First Presbyterian Church of St. Mary’s

Camden County
Org 1808
Photography by Wayne Moore

The First Presbyterian Church of St. Mary’s is a stunning piece of architecture and is also one of the oldest Presbyterian Church buildings in the state of Georgia. The church was non-denominational until a young Presbyterian Missionary, Horace S. Pratt, from the Presbytery of New Brunswick, N.J., came to St. Mary’s in 1821. He found religion in the area to be in a ‘very low and languishing state, having existence in name only’. In 1828, by an Act of the Georgia Legislature, the church was incorporated under the name of “First Presbyterian Church of St. Marys”.

The church is a perfect complement to the historic village of St. Mary’s, located on the St. Mary’s River in Camden County. The St. Marys Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The city was first settled in the mid-16th century by the Spanish. It was formally established by an act of the state legislature in 1792. Established on the site of an abandoned Timucuan Indian village, Tlathlothlaguphta, St. Marys sits on land confiscated from two brothers of royal governor James Wright. Their Royalist sympathies resulted in their banishment after the American Revolution and the loss of their huge estates. After the departure of its royalist owners, the land belonged to Jacob Weed, an early planter and state legislator. Weed sold 1,672 acres along the St. Marys River to nineteen other men, and the twenty laid out the new town together in 1788. Early maps show the streets were 100 feet wide, interspersed with two 16-acre public squares. Each one of the twenty founders was authorized to use the squares and received a mixture of good, marshy land in his purchase.

The strategic location of St. Marys on the Atlantic Coast just above Florida led to its involvement in several of the major military conflicts in U.S. history. Troops were sent from New York to the area during the American Revolution. It was captured by the British during the War of 1812, and Union gunboats shelled its waterfront buildings during the Civil War. The losses to the city’s population caused by the calamities of war were serious, a combination of casualties sustained during attacks and the migration of frightened civilians inland to avoid danger. In addition to war, raids by smugglers and Native Americans, and epidemics of yellow fever repeatedly occurred throughout the nineteenth century, killing many and causing others to leave. Today, the picturesque village of St. Mary’s is a perfect location for this historic example of tidewater architecture that has been lovingly cared for over 200 years. Services are each Sunday 10:00 am.

+ Read More