No 👣 tracking social sharing

Church Of England Establishments, And The Founding Of The Protestant Episcopal Church

Church Of England Establishments, And The Founding Of The Protestant Episcopal Church


The Church of England in the colonies was, as respects spiritual jurisdiction, an extension of the bishopric of London. As respects its general character, it was a rather feeble reflection of the Establishment on English soil. It lacked the requisite number of ministers. This was especially the case before the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts began its helpful activity (l701). About four fifths of the parishes in Virginia were vacant at the Restoration, and nearly half were in like destitution sixty years later. Carolina for almost twenty years had no clergyman. In Maryland, before the reinforcement at the end of the seventeenth century, the Church of England had no more than three clerical representatives. Not more than six could be found at that time on the whole Atlantic border, outside of Virginia and Maryland. The aggregate for the entire country probably did not reach fifty. Nor was this the whole of the deficiency. Among those sent into the field, the proportion of men who possessed at once marked ability and spirituality was not large. Virginia, it is true, recorded in her early annals the name of Alexander Whitaker, whose talents and devotion promised a very useful career, had it not been closed by a premature death (1617). Later the colony had occasion to remember gratefully James Blair. To him was largely due the founding of William and Mary College, the first commencement of which was held in 1700. Near the same time the Church in Maryland obtained an efficient servant in James Bray, who, like Blair, acted as commissary of the Bishop of London. George Keith, the distinguished convert from Quakerism, in his missionary tour through the colonies (1702-1704) displayed enough controversial skill to vex the great majority of his former associates in faith, and to win a minority to his side. In New England, from the time that Timothy Cutler, the president of Yale College, became a convert to the episcopal theory (1722) Anglicanism had very creditable representatives in that quarter. Still, the statement must be allowed that through much of the colonial era the Church of England on this side of the Atlantic was but poorly blessed in the quality of its ministry. The conditions were not such as to attract men of talent and enterprise, except perchance the few who heard a Macedonian call in their hearts. A perfunctory discharge of the ordinary perish duties, supplemented by a life that was none too persuasive on the side of godliness, was all that could be expected of a great part of the candidates who presented themselves to the Bishop of London for the American field.


As Virginia was the oldest colony, so it preceded all others, by a considerable interval, in the matter of a church establishment affiliating with that of England. In harmony also with the time when it originated, the Virginia Establishment was distinguished by a greater exclusiveness than any other of those under the episcopal régime in America. The "oath of supremacy" was early imposed upon emigrants to the colony, as a bar against Roman Catholics. When a reinforcement was about to embark in 1609, the spirited preacher William Crashaw, in a sermon before the patrons of the enterprise, deprecated the allowance of any Brownists or factious separatists within the settlement. In its earlier years the colony seems not to have been much troubled with foreign ingredients. But by 1642 it was found that men with nonconforming tastes had gained a foothold, and in such numbers that they thought it desirable to have some Puritan ministers imported from Boston. But the colonial legislature was not willing to tolerate this encroachment. By an act of 1643 it forbade any minister to teach or preach, in public or in private, except in conformity to the constitutions of the Church of England, and instructed the Governor and council to compel all nonconformists to depart "with all conveniencie." 1 W. W. Hening, Laws of Virginia, i. 277. Six years later a considerable company found it necessary to make their exit from Virginia, and took refuge in Maryland. A cold reception was also accorded to the Quakers. Ordinances of 1661-63 subjected them to heavy fines for attending conventicles, and directed that a third offense should entail upon them, as also upon other separatists, the penalty of banishment. Shipmasters bringing Quakers into the country were to be visited with like punishments. 2 Ibid., ii. 48, 180, 181. The Baptists, who made their appearance in the next century, were not a whit more welcome to the Virginia churchmen, and received a liberal share of stripes and imprisonment. In short, the Establishment in Virginia proved very clearly its sense of exclusive right in that province. The remaining colonies, on the other hand, which had a Church of England establishment, being founded at a time when tolerance had obtained a larger recognition, did not in general place any serious restraint upon the worship of dissenting Protestants.


