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 XIX. The War Of Independence.

The inevitable conflict; equal division of parties; exodus of Tories; lay Churchmen's position; position of the Clergy; "patriot" Clergy; "loyalist" Clergy; sufferings of the Clergy; desolation of the Church.

In 1765 the treaty which shut the French out of North America was signed by England and France. "Well," said the French minister as he signed it, "so we are gone; England will go next." His prophecy was quite correct. It had been fear of the French and their savage allies on the western frontier that kept the colonies from bringing their differences with England to a settlement long ago. Now that danger was gone. Before that they had two foes to consider, now they had but one. The questions at issue were fundamental. The war of the Revolution, like that of the Great Rebellion, was one of the inevitables. The social, the political, and, above all, the commercial interests of the two countries, were radically opposed. Absolute submission, peaceable separation, or fight, were the only alternatives. Men shut their eyes to the situation, and sought diligently for some fourth course, but there was none. In ten years from the French peace the issue was made up. Virginia and Massachusetts, the two oldest colonies, where the seeds of strife had had longest time to grow and ripen, led the American side.

Though the issue seems simple now, in the light of its result, it did net seem so then. The populace divided itself roughly into three classes. First, the great mass of the people, who were inert, apathetic, dreaded the possible calamity of war, and hoped that somebody would hit upon a way of adjusting the difficulties peaceably. Second, the small party of ultra "Tories," who could not conceive of opposition to the powers that be, and looked for relief from the clemency of the king. Third, the small party of patriots who looked forward to, and through, the coming struggle, and burned to have the question settled, by peaceable measures if possible, by war if need be.

But in such cases events move rapidly, and precipitate popular judgment. As men's passions grew more and more engaged, these two parties made forays upon the passive mass, and bore away recruits into either camp. When the two ultimate parties were finally made up they were nearly equally balanced, and remained so until the fortunes of war weakened the Tory side. Even in Massachusetts a majority were at first opposed to the war. The bill which gave it sanction was twice defeated by the Legislature before it was finally passed. In Connecticut the opposition was still more numerous. [Sabine : Loyalists in the American Revolution, vol. i. p. 27.] In New York the parties were so equally divided that when the Provincial Congress chanced to receive notices upon the same day, in 1775, that General Washington was about to cross the Hudson on his way to the headquarters at Cambridge, and that General Tryon had arrived in the harbor and was about to disembark, they ordered the colonel commanding the militia so to dispose of his forces that he could receive either the General or Governor Tryon, whichever should first arrive, and wait upon them both as well as circumstances would allow." [Sparks: Life of Washington.] In the far South the situation was the same. The South Carolina patriots and Tories were equally matched in numbers, and drifted into a savage enmity against each other, which was marked throughout the war by atrocities in which each side outdid the other. [Sabine: Loyalists, vol. i. p. 42. Roosevelt: Winning of the West, vol. ii. ch. ix.] In the early years of the war, as many as forty thousand Tories enlisted in the king's forces. [Sabine: Loyalists, vol. i. p. 71.] But a far larger number, unable to stem the popular current, and finding their lives in the colonies intolerable, left the country. They went back to England, emigrated to Canada, to Nova Scotia, to the Barbadoes, and to the Spanish settlements. Eleven hundred left Boston in a single day. [Ib., vol. i. p. 25.] They included all classes of people,--members of the council, merchants, clergymen, farmers, mechanics, traders. The mother and sister of Gouverneur Morris took the Tory side, and left the country. Ten thousand left New York alone at the time of its evacuation. Those who remained were roughly handled. They became the target of all popular abuse, were lampooned, defrauded of their debts, mobbed, shot at from thickets, tarred and feathered, smothered in smoke houses like flitches of bacon, had their cattle killed and their houses burned,--and, where they had the opportunity, retaliated in kind.

The significant thing to us is that, as a rule, they were Episcopalians. The Presbyterians and Baptists in the Southern, and, with but few exceptions, [Like Dr. Ryles, for example.] the Puritans in the Eastern colonies, threw themselves with enthusiasm into the quarrel, on the American side. [Baird: Religion in America, p. 215.] The position of the Churchmen was perplexing. They were more closely bound to England than were their dissenting fellow citizens. A large proportions of the laity, and almost the whole of the clergy, remained steadfast in their allegiance to the Crown until the end. But the situations of the laity and the clergy were not the same. The layman was attached to the English Church only on its spiritual, and not its secular side. The clergyman was bound by a double bond. Laymen whose political beliefs led them that way could at the same time say their prayers from the Prayer Book and fight against the king. They violated no sanction of conscience or previous obligation in so doing. From this class came an extraordinary proportion of the leaders of the Revolution. Washington and Patrick Henry were devout communicants. Franklin was a Churchman, so far as he had any religion at all. The Morrises, Livingston, Sterling, Jay, Richard Henry Lee, Madison, Morgan, the Pendletons, and the Pinckneys, are but examples of the men whom the Church contributed to the American side.

