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St. James Episcopal Church Records

Identifier: SC-MS-169

Scope and Contents

This collection contains the archival records of St. James Episcopal Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. Records span the founding of the church in the early 1700s through its modern era in the 21st century. Content represented includes the historical records of the church, day-to-day operations of the vestry, membership registers, clergy papers and correspondence, church events and celebrations, committee and service work, publications, and material related to the national Episcopal Church.

Early records include the articles of agreement of the church from 1765, correspondence regarding the construction of the new church in 1839, and land indentures from the mid-1800s to mid-1900s expanding the church property. Several church histories are included, as well as material from the 100th anniversary in 1939. Correspondence, land indentures, and architectural drawings of additional church properties, like Mount Lebanon Chapel and the Donald MacRae House, depict the growth of St. James. This includes historical information on the Spanish painting, Ecce Homo, which has belonged to the church since 1751, and original correspondence with Pembroke Jones regarding his purchase of the Mt. Lebanon Chapel property, now Airlie Gardens.

Records of the vestry illustrate the administration and management of the church, particularly through the vestry ledgers, which contain vestry minutes, financial tracking, and parishoner births, marriages, and deaths. Additional vestry material includes church finances, membership information, personnel correspondence, and the work of church organizations and committees. Renovation plans, repairs and fixture updates, and graveyard burials are also included, as well as information on the grave of local Revolutionary War hero Cornelius Harnett.

Content belonging to and about the clergy of St. James covers every rector (excluding Reverend Thomas Smith Webb Mott) from Reverend Solomon Halling's term in 1795 through Reverend Ronald G. Abrams's start in 1999. Material largely consists of biographical information, correspondence, and photographs of the rectors, also notably including Reverend Alfred Augustin Watson's unsent letter to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

Additional material includes church publications such as newsletters, profiles, yearbooks, and service programs; photographs of church property, parishoners, and events; memorabilia such as certificates, postcards, media tapes, and slides; content specific to the national Episcopal Church, its bishops, and the Diocese of East Carolina, including Bishop Thomas Henry Wright; and religious, local, and state documents and publications not directly connected to St. James.


  • Creation: 1721-2017


Conditions Governing Access

Access to portions of this collection have been restricted by Special Collections in order to preserve the original materials and pursuant to extant statutory restrictions. Contact staff at the Center for Southeast North Carolina Archives and History ( for information on access to this collection.

Copyright Statement

Copyright retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Historical Note

St. James Parish was established by the Church of England in 1729 in what would become Wilmington, North Carolina (est. 1739/1740). The parish served both the New Hanover and Brunswick side of the Cape Fear River until 1741, when St. Philip's Parish was established at Brunswick Town. Prior to the completion of the original St. James church in 1770, services were held at the courthouse a block south of the present-day structure. It was during this time, as early as 1757, that burials were already taking place in the St. James graveyard, which is the only part of the original church still in existence. At the time of the Revolutionary War, British General Cornwallis and his soldiers occupied Wilmington for most of 1781 and took over St. James, removing all the pews to make space for their own use.

In 1835, St. James Parish expanded to include the newly built Mount Lebanon Chapel, which was meant for St. James members who lived closer to the beach and sound. It was funded by Dr. Thomas Henry Wright, who originally owned the property, which was deeded to the parish by his family in 1875. Pembroke Jones and his wife Sarah Green Jones would later purchase the property from the Wright family, renaming the land Airlie, which today makes up the community of Landfall and Airlie Gardens, on which the chapel still stands. By 1837, the original church was in an increasing state of disrepair, and it was decided by the parish that a new building was required. Construction began in 1839 with the laying of the cornerstone, officiated by Reverend Robert Drane, then rector. The new church was consecrated in May 1840 by Episcopal Bishop Levi Silliman Ives.

The mid-19th century marked a period of growth and change for St. James. With increasingly limited space in the graveyard, burials were halted and shifted to Oakdale Cemetery, which opened in 1855 to alleviate overcrowding. The church was once again commandeered by military forces when, in February 1865, Union troops occupied Wilmington towards the end of the Civil War. It was not until December 1865 that services were able to resume once repairs had been completed, though restitution did not come from the federal government until 1905. Additional repairs continued throughout the late 1800s, as well as the addition of ancillary buildings as St. James expanded its membership, services, and physical footprint into the 20th century. This included the acquisition of the Donald MacRae House in 1955 and the restoration of Mount Lebanon Chapel in 1973.

In the 1980s, St. James operated a homeless shelter in the basement of the church, until this service transitioned to the Good Shepherd Center near Greenfield Lake. In 2004, St. James celebrated its 275th anniversary, and in 2012 completed a total renovation of the main church's interior. St. James Parish is the oldest church in the city of Wilmington and will celebrate its 300th anniversary in 2029.

More detailed histories are available via the library catalog:
History of St. James Parish, 1729-1929 by Leora Hiatt McEachern
Temple of our Fathers: St. James Church (1729-2004) by Susan Taylor Block


62 Containers (Contains 24 bankers boxes, 10 document boxes, 6 oversize boxes, 4 photo albums, 5 tube boxes, 7 card file boxes, and 6 flat files.)

Language of Materials



These records have been arranged topically into nine series, which are further sub-divided, where applicable.

Material within each folder has been arranged chronologically when possible.


  1. Founding, History, and Property
  2. Vestry
  3. Clergy
  4. Publications
  5. Photographs
  6. Artifacts and Memorabilia
  7. Episcopal Church
  8. External and Unrelated Material
  9. Books

Acquisition Information

This collection is on permament loan from St. James Episcopal Church as of May 2000.

Digital Access

Portions of this collection have been digitized and/or are born-digital. These items are identified by a black icon beside the item title when browsing via the collection organization hierarchy (to the right in desktop view; on the bottom in mobile view).

To view or access all of the digitized and/or born-digital materials in the collection directly, please select "View Digital Material" in the blue header above, just below the collection title.

Chronology of Rectors

The collection contains material for all rectors whose term began between the years 1795 and 1999, save for Reverend Thomas Smith Webb Mott*, who only served from December 1827 to June 1828 due to poor health. Reverend Frederick Henry Townsend Horsfield** is included, though he only served as temporary rector.

Brief biographies of each rector are included with their respective sub-sub-series or folder in the Rectors of St. James sub-series of the Clergy series.

Rev. Solomon Halling
Rev. Dr. Adam Empie
1811-1814, 1816-1827
Rev. M. Bethel Judd
Rev. Thomas Smith Webb Mott*
Rev. William Douglas Cairns
Rev. Thomas Frederick Davis
Rev. Robert Brent Drane
1836-1843, 1844-1862
Rev. Richard Hooker Wilmer
Rt. Rev. Thomas Atkinson
Rev. Alfred Augustin Watson
Rev. William H. Lewis
Rev. Dr. Robert Strange
1887-1899, 1900
Rev. Frederick Henry Townsend Horsfield**
Rev. Richard Wallace Hogue
Rev. Dr. William Hammond Milton
Rev. Mortimer Worth Glover
Rev. William Ludwig Dols, Jr.
Rev. Robert Daniel Cook
Rt. Rev. Charles Glenn vonRosenberg
Rev. Ronald G. (George) Abrams

Processing Information

Many documents, letters, and photographs are undated and/or lack identifiable names. Circa dates have been added to the best of the archivist's ability.

St. James Episcopal Church Records
Nicole Yatsonsky
2023 November 09
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Randall Library Special Collections Repository