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Friday, December 12, 2014

The "Searching for a Read: Part I" Story

Foreword:  St. James Episcopal Church in historic downtown Lancaster, PA has been home to me for most of my life, from the days of: singing in the boy's choir to photographing the churchyard from the steeple of the church to being married to Carol in the church to seeing our daughter married in the church to helping organize and run the Town Fair Roast Beef Dinner to being a vestry member to being a member of the renowned adult and boy's choir … …  well the list goes on and on.  St. James holds many memories in my life.  And, to top all that, it is one of the most historical churches in the United States.  My multi-day story begins today with the founding of the church.  Other stories will deal with the church throughout the Revolutionary War and both of the World Wars.  I realize that I have more interest in the history of my church than you could ever have, but I thought you might enjoy some historical glimpses into one of the earliest places of worship in the United States.  My stories will be spread over time so you can (1) recover from each one and (2) give me a chance to read what at times can be boring info and write new stories.  Included will be stories on historical Henry Mercer tiles and the famous portraiture artist Jacob Eichholtz. Time to begin …..

This is a sketch of the old Court House in Penn Square,
Lancaster, where St. James Church was organized in
1744 and where the early services were held.
It was an ordinary day.  Looking over the shelves in my living room library for something to read.  Getting bored not being able to do much while I recuperate from my recent back surgery.  Then I saw the two book set that I had purchased years ago telling about the history of my church, Saint James Episcopal, in Lancaster, PA.  Wasn't sure I wanted to read a history book, but after opening the first volume, scanning briefly through it and then turning to the index and seeing my name and the names of my wife and kids, did I realize that I may want to read a bit more about how my church began in 1744.  
It was in 1730 that Andrew Hamilton, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, and his son Colonel James Hamilton, selected the present site of Lancaster, PA and proceeded to lay out a town plot two miles square with the main streets running north and south as well as east and west.  
The Rev. Thomas Barton became
minister in 1759, but was ousted
in 1776 because of his loyalty to England.
 they gave plots of ground to several religious denominations with St. James being allotted three town lots in 1744 to construct a church and locate a graveyard.  A yearly ground rent of fifteen shillings a lot was charged for two of the three lots with the lot designated as the graveyard rent free.  From June 22 to July 4, 1744 an Indian treaty conference was held in Lancaster with five tribes in attendance as well as officials of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia with Conrad Weiser acting as the interpreter.  Not sure exactly what went on at the conference, but exactly three months after the conference closed, St. James' Parish was organized with the Rev. Richard Locke as the minister.  Seems Rev. Locke received money from King George II for his passage to Bermuda.  He remained in Bermuda for eight months, then sailed for Charleston, SC, but somehow got lost at sea and landed in Philadelphia.  He eventually arrived in Lancaster on Wednesday, October 3, 1744 and the St. James' congregation was formally organized with services being held in the old Court House on Penn Square using the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. The congregation consisted of English, German, African American and Native Americans.  Thomas Cookson, who had been appointed the rector's warden, was appointed to receive subscriptions for the erection of a stone church on the property given to the church by James Hamilton.  
This was the seating plan of the main level for
St. James in 1791. Pews were rented by parishioners.
Notice the box for servants and negroes at the rear.
Click on the image to read the names of the members.
In the summer of 1746 work started on the limestone church.  Soon, with the wall and rafters in place, it was found that the expense of completing the roof exceeded the money on hand.  Mr. Cookson used his influence to gain additional funds and the roof was finished, but the interior or the church remained unfinished and no one knew what had become of the rest of the money.  Rev. Locke took on the duties as minister to two additional churches in the area and eventually the congregation of St. James lost faith in his guidance.  On September 10, 1748 Rev. Locke sold his half acre of ground he had purchased near the church and he and his wife left Lancaster.  It wasn't until the spring of 1751 that Rev. George Craig arrived as the new minister.  Soon afterward, in 1753 the congregation raised the necessary funds to finish the church. In 1759 the Rev. Thomas Barton became the new minister of St. James. Under his leadership the tradition of exceptional music began with the installation of the first church organ. In 1762 a frame steeple was added to the limestone church. When the American Revolutionary War began, the church was faced with a dilemma. Many in the congregation were patriots, such as George Ross who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and General Edward Hand who served in the Continental Army.  The Rev. Barton was a royalist and loyal to his native Church of England.  On June 23, 1776 Rev. Barton officiated in St. James for the last time.  
The churchyard of St. James.  The post tops date from 1762.
The doors of St. James were boarded and locked and Rev. Barton was confined to house arrest for two years until he finally convinced his parish- ioners to give him and his wife passage to New York.  The church remained boarded until 1781 when it was reopened.  It wasn't until 1783 that Rev. Joseph Hutchins arrived to take over as the new minister. Following Rev. Hutchins were Rev. Elisha Rigg and then Rev. Joseph Clarkson who was minister from 1799 until 1830. It was during Rev. Clarkson's time that the original St. James Church, built of limestone, eventually began to deteriorate and soon after the vestry appointed four men to raise the money for a new brick church.  Finally, on September 12, 1818, the vestry decided on a payment plan for the new brick church. It was also this year that the church conveniently began to stop paying the ground rent they were assessed in 1744 (more on that in another story).  Among the pledges for the new church was a $100 pledge from James Buchanan who would eventually be the President of the United States.  He wasn't a member of the church, but his niece, and future acting First Lady of our country, Harriet Lane was a member.  Then, on April 20, 1819, the steeple of St. James Church was taken down and in a few weeks the remainder of the structure was razed.  All this was recorded in an account book that would later be presented, with the keys to the old church, to the members of the new church.  My next story will feature the beginnings of the church that I now attend.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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