Lewes Presbyterian Church
133 Kings Highway
Lewes, DE 19958
Lewes Presbyterian Church at 133 Kings Highway
This beautiful church is located just off downtown Lewes, DE. The church’s cemetery is what attracted me to the site with all the historical names of founding families of Delaware and of Lewes and its ties to the Revolutionary War. It is interesting to walk around and look at the names on the tombstones and wonder what their lives must have been like back then. The church is only open on Sunday mornings so I have not had the chance to see inside. It’s stained glass windows are supposed to be amazing.
I am going to try to attend services there the next time I am in town.
The historic marker
(Written by Judith Atkins Roberts, 2003-Lewes Presbyterian Church website)
Presbyterianism came early to the Eastern Shore and Sussex County as Scots and Scotch-Irishmen sought refuge from the oppression of Charles II of England. In 1683, the Presbytery of Laggan, Scotland sent Rev. Francis Makemie to America. He is considered the Father of Presbyterianism in America and through his leadership the church grew rapidly. In 1683, he organized a church in Rehobeth, Maryland.
The congregation at Lewes was established under Rev. Samuel Davis, one of Makemie’s “young men,” in 1692. In 1707, the congregation built a small wooden church on one hundred feet square of land which was part of an original land grant. This frame building is believed to have been the second Presbyterian Church in Delaware.
OLD BRICK CHURCH – 1727
In 1727 a brick church was built for the Rev. John Thomson who served the Lewes congregation from 1717-1729. A small picture of this church is displayed in the Conference Room of the present church. This second church served as a school and church until 1832 when the present church was consecrated during the ministry of the Rev. John Mitchelmore. A centograph is displayed in the vestibule in memory of Rev. Mitchelmore who drowned in the Delaware River. In 1871 the brick church was demolished.
The original brick church
COL. DAVID HALL
During the War for Independence, George III once referred to the conflict as a Presbyterian rebellion and so it was as Presbyterians were invariably staunch patriots. The first democratic governor of Delaware, Col. David Hall, who had been commander of the Delaware line during the hostilities, was a member of the Lewes congregation.
The church cemetery
REV. MATTHEW WILSON
The most colorful of Lewes’ patriots was her Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Matthew Wilson, who was a scholar, teacher, author and preacher. He held degrees in medicine and divinity and had a great knowledge of law. He was so fervent a patriot that he wore the word “Liberty” on his hat. His first son, James Patriot Wilson, was a lawyer, then a minister who served the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for forty years. James Patriot’s son, James Patriot, was President of Delaware College and the Union Theological Seminary. Thus the Wilsons continued the high standard of education which had been initiated by Rev. Matthew Wilson. It was he who suggested that an institution of higher learning be established at Newark fifty years before Delaware College was founded (Church website).
The church cemetery
Alterations have been made over the years to the present church which formerly had a balcony around three sides of the interior. The original windows were three sections of leaded glass panes which were replaced in 1926 by the six exquisite stained glass windows which now beautify our sanctuary. The Biblical events depicted in the windows are:
- Come Unto Me
- Blessing the Children
- The Resurrection
- The Nativity
- The Good Shepherd
- Walk to Emmaus
Two more windows were placed in the vestibule in 1965. The one on the left is in memory of Mrs. Lena Tammany. The circular one on the landing is in memory of our most beloved pastor, the Rev. William Leishman who served our church for 34 years (Church website).
The Church at Christmas time
The organ and the choir were established in the balcony until 1877 when both were moved to the newly constructed choir loft. The Mustard property on the west side of the church was purchased and laid out in cemetery plots. The trustees also bought the Wesley property on the other side of the church where they built a manse. The present manse was built in 1959.
By 1886, extensive renovations were made to the interior and exterior of the church. The side galleries were removed, an open steeple was built to house a one thousand pound bell. A new organ was installed in the choir loft.
In 1900, a pipe organ was purchased and the church interior was redecorated. This organ was completely renovated in 1981 and in 2009. The Sunday School building (now the middle section of the new Activities Building constructed in 2000-01 was built in 1914. In 1950, the basement was finished and decorated as a social and recreational hall for the congregation.
Additions and changes have been made to the entrance over the years, the last one in 1931 when the original doorstep was placed on the right of the vestibule. In the late 1940’s the old steeple was replaced with a closed tower. In 2008-09, the sanctuary was reconstructed and rededicated to the glory of God on September 27, 2009.
GIFTS TO THE CHURCH
One of the most valued possessions of the Lewes Presbyterian Church is her Session Book which was begun in 1756 by Rev. Matthew Wilson. In this book are the records of baptisms, marriages and funerals, as well as comments made by various ministers on the social behavior of some members of the church who did not always exemplify the strict doctrines against liquor and gambling. It was placed at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia in 1982 for safekeeping.
Many gifts have been donated to the church over the years. The finest of these is the silver communion service which is believed to have been a gift of Col. Samuel Boyer Davis who commanded the militia during the bombardment of Lewes by the British in 1813. Col. Davis was the great-grandson of Rev. Samuel Davis.
Today our church continues the traditions established over nearly three hundred years. Perhaps our most beautiful tradition is that of the annual Candlelight Service at Christmas which was first held on December 16, 1924. Each year, the Nativity window is lit from the exterior of the church. Then at the close of the service, as each worshiper holds a lit candle, the church is darkened and voices are raised in a Christmas hymn which reminds us all of God’s precious gifts to us –
His Only Begotten and Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.