Project Canterbury


Three Score and Ten





FEBRUARY 17, 1889



Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012


THIS sketch takes us back to a period when New York was not the New York of to-day. As late as 1825, the total population of the city was only 166,086. Of this number 12,575 were colored people. Of the latter only sixty persons were taxed, while only sixteen were qualified to vote. At this period, also, slavery still existed in New York not being completely abolished until 1827. Fifty years ago only nine churches from this city were represented in the Diocesan Convention.

About the time the colored Episcopalians began to assemble in a distinct congregation, there were probably not a dozen colored householders in the whole city. But today how great is the change. Surely no people have greater cause for gratitude, even when temporal blessings are considered, than this class of the inhabitants of New York. The so-called "solid men" are to be found not alone in St. Philips' congregation but in all the religious benevolent [3/4] societies supported by the colored people of New York.

It is to be regretted that the disappearance of the early records of St. Philips Church leaves us with so little knowledge of the details of the parish history of that period. The absence of the records has driven us to such sources of information as are laid open in the Diocesan journals and the public newspapers, from which the writer, with much expense of time and labor, has gathered the greater portion of the facts that antedate the death of that most excellent and venerated man, the Reverend Peter Williams.

But, notwithstanding the absence of the early Church Records and the fragmentary character of the material at command, it was thought inadvisable to allow the semi-centennial of St. Philips' Church to pass without at least so much as the present recognition. We are also taught the necessity of securing and placing in a permanent form some account of the work in former days, by the fact that the sources of information are daily becoming more rare, and that the old men of St. Philips' Church, upon whose recollections we depend, are fast passing away.

This brief sketch will also serve to remind [4/5] the people of the goodness of God in the past and add another illustration of their ancient motto—


B. F. D.

This Preface was prepared at the date indicated for a sketch of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the parish history, and it is now allowed to remain.
March 1, 1889.




SUNDAY A. M., FEB. 17, 1889

EXODUS iii 12. And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this should be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain,

WHEN Mahomet undertook to found his religion, he went forth furnished with a Bible, or Book, now called the Koran. When the God of Abraham, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, began to raise up a people, he issued no book. A Book we indeed have now, but it was given, not at the beginning, but at the end. Four thousand years passed before he gave the full Book. This illustrates the difference between the ways of man and the ways of God. Mahomet comes to us with his hands full of so-called proof, but God comes demanding our faith. The false prophet gives his [7/8] demonstration now, but God tells us to wait and receive it hereafter. Hence, when God met Moses amid the solitudes of Horeb, called him to go down into Egypt and lead out his people, he gave him no Book, no Bible, no dazzling commission. For his personal encouragement he gave him only one assurance, and a singular assurance. It was the assurance of the text, which promised that, years hence, when he had been to Egypt, and had done the work, he should have a certain experience, saying, When you have obeyed and have brought out the people you shall serve God upon this mountain, amid whose solemn peaks and crags I have found you.

Lord, surely the people will not believe! Yes, Moses knew the people well. They were a stubborn, churlish people. But Moses himself had no doubts. It is not the great minds that doubt. It is rather the mark of greatness to believe. The men who have done great things in all ages have been the men of faith: Alexander, St. Paul, Caesar, Isaac Newton, Henry Martyn, Napoleon, Francis Xavier, Franklin, Luther, Washington, Savonarola—all men of sublime faith. It was on account of the small-minded people with whom Moses would have to deal that God gave miraculous [8/9] powers to the Shepherd's rod. For himself the future Lawgiver took, not the miraculous rod, but the divine promise. By faith he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; by faith he became God's ambassador, ready to serve in the present, and find the proof of the fact that Jehovah had been with him in the years to come, when he should be able, with the ransomed people, to serve God in the mountain out of which he had originally been sent.

This method is not human, but divine. Only God can deal with man on this high plane, for God alone, who knows all from beginning to end, dares to offer this sublime challenge of man's faith; God alone can afford to delay the proof, summoning man to act, and yet to wait for the demonstration during long years of labor and toil; God alone can confidently point to the hereafter. But, with Moses, that "hereafter" came, and, on the very mountain where God had met and called him, he stood once more with a worshipping people, and there he received the two tables of stone. The promise was fulfilled, and now he knew that he had truly been called of God.

My brethren of St Philips', can you not this morning discover some resemblance between [9/10] your experience and that of Moses? Can you not find a substantial portion of your parochial history in the text? Can you not find the proof in to-day's experience of the fact that it was God who called you to his work in the upbuilding of this parish? You and your fathers went out in faith from the fold wherein, as we shall see, this congregation was originally nurtured. You went into your Egypt on the mission to your neglected brethren. God sent you, appointed you. He gave you no splendid proofs of the reality of your mission, but you have the proof to-day, after these long years, in that you find yourselves, with the people led out, here in this beautiful and commodious sanctuary, worshipping God, as it were, upon the mountain. Accept, then, the situation of this morning as a token of divine guidance in the past.

Twenty-one years ago the speaker stood in the old church in Mulberry Street, and delivered the semi-centennial discourse of St. Philips'. For twenty-one years he has been a close observer of the progress of this parish, often mingling with the people and entering into both their joys and sorrows. It therefore affords him a degree of satisfaction that he can hardly express to stand here this morning, [10/11] privileged to recite, on your behalf, something of the long history of this people, adding, it may be, a word of counsel, perhaps allowable on the part of one who has known you so many years, and who no longer, with consistent reason, can claim to be young.

First, let us address ourselves to the story of the parish, which has passed the three-score years and ten, and is going on to fourscore. In telling the story, however, it will be needful, for the lack of time, to omit much of the material prepared, and which, on account of the loss of parish records, it has been necessary to glean largely from sources outside the parish and notably from old newspapers and Diocesan journals.

Whoever may have considered the subject attentively cannot fail to have discovered that St. Philips' Church is fully entitled to take rank as one of the historic churches of New York. In an important sense the story of St. Philips runs for a long way parallel with the history of ancient Trinity Church.

We find that from the surrender of New Amsterdam by the Dutch to the English, in 1664, the services of the Church of England were regularly maintained, and in 1697 the [11/12] parish of Trinity Church was organized. Throughout that period, no doubt, the people now represented by this parish were recognized in connection with the church services. When, however, in 1702, the Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was organized, special provision was made for them, and Catechists were employed to attend to their spiritual needs. Usually the Catechist was the Assistant Minister of Trinity parish, but for a long time, during the administration of the first rector, the Rev. William Vesey, the Catechist was Mr. Elias Neau, a Huguenot, who was described by Mr. Vesey as a "glorious professor" of the Reformed Faith. The name of Elias Neau is ever to be remembered with respect and gratitude by all people of African descent, both for his devotion to his charge and for his high moral courage, which led him to stand forth, without regard to fear or favor, as a purist and a defender of morals; doing this at a time when vice pervaded nearly all classes of society, and for the most part went unrebuked. The people of his charge were carefully trained by him in the principles of virtue and religion, often being convened at his own house, where they were received as men and brethren. The student [12/13] of that period can but mark the care that was bestowed upon the religious training of these people; for when the cruel and insane persecution sprang up against the African race in the colonial times, a broad distinction was made between those attached to Trinity Church and those who had not enjoyed their religious advantages.

Their special instruction, as a part of Trinity parish, went steadily on until the outbreak of the Revolution, many notable examples of praiseworthy Christian character appearing from time to time. During the Revolution the history of the wards of Trinity was varied, like that of the parish itself, everything being shattered by the seven years' war. When hostilities ceased the Venerable Society had ended its operation in the American Colonies, and the work of training was carried on, unaided, by the clergy of Trinity Parish. On entering the present century we find distinct notice taken of those whom we may truly regard as being, in an important sense, founders of the work subsequently recognized when the parish of St. Philips became a legal corporation. For instance, in 1805 we see Trinity Church buying a burial-ground for this portion of the people of the parish, it being stipulated [13/14] that, in the event of the formation of a distinct organization, the rights in the burial-ground should be transferred to the new parish.

The exact date of the beginning of special services in the Post-revolutionary period cannot now, perhaps, be determined. It is probable, however, that the Rector, the Rev. Dr. Provoost, began to care for the people at once. At all events, it seems to be clear that, prior to 1810, they used to assemble on Sunday afternoons in Trinity Church, even as in the Colonial times. Eventually the attendance became so large as to render it advisable to secure a separate place, where the services could be held without interruption: and where a lay reader might be employed, to the general improvement of the congregation. Accordingly, a room was secured in the building in Williams Street, occupied by the colored public school. [Probably established by the society organized in 1805 to promote free education.] It is said that the person placed in charge of this service was a Mr. McCombs, who died in 1812. [The late Rev. John Peterson, assistant minister of St. Philips’ parish, thought that the name of this person was Thomas, though it was publicly John, as he is said to have died in 1812, while the New York directory shows that John McCombs, deputy jailer, who appeared in the directory in 1809-10-11 disappeared in 1812.] [14/15] Subsequently the congregation removed to a room over a carpenter's shop in Cliff Street between Ferry (now Peck's Slip) and Beckman Streets. This room was furnished with only such furniture as was absolutely needed, being lighted up by candles fixed in square blocks. For the account of those services we are indebted to the late venerated and beloved Assistant Minister of this parish, whose memory carried him back to the year 1812, when he was accustomed to meet with the people there, under the direction of a lay reader, who afterwards became the first minister and rector of St. Philips, the Rev. Peter Williams, of blessed memory.

Mr. Peterson says that it was the practice of Mr. Williams to meet the children an hour before the time of public service, and to instruct them in the catechism. For the benefit of those who had never enjoyed literary privileges, it was the custom, as in many churches long before, and even afterwards, to line off the psalms and hymns, in order that all might join in the praise of Almighty God. It is said that during the life of Mr. McCombs, Mr. Williams was accustomed to assist him, and that he was one of four candidates for the office of lay reader, having been selected from the number [15/16] by ballot. Evidently the choice was ordered by the Lord.

In course of time it was found necessary to move again, and the congregation went next to a building in Rose Street, on the northerly side, near Pearl, situated on the site where, in 1824, the Friends built a meeting-house. [Mr. Samuel B. Haines, of the Society of Friends, writes that the lot where the meeting-house stood was about 100 x 200 feet, and that, with the opening of South Williams, Duane, and Chambers Street, the site became a part of the highway, or "was obliterated."]

It is worthy of notice that the special movement in support of public worship was being followed up at a time when the city was in a condition of great depression, owing to the uncertain relations of the United States with foreign powers, and that during the war of 1812, when the commerce of New York was paralyzed, the work was pushed forward with zeal, showing that seasons of public distress may prove the seed-time and harvest of religion. Nevertheless, in respect to organization, St. Philips' was later than some others. The African Methodists in this city built three houses of worship, in the years 1800, 1806, and 1809 respectively. The Baptists built in 1805, though the Presbyterians delayed until 1820. [16/17] The people who eventually founded St Philips were of a different stamp, showing a superior respect for ecclesiastical order and authority. Besides they always enjoyed the hospitality of Trinity parish, which circumstance alone would tend to delay the formation of a separate congregation until they could proceed with the full approval of all concerned; nor did they move to organize until they had obtained a solid standing and were prepared to organize on a genuine ecclesiastical basis promising continuance for all time. Hence they remained worshipping without parochial organization; and with such accommodations as their limited means would secure until the year 1818 when St. Philips' Church was organized in accordance with the doctrine and discipline of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Mr. Louis Francis and Mr. Thomas Zabriskie being elected wardens. [In 1816 there appear to have been a large number of colored people at Flatbush, Long Island. The Commercial Advertiser of July 7, 1816 tells us that at that time a number of gentlemen and ladies used to go over every Sunday to teach a school consisting of two hundred persons, whose ages ranged from four years up to seventy.]

In this year, throughout the entire State of New York, now forming five great dioceses, [17/18] there were only about forty parishes. In the city there were nine parishes and two chapels, St. Paul's and St. John's. Two parishes, St. Michael's and St. James', were situated far up the island, in what were then secluded rural districts. St. Philips' formed the tenth parish. Of the eight parishes and two chapels situated down town in 1818, only four now remain—Christ Church, St. Esprit, Grace Church, St. George's, and St. Stephen's having moved up. St. Philips' has accomplished more in the way of change than any other parish, though, as we shall see, the changes were all for the better, showing, not growing weakness, but increasing strength.

