Old St. Paul’s Church is known as the mother church of all Episcopal congregations in Baltimore. As one of the thirty original Anglican parishes that the General Assembly created under the Establishment Act of 1692, St. Paul’s (also known as Patapsco) Parish covered the sparsely populated area between the Middle River and Anne Arundel County from the colony’s northern border to the Chesapeake Bay. In 1702, worshippers began meeting near Colgate Creek—the same Baltimore County peninsula that saw the Battle of North Point in 1814.
The parish relocated to the the newly incorporated Baltimore Town in 1731. Church leaders selected lot 19 on a hill overlooking the harbor where the church still remains today. St. Paul’s is distinguished as the only property that has remained under its original ownership since the founding of Baltimore. By the late eighteenth century, St. Paul’s counted among its members some of the most powerful men in Maryland. St. Paul’s worshippers included Declaration of Independence signer and Supreme Court justice Samuel Chase (whose father Thomas Chase served as the church’s rector in the mid-eighteenth century); Revolutionary War officer and governor, congressman, and slaveholder John Eager Howard; Thomas Johnson, a delegate to the Continental Congress and Maryland’s first governor; and George Armistead, commander of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore.
By 1814, the congregation had been meeting for over 120 years. Rev. Dr. James Kemp served as rector, a position he had held since November 1812. Nineteenth century local historian John T. Scharf described Kemp as “a man of high literary and scientific culture, and an author of much repute.” The parish began construction on a new neoclassical building, designed by Robert Cary Long, Sr., in May 1814 just a few months before the British attack on the city. Completed in 1817, the new St. Paul’s stood up until 1854 when a fire destroyed the building. Scharf noted that “the steeple was considered the handsomest in the United States.” The congregation rebuilt on the same lot, commissioning Richard Upjohn to design a new church built between 1854 and 1856. The striking structure on North Charles Street has remained a landmark for generations of Baltimoreans.
Beyond fulfilling a spiritual mission in the city, St. Paul’s—like many other churches of the day—has also provided social services. The church established the Benevolent Society for Educating and Supporting Female Children (also known as the Female Charity School) in 1799. The school sought to prepare orphans and underprivileged girls ages eight and above “to be valuable and happy members of society.” Charles Varle’s 1833 book A Complete View of Baltimore described the society as having thirty “inmates” who were fed, clothed, and educated in a building attached to the church.