St. John’s Church was the first church built in the city of Richmond. It was completed in 1741 as part of the Henrico Parish, established in 1611. William Byrd II, founder of the city of Richmond, donated the land and timber to build the church. The graveyard is the site of the first public cemetery in Richmond. Many persons who made contributions to the history of Richmond and Virginia are buried here, such as: George Wythe, signer of the Declaration of Independence and teacher of law to Thomas Jefferson, Chief Justice John Marshall, and Henry Clay; John Page and James Wood, Governors of Virginia; Elizabeth Arnold Poe, mother of Edgar Allan Poe; and Dr. James McClurg, a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In 1961, the National Park Service designated St. John’s Church a National Historic Landmark.
St. John’s Church became famous when over 100 Virginia colonial leaders, including Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and Peyton Randolph met here in March of 1775 for the Second Virginia Convention. They met in Richmond to avoid the wrath of Royal Governor Lord Dunmore who resided in Williamsburg. St. John’s Church was the only building in Richmond big enough to hold the delegates. Patrick Henry’s famous “Give me Liberty or Give me Death”speech was delivered on 23 March, 1775, inside the church. Henry’s timely resolutions passed by a narrow margin. The American Revolution began the following month when shots were fired at Lexington and Concord.