Our History

The Church of the Holy Cross had its beginnings specifically with two people, Miss Sarah Gibbs and John Henry Gilliat and possibly indirectly with a third person, Miss Cynthia Taggart, also with the unnamed people who welcomed the opportunity to attend religious services near their homes.

In  the early 1840’s, Miss Gibbs became interested in bringing religious services and instruction to her neighbors. In November 1843, at the invitation of Rev. Francis Vinton, rector of Trinity Church, the Rev. Hobart Williams arrived in South Portsmouth to organize a mission.  Miss Gibbs invited Rev. Williams to make his home at Oakland. Services were held at Oakland, a nearby school house, at homes of neighbors and in a school house on Middle Road in Portsmouth. In the spring of 1844 the attendance at the morning services became too large for the small school house and was transferred to Oliphant School on  West Main Road in Middletown. On the first Sunday after Easter, April 14, 1844, Morning Prayer was publicly offered in that place for the first time. Services were continued until the fall of the same year. The growing religious interest in the neighborhood now seemed to justify the building of a free chapel to provide a place where services could be held in the middle of the island.

In April 1845 Mr. John H. Gilliat purchased from Thomas George Rogers, a brother-in-law of Cynthia Taggart, 1/2 acre of land on the South corner of Oliphant Lane and West Road for $75. Mr. Richard Upjohn, an Englishman, was employed as the architect. Mr. Upjohn had designed Trinity Church in New York and St. Stephen’s Church and Grace Church in Providence. The Church was built with the gift from Mr. Gilliat of $2,145. Others gave $283.50 for the site and some special interior furnishings.

Rhode Island Bishop John P. K. Henshaw made the following statement in his June 1846 Convention address:

“On Tuesday, October 14, 1845, in Middletown, I consecrated to the worship of the Almighty God, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Protestant Episcopal Church, a cheap but beautiful edifice, designed by Mr. Richard Upjohn, by the name of ‘The Church of the Holy Cross’.  It is rustic in its exterior, and thus admirably adapted to its isolated position in the country: but so chaste in its interior finish,  and so perfect in its proportion, that it is more imposing in its religious impression and far better adapted to its sacred use than many buildings of far greater cost and pretensions.”

The sentence of consecration was read by the the Rev. Hobart Williams, Missionary of the station, and he was assisted in the services by several of the Clergy, ten of whom were present at the solemnities. This Chapel has been erected by the Christian beneficence of a few pious individuals, as a place of worship. May God reward them for this work of love, and incline others to imitate their laudable example.  The Church was crowded to overflowing, and he administered Holy Communion to a large number. In the afternoon, in the same Church, he baptized an infant (Dorcas Barker) and confirmed two persons, as the first fruits unto God at this station. On this occasion as in the morning, he preached.

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