My Georgia History

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

The history spotlight today is on St. Paul’s Church.  St. Paul’s was the first church built in Augusta, back in 1750.  The city trustees got together and decided if Augusta was going to be a proper town, we needed a church.  So, in 1750 they built the building.  They didn’t have a preacher, so the trustees  wrote the Church of England, asking for a rector, or as some of us call him, a pastor.  Well, the Church of England sent over Mr. Jonathan Copp.  He and his family arrived in Augusta in 1751.  With him,  Jonathan Copp brought a gift, a baptismal font from St. Paul’s Church, in England.  Jonathan Copp did not like Augusta, it was too much of an Indian town.  He just knew he was going to lose his hair.  Rector Copp wrote back to England, asking if he and the family could come home.  The Church said no.  They said that it would do him good if he stayed.  Poor Jonathan Copp stayed five years and then was finally transferred down to Savannah, hair and all.  St. Paul’s was built for protection, next to Fort Augusta.  It was a small, clapboard building.  It was the only church in Augusta for several years.  Different denominations used the building.  The Presbyterians used S.t Paul’s, until their building was built in 1804.  St. Paul’s first building stood until 1781.  It was destroyed during the last battle in Augusta during the Revolutionary War.  The Colonists were fighting British Colonel Thomas Brown in Fort Cornwallis.  Brown surrendered, along with 300 British troops.  But during the battle, the church was destroyed.    The trustees of Richmond County built the second building.  It was another clapboard building.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, here in Augusta, decided it was time to have a brick building.  So in 1820, they built it.  By this time, there were plenty of churches, in Augusta, but the members of St. Paul’s  felt their church was special.  By the way, Richard Tubman contributed lots of money for the third building.  A bronze plaque was hung on the wall commemorating Richard Tubman.  He was also a vestryman in the church. The third building, a brick church, sat there for 96 years.  In March of 1916, a fire broke out at the Dyer building on the corner of Broad and Eighth Street. It was very windy and burning wood was flying through the air.  The Chronicle Newspaper reported, 25 city blocks were burned.  They later reported, it had been 32 city blocks burned. St. Paul’s Church burned that night, along with Tubman High School for Girls, businesses and homes.  After the fire, the city looked like a war zone.  During the fire, a young man, a member of the church, ran into the building.  He could see people taking things.   With a loud voice he yelled, trying to sound as low as he could,”that’s not yours, it belongs to God.”  The men dropped what they had, and took off.  The boy was able to grab only one thing, the baptismal font, the gift from St. Paul’s in England, in 1751.  The baptismal font was the only thing saved in the 1916 fire.  They rebuilt the church in 1918.  It looks very much like the church of 1820, only it’s built a little bigger.

If you drive by during the day, you’ll notice the front door is left open.  You’re welcome to step inside.  In the foyer, you’ll see the 1751 baptismal font; you’ll also see a painting of William Few, signer of the Constitution.  It’s a wonderful structure and worth seeing.  The bronze plaque, dedicated too Richard Tubman, was destroyed in the fire.  But the body of Richard Tubman, is buried in a crypt below St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Written by Mark Woodard

Research resources:

  1. The Story of Augusta. Cashin, Edward J. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Company Publishing. (1996)
  2. Augusta, A Pictorial History. Callahan, Helen. Richmond County Historical Society Publisher. (1980)
  3. Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia. Jones, Charles C. Spartanburg, SC. The Reprint Publishers. (1890)
  4. From City to Countryside. Haltermann, Bryan M. (1997)
  5. Colonial Augusta, “Key to the Indian Country”, Cashin, Edward J. Mercer University Press, Macon Georgia. (1986)
  6. “A Tour of Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church and Its Grounds in Augusta Georgia”, A brochure. (2002)
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