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Early Ritualism in America
Reminiscences of Edgar P. Wadhams,
First Bishop of Ogdensburg

By the Rev. C.A. Walworth

New York: Christian Press Association, 1893.


THE object of the author is not to write a biography of Bishop Wadhams or any systematic sketch of his life. This I leave to other hands. I simply wish to record certain familiar memories I retain of that early and dear friend which might otherwise be lost; memories of his early home and surroundings in the Adirondacks; memories of those seminary days when with myself and others he was moving forward, in an Anglican atmosphere of mingled beliefs, romances, and illusions, toward the clear light and settled doctrine of the Catholic Church; memories of his priestly life, during a part of which I was his close companion, and memories also of a frequent and sweet intercourse which continued throughout his career in the episcopate, and ended only with his death. These reminiscences may be welcomed as valuable by some of my readers, partly because of the marked individuality of the man, and partly because of his early connection with a religious movement memorable in the history of our American Church, but better known to Catholics generally in its effects than in its causes or progressive course. One born to the faith looks upon the accession of converts into the Church as a man watches an incoming tide. He sees the waves fall tired on the shore, but cannot see what draws them or what drives them, or understand that panting but unsatisfied life out of which they leap. Perhaps the following pages may open to some of my readers a better knowledge of the external events and a clearer view of the interior springs of action by which a convert's course is urged and guided.

Before, however, I take up my personal recollections of my friend, it is proper to give some account of his birth, boyhood, and college life, which I am obliged to gather from the recollections of others.

Edgar P. Wadhams was born May 21st, 1817, in the town of Lewis, Essex County, New York. He was the sixth and youngest child of General Luman Wadhams and his wife Lucy. His father, Luman, a native of Goshen, Connecticut, settled early in life at Charlotte, Vermont, and afterward moved to Lewis, in Essex County, New York. He finally fixed his residence in the adjoining town of Westport, giving name to the village of Wadhams Mills, where he died April igth, 1832, in the fiftieth year of his age. He was an officer at the battle of Plattsburgh, and rose to the rank of general in the militia service. His wife, Lucy Prindle (tide Bostwick), the mother of Edgar, was a woman of great piety as well as remarkable for sagacity, and a wondrous wisdom born of both these qualities. To her thoughtful care, pious moral training, and the example she gave by her conscientious discharge of every duty, is no doubt due in great part that life of manly principle and nobility of soul which always characterized the subject of these reminiscences. I knew her well, resided in the same house with her for several months, conversing with her daily, and have never lost the impression made upon me by a certain simple but marvellous tact she possessed which amounted to true wisdom. She survived her husband, General Wadhams, many years, living to see her son a priest, and died at the advanced age of eighty-four. Her body, as well as that of her husband, lies buried at Wadhams Mills.

We are not able to give much detail in regard to Edgar's childhood. There is, perhaps, no necessity for it. Let it suffice to say that there is testimony to the fact that from his earliest years Edgar was looked upon as a boy of great promise. He was sent to an academy at Shore-ham, Vermont, where he prepared for college. He entered Middlebury College in 1834, enrolling himself in the freshman class of that year. Some account of his course at this college is important, not only to show what manner of man he was at that time, but because it was there that, although reared a Presbyterian, he became attracted toward Anglicanism, which he mistook for something Catholic, and was led to unite himself to the Protestant Episcopal Church.

We are indebted to the Rev. J. Avery Shepherd, now an Episcopalian clergyman living in California, for nearly all we know of Wadhams' college career. There was a family connection between the two. Wadhams' sister, Mrs. Weeks, was the wife of Shepherd's uncle. It was at her house, six miles distant from Middlebury, that the two friends first met when about to enter that college. They were classmates, and roomed together during the ensuing four years. Shepherd was a Baptist, but up to this time Wadhams, although born of Presbyterian parents, had never enrolled himself as a professed member of any Christian denomination. It was at Middlebury that Wadhams, to use his friend's expression, "became serious." He was observed to take off his hat when passing the Episcopal church. He soon obtained permission from the college authorities to attend service there. We are told also that on rising in the morning, which he did at four o'clock, he was accustomed to read aloud for one hour from Chapman's Sermons on Episcopacy. His friend when awaking would listen to this, although pretending to sleep. He had urged Wadhams to become a Baptist, but either Chapman's sermons or Wadhams himself proved more persuasive, and after about three months both were churchmen, and both active church members. In fact, these two students ran the whole thing at Middlebury. There being no settled minister, they officiated alternately, Wadhams playing the organ when the other read the service, and vice versa.

Wadhams graduated with honors from Middle-bury College in 1838. From this same college he received the degree of LL.D. a short time previous to his death.

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