Christ Church (Christ Episcopal Church)
City:St. Simons
Type:Church, Cemetery
Christ Church Frederica, on St. Simons Island
If the Spanish moss-draped limbs of the live oak trees in front of Christ Church make you think of an Eugenia Price novel, don't be surprised. The noted Georgia author used the church as the setting for The Beloved Invader, first novel in her Georgia trilogy, and described the setting in a number of her other works. She is buried in the church's cemetery, as are many of the characters she brought to life.

The first services on the island date back to this site in 1736, when Episcopalian Charles Wesley held services for St. Simons' early settlers at nearby Fort Frederica. Charles angered two women on the island, who quickly began spreading gossip among the settlers about Rev. Wesley. James Oglethorpe punished Charles for these rumors, although Charles Wesley may not have known why.

His brother John, who founded Methodism (but not the Methodist Church), visited St. Simons both before and after his brother's departure. Arriving in May, 1736, John found his brother in ill-health and encouraged him to return to Savannah. Once there, Charles resigned his technical post (Indian Affairs) and left Georgia in July, 1736, never to return. Returning to Frederica in July and January, 1737, John Wesley worked to establish a church for the people in the town of Frederica and Fort St. Simon. John Wesley left, replaced by George Whitefield. Each of these men spoke on the site of the present-day Christ Church.

In 1776 Episcopalian services were regularly held on the island, frequently on this site unless the weather was bad, in which case they would meet at the house of a parish member. In 1807 the parish was organized by the area planters, many of whom served as wardens and vestrymen. Christ Church Frederica received a charter from the state of Georgia in 1808 and the planters who organized the church began to raise funds for a building. William Best became the first rector of the parish.

Unfortunately, War with England was on America's horizon and one of the political measures to punish England for the impressment of sailors was an embargo on cotton. When war finally was declared in 1812, all commerce with England was halted. Since the English were the major foriegn market for American cotton, the planters halted the plans for the church. During the time from 1808 until 1820 meetings were frequently held in the home of John Beck, one of the original founders.

In 1810 Rev. Edmund Matthews arrived. It was under his supervision that the first church at Christ Church would be built. Construction was completed in 1820, and this church was built on the site where John and Charles Wesley preached to the settlers of Fort Frederica. In 1823 Christ Church Frederica joined with Christ Church Savannah and St. Pauls in Augusta to form the first Anglican Diocese in Georgia.

In 1831 Christ Church held the Convention of the diocese. Five years later the church celebrated its centennial with a speech from Thomas Spaulding. Because of the financial setbacks from the Panic of 1837, the church was forced to sell all but 5 acres of its land holdings.

Returning at the end of the Civil War, residents of St. Simons found Union troops destroyed much of the church. Windows had been broken, pews smashed and burned, the roof was heavily damaged and inside the soldiers had destroyed both the alter and organ. Money the church had put away in a bank in Savannah was now gone (the bank had failed) and members were forced to meet in houses rather than the church itself.

In 1884 wealthy mill-owner Anson Green Phelps Dodge (normally referred to as Anson G. P. Dodge) rebuilt the church and became involved in its day-to-day operation. He is also buried in the cemetery on church property.

Christ Church Cemetery

On the grounds of Christ Church is the Christ Church Cemetery, whose oldest tombstone (1803) predates the first church. In addition to novelist Eugenia Price, the cemetery holds:

  • Thomas Butler King - Scion of the wealthy Butler family, King served in both the Georgia House and Senate, then went on to spend 5 years as a representative in Washington D. C.
  • John Couper - St. Simons Island plantation owner who deeded 4 acres of land to the government in 1804 so that the St. Simons' lighthouse could be built.
  • John Wylly - a local land owner who was in a longstanding feud with Dr. Thomas Hazzard over the boundary of their property, both of whom were members of the church. Wylly ran into Hazzard in nearby Brunswick, Georgia, where he (Wylly) spit on Hazzard's face. Hazzard pulled a single-shot pistol and fired, killing Wylly. Indicted on manslaughter charges, Hazzard was later acquitted.
  • James Gould - first lighthouse keeper of the St. Simons lighthouse
  • Anson Dodge and family - first rector of the current church, Dodge's wife died on a trip to India and was buried in the church's chancel until Dodge himself died. At that time she was disinterred and reburied in the family grave.
  • Lucien Lamar Knight - noted Georgia historian who "wished to sleep in the long peace of Eternity under the boughs of the Wesly Oak and by the waters of the murmuring Altamaha."

Visiting Christ Church

Christ Church is located on St. Simons Island, near Fort Frederica. While it is not far from the town of St. Simons, there is little in the area for food or gas. The church is frequently, but not always, open.

In front of the church is the Christ Church Cemetery, popularized by St. Simons author Eugenia Price, who is buried in the cemetery. Across the street is a walk dedicated to the Wesleys. The entire tour takes about 1 hour.

Location: On St. Simons Island north of the village of St. Simons
Directions: From Savannah: Take I-95 South to exit 157A (GA 25 spur/N. Golden Isles Parkway). At the end of the ramp (about .3 miles long), turn left on the Golden Isles Parkway (GA 25) and continue for 4.6 miles. At the end, bear right onto Highway 17, locally known as Ocean Highway and continue fro 4.1 miles to the Torres Causeway. After the bridge follow Demere Road and continue to Sea Island Road, the first major left turn after the bridge. Follow Sea Island Rd. for 2.7 miles to Fort Frederica Road. Turn left and continue to a "Y" intersection. The church is on the left.
Additional information:
Official web site:
Christ Church Frederica
6329 Frederica Road
St. Simons, GA.

Date added: February 8, 2004
Last update: May 8, 2004

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St. Simons Lighthouse
Fort Frederica

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