Project Canterbury


Soldier and Servant Series


Recollections of Bishop Hobart

By the

Rt. Rev. A. Cleveland Coxe, D. D. LL. D.

Bishop of Western New York



Junior Auxiliary Publishing Co.
211 State St., Hartford, Conn.


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2008

Recollections of Bishop Hobart.

BISHOP HOBART died in the Autumn of 1830. The last time I ever saw him was in Easter Week of that year. It was the custom, in his time, for all the Sunday Schools to assemble, once ma year, for a Service and a Sermon to the children. This was originally designed for "Innocents' Day," as a fitting celebration of that festival; but the bad weather generally prevalent at that season, to say nothing of the too prevalent consequences among children of Christmas enjoyments of another sort during the holidays, created a change to the glad season of the Resurrection. I remember well the appearance of the Bishop, as he presided for the last time at that festival of the children, in St. John's Chapel, New York. Many of the city Clergy were with him, and I recollect that the preacher began with an expression of self-distrust, as a proper preacher for children. A young Seminary student, who stood by me, said something to another, which caught my ear. It is true, I fear, that "to preach so as to interest [3/4] children, is a gift very few can lay claim to." The student, I think, was in after life the Rev. Dr. Van Ingen, of my own diocese.

I can see him now--the Bishop, I mean--as he knelt at the altar, offered concluding prayers, and gave us his blessing. Little did I then suppose I should never hear that voice again. I never had seen any other bishop, and though I knew many others by their engraved portraits, which adorned the window of Stanford & Swords' Church Book Warehouse, nobody looked just like a bishop to my eyes, save only that energetic prelate, with his quick, earnest utterance and his commanding appearance in the pulpit. I say "in the pulpit," particularly, for he was little of stature, like Zacchaeus, and did not look so grand when he stood in the chancel. Yet, nobody but a mere boy would probably have thought of this. There was somewhat about his bearing, and almost military look of command, that made all men feel his apostolic dignity, his conscious call to preside among men, as an ambassador for Christ.

In 1831, I again attended the festival in St. John's Chapel. Bishop Onderdonk had succeeded my venerated paragon of apostolic merit, and I had to learn new ideas of a bishop's presence and personal [4/5] bearings. The change was at first distasteful, but the successor of Hobart had qualities which soon endeared him, also, to the Church. And now for what happened in 1831; my experience may be interesting to children. It was the custom as the children passed out of the Church, on these occasions, to give each of them a little book and a New Year's cake. The New Year's cake or "cookey" of New York was inherited from the original Dutch settlers of Manhattan Island. Imitations abound; but even in New York, I know of only one baker who can produce the genuine article at the present day. The cookey was generally stamped with Christmas devices, and was not much in vogue after Septuagesima. I never saw one at Easter, except at these festivals, and the custom of giving New Year's cakes at this time was a survival from the earlier use of Innocents' Day, or Childermas, for this celebration. Under the great tower-door of St. John's were two enormous baker's baskets, filled with the crisp and fragrant cakes. A kinsman of mine was one of the Sunday school authorities who presided over the distribution, and as I passed out with the rest, he accosted me with a smile: "Here, Cleve, is your cake, but be sure to read the book." And I did read the book. It was embellished [5/6] with the picture of a clergyman, in "gown and bands"; the dignified costume which Bishop Hobart always wore in the pulpit, except when he was officiating in some Episcopal duty, such as Confirmation, or consecrating a Church. I saw him often in this attire, in different churches, and as often, perhaps, when he wore his rochet and lawn sleeves.

[* Of the portrait, which forms the frontispiece of this sketch, I tell the story as it was told to me. When Bishop Hobart was consecrated, in 1811 he was only 35 years old, and a mere youth in appearance. Hair-powder was then in vogue, and I remember some who used it in the thirties. As Bishop Provoost always wore a wig, like those of the English Bishops (only recently disused), and as Bishop Moore was a venerable man, with long white locks, a youthful Bishop was something very distasteful to the old people of that Diocese, especially in Trinity parish, New York, of which he was minister. In deference to them he therefore slightly sprinkled his locks; but when he became grey-headed enough to do so, without notable change of appearance, he discontinued a very useless and annoying fashion of the day. His portrait had been painted, however, with the youthful features and a prematurely grey head. He therefore disliked it, but as it was valuable (I never found out who painted it), he gave it to Mrs. Murray, a dear friend of his whole family. It was inherited by the Rev. John Murray Guion, former rector of the Church at Seneca Falls, from whom I tried to purchase it for Hobart College. He was attached to it, however, as a family inheritance, and wished to bequeath it to a beloved daughter. She has allowed it to be copied by Kent, photographic artist, in Rochester, N. Y., and anybody who wishes to own a fine work of art, which preserves a likeness of the great Bishop in his prime, would do well to order it, through J. Pott & Co., 114 Fifth Avenue, New York. A. C. C. There is a copy of the portrait, painted in oils, at Trinity College, Hartford.]

I did "read the book." It told how Bishop Hobart [6/7] had been with us and helped the children the year before, and then added the story of his decease, at Auburn, in the month of September. It said: "He died like an apostle." We must recollect that, after Bishop Seabury, no man did so much to settle the American Church on sure foundations of "Evangelical Truth and Apostolic order," as this truly great man. For two years or more he was Seabury's successor in Connecticut as "Provisional Bishop," and Connecticut should not forget it.

