St. John in the Wilderness – Hendersonville, North Carolina - Atlas Obscura

St. John in the Wilderness

This historic church houses the grave of a Scottish soldier who fought in the Battle of Waterloo. 


This lovely old stone church dates back to 1833 and was created as a private chapel. In 1836, it was deeded to the Episcopal Church. The church remains in excellent condition today and sits on a mound surrounded by several heavy granite graves.

What made the church so unique was that white people and slaves were allowed to worship inside together. The very first wedding performed in the church was between two slaves. Many free blacks and slaves are buried in the church’s cemetery.

In what would be considered a favorable position, immediately adjacent to the church rests a small grave marked by an unassuming brass plaque. The plaque honors John Brown, who fought in the Battle of Waterloo, which ended the Napoleonic Era. Brown served as a bugler in the Royal Scots Greys in Captain R. Vernor’s Troop. In the battle, Brown’s role was to communicate the Commander’s orders with notes played on his bugle. Many of the Greys were new and untested recruits. However, they put up a ferocious fight when they captured one of the French Battle Standards and caused significant confusion among the enemy ranks.

Brown survived one of the most impactful battles in European history and subsequently immigrated to the United States. He was employed by Charles Baring, a representative for the Baring Brothers banking family in England. He spent every summer with the Baring family at their Mountain Lodge home in Flat Rock, North Carolina. He died in 1840 and was buried at St. John in the Wilderness, the church built by the Baring family. Brown’s body was eventually disinterred and returned to his family for burial in Scotland. 

According to local legend, Brown’s empty crypt was used by Prohibition-era moonshiners to conceal and distribute their contraband. They would leave jugs of moonshine in the empty grave under the marble lid. Customers would pick up the jugs and leave payment at the gravesite. After Prohibition, children would hide in the grave on Halloween and jump out at unsuspecting passersby. When the grave’s marble top cracked, the church installed a wrought iron perimeter fence around the gravesite. 

Both the historic church and the equally historic town of Flat Rock are both well worth the visit.

Know Before You Go

This church does hold regular services, so check the website for visiting hours. 

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September 23, 2020

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