The work of securing a suitable church was then pushed forward with commendable zeal. To enable the new society to carry out their plans, Mr. George Lorillard, tobacconist, of New York, came forward and offered a lease of a parcel of land on Collect Street for sixty years, at an annual rental of two hundred and fifty dollars, with the stipulation that at the expiration of that time the land should become the property of the church. In order to carry out this benevolent intention, Mr. Lorillard placed the property in the hands of certain trustees, with power to fill vacancies. [18/19] The persons named were John Marander, Sr., Lewis Francis, Samuel Class, William Tate, Thomas Zabriskie, John Bees, Andrew Rankins, John Kent, George Lawrence, and William Whitson. The "said lease and the estate thereby granted to themselves and their heirs with the intent and design that the same shall be used and employed from time to time and at all times hereafter, for the use and benefit of the Protestant Episcopal African Institution in the said city, and with the intent that a church or place of worship of Almighty God, according to the rites and discipline of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York, and for the education in piety and useful learning of the children and descendants of the present members of said institution, and of such other persons as may hereafter be admitted and become members thereof, shall be thereupon built, erected, maintained, and established forever."

The land now being duly secured, the next step was the erection of the church. In this undertaking they also gained valuable and timely assistance from friends. According to the Christian Journal of August 1818, the parish was assisted by a donation from Trinity Church. Mr. Jacob Sherred also left by his [19/20] will two thousand five hundred dollars to aid in the parish. The journal above alluded to says:

"The corner stone was laid on the 6th of August, 1818. It is a wooden edifice of sixty feet by fifty, and thirty-six feet from the ground to the eaves; the basement being six feet above the ground, [is] calculated to afford accommodations for instruction. The church has galleries on both sides and in front, and contains altogether one hundred and forty-four pews. It has cost a little rising $8,000. The communion table, three small glass chandeliers, two folio and two smaller prayer books for the pulpit and desk, the greater part of the value of a folio Bible, and a carpet for the chancel, were presented by generous individuals. The late proprietors of Zion Church also contributed various articles, rescued from the conflagration of the former edifice of that name. The females of the congregation have defrayed the principal expense of the hangings for the pulpit and desk, and are about procuring communion plate."

The church was situated on Collect Street, now called Centre, between Anthony and Leonard Streets.

The work was conducted with much energy, and while progressing an accident occurred. [20/21] The New York Columbian of December 7 says:

"On Saturday last eight plasterers, employed in finishing the cornice of the church lately built in Collect Street, fell to the floor, by the scaffold giving away under them, and were severely hurt, though but one of them was dangerously injured. The height from which they were precipitated is twenty-eight feet."

Bishop Hobart, ever a fine friend of the parish, consecrated the church July 3, 1819, and in his report to the convention on the following October he said that the people contributed largely according to their means, and that the trustees were unwearied in their exertions to obtain contributions from others. The Bishop says that the work was done principally by their own mechanics, which shows the industrial position occupied by them in that day, and he also observes that the building was finished with judgment and taste. [Years afterwards Centre Street was widened, when it was found necessary to move the church back from the street; but the difficult task was safely accomplished.] Subsequent to the consecration he says, "I have since officiated in that church to a congregation . . . who were [21/22] remarkably orderly and devout in the performance of the service."

The New York Commercial Advertiser of July 6 also gives an account of the consecration services, saying that the prayers were said by Dr. Milnor, of St. George's Church, and that the Bishop preached from the text, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord" (Ps. cxxii., I). The main thought in the discourse was that of the great importance of public worship. [On the 3d of July last I consecrated the new church of St. Philips . . . To its erection they contributed largely in proportion to their means, and the trustees were unwearied in their exertions to obtain the contributions of others, and in their attention to the building while it was erecting, in which their own mechanics principally were employed, and which they have finished with judgment and taste. I have since officiated in that church to a congregation of colored people who were remarkably orderly and devout in the performance of the service,

The New York Commercial Advertiser of July 6 also alludes to the event. It says that in this discourse he pointed out in a plain but energetic manner the necessity and importance of attending public worship, and the manifold blessings that would certainly result to those who, with pure hearts and fervent zeal, approached the Most High in his holy temple. The whole business of the day was conducted with the greatest solemnity, and devoutly attended by the people of color, who are members of the congregation, as well as by a number of respectable white people, who also attended upon this occasion.]

[23] This year the record of baptisms was commenced. The first child baptized was Samuel Saltus, son of William and Else Thomas. The ceremony took place July 19, probably in the church.

The record of marriages does not extend farther back than October 21, 1820.

The next event to be noticed was the ordination of Mr. Peter Williams to the diaconate, which took place in St. Philips' Church October 20, 1820. [The Bishop, alluding to the event in his report to the convention, says that on the above mentioned day he "ordained Peter Williams, Jr., a man of color, Deacon in the African St. Philips’ Church, where," he says, "he still officiates, and is collecting a large congregation, who exhibit much order and devotion in the exercises of devotion."] It is said that Mr. Williams had previously gone through a course of study under Bishop Hobart, though it would appear that the candidate was a friend of the Rev. Dr. Thomas Lyell, rector of Christ Church. The Bishop, in his annual address the year following, says that Mr. Williams is collecting a large congregation.

The Commercial Advertiser has an extended account of the ceremonies, and says that in his preparation for the ministry Mr. Williams exhibited intense study and application, evincing his ability by his writings. Dr. Lyell preached [23/24] the sermon. This event seems to have made a decided impression upon the public. The services were so interesting that we may produce the account, as we have it entire. The Commercial Advertiser said the following day:

"Yesterday morning Mr. Peter Williams, Junior, was admitted to the Holy Order of Deacons in St. Philips' Church by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Hobart. The new deacon is a person of color who, being possessed of good natural parts, has much improved his intellectual faculties by intense study and application, and has written several little tracts which abundantly show that 'with God there is no respect of persons.' Mr. Williams is of unexceptionable morals, and as his zeal in the cause of our blessed Redeemer is well known, it is devoutly to be hoped that he be a useful minister in the Christian Church, and of great service in propagating the gospel among his African brethren.

"Prayers were read by the Rev. Mr. Smith, and a very appropriate discourse delivered by the Rev. Mr. Lyell, from the following words (II. Thes., v. 12-13):

"'And we beseech you brethren to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;

[25] "'And to esteem them very highly in love for their works sake. And be at peace among yourselves.'