But the position of the clergy was vastly different. In the first place, a large proportion were English by birth and education. Nearly all, except in Virginia and Maryland, were missionaries of the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts." Their livelihood was at stake. At any sign of "disloyalty" their stipends would be cut off, [Perry: Historical Collections. vol. Mass. pp. 602, 609. White: Memoirs, p. 13.] and starvation would confront them. But, above all, each one, at his ordination, had definitely sworn perpetual allegiance to the king. This oath was the insuperable difficulty. It was recorded with the Bishop of London, and also in their own consciences. A very small class, insignificant in number but great in character and influence, believed themselves to have been absolved by the authority of circumstances. They reasoned with themselves that the ordination oath of allegiance to the king was but the historic declaration that priests must be obedient and docile citizens; that it did not mean literally to King George, but to the "powers that be," for which the king there stood; that when those powers were transferred, by forces with which they had nothing to do, to another rule under which they found themselves living, their allegiance was due to the new authority. They argued that the situation here was the same that had been in England at the Revolution of 1688. The great mass of the bishops and clergy had then transferred their allegiance from the de jure to the de facto king. Why should they not make a similar transfer of obedience to the Republic?

Being thus convinced, sturdy Dr. Muhlenberg accepted his colonel's commission, donned his new uniform, put on his gown over it, preached an earnest sermon to his thronged congregation upon the duty of the hour; then laid his gown over the reading desk, marched out of church, stood at the door with a recruiting sergeant's roll in hand, and enlisted a whole battalion of Continental troops on the spot. [Ayres: Life of Dr. Muhlenberg, p. 4.] Dr. White of Philadelphia became Chaplain of the Continental Congress, and never deviated from the patriotic choice he had made. Dr. Provoost of New York was so uncompromising a patriot that he could not bring himself, in after days, to forgive the Tory Bishop Seabury. But this sentiment was confined almost entirely to the clergy of the middle colonies. It found its formal expression in a letter to the Bishop of London in 1775, in which the clergy declare that "the people will feel and judge for themselves in matters affecting their own civil happiness; and were we capable of any attempt which might have the appearance of drawing them to what they think would be a slavish resignation of their rights, it would be destructive of ourselves, as well as the Church of which we are ministers. It is but justice to our superiors, and your Lordship in particular, to declare that our consciences would not permit us to injure the rights of this country, in which we are to leave our families." [Perry: Historical Collections, vol. Pa. p. 472. The signers were Richard Peters, William Smith, Jacob Duché, Thomas Coombe, William Stringer, and William White.]

But the majority of the clergy could not look at the case after this fashion. They could not lift the obligation of the ordination oath off their consciences even if they had wished,--and they did not wish. They were quite ready to join in any respectful address to Great Britain for a redress of the colonial grievances, but in their hearts they did not regard these grievances as being so very intolerable, after all. They looked at the situation with English eyes. They fondly hoped for, and urged, some amicable settlement of the contest. If no such settlement could be reached, then the same authority which taught them to fear God also bade them to "honor the king." Seabury and Inglis could not quiet their consciences by what they thought the shallow casuistry of White and Provoost. Above all things, they prayed to be delivered from being compelled to choose sides in the issue now joined. But this could not be. Congress appointed July 20, 1775, for a day of fasting and prayer, and called upon all Christians to assemble at their accustomed places of worship. The Church clergy were forced into a corner. To disregard the proclamation entirely would openly fix them in the opposition. To publicly pray for the success of the king and royal arms would be too much to venture. Pray against them they could not. But they must call the congregation together and have a service of some sort. Some said they were entirely ready to do so, for surely never were times when fasting and prayer were more needed. All but four of the clergy in the country, of whom Dr. Seabury was one, opened their churches. [Perry: Historical Collections, vol. Pa. p. 479.] But their real sentiments came out in their sermons. The burden of them was compromise. If that could not be done, then, it was intimated rather than said, submission would be the duty.

The popular indignation was profound. Laymen declared that the clergy did not voice the real feeling of Churchmen. Newspapers reviled them as Tories, traitors, and British emissaries. "No more passive obedience," was chalked upon the church doors. [Perry: Historical Collections, vol. Pa. p. 481.] One minister writes to England: "It is urged as a just cause of complaint against one of the militia captains, that he had lugged his company to church on a fast day, to hear that old wretch (meaning me!) preach, who was always an enemy to the present measures." [Ib.: vol. Pa. p. 481.] The Episcopal clergy stood condemned in the eyes of the party who were to carry through the War for Independence and build the Republic. The sentence was harshly carried into execution. The Connecticut clergy assembled at New Haven and determined to suspend all public services, and wait for better times. [Beardsley: History of the Church in Conn., vol. i. p. 318.] Those of New York retired to the seclusion of private life, exiled themselves to Nova Scotia, or moved within the British lines. Dr. Seabury became chaplain to a regiment of British infantry. The Church in Virginia was formally disestablished by the colonial government. [Baird: Religion in America, p. 220.] But neither seclusion, insignificance, nor high character was able to save the clergy from the fury of the populace. Their churches were wrecked, defiled, and burned. Their property was confiscated. Their cattle were killed. They were hooted, pelted, arrested, imprisoned, ducked in the pond, shot at, starved, and banished. The baneful old alliance of the Church with the State here produced its inevitable result. The Church, which in itself was not disliked by Americans, was wrecked because its fortunes were bound to a State which they hated.*

*The following partial list, compiled chiefly from Sabine's "Loyalists in the Revolution," will give any idea of the way the Church was devastated during the war:­

Rev. Mr. Adams, York, Pa.; soused three times in a pond and warned to leave.

