St. John's Church

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September 10th, 2006

 St. John's Church, Hampton, VA


 We stumbled upon the church (well, we'd seen it a few times before, but I just noticed the plaque which identified it as historical) during Hampton Bay Days.  I found this the best part of Bay Days.  What was striking to me about this church, was there was no side of the church were graves are not located!  That's right, the front, both sides and the back of the church is a giant graveyard and you walk through it to get to the church no matter what direction you come from.  Here's some interesting facts about the church.


St John's Church is the oldest Anglican Parish in continuous existence in America.


English settlers established a community and the first church site in 1610, three years after the colonization of Jamestown.  A small group of civilians and soldiers moved to the Hampton Roads to escape the famine and disease, which had decimated the residents of Jamestown. With the friendly Kecoughtan Indians, they found a more congenial environment.  But the killing of a settler ended the peaceful and the English took full possession of the area.


The site has been 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.


Fourth Parish Site - Construction of the forth church on 11/2 acres on the outskirts of Hampton happened with the help of Henry Cary, Jr. of Williamsburg, who 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.  On August 7, 1861, to keep the town and port from Federal/Union hands, the Confederates 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. St. John's Church was the lone, partial survivor of the destruction.


Some Points of Interest - The oldest grave is that of Capt. Willis Wilson who died in 1701.  Next to the south wall of the church, stands a memorial to Virginia Laydon, who was born in 1609 and was the first surviving child born in the New World to English parents.


The 1728 church walls of Flemish bond brick with superbly glazed headers and the colonial window arches and jambs of rubbed brick are among the most handsome in Virginia. Inside the building on can see the Pocahontas window given in 1887 in part, by Native American students. Also of particular interest is the small window in the north wall bearing the seal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the great English mission society.  It incorporates the names of the colonial clergy, It was installed about 1903 by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.  The rector at the time, objected to the inclusion of the name Jeremiah Taylor (1667) because he "had not the best reputation, being credited with a liking for things of the flesh." A compromise was reached; the Rev. Mr. Taylor's name is bracketed to indicate forever his tarnished reputation! 


On the chapel wall to the right of the small altar is an aumbry in which consecrated bread and wine are reserved.  The door panel consists of pieces of the 13th century stained glass from St. Helen's Church, Willoughby, England, the parish in which Captain John Smith was baptized.


So in effect, this is a church steeped in history from the Colonization of Jamestown, touched by the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.  A rich history indeed.

Left to right: 1) Front of the Church 2) Graves in front of the church 3) one of the other buildings 4) Side yard graves 5) The Bay Days Midway Carnival Rides viewed through the back yard graves show a striking contrast of feeling.


1) Random Graves, 2) a Statue commemorating the "Confederate Dead" and 3) More random Graves


 Informative or interesting links:


List of people buried in Big Bethel Cemetery

My page on the Battle of Big Bethel

My page on Endview Plantation

My page on Lee Hall Mansion

Civil War Trails Map VA

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