Ecclesiastical discipline in Virginia, had the practice followed the laws, would have been sufficiently strict. A code which had place between 1610 and 1619 would not seem feeble even when compared with that which Calvin and his associates introduced into Geneva. Among its provisions were the following: "No man shall speak any word, or do any act which may tend to the derision or despite of God's holy Word, upon pain of death. Nor shall any man unworthily demean himself unto any preacher or minister of the same, but generally hold them in all reverent regard and dutiful in treaty; otherwise he, the offender, shall openly be whipped three times, and ask public forgiveness in the assembly of the congregation three several Sabbath days. Every man and woman duly twice a day, upon the first tolling of the bell, shall upon the working days repair unto the church to hear divine service, upon pain of losing his or her day's allowance for the first omission; for the second to be whipped; and for the third to be condemned to the galleys for six months. Also every man and woman shall repair in the morning to divine service, and sermon preached upon the Sabbath day, and in the afternoon to divine service and catechising; upon pain for the first fault to lose their provision and allowance for the whole week following; for the second, to lose the said allowance, and also to be whipped; and for the third to suffer death." 1 F.L. Hawks, Rise end Progress of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia, pp. 25, 26. It is no wonder that after a few years it was thought necessary to modify this merciless code. Nevertheless, it was deemed proper to sustain by statute the obligation to attend the Sunday service. As late as the beginning of the eighteenth century laws were passed subjecting to fines those voluntarily absenting themselves from the sanctuary.


Between the ideal set forth in the legislation and the practice there was undoubtedly a rather broad chasm. The free-going Virginia planters were not disposed to pay any excessive regard to religious restraints. In some of the parishes a strict preacher was at a discount. In all the parishes, during a good share of the period, laymen had the means of keeping out those whose pastoral rigor and fidelity might prove troublesome, since the vestries governed the settling of the ministers. This subjection to local and lay authority was regarded by one and another critic as very prejudicial to the health of the Establishment. Morgan Godwyn, referring to the years preceding the Bacon rebellion (1676), declared that the ministers were so miserably treated by the vestries as to suffer greater discouragements than those which befell the clergy in England during the time of the Puritan usurpation. A curious testimony on the state and character of the clergy at this time, and a still more curious indication respecting the enlightenment of their civil head, are given in the following from Governor Berkeley: "Our ministers are well paid, and by my-consent would be better if they would pray oftener and preach less. But as of all other commodities, so of this, the worst are sent us, and we have few that we could boast of since the persecution in Cromwell's tyranny drove divers worthy men here. But, I thank God, there are no free schools, nor printing; and I hope we shall not have [them] these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them and libels against the best government." 1 J.S.M. Anderson, History of the Church of England in the Colonies, ii. 348.


In the Carolina provinces an exclusive right was not claimed for the Church of England. All Protestant settlers were allowed to choose their own worship, provided they treated the Episcopal Church with respect, and were obedient to the government. Nevertheless, it was the design of both King and Proprietors to extend the home establishment to the Carolinas. One of the articles of the Fundamental Constitutions declared that the religion of the Church of England, being the national religion of all the King's dominions, should also be that of Carolina, and should alone receive public maintenance by legislative grant. Another article in the Constitutions approached the theocratic regime of Massachusetts Bay and of New Haven as respects the conditions of citizenship. It contained this provision: "No person above seventeen years of age shall have any benefit or protection of the law, or be capable of any place of profit or honor who is not a member of some church or profession, having his name recorded in some one, and but one, religious record, at once."


The Fundamental Constitutions, as has been observed, received scant recognition in practice. As respects the erection of a church establishment, some time elapsed before there was any proper provision for religious worship; and it was first at the beginning of the eighteenth century that the colonial legislature made legal provision for the maintenance of the Church of England. There was an attempt at this time to disfranchise dissenters, but the violent scheme was quickly thwarted.


A heterogeneous community like that of the Carolinas, which had suffered comparative neglect for so long a period, did not of course present very select materials for a religious organization. The situation must indeed have been desperate, if we are to accept the description given by Gideon Johnson, who served as the commissary of the Bishop of London. "The people here," he wrote, "generally speaking, are the vilest race of men upon the earth. They have neither honor nor honesty, nor religion enough to entitle them to any tolerable character, being a perfect medley or botch-potch, made up of bankrupt pirates, decayed libertines, sectaries, and enthusiasts of all sorts who have transported themselves hither from Bermudas, Jamaica, Barbadoes, Montserat, Antego, Nevis, New England, Pennsylvania, etc., and are the most factious and seditious people in the whole world. Many of those that pretend to be churchmen are strangely crippled in their goings between the Church and Presbytery, and as they are of large and loose principles, so they live and act accordingly, sometimes going openly with the Dissenters, as they now do against the Church, and giving incredible trouble to the Governor and clergy." 1 W. S. Perry, History of the American Episcopal Church, i. 379 In this the worthy commissary gives doubtless the dark side of the subject. Perhaps in a different mood he might have let in a little light upon the scene, though leaving it still a somber sketch. Notwithstanding the cheerless outlook which he records, he was able to lay a foundation for better things.


