hampton, VA United States
Phone Number: (757) 722-2567
Admission Charged: No Charge
Website: [Web Link]
From Richmond on I-64
Take Exit 265 C. Turn right onto Rip Rap Road. Turn left at light onto Armistead Avenue. Turn left at third light onto West Queens Way. Turn left after one block onto Franklin Street. The church buildings and cemetery are on your right.
From Norfolk on I-64
Take Exit 267. Turn left onto Settlers Landing Road. After crossing the bridge, turn right at light at Harbour Center and the Radisson Hotel onto Eaton Street. Turn left at next corner onto West Queens Way. At the third stop sign, the church building and cemetery are on your right.
From the West on US 58 & US 460
Take I-664 toward the Peninsula (Hampton/Newport News). At the interchange with I-64, head toward Norfolk and follow the directions from Richmond.
Post at least one photo of a Civil War related item or scene and post one Civil War Discovery you learned while visiting the waymark. The photo should have the coordinates of where it was taken if significantly different from the waymark's coordinates.