Saturday, April 6, 2013

James River: Jamestown Churches

The first church services in Jamestown were held under an old sail stretched between three or four trees. As soon as possible, the original settlers built their first church inside the fort. John Smith described it as "a homely thing like a barne, set upon Cratchets."

Wooden, it burned in the fire of January 1608 that wiped out most of the fort. The replacement, also of wood, was the church in which Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married in 1614. On the interactive map at this church is marked number 27.

The second church needed constant repair, and was replaced by the third wooden church between 1617-1619 inside the eastern extension of the fort (number 18 on the map). It was built on a cobblestone foundation that can be viewed under glass in the floor of the current building. The first elected government in America met in this building in 1617.

In the 1640’s, a larger brick church was built around the third church. This fourth church was burned during Bacon’s Rebellion on September 19, 1676. The fifth church was probably built using the walls and foundations of the fourth. A brick tower was added to it sometime after construction. This tower is the only structure from the 1600’s still standing in Jamestown.

Originally about 46 feet high and crowned with a wooden roof and belfry, the tower is a little over eighteen feet square. The walls are three feet thick at the base.

These notches held the large beams that supported a second and third floor. The little windows at the top let light in and the ringing of the bell out.

The tower is just inside the original fort wall with the rest of the church in the eastern extension.

Services were held in the fifth church until it was abandoned in the 1750’s. By the 1790’s, although the tower remained intact, the sanctuary had fell into ruin. The bricks were salvaged to build the current graveyard wall.

The tower was strengthened and preserved in the 1890’s. In 1906, the National Society, Colonial Dames of America built a Memorial Church on the site.


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