"From these words the reverend divine pointed out the duties of a pastor to his congregation, and of his congregation towards him; and also the necessity of members of the same society living in peace and harmony with each other. The sermon was in every respect adapted to the occasion. The church was crowded, and it gave us much pleasure to find that there were many of our most respectable citizens present. The whole of the service was solemn, and it is hoped will leave an impression upon the minds of the audience which will not be speedily effaced."

Mr. Williams entered upon his duties with zeal, and his letter accepting the office of officiating minister breathes a truly apostolic spirit. Mr. Williams was not advanced to the priesthood until several years later.

The work of the parish, however, was not destined to go on without interruption, and a severe trial was visited upon the people by the destruction of the church, which was consumed by fire on the night of December 18, 1821. During the evening, members of the congregation had been busy in the church preparing [25/26] the Christmas decorations. About nine o'clock the fire was discovered, but all too late, as a defective flue communicated the flames to the woodwork, and in a short time the building was reduced to ashes. The Chief Engineer afterwards praised the firemen for their exertions, and the general opinion was that the neighborhood had an escape from a most serious conflagration. Bishop Hobart alluded to the fire in his next annual report, and spoke of the congregation as growing in numbers and in piety under the ministrations of the Rev. Peter Williams.

[The writer is at present unable to say where the congregation worshipped while the church was being rebuilt. The Spectator of December 21 says:

"About nine o'clock last evening, a fire broke out in the African Episcopal Church, which was entirety destroyed. There was a fire in the stove, as persons had been engaged in dressing the church with greens, preparatory to Christmas; and it originated from a crack in the chimney near the roof. The building, being of wood, was soon enveloped in flames. It was a very handsome edifice, having been erected but a few years since by the Episcopalians for the colored people of that denomination. The Chief Engineer remarked this morning, that he never saw the firemen behave with more coolness nor exert themselves to better advantage. The church was situated in the midst of wooden buildings, and the flames ascending to an unusual height, great fears were entertained for the safety of the surrounding neighborhood. But happily the progress of the devouring element was arrested. The destruction of this [26/27] church is a serious loss to the colored people, but we trust it will be replaced by a more durable building. The building, we are, told was insured to the amount of $8,000. See account of fire in New York by Evening Post, December 19. Taken from Advocate. Date not given.]

This was a serious loss to the parish, but, fortunately, the church had been insured for the sum of $8,000. The Christian Journal for January, 1822, after speaking of the fire, and of the character and services of the minister in charge, who was occasionally assisted in his work by the city clergy, and who testified to the devout and orderly manner in which divine worship was conducted, goes on to mention the fact that an appeal had been made to the public to enable the parish to rebuild, their aim being to make the new edifice fireproof. [Bishop Hobart, in referring to the fire, in his address in 1822, says:

"I have to notice the destruction by fire, in the month of December, of the Church of St. Philips, New York, appropriated to the people of color. This congregation was increasing in numbers, in piety, and in attachment to the sober and orderly worship of our Church, under the ministration of Mr. Peter Williams, Jr., one of their own color. . . Happily the building was insured; and the insurance money, with some additional contributions, for which the congregation being generally in low circumstances—they must trust to public beneficence, will enable them to erect a structure of brick instead of the one of wood, which was consumed. . . There is every prospect that the spiritual condition of the [27/28] people of color belonging to our communion in the city of New York will be essentially improved by this arrangement of their forming a distinct congregation, under the judicious, zealous, and prudent ministrations of their present pastor."]

So large a degree of success attended the effort that the new church was finished, and consecrated by Bishop Hobart, December 31, 1822. The Bishop says that the church was built upon the old foundation, which may not have been exactly correct, since the new church is described by Hardie, in his Gazetteer for 1827, as 70 x 40, the dimensions being larger than those of the old church. Still the Christian Journal for January, 1823, says that the new church is similar in size, the general plan and appearance of the interior being characterized "by simplicity, good taste, and economy." It is also stated that the church cost $2,000 in addition to the $8,000 of the insurance. Various articles for the equipment of the new edifice were contributed by Zion Church, having been saved when, in October, 1815, the house of worship belonging to that parish was destroyed by fire. Bishop Hobart says:

"On Tuesday, December 31, I consecrated to the service of Almighty God St. Philips' Church, in this city, belonging to a parish composed of colored persons. . . The [28/29] present church is erected on the same foundation, and is a very neat brick building. The prudence of the vestry in insuring the old church has enabled them thus speedily to repair the loss."

Hardie, in his Gazetteer of New York for 1827, speaks of the church as a "neat brick building, 70 x 40, containing 3,000 square feet." The Christian Journal for January, 1823, also says that this new church is "similar in size, and in the general plan and appearance of the interior, which are characterized by simplicity, good taste, and economy." It also tells us that the church cost $2,000 in addition to the insurance money, which was $8,000.

With the restoration of the house of God there came a renewed zeal in all departments of church work. Somewhat later the people secured an organ at a cost of one thousand dollars. Subsequently, on May 7, 1826, one hundred and fifteen persons were presented to Bishop Hobart for confirmation, as the Bishop says, by their "excellent pastor."

Finally, on July 10, 1826, Mr. Williams was advanced to the priesthood in the church where, as a deacon, he had labored so long and faithfully to purchase the good degree. The occasion was one of deep interest to the people, [29/30] and, in the absence of the parish records, we turn to the Christian Journal of August, 1826, which states that morning prayer was read by the Rev. Dr. Onderdonk, one of the ministers of Trinity Church, assisted by the Rev. Levi S. Ives, of Philadelphia, the sermon being preached by the Rev. Cornelius R. Duffie rector of St. Thomas' Church, New York. The candidate was presented by his old and faithful friend, who delivered the sermon on his admission to the Diaconate, the Rev. Dr. Lyell, of Christ Church. [For the account of this event we are obliged to go to the pages of the Christian Journal. It reports that "on Monday July 10, 1826, at St. Philips’ Church, in this city, the Right Rev. Bishop admitted the Rev. Peter Williams, deacon, a colored man, minister of said church, to the Holy Order of Priests. Morning Prayer was read by the Rev. Benjamin T. Onderdonk, as assistant minister of Trinity Church, New York, assisted by the Rev. Levi S. Ives, rector of Trinity Church, Southwark, Philadelphia; the sermon preached by the Rev. Cornelius R. Duffie, rector of St. Thomas’ Church, New York; and the candidate presented by the Rev. Thomas Lyell, D. D., rector of Christ Church, New York."]

