north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

      At the founding of Brunswick Town in 1726, the only house of worship was a small house that had been converted into an Anglican chapel. In 1741 Brunswick left St. James Parish and became part of St. Philips Parish, which was created out of the part of New Hanover County west of the Cape Fear River. The Brunswick Act of 1745 required that the church of St. Philips Parish be built in Brunswick, but it was not until 1751 that an act appointed commissioners to begin collecting money for its construction. Some of the financing came from the sale into slavery of Spanish pirates who had attacked Brunswick in 1748. The Spaniards’ cargo was sold to this end, as well.

      Actual construction of St. Philips Church began in 1754. As the church stood unfinished in 1759, the General Assembly authorized a lottery to provide funding for its completion. To increase interest in the church, Governor Arthur Dobbs announced that he would designate St. Philips as the King’s Chapel in North Carolina meaning it would receive special privileges such as furniture for the communion plate, a pulpit, a Bible, Books of Common Prayer, and a gown for the minister.

      In July 1760, just as the church was being completed, the tower built for the belfry was struck by lightning causing the roof to collapse. When Governor Dobbs died in 1765 he was buried within the walls of the incomplete church. Dobb’s successor, Governor William Tryon saw to the completion of the church by making substantial donations including sashes and glass imported from England. Finally, on May 24, 1768, the building was dedicated by the Reverends Barnett and Wills of Wilmington. When completed, the walls of St. Philips measured seventy-six by fifty-four feet and stood twenty-four feet high. St. Philip’s Church was the largest church in North Carolina at the time, and one of the finest churches in colonial America.

      When the Revolutionary War commenced, St. Philips and other established churches in the province were abandoned. The church most likely was burned by the British in 1776 when they burned the rest of Brunswick Town. In 1862, Confederate troops built Fort Anderson, an auxiliary to Fort Fisher (originally called Fort St. Philips), around the remains of Brunswick and St. Philip’s Church. After the fall of Fort Fisher, Fort Anderson was captured as well, but the walls of St. Philips withstood the shelling. All that remains of St. Philips Church are parts of its exterior walls and a graveyard in which Governor Dobbs, Governor Benjamin Smith, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Alfred Moore are buried.

James Laurence Sprunt, The Story of Orton Plantation (1958)
Lawrence Lee, The Lower Cape Fear in Colonial Days (1965)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources