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St. James Episcopal Church and Burial Ground
25 S. Third St.
Wilmington, NC 28401

(910) 763-1628

St. James is the oldest church in continuous use in Wilmington. The parish was established in 1729, but the church was not built until 1751. Construction was aided by a tax of one shilling and four pence levied on all taxes of the parish by the Genergal Assembly for three years. It was seized in 1781 by British troops under Lord Charles Cornwallis. General Sir Banastre Tarleton removed the pews to turn the church into a stable and riding school for his famous dragoons.

The original church was taken down in 1839, and some of its materials were used to construct the present church, a neo-gothic building with pinnacled square towers, battlements, and lancet windows. Within the church hangs a celebrated painting of Christ titled Ecce Homo,which is attributed to Francisco Pacheco (1564-1654), a Spanish painter, teacher, and scholar. It was captured from one of the Spanish pirate ships that attacked Brunswick Town in 1748. The sanctuary also boasts a handsome wood-slat ceiling and beam-and-truss construction.

Church offices are in the McRae House, built in 1900 from a design by Henry Bacon who also designed the Lincoln memorial in Washington, D.C.

The cemetery at the corner of Fourth and Market streets was used from 1745 to 1855. Here lies the patriot Cornelius Harnett remembered for antagonizing the British by reading the Declaration of Independence aloud at the Halifax Courthouse in 1776. America's first playwright, Thomas Godfrey, is also memorialized here. The cemetery once occupied grounds over which Market Street now stretches, which explains why utility workers sometimes unearth human bones outside the present burial ground. The graveyard is the sole remaining physical connection with the original church building. The last burial in the churchyard was in 1850 when Oakdale Cemetery was established and private burials within the city were prohibited by law. Call the chuch for information about touring the santuary and grounds.

 

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