Project Canterbury

History of the American Episcopal Church 1600-1915

By the Reverend S. D. McConnell, D.D., D.C.L., LL. D.

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing Co., 1934.
London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., 1934.

Part First. The English Church in the Colonies

Chapter IV. The Roman Catholics

Lord Baltimore; the Maryland Colony; Romanists and religious liberty; persecution by them impossible; slow growth of the colony; "bad Catholics"; revocation of the Charter; unworthy Clergy; the situation in 1770.

In the early years of Elizabeth's reign the ambassador of his Most Catholic Majesty of Spain wrote to his master that the royal virgin was, in his judgment, possessed of a hundred thousand devils." If this were true, it is likely that the task assigned to five legions of them was to harry the English Parliament; the other five were occupied with the Puritans. When James I succeeded, the Romanists came to believe that a wholesale exorcism had been wrought in the kingdom. It was true that James was more of a Protestant than Elizabeth, so far as theological definitions are concerned. Nothing would have pleased the royal theologaster better than a set discussion with the Pope himself; but he differed radically from the leonine queen in temper. He would argue with the Romanists by the week, but he would not cut their heads off. By Elizabeth's method argument is quickly ended, by James's it may be continued.

This being the king's disposition, when George Calvert, one of his state officers, became a pervert to Romanism in 1624, he did not thereby forfeit the royal favor. He was made Lord Baltimore in lieu of the honorable offices this step compelled him to relinquish. But he thereby cast his lot with a people who had been, upon the whole, fairly judged, and lay under the popular verdict of bad Christians and untrustworthy Englishmen. For this cause the rights of citizenship had been taken away from them. They held their fortunes and lives by sufferance, and both were often in jeopardy. Calvert made himself intimately acquainted with their situation. His connection by marriage with Sir Thomas Arundel, their chief adviser, gave him opportunity to know their needs and wishes. He was already one of the original members of the Virginia Council. This fact probably suggested his scheme to him. The Puritans had their colony, why should not the Romanists have theirs? They could there escape the social and political disabilities which their fathers had brought upon them, and maybe add a new jewel to the much--battered tiara. In any case, in the New World the priest would not be compelled to disguise himself in Hodge's smock--frock or the livery of a footman, and the people to hear mass with guarded doors, and in deadly fear of the hangman's knife.

Thus Maryland, like the other earliest colonies, started with a distinctly religious motive. It was to be a refuge and a seed plot for English Roman Catholics.

For this purpose, openly avowed, Lord Baltimore received from Charles I a patent for the territory lying between the mouth of the Potomac and the fortieth degree of north latitude, and running westward indefinitely. [Shea: Catholic Church in Colonial Days, p. 34.] Before the charter received the imprint of the Great Seal, Baltimore died. Leonard Calvert, his son, took up his father's task. Romish noblemen and gentlemen furnished the outfit, and their humbler followers became the colonists. Two ships, the Ark and the Dove, bore the company of a hundred people. They were the best equipped and furnished of all the early companies. They sailed from Cowes, November 22, 1633. After a long and stormy voyage, in which they were driven by stress of weather to the Barbadoes and Montserrat, they entered the mouth of the Potomac, which they consecrated to St. Gregory, and rechristened the two capes which clip its mouth Cape St. Gregory and Cape St. Michael. The islands they sailed by, they called St. Clement, St. Catherine, and St. Cecilia. On this last they landed, and the two Jesuits sent by their provincial with the expedition, Father Andrew White and Father John Altham, said mass for the company on Annunciation Day, 1634. Thence they moved to the Maryland shore, and unloaded their goods at St. Mary's. "There," says Bancroft, "religious liberty obtained a home, its only home in the wide world."

