828 King's Highway, Suffolk VA 23432

757 255-4168 stjohns1755@verizon.net Worship Service: Sundays at 10:30am
Welcome to St. John's community. We are honored to serve Christ, and to open our doors to all. Please feel free to join us for worship. St. John's can trace its history to the founding of Jamestown. The parish is over 350 years old, and the church building itself has stood for 2 and a half centuries. St. John's saw the American Revolution and served as a camp ground for troops during the Civil War. Through it all, St. John's has been a place of worship and a home for those seeking communion with Christ. St. John's has a rich and abiding history. Today, it is as it was... a place to find and be found by Christ.

St. John's History

St. John’s Suffolk is located in the historic village of Chuckatuck, which is part of the city of Suffolk. The church is surrounded by a blend of farm land, residential housing, tranquil waterways, and yet we are close to the amenities and cultural attractions of Hampton Roads including Jamestown, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach.

St. John’s roots go back to the earliest English settlements along the Nansemond River, dating back to 1642. The present church, the third on this site, was constructed in 1755. Its old walls are solid brick, twenty-five inches thick. The aisle is paved with blocks of limestone from England. The chancel, with its elaborate wainscoting and carvings, was installed in the 1880’s. The colored glass windows date from the same period as well.

The parish house was built in 1970 with the addition completed in 1990. It has two classrooms, a nursery, a children’s chapel, two offices, a kitchen, and the main hall that will seat over 100 people.

St. John’s is a member of the Diocese of Southern Virginia in the Episcopal Church in the United States. We are also members of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

More about St. John's History
            St. John's has a direct historical lineage from our nation's beginnings and the Jamestown settlement of May 1607. Captain John Smith sent Jamestown settlers up the Nansemond River to locate and harvest the oyster beds of the river in 1609, but the Nansemond Indians drove them out. There were no permanent settlements in the area until about 1630, about 23 years after the establishment of Jamestown. The territory of the current city of Suffolk was included as part of one of the original sight shires of Virginia called Elizabeth City County organized in 1634. New Norfolk County was formed out of Elizabeth City County in 1636 and subdivided a year later into the counties of Lower and Upper Norfolk. In 1646 Upper Norfolk County was renamed Nansimum, later spelled Nansemond, an Indian word for fishing point or angle.

            Upper Norfolk County was divided into three Anglican parishes, South, East, and West, in 1642. The South Parish included all of the headwaters of the Nansemond River and present day South Suffolk. The East Parish included all lands on the east side of the river and the West Parish included all lands on the west bank of the Nansemond to include both sides of Chuckatuck Creek. These parishes continued by these names under the new Nansemond County, until 1656 when they were renamed Upper Parish, Lower Parish and Chuckatuck Parish. Sometime between 1725 and 1737, by order of the Council of Virginia at Williamsburg, Lower and Chuckatuck Parish were combined and named Suffolk Parish.

            In 1640, Percival Champion donated 450 acres to the Lower Parish alongside the eastern bank of the Nansemond River. Three hundred acres of this land has been in continuous possession of both the Glebe Church (originally Bennett’s Creek Church) in Driver and St. John’s Church in Chuckatuck as part of either the Lower Parish or combined with the Chuckatuck Parish as the Suffolk Parish ever since.

            The Glebe Church in Driver, Virginia derives its name from the fact that the parish still owns a glebe (under English ecclesiastical law, a farm providing revenue for a church). After our independence from Great Britain, the Church of England was disbanded in 1785 and all public glebes were confiscated in 1802. But in 1817 the rector, Rev. Jacob Keeling, successfully defended his claim that the glebe was privately donated and not a gift from the old government of Great Britain and thereby should not have been confiscated. Records provided evidence that Percival Champion was the original owner and not Britain. Present day proceeds from leasing the 300-acre glebe for farming are divided ⅔ to Glebe and ⅓ to St. John’s.

            A land grant dated 28 Oct 1672 to George and Harvey Billingsley for 500 acres in Chuckatuck (formerly granted to John Billingsley) set aside one and one half acres by authority of Colonial Governor Berkeley to the Parish of Chuckatuck for the erecting of a church and burial place. This was the first of three church buildings of Chuckatuck (St John’s) parish.

            The second church building was erected around 1700 or earlier, approximately 30 feet east and 50 feet south of the southeast corner of the existing first church and present day third building. However, there is no record of the exact date of construction of this second church. Vestry record books of 1749-1786 did reference this second church building in the deliberations of the vestry to build a new third church. It was not known that the third church was built over the site of the first church building until 1940 when ruins were discovered.

