St. Thomas Episcopal Church

Written By North Carolina History Project

Established in 1734, St. Thomas Episcopal Church is North Carolina’s oldest surviving church.  The church is located in the town of Bath, near the Pamlico River.   

During the early 1700s and under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), an Anglican evangelical association, English missionaries arrived in North Carolina to spread Christianity.  In the St. Thomas Parish, SPG provided an extensive library with over 1,000 volumes; ministers and parishioners used the colonial athenaeum for biblical and scholarly research, and churchgoers checked out hymnals, to name one example, to enable them to worship (many local congregations had no pastor).  According to North Carolina Historic Sites, this library provided the “only tangible link with the established church” before the construction of St. Thomas Church.  

Also during the early 1700s, the Lords Proprietors of North Carolina wanted to establish towns in the colony, and in particular, they had great plans for Bath (established in 1706).  Although the town still exists today, its economic success never matched the proprietors’ economic aspirations (It contained only a dozen or so dwellings).  Its growth, however, necessitated a church building.  Therefore construction began in 1734, and John Garzia served as the church’s first rector.  Although church attendance was low and Garzia went unsalaried for four years, he served his congregation faithfully.  After Garzia died from falling from his horse in 1744 while on visitation, the church went without a pastor for ten years.  In 1754, Alexander Stewart, agreed to be the church’s second rector.  An educated clergyman with a master’s degree, Stewart hailed from the same Irish county, Antrim, as did the colony’s royal governor, Arthur Dobbs.