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 VI. The South River

The Swedes; their absorption by the English; George Fox; Quakerism; extravagance and repression; persecution; Quakers in New Jersey; William Penn; Penn's Colony; Quakers coming to the Church; George Keith; first Pennsylvania Church; increase ad spread.

The Hudson was the "North River," the Delaware the "South River." To find the colonists for this last, we must cross to the continent as we did for the Hudson. We will bring settlers of a foreign speech, but of a church akin to the English.

When the great Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, laid down his life on the field of Lutzen, his great chancellor, Oxenstiern, took up his master's task as best he might. He cast about to find where his reformed Swedes might be safe from their ancient enemy. Like the other leaders of his time, his thoughts turned to America. Under the chancellor's patronage, Peter Minuit organized his little colony, and landed with them at Wilmington, 1637. They were Lutheran Episcopalians. Sweden had been fortunate enough to come out of the storm of her reformation with her Hierarchy standing; somewhat damaged, to be sure, but sufficiently secure to gain recognition. The Minister who came with the Swedish colony, and his brethren who followed him, had all been episcopally ordained. They had a history, a liturgy, a church life. When they came in contact with the English Church at Philadelphia and Wilmington, they coalesced with it without any questions asked on either hand. [Perry: History of the American Episcopal Church, vol. 1. p. 220. Perry: Historical Collections: vol. Pennsylvania, p. 432.] But they did not meet with friendly Englishmen. Their nearest neighbors were the Dutch on the Hudson and in the Jerseys. These were a sturdy, thrifty people, who knew good land when they saw it. They had no notion of allowing the Swedes to intrude. That they themselves had no rights, did not affect the question. They had possession. Frequent expeditions were sent out from New Amsterdam to drive the Swedes away from the Delaware. These expeditions were badly managed, and in fact the old soldiers of Gustavus were more than a match for the fur traders of the Hudson. They held their own and increased until sturdy Peter Stuyvesant undertook the task of conquest. But the Dutch victory was short--lived. Hardly had Stuyvesant returned victorious when Colonel Nichols with the English fleet appeared in the East River, and the Dutch and Swedes both lost their titles. New Netherlands and New Sweden both passed back without a struggle under the British crown. A few recruits continued to come to the lower counties, but not enough to leave permanently any trace of their speech, their church, or their habits, in the New World. Their few parishes, at Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Chester, passed gradually into the Church of England, and were absorbed. Two or three quaint old churches, always known locally as the "Old Swedes," are all that survive. A hundred and fifty years later the Swedish Episcopacy came in sight again, in connection with the visit of America's first Bishops to England for consecration, but by that time the two churches, once neighbors, and well acquainted, had drifted so far apart that the Swedes' offer of the bishopric was hardly considered. [Beardsley: Life of Seabury.]

The real settlers of the Delaware were preparing in another quarter. In 1640, George Fox, the son of a Leicestershire weaver, was herding sheep for a neighboring farmer. In his solitude he dreamed dreams and saw visions. It was an age of the fiercest theological controversy. For three generations Englishmen had thought and spoken of hardly anything else. All social, political, economical questions were religious ones at bottom. The common people were, and had long been, perplexed and ill at ease. The religious atmosphere was stormy. Men had lost their leaders. In the old days the yokel had not disturbed himself about his soul. That was the priest's business; he was paid for it. But now everything was changed. The old priests were gone, and the new ones were somewhat puzzling. They would give absolution--at a pinch--but they would not warrant it. They would hear confessions, but the penances they imposed were of a newfangled kind, involving doctrines and experiences which were strange. At church the common man did not know very well how to behave. In one parish he seemed to see the old mass, in another he heard a preacher hold forth in language not clearly intelligible. He heard his neighbors discussing theology continually. Every man had a psalm or a doctrine. Salvation was no longer the simple thing it had once seemed to be. It could no longer be bought, delivered, and paid for, as it could in the good old days of the grandfathers. What the common people craved was a simple, portable evangel; something which was not mixed up with Spanish marriages, logics tournaments, abstruse doctrines, political policies. Whoever would discover such would be accounted a benefactor.