It was my happy lot, during my college days, to become very intimate with Mrs. Hobart and her family, visiting them often at "the Hills," in New Jersey (near the present village of Summit), where the Bishop used to spend his summers, at his pleasant country seat, very modest and unpretending, but affording him rest and quiet, and the enjoyments of a garden, which he dearly loved. Concerning his last days at this retreat, I have to tell an anecdote, which Mrs. Hobart herself told me, with tender emotions. But first let me say, that, as he went upon the journey from which he never returned, my own dear father was on the steamboat with him, and had a very animated conversation with him, as they admired together the charming scenery of the Hudson. My [7/8] father landed at Newburgh, and said, "I preach next Sunday, for the presbyterian bishop of Canterbury." "Oh! call him 'Archbishop,' was the merry rejoinder--"why not?" "I was not arch enough for that," replied my father, and with these pleasantries they parted. Only a few weeks after, my father opened the morning newspaper, and said, with feeling, "My son, Bishop Hobart is dead!" He then began our family prayers, and prayed for the Bishop's afflicted widow and her children. When I told Mrs. Hobart of this she said: "It was very kind in your father and I am happy to know it. He saw him later than I did; my husband had just parted with me for the last time."

I was sitting with her, on the little verandah, at the Hills. After a few moments, she said: "He left me here, and went thoughtfully, out of my sight, to take his carriage, there, at the gate; but he soon came running back, for something he had forgotten. This gave me one more last look at him and one more tender farewell. 'Oh! my dear,' said I, as he again tore himself away, 'you are doing too much.' 'How can I do too much,' he answered--'for Him who has done everything for me?'" These were the last words that passed between this loving, faithful wife, and her devoted husband, who indeed lived and died like an Apostle.

[9] NOTES.

John Henry Hobart was born in Philadelphia, on the 14th of September 1775, and died in Auburn, N. Y., on the 12th of September 1830.

He was fifth in line from the founder of the family in Hingham, Massachusetts, and counted among his ancestors many of well known names in the Colonial history of New England. His grandfather was the first of the family in this country to return to the Church of his forefathers, and he was also the first to leave his New England home. But the future Bishop owed his religious training largely to his mother, his father having died when he was only a year old. After school days spent in Philadelphia, he entered the Junior class at Princeton in 1791, when he was in his sixteenth year. Here he later accepted a tutorship, which he held until he became deacon in 1798. Two years after he was ordered priest, and for some years assisted in the parish work of Trinity Church in New York, of which he was afterwards elected rector. About this time he married a daughter of the Rev. Dr. Thomas Bradbury Chandler.

In 1811 the failing health of Bishop Moore, the second Bishop of New York, called for the election of another Assistant, a third Bishop; and the choice fell on Dr. Hobart, who was consecrated second Assistant Bishop of New York (for Bishop Provoost was still living) in Trinity Church, New York, on the 29th day of May in the year 1811. At the same time and place the Rev. Alexander Viets Griswold was consecrated Bishop of the Eastern Diocese, which included all of New England except Connecticut. The consecration of the two bishops took place five days after the adjournment of the General Convention, which had met in New Haven. At that Convention Bishop White of Pennsylvania and Bishop Jarvis of Connecticut were the only bishops present; and as the ancient laws of the Church require that there should be three bishops present to lay on hands at a consecration, it was impossible to hold the service, as had been expected, in New Haven. There were but four other bishops in the United States; of these Bishop Provoost, the senior Bishop of New York, had not officiated at all since 1801, and was at this time too feeble to take a journey; Bishop Moore, of New York, had had a paralytic shock and could not leave his room; Bishop Claggett of Maryland had been seriously ill, and was obliged to return home after starting for New Haven; and Bishop Madison of Virginia was President of the College of William and Mary, and did not feel at liberty to leave his duties there. At one [9/10] time it was thought that it would be necessary to have Dr. Hobart and Mr. Griswold go to England that they might be consecrated by three bishops there; and it was also suggested that the consecration might be held in Bishop Moore's sick-room, where he could lay on hands with Bishops White and Jarvis. But Bishop Provoost had promised that he would, if possible, take part in the consecration if held in New York; and though he suffered a relapse, and it was to the last hour doubtful whether he could be brought to Trinity Church, he was strong enough to attend; and the consecration of the two bishops was held, as was said, May 29th, 1811. It was a memorable service, and some of the peculiar circumstances connected with it were long remembered.

The Diocese of New York, of which Dr. Hobart was bishop, included the whole State of New York. Besides this, Dr. Hobart was acting Bishop of Connecticut from October 1816 to October 1819. His body rests beneath Trinity Church, New York; but the present church is not the "Old Trinity" of Hobart's day.

Bishop Hobart's name is appropriately associated in our minds with a Church College and with an Indian Chapel in the Mission founded by him; for he always should be remembered as foremost in the work of Church education, and as taking an active interest in Missions to the Indians. He was the first to send a Missionary to our Western lands to care for the red-man. Bishop Coxe when he first visited the Onondagas, in the diocese of Western New York, found Indians who remembered him and whom he had confirmed.

His name has been perpetuated also in the Missionary history of our American Church by his son, a second John Henry Hobart, who was one of the founders of Nashotah, and by his grandson, William Hobart Hare, well known to us all as the beloved Missionary Bishop of South Dakota.

Further details of the Bishop's life may be found in Professor McVickar's "Early Life and Professional Years of John Henry Hobart," and in the ''Memoir," by the Rev. Dr. William Berrian. See also Bishop Coxes tribute in the "Centennial History of the Diocese of New York" (published by Appletons, 1860).

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