Church History

Christ Episcopal Church, itself steeped in history, is located in one of the oldest settled areas of North Carolina. Although chapels, vestries, and clergy were mentioned in colonial records from the time of Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions, nothing was definitely known of Christ Church, Elizabeth City, until 1825-1826.The Parish, however, had its roots in Jamestown, Virginia, whose colonists began settling the area around 1630. Under acting Governor Henderson Walker, the North Assembly of 1701 designated Pasquotank a parish. In 1708 a priest wrote to Her Majesty’s Secretary in London that “The citizens of Pasquotank have agreed to build a church and two chapels.” No location was given, but a map of 1770 shows a church on the narrows of North River, a chapel near South Mills, and another on Raymond’s Creek.

Two vestries were appointed in 1715, one for South West Parish and the other for North East Parish. The General Assembly meeting in New Bern from 1754-1756 consolidated the parishes of St. John’s and St. Peter’s in Pasquotank County. A deed dated July 15, 1750 to the Episcopal Church was given by John Cartwright and his wife, Elizabeth, being the place where the Isaac Sawyer chapel was located.

The congregation was organized in 1825 and the first Christ Church was built during 1825-1826, at first occupying a frame church on the site of the current parish house. The first rector was John Avery, also rector of St. Paul’s Edenton. In 1856, $6000. was raised for a new church building, which was completed in 1857 and consecrated in 1858 by Bishop Thomas Atkinson. In 1925 the parish house was built.

The present church, one of the most familiar landmarks in Elizabeth City and the city’s oldest existing religious structure, is considered one of the finest examples of English medieval Gothic revival architecture in the area. The details include the three-stage bell tower, with the octagonal upper stage; slender lancet-arched windows; and the defining buttresses.

The Hammer Beam Ceiling

In 1947 Christ Church’s rare hammer beam ceiling was complemented by her most renowned beautiful memorial gift consisting of a series of matching eighteen stained glass windows inscribed with the Beatitudes and in harmony with each other giving a narrative of the story of the life of Christ.

The Civil War

During the Civil War, Union Naval vessels under the command of General Burnside steamed up the Pasquotank River and shelled Elizabeth City. The Rev. E.M. Forbes, rector, remained in town, dressed in his clerical vestments, met the forces at the waterfront and negotiated a peaceful surrender of the town to save it from ravishment. A memorial to him is located at Mariner’s Wharf on the waterfront.

The Pipe Organs

Christ Church houses two separate pipe organs. The Henry Erben organ was built in 1845 and installed in 1856. The Erben organ and the rose window over the altar were moved from the first Christ Church building. The main organ, Opus 2149, was built by Austin Organs, Inc. of English roots in 1952. This instrument was restored in 2009 and the final result has been described as having the rich sonority of an English cathedral organ which is most suited to the history of Christ Church.

Other Facts

Christ Church and the parish house have been entered in the National Register of Historic Places.

Christ Episcopal Church in Elizabeth City was admitted to the Diocese in 1830.

Source of information: Compiled from various proprietary material of Christ Church.