At 11 a.m. May 11, the NC Dames will revive a tradition that began in 1899 and continued through the 1940s – a Pilgrimage to St. Philip’s Church in Brunswick Town.

North Carolina’s oldest preservation organization will celebrate its 125 anniversary this year. Founded in Wilmington in 1894, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the State of North Carolina will celebrate this milestone with special events across the state, including one right here in our own backyard. At 11 a.m. May 11, the NC Dames will revive a tradition that began in 1899 and continued through the 1940s – a Pilgrimage to St. Philip’s Church in Brunswick Town.

Completed in 1768, St. Philip’s Church was set on fire – along with the rest of the town – by the British in 1776. Only the brick walls survived. Measuring three feet wide and rising as high as 24 feet, they stand as a testimony to our colonial past and the hard-fought struggle for independence.

The ladies of the NSCDA-North Carolina were determined that these walls should remain intact. To raise awareness of the historic structure’s significance, they organized annual pilgrimages attended by hundreds of Wilmington townsfolk, who travelled downriver to the site on a steamer ship. The occasion typically included addresses on historical topics and the singing of hymns and patriotic songs, followed by lunch.

As in days of yore, the public is invited to the upcoming festivities at St. Philip’s.

The twenty-first century version of the pilgrimage will be a joyous affair featuring performances by a choir. The Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley Jr., a former Episcopalian Bishop of Alabama, will speak about the history of the church. James McKee, manager of Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site will give a history of the town. A box lunch catered by Spoonfed Kitchen & Bake Shop will follow the program and is included in the ticket price of $30 per person. To register, visit https://www.ncdames.org/ or call 910-763-8100.

Saving St. Philip’s was the NSCDA-NC’s first foray into historic preservation. NC Dames are responsible for saving numerous properties, including the Burgwin-Wright House in Wilmington, Haywood Hall, the Joel Lane House and the birthplace of Andrew Johnson in Raleigh, the Fourth House in Old Salem, the Oval Ballroom in Fayetteville and Rosedale Plantation in Charlotte.

Purchased by the NSCDA-NC in 1937, the Burgwin-Wright House operates as a museum and also serves as the organization’s headquarters.

Joy Allen is executive director of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of North Carolina.

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