History of Saint Peter's Church Lewes, Delaware
Located in the center of “The First Town In The First State," St. Peter’s Church has served the spiritual needs of this community since 1680.
Early settlers who were members of the Church of England formed the first congregation. Meeting in homes and later in the Court House, they petitioned the Bishop of London to send clergy to serve them and other churches in Sussex County. The first missionary arrived in 1708, but stayed for only a year. The Sussex Mission owes its permanence to the Reverend William Becket who came to Lewes in September 1721 and remained until his death in 1743. He is buried in St. Peter’s churchyard. Under his leadership, not only St. Peter’s, but three other churches flourished in Sussex county.
In a letter of October 1728 to the Bishop of London, Becket describes St. Peter’s Church as follows: [it is] 40 feet in length 24 broad, the wall between the plate and the sill is 15 feet. The frame...Wood. the Roof...covered with Cypress Shingles and the wall with Boards of the same wood,..the walls wainscoted with Cypress plank as high as the tops of the pews. The Pulpit, reading desk, Communion Table and Rail are handsomely built of Black Walnut - the pews...of pine plank...the number of people frequenting this church I reckon...about 150.
The original communion table is still in use as the altar in the present church. The church also has the original Book of Common Prayer used by the first congregation. In 1773 the church was presented a silver communion service made by John David, Silversmith of Philadelphia. It consists of four pieces, a flagon with domed cover for wine 10” high, chalice with removable cover 12” high, and a paten 10” in diameter. Each piece is inscribed “The Gift of the Honorable John Penn Esq. To St. Peter’s Church in Lewis Town June 10, 1773.” The service is still used for communion on special occasions. John Marshall Phillips, Curator at Yale University, wrote that the Chippendale Period communion service was “outstanding” and “the finest silver in Delaware.” The silver has been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Christie’s in London, and in other museum exhibits.
Clergy for the Sussex Mission were supplied by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel from London until the Revolution. St. Peter’s survived the split with The Church of England, and in 1785 became a part of The Protestant Episcopal Church in The United States, independent from The Church of England.
It is not known exactly when the first St. Peter’s Church was built, although it was sufficiently finished to hold services when Becket arrived in 1721. The vestry minutes record the building of the second church in 1808 as follows: The Wardens, Vestry, Trustees, and other Members of the Congregation of St. Peter’s at Lewes agreed to build a New Church of the same size of the Old one, and to set it about 30 or 40 feet to the South and West of the old Church, which was so much decayed it would not bear repairing.
The new church was raised in June, and on 15 September 1808 the Rev. James Wiltbank preached a sermon to the congregation in the completed building, which sat on the site of the present building.