Our History

A Brief History of St. Paul’s Church, Beaufort, North Carolina

Inside of St. Paul’s Church in 1895

British colonial rule brought a strange religious beast to many lands. The Church of England still seeks to bring together two seemingly divergent elements: the depth and richness of the apostolic tradition of the early church and the many gifts of the Reformation. The Church of England was not formally established in North Carolina until the early years of the eighteenth century. North Carolina was one of the last colonies to establish the Church of England as the “official” church of the state, largely because of the great number of persons who held other religious perspectives than those of the Church of England. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, or SPG, took on the responsibility of sending Anglican missionaries to the colonies.

Shortly after Beaufort began to be settled (1709), an Act of Establishment was passed (1711) declaring that all laws in force in England for the establishment of the Church and for granting indulgence to Protestant dissenters were to be in effect in North Carolina.

In 1715, a new Vestry act passed, dividing North Carolina into nine regional parishes and naming twelve vestrymen in each parish. This act authorized these vestries “to use their best and utmost endeavor to procure an able & Godly minister qualified according to the Ecclesiastical Laws of England”; it raised the priest’s salary from thirty to fifty pounds a year, and permitted the levy of “a poll tax not exceeding five shillings per Poll on all the Taxable persons in the parish” for the financial support of these parishes. At this time, Beaufort (founded in 1709, though not yet officially incorporated as a town) was a part of Craven Parish.

In 1723, one year after Beaufort’s official incorporation as a town, Carteret Precinct was designated as St. John’s Parish. The word “parish” in this sense does not refer to a specific church, but to designate a sort of religious and political boundary area. To the present day, the state of Louisiana does not have counties; it still retains the word “parish.” The first vestrymen of St. John’s Parish were Christopher Gale, Joseph Bell, John Shaw, John Nelson, Richard Whitehurst, Richard Williamson, Richard Russell, John Shackleford, Thomas Merriday, Enoch Ward, Joseph Fulford and Charles Cogdail.

In 1724 a 1/2 acre lot with a building upon it, was deeded for use as a courthouse and church until such time as a proper church building could be built. The courthouse was used for Anglican worship services for a number of years. Other chapels (served by the Rector of Christ Church, New Bern) were constructed as well: one (Bell’s Chapel) built in 1748 on the southwest side of the Newport River, another on the east side of Fulford’s Creek at Straits (built in 1761). The Reverend James Reed, a man of whom Governor Tryon was quite fond, came from England to become the first Rector of Christ Church, New Bern in 1753. At three times during the year, Mr. Reed held services at each of the chapels of St. John’s parish.

St. Paul’s Church 1930

In 1774, a Mr. David Lewis of Beaufort died and left the sum of 100£ for the construction of a new church building. Work on the building began almost immediately. It was described as “small, old fashioned, with immense stone pillars.” The pillars were probably ballast stones (not architectural columns), upon which the building sat. In 1776, as construction drew to a close, the Revolutionary War would cause the Church of England to disappear from Beaufort. Anglicans stopped using the new building, which was shortly thereafter used by Methodists. Although records exist for St. John’s Parish after the time of the war, they generally have to do with the parish as an organization for social welfare, but not as an organized community in Anglican worship.A substantial period of relative inactivity followed. Anglicanism effectively disappeared from Carteret County until shortly before the Civil War. On September 1, 1855 a new parish was organized by William J. Potter, Isaac Ramsey, Robert E. Walker, James J. Whitehurst, Samuel S. Duffy, Elizabeth F. Duffy, Josephine E. Jones, William Cramer, D. B. L. Bell, J. B. Moore, Caroline S. Poole and the Reverend David D. Van Antwerp, a Federal Chaplain stationed at Fort Macon. The first service of this fledgling church was held in the Academy of S. D. Pool on September 2, 1855. Services continued at the Academy until December of 1855. At this time, the Beaufort Baptist Church had no pastor. St. Paul’s Church had no church building of its own. In an ecumenical spirit difficult to find a century earlier, St. Paul’s Church was allowed to hold services in the Baptist Church until early 1857. A year earlier, Abigail Hill sold a plot of land to the Vestry of St. Paul’s Church for the sum of ten dollars. It was on this lot that the present church building was constructed.