Among those who succeeded to the superintendence of the Church in South Carolina, Commissary Garden won some celebrity by his attempt to bring Whitefield to account for his irregular labors (1740-1742). The champion of law and order had the satisfaction of freeing his conscience; but so far as putting a check on the winged evangelist was concerned, he might as well have laid his injunction against the wind.


The Revolution of 1689, when the government of Maryland passed out of the hands of the Baltimore family until the heir was announced to be a Protestant (1715), was followed by the establishing of the Church of England in that colony. Action in that direction was taken in 1692, and ten years later a full legislative sanction had been secured for the project of establishment.


In outward respects the legal church in Maryland was one of the most favored. A large proportion of the people were numbered among its adherents, and the ministers had on the average no reason to complain of their salaries. "In no part of America were the clergy half so well supported," says a careful writer, speaking of the time just preceding the War of Independence. Had the interests of vital religion been equally well sustained, the Maryland Church might well have been the subject of many and hearty congratulations. But that appears not to have been the case. For the same author whom we have just quoted, though writing as a friendly historian, declares that the Establishment in Maryland justly forfeited respect, on account of the scandals which were comparatively unrebuked in the lack of strict discipline. 1 F.L. Hawks, Rise and Progress of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Maryland, pp. 236, 237.


In New Jersey the Church of England held legally a preferred place, in that a general tax might be levied for its support. In other respects dissenting communions stood on a basis of equality; moreover, very little, if any, use seems to have been made of the legal preference which was given to the Church of England. The same order of statements describes the ecclesiastical status of Georgia. In both provinces the Church of England was largely a missionary institute, depending, as it did in New England and Pennsylvania (outside of a few places), upon the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.


The adherents of the Church of England in New York were but a handful in the first years after the English occupation, and at the end of the seventeenth century they numbered no more than one tenth of the population. This inferiority in numbers stood naturally in the way of exclusive privileges. For a time the Dutch Presbyterians claimed quite as much the character of an established church as did the Episcopalians. James II. seems to have had it in mind to abolish this equality. In his instructions to Governor Dongan in 1686 he prescribed as a condition of preferment to any benefice, or induction into the office of schoolmaster, that the candidate should present a license from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The intent contained in these instructions was taken up some years later by the English Governors. Fletcher and Cornbury (1692-1708) were notably zealous for an established ministry. The majority of the colonists looked upon their efforts as an unjustifiable aggression; still they allowed them to be partially successful. The maintenance of worship in Trinity Church was provided for by a general tax upon the city of New York, and a number of Episcopal churches in other places also had the benefit of a tax levied upon the townsmen generally. Near the middle of the eighteenth century a support for the Church of England interest was furnished in the founding of King's College. The first commencement of the college was held in 1758, one year after that of the kindred institution in Philadelphia. The first president was Samuel Johnson, who ranked perhaps as the ablest of the Connecticut ministers. One of the graduates of the year 1758 was Samuel Provost, the first representative of New York among the bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church.


Mason and Gorges, who held grants in New Hampshire and Maine, were churchmen, and doubtless were minded to provide an established ministry for these territories. But their colonies never acquired an extent and stability that admitted of anything more than feeble beginnings of an ecclesiastical system.


In Massachusetts the first monument to prelacy which afflicted the eyes of the Puritans was built during the abhorred administration of Andros. It bore the name of King's Chapel, and dates from the year 1689. Christ Church was added in 1723, and Trinity Church in 1734.


A pleasing episode in the New England annals was made by the visit of the genial and talented George Berkeley, then Dean of Derry, later Bishop of Cloyne. For nearly three years he lived at Newport (1729-1731), a part of the time being employed in the writing of his philosophical dialogue, the "Alciphron." The object of his coming was the foundation of a university, to be located at the Bermudas, and to serve as a great nursery of culture and religion in America. The failure of the English government to furnish the promised endowment thwarted his scheme, and he was compelled to return with the discouraging reflection that he had been employed upon a vain errand. Nevertheless, his zeal for the cause of learning in the new world was not destined to be without its substantial memorial. In the founding of scholarships at Yale College, and in the gift of books to both Yale and Harvard he rendered a service in which his catholicity, as well as his generosity, came to expression.


