A History of

Hanover Street Presbyterian Church

1772 – 1997

Written on the occasion of the 225th anniversary of its founding.  Based on the work by Judge James L. Latchum.


It is difficult, if not impossible, for somone attending Hanover Street Presbyterian Church today, as we begin the 21st century, to appreciate the vast differences between the church, city and state we know today and the world as it was when the church that became Hanover was founded in 1772.

Wilmington was a village, with a population of perhaps 1,200, huddled along the Christina River, whose wharfs were vital to the merchants and smugglers. The center of this village was just a few hundred yards north of the river at the intersection of the streets now known as Fourth and Market. Its people were subjects of the British king and had been for nearly a century. Although they enjoyed a fair degree of self-rule, a legacy of William Penn, sentiment against British authority was growing, and would culminate with the Declaration of Independence just four years later. The people of Wilmington also enjoyed a high degree of religious freedom. Delaware and Pennsylvania were the only colonies with no laws restricting religious beliefs or the activities of churches. William Penn had envisioned his New World colonies as a haven for persecuted Quakers and other Protestants from Europe, despite the fact that the Church of England had sent a number of clergymen to Delaware in order to uphold the Anglican faith. Penn’s vision was eventually realized, and by the 1730s, Quakers dominated Wilmington and other Delaware towns. And right behind them, in growing numbers, were the Protestants — Scotch, Irish and French immigrants, many of them Presbyterians.

Democracy as we know it was far in the future. So was that modern concept of diversity. In 1772 only white male property owners could vote. Although slavery was not popular in Quaker Wilmington, slaves worked the farms of Kent and Sussex counties, and Delaware would be one of the last states to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment which abolished slavery nearly a century later. Giving women the right to vote would take a half-century longer. It would be decades after both those political events before black and female Presbyterians would come into their own at Hanover Church. Those early members of Hanover, walking along dirt streets to worship in an unheated building in a small village in a tiny state, might seem to have little in common with us and our lives today in a highly urbanized, fast-paced society. What would it be like if they could magically visit our time, and we theirs? Certainly they would be dumbfounded at our technology, baffled by our society, and probably be befuddled by our theology. With our hindsight we could explain — if not accept — their surroundings, their social structure, and their religious beliefs. But we would probably be as uncomfortable as they, and as eager to return to our own times and our own ways.

The greatest value of any history may be in helping us to understand how we got to where we are. This history of Hanover Church is presented in that hope. The history of Hanover as an organization is straight-forward, although the three names, three locations, and five sanctuary buildings it has enjoyed during the past 225 years make the chronology appear more confusing than it actually is. That history could be summarized quickly, with dates, statistics, the names of ministers.

The history of Hanover Church as an ever-changing stream of people doing what they see as God’s work is the story we are attempting to tell here. And it is in that story that we recognize ourselves. The people of Hanover in 1772, or 1850, or 1950, or 1997, share a common belief that they — and their church — can and will make a difference in the world. To properly tell the story of the people of Hanover Street Presbyterian Church it seems necessary to also tell the story of the world and people around them. The times shaped Hanover, just as Hanover helped shape the times. Therefore, we start our story when there was no Hanover, no Wilmington, no Delaware, no United States.

Previous | Next