This last declaration has been so often made, that in the interest of common justice it should be qualified and supplemented. Things which differ ought to be distinguished. That Roman Cathogious liberty. lies should be claimed as the champions of religious liberty in the seventeenth century, seems surn ciently grotesque to the student of history. [This claim was the burden of the addresses at the Roman Catholic Conference at Baltimore in October, 1889.] The simple truth in the premises is this: the Calverts did believe and practise so; the Roman Church did neither the one nor the other. The settlers of Maryland were too glad to find safety to think of persecution. Not that they would have done so if they could. They should have, ungrudged, their meed of praise; but they must not have all the praise. It must not be forgotten that their new home was given them by a Protestant king, with the hearty advice and approval of a Protestant council, who in so doing waived their own claims in the interest of their misguided but still loved countrymen. They made the gift with their eyes open. English Romanists were utterly discredited as citizens. It was not alone or chiefly that their religion was abhorrent. By their own declaration they took their political orders from an enemy whom England could not then afford to despise. Romanists in England meant servants of the Papacy and agents of the king of Spain. Despite of this, Protestant Englishmen gave them that peaceful home in Maryland, which had already been brutally refused them by their French coreligionists in Newfoundland. [Shea: Catholic Church in Colonial Days, p. 32.] The founders were of those few in their day who were Catholics rather than Romanists, and Englishmen before either. Such were the Calverts, a noble race with few contemporaries and fewer descendants. They had neither the will nor the power of intolerance. But they laid no claim to toleration as a virtue. They simply recognized existing facts. The first offer of persecution by the Maryland colony would have brought such a storm about them as would have swept them into the ocean. Churchmen and Quakers, Baptists and Puritans, would have combined to exterminate the ingrates. They were glad to leave England, and there is serious reason to believe that they were not altogether sorry to be three thousand miles farther away from Rome. Their chosen priests were Jesuits, and the Society of Jesus was not then in favor at Rome. It had already launched upon that policy of adaptability to every circumstance, which made it distrusted and finally led to its suppression by the Pope himself. Dominicans, Capuchins, and Franciscans were those whom Rome then looked upon with favor. The judgment of the Roman Church was at one with that of the Puritan upon this question. Cotton Mather spoke for both when he pronounced "toleration ­ a doctrine of devils." The Calverts and their friends were as far removed from the spirit of their Church as from that of their times. They were never looked upon kindly by their spiritual superiors, and when the last of them returned to England the Romish King, James II, refused to receive him. [Hawks: Ecclesiastical Contributions, vol. ii.. p. 56.]

This colony, with its exceptional advantages of equipment, soil, and climate, filled up more slowly than any of its compeers. At first the immigrants were of the same faith as the founders. But this supply of men was quickly exhausted. The truth was, there were few of that sort among the English--speaking people to draw from. The stream of immigration soon became Protestant. Before a generation had passed, these last were in the majority; before the end of the century they were ten to one. [Ib. p. 73; Shea, p. 26.] While there was no religious establishment, the offices of the province were all rigidly kept in the hands of Roman Catholics, and this even after they had become less than one--tenth of the population. No open obstacle was placed in the way of Protestant worship, but any official advantage available was lent to that of Rome. Occasional services of the Church of England were held almost from the first, by clergy from Virginia, from New England, and by occasional visitors from England. In a few places services were kept up with regularity for considerable periods, but the record of them in detail is not now extant.

In Cromwell's time the Commonwealth sent over a commission to set up the "New Model," and Romanists and Churchmen were both suppressed.

At the Restoration things returned to the same state as before.

Ten years later the Roman Catholic population had been engulfed. [Shea, p. 75.] The Italian plant in America had withered, and did not revive again, till the stream of Irish immigration poured over it in the middle of this present century.

When this condition had been reached, the people of Maryland effected, rightly, the "Protestant Revolution." A petition to the Crown was offered praying that the offices of the province might be placed in the hands of Protestants, who constituted its people. It was right and just, on the Calverts' own principles, that this should be done. Nor did their descendants and successors strongly oppose it.

The first clear view of the Church's career there begins in 1675. A Mr. Yeo, of Patuxent, writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury, "The Province of Maryland is in a deplorable state for want of an established ministry. Here are ten or twelve counties, and in them at least twenty thousand souls, and but three Protestant ministers of the Church of England. The Lord's Day is profaned, religion is despised, and all the notorious vices are committed, so that it is become a Sodom of uncleanness and a pest of iniquity."

The picture drawn by Mr. Yeo is probably too deeply colored, but there is abundant testimony that that pestilent class had multiplied rapidly which has since become the bane of the United States. "Bad Catholics" have always been the worst of the population, ­ while good ones have been as good as any. The only authority which they have been reared to recognize as really binding is the Church. When they or their children break away or lapse from under it, there is nothing to take its place. The intrinsically divine quality of civil government, which has always been one of the underlying beliefs of Protestantism, is unknown by them. In their eagerness to accent the divine nature of the Church, they have emptied everything else of its divinity. When they break with it they are left wandering stars. In the present day they form a great proportion of the inmates of jails and penitentiaries. In the last years of the seventeenth century they were at large in Maryland. The Roman Catholic Church had almost completely lost its hold on its own children. It was not for a hundred years later that they were able to support their first bishop. When Madison went to England for consecration, John Carroll, the Roman Catholic, was his shipmate on his way to accomplish a similar errand.