At the beginning of the Revolutionary struggle there were perhaps in the whole country from Maine to Georgia three hundred congregations and two hundred and fifty ministers connected with the Church of England, at the close of the war it is not probable that more than half that number of ministers could be found, and the congregations which could boast of regular services had been reduced in nearly equal ratio.

1 Not all regions suffered as much as Virginia, but some certainly did not fare much better. The extent of the desolation which visited the Virginia churches may be seen in the following statement: "When the colonists first resorted to arms, Virginia, in her sixty-one counties, contained ninety-five parishes, one hundred and sixty-four churches and chapels, and ninety-one clergymen. When the contest was over she came out of the war with a large number of her churches destroyed or injured irreparably, with twenty-three of her ninety-five parishes extinct or forsaken, and of the remaining seventy-two, thirty-four were destitute of ministerial services; while of her ninety-one clergymen, twenty-eight only remained, who had lived through the storm." (Hawks, Hist. of the Episcopal Church in Virginia, p. 164.)
This depletion was due in no inconsiderable measure to the royalist position of the clergy. While a part of them zealously espoused the cause of American independence, an equal or larger proportion were too strongly attached to the mother country to welcome a separation. This was naturally the feeling of the missionary clergy, whose commission and support came alike from the other side of the Atlantic. In South Carolina the loyalist clergy were in the minority, constituting, it is said, only one fourth of the whole; but in Virginia and Maryland they were about double the number of those who sided with the colonies. This fact was evidently unfavorable to the continued maintenance of the establishments. Probably, had the case been different, the advance of sentiment in favor of disconnecting Church and State would ere long have brought disestablishment. As it was, disestablishment came with the first notes of independence.


During a large part of the colonial era it was felt by the clergy to be a serious disadvantage that there was no resident bishop on the American side. Those interested for the good name of the ministry grieved over this destitution, as making it impossible to maintain suitable discipline; and generally it was considered that candidates for orders were made to pay an excessive price, in that they were required to cross the sea in order to reach episcopal hands. As early as the time of Charles II. a proposal was made to supply a bishop to Virginia. Indeed, one was actually designated to the post, but for some reason he was never sent, and the design was abandoned. In the next century many urgent requests came to England for a bishop. That they did not elicit a favorable response has been ascribed to the strong opposition of the Dissenters, who no doubt were much agitated over the subject, since in their view a bishop, as the close ally of the English Establishment and the English crown, would be for them a forerunner of both ecclesiastical and political subordination. These objections the Episcopal party endeavored to answer by assurances that a bishop in America would not claim any jurisdiction or authority beyond the administration of religion among those accepting him as their ecclesiastical head. As respects the merits of the contention, we cannot well reach a more definite or impartial verdict than that which is embraced in the following words of Bishop White: "What would have been the event, in this respect, had the Episcopal clergy succeeded in their desires, is a problem which it will be forever impossible to solve. In regard to the motives of the parties in the dispute, there are circumstances which charity may apply to the most favorable interpretation. As the Episcopal clergy disclaimed the designs and expectations of which they were accused, and as the same was done by their advocates on the other side of the water, particularly by the principal of them, the great and good Archbishop Seeker, they ought to be supposed to have had in view an episcopacy purely religious. On the other hand, as their opponents laid aside their resistance of the religious part of it as soon as American independence had done away all political danger, if it before existed, it ought to be believed that in their former professed apprehensions they were sincere." 1 Memoirs of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America pp. 6, 7.


The sundering of the bonds with the mother country evidently left the Episcopal churches in the several colonies or States without any recognized bond of connection. If there was to be a united Episcopal Church for the whole country, it must be erected by concerted action. After some preliminary conferences provision was made for such action by assembling a convention at Philadelphia in 1785. This meeting submitted, for the consideration of the several State conventions, a constitution or plan of government, and also a model for a prayer-book. The character of the latter indicates that the compilers could not be ranked as conservatives. The Athanasian and Nicene creeds were rejected, the clause respecting Christ's descent into hell was eliminated from the Apostles' Creed, the thirty-nine articles were reduced to twenty, and a number of alterations were made in the liturgy. The "Proposed Book" proved to be too radical in its departures from the English prayer-book. At the convention of 1786 the Nicene Creed was restored, and also the clause which had been ejected from the Apostles' Creed. Definitive action on the articles of religion was not taken till a later period (1801), when it was concluded not to modify the thirty-nine articles any farther than the changed conditions required.


