We have a long history, which you can read about below. However, we care more about who we are now and about the future that God is leading us to. Check out this page to learn what Hampton Baptist is like today.
Hampton Baptist Church traces its origins to 1791 (when George Washington was still in his first term as president). The congregation was originally called the Elizabeth City Church and formed with about 90 members. It gained its present name of “Hampton Baptist Church” in 1795.
The church faced difficult conditions for much of its early history. In a Baptist history book published in 1810, a historian described Hampton Baptist in this way:
This church never prospered much until 1805, when they had a revival, and about 200 were baptized; after which they chose Elder Richard Hurst to be their pastor, who had been raised up in the church, and under whose labors chiefly the revival had been conducted.
Hurst was the first pastor of the congregation. In 1813, Hampton was occupied by British troops during the War of 1812, and Hurst died a few months later. After Hurst’s death in 1813, there was no regular pastoral leadership until a second pastor was called in 1828.
In addition to war and leadership challenges, the church’s members were not affluent and so the congregation’s building was often in a poor state of repair. The first church building was a wooden shack a few hundred feet north of the present campus. It had benches without backrests, windows without glass, and no stove or heat source; the building was so uncomfortable that the church often met in the private homes of members.
Growth & Destruction
Slowly the church began to make progress, and a second church building was constructed. By 1845, Hampton was a town with 18 stores & shops and about 1,200 residents. Church membership had become so large that everyone could not be seated in the second building, so in July 1845 the congregation began construction on its third church building. This was the first brick building, and it was dedicated on March 28, 1847.
In 1850, the church passed a resolution recommending the creation of a women’s educational institution near Hampton. The school was incorporated in 1854 and opened in 1857 as the Chesapeake Female College. It had 40 acres of waterfront land; the five-story building could accommodate 400 women. It experienced financial troubles and closed in 1861.
Confederate forces burned the entire town of Hampton in August 1861 to prevent it from being used by US forces or as a home for freed slaves. The burning of the town resulted in the total destruction of the third church building along with almost all church records and equipment. Membership declined drastically after the war, both because white members left the area and because recently freed slaves—who until then had been counted as members and segregated in the balcony—founded the First Baptist Church of Hampton.
The Chesapeake Female College, ca. 1861
Reconstruction of the third church building that burned in 1861.
Change & Transformation
Members slowly began to return after the Civil War. Church services were held in the courthouse across the street and in various member homes until a wooden sanctuary was completed in 1869. This served until a fifth structure, the primary worship space still in use today, was dedicated on June 24, 1883. The four pastor’s chairs still at the front of the worship space are the originals from 1883.
The church’s first printed order of worship was published on March 5, 1922, and it gives a snapshot of what the congregation’s life was like at that time. When that first bulletin was printed, Warren Harding was president, antibiotics had not yet been discovered, and a Ford Model T cost $319.
Two long-serving pastors gave the congregation great stability throughout the twentieth century, and these pastors led the church to be a strong force in the community. Hampton Baptist was particularly active in planting new churches, sponsoring four new congregations around the area. The pastor who served from the 1960s through 2001 participated in civil rights marches in downtown Hampton in the 1960s, and Hampton Baptist has supported women in ministry from an early period. The last two decades of the twentieth century also saw at least 23 individuals called to ministry within the church.
Hampton Baptist has been a member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) since that denomination broke away from the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in 1991. In 2003, the church voted to sever all ties with the SBC.
Baptist hymn books from 1871, which are now in the church’s archives. One contains a newspaper clipping about the death of England’s Queen Victoria in 1901.
A Church for the Twenty-First Century
Hampton Baptist has grown into a diverse and welcoming community of faith. What unites us is our desire to love Jesus and to walk in faith like Jesus did.
One major way that our church seeks to live like Jesus is through SAME. Hampton Baptist has hosted a soup kitchen since the 1960s, but we have increasingly recognized that our calling is not to provide charity to people through a soup kitchen—rather it is to come alongside our neighbors in service, so that together we might all experience God’s love and grace. SAME has received national recognition for its compassionate, empowering approach.
We’re most excited about what God is doing among us today, and about the bright future that we believe God has prepared for us. Check out this page to learn more about who we are now.
Hampton Baptist completed construction of the newest building on the campus in 2016; along the way we found some interesting reminders of our past. Our newest physical space is used for non-traditional worship experiences, discipleship opportunities, church meals, service projects and opportunities for the community, and office space.