by Ann Hutteman

A Wilmington physician, Thomas Fanning Wood (1841-1892) wrote in his Memoirs, "At the outbreak of the war [Civil War] there were churches as follows: Front St. & Chestnut St. Presbyterian; Front St. & 5th St. Methodist; St. James; St. John's & St. Paul's Episcopal; St. Thomas, Catholic; Front St. & Orange St. Baptist churches & a Freewill Missionary Baptist on Castle St.; and one Lutheran Church on Market St." A similar list of early churches in the ante-bellum period are in the Wilmington City Directory 1860-61.

North Carolina mandated counties to keep vital statistics in 1913. Church records are an essential resource, sometimes the only source, which regularly recorded marriages, births and deaths before that date. Below are listed some of the churches of the major denominations in the Wilmington area that were organized before 1913, and an indication of which records are on microfilm or have been transcribed and published. All are in the North Carolina Room of the New Hanover Public Library.

Baptist Records: The First Baptist Church was originally on Front Street, between Ann and Nunn streets, and its early origins are unknown. Officially organized in 1833, the church minutes from 1833-1847 were transcribed by Mrs. Ida B. Kellam, a copy of which is in the library. As mentioned in the last Courier, the book contains a wealth of information about church members of that era. Other early Baptist churches are: Calvary Baptist Church (1871) and Southside Baptist Church (1870).

Episcopal Records: Founded in 1729, St. James Episcopal Church was the first church in our area, and before the American Revolution was a quasi-political as well as a religious organization. Marriage, birth and death records begin in 1737. A three volume set of records, 1737-1892, can be ordered from ONHGS. There are also three microfilm reels in the library which have the vestry minutes and Parish Registers from 1807-1901. Missions of St. James Parish are St. John's founded in 1853, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 1858 and Church of the Good Shepherd, 1892. Microfilm reels cover the following: St. James - the Vestry Minutes, 1858-1917 and Parish Registers, 1858-1917; St. Paul's Vestry Minutes, 1858-1917 and Parish Register, 1858-1911. An additional microfilm reel contains four volumes of record of services, 1886-1968, of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, which was formed when African-American members left St. Paul's in the autumn of 1869.

Jewish Records: Wilmington's two Jewish congregations are the Temple of Israel and the B'nai Israel Synagogue. The Temple, the oldest Jewish house of worship in North Carolina, was begun in 1876, and their early records are located in the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, OH. A microfilm reel contains in part Treasurer's Records 1876-1888, Hebrew School Records 1898-1901 and minutes of the Carpet Fund Society 1898-1905. B'nai Israel celebrated its centennial in 1998 and is now located at 2601 Chestnut Street.

Lutheran Records: St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church was founded in 1858, by immigrants from northern Germany and was the only church of that denomination in eastern North Carolina for a number of years. The church has parish records and minute books from 1858 to the present, and they are on microfilm in the North Carolina Room. St. Matthew Lutheran Church was founded in 1892 as a mission of St. Paul's on the northern side of Wilmington. Parish records from 1894-1979 are on microfilm.

Methodist Records: Front Street Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1796. After a disastrous fire in the 1886, the church was moved to its present location and the named changed to Grace United Methodist Church. Mrs. Merle Underwood, church archivist, has abstracted the church's records from 1796-1905, which include baptismal, marriages, deaths and notations about membership. These records have been published by the society. Also there are two reels of microfilm with records from 1807-1941. Organized in 1847, a portion of Fifth Avenue Methodist Church's records 1907-1922 are on microfilm. Trinity Methodist Church was established in 1892 and was first known as Market Street Methodist Church.

Presbyterian Records: Unfortunately First Presbyterian Church, which dates from 1818, has been plagued by devastating fires, the latest on New Year's Eve, 1925, that destroyed all of the church's early records. St. Andrews Presbyterian Church was called Second Presbyterian Church when it began in 1858. Their original sanctuary was on Chestnut Street. In 1888, the name of the church was changed after it moved to the comer of Fourth and Campbell streets in the northern sector of the city. In 1941, St. Andrews merged with Church of the Covenant, adopting both names and using the Covenant Church's buildings at Fifteenth and Market streets. A Record of Minutes 1874-1932 in six volumes are on microfilm. Immanuel (now spelled Emmanuel) Presbyterian predates 1900, being founded in 1890 and first located on South Fifth Street.

Roman Catholic Records: Father Thomas Murphy arrived in Wilmington on 1 January 1845, to begin a catholic mission which was called St. Thomas The Apostle Roman Catholic Church. The same year the small congregation purchased a lot on Dock Street and built a church thereon. After St. Mary's Pro-cathedral was built on the comer of Fifth and Ann streets in 1912, the original church was used by Wilmington's African-American Catholics until the two churches were integrated in the mid-twentieth century. The St. Thomas records are on microfilm and currently are being abstracted by Joseph Sheppard and serialized in the Courier. Eventually, the society hopes to add a volume of these parish records to its publication list.

The importance of these early churches' records cannot be over emphasized. If anyone is a member of a church that has not had their records microfilmed, please encourage the church to do so. In the past, fires, natural disasters and deterioration due to age have robbed current researchers the opportunity to use some of these important archives; therefore, preservation must become a top priority. Information about the microfilming process can be obtained from Beverly Tetterton and Joseph Sheppard, Local History Librarians in the North Carolina Room of the Library. They will be happy to advise and help get these valuable records copied on microfilm and made available for researchers.


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