Project Canterbury

Doctor Tucker, Priest-Musician:
A Sketch which Concerns the Doings and Thinkings of
the Rev. John Ireland Tucker, S.T.D.
Including a Brief Converse about the Rise and Progress of Church Music in America.

By Christopher W. Knauff, M.A.

New York: A.D.F. Randolph, 1897.

Chapter I. Forefathers

"He was a saint from the day of his birth, and he could sing before he could talk." So said a near relative of him who is here remembered, and who had known him, in the intimacy of family relationship, from the beginning until the end. It was an epitome fortunately expressed, a comprehensive summing up. It is corroborated by the experiences of a great multitude of devoted friends--by the companions of many years.

Doctor Tucker--the "dear Doctor Tucker," as those who knew him best were wont to style him--possessed an exceptional character. His was not an ordinary mind or heart. Although he lived an uneventful life of retirement, like Keble limiting his strongest activities to the quiet sphere of parish duty--to what the children of tin's world call a "humdrum existence"--yet, like Keble, his name became known on both sides of the Atlantic, and from the East even to the West. He became a recognized power in certain lines of thought and action.

It is right that the memory of his pure and noble living shall be set down for human encouragement. When one has felt as he did, and manifested forth such singular excellencies pertaining to an unselfish existence, when it so happened that the position occupied by him and the influence exerted became unique--having no exact parallel--it is fitting that we shall seek to know whatever may be told about the faithful course that has been run. Only natural it was that those who had been associated in sacred confidential relationship with him as pastor, should ask that some sketch of his life--a centre of their hopes and highest aspirations--should be shaped into permanent form that they might have it with them in their homes. Rightful it is that others also, outside of the charmed circle, may be permitted to discover some fraction of the fascination which never failed, and may find interest in the outline records of days which were not crowded with stirring incident, but which, nevertheless, were filled full of that which is of value to every soul that lives a true soul-life.

John Ireland Tucker was born in Brooklyn on the 26th of November, 1819.

At the time, Brooklyn was a rural suburb, as yet "in the country." Only three years before this had the hamlet advanced to the dignity of an incorporated village, having a scattered population of four thousand four hundred inhabitants.

Ancestry and environment are powerful forces, influential in the make-up of character. Our revered friend was blessed with progenitors for whom and whose dispositions he might well be thankful.

His maternal grandfather, Joshua Sands, was a prominent figure in the community, endowed with strength of thought and action in matters both of State and Church. He was a member and sometime President of the Village Board of Trustees, also the first Collector of Customs and a representative in the National Congress. One of the streets of the now great city bears his name.

We find the like inscription upon records which tell of religious activity. When an act of incorporation was passed, April 23, 1787, referring to that which bore the style and title of "The Episcopal Church of Brooklyn," we note the name Joshua Sands among the list of original trustees. This was in the days of ecclesiastical pioneers, when services "were held at the house on the North East Corner of Fulton and Middagh Streets; which house was fitted with pews." So says Gabriel Furman in his now rare pamphlet, printed by A. Spooner, at No. 50 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, in 1824. After this the primary congregation came into possession of the "Independent Meeting House, whose members had seceded to the Episcopal Church," a frame building located on the ground well known in later years as a place of burial. This is the structure which, at a time of revived interest, was painted blue, "which some of our older inhabitants well remember," says Mr. Fish in his Annals.

A few years after, the parish comes to be known by a distinctive title, commonly called St. Ann's, for a cause interesting in its biographical association. Then and thereafter the name "Sands "appears upon the records with a regularity of recurrence that is remarkable. So it is set down that to this one of the chief inhabitants was entrusted constantly the duties of vestryman and warden, also of deputy to the Diocesan Convention. At the time of his death, in 1835, he was senior warden of the honored parish.

