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History of Hampton Baptist Church

The Hampton Baptist Church was organized in 1791, just as George Washington was beginning his third year as President of the new United States of America.  Originally called the Elizabeth City Church, the congregation grew from 90 to 176 by 1795, when it became known as the Hampton Baptist Church. (Washington was still President)

Although the current sanctuary, the fifth for HBC, was built in 1883, all the previous ones were on or just adjacent to this site. In the early 1800?s, church members worshipped in what was described as ?a dilapidated wooden shanty? on the southeast corner of King and Lincoln Streets. They ?sat on seats without backs, looking at walls without plaster, and through windows without glass. They were accommodated by neither stoves nor fire and frequently found it more comfortable to meet in the homes of the congregation.? By comparison, a much grander sanctuary was built on the site of our current church in 1829-1831, ??a small frame church, some thirty by fifty feet in size, raised only two feet above the ground.? But what might have seemed grand in 1831 was dismissed in 1844 (by an observer who chose to remain anonymous) as ??the meanest house in town?.From the comb of the roof, there meets the eye a contemptible little chimney top instead of a steeple; the benches?have their backs broken; galleries [balconies] are straight, flat, narrow and suffocating.? 

In 1845, Hampton was a town of eighteen stores and shops, with a population of more than twelve hundred. The Hampton Baptist Church claimed a membership of some eight hundred, far too large for the existing building, so they took down the old sanctuary and constructed a third building on its foundations. The new meetinghouse, erected in 1845-1846 and dedicated in March of 1848, was for the first time constructed of brick, with stone steps across the front and white columns rising from the steps to the roof. The main entrance was at the top of the steps, and there were additional entrances at both the northwest and southwest corners, one leading to the choir gallery and the other to the gallery where the black members sat during worship services. A basement was used for Sunday School in the morning and the black congregation used it for their ?preaching services? on Sunday afternoons.

From its beginning, Hampton Baptist Church numbered blacks among their members, and for most of those years, white members were in the minority. In 1865, just after the Civil War ended, the black members organized themselves into the first exclusively black congregation in Hampton, and became the First Baptist Church of Hampton, still one of the premier churches in this city. Over the years, Hampton Baptist has also encouraged and sponsored other mission churches, for example: Wythe Parkway Baptist Church in 1901, Memorial Baptist and New Market Baptist Churches in 1903, East Hampton Church in the 1920?s, the Langley Baptist Church in 1948, a Cuban ministry in the early 1960?s, Hall Road Mission Church in 1969, and currently houses a Vietnamese congregation.

Early in the Civil War (August 7, 1861), Confederate troops burned the city of Hampton to prevent it from falling into the hands of Union troops stationed at Fort Monroe. Hampton Baptist Church was among the downtown buildings destroyed by the fire, along with most of its records. Its pastor at the time, Rev. George Adams, was also serving as chaplain in the Confederate regiment stationed on the Peninsula; in 1862 he was arrested as a Confederate spy and held prisoner on the ?Rip Raps? (Fort Wool) in Hampton Roads throughout the rest of the war. In 1866, as the church began planning for a new sanctuary, they called Rev. Adams to return to his pastorate, which he did, serving until 1876.

In the post-war years, church services were held in the Courthouse and in various members? homes, until the new frame sanctuary was completed in 1869. By 1880, the Hampton Church was ready to start another building program. The new brick building was erected in front of the existing wooden structure, which was retained for use as the Sunday School. The ?new? church structure, the fifth to be used by Hampton Baptist, was dedicated on June 24, 1883, and is the one still in use today (with some modifications). The pastors? chairs on either side of the pulpit (and also in front) are the originals from 1883.

Other notable features of the current sanctuary:

Stained Glass Windows:  The current stained glass windows are a far cry from that first building which had windows but no glass. The front two windows, over the baptistry and the piano, have been there for a long time, some believe since 1883. The one over the baptistry is dedicated to Rev. George Adams, the convicted Confederate spy (some say the only HBC minister we know to have served a jail term).  The other windows were originally an opaque glass, and in the 1960?s were replaced by the current stained glass as memorial gifts in honor of deceased family members and former leaders of the church. These windows were dedicated in 1965. Additional windows were installed and dedicated in 1989, in preparation for the 200th Anniversary celebration in 1991. Small brass plaques adjacent to each window indicate the donors and the person(s) the windows were given to honor. A booklet identifying windows and donors is also available.

