St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
“The Oldest Continuous Episcopal Church in Massachusetts”
Some history, founded in 1711 as a mission parish of the Anglican Church in British American during the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain, St. Paul’s is the oldest continuous Episcopal Parish in Massachusetts and one of the oldest in America. The current building is the fourth, the third on this site at 166 High Street.
In 2011 St. Paul’s celebrated its 300th anniversary as a parish.
Queen Anne’s Chapel
The first building, Queen Anne’s Chapel, was erected in 1711 on the area known as the ‘Plains’ where Belleville Cemetery on Storey Avenue is now located. The Reverend John Lambton, Chaplain of Her Majesty’s Ship Phoenix, moored in Newbury Harbor, was called on November 14, 1712 to minister to the congregation at Queen Anne’s Chapel. He “…found a handsome building raised and finished at the sole expense of the inhabitants.” Mr. Lambton reported,”… over 200 souls and upwards, worshipping regularly at Queen Anne’s Chapel.
A Memorial Cross marks the original location of Queen Anne’s Chapel in Belleville Cemetery and is replicated in signs and plaques within the church.
Seafaring in Newbury increased, adding to the number of people living in the “Port Area or “Waterside Area.” This “Waterside” group of recent English immigrants felt they would be “better comforted in matters religious” if they had their own church and minister at the ‘Waterside.”
The land on High Street was first bought by Joseph Atkins, a wealthy merchant, in 1738. A church was built on the site and the “Waterside” congregation organized in 1741 under the name of “St. Paul’s Church”, the land conveyed to the wardens and vestrymen of the church at that time. It was in this church that the Declaration of Independence was read after service in late July 1776 by the clerk of the church, at that time Tristram Dalton who went on to become the first Massachusetts Senator to Congress.
For several years the Reverend Matthias Plant served both Queen Anne’s Chapel and St. Paul’s Church. Queen Anne’s Chapel at the “Plains” eventually became deserted, a victim of internal conflict with members drifting to either St. Paul’s or returning to a congregational form of worship. By 1776 the building had decayed and was blown down during a storm.
The Reverend Edward Bass
The Reverend Edward Bass, rector of St. Paul’s from 1753 – 1803, played a most important role in the early history of the church in New England, not the least of which was his ability to hold the parish together during the American Revolution. In fact, St. Paul’s and Trinity Church, Boston, were the only two Anglican churches in Massachusetts that remained continuously in operation throughout the Revolution. After much thought, he wisely acceded to the request of the vestry to omit any prayers or reference to the King, Royal Family and British Government in worship service. The Reverend Mr. Bass was unanimously elected the first Bishop of Massachusetts and second Bishop of Rhode Island at a convention of the newly formed Episcopal Church in the United States of America in 1789. His own parish of St. Paul’s rejected the election because of the omission of the laity in the election process, signaling the new order of democracy in church affairs. On May 24, 1796 Reverend Bass was re-elected Bishop at general convention.
Bishop Bass’s Pastoral Charge covered Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. While serving as the first Bishop of Massachusetts, the Reverend Mr. Bass continued as rector of St. Paul’s Church, Newburyport. Today, atop the cupola on the steeple of the church, one sees a bishop’s miter that serves as a reminder St. Paul’s was the first Bishop’s Church in Massachusetts.
In 1800 the old St. Paul’s Church was torn down and a new building was erected. This new building, the second on the site, was a wooden structure built in the Italianate style with a porch spanning the front. It was consecrated on October 8, 1800.
The interior of the new church building had closed pew boxes and a balcony that spanned across the back and wrapped around both sides of the sanctuary. The pew boxes were purchased (and sold) by families, the most expensive being near the pulpit, and passed down through the generations. The balcony, and a few pews at the back, was reserved for poor families, widows, itinerants, and African-Americans. The building, known as the 1800 Church, remained essentially the same until April of 1920 when it was destroyed by fire.
St. Anna’s Chapel
To the left of the main church building in the churchyard surrounded by the graves of early parishioners is St. Anna’s Chapel. The Reverend William Horton, rector of St. Paul’s from 1853 to 1863, donated this small granite chapel “to be used as a Lecture Room and Sunday School House forever, for the benefit of St. Paul’s parish…to be called St. Anna’s Chapel”. The Chapel was named after his only child, Anna Marie Horton who succumbed to consumption at the age of 25. The structure was built of Rockport granite in the High Gothic style, unusual for Federalist Newburyport, during the years 1862 to 1863. Its architect Rufus Sargent has contributed several prominent Newburyport buildings such as the Institution for Savings on State Street and registered historic places in Peabody, Mass.
