Located at the intersection of Congress and Union, St. John’s is the Havre de Grace’s oldest church. This church is also one of the oldest surviving structures in the city.
Founding of the Episcopal Church of Maryland
The Episcopal Church in Maryland is one of the nine original diocese of the Episcopal Church and traces its roots back to Captain John Smith, who oversaw the first Christian worship along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. Beginning in 1692 the British government formally established the Church of England in the Colonies by requiring all householders to pay an annual church tax for the support of church buildings and the clergy. This ended in 1776 with the American Revolution, but in 1780 at a meeting in Chestertown, MD, concerned laymen and clergy formed the Diocese of Maryland and elected Thomas Claggett as the first bishop to be consecrated in America.
Founding of St. John’s Episcopal Church
Building of the 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 expected to reach $5,000.” In 1809 the lottery was completed and construction of the new church immediately began on the land which William Stokes donated. This site, Stokes had previously envisioned as the location for 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! Later that year, Havre de Grace requested to become a separate parish even though it long depended upon St. George’s for the support of its Rector.
Construction of the church was twice delayed, first by a significant windstorm and then by the British attack on Havre de Grace in 1813.
British Attack on Havre de Grace
The Young Church
The little church struggled on for a number of years, continuing to share rectors with St. George’s, Perryman until an enthusiastic young minister named Edward Young Higbee came to lead the two parishes. In 1831, the church was finally completed but unfortunately, one year later disaster occurred when lightning struck the roof of the church and fire gutted the interior. Once more the small congregation set to work to reconstruct the interior of the church and in one short year, they not only completed the reconstruction but were also debt free. In celebration, the Bishop of Maryland came to rededicate the church and ordain the young minister. That year the Bishop also confirmed an especially big confirmation class of twenty-six parishioners, the largest of that time.