Upon the elevation of Mr. Williams to the priesthood, the work went on with increased efficiency, though without any marked event that found a record in the history of the period Large classes were, from time to time, presented for confirmation. May 24, 1829, forty-eight [30/31] candidates were confirmed by Bishop Hobart, and March 11, 1832, Bishop Onderdonk being at the head of the diocese, seventy were confirmed.

As the year 1840 drew near, the Rev. Peter Williams found his health declining, and towards the close of that year, to the inexpressible grief of the congregation, he passed away. How short is life! In a few sentences we pass from the record of the ordination of the priest to the opening of his grave. On Sunday evening, October 18, Mr. Williams retired to his rest as usual, at his residence, 68 Crosby Street, but before the daylight appeared his spirit had fled. Bishop Onderdonk, who preached the funeral discourse in St. Philips’ Church, said, before the morning he awoke, "not to the light of this world, but to the glorious splendor of paradise."

Of the life, times, and character of the Rev. Peter Williams, it would be a grateful and acceptable labor to speak, but in lieu of my own words I would quote from the contemporary accounts, one of which says:

"The Rev. Peter Williams, son of Peter Williams, tobacconist, 53 Liberty Street, was born in New York City." The Rev. Mr. Douglas, in his sermon, which is hereafter [31/32] quoted, says that "at the age of seventeen or eighteen years he became a communicant member of the Episcopal Church of which Dr. Lyell was pastor," though it is generally understood that he was more or less a protégé of Bishop Hobart. In 1808 he delivered an oration on the African slave trade in which he strongly depicts its horrors. By some, his claim to the authorship of this oration was questioned, deeming it above his capacity; but Bishop Moore, who understood all the facts in the case, publicly testified to the contrary, and his affidavit, accompanied by others, was printed with the oration, which is well worth a perusal.

The New York Journal of Commerce for October 20 contains the following:

"SUDDEN DEATH.—The Rev. Peter Williams [colored], for many years pastor of the Colored Episcopal Church in Centre Street, in this city, died suddenly about three 'o'clock on Sunday morning. On hearing the alarm of fire about midnight, he got up and went to the windows being then as well as usual. In three hours afterwards he was a corpse. We learn that he had recently been troubled with asthma; but are not informed that this was the cause of his death.

[33] November 15, 1840, the Rev. William Douglass, rector of St. Thomas’ Church, Philadelphia preached a sermon to his people on "The Happy End of the Servants of God." At the close he alluded to the recent decease of the Rev. Peter Williams, and gave a just tribute to his character and worth. Among other things he says:

"He manifested a deep concern for the improvement, not only of the people of his charges but for his brethren generally. Hence he was fond of contributing his influence and pecuniary means towards supporting the various organized instrumentalities that had a tendency to elevate and improve the condition and character of his oppressed people. . . . He was not conspicuous in such matters. For no man, perhaps, was less given to display, or aimed less at popular applause than he. If he could hide himself from personal gaze he seemed best pleased. . . .

"Did he see a promising youth who lacked nothing but the necessary advantages to enable him to reflect credit upon himself and people, in a moral and intellectual point of view, he was the man that would spare no pains to get such an one in a situation favorable to the development of his powers. He took delight [33/34] in seeking out such cases. There is now a high school in the city of New York that owes its establishment to his untiring efforts."

After the decease of Mr. Williams, the Rev. Benjamin Evans, missionary at large, was engaged to officiate, being assisted for a short time by the Rev. Donald Frazer, and afterwards by the Rev. Alexander Frazer, also by the Rev. Ralph Hoyt, a man of fine poetic genius, who will be remembered in connection with American literature long after men of common minds who got the good things of life and overtopped him ecclesiastically have been forgotten. I would lay a wreath upon the tomb of Ralph Hoyt, as well as upon the grave of Peter Williams. In the spirit of Robert Burns, who conned his verses as he followed the plough, Ralph Hoyt framed his stirring lines while he drove the oxen, hauling stone for the foundation of his little church on Palisade Heights. No more gifted man than the author of "The Chaunt of Life" ever ministered to this congregation, and the people of St Philips' may well feel proud at the recollection of the fact, that Ralph Hoyt once stood at the altar.

In 1845 the subject of liberty was thrilling the people of America, and St. Philips' parish [34/35] found that the time had come to assert her rights. Application was accordingly made for admission to the Diocesan Convention. In 1846 the parish repeated the application, and entered fully upon a seven years' struggle for independence, though it would not be profitable to dwell fully upon the details of that struggle now. [Mr. James McCune Smith and Mr. Alexander Elston were elected delegates. The delegates presented their credentials in the proper form to the Convention, when, on motion of Mr. Henry Harrison a select Committee was appointed to consider the subject. A majority of the Committee reported in against the admission and the minority in favor. These reports were presented on the eve of adjournment, and no action was taken. The majority report took the ground that when the Rev. Mr. Williams was ordained it was understood that the church should have no representation in the Convention, and that the present application was a breach of faith; the incorrectness of which positions was shown quite clearly at a subsequent date. The report was replied to in a paper presented to the Convention the following year, when delegates were again elected, yet without any decisive effect. The majority report against was signed by Mr. John C. Spencer and Mr. H. Harrison and the minority in favor, by the Rev. Evan M. Johnson.]

November 9, 1847, the Rev. Alexander Crummell was elected acting assistant minister, though he declined the post. The connection of the Rev. Mr. Hoyt with the parish having ceased, the Rev. S. V. Berry was elected an [35/36] assistant for six months, but the term was extended to August 26, 1849. The Rev. Mr. Frazer continued as officiating minister until May 5, 1848, when he departed this life in perfect peace.

The Rev. Thomas Clark followed Mr. Frazer, and officiated until August 26, 1849. During a portion of the summer of this year the church was closed for repairs, and the congregation, through the liberality of Mr. John D. Wolfe, had the free use of a room at 360 Broadway.

August 14, 1850, the Rev. Dr. Morris was invited to serve for a time, but eventually was asked to officiate for five years.

