St. Paul’s is the second oldest church building in North Carolina, begun in 1736. The parish, organized under the first Vestry Act of 1701, holds the oldest charter in the state. Three colonial-era governors are buried in the churchyard.
The present church, large enough for a capital, was begun in 1736 but not completed for nearly forty years, long after the capital had moved away.
It has twice undergone extensive repairs: in 1806-1809, when William Nichols installed a wooden floor and the present woodwork (Except in the chancel) and added the steeple; and in 1949-1950, after the galleries, roof, and steeple were destroyed by fire. Because the building had been stripped to its bare brick walls with all of the furnishings, even the floors, being removed for renovations prior to the fire, the Nichols pews and woodwork stand today as he left them. The chancel woodwork, designed by Frank Wills of New York, and the chancel window, date from the 1850s.
The oldest material possessions of St Paul’s are its book of vestry minutes begun in 1701, and a silver chalice and paten given to the church by Edward Moseley in 1725.
Many of the Revolutionary leaders in this area were members of St Paul’s: Joseph Hewes, soon to be a signee of the Declaration of Independence; Thomas Jones, reputed writer of the constitution of the new state of North Carolina; James Iredell, later a justice of the first Supreme Court of the United States; and Samuel Johnston, first governor of the new state and later its Senator. Even the rector, Daniel Earl, was chairman of the county committee to supply better equipment for our troops. The whole vestry on June 19, 1776, signed the Test, the new oath of allegiance of the colony to the king and constitutional government, which at the same time protested against unfair taxes, unjust meddling in colonial government, and other infractions of the rights of free people.
Over three centuries have elapsed since the organizing of St Paul’s Church. While remaining a link with colonial days and welcoming all visitors, it continues to serve as a house of worship for an active and growing congregation. Today, the members of St Paul’s continue to build on the firm foundation laid in its formative years.
The churchyard dates from 1722, when Edenton became the capital of North Carolina. Because of a lack of stone along the coast, tombstones were rare and costly. Markers of brick or wood gradually weathered away. The churchyard looks un-crowded to day because many of the 700 known graves are not marked. The church yard was never used for Church members only, but served the whole community. By 1850 the vestry was begging the town to provide another cemetery. Best known are the group of tombstones under the magnolias, called the Governors Graves (moved here from family cemeteries on the banks of the Chowan River or the Albemarle Sound), which include Henderson Walker, Thomas Pollock, and Charles Eden for whom the town is named. Read more about the Governors Graves in this informative article written by Charles and Marilyn Racine.
For a definitive accounting of all the graves and a map of where they are located in the churchyard, read this detailed article by Charles Racine.
The old Rector’s Study, a one-room structure, believed to have been erected in the 1850s, is located at the churchyard’s western boundary. The first reference to the “office” is found in the vestry minutes of December 29, 1870. At that time it was decided that the rectory property should be cleared of everything except the rectory, the wood house, and the office, and that any necessary repairs were to be made. It was further decided that the office porch should be removed. Except for that missing part, the little building looks as it did in the Victorian era. There are plans for the old Rector’s study to be renovated in the near future. The plans include refurbishing both the interior and exterior. Once completed, the study will serve to further the church’s mission.