The lapsed Romanists were mingled with lapsed Churchmen, Quakers destitute of the "inner light," Baptists, and a few Scotch Presbyterians. They were practically all planters. The evil effect of African slavery upon the masters was beginning to show itself. They were overbearing, indolent, and licentious, ­ the three besetting sins of slave--keeping people. Dancing, drinking, horse--racing, cock--fighting, were their serious occupations. [Lodge: English Colonies in America, p. 127 et seq. McMaster: History of People of United States, vol. i. pp. 424, 425.] Their charter was revoked in 1690 like those of Massachusetts and New York, in pursuance of the home policy which had determined to bring the colonial territory out of its anomalous political status, and restore it to its place as a part of the common possessions of the kingdom. By this act of the Crown, ­ not the colonists themselves, ­ the ecclesiastical balance was overturned. The people came back under English law. By that law the Romanist as such was proscribed. His very existence became treason. By the same law the English Church was part of the machinery of the realm. It needed no new statute for either. The existing laws sufficed. The Church of England was now the established Church of Maryland. Clergy began to come apace, but of a character and quality so indifferent that their presence wrought, if possible, more harm than their previous absence had done. It is evil for a people to have no priests; it is still worse to have bad ones. The first Maryland priest we catch sight of is of this sort. John Coode, a politician, a mountebank, a land surveyor, a Jack--of--all--trades, had been mixed up with all the broils of the colony, was always to be found at his post after the fight, when the spoil was being gathered. He had been most forward in the petition to have the colonial offices turned over to Protestants, and had secured two or three of them for his share. The duties of one of them called him to England. While there he managed to have himself ordained to the ministry. Upon his return he began at once to officiate. It can readily be imagined how much good he did. His character grew from bad to worse. Without giving up either his sacred or secular office he added to them both that of customs officer. At odd times he surveyed a plantation and bowsed all the evening with the owner. He was so drunk once during service on Sunday that Governor Nicholson, who was in the congregation, led him out and caned him handsomely, ­ and was challenged by him for the indignity. He went up and down the colony preaching on Sunday, and lecturing during the week, on "The Absurdities of Christianity," ­ a sort of seventeenth--century Ingersoll in spurs and cassock. Finally his conduct became so intolerable that he was arrested, tried for general misbehavior, and banished from the colony.

It must not be supposed that all the priesthood were such as this, the first we meet. The earliest missionaries had been devout and godly men, and some such still remained. But for the most part they had passed away. Now that plantation life had grown easy, and a ready fortune was to be gathered, and the people themselves had declined in manners, so many of Coode's sort came that we shall find ministerial unworthiness to be a painful feature of the Church for more than a generation, ­ indeed, in the Southern colonies, quite up to the Revolution.

When the year 1700 had been reached, the position of the Church in the province of the Calverts was, roughly, this. There were about twenty-two thousand inhabitants, nine--tenths of them nominally Protestants, a turbulent and ill-regulated populace. The Church of England was established by law. A poll--tax of forty pounds of tobacco was assessed for its support upon every rate payer. There were about half a dozen clergy. The people were in many places anxious both for more and better ones. They forwarded petitions to the Bishop of London and Canterbury frequently to this end. A curious fact is that the signers of these petitions constantly called themselves "Protestant Catholics." Did they anticipate by two centuries a true conception of the Church? Were the two classes so fused together in the common population that they simply described themselves?

The Establishment was most unpopular, even in the eyes of the stanchest Churchmen. The tax of tobacco was evaded, or else paid in an herb of so poor a quality that even Parson Samson raised his gorge at it.

The ecclesiastical history of the colony has been well summed up in the words of a modern writer:

"There were three eras of toleration in Maryland. That of the proprietaries, which lasted fifty years. Under it all believers in Christ were (theoretically) equal before the law, and all support to churches and ministers was voluntary.

"That of the Puritans, which lasted six years, and included all but Romanists, Episcopalians, and heretics.

"The Anglican toleration, which lasted eighty years, had glebes and churches for the Establishment, connivance for Dissenters, penal laws for Catholics, and from all the forty pounds per Poll." [American Commonwealth Series, Maryland, p. 186.]

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