The Chapel is essentially unchanged since it was consecrated on April 22, 1863 by the presiding Bishop the Rt. Reverend Manton Eastburn. Reverend Dr. Horton, although in poor health, gave a service the following week, just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg which represented a turning point in the Civil War.
The 10 stained glass windows were made and installed by Henry Sharp Studios of New York City. St. Anna’s Chapel contains the only known complete collection of Sharp windows, including memorial windows and place holders for future memorials. The windows show medallion inserts of traditional Christian images and symbols in grisaille diamond quarries with intricate repeating leaf and heraldic designs according to a European medieval style. The windows are the thought to be the earliest stained glass in the Boston area. Henry Sharp windows are featured in the New American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City.
The 1862 hand pumped William Steven’s organ, consisting of 14 stops and pedal bass, is entirely original. This small organ was built according to traditional specifications of the early part of the 19th century in Boston, the hub of organ building in America at that time.
The lighting fixtures of the chapel are original and consist of a cast bronze, two tier chandeliers in ornate Gothic Revival style with matching sconces at the altar. The fixtures were originally lit by gas. Although now electrified the top tier of the center chandelier retains the original gas fixtures and glass globes. The gas lighting was an early shift from the whale oil lighting commonly in use. The fixtures were a gift from the Ladies Sewing Circle in 1863.
The portrait on the Gospel side of the Chapel is the Reverend William Horton; on the Epistle side that of his daughter Anna Marie Horton. A memorial plaque to Reverend Horton rests on the far wall as you enter the chapel.
Rev. Horton was a well known local philanthropist who established a “poor house” for the indigent on Horton Terrace and funded other assistance for the poor, elderly and infirm.
The Current Church
The cornerstone of the present church building was laid August 17, 1922 and the church was dedicated November 27, 1923. The architect, William Graves Perry, the descendent of an old Newburyport seafaring family who grew up in family wealth in a High Street mansion went on to become a nationally known architectural giant. Perry had already earned a reputation for himself as a fine designer of colleges (Harvard and Brown), private schools, and commercial buildings when he was called to design the new St. Paul’s Church.
He chose Rockport granite to match that of St. Anna’s Chapel, and retained the shape and structural design of the original 1800 church with a few modifications to expand the amount of available natural light and create a garden setback from the street. The interior of the church maintains the style of early American churches with closed pews, the wall tablets, a prominent wine-glass pulpit and the reredos at the altar in the form of a triptych containing the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer and the apostle’s Creed, all in universal use in the Colonial Episcopal Churches as required by Canon Law since James I of England. The white sanctuary is light filled and displays the clean classical lines and decorative order of early 19th century Colonial churches.
Perry later went on to eventually become the chief historic architect of Colonial Williamsburg. The relationship between Perry and Williamsburg lasted from 1927 to 1953. His belief in the value of historic preservation led Newburyport preservationists to turn to him for help in turning the tide away from demolition during the 1970s. He and others rescued the federalist city center from destruction.
At the rear of the Church, in a garden setting, is a brick labyrinth dedicated to the Reverend Roger Cramer who retired as rector of St. Paul’s Church in 2005 after 26 years of service. The labyrinth is an ancient symbol, that was often found in medieval churches and that has gained resurgence in modern times as an aid to achieving a contemplative state. By silently walking among the turnings, one loses track of direction and of the outside world, thus quieting the mind.
Historic Artifacts on Display
In the Entryway and Narthex (entrance hall) of the church there are a few treasured relics from the past. The weathervane over the entrance to the Narthex is the original weathervane from the 1711 Queen Anne’s Chapel. After directing the wind for many generations on a barn in Newbury after the collapse of the Chapel, it was donated to the church by a local family. The wood carved Bishop’s Miter saved from the top of the 1800 Church after the fire resides on a table in the entryway. Joseph Wilson, a young Newburyport ship-carver, created the many statues of historical figures that surrounded the early 19th century High Street mansion of the eccentric Lord Timothy Dexter of Newburyport. A statue of Sir William Pitt from this collection survives in the Smithsonian Institute.
On left of the entryway is the Paul Revere Bell which hung in the steeple of the 1800 Church and called parishioners to worship from 1811-1899. It was removed after developing cracks. The bell cast in 1809 is one of 23 known to exist from the period of Revere’s personal oversight of the foundry in the North End of Boston.