Wealth brought further opportunity for good to this progenitor. There was a time when he and his brother were endowed with large possessions. Their business ventures had prospered beyond ordinary measure. As far back as the year 1779 an act of attainder was passed against John Rapalje, by which his property was confiscated to the use of the State, and "that part of his property lying within the bounds of the present village of Brooklyn," so saith Gabriel Furrnan, "was, on the 13th of July, 1784, sold by the Commissioner of Forfeitures to Comfort and Joshua Sands, Esq's. for £12,430." A considerable purchase for that age!

However, as fate would have it, a serious setback came to pass in later days. It was before the time of the formation of insurance companies; as yet each merchant was his own insurer. During this unprotected period, on one sad day a disastrous conflagration destroyed immense storehouses belonging to the two brothers, and their losses were enormous.

But whether richer or poorer, Joshua maintained an even reputation for benevolence and public spirit. He and his good wife were acknowledged "friends of the people," known and welcomed by every one. Among other benefactions, they--the heads of the popular household--gave the land upon which the first Church building was erected at the corner of Sands and Washington Streets. Some years before the putting up of this--the "Stone Church," as it came to be called--the title of the congregation had been settled. Tacitly, by common consent, the style was changed from "The Episcopal Church of Brooklyn "to "St. Ann's Church," and it was so named on account of the one woman who was the "genuine Dorcas "of the settlement, that one who "went about doing good." The title was associated with her parish, by virtue of the character and influence of Ann Sands, wife of Joshua.

She, whose name is recorded as one of the three earliest communicants of the Church in Brooklyn, and who became a mother in Israel, was in the line of descent from Ann Askew--otherwise spelled Ayscough--who was burned at the stake in the time of Henry VIII. The family connection even now like to look back to the ancestor who hesitated not to hold firmly to her faith even unto death. The relative who gave me the information remarked, in reference to the subject of this sketch: "He came from that kind of stock, and really couldn't help being good." The name of Ann Askew is so highly prized that it still appears among the living; a daughter in one branch of the house to-day bears the title.

Here let it be remembered, too, that Archbishop Sandys is of the same line now known as Sands--another forefather who contributes to the stream of inheritance.
Anne Moore Sands was the daughter of Joshua and Ann. About her we shall hear further when we note a few brief selections taken from the letters which she wrote. She, maiden highly favored of the village, was wedded to Fanning C. Tucker, fit man of her choice. The groom was the son of a physician, Dr. Robert Tucker, the first graduate in medicine who received the degree of Doctor of Medicine from Columbia College.
Major Fanning C. Tucker, husband of Anne Sands, attained in his own way to high prominence in Church and State. He was active in affairs of parish as well as of the diocese. When Dr. Henry U. Onderdonk relinquished the pastorship of St. Ann's, promoted to the see of Pennsylvania, rumor had it that he was not well disposed toward Mr. McIlvaine--afterward the Bishop of Ohio--as a successor. The latter let it be understood that he would not accept the invitation to rectorship unless all members of the congregation should so desire. Then it was that Fanning C. Tucker gave evidence of his customary vigor; he took his carriage and went abroad visiting the entire region, securing the signature of every parishioner. The act was the more significant in view of the fact that in the current lively divisions of feeling as to matters ecclesiastical, the new Rector tended toward the one side and the prominent vestryman and ofttime warden to the other. Nevertheless, the chief parochial official worked ever in hearty unison with his ecclesiastical superior.

Major Tucker is described as a man of society, and a highly respected, successful administrator in business affairs. Later he became the president of a down-town bank in New York. He was of a lofty stature, erect, commanding, the sort of a personage to attract attention wherever he might go.

While yet a young and newly married man, Major Tucker set up his Lares and Penates in a house on Sands Street. There his son, John Ireland, subject of this sketch, was born in 1819. The name chosen for the child seems to have been of especial favor in the family. It had been given to a brother a little older. He died young, and n few months after his death the same name was bestowed upon him whom we recall. The original of the title was the Rev. John Ireland, Rector of St. Ann's at the close of the eighteenth century, and well known as a man of erudition.