The third and present church is an exception to the general rule that colonial churches be erected to set east and west, since it lies northeast to southwest, with the chancel in the northeast end. The building is rectangular measuring 60 feet long by 30 feet wide from the outside. The walls are made of Flemish bond brick 21 inches thick. High up in the southern wall near the eastern end is the date 1753 between the initials A.H. and E.H, traditionally ascribed to the names of Anthony Holladay, church warden, and his wife Esther. This commemorates their having given the parish a release deed for the church’s site, long part of the Holladay’s Point plantation.

The time line for the present church began on 15 November 1751 when the vestry first met to decide to build a new church, set an ad for a contractor to build the new church in the Virginia Gazette on 24 April 1752, acceptance by the vestry on 2 September 1755 and final completion 1 May 1756. The contractor, Moses Allmand, was awarded ₤350 parceled out over the course of the construction depending on progress made.

A vestry meeting of 1779 appointed a committee “to see if it would be any advantage to build one or two small galleries in the Chuckatuck church, as the church is much crowded and there is so large a congregation commonly attending the church that there is not room in the pews for their reception.”   The reason for the necessity to expand the seating capacity owes itself to the beginnings of our Revolutionary War. The Reverend John Agnew, a Tory loyalist, was the parish priest for both Chuckatuck and Bennett’s Creek (Glebe) churches. During the spring of 1775, at a Sunday morning service, the patriotic magistrate and vestryman, William Cowper, and the Reverend Agnew got into an altercation at the Bennett’s Creek church. Cowper threw out Reverend Agnew. With the support of the congregations of both churches as documented in the Suffolk Parish Vestry book of 21 Oct 1778, the Reverend Henry John Burgess became the new parish priest. Reverend Burgess was apparently so popular a priest and patriot that the crowds were overflowing the Chuckatuck church. However, the present balcony or gallery probably dates from the 1870’s.

            It appears that the Suffolk Parish had a vestry for only two years after 1785, when the Church of England was disestablished until 1826. The two churches of Glebe and Chuckatuck were left to ruin. A new vestry, elected in 1826, returned the Chuckatuck Church to serviceable condition. The church was in active use until 1856 and was again restored following the Civil War. It was the custom after the Revolution to name colonial churches after saints; hence, Chuckatuck church became St. John’s in 1828. Vestry records indicate that the new name was not commonly used until as late as 1845.

            During the Civil War, on April 23, 1863 a small skirmish took place on the grounds of St. John’s. Federal Lieutenant Roy had come along shore with an artillery battery at Ferry Point and camped at St. John’s. Lt. Roy was creating havoc around the area and shot two rounds of artillery into Chuckatuck with the idea of destroying it, until Confederate Colonel J. J. Phillips, a native of Chuckatuck, routed the Federal troops.

            The current interior wainscoting configuration and exterior stained glass windows date from a remodeling done in 1888. Since that time there have been additional modifications to the church’s exterior. In approximately 1905, the southern entrance door on the right hand side of the church was replaced with an arched window to match the other seven windows making an even four on the north and south sides. A circular window was bricked in above the western door and the two arched windows behind the altar were bricked in and replaced with a new centerline window installed above and behind the altar. The center aisle is paved with 18-inch square brown “red” flagstone believed to have been delivered from England at the time of the church’s construction.

            Sometime in the early 1930’s David C. Cotton, a former vestrymen, took it upon himself to stabilize the foundations of the church, for it was feared the walls would come tumbling down. He made excavations for five-foot lengths of concrete one at a time until the job was completed reinforcing the old brick walls. The church today still stands on those foundations.

            Both Glebe and St. John’s have been designated Virginia Historical Landmarks and have been placed on the Virginia Landmarks Registry since 1972. These were the first two structures in the Suffolk-Nansemond area to be so named. They were also nominated to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
            Final historical notes worth mentioning are the dated and named cedar shingles located on the roof. One can find a shingle inscribed in pencil ‘Old St. John’s was shingle July 20, 1812 by Thomas J. Cook’. Another shingle bears the inscription from Frank Rodgers, a mill right of Capt. George Crump of Chuckatuck dated July 20, 1853. In addition, another shingle inscribed with the date July 20, 1885 states the roof was shingled by Willie Whitney and Albert F. Cofer. By design or coincidence, all of the shingles are dated on 20 July of the year installed.