the history of williamsburg umc

On August 21, 2022, the congregation of Williamsburg United Methodist Church observed the 250th anniversary of the beginning of the Methodist movement in America’s colonial capital. In the summer of 1772, Joseph Pilmore, a Methodist lay preacher sent by John Wesley to organize Methodist Societies in America, made a wide southern tour of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Pilmore arrived at Jamestown landing by boat and made his way to Williamsburg to preach in the local theater and on Palace Green. On hearing him, the rector of Bruton Parish Church courteously welcomed Pilmore into his pulpit, and interest in the Methodist message of repentance and transforming Grace built swiftly. Williamsburg Methodists met in small, intimate groups together and continued regular communion as members of Bruton Parish Church.

Francis Asbury, the first bishop of the Methodist Church in America, made several visits to Williamsburg beginning in 1781, at times preaching from the steps of the Court House of 1770. Ultimately, American Methodists separated from the Anglican (or Episcopal) Church in 1784; in Williamsburg that transition would be gentle and gradual. William McKendree, later a distinguished bishop, became an early itinerant pastor in 1785 on the Williamsburg Circuit, which extended from Old Point Comfort in Hampton to Hanover (near Richmond) after 1785.


Little is known of Williamsburg's first Methodist building, which was said to have been a barn and later to have been used as a coffin shop.  It is thought to have been located on the south side of Francis Street, in the region of the parking lots used today by the Colonial taverns on Duke of Gloucester Street.  


Williamsburg UMC's second church home was erected in 1842 and was used until 1926, after which it became the city Post Office. It was later dismantled during the restoration by Colonial Williamsburg.  It stood on the south side of Duke of Gloucester Street, on the site of the westernmost of the booths where wares and refreshments are sold in Market Square. 


Our third building was erected in 1926 at the western end of what is now Merchants Square. The building, abandoned for the present location in 1964, stood until 1981 and was the last pre-restoration non-residential building on Duke of Gloucester Street.  The site is now retail stores. 


In 1963, the congregation made the bold decision to move to its present location at 500 Jamestown Road, directly across from the College of William and Mary and adjacent to the Wesley Foundation ministry to college students. A major new addition was then added to the building in 2006 to accommodate our day and early childhood music schools, many 12-Step groups, a thriving Scout Troop (itself nearly 100 years old!) and more than 2,000 members.

breaking ground

On July 21, 1963, Williamsburg Methodists gathered to break ground for an extraordinary new church home. The first shovel-full of earth was turned by “the Tabb triplets,” Ann, Peggy and Beth – daughters of John and Rae Tabb. Mr. Tabb, then our Lay Leader, had been among those guiding the congregation in following the leadership of its Building Committee (comprised of Baxter Carr, Champ Powell, Leroy Phillips, John Tabb, Alan Fink, Clyde Boyer) in a very bold decision: to relocate from what is now the Merchants Square area of Colonial Williamsburg to a new home on Jamestown Road.

Pictured are (seated) representatives from local churches and the Virginia Conference, and (standing, from left to right) Leroy Phillips (handing shovel to the girls); George Thoneson (Trustee Chair); Baxter Carr (Chair of the Building Committee); and Champ Powell, Chair of the Administrative Board. Rev. John Wesley Newman, then our Pastor, can be seen at the podium.

60 years of legacy and faith 
with Baxter Carr

In the Fall of 2023, Williamsburg UMC celebrated the 60th Anniversary of our church's groundbreaking at 500 Jamestown Rd was made even more special by the presence of a remarkable individual, Mr. Baxter Carr, who played a pivotal role in shaping our church's destiny.

Imagine standing in the presence of a centenarian whose vision and dedication helped shape the very building in which the congregation gathers today. Listening to Mr. Carr's firsthand accounts of the church's early days, the challenges they faced, and the determination that drove their vision was nothing short of inspiring! We invite you to play the video to hear Baxter's story. 

methodist sites in colonial williamsburg


George Whitefield (1714-1770), friend and rival of John Wesley, preached in Bruton Parish, December 1739, Williamsburg's first encounter with the evangelical revival in the Church of England that would later result in the formation of the Methodist Church. Whitefield created no stir in heavily Episcopalian Williamsburg, and there is no evidence suggesting that the city's first Methodists were ever affiliated with that church. 


Joseph Pilmore, sent as "missionary" to the American colonies by Wesley, preaches in the yard of the Capitol, August 1772, then lodges with Elkanah Deane, coachmaker, in his home on the Palace Green. The tradition that the first Methodist "society" in Williamsburg dates from this year is unsubstantiated. 


Francis Asbury (1745-1816), soon to be Bishop of the new Methodist Episcopal church, is forced to preach outside on the steps of the Courthouse after the keys to the public building cannot be found, December 17, 1783. This was Asbury's second visit to Williamsburg. After his first in December 1782, he wrote of this traditionally Episcopalian community that itits "worldly glory is depart from it; as to Diving glory, it never had any."


The parsonage was built in 1926 and was used until 1964.  This building is still standing at its original location in Merchants Square and is now used as retail space. 


Brown Hall was built in 1930 by the Virgina Annual Conference as a dormitory for young Methodist women at the College of William and Mary.  Named for a prominent Methodist family of Williamsburg and Lynchburg, it addressed a concern of the Conference in an era of increasing co-education, that young Methodist women have a proper home at the state-supported college.  The nearly 100-year-old residential building is undergoing renovation and will be the home of a multidisciplinary academic facility focused on solving global issues. It will be named for William and Mary alumnus and current chancellor Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama.


The United Methodist Campus Ministry at the College of William and Mary dates from the 1920s, and in 1964 moved to a 19th century house at 526 Jamestown Road.  The Wesley Foundation serves and houses College Students at this location today.