Fox turned his dreamy eyes within, and found God. The Spirit of God bearing witness with his spirit,--that was the substance of religion. To find the truth, one needs only to commune with his own heart and be still. This "Inner Light" was not only the final but the sole guide which it is safe to follow. It is the simplest of all ideas. It at a single stroke renders superfluous all the machinery of the Church. Why turn to doctor or council, to priest or preacher, if one can look within and see the Holy Ghost? He needed not to be instructed of any man.

It was natural that Fox's idea should be caught up. Indeed, it was in the air already, and had been for half a century. The Mystics, Mennonites, Anabaptists, Baptists, and "Fifth Monarchy" men in England had all held by it. But it was Fox's strength that he set out the idea in its naked simplicity. All before him had entangled it with questions of social freedom, ecclesiastical organization, fantastic ritual, and what not. Fox held it up in its sheer nakedness. The common people seized upon it as hungry men do bread. It swept over England like a craze. The lanes and hedges were filled with the preachers of the New Light. They declared that when the light shone within them they did "exceedingly fear and quake,"--and the ribald dubbed them "Quakers," at their word. At first they were merely religious enthusiasts, but they quickly became something more. One begins by breaking loose from religious ordinances; it is but a step farther to find one's self beyond the regulations of the State and the family. They became fanatics of a very dangerous sort. All the powers of society were trained upon them to put them down. There seemed good reason for their suppression. Only two generations earlier the Bundschuh had waded in blood through Germany. The peasants' uprising in Elizabeth's day was not forgotten. These Quakers appeared to be setting out on the same path. Those others had also begun by claiming a Divine illumination, and had ended in lust, violence, and cruelty. The magistrates, the priests, the nobility, and the citizens joined hands for their extermination. Then persecution drove them mad. Under its stress they passed into that riotous phase which it is difficult to associate mentally with the restrained, russet--clad folk whom we know by their name. They were impelled by a consuming fire. They "bore their testimony" up and down the earth. One of them bearded the Grand Turk to his face: another tore his cap to rags before Cromwell as a testimony against him. They visited Scotland and Ireland, the West India Islands, and the North American Colonies; they were imprisoned by the Inquisitor at Malta; one brother visited Jerusalem and bore his testimony against the superstition of the monks. [Rev. Henry Ferguson: in Church Review, January, 1889. (A most admirable article upon the Quaker episode in New England.)] Naked women, smeared with soot and filth, stalked about the streets and into English churches and New England meeting houses. They throve upon persecution. They fairly broke into gaol and clamored to be hanged. The criminal law at the time was brutal at the best. Leprous gaols, in which the prisoner was left to starve, the stocks, the pillory, the lash at the cart's tail, the hangman with his searing iron and quartering knife, stood round about the violator of the law or the disturber of the peace. The Quaker was both, and he looked upon the pains which confronted him, not merely serenely but with exalted joy. What could be done with such men? The law of every land in Christendom was against them. But these laws could not be enforced effectively without a sustained savagery of which Anglo--Saxons have more than once shown themselves to be incapable. The attempt was made. Five thousand of them were in gaol at once. [Rowntree: Quakers, Past and Present, p. 72.] They were threatened, mobbed, pelted, ducked, fined, imprisoned, banished, their ears were cropped, they were laid in the stocks, whipped from market town to market town, shut up in mad--houses, and finally hanged. In the end the persecution gradually ceased, and the Quakers' ill--regulated enthusiasm exhausted itself. But by this time they had become a marked people. They had begun by ignoring the constant fact that religion as a spirit cannot subsist disembodied. They had turned their backs upon the sacraments of Christ's appointment, and this violation of a law of God, which is also a law of human nature, revenged itself upon them by compelling them to elevate into sacraments a certain whimsical misuse of pronouns and a fantastic dress. They had also learned self--control. The Spirit no longer possessed them; they possessed it. They became the same self--contained, prudent, negatively good folk their few surviving descendants still are. They had earned and compelled that curious, half--contemptuous goodwill which is still accorded to them.