In 1787 William White of Pennsylvania, and Samuel Provoost of New York obtained consecration to the episcopacy from the English bishops. Three years earlier the representative of the Connecticut clergy, Samuel Seabury, had been consecrated by the non-juring bishops of Scotland. As some objection was felt to Seabury, there was a danger of division in the ranks of the Episcopalians. But judicious management bridged over the difficulty; and at the convention of 1789 the New England bishop united with those representing other portions of the country. From this convention we map date the relative completion of the organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church.


As in case of the prayer-book the movement was from a radical to a more conservative position, so also in relation to episcopal authority. As first accepted at the convention of 1789, the constitution left the power of legislation almost entirely in the hands of the house of deputies, composed in part of the clergy, and in part of the laity. The bishops could simply review measures, approving them, or returning them with their objections, in which case the house of deputies could override the objections by a stipulated majority. This inequality was in part rectified before the conclusion of the convention, in that the power of the bishop to initiate measures was specified. Still the bishops were not placed on a basis of co-ordination with the other branch of a general convention. It was first in 1808 that they attained this position, by being empowered to render an unqualified veto upon the measures proposed by the house of deputies.


At the initial stage the dominant temper of the Protestant Episcopal body was undoubtedly Low Church. There may have been a strain of High Churchism in Bishop Seabury; but Bishop White, the master spirit in the era of organization, occupied a freer stand-point, and we are constrained to believe that he represented in this the larger constituency. In a pamphlet which he prepared in 1782 he gave the opinion that the validity of church organization is not strictly dependent upon episcopal succession. This view he continued to hold; for as late as 1830 we find him referring to the production of his early years in these terms: "In agreement with the sentiments expressed in this pamphlet I am still of opinion that in an exigency in which duly authorized ministers cannot be obtained, the paramount duty of preaching the gospel, and the worshipping of God on the terms of the Christian covenant should go on in the best manner which circumstances permit. In regard to episcopacy, I think that it should be sustained as the government of the Church from the time of the Apostles, but without criminating the ministry of other churches." 1 W. S. Perry, History of the American Episcopal Church, ii. 9.


That his position was remote from the Tractarian plane may also be concluded from the following statement in his Memoirs: "It will be a most important use of the review to notice the undeviating intention of the Church to make no such alterations as shall interfere with the maintaining of the doctrines of the gospel, as acknowledged at the Reformation. That point of time should be kept in mind, in order to protect the Church, not only against threatened innovations from without, but also against others which have occasionally showed their heads in the Church of England, and may show their heads in this church, betraying a lurking fondness for errors which had been abandoned." 1 Memoirs of the Protestant Episcopal Church, p. 316.


The Protestant Episcopal Church may have produced men who are entitled to be counted the equals or superiors of Bishop White in scholarship and ability. But that among its eminent representatives it can point to a single one who has been characterized by a more exemplary spirit, we greatly doubt. There would be a much wider harmony in the ecclesiastical world if questions in controversy were commonly approached with the courtesy and judicial temper which were manifested by William White, Bishop of Pennsylvania.


James Madison, the first bishop of Virginia, shared in the irenic temper of Bishop White. It was at his instance that the bishops in 1792 adopted the following minute in behalf of Christian union: "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, ever bearing in mind the sacred obligation which attends all the followers of Christ to avoid divisions among themselves, and anxious to promote that union for which our Lord and Saviour so earnestly prayed, do hereby declare to the Christian world that, uninfluenced by any other considerations than those of duty as Christians, and an earnest desire for the prosperity of pure Christianity, and the furtherance of our holy religion, they are ready to unite and form one body with any religious society which shall be influenced by the same catholic spirit. And in order that this Christian end may be the more easily effected, they further declare that all things in which the great essentials of Christianity or the characteristic principles of their church are not concerned, they are willing to leave to future discussion, being ready to alter or modify those points which, in the opinion of the Protestant Episcopal Church, are subject to human alteration. And it is hereby recommended to the State conventions to adopt such measures or propose such conferences with Christians of other denominations as to themselves may be thought most prudent, and report accordingly to the ensuing general convention."

1 Bishop White, Memoirs of the Protestant Episcopal Church, pp 208-210; W. S. Perry, History of the American Episcopal Church, ii. 126. It is proper to add that we have used the valuable work of Bishop Perry more largely than the list of references indicates.
The union scheme of Bishop Madison had more immediate reference to the Methodists. As it failed to obtain the approbation of the house of deputies, its enunciation led to no further action.

Friends and Colleagues