Prior to Independence, the predecessor of the American Episcopal Church was the Anglican Church, known generally as the Church of England. Virginia law required its colonists to attend and support that church, which made it unpopular with many of them.
It was in this context in 1730 that St. Thomas’s Parish was created. It was originally named St. Mark’s but was renamed St. Thomas's when the parish was divided in 1740.
When the American Revolution began, the parish had two “chapels of ease,” built to serve members in outlying areas, and, nearer to town, a brick “mother church,” located on Meadowfarm, the property of Col. James Taylor II. Two of Col. Taylor’s great-grandsons served as United States presidents: James Madison, Jr. and Zachary Taylor. Members of both families served as church officials.
Shortly after the Revolution, both chapels of ease were abandoned, and the mother church was torn down as disaffected locals had their way with the former “state church.” The only items saved were a few bricks (now set in the present church’s
front porch floor), and the London-made “Madison Silver” communion ware.
Without a church home, the few remaining parishioners worshiped at the county court house. The congregation of St. Thomas's began to grow in the 1800s, and in 1832 the present church lot was purchased. A church building was erected the following year.
That building ~ the core of the present church ~ is thought to have been built by one or more of the builders trained by Thomas Jefferson, likely William Phillips, his master mason. Even so, the original building was a simple, rectangular brick structure. Another Jefferson-trained builder produced the Jeffersonian Neoclassical additions.