February 1736, the first English settlers arrived on St. Simons Island.
The group left England for the Americas on 10 December 1735, under the
guidance of Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe. Three ships carried
these 227 immigrants to their new land, the Symond under Capt.
Joseph Cornish, the London Merchant under Capt. John Thomas,
and the Hawk under Capt. James Gascoigne.
Amongst them were the English
settlers, the Moravians, the Salzburgers, and three missionaries, Rev.
Benjamin Ingham, and the Wesley boys, Charles and
John. The Moravians did not come all the way to St. Simons, they
landed near Savannah, but the rest of the party arrived and formed the
town of Frederica.
An early description in a London
paper stated that they had one minister who has a salary from the Society
for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts. No mention of a church
Charles & John Wesley,
Benjamin Ingham, and George Whitefield, were members of a club
back in England at Oxford University. This club was deemed the "Holy
Club" by the general public. The group was formed by the Wesleys
and there were about 15 members total.
John Wesley was sent to
America under the guidance of Dr. John Burton, one of the trustees
for the founding of the Colony of Georgia. John was
authorized by the trustees to perform all religious offices in the towns
of Savannah and Frederica. It was also arranged for his brother,
Charles, to come along as Secretary to Oglethorpe and as
Secretary to Indiana Affairs. Just before their departure,
Charles was ordained as a deacon, even though he originally had no
interest in the holy orders. His mind was changed when he was told
that he would be able to better serve the spiritual interests of the
colonists if he were a clergyman. This calling was to prove his
Benjamin Ingham arrived in
Frederica several weeks before the Wesley boys, and was on hand to
greet them as they landed. John had stayed in Savannah, but
later arrived at Frederica when duties called Charles to Savannah.
However, John did not stay permanently, he traveled back and forth
between Savannah and Frederica. In their journals, both men stated
that they held services in the open air, or at certain buildings.
Charles held four services every day, John scheduled Wednesdays
and Fridays for meetings. An oak tree at the Christ Church property
is designated as the Wesley Oak, where the men sometimes held
services under its sprawling limbs.
Charles was considered a
Methodist, and his first charge was at Frederica. The term Methodist
was coined due to the followers' strict way of life. This
congregation later became the Methodist Episcopal Church. John
Wesley was here for about a year or so, Charles only 10 weeks,
both returning to England, never to see America again.
Church is considered the second oldest Episcopal Church in the state, and
the third in the country. The early services at Frederica during
it's settlement were part of missionary work from the Christ Church,
Savannah. After the Wesleys departure, George Whitefield,
founder of the Bethesda Orphanage located in Savannah, became the third
missionary to arrive at Frederica. In 1740 Rev. William Norris
was serving, the next year Rev. Thomas Bosomworth. In 1746
Rev. Mr. Zoaberbuhler was in charge of the religious works of the
Colony, and he stayed on for 20 years. When the American Revolution
started, the town of Frederica was abandoned.
After the war, St. Simons became a
hot spot for new plantation owners, therefore the parish was re-organized,
called St. James since 1758, and to show their thanks to the Christ Church
of Savannah, the church at Frederica was named Christ Church as well.
In 1808 lands were petitioned for on which to build a church, the people
were granted 100 acres around the town of Frederica and three lots within
the town for use by the church.
William Page and Dr.
Robert Grant were named wardens and Joseph Turner, John Couper,
James Hamilton, Raymond Demere, Jr., and George Abbott were
vestrymen. The lands were rented and the funds went towards building
the first Christ Church of Frederica in 1820 with the Rev. Edmund
Matthews, DD serving as rector.
During the Civil War, the island
was yet abandoned again, the church was used by northern troops, and was
demolished beyond repair. But the church found it's savior in the
form of Anson Green Phelps Dodge, Jr., who in 1879, re-organized
the parish once again, and rebuilt the church in honor of his late wife
Anson Dodge later
became the rector of the church, and due to the recent loss of his first,
and only child, formed a home for boys, boys that he and his new wife,
Anna Gould, adopted as their own. But tragedy struck once again,
and Anson passed away at the young age of 33 years. The home
for his newly adopted sons was named the Anson Dodge Home for Boys
in his honor. It was not only a home, but a private school, that the
local island children were allowed to attend for free. This was the
only grammar school on the island until 1956.
Christ Church also has one of the
oldest cemeteries in the county, the earliest death recorded on a stone is
1803. Most anyone who settled St. Simons in those early years, can
be found interred on these hollowed grounds. The Coupers, the
Kings, the Grants, the Goulds, various rectors
of the church, and those who we may never know due to the ravages of time.
The church built in the 1880s by
Anson Dodge remains standing today, still holding services, with over
1000 members! Only about 160 people, more or less, can be seated so
services are divided into four on Sunday, and other services conducted at
another property. You can also pay a visit during day light hours
throughout the week, go inside, sit down, and enjoy the views of the
stained glass windows depicting scenes from the bible, and early St.
Simons Island days at Frederica. Or take a stroll through the
ancient cemetery, shrouded in majestic live oaks, dripping with Spanish