On the right wall of the Narthex is an original pew purchase document from March 27, 1801 with short biographies of the men involved in the sale and transfer. On the left wall is a painted reverse glass list of St. Paul rectors from 1711 to the present day.
In the Sanctuary are various stone plaques memorializing prominent members of the parish throughout its history set into the walls. At the altar, past Perry’s prominent wine glass pulpit with sounding board, is a recreated version of the original reredos lost in the fire of 1920.
Enjoy your visit to our beautiful, historic main church, chapel and churchyard. Join us for a Sunday worship service, a music program or one of our many service activities such as the weekly meals program Among Friends. Wander through the gravestones and mausoleums that surround either side of the church, passing by the lives of those long gone and linger a little to see the symbols and poetry created for their passing.
Enjoy and spend time with the spirit of this place.
ST. PAUL’S CHURCHYARD
The first burial took place on July 17, 1742. The Reverend Matthias Plant recorded in his diary the following, “Elizabeth, Dater of Ambrose Davis & Margaret, was ye first corpse interred ye new churchyard, by ye waterside, aged 17 months.” The graveyard now contains over 300 graves, including many notable people of significance in the history of Newburyport, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the United States. Most of the burials span the period from 1741 to the early part of the 1800s, although burials in the yard continue until the present.
The graveyard contains a variety of wonderful examples of the art of gravestone carving, one of the earliest American folk arts. Often done by itinerant stone carvers, the carvings were done on flat stones meant to represent a door or portal to a new life or a passage to the unknown. The earliest images capture the puritan inspired grim, skeletal death head signifying the triumph of death over life. Later images depict the more optimistic, prosperous chubby faces of the winged cherubim or “soul effigy” guiding the soul of the deceased to heaven. Post-Revolutionary War tombstone images often show the secular images of the urn and the willow commemorating the deceased through symbols or even a carved image of the deceased.
The gravestones and monuments also display the lyrics and poetry of the times. Verses were most often taken from the psalms or other biblical scripture, but some are taken from the poetry of John Milton, Alexander Pope, Edward Young, or the popular hymns of the day. These poetic verses speak of the grief of those left behind, the inevitability of death, the virtues of the departed and the firmness of their Christian faith in the surety of eternal life.
The inscriptions poignantly document the prevalence of infant mortality and the frequency of women’s death during childbirth. Second wives (and husbands) are common in the yard. Consumption or pulmonary tuberculosis was most often an inevitable killer of both sexes, and most frequently in the prime of life. Ironically the inscriptions on the marble tombs of the wealthy have long eroded and are unreadable due to pollution and the harsh New England climate, while the gravestones of those with lesser means or status done in local slate appear to have been carved yesterday. St. Paul’s graveyard truly contains “the stones that speak.” Spend time among the graves and enjoy your visit to this special place.
Tour of the Notable People Buried in the Churchyard
Joseph Atkins (1680–1773)
Joseph Atkins was a lieutenant in the British Navy before emigrating with his family to Newbury from the Isle of Wight in 1728. He became a wealthy merchant involved in the West Indies trade and active in both church and community. Joseph Atkins first suggested the construction of a church to accommodate the people at the “waterside” of Newbury. He, with other merchants and sea captains, raised by subscription the money for the building that became St. Paul’s in 1741. Atkins served as a vestryman, warden and generous benefactor of the church. He purchased and donated the land St. Paul’s Church now occupies. His second wife, Mary Dudley Wainwright, was the daughter and great-granddaughter of Governors of the Massachusetts Colony. He died on Jan. 21, 1773 at the age of 92 years old, “highly esteemed by those who knew him”. His “virtuous and amiable Relict (widow)” Mary died in 1774 at the age of 82. Their portraits hang in the Historical Society of Old Newbury
Edward Bass (1726–1803)
Bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts and the second Bishop of Rhode Island. He served as Rector of St. Paul’s for 51 years, prior to, during, and after the American Revolution. Thanks to his efforts St. Paul’s was one of only two Anglican churches in Massachusetts to
remain continuously open during the Revolutionary War, the other being Trinity Church in Boston. By his leadership during these tumultuous times, Bishop Bass ensured the survival of this church and played an important role in the transition of the Church of England in America to the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. His wives, Sara Beck Bass 1732-1789 and Mercy Bass 1755-1842 are buried on either side of his mausoleum which contains a long inscription of his virtues in Latin.
