LPC Celebrates 325 years of Worship

Mark Your Calendars for

October 21 & 22, 2017

Did you know that Lewes Presbyterian Church has been a congregation since 1692? On the weekend of October 21-22, we will be celebrating our 325th birthday with a special look at our rich heritage through song, special services, skits and much more. 

Our congregation is extremely privileged to be celebrating 325 years of continued Presbyterian worship here in Lewes, Delaware. Because of the dedication to a strong faith and a perseverance through wars, financial depressions, epidemics and theological differences of our early church leaders, The Lewes Presbyterian Church has survived to give us a home we love and cherish. Let us be ever thankful to the people who have gone before us who were steadfast in their faith in order to give us their legacy of working for God’s kingdom.

We are so very fortunate to be part of a church that was founded in the early beginning of our nation. We have had leaders who helped in establishing the Presbyterian Church and those who fought for our national independence and freedom. For 325 years, we have had strong individuals who were diligent in their faith and heroes of all kinds who deserve our reverence. Let us continue our proud heritage and proceed to be a God-centered refuge in the town of Lewes, Delaware and beyond.

Please plan to be with us to celebrate the faith of our fathers, both then and now, and for the future.

Marianne Miller

Colonial Leaders and Heroes

Samuel Boyer Davis

The people of our early church were largely Scotch-Irish immigrants who had fled Northern Ireland because of British religious persecution. In 1692, Samuel Boyer Davis arrived in Lewes to engage in business and preach part-time to a small band of Presbyterians. In 1707, Thomas Fenwick donated one hundred feet square on the northwest corner of his property to the Presbyterian “professors for a meeting house, school and burial ground;” a frame building was erected in 1707 to house the new congregation and provide a school.   

Rev. John Thompson

The first full-time minister for our congregation was John Thomson, who had been a student at the University of Glasgow; he came to the colonies in 1715 from Ulster, Ireland and to Lewes in 1717. He served the Lewes congregation from 1717-1729, and during this time a new brick church was built that served the congregation for almost 150 years. John Thomson was an original member of the General Synod of the Presbyterian Church, which first met in 1717, and he became moderator of the New Castle Presbytery the following year; in 1719, he was elected president of the Synod of Philadelphia. He was instrumental in getting the Presbyterian Church to require pastors to adopt the Westminster Catechism as their statement of faith, and helped to establish a fund for matters of Christian education and adequate financial support for ministers, two objectives dear to his heart. He was a leader in the very early establishment of the Presbyterian Church because of his scholarship and faith. We should be very thankful and proud of his work in the beginnings of our own church, as well.  

Col. David Hall

Another hero of our church’s ancestry is David Hall, a Presbyterian who became Delaware’s 15th governor and who is buried in our churchyard. Throughout the 18th Century until 1775, Delaware had not attained the status of a separate colony because its three counties were part of Pennsylvania under William Penn, but it had its own assembly. The three counties sent representatives to the Continental Congress, and from the time these delegates met in Philadelphia in September 1774, Delaware was treated as a separate colony. After the Declaration of Independence, “colony” was changed to “state” and Delaware was now encouraged to join the rebellion against Great Britain. The state contributed 750 men to the war effort. David Hall, born in Lewes in 1752, served in the Revolutionary War, first as a captain, joining the 1st Delaware Regiment in the battles of Long Island and White Plains, and later he was promoted to Colonel in 1777. After the war, he returned to Lewes to practice law and was elected governor in 1802, serving until 1805.

Growing Through Troubled Times

The early 1800s presented many challenges to our early congregation. There was inadequate funding for a full-time minister so we shared a minister with the Cool Spring and Indian River churches. Rev. Matthew Wilson went by horseback, preaching to each church on a regular basis.


The whole town of Lewes was shocked in 1810 when President Madison declared war on Britain; this war was often called “The Second War of Independence.” This was due to the interference by the British with U.S. trade and the impressment of American sailors into British service. In 1813 the British blockaded the Delaware Bay and regular troops from town were assembled. When a British commander asked for provisions from Lewes, the Governor came to Lewes and refused his request. The commander threatened to destroy the town and on April 6 and 7, they bombarded it for 22 hours. There was great fear and concern by those living nearby and many of our congregation chose to flee to farms seven miles away. They worshiped at Cool Spring till events subsided.

The war ended in 1814. Life returned to normal with Rev. Copes, our minister since 1807, who conducted classes for our youth and Sunday services as usual. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1822. After a brief three-year stay by Rev. Ogden, he was replaced by John Mitchelmore, a young missionary from Dartmouth, England and a Princeton graduate. His youth and enthusiasm energized the congregation and in 1830 construction began on our new church on King’s Highway near the site of the old brick church. It was completed and dedicated on August 26, 1832. Unexpectedly, Rev. Mitchelmore drowned in the Delaware River when a steamboat on which he was riding blew up on March 4, 1834, leaving the congregation greatly saddened. He was replaced by several different ministers for short periods of time.

In the mid 1800s there appeared to be a shortage of pastors in the area and communication with our national Presbytery was not clear. Our church was geographically removed from the churches in New Castle and Baltimore and it was uncertain to which one we belonged. On March 28, 1858 it was resolved that we apply to the Baltimore Presbytery to be taken under their care, which was done the following day. On April 6, 1858 our representative requested the Baltimore Presbytery to appeal to the General Assembly with an overture to reorganize a Lewes Presbytery. The earlier Lewes Presbytery had been dissolved in 1838 and consisted of churches in the southern area.

