It was 1610, and the English colonists in the Kecoughtan settlement (today's Hampton) often struggled with the continuous dangers and diseases they faced in the new world they had joined. Morning and evening prayer were common, and the place they gathered to worship was probably near the mouth of a small stream today known as Church Creek.
Oldest Continuous Anglican Parish
The services may have occurred in a separate church building, or perhaps someone's home. One thing is certain, though: This was the beginning of today's St. John's Episcopal Church in Hampton. While it has undergone name changes and has seen four different locations, it is recognized as the oldest Anglican parish in continuous existence in America.
At the Hampton History Museum's evening lecture in June 2009, James Tormey shared this and other stories from his recent book, How Firm A Foundation (The Dietz Press). The book provides a narrative, photos, and drawings of the 400-year history of St. John's Church.
The story of St. John's reflects the varied history of Hampton itself. The town was attacked by the British during the American Revolution and the church was ruined when the town was sacked in the War of 1812. It was restored but then burned during the Civil War. Yet throughout its history, the church has flourished.
"A person attending St. John's Church today would find much that was familiar if he could step back into time to the services of an earlier day," Mr. Tormey says in the book's forward. "These are services that have brought comfort and spiritual sustenance to generations of worshippers."
According to Hampton Mayor Molly Joseph Ward, "St. John's Church is an icon in our community, and an integral part not only of our history but our living, growing downtown."
Copies of the Book
Copies of the book are available at the Hampton History Museum gift shop, 120 Old Hampton Lane.