St. Mary Chapel, Laurel Hill Plantation

The following information is a quotation from The Unhurried Years, which explains the history of St. Mary Episcopal Chapel and Laurel Hill Plantation.

"I do not know who designed the building , but the builder of the Chapel was a competent, and very eccentric, carpenter and contractor, old Mr. Hardy of Natchez. It is a brick building, stucco covered, about fifty by twenty-five feet, with a Gothic spire capped with an iron cross. The window frames and all the woodwork are beautifully made and the tall, pointed windows filled with glass of excellent quality, the one at the back over the chancel being an oriel window about four feet in diameter, of lovely stained glass.

The floor is of tessellated black and white marble squares about a foot in size, and in the chancel stand white marble statues and tablets. There is an alabaster christening font, standing on a lofty pedestal, about two and a half feet in diameter.

There are no pews, but a congregation of possibly one hundred might be seated in wooden chairs, some of them of a fine Dutch make, with rush bottoms. At the back there were two rows of wooden benches.

The chancel floor, of dark wood with a heavy carved railing separating the nave, is raised about eighteen inches above the common level of the nave, and under the chancel is a brick vault in which the bodies of the family have been placed.

In the Inventory of the Church Archives of Mississippi, prepared by the Mississippi Historical Records Survey in 1940, there is this record of the Chapel: 'St. Mary's Church, 1839-c. - 1850. Organized 1839, in which year, on April 28, a gothic Church was consecrated by Rt. Rev. James Harvey Otey. In the same year, St. Mary's Church was received into the Diocese. The Church was built by W. Newton Mercer, on his plantation, Laurel Hill, about twelve miles below Natchez on the old Woodville road. The Rev. Daniel H. Deacon, the first rector, in 1842, reported his chief work to be visiting through the week, the servants on the estates. In the same year, 118 colored persons were baptized. Again in 1843, the Rev. Mr. Deacon spoke of his principal and most important charge, the colored people. The following year there were 26 colored persons confirmed here by Bishop Otey. The building described as a most beautiful specimen of gothic architecture, is still standing, although not often used. There has been no parochial organization since about 1850. The Rev. Thomas Savage was, probably, the last resident rector, being there in 1845. The Journal of 1854 states that 'the parish has been for nearly five years unoccupied.'

Dr. Mercer provided a comfortable parsonage, situated about a half mile on the other side of the bayou. (In our part of the country we call the dry watercourses in the valleys by the same name which is applied in the Louisiana lowlands to their filled waterways.)

The parsonage was a high brick basement which provided four additional rooms, used for servants and supplies. The chimney was built in the center, providing fireplaces for each room. There were wide galleries upstairs on three sides. So far as I know, the only pastor of St. Mary's was Dr. Savage, who lived in the parsonage and who served here about ten years, afterwards going to Pass Christian, Mississippi.

There could never have been a large congregation, although it is true that the period when the Chapel was in use there were families living on all the near-by plantations and many of them were Episcopalians. I know that some of the congregation came from Berkeley, the Conner place across Second Creek. Since about 1850 the Chapel has been only occasionally used. Its statues and memorials are still there and it stands, facing an all-devouring time, alone with its memories."

St. Mary's Episcopal Chapel was built with brick made by slave labor under the direction of Henry Huntington, Dr. Mercer's overseer. The Mercer women are buried beneath the Chapel along with several neighbors. The site was a cemetery before 1837.

Taken from The Unhurried Years: Memories of the Old Natchez Region by Pierce Butler (1948)

The St. Mary Basilica Archives thanks Kathy Moody for arranging our tour of St. Mary Chapel.

Photos of St. Mary Chapel, Laurel Hill