It is evident as the history of our church moved forward that God’s presence was with our predecessors in faith, determination and love.

Before, During and After the Civil War

152 years after the Civil War, we find it difficult to understand the effect of those dark times on any relatively small entity, but in the case of our church, we have a wonderful resource - the micro-filmed, hand-written minutes of the meetings of the Lewes Presbyterian Church Session. Preserved, hopefully for all time, are the joys and concerns of the saints who brought the church through a tumultuous decade.

Although there is little concise data that reflects the broader economic condition of Delaware, much less Lewes, around the time of the Civil War, there is the fact that Delaware, as a border state, must have felt the financial pain of both the blockaded South and the financially over-extended North. That pain appears from time to time in the minutes of the Session from that period. But mixed with that problem one can sense the concern of the church board as they dealt with that and the many “people” problems that occurred then.

Often the meetings were called for the routine handling of the acceptance of new members or approval of the “dismission” of an existing member who had moved from the church. However, the minutes of October 1859 are far from routine as they convey the lyrical, nearly poetic, expressions of their distress in accepting the resignation of their pastor, the Rev. William C. Handy. The following is an excerpt from that meeting. “The Session met and agreed to comply with our Pastor’s request feeling deep sorrow and regret that an overruling Providence should so order this calamity upon us and our Congregation,” this being hardly routine and probably unprecedented in the present day. This event led to a nearly two-year period without a full-time minister, ending when the Rev. G. H. Nimmo was installed by the congregation of the church in September 1861. The frustration of the Session’s members during this period must have been a fact of life as finances and the wishes of the congregation kept them from finding a replacement for the beloved Rev. Handy.

Financial problems persisted. In 1862 when Rev. Nimmo’s annual salary of $500 could not be raised by the congregation, he agreed to a $100 reduction. Appeals to the Presbytery for financial help from the Board of Domestic Missions in the amount of $100 were made annually from 1863 to 1867. These appeals were made when the total income from the congregation ranged from a high of $1,041 in 1865 to a low of $602 in 1868. The number of communicants was not regularly reported but, was just above 100 in the late 1860's.

Strangely, there was no reference of any kind to the war that raged through the middle of this time period. Perhaps their local problems precluded those of the nation, or perhaps their position as a border state with congregants loyal to both the North and the South kept the subject out of the life of the church.

Despite the struggle, the church survived. Men and women acting out their faith made it so.

From the 1870s Through the 1920s

The Civil War certainly brought much trouble and sadness to all parts of our country, and afterwards our society struggled to establish stability.  Our Lewes Presbyterian Church also struggled during the years after the Civil War, mostly from lack of funds.  From 1861 to after the first World War, no pastor stayed in Lewes longer than 10 years, and most of them were here for much shorter durations. Our congregation had a hard time paying these pastors.   In 1878 the Trustee minutes offer “that a committee of ladies be appointed to solicit contributions for the pastor’s salary, and the incidental expenses of the church.”  The minutes record that the ladies solicited three-year pledges of from $1.00 to $3.00 per year to support the pastor’s salary. 

The lack of qualified pastors also posed a problem for our church.  In 1873 the Session voted to enter into an agreement with Coolspring, Rehoboth and Georgetown Presbyterian Churches. “Resolved that we now precede to make out a call to the Rev. Isaiah Welsh of Union Seminary, NY, that we do agree to pay him a salary of one thousand dollars per year . . . . the Congregation of Lewes and Rehoboth shall each pay three hundred dollars and Georgetown one hundred dollars in quarterly payments.”  Later the minutes of the Session note that Georgetown could not pay their share of the salary for a shared pastor, and the LPC elders deliberated on what action to take for this difficult situation. 

Unity within our church also seemed to be a problem for in 1880 the Session minutes quote Reverend William Reese as saying as he resigned, “The want of harmony in the Session is lacking.  I think this is time enough to show one that I am not and cannot be useful to any degree in connection with those in Session because we do not agree in the work of the church.”  Reverend Reese served our church only four years, 1877-1881. 

Despite our troubled ways and lack of funds, our Lord graciously allowed LPC to somehow flourish after the Civil War and helped us maintain our church.  In 1877 funds were gathered to build a manse for the pastor, and in the next 30 years, LPC purchased property on Franklin Ave. to enlarge our church property.  In 1895 a house was purchased on the northwest side of the church and used for a time as a social hall until it was torn down in 1903 to expand the cemetery.  The turn of the century brought new floors to the sanctuary and steam heat.  In 1914 the Sunday School addition was constructed which enlarged the church and enabled a stronger program for our congregation.  In 1926 our beautiful stained glass windows were added to the Sanctuary to allow our place of worship to be a reminder of God’s presence and glory. 

While the church property was being enhanced, largely through the efforts of several LPC members and their contacts, the church program also blossomed.  In 1889 the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society was formed.  The Young People’s Association was organized in 1888 and continued activity for over 40 years.  The Sunday School for children was established and had its first Rally Day Service on September 26, 1897.  A beautiful pipe organ was purchased for $1,200 around the turn of the century and has been the mainstay of our music program ever since. 

Our church has had its troubles and disappointments, but because we have tried to pursue God’s will and share His direction for our church, we are an active, loving group of people who will hopefully continue to be God’s people in Lewes and beyond.

Marianne Miller