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National Parks Service Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail

A National Parks Service Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail sign is at the front walkway of St. John's Episcopal Church in Havre de Grace, MD. It details how the "Church survived the British attack on Havre de Grace May 3, 1813...the enemy spared the 1809 structure but damaged the interior. According to a newspaper account: 'Finding nothing to steal [the raiders] 'magnanimously' attacked the window[s] with brick bats and stones, and demolished them."


Humble Beginnings: A Lottery, A Shared Rector, the British Attack, Lighting Strikes, Fire...Along Comes Minister Edward Young Higbee

A History of Saint John's

(Transcribed from the document pictured on the left, below)

     "In 1789, when George Washington traveled to Philadelphia for his inauguration as first President of the United States, the town that came to be known as Havre de Grace had approximately fifty houses. By 1805 a small chapel had been built well back from the main highway, which was no more than a country road full of ruts, muddy in winter and dusty in summer.  The chapel, not yet of size or stature to be called a church, enjoyed irregular services by the Rector of St. George's Church, Perryman, nine miles to the south. A report of the Diocese in 1806 notes that the chapel was unfinished at that time; but in storm blew down the chapel walls when the roof had been removed for repairs and that the chapel had not been rebuilt.  However, the churchyard continued in use as a burial ground as late as 1836.  This earlier chapel apparently occupied the site of the present Roman Catholic Church.

     In 1802 the legislature authorized a sale of lottery tickets for Havre de Grace with the provision that "a church parsonage house and market house were to be erected with the proceeds supposed to reach $5,000."  The matter dragged on for a number of years; but in 1809 the lottery was completed and the new church building immediately begun on the land which William Stokes gave to the church at the corner of Congress and Union Avenues, a corner which earlier he had envisioned as the site of the U.S. Capitol building. Havre de Grace was once considered for the site of the National Capitol, missing this great honor by one vote in the Senate!

     Also, in 1809, Havre de Grace was constituted, at its request, as a separate parish from St. George's although it was long dependent on the older parish in the service of its minister.  However, actual completion of the church building was twice delayed, first by a windstorm and then by the British attack on Havre de Grace in 1813.

     John O'Neill, the Defender, was a vestryman and other early parishioners included the Baileys, Coudons, Stumps, Hopkins and Rodgers of Sion Hill connection. During the attack of Havre de Grace by the British in May 1813, the church was spared but interior furnishings, including the windows, were destroyed.

     The little church struggled on for a number of years, continuing to share rectors with St. George's, Perryman. In 1829 the two parishes fell into the energetic hands of Edward Young Higbee, who set himself the goal of completing the church. It was completed in 1831 with same four walls in which we pray today. One year later disaster occurred again when lightening struck the roof of the church and the fire gutted the interior.

     Once more, the small congregation, spurred on by the zeal of Edward Higbee, began the work of the restoration. Not only was St. John's completely rebuilt in 1833, but it was free of debt. The Bishop came to rededicate the church, to ordain the young minister, and to confirm a class of twenty-six, the largest of that time.

     In 1835, a brick tower to carry a belfry was built and supplied with both a bell and a lightening rod. At a later date, this tower was demolished to be replaced by a semicircular sanctuary with a domed roof and a vestry room on one side and a choir room on the other.  Eventually, land was purchased for a Parish Hall; and the home of a departing rector which had been rented, was purchased as a rectory was sold in order to build St. John's Towers in 1967. In 1959, St. John's celebrated its One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary with a yearlong celebration. At this time, Miss Cornelia Meigs wrote a history of St. John's Church; and this history has supplied most of the previous record.

   As Miss Meigs wrote, "Winds had come indeed and storms had beaten upon it, but as God's house it stands now much as they set out to build it (One hundred and fifty years ago) a noble old church now, a noble church then when it first began to come fully into being."

Warm Wishes From U.S. Presidents

Succession of Clergy

Historical Images Slideshow
(Click on any image to expand for full view)

St. John's Church 1809 Sign
Historical Map of St. John's and Havre de Grace, MD

Historical Building Stewardship
(Click on any image to expand for full view)

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