Saint Stephen’s Church in Providence: The History of a New England Tractarian Parish

By Norman Joseph Catir, Jr.

Providence, Rhode Island: St. Stephen’s Church, 1964.



The Laying of the Foundation



PROVIDENCE during the third decade of the nineteenth century was, in many respects, a microcosm of our mid-twentieth century city. The Providence River, the Cove, and the Moshassuck River extended inland from Narragansett Bay clearly defining the precipitous pitch of the East Side’s College Hill from the more gradual slope of the West Side’s Weybosset Hill. A bridge at the foot of College Street near the bustling East Side hub, Market Square, connected the geographically divided city. The East Side center of finance and commerce ran north and south close to the bank of the river along Main Street. The West Side center had started to extend westward along Westminster Street. The 1828 Arcade was one of the prime glories of this area. Although the East Side was the older section of the city, by 1832 the West Side had a population of equal size; the total amounted to 17,000.[1] Already Westminster Street was beginning its long era of commercial eminence. Undoubtedly, a contemporary man, dropped into the Providence of the 1830s, would recognize more buildings on the East Side than on the West Side. This more historic section of the city has experienced, on the one hand, less twentieth-century economic and commercial growth, and on the other, more careful preservation, than has her westerly neighbor.

The Providence churches followed the same general pattern of growth as the city. The first parishes were formed on the East Side, and were built close to the foot of the hill. The First Baptist Society in America, the First Congregational Society (now the Unitarian Society), and Saint John’s Episcopal Church (presently the Cathedral of the Diocese of Rhode Island) stretched from north to south along the hillside. The second group of parishes next was formed on the West Side. Subsequently a second group of East Side parishes developed, and among them was Saint Stephen’s. In this manner the Providence churches grew maintaining a fairly even numerical balance between the two sides of the town.

On Saint Barnabas Day, June 11, 1722, the first Episcopal parish was organized as the King’s Church. In 1721 Gabriel Bernon, the French Huguenot, had set this project in motion. The population in Providence was then 10,000. In 1794 the King’s Church became Saint John’s in Providence by legislative act.[2]

In 1829, more than one hundred years after the foundation of Saint John’s, the second Episcopal Church in Providence, Grace Church, was founded on the West Side.

There are several reasons for this long period of status in quo. The city itself had grown slowly, and 117 years had brought a population increase of only 7,000. The American Revolution had dealt a far more severe setback to the Church of England than it had to any other religious group. Rhode Island’s four colonial parishes, Newport (1698), Narragansett (1707), Bristol (1720), and Providence (1722), had survived the Revolution, but existed without great vigor.

However, the second and third decades of the nineteenth century saw a remarkable recovery in the Episcopal Church all over the United States. Men such as Bishop John Henry Hobart of New York and Bishop Alexander Viets Griswold of the Eastern Diocese, which encompassed all of New England but Connecticut, had, together with a growing group of devoted clergy and laity, extended the strength and influence of the Episcopal Church far beyond the limits of its immediate post-Revolutionary boundaries. From 1820 onward, the Episcopal Church grew apace with the nation, and the parish life of Providence presented a fair example of such ecclesiastical increase and prosperity.

By 1840 the population of Providence had increased to 23,172, a gain of 6,000 people in eight years. When one remembers that the 117-year period previous to 1832 had seen a population increase of only 7,000, this eight-year increase was very large indeed. The trend continued, and by 1850 the population of Providence had expanded to 41,503.[3]

During this period of growth in the early 1830s, probably about 1833, some Episcopalians from Saint John’s who lived in the southern part of the East Side of Providence, in the neighborhood of south Benefit Street, began to hold services in a private home on stormy Sundays. The Church Street hill from Benefit Street to Main Street, by the south side of Saint John’s, was very hard to negotiate on slippery days. Often the Episcopalians living in the southern part of the East Side met in the double living room of the home of Nicholas Stillwell at 13 John Street to hear Morning Prayer read by a layman.[4] After a time these people met every Sunday; and, in the same large double parlor of the Nicholas Stillwell home, Mrs. Stillwell held the first meeting of Saint Faith’s Guild.[5] Evidently one root of the parish which was eventually to become Saint Stephen’s in Providence grew from a practical need to worship.

In 1837 the second root sprang from Francis Vinton’s suggestion to his brother, the Reverend Alexander Vinton, rector of Grace Church, Providence, that a church school was very much needed in the southern part of Providence. The Reverend Alexander Vinton saw the need and encouraged his brother, who was to be ordained deacon September 30, 1838, to gather some teachers from the congregation of Grace Church in order to start the school. Francis Vinton took Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Ames, William Blanding, Gideon Gurnett, Miss Spaulding, Mrs. Burrough, and several others to teach in the new church school.[6] Among these other teachers was a young man who later (1850-1886) became the second dean of Nashotah House Seminary, Azel D. Cole.[7]

There is some disagreement concerning the location of the building in which the new church school was held. On October 23, 1837, the Reverend Doctor Nathan B. Crocker of Saint John’s Church and the Reverend Mr. Vinton of Grace Church, together with their associates, were authorized to use one of the schoolrooms in the third district schoolhouse one evening each week for religious meetings.[8] The third district schoolhouse was located on Transit Street, west of the corner lot at Benefit and Transit Streets, upon which Saint Stephen’s first permanent building was later constructed in 1840. Another tradition holds that the church school, from which the parish of Saint Stephen’s was formed, first met in a schoolhouse (Miss Page’s) located at the corner of Hope and Williams Streets, the place subsequently occupied by the Hopkins house.[9] The first tradition asserting the Transit Street location seems the more likely. The Hope Street location was rather far from the East Side center of population in 1837, and the early activity which eventually developed into Saint Stephen’s parish seems to have been centered in the neighborhood of Benefit Street south.