In the year 1853 St. Philips’ Church was finally admitted to union with the Convention of this Diocese, gaining an overwhelming majority of the votes.

In 1856 another important event took place. At that time the great changes in the distribution of the population had left the church too far down town for the convenience of the great majority. It was, therefore, decided to dispose of the edifice in Centre Street, and purchase a better and more commodious building .One was finally obtained from the Methodists. This property cost the sum of $30,000, the greater portion [36/37] of the purchase money being derived from the sale of the old church.

The last service in the Centre Street Church excited many regrets, attached as the people were to the building in which the congregation had worshipped for thirty-five years. Temporary accommodations were secured in the Stuyvesant Institute, on Broadway, opposite Bond Street, where services were carried on through the winter of 1856-7.

The church in Mulberry Street was opened for divine services without any special ceremony, Dr. Morris officiating, and events took the usual course until February 8, 1859 when the term for which he had been engaged expired. Thereupon Dr. Morris was invited to officiate for another five years, but, on December 13, he felt obliged to give up his labors.

April 10, 1860, the Rev. William Alston, then officiating in the parish as deacon, was invited to take charge of the parish for a period of three years; the Bishop of the Diocese being requested, at the same time, to advance Mr. Alston to the priesthood. The proposition was not accepted, and November 1, 1862 he terminated his connection with the parish. Prior to this, however, the rectorship was [37/38] offered to the Rev. James Theodore Holly, now the Bishop of Hayti, who felt obliged to decline.

The Rev. Alexander Crummell was next invited to the rectorship; this action taking place October 17, 1862, and on April 10, 1863, his final answer was sent from Monrovia, in Africa, making known his decision to remain and labor in Liberia.

The wardens next engaged the Rev. Samuel D. Denison, D. D., and the Rev. N. S. Richardson, D. D. the one being the Foreign Secretary of the Board of Missions, and the other Editor of the Church Quarterly Review, and notably connected with church literature. They were engaged to serve the church in turn for the time being. Accordingly they entered upon the duty, and all went on as usual until July 1863, when the draft riots inaugurated the well-remembered reign of terror in New York City. The great rebellion was now in progress, and the call for troops resulted in the most terrible disturbance of the kind ever experienced in the United States. The feeling of the rioters was specially excited against the people of color, and, in the course of the struggle, their orphan asylum was sacked and destroyed, this act being one of the most [38/39] cowardly on record. It was accordingly found prudent to suspend the services of St Philip s' Church for a time, and the last service of this period was held on July 12. The next day it was no longer safe for the parishioners to assemble or even to leave their houses, and it was not until September that the congregation could conveniently appear in church for the worship of Almighty God, for the sacred edifice had been taken possession of by the military and used as barracks for the soldiery who were called out to suppress the rioters. St. Philips' Church, indeed, has a history, some passages being of a terrible interest, and which, if fully appreciated by the members of the congregation who belong distinctly to this present generation, might well excite in their bosoms that horror and alarm which filled the hearts of some of us who went through that dark and bloody New York episode of the war for the Union and Freedom.

When the day of rioting had passed, and the city had regained something of its former tranquility, it was found that the interior of St Philips' Church was well-nigh a wreck, and that it could not be used until thoroughly restored. Much time and money were spent in rendering it fit for divine service, yet it was [39/40] finally accomplished, at a cost of $2,468.47. After much delay the Government at Washington paid $333.33 as a rental, while the city of New York granted $1,100 as damages, leaving a loss to the parish in money of more than $1,000.

In 1863 Mr. John Jay, who had so courageously advocated the cause of St. Philips' in the Diocesan Convention, and who had served as a delegate to that body, wrote, as the autumn came on, declining to serve again, in the following words: "I pray you, return my cordial thanks to the vestry for their kind thoughtfulness in again doing me the honor. I never represented any parish with greater pride or more sincere pleasure than I felt last year in answering to the roll call of St. Philips', and in remembering the long battles that had been fought so many years to secure her representation in Diocesan Councils."

October 1, 1864, the terms of the Rev. Dr. Denison and Dr. Richardson had expired, but after three months, during which time the Rev. John Morgan officiated, Dr. Denison accepted the charge for a period of four years Denison re-entered upon his duties April 10, though continuing his connection with the Board of Missions as formerly. Impaired [40/41] health nevertheless obliged him to resign the charge on June 11, 1868, to the deep regret of the parish, whose members ever regarded him with the greatest respect and affection. The pulpit was, however, supplied until May 26 of the year following, when the Rev. B. F. De Costa, D.D., took charge of the services, the Rev. John Peterson, deacon, being soon afterwards elected as an assistant, charged with some portion of the Sunday service, but more especially with pastoral work, for which he was so eminently fitted, having been brought up in the parish from a child, and having been scholar, teacher, superintendent in the Sunday-school, a member of the vestry, and delegate to Diocesan Convention.

At this time St. Philips' was interested in a mission conducted in Clinton Arch, and finally adopted it as "The Mission of St. Philips' Church."

During the month of August of this year 1868, the church was closed for repairs and for the decoration of the interior, which were accomplished, the church being reopened September 29, when the building presented a true ecclesiastical appearance. This improvement gave great satisfaction, being in keeping with the growing taste of the people. On this occasion [41/42] a new and beautiful font of Caen stone was presented to the parish by the Rev. John Peterson, as a testimony of his continued love for the old parish. The pulpit and lectern were also gifts of friends, to the speaker unknown. On Sunday evening, February 16, a special thanksgiving service was held, recognizing the fiftieth anniversary of the organization of the parish, when the present speaker delivered the sermon, being followed by the Rev. John Peterson, who gave his personal recollections of affairs in the parish from his boyhood. The closing address was made by the Rev. N. K Cornwall, D.D., rector of St Matthias Church. The next rector called was the Rev. W Alston, May 14, 1872, his acceptance dating June 7. Mr Alston was the second rector. He was early called away, dying May 26,1874. Mr. Alston's successor, the Rev. Joseph Attwell was called February 9, 1875, accepting March 22 following, and being instituted by Bishop Horatio Potter, October 17 of the same year, the speaker being present at the ceremony, while the sermon was preached by the Rev. Thomas Gallaudet, D.D. rector of St. Ann's Church.

