In 1733, members of St. Thomas Parish persuaded John Garzia, who had traveled to America as a missionary under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), to come to North Carolina from Virginia and minister in Bath. Garzia was then one of only two ministers assigned to churches in the colony. The parish offered to pay his salary and he supervised construction on St. Thomas Church the following year. Garzia was, at times, the only recognized member of the church in North Carolina, at other times sharing responsibilities for the religious welfare of the entire colony with one other minister. His Spanish accent is said to have made his English difficult to understand.
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Born in Spain around 1690, Garzia served as a Catholic priest in Cadiz until he fled to Ireland as a result of the Spanish Inquisition. Once in Dublin, Garzia converted to the Church of Ireland. As an Anglican, Garzia became a paid “priest catcher,” informing authorities on ministers who continued to officiate at illegal Catholic mass services. A dutiful minister, Garzia served North Carolina parishioners by traveling great distances to deliver services, all with little or no compensation. A highlight of his ministry was delivery of a sermon to the Governor and Assembly in Edenton in 1734. His untimely death in 1744 was the result of a fall from his horse while enroute to minister to sick parishioners. His death left his wife destitute and creditors seized his property to settle his debts. The SPG provided his widow and three children a pension.
Seen as one of the most dedicated and successful of early SPG missionaries, Garzia overcame the obstacles of poor pay, reluctant parishioners separated by large distances, and rough terrain to serve the colony for eleven years, longer than other Anglican ministers up until that point. Committed to the betterment of his flock, Garzia sought to provide books to educate and offered to cover some expenses of the church from his salary. Still at St. Thomas Church are a number of artifacts acquired during his tenure, among them a silver chalice engraved with his name, two silver candelabra presented by King George II in 1740 when the church was consecrated, and the Queen Anne’s bell, cast in 1732. Because Garzia’s hardships were well-known to the SPG and others in England, the Society was reluctant to reply to requests for a replacement for Garzia—the longest serving, and arguably the first permanent minister, in the parish—until nearly ten years later with the arrival of Alexander Stewart.
Billy Jones, The Lives and Times of John Garzia ( 2005)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 281-282—sketch by Claiborne T. Smith Jr.
Lawrence F. London and Sarah M. Lemmon, eds., Episcopal Church in North Carolina, 1701-1959 (1987)
Robert Cain, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina: Church of England in North Carolina: Documents, 1599-1741 (1999)
David T. Morgan, “Scandal in Carolina: The Story of a Capricious Missionary,” North Carolina Historical Review (July 1970): 233-243
Bath State Historic Site: http://www.ah.dcr.state.nc.us/sections/hs/bath/st-thomas.htm