The Baptistry: The first indoor baptistry was in the frame sanctuary built in 1869. Before that, all baptisms were performed in nearby Hampton Creek, often in front of the homes of members. When built in 1883, the current sanctuary also had an indoor baptistry. A new one was added in 1902, and is still in use today, although the pool can now be heated. We do not know when the church first had running water, and one can imagine the Board of Deacons, along with their other duties, forming a bucket brigade to fill the pool for a baptism.

The Organ: Music has long been an important element in worship at Hampton Baptist. The sanctuary built in 1845 included a large gallery for the choir, which indicates that the group was already large enough to need separate accommodations. The current building from 1883 had a smaller balcony dedicated to the choir and a pump organ (the church sexton manned the pump). The original configuration is apparent when the sanctuary is viewed from the pulpit area. When the sanctuary was updated in 1902, a platform was built directly behind the pulpit so the organ and choir could be moved to the front of the church. A new pipe organ was purchased in 1917, the ?Hall organ,? perhaps named for the organist and choir director, J. Marshall Hall, who served the church as Minister of Music from 1911 ? 1951. This organ was rebuilt in 1940 by the M.P. Moeller Co. The Moeller instrument was replaced in 1975 by the current organ, a Zimmer and Sons tracker pipe organ. The set of chimes is the lone surviving tonal feature of the 1917and 1940 organ. (For those who wish more information, there is a list of the organ specifications available.)

Renovations to the Sanctuary: by 1917, Hampton Baptist had outgrown its old Sunday School building (the frame sanctuary from 1869), and they voted to build a new structure. The actual work was postponed until 1920 because of the scarcity of building materials during World War I. Scarcely had the debt on the new building been paid (in 1938) before steadily increasing attendance and membership created the need for an expansion. Renovations completed in 1941 included alterations to the Sunday School building as well as the sanctuary: the balcony was enlarged to its present size, and a new floor, new ceiling, carpet, pews and lighting fixtures were added. (Unfortunately, a week after the first service was held in the newly renovated structure, a fire did extensive damage to the property. Once again city officials kindly allowed Hampton Baptist to use City Hall for worship services for the three months of repairs.) In the 1950?s, Hampton Baptist bought four properties facing Wine Street, and in 1960 an addition to the educational building was begun. Additional renovation to the sanctuary was done in 1999 after a wind shear tore the steeple off the roof. In 2014 the 1960's building was demolished and a new building was begun. Scheduled for completion in early 2016, it will provide a modern update to the historic facility.

Parsonages: The church?s first parsonage was built in 1856. A second was built in 1870 on East Queen Street, across from the old Post Office Building; however, the church in 1884 resolved that ?Because of the nearness of the Baptist parsonage to a public hall where shows, balls and other public entertainments are frequently held, and do extend into the late hours of the night, and because of it being situated in the business center of the town, its present location is unsuitable for the purpose for which it was originally intended.?  A new lot was purchased on Cary?s Point overlooking Hampton Creek (now Mill Point) and the church sold the Queen Street property, using the proceeds to build the new parsonage. This building was replaced by a newer and more substantial brick parsonage in 1908, which served the church until it was sold in 1972. It and the surrounding neighborhood were torn down in the mid-to-late 70?s.

Ministers: The first permanent pastor of Hampton Baptist Church was Richard Hurst, an Elder who had been raised in the church. He became minister in 1806. Portraits of many of our former ministers can be seen in the History Room and also in the hall of the educational building. Hampton Baptist is unique in that only two ministers served the church between the years 1925 and 2001: Dr. John H. Garber from January 25, 1925 through December 31, 1961, succeeded by Dr. Chester Brown, from January 1, 1962 through June, 2001. Dr. Charles Smith served as minister from January 1, 2004 to August 18, 2011.  Rev. David E. Roberts served as Interim Minister from January, 2012 until May, 2013. The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth (Betty) Pugh Mills became our 21st minister on May 15, 2013.

Hampton Baptist Church is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Quotes in italics are from ?The History of The Hampton Baptist Church, 1791 ? 1966,? by Dr. Blanche Sydnor White and Mrs. Emily Lewelling Hogg, published at the time of the celebration of the church?s one hundred seventy-fifth anniversary.