Like all classes who were uncomfortable in Europe, they began to look to America. In 1673, Fox came himself to spy out the land. He made an extended tour of observation from Maine to South Carolina. In every colony, after he left Massachusetts, he found people who looked upon him as one sent of God. Some of them were refugees from England and the Barbadoes, and some were sporadic. After going up and down the coast, he went home and organized a colony of Friends, whose agents bought for them, for five thousand dollars, the western half of Southern Jersey. In 1675 the ship Griffith brought them out and landed them at Salem. To this new settlement Quakers flocked by scores and hundreds. They were left to organize the colony after their own fashion. Religious liberty was its cornerstone. They would persecute no man, they would not even defend themselves. "There," in Bancroft's words, "in 1681, met the first legislative assembly in the world, who said thee arid thou to all men, and wore their hats in presence of beggar and king." Their little colony of Salem remained thriving quietly and developing its own peculiar life until it was brought into touch with the rest of the world by the coming of a larger immigration of the same folk under a leader whose name has become known on two continents.

William Penn is one of the most striking and picturesque figures in history. His father was a choleric English admiral, and his mother a gentle German mystic. When their son was a lad of sixteen, a student at Oxford, he chanced to hear the wandering Quaker preacher Loe, and saw the "Inner Light." His tutors and spiritual pastors and masters labored in vain to withdraw him from the sect with which he cast in his lot, but the enthusiasm was in his blood from his mother. When they could not prevail, they sent him home to his father. The admiral stormed at him, coaxed him, reasoned with him, beat him, but the gentle lad stood firm. Then his father sent him abroad, thinking that change of scene would cure him. He furnished him with letters to the gayest and most fashionable people, thinking to distract him. Penn went to the Continent a dreaming Quaker lad, and returned an accomplished Quaker gentleman. He lived long at the French court, and learned manners in the society to which his renowned father's letters gained him admission. He studied at a Swiss university, and learned the theology of Calvin. He lived with the Mennonites on the Rhine, and found them of his spiritual kin. He returned to England a courtier, a theologian, a philosopher, the master of three living languages and two dead ones, a graceful leader of the minuet, the most expert small--swordsman in Europe, and a Quaker still. He inherited his grandfather's great fortune, and won the friendship of the dissolute King. Thenceforth he devoted his life and wealth to the fortunes of his coreligionists, and won thereby, as he richly merited, both fame and wealth. A part of his inheritance was a claim against the Crown for sixteen thousand pounds. It was regarded as the poorest of assets, but Penn was willing to take his pay in that which cost the King nothing but his signature. In quittance of his claim he secured Pennsylvania. Both parties were well pleased, the King to have his cancelled bond, and Penn to have a new land for his people. In 1681 Penn brought his large and well--equipped colony up the Delaware, passed Salem, where their friends had preceded them, and began the settlement of Philadelphia. To his great good fortune, he found his land occupied by Indians of a spirit similar to that of his own people. The Delawares had been harried and beaten by their fierce northern neighbors, the Iroquois, till they were in no fighting mood. His own goodwill and fair spirit gave them confidence, and led to that honorable treaty under the elm tree on the bank of Shackamaxon Creek. Penn's colony was spared the chapter of privation and want which all the others had passed through. It was strong from the start, and recruits came every month. The "New Light" had been spreading rapidly. There were fifty thousand Quakers in England alone. [Rowntree: Quakerism, Past and Present, p. 72.] In Wales their meetings were springing up on every hand. In Germany a multitude of kindred spirits had learned to know Penn. [Graham: Colonial History of United States, vol. i. p. 548.] From all these sources immigrants came pouring in.

It was meant to be for all time a Quaker State, but the names of its founders are now to be looked for upon the Communicants' lists of the Church. The descendants of Penn and Jennings and Shippen, of the Welsh Evans and Roberts, are now Episcopalians. The sect ceased long ago to be a power in America. It never made any converts in this country. When it had received the last of the immigrants who had become Quakers over the sea, its growth ceased, and long before that time it had begun to lose. The reason why is plain. Its fundamental tenet was false. This central error had become incased in a setting of customs and forms which has survived with great tenacity, but has had no power of propagation.