Rev. H. Addison, Md.; banished, estate confiscated, of value of thirty thousand pounds.

Rev. John Agnew, Suffolk, Va.; banished.

Rev. John Andrews, Master Episcopal Academy, Conn.; banished.

Rev. East Apthorp, Cambridge, Mass.; banished.

Rev. Dr. Auchmuty, Rector Trinity Church, New York; church, rectory, and school burned; loss twenty thousand pounds.

Rev. Ephraim Avery, Rye; cattle killed, banished.

Rev. Luke Babcock, Phillipsburg, N.Y.; cattle killed; robbed, died.

Rev. Jacob Bailey, Dresden, Md.; robbed, starved, banished.

Rev. Thomas Barton, York, Pa.; imprisoned two years, died.

Rev. Daniel Batewell, York, Pa.; imprisoned, died.

Rev. Abraham Beach, John Beach, Conn.; harried, shot at, cattle killed.

Rev. John Beardsley, Conn.; robbed, banished.

Rev. George Bissett, Newport, R.I.; church wrecked, banished.

Rev. Jonathan Beach, Annapolis, Md.; imprisoned two years.

Rev. John Bowie, Md.; imprisoned two years.

Rev. John Brunskill, Va.; driven away.

Rev. John Bullman, Charleston; banished.

Rev. Mather Byles, Cambridge; banished.

Rev. Henry Carver, King's Chapel, Boston; banished.

Rev. William Clark, Dedham; imprisoned, banished.

Rev. Richard Clark, Charleston; banished.

Rev. Samuel Cook, Shrewsbury, N.J.; driven away.

Rev. Thomas Coombe, Philadelphia; imprisoned, banished.

Rev. Mr. Cooper, Charleston; driven away by his parishioners.

Rev. Jacob Duché, Philadelphia; first chaplain of Congress, turned Tory, banished.

Rev. Edward Edmonston, Baltimore; fled.

Rev. John Eversfield, Md.; tried, discharged as "too old to do any hurt."

Rev. Samuel Fayerweather, R.I.; "silenced."

Rev. Nathaniel Fisher, Salem, Mass.; imprisoned, banished.

Rev. John Graves, Providence; "silenced."

Rev. Matthew Graves, New London, Conn.; driven away by his own people.

Rev. Charles Inglis, Rector Trinity Church, New York; warned not to read prayers for the king; persisted in doing so; an infantry company entered church during service, with beat of drum, to overawe him; but he read the prayers; compelled to flee; his property confiscated; became first Bishop of Nova Scotia.

Rev. Thomas Johnson, Charlotte Co., Va.; "with a great bowl of grog in his hands drank success to the British arms;" banished.

Rev. Jeremiah Learning, Stratford, Conn.; his portrait nailed to the sign-post, head downward; imprisoned; left to suffer from cold and nakedness; contracted hip disease; lamed for life.

Rev. William McGilchrist, Salem, Mass.; "silenced."

Rev. Alexander McCrae, Littleton, Va.; mobbed, whipped, threatened with death; but persisted and stayed.

Rev. Mr. Micklejohu, N.C.; banished.

Rev. Richard Moseley, Litchfield, Conn.; banished.

Rev. Harry Monroe, Albany; banished to Canada.

Rev. Samuel Peters, Hebron, Conn.; mobbed, stripped, banished.

Rev. Jonathan Adell, N.J. ; arrested, escaped.

Rev. Joseph Reed, Newbern; ejected by his people.

Rev. Winwood Sergeant, Cambridge, Mass.; banished.

Rev. John Scott, Everston, Mass.; arrested, banished.

Rev. Samuel Seabury, D.D., Westchester, N.Y.; threatened, shot at, imprisoned, took refuge in British lines; made maps of Long Island for the British army, accepted British chaplaincy.

Rev. John Stuart, missionary to the Mohawks; arrested, chapel defiled, a bottle of rum emptied over the altar, banished.

Rev. Epenetus Townsend, North Salem, N.Y.; arrested, banished, drowned at sea.

Rev. John Troutbeck, King's Chapel, Boston; banished, captured by pirates.

Rev. Roger Viets, Simsbury, Conn.; fined twenty pounds, imprisoned, banished.

Rev. William Walters, Trinity Church, Boston; banished, property of seven thousand pounds confiscated.

Rev. John Weeks, Marblehead, Mass.; banished, died of poverty and exposure.

Rev. Isaac Wilkins, D.D., Westchester, N.Y.; banished, his writings dressed in tar and buzzard's feathers, and burned.

Rev. John Wingate, Orange Co., Va.; books burned.

Rev. Edward Winslow, Quincy, Mass.; banished.

Rev. John Wiswall, Falmouth, Va.; banished.

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