First Pres was born on January 7, 1817, at a meeting in the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Minor, which was located on Craven Street, near Pollack Street. There is some confusion about the number of people who founded the church because the minutes of the Orange Presbytery were lost in a 1827 fire. One surviving historical source talks of a meeting of nine members in Mrs. Minor’s parlor, but the mural tablets in the sanctuary affirm that there were 13 original members.
The chronology that follows this introduction presents many key dates in the history of First Pres. The chronology stops at 1997; we are working to bring it up to date.
The photograph of First Pres, left, was taken some time around 1870 by Rufus Morgan. Rufus was born in Virginia in 1846, operated a photographic studio in New Bern during much of the 1870s, and married Mary Devereux Clarke (of New Bern) in 1873. He died in 1880, during a trip to California.
1707 — French Huguenots from Marakin Town, near Richmond, Virginia, settled on the Trent River, two miles from here. These, with Rev. Claude Phillips de Richebourg, as minister, were the first Presbyterian congregation in North Carolina.
1711 — Indian massacre, Huguenots fled to the Santee River in South Carolina.
1764 — The Rev. George Whitfield, after a tour of the coastal section of Carolina, writes of New Light Presbyterians. He preached in New Bern on Christmas Day 1739 and again visited here in November 1764.
1807 — Subscription was announced for “Presbyterian Meeting House”. Subscription stated for a building in December 1807. A lot was purchased in 1819 for the sum of $1,200. Contractor and builder: Uriah Sandy, assisted by John Dewey and Martin Stevenson. Oldest church building in the city. Size: 70×52 feet. Balcony on three sides. Cost: $7,000.
1808 — Minutes of Orange Presbytery read, “Mr. James Burch received a call from New Bern,” and record his ordination here May 27,1807. In 1810, the minutes record his dismissal “from his pastoral duties” to the presbytery of Philadelphia. Such entries imply an organization here. Intervening records were lost, leaving no specific information prior to 1817.
1817 — The present organization was effected January 7, 1817, by the Rev. John Witherspoon, native of New Bern, grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, then living in Hillsboro, North Carolina.
1819 — Lot was purchased and the building was started. The cornerstone was laid on June 9, 1819. The building is quite similar in architecture to the Congregational Church, Litchfield, Connecticut, which was erected in 1829. The building was dedicated on January 6, 1822. The original pews were sold with the prices ranging from $150 to $350.
1842 — The manse at 411 Johnson Street, originally a side-hall Federal style house, was purchased in 1842 and has been renovated several times.
1856 — The lot on the east side of the church was purchased and the “Lecture Room”, now called “The Session House,” was built.
1861-1865 — The church building was the Federal Regimental Headquarters for worship until the epidemic of yellow fever when it was made into a Federal Emergency Hospital, together with the entire church property, the manse being used as surgeon’s headquarters.
1866 — The building was repossessed and renovated. The high pulpit, as now restored, was removed. The platform was lowered 25 inches, made much broader, with arched, semidome shaped recess behind. The stranger pews in each corner were rearranged so worshipers would all face the pulpit. The Communion Table was discarded. It was in two nine foot sections, forming a crescent shaped table from stair to stair, fifteen inches wide. One section was found in 1936 and restored to use. Recently a duplicate was made so that we have two tables as originally used.
1898 — The baptismal font was given by the “Ladies Sewing Society” in memory of former pastor, The Rev. L.C. Vass.
1936 — The old pulpit was restored by Mrs. Leo Harvey of Kinston, in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. T.G. Hyman.
1950 — Present Education Building was constructed.
1976 — During the renovation of Session House, wallpaper removed from interior walls of the main hall revealed stenciling at the cornice level and below the chair rail, probably installed amid the 1866 renovations; stenciling was restored in 1977.
1986 — Pipe organ, a two-manual instrument with 19 ranks and 13 stops, was built and installed by C.B. Fisk, Inc. of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The 1012 pipes are housed in a poplar case painted white and trimmed with Honduras mahogany. The pipe shades are carved with shells and other nautical motifs representing the link between New Bern and the water.
1987 — New kitchen constructed and air and heat system installed in three major buildings. The building at the corner of New and Hancock streets, currently the Lighthouse Youth Building, was purchased.
1992 — Sanctuary interior renovated.
1993 — Sanctuary exterior renovated and Fellowship Center purchased.
1996 — First Presbyterian Church Preschool moved to the new Fellowship Center and the church office was moved to our present location. We purchased the old Hargett House located next to the church office.
1997 — The New Bern Preservation Foundation moved the Hargett House to its new location on Queen Street.