Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you… -Luke 1:1-3a
If you’d like to learn more about St. Thomas’ history, come join us on a Sunday and talk to Evans Goodling. He wrote the book on St. Thomas’ history. (Literally–here’s a link if you’re interested).
St. Thomas’ Beginnings
Thomas Morgan, his wife Elizabeth and their four sons, John, Francis, William and Jacob, were among the earliest settlers in what is now Caernarvon Township, Berks County. It is believed that the Morgan family came from the Diocese of Bangor in Caernarvonshire, Wales. Morgan had no known connections with any church in this area, but two particular bequests in his will, written in 1740, were: one acre of land on his farm lying south of the Conestoga Creek for use as a family cemetery, and another much larger tract of land to his sons in trust with the income to be used “…towards building a church or house of worship and maintaining of a gospel ministry therein… to be built on that acre of land I have already given for a burying place.”
Following Thomas Morgan’s death in early 1741, there is no record of the church or ministry he wished to establish until 1765. Then, sometime prior to August 1765, the Vestry of Bangor Church authorized Jacob Morgan, youngest son of Thomas, to build a chapel on the one-acre lot set aside in the will for a burial ground.
The Rev. Thomas Barton, a native of Ireland serving several Anglican parishes in Lancaster County, wrote in a letter dated August 8, 1765 to the London-based Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) in Foreign Parts, “I beg leave at present to acquaint the Society that on Sunday last (August 4, 1765) I opened a new church in the County of Berks, about five miles from the Church of Caernarvon (Bangor Church) and 26 miles from this place (Lancaster). It is a small stone edifice, decently finished, and has been built in compliance with the last will and testament of one Thomas Morgan….”
The construction of the first church building was apparently financed by the members of Bangor, the status of St. Thomas at that time being a chapel-of-ease in the parish of Bangor. It seems also that a school was operated in conjunction with St. Thomas Church.
It is apparent from the records of Bangor Church that the vestries of both Bangor and St. Thomas were made up of men from both parishes, and joint meetings of both congregations were held from time to time.
Following the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Barton left the area in 1778, intending to return to Ireland. With the departure of Barton, the services of the Church of England were suspended in the little stone chapel on Thomas Morgan’s farm, as they were in all Anglican churches throughout the Province, although the school may have continued. The search for a new minister for Bangor Church and St. Thomas Chapel must have been quite a challenge. Due to the extreme scarcity of Episcopal clergy following the withdrawal of SPG missionaries during the Revolution, a German Calvinist, the Rev. T.F. Illing, was called to serve the people of Bangor and St. Thomas in 1780.
When Jacob Morgan laid out the village of Morgan’s Town in 1770, he had set aside three lots for church purposes: Lot 31 for the parsonage, Lot 32 for the church, and Lot 33 for the church garden. The location of the church and school on the original one-acre tract on Thomas Morgan’s farm was about a half mile south, not very convenient to those who took up residence in the village. Therefore in 1786, the state legislature by charter granted the congregation permission to sidestep the provisions of Thomas Morgan’s will to clear the way for moving the church and school to Lot 32 in the village. The charter set the number of vestry members at 13, including the two wardens, Col. Jacob Morgan and his nephew David Morgan. By 1790, the old building had been disassembled and moved to the present site. Although the parish eventually lost Lot 33 due to some trickery of one of its own members, the present buildings and parking lot are located on Lots 31 and 32.