St. John's Episcopal in Kingsville celebrates its 325th anniversary

The Aegis

St. John's Episcopal Church in Kingsville, one of the oldest parishes in Maryland, celebrated its 325th anniversary with a day of activities Sunday that included the installation of a new pastor.

The church, which serves residents of Harford and Baltimore counties, began in 1692, before there was a state or even a nation here, according ot Karen Smith Manar, a member of the 325th anniversary committee.

Manar provided the following history of the church:

Beginnings

In 1608, Captain John Smith first explored the land that would become St. John's Parish. In 1692, with the formation of its first Vestry by the Maryland General Assembly, St. John's began as a parish of the Church of England. The parish probably had its beginnings as a "church of logs" built in a clearing at Elk Neck along the Gunpowder River.

A brick church building would eventually be built in Joppa Town in 1724. As anti-British sentiment grew, both Patriot and Tory leanings were evident in the church records. Rector Hugh Deans' son-in-law, John Paul, was caught selling grain to the British fleet sailing up the Chesapeake and was convicted of treason in 1777. He was to hang the next morning in Joppa Town, but he broke out of jail and fled. This left his family and the church (as all Anglican priests had sworn allegiance to the King as the head of the church), in a difficult position. As a result of the American Revolution, St. John's in the Church of England became St. John's Episcopal Church in America as did all Anglican churches in the new nation.

A New Nation

The once busy port of Joppa Town silted up and disease set in. The brick church gradually decayed along with the town throughout the 18th century. Parishioner Edward Day then built a new church at "the Point" in Kingsville, where the roads converged. The nearby Gunpowder Falls supported many mills, forges and other thriving industries. What is now the historic white chapel was consecrated in 1817 and is still in use today. The parish records show that the 19th century rectors of St. John's ministered to a growing population, which included dozens of enslaved and then free African Americans.

The War of 1812 and the American Civil War did not leave St. John's untouched. Edward's son, Ishmael Day (a veteran of both wars), became nationally famous for his defense of the American flag hung at his gate. When a Confederate sergeant ordered him to take it down, Ishmael (a fervent abolitionist) shot him. After his sergeant's death, Harry Gilmore brought his Confederate troops through the church grounds and went on a destructive raid through Harford and Baltimore counties.

Change and growth

The end of the Civil War brought change and growth at St. John's. Using funds donated in part by another Day, (Ellen Channing Day Buonaparte) the gray stone church building was built. Elizabeth Patterson of Baltimore married Napoleon's brother, Jerome, in 1803. Elizabeth's country home was Mt. Vista, near Harford Road in Kingsville.

Ellen Day married Elizabeth's grandson, Charles Buonaparte, who served in Theodore Roosevelt's Cabinet from 1905 through 1909. He was the Secretary of the Navy and U.S. Attorney General when he established the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Charles died at Mt. Vista and as he and Ellen had no children, she left a portion of Napoleon's settlement to Betsy at St. John's.

The resulting stone church is a beautiful example of late Victorian English Gothic Revival and has been used for our main place of worship ever since.

A day to celebrate

The Heritage Day Festival Saturday included an 1865 Morning Prayer Service Held in the historic chapel, the service was taken from the Book of Common Prayer in use during the Civil War.

Visitors experienced tours of the historic chapel and church. In the Parish Hall exhibits, artifacts, memorabilia, Kingsville community history and period food sampling can be enjoyed. As a highlight, Brittany Martin of Harford County's Hosanna School and Museum portrayed Edmonia Highgate, the first teacher at the first African American Freedman's Bureau School.

The Bishop of Maryland officiated at Sunday afternoon's installation service for the Rev. Elizabeth Sipos as the 35th rector of St. John's. She is the first woman rector to serve St. John's Church. A reception followed.

St. John's Episcopal Church is at 11901 Belair Road in the heart of Kingsville.

For information about St. John's call the church office at 410-592-8570 or visit //www.stjohnskingsville.org.

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