Samuel Cutler (1752–1832)
Samuel Allyne Otis (1770–1814)
Flora Marston (1769-1788)
This stone records the only known burial of a person of African American descent in this Anglican graveyard. We know nothing of Flora’s life except that she died at 19 years old. Her mother Delia Marston was a “mulatto” woman who had been a slave and servant to Benjamin Marston of Marblehead, an ardent loyalist who fled to Canada. Of her father we have no record except he carried the slave name “Nero”. It was common practice to re-name African slaves after classical figures from ancient Rome or Greece in the 1700s. Flora died five years after slavery was no longer recognized by Massachusetts’ courts.
Wyatt St. Barbe (1737-1819)
St. Barbe was a seasoned sea captain who commanded ships during the Revolutionary War and later carried merchant trade around the world. In 1784 Thomas Jefferson, along with John Adams, was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary to France by the new nation. Nathaniel Tracy, financier of the Revolutionary War, persuaded Jefferson, accompanied by his young daughter Patsy and slave John Hemmings brother of Sally Hemmings, to sail with Captain St. Barbe to London aboard Tracy’s ship the Ceres before continuing to Paris. Jefferson’s account of the voyage is contained in his journals. St. Barbe is buried with his 18 month old son George who died in 1805 and next to his first wife Lydia who died in 1801.
John Brickett (1774-1848)
Dr. John Brickett was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He served in the Revolutionary War, and later became the first physician in the new town of Bethel, Maine before returning to Newburyport to practice. In 1829 Capt. Abel Coffin arrived in Boston from Siam with the Siamese twins Chang and Eng. The twins, who became traveling performers, were exhibited in Newburyport before traveling throughout the country and later the world. Dr. Brickett was appointed their personal physician and traveled with them until they became their own managers. He died at the age of 75.
Dudley Atkins Tyng (1760–1829)
Dudley Atkins Tyng was a grandson of Joseph Atkins. He changed his name to Tyng on the request of a third cousin in order to continue the male line of the Tyng family. An eminent lawyer, he was appointed in 1795 by George Washington to be Tax Collector for the District of Newburyport. As a staunch Federalist his appointment was threatened by the growth of Jeffersonian Republicanism, so in 1805 he took the position of Reporter of Decision at the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. As such, he wrote the decisions of the court, the oldest court in continuous existence in the Western Hemisphere, according to protocols and standards he developed and that continue to be used in statute law to the present. He was remembered as a man of “strong mind, eminently practical and benevolent.”
Anthony Gwyn (1710–1776)
Capt. Anthony Gwyn (or Gwynn), was born near Swansea in Wales. He was a mariner, merchant and a founder of St. Paul’s Church. He served as warden and almost continuously as a vestryman from 1745 to 1771. A relief portrait of Gwynn is carved on his gravestone with him stylishly attired in a coat, eight-button vest, cocked hat, wig and holding a staff. A patch covers his left eye. It is the earliest surviving secular effigy on a gravestone in New England. It marked a break with the religious iconography of prior gravestone art. The original gravestone, attributed to Henry Christian Geyer of Boston, was removed in 1982 and placed on permanent loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. This cast replica replaces the original.
Alice Cutler (1746–1826)
Patrick Tracy (1711–1789)
Born in County Wexford, Ireland Patrick Tracy was a seaman, shipmaster, and ship owner who became the most prominent and wealthy merchant of his day in Newburyport. His vessels carried goods to almost every part of the world. Tracy was a generous benefactor of St. Paul’s Church. He built the Tracy Mansion in downtown Newburyport for his son, Nathaniel, now serving as the public library. Nathaniel outfitted a large number of privateers during the Revolutionary War and enjoyed prodigious wealth. He lavishly entertained at the Tracy Mansion the prominent people of his day, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. Eventually reduced to poverty, he died at an early age in 1796. Nathaniel had his father’s full length portrait painted by noted artist John Trumbull in London. It now hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Patrick Tracy married three times. His first wife Hannah (Carter) (1718-1746) and second wife Hannah (Gookin) (1723-1756) are buried on either side of his mausoleum. His third wife Mary (Dalton) (1713-1791) is buried in a nearby mausoleum with her first husband Michael and son Tristram Dalton.
Tristram Dalton (1738–1817)
Alpheus Crosby (1810–1874)
Jonathan Loring Woart (1807–1838)
James Morss (1779–1842)
You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ
(1 Peter 2:5)
The Way of Love
is a way of life
166 High Street Newburyport, MA 01950