The establishment of Calvary Parish dates to 1742, when construction of a small wooden building was envisioned near what is now called Chapel Springs, about eight miles northwest of present day Tarboro.  George II was on the throne of England, and this region was part of the English Royal Colony of North Carolina, presided over by a Royal Governor.  The little church building, named Saint Mary’s, was, of course, Anglican, and the rector, the Rev. James Moir, reported directly to the Bishop of London.  Completed in 1747, it served a small congregation until around 1760 when it burned.

Following the fire, the little congregation moved into the newly established town of Tarborough.  Services were conducted in a variety of places, including private homes.  Following the American Revolution, the town confiscated the primary place of worship, a secular building (no longer standing) near the corner of Saint James and Saint Patrick Streets.  That parish was called Trinity.  The congregation, already small, began to dwindle further.  After the American Revolution, worship along Anglican lines using a Book of Common Prayer, (in which a prayer was required for a reigning British monarch) was considered treasonous within the newly formed Republic.  Yet the Anglican form and tradition, (sans the prayer for the monarch) continued with only a few individuals in what is now called the Episcopal Church.

Then the name of the parish changed; and led by the Rev. William Norwood, the Act of Incorporation of Calvary Parish was drawn up and signed by 17 lay men and one woman.  Calvary Parish was admitted promptly into union with the Diocese of North Carolina on May 29, 1833, which is considered the date of its founding.  Soon thereafter, the congregation began to grow; adjoining lots conveyed as gifts formed the present grounds, bound by Church, Panola, East Saint James, and Saint David Streets.  Two church buildings have stood on these grounds, which comprise roughly a city block or two acres.  The first – a wooden structure completed and consecrated in 1840 – stood within the southwest quadrant of the churchyard.  It was deconsecrated in 1929 and later razed.  The present Gothic Revival church building, designed by Englishman William Percival and built by Thomas Coats, also an Englishman, was begun in 1858, completed in 1867, and consecrated in 1868.  Only 33 communicants comprised the Parish at that time.

The Churchyard is, in itself, a memorial to generations upon generations of both Calvary parishioners and friends.  Names that ring bells in North Carolina history can be found on gravesite markers.  The Churchyard remains an active burial ground.  The grounds, containing exotic and native trees, as well as shrubs and ivy are regarded by many as a grand arboretum.  It was planned and planted initially by the Rev. Dr. Cheshire.  Both the building and grounds are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and the building itself is a designated Historic Living Church.

Abstract from the article, “Our History,” found on the website, Calvary Episcopal Church (, accessed 16 May 2021.

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