The Right Reverend Thomas Atkinson, Bishop of North Carolina from 1853-1881, included the following comments in his address to the annual convention of the diocese in 1857:

“On April 14th, I laid the corner-stone of a church at Beaufort, by the name of St. Paul’s. Messrs. Greene and Van Antwerp taking part in the service; on this occasion I delivered an Address, and in the evening preached, and confirmed four persons. Mr. Van Antwerp, our diligent and unwearied Minister at Beaufort, deserves not only our commendation, but our aid in his efforts to build a Church and establish a congregation in a place where he found but one communicant, much ignorance of the Church, and much prejudice against it, and very little sympathy or cooperation at home or abroad except at New Bern, where he has received kind, timely and effectual aid. The importance of Beaufort in the future makes it very desirable that he should be sustained, and I must request the aid now of all throughout this Diocese, who love the Church, and are able to do any thing in its behalf, in furtherance of a cause so urgent and so deserving.”

Reporting to the same convention, Van Antwerp wrote:

“We are now vigorously engaged in erecting a new Church edifice. Its cost, when complete, with furniture, will be about $6,000. But, as we shall probably not realize this amount for some time to come, we hope to put it in a condition to use for worship, with $2,000.”

Visitors to St. Paul’s Church may note that the pews in the church are, in fact, the original “temporary” pews. They are of simple, box-like construction. Still, on his visit in 1858, Bishop Atkinson seemed quite pleased:

“February 2nd, …I {preached} at night, in St. Paul’s Church, Beaufort. This Church, though not yet quite finished, was in such condition as to be fit to be used for public worship. Of good size and striking appearance, it is a remarkable instance of what may be accomplished by the zeal and perseverance of an earnest working man. When the Minister now in Beaufort established himself there, less than three years ago, there had been neither clergyman, nor church, nor congregation, for more perhaps than seventy years. …Within a short period he has, in that community where the Church was scarcely known except as a tradition of the past, established a Congregation, a Sunday School, a Day School, and now …he has in use a church which would be an ornament to any village in the state.”

St. Paul’s School

The building was consecrated by Bishop Atkinson on May 21, 1861. That is an interesting date, especially when one considers the events of the previous month. On April 12, South Carolina militia forces bombarded Fort Sumter. On April 17, Virginia seceded from the nation. On April 19, Abraham Lincoln ordered naval blockades of all southern ports. Yet, on May 21, the day of the consecration of St. Paul’s Church, Bishop Atkinson was assisted in the service by two men: the Reverend David D. Van Antwerp, the Rector of St. Paul’s Church and the Reverend Alfred Augustin Watson, the Rector of Christ Church, New Bern. What makes that combination so interesting is that Van Antwerp was a Union officer, Watson an officer of the Confederate Second North Carolina Regiment. That kind of reconciliation makes for a strong foundation.

Rev. Thomas Pasteur Noe 1898-1899

But war would once again prove destructive to the parish. Van Antwerp remains listed as Rector of the parish, but no one from Beaufort attended the diocesan conventions from 1862-64. The first St. Paul’s School, opened in 1858 with 30 pupils and led by Elizabeth Robinson and Sallie Pasteur, actually continued its operations through the Civil War, but ultimately closed in 1867, having lost many of its pupils to war. Van Antwerp writes of the school, “The civil war has had a disastrous effect upon its prosperity.”

Van Antwerp was unable to attend diocesan convention until 1865, but at that time gave a full report of the parish’s life. “The church has made substantial progress in the confidence and affections of the people,” he noted. “The prejudice that once existed against it, has so far departed that no visible demonstration of that spirit is now apparent. It has worked its way into the minds and affections of many who were once severely opposed to it.”

Van Antwerp left the parish in 1867. In 1878 an attempt was made to reopen the school, but little success met this endeavor. In 1899, under the guidance of Mrs. Nannie Geffroy and the Rev. Thomas P. Noe, then Rector, St. Paul’s School reopened. Of the school and its headmistress, Bishop Alfred A. Watson (yes, the same man who assisted in the consecration, now the first Bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina [1884]) wrote in 1902:

St. Paul’s School

“At Beaufort, visited the Parish School of which I have spoken before, but can scarcely say too much. Started about three years ago by a Christian woman, without endowment or capital, – kept up by her zeal and that of others, in the face of great and incessant hostility, amidst a population of working people, prepossessed against it from the first, it has maintained its ground, has succeeded in erecting a noble building at an expense of about $4000 with all the appliances for thorough Education, and now, has the names of nearly 300 pupils upon its roll.”

The school operated continuously until 1939, in 1951 a rectory, now used as the Parish Office building, was built upon the site of the school. The parish house is on the site of the school’s old dormitory and dining hall.

S. Eliot, an Anglican himself, wrote “the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence” History is a matter of perception. It contains our worst assumptions and our truest truths – any time we come in contact with it we are changed. The many gifts of the people of faith who have built up this community in the past have provided a strong foundation for a vital parish of the future.