The work of Mr. Attwell was soon cut short by his death, which took place October 8, 1881 [42/43] being deeply lamented. The speaker was with him in the evening a few hours before his departure, and little dreamed that the man he saw before him endowed with so much physical strength, his firm military voice all unimpaired, would be no more when the morning light again broke into his chamber. At his memorial service the speaker provided a paper, containing an estimate of his life and worth, and he will not delay to dwell on his character now.

The present rector, the Rev. Hutchins C. Bishop was elected November 10, 1885, and was inducted March 14, 1886, coming to this work, as nearly every one present knows, from Charleston, South Carolina.

It was during his administration, therefore, that the parish left the church in Mulberry Street and came to this place. The same influences that operated to render it advisable to leave Centre Street, conspired to make the last change advisable. The people were rapidly moving away, leaving their former homes to be occupied either by the incoming foreign population, or be utilized for the purposes of business. Accordingly, on the evening of May 30, 1886, the formal farewell service was said in St. Philips, Mulberry Street, it having been the [43/44] privilege of the speaker to take part in the service, though the place was used for several Sundays afterwards, until the present building could be made ready.

Of course, much regret was felt on leaving the church where the people had been accustomed to worship for so many years. There was one source of satisfaction, however, to be found in the fact that, unlike St. Philips' in Centre Street, the building in Mulberry Street was to remain for the services of the church, though with another people and another speech, the sweet-lapsing, melodious Italian tongue. The old chancel, the gift of the late Mr. Ten Eyck, an aged and liberal member of the parish, will remain and do its appointed work, and there will be continued sacrifice and oblation of the broken body of the Son of God. The former workman has been removed, but God carries on his work. Besides, did we not owe a debt to Italy? One quaint old writer, after dilating upon what America owes to the Italian navigators, exclaims, "Unhappy Italy, that still hath beaten the bush for others to catch the bird, and hath inherited nothing in these western worlds!" This just reproach, which had stood on record for two and a half centuries, is [44/45] now in a sense, wiped out. New York has not yet built the monument of Verrazano the Italian explorer, who, first of all Europeans gave a description of the harbor of New York; yet we have given the Italians a church wherein they may worship God in a purer liturgy than that of Rome, and where the sacraments are ministered with a true Catholic font and altar.

The opening service was held in this edifice June 21, 1886, though it was then under consideration to remodel the building as soon as might be; and indeed the plans, I believe, have even now been only partly carried out, a new front with a tower being in contemplation.

Today we are assembled for the first time in this building, as remodelled, to present our heartfelt thanks to Almighty God for his goodness, and to congratulate the rector, wardens, and vestry on the success that has thus far attended their efforts acting on behalf of the congregation, to improve and beautify the house of God. After many changes, this congregation is once more at rest. This is the fourth church and at least the sixth meeting place, in which the congregation has worshipped since leaving its first home, in old [45/46] Trinity. These changes were simply inevitable, owing to other changes going on around them, and which no parish can control. Now, however, there is the prospect of permanence, unless, indeed, at some future period, when this house becomes too small for the congregation, a new and grander edifice shall rise upon these foundations. Yet, for the present, we may all be satisfied with the material prosperity, for St. Philips' today is greatly blessed. The parish now has the experience of age, with the freshness and buoyancy of youth. Threescore and ten have passed, and, as in the case of Ephraim, "gray hairs are here and there;" but the parish knoweth them not. Still, unlike the case of Ephraim, there is no need of knowing them, for the spirit of God can make any parish always young, always fresh, hopeful, and vigorous, and like a giant prepared to run the race.

There are many topics that it would be a pleasure to touch upon, but time will not permit. I cannot even speak of St. Philips' Home, of the acquisition of the cemetery at Cypress Hill, of the ordination of the late John Peterson and his entrance upon the diaconate. I cannot even call the roll of the clergy who have officiated from time to time, nor the roll [46/47] of wardens and vestrymen, nor mention the long line of men and women who in years past have been so useful in forwarding the interests of the parish. Still I may venture to mention the gift, the beautiful altar, presented by two well-known parishioners, Dr. Peter Ray and Mrs. Cornelia Guigon, in memory of their father and mother. We should also remember the chapel fitted up, I believe, by Dr. Philip A. White, as a memorial of our late friend, Miss Elizabeth Thompson, whose own day ended so soon, and so pathetically, not long after the sun set upon that day which every woman looks forward to as the day of her greatest happiness. God rest her tired soul in his own sweet paradise!

In closing, allow me a word of counsel. Remember, first of all, the source of your strength as a people. It is not of man, but of God. Our sufficiency is of God. Remember, that if we would have the help of God we must likewise help ourselves; and not ourselves alone, but others. This means that, in order to prosper, a parish must look beyond itself; that it must take an interest in the welfare of others; that it must maintain a large, generous, and beneficent spirit, and be filled with the spirit of missions, showing itself alive to all [47/48] those great issues which concern the welfare and the progress of humanity. Labor to enlarge and broaden the honorable record that St. Philips' has exhibited in the past; for the speaker believes that St. Philips' has been behind no parish all these years in the faithful discharge of its obligations and contracts, in connection with which it has exhibited an enlightened and generous spirit.

Let me counsel you, likewise, to go on in faith, as in days gone by, for I believe that in all these years St. Philips' has never once lost faith. Many changes have taken place, but it would be impossible to point to any change in these years that was suggested by a sense of weakness. On the contrary, every change has been dictated by a sense of growing strength. From the beginning, every change has been for the better and has exhibited a growing confidence. With this confidence there has ever been evinced a spirit of loyalty to the church, to her doctrines, worship, and ecclesiastical order. In days when patience was demanded St. Philips' exhibited patience, marvellous patience, showing gentleness, humility, and brotherly kindness in the face of arrogance, pride, and injustice,—patient endurance eventually winning the prize. Let [48/49] me exhort you to go on in the future as in the past, exhibiting all the olden faith and patience and the many virtues which adorn the individual and the parochial character. Be at peace among yourselves. Love one another as Christ also loved us. Silence the very first note of discord. Discourage the faintest appearance of envy and rivalry. Above all, remember the claims that your young rector has upon your support. In doing this, however, I could hardly do better than to remind you of the words of Dr. Lyell, addressed to the congregation at the ordination of the Rev. Peter Williams, and exhorting the people to be heedful to those set over them in the Lord, and to esteem them very highly for the work's sake. Give your rector in his toilsome work the benefit of your confidence, your material support, and your earnest prayers. Strengthen his heart by every possible token of sympathy and good will. Hold up his hands. Co-operate with him in the plans fixed upon from time to time for spiritual and parochial advancement. Support your rector with the heartiest good will. Seek by all the means in your power to make this parish a blessing to all around you, and show itself in every department a genuine living force. Make it, not one [49/50] of the churches of a dead past, but a parish of the nineteenth century, and ready to hail the next incoming hundred years, and to carry on its operations in that remarkable era to which we are hastening, in the spirit of the new times, doing all you do in the name of Christ to the glory of God.