Concerning the childhood of our John Ireland, son of Fanning, little may be told. He is described by one who knew him then as "a golden-haired, beautiful boy." His charm of face and form was remarked by all. The fond mother was accustomed to call him her "angel," or, adopting another equivalent exegesis, to name him now and again "her little Bishop."

When the boy was four years of age, the family removed to a new home, erected on "the heights." The place is still remembered as containing a double mansion of ample proportions, built of frame, standing near to the spot where Grace Church is now located. The country homestead was known as "Bella Vista." It included some fifty acres, running down to the water, and comprising a fine garden of fruits and. vegetables. There the household remained until after the death of the fond mother, when there was another removal, this time to the city of New York. Henceforth the family makes its abode among the dwellings of the Knickerbockers.

But before we leave the Brooklyn scene, let me pause to incorporate some information, imparted by Dr. J. Carpenter Smith, for half a century Rector of the historic parish of St. George's at Flushing, L. I. In his early years Dr. Smith was a resident of Brooklyn at a time when, as he says, the village consisted principally of St. Ann's Church and the Navy Yard. He remembers well both Fanning C. Tucker and his son John. He speaks of the. stature and pronounced characteristics of the father: "wherever Fanning C. Tucker went he made himself known."

Another quality is referred to. The father was always a lover of harmony. He had a strong bass voice, which rendered good service, both in church and at home. In the former connection he was the forefront and backbone of the choir. At one and the same time he filled two positions, viz., warden of the parish and leader of the choristers.

It is easy to see whence the son, afterward famous for his musical ability and knowledge, derived his taste and tendency. They came to him by right of inheritance. To the father music seems to have been one of the essentials of living. As an example out of many, Dr. Smith recounts the audible performances, identified with a house next to his own, where lived a Madame Brichta, solo soprano and leading treble of the Church. Thither would come at times the director of St. Ann's choir to practise songs or take part in concerted pieces, and then, as my informant phrases it, "they made the neighborhood vocal."

By the same narrator the boy, John Tucker, is recalled, as he walks into Sunday-school, a tall and stately lad; there and elsewhere he always manifested a fine, natural propriety of deportment.

In the second or third decade of the present century the Sunday-school constituted one of the vexed questions. Opinions differed, and arguments were warm. A school had been established in Brooklyn in the early part of the ministry of the Rev. Hugh Smith, which began in 1817. The institution was continued, during two or three years, under the administration of his successor, the Rev. Dr. Onderdonk. Gradually, however, it languished, and at length expired. When Mr. McIlvaine came to the rectorship the school was once more started, and upon a career of renewed vigor.

Although Dr. Smith remembers his former schoolmate as a dignified and stately lad of erect carriage, yet the latter could unbend, showing the unchanging attractiveness of a cheerful mind. So it may be inferred from the designation "Jack," bestowed upon him by his father and by many associates. And so it may be witnessed, further, from a little exhibition of playfulness which is still remembered. The brief story was told by him, long after, to friends in Troy. He recalled an occasion when an assortment of cake had been placed in a "cake-basket "and covered with a doily. The boy passed the spot. By way of a prank, he removed the uppermost piece of cake, substituting in its stead an inverted saucer, again covering all with the doily. When the cake-basket was brought into action there was astonishment among the beholders. Of course the performance was a bit of harmless pleasantry at home.

To return to the benefit of forefathers. It is easy to perceive that in the case of him whose young life was bright and prosperous, certain definite qualities, running all through the fruitful years, may be traced back to their remote beginnings. Impalpable but real treasures, like that of a good name, pass on from father or mother to a child. So it is that we find a fittingness, a something expected not only in the stature and bearing, but in the piety and benevolence, the ecclesiastical tendency, the marked taste and ability in music, as well as the unquestioned respectability of Doctor Tucker. The entire list of attributes is in keeping with his antecedents. lie was the worthy son of a worthy line.

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