Why those who freed themselves from Quakerism should, as a rule, have come into the Church, is not at first sight so plain. It has not been the forms or the doctrines of the Church which has drawn them, but its spirit. The self--contained righteousness of life, the distrust of enthusiasm, the decency and propriety which have always been the Church's marks, have constituted the magnet. The Quaker, turned Churchman, has made a marked change outwardly, but it has not been accompanied by any wrench of the inner spirit. For this cause the gradual disintegration of that sect has been a constant source of gain to the Church. It began by a quarrel among the Quakers themselves. The Salem colony employed a Scotch Presbyterian, George Keith, a graduate of the University of Aberdeen, in the capacity of land surveyor. It was his first acquaintance with the Friends. He became deeply interested in them and their peculiar doctrine and customs. Presently he saw the "Inner Light" himself, and became one of them. He was a valuable recruit. He was, to begin with, an educated man, and they had few such. He was, besides, a born controversialist and pamphleteer. He set their vague thoughts to words. He challenged their opponents to debate, and became their dexterous champion. His pamphlets and tracts were eagerly welcomed, not only by the Jersey Quakers, but by the more important society in Philadelphia. The Philadelphians invited him to come to them, as head master of their school. He quickly became their leading man, their David against the Philistines. But presently there began to be whisperings that their champion was not sound in the faith. He began to intimate that, while the "Inner Light" was necessary, it needed something besides itself. The "candle should have a candlestick;" "the spirit must needs have a body." This heresy struck at the root of Fox's simple system, and the Quaker instinct quickly discovered the fact. A period of controversy within the Society ensued. Keith had many friends and followers, and was far more than a match for his opponents in argument. Finally the "Yearly Meeting" passed a formal condemnation upon him. He issued a Vindication, for the publishing of which William Bradford, printer, was sent to jail by the Quakers in their magisterial capacity. Keith accepted his expulsion, and set up a separate Meeting, where he drew a large following. An acrimonious controversy followed, which convulsed the settlement and arrayed friend against friend. [The documents with which the parties assailed one another are, for the most part, preserved in William Bradford's Publications, in the Pennsylvania Historical Society's rooms, and are curious reading.] While it raged Keith went to England upon private business. While there he took occasion to re--examine the whole question in a broader spirit, and was led to the Church of England, in which be took orders. We shall presently see him return as her first missionary.

There was a provision in the terms of Penn's grant to the effect that if ever twenty people in the colony should petition therefor, they should have the right to organize a Church of England parish, and apply to the Bishop of London for a minister. In 1695 such a petition was circulated, signed, among others, by several hundred of the "Keithian Quakers." The Quakers raged furiously against it--(if Quakers can rage furiously),--and the magistrates had the attorney who drew up the petition arrested, together with several of the signers. Their action was, however, so evidently without law, that nothing beyond annoyance and ill-will came of it. By this time the Quakers had been so overslaughed by other immigration that, taking the whole colony together, they constituted less than one--third the population. Among these others the majority were nominally Church of England people. About this time services of the Church began to be held in Philadelphia. Neither the time nor the place of the first Common Prayer worship can now be known. The Rev. Mr. Sewell of Maryland is the first clergyman who comes in sight. He visited Philadelphia from time to time, and held occasional services for the Church folk. The original place of worship is described as "a wooden shed, with a bell swung in the crutch of a tree near by." By 1700 Christ Church had been organized, a brick church costing six hundred pounds had been built, and the Rev. Thomas Clayton, the first incumbent, had taken charge. The town was still strongly under the domination of Quakerism, but the Keithians were ready to come into the Church. In the first few years of the parish more than five hundred of them were baptized. The growth was more rapid, however, in the outlying settlements than it was at the centre. Especially did it gain ground among the Welsh, whose seat was west of the Schuylkill. In 1700 there were missions planted at Radnor, Concord, Chester, and Perkiomen. These became the nuclei for the scattered Church families in the back settlements, and the Church grew apace in Penn's colony.

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