NEW YORK, February 16, 1889





THE first to be mentioned is the church and land, 200 Mulberry Street, purchased in 1857, of St Paul's Methodist Episcopal Society, for the sum of $30,000. The funds for this purpose were raised in part by the sale of the old church and land in Centre Street. The property now has an incumbrance upon it of only $10,000 The property is probably worth at the present time not less than $50,000.

NOTE—Since the above was written the church property in Mulberry Street has been sold for the sum of $45,000, and the amount in excess of the mortgage, which had been reduced from $10,000 to $8,000, was used in purchasing the land and building, at present occupied by St. Philips' Church, in West Twenty-fifth Street, at a cost of $48,000.


These were originally purchased for a burial ground, by Trinity Church. They are now [51/52] worth $30,000, and are leased for twenty years from 1868 on an annual rental of $1,250.

NOTE—At the expiration of these leases, and upon a new appraisement, these lots, nine in number, were valued at about $100,000, and to protect what was considered to be the best interests of the church, long and expensive litigation was entered into, the net result of which has been largely in the church's favor; and, while not accomplishing all that had been hoped for, the authorities feel that they have been repaid for the outlay of money as well as for the anxious and untiring efforts of the special committee into whose special charge the matter had been placed.


In 1807 the Corporation of the City of New York and the Wardens and Vestry of Trinity Church each appropriated one lot of ground on Chrystie Street, near Stanton, to the colored people for a burial place. This land was vested in a Board of Trustees, with the understanding that, in the event of the formation of a colored Episcopal Church, the lots in question should become the property of the church. This eventually took place; but the growth of the city soon required abandonment of all burial grounds in that part of the municipality. Besides this the cemetery in Chrystie Street was completely full.

[53] At this juncture, Trinity Church came forward and purchased lots on Sixth Avenue and Thirtieth Street, at a cost of ten thousand dollars, which were made over to St. Philips' Church, by Trinity, who retained a mortgage without interest.

Only two bodies were deposited here before the authorities prohibited further interments. Next a lot of ground was bought on 105th Street, when a law was then passed prohibiting all burials (except intramural) on Manhattan Island.

This lot of land, which was sold to Mount St. Vincent Corporation, is now included in Central Park. It was purchased with the insurance money of a building which stood on the land at Thirtieth Street, and which was destroyed by fire.

The Parish then obtained liberty from the city authorities to sell the land on Chrystie Street, which was accordingly disposed of and a cemetery purchased with the proceeds at Cypress Hills, Long Island, whither the remains of the dead were all removed.

It would not be just to conclude this sketch without some allusion to the patrons and benefactors of St. Philips' Church.

Prominent among these stand the Corporation of Trinity Church. In 1835 [53/54] that corporation granted the sum of $9,000; in 1838 the additional sum of $2,000. It also paid the ground rent of the church in Collect Street, from 1826 to 1843, at the rate of $330 per annum, amounting to $5,610. In 1843 it allowed $300 for the support of the parish; from 1843 to 1846 it granted $400 per annum.

Among others may also be again mentioned Mr. Lorillard and Jacob Sherred. A large number of persons have also shown their interest from time to time in a smaller but still substantial way.

In 1820 the time was approaching when the parish should have a minister selected from one of their own people. This important fact was therefore formally announced to the congregation in the following address, which has no signature, but which was evidently read before the congregation:

FRIENDS AND BRETHREN: We have lived to see the day and witness the state of things, in relation to this church, on which our hopes and wishes and labors have been for years past suspended—I mean the regular organization of an Episcopal society of people of color, with a person of our own choice and preference regularly ordained to officiate among us in the [54/55] temple reared and dedicated to the glory of God. We congratulate you on these events as events which must, if we be not wanting to ourselves and to our children, infallibly secure to us and them the enjoyment and blessings of greater privileges and benefits than any, or all that we have heretofore experienced. Religion, the only solace and comfort of mature age and the sole qualification for happiness in another world, and learning, which of all things tends to rouse and exalt the character of our species, will henceforward be attended to among the rising generation of our color in a way and to an intent which augur the happiest results, The Parson with whom the great head of the Church has favored us, we are happy to learn from the reverend, the clergy of the city, who are most intimately acquainted with him,—and he is known and beloved by them all,—is eminently qualified to realize all our hopes and, under God, to advance our best interest for time and for eternity. His endeavors, we are sure, will not be wanting. He has devoted, to use his own words, in an official communication lately made to us, his body, soul, and spirit to our spiritual and temporal benefit and advantage. It is for these important ends that, at our request, he has [55/56] consented to abandon all secular and worldly pursuits, and promise, as he did at his ordination, to draw all his studies to the sacred work of the ministry. It hence devolves on us, as a duty which we are bound in honor and in conscience to discharge, to take care that, while he ministers to us in spiritual, we should minister to him and his family in temporal things. We have pledged ourselves to do this, and the church and community of this city and of the world, as far as we are known, wants to see the redemption of that pledge. We can, if united and impressed with the dignity of the privileges we enjoy, most assuredly redeem it, and without any material inconvenience to any member of the congregation; for where is the member of this congregation who cannot contribute for the support of the establishment with which we are blessed the small pittance of sixpence a week? Brethren, there is, it is believed, none which cannot and who, it is hoped, will not do this much. And if we are all united in doing this much, we shall proceed on our course in the enjoyment of our long anticipated privileges—with cheerfulness and joy. But we do not think that it is necessary to enlarge on this subject. We hope none will be backward to do what they can, and in doing that, [56/57] the Vestry of this church will find to their own satisfaction and to the satisfaction of the religious community, who anxiously wait the issue of the experiment, that we have not been disappointed.

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