Captain John Smith reported that the first church services were held outdoors “under an awning (which was an old saile)” fastened to three or four trees. As part of a rebuilding effort following a fire that burned much of the fort in January 1608, the settlers built the first church building. Smith said it was “a homely thing like a barn set on crachetts, covered with rafts, sedge and earth.” Made of wood, it needed constant repair. Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married in the first church.
In 1617-1619 when Samuel Argall was governor, he had the inhabitants of Jamestown build a new church “50 foot long and twenty foot broad.” This close-studded church was built on a one-foot-wide foundation of cobblestones capped by a wall one brick thick. Visitors can see these foundations under the glass on the floor of the present building. The First Assembly was held in this church in 1619.
In January 1639 Governor John Harvey reported that he, the Council, the ablest planters, and some sea captains “had contributed to the building of a brick church” at Jamestown. This church was slightly larger than the second church and was built around it. It was still unfinished in November 1647 when efforts were made to complete it. The third church burned during Bacon’s Rebellion on September 19, 1676.
Ten years after Bacon’s Rebellion, a fourth church was functioning, probably using the walls and foundations of the third church. Sometime after it was finished, a brick church tower was added. The tower is the only above-ground 17th-century structure still standing at Jamestown.
The tower is slightly over 18 feet square and the walls are three feet thick at the base. Originally the tower was about 46 feet high, 10 feet taller than it is today, and was crowned with a wooden roof and belfry. It had two upper floors as indicated by the large beam notches on the inside. Six small openings at the top permitted light to enter and the sound of a bell or bells to carry across river and town. This church was used until the 1750s when it was abandoned. Although the tower remained intact, the building fell into ruins by the 1790s when the bricks were salvaged and used to build the present graveyard wall. Throughout the 19th century the tower remained a silent symbol to Americans of their early heritage. It was strengthened and preserved shortly after the APVA acquired it in the 1890s.
The present-day Memorial Church building was constructed in 1906 by the National Society, Colonial Dames of America just outside the foundations of the earlier churches. It was dedicated on May 13, 1907.