When I first went to Virginia, I well remember we did hang an awning (which is an old sail) to three or four trees to shadow us from the sun. Our walls were rails of wood, our seats unhewn trees till we cut planks, our pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighboring trees. In foul weather, we shifted into an old rotten tent..."
That is how Captain John Smith described the first church services of the Virginia company. The settlers arrived at the new world on April 29. "The nine and twentieth day, we set up a cross at Chesepeake Bay, and named that place Cape Henry." Reverend Robert Hunt led them in a service there.
The company did not settle ashore just yet. "Until the 13 of May they sought a place to plant in; then the council was sworn, Master Wingfield was chosen president, and an oration made, why Captain Smith was not admitted of the council as the rest." They decided to settle in Jamestown. On that Sunday, May 13, 1607, Robert Hunt led them in church services.
This is not to say they were a Christian community. Whatever religion they had seems to have been in externals. They squabbled constantly. Pride, arrogance, and greed tore at the settlement. The men were there to make money. God was at the edge of their thoughts, even after hunger, disease and Indian attacks wiped out nine tenths of them.
Robert Hunt himself died the next year. Yet to him belongs the honor of being the first Anglican pastor to reside permanently in the Americas.
A shrine now memorializes him. Its plaque quotes the words that his people wrote in memory of him (modernized here): "He was an honest, religious and courageous pastor, he preferred the service of God in so good a voyage to every thought of ease at home. He endured every lack, yet none ever heard him complain. During his life our quarrels were oft healed and our greatest difficulties so comforted that they seemed easy in comparison with what we endured after his memorable death. We all received from him the Holy Communion together as a pledge of reconciliation for we all loved him for his exceeding goodness. He planted the first Protestant church in America, and laid down his life in the foundation of Virgina."