In 1838 The Infant Schoolhouse was purchased by subscription, moved to Thayer Street between John and Arnold Streets, and converted into an Episcopal chapel.[10] Professor Henry B. Huntington, scholar and long-time resident of John Street, places the chapel on the west side of Thayer Street, between John and Arnold Streets, about two thirds of the way toward Arnold.[11] This locates the first chapel at 26 Thayer Street; the old numbering system assigned this lot the number 17.

Extensive investigation has been done by the unknown author of S. Stephen’s Historical Notebook in order to discover the origin of the building which presently stands at 26 Thayer Street. It is impossible to determine definitely whether the building now standing at 26 Thayer Street was there in 1838; however, it is entirely probable that it might have been. The structure, squeezed into a tiny lot, is a narrow, small one, with a slightly pitched roof, and an air unlike the private houses of either the early or the late nineteenth century. The plaster ceiling on the second floor is convex, indicating a school, chapel, or public building of some sort.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century 26 Thayer Street was used as a drug store, and Professor Huntingdon believes that this drug store was located in the former chapel.[12]

And so the embryonic parish developed. At some time before January 31, 1839, the two groups, the parishioners from Saint John’s who had met in Nicholas Stillwell’s double parlor, and the south-end church school of Grace Church, came together. For on January 31, 1839, the united group met in the chapel on Thayer Street to organize a parish. Present were the Reverend Doctor Crocker of Saint John’s Church, Samuel Ames, William Blanding, Joseph Adams, Gideon Gurnett, William Burrough, John B. Chace, Nicholas Stillwell, William Harding, Alvan D. Parker, H. Chafee, Henry Gardner, and James W. Newes. Doctor Crocker occupied the chair, and Samuel Ames was made secretary of the meeting. A vestry was elected, consisting of William Blanding, senior warden; Gideon Gurnett, junior warden; Joseph Adams, Henry Gardner, later elected treasurer; Edward J. Mallett, Joseph S. Cooke, and William Burrough, secretary of the society and of the vestry.[13] At this initial meeting Doctor Crocker suggested that the new church be named in honor of Saint Stephen the protomartyr. It was also suggested that the name Trinity Church be adopted. But because there had already been two unsuccessful attempts to found a Trinity Church in Providence, the newly constituted vestry voted to adopt the name Saint Stephen’s Church.[14]

The men who met to form Saint Stephen’s Church occupied diverse stations in life. Several were to achieve substantial prominence in their vocations. Samuel Ames was an attorney of high repute. From 1856 to 1865 he presided as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. Ames also had married into a venerable Providence family. His wife was the former Mary Throop Dorr, daughter of Sullivan Dorr and sister of Thomas Dorr, instigator of the famed Dorr Rebellion of 1843 which sought to enlarge suffrage rights.[15] Colonel William Blanding, the first senior warden, was the son of a Revolutionary War colonel, whose family was highly respected in Providence.[16] He worked as an auctioneer. Gideon Gurnett, the first junior warden, was a merchant tailor. Nicholas Stillwell ran a hardware business and made a specialty of importing Dutch brasses. Joseph Adams was a tallow chandler. Henry Gardner started as a clerk in the High Street Furnace Company and later achieved fame as a sea captain. William Burrough practiced dentistry and ran a boarding house. Luther Lyon and Wheeler Blanding were both house carpenters.[17] Among the other early members of Saint Stephen’s Church were Stillwell Z. Olney, Jeremiah I. Cole, Austin Gurney, William Merewether, R. W. Potter, Oliver C. Nye, Charles F. Searle, Benjamin C. Harris, Samuel P. Warren, and Joseph Cooke. Their occupations included those of physician, lumber dealer, laborer, shoemaker, sheriff, painter, house carpenter, and dry goods merchant.[18]

The one thing these men had in common was a geographical proximity. Nearly all of them lived and worked in the southern section of Providence’s East Side. Many had offices or shops on South Main Street. Others listed their business address as Fox Point. Beyond the common ties of neighborhood and faith, the founders of Saint Stephen’s shared little resemblance. A case is sometimes made for the idea that Saint Stephen’s was founded for the great families of south Benefit Street.

The distinction between north and south (Benefit Street) was said to be that Benefit Street north had its coachmen, while Benefit Street south had coachmen and footmen.[19]

While there obviously have been some coachmen delivering their masters and mistresses to Saint Stephen’s over the years, from the very beginning many of Saint Stephen’s people have not owned so much as a coach. And so far as footmen are concerned, shoes are as close as many of them have come to this convenience.

On April 12, 1839, this small, diverse group unanimously called the Reverend Francis Vinton, twenty-nine years old, to be their first rector at a salary of $400 a year. The pew rent in the chapel was expected to cover the rector’s salary.[20] The young Mr. Vinton, who had initiated the South End church school in 1837, had, after his ordination, taken charge of Saint Paul’s and Ascension parishes, South Kingston. Mr. Vinton accepted the call to the rectorate of Saint Stephen’s Church and entered upon his duties on the third Sunday after Trinity, June 16, 1839. For the first Sunday service of the new parish all seats were declared free.[21]

Shortly before Mr. Vinton’s arrival the vestry had elected William Blanding, Gideon Gurnett, Henry Gardner, and Joseph Adams delegates to attend the June, 1839, convention at Saint John’s Church. The delegates made application for admission of Saint Stephen’s to the Convention of the Diocese, and their application was accepted.[22]

By August, 1839, the infant parish had begun to look for a site upon which to build a proper church. Joseph Adams and Luther Lyon were elected a committee to select a suitable location for the future church building and to ascertain terms of purchase.[23] A lot was found and purchased for $1,800, at the northwest corner of Benefit and Transit Streets.[24] Certain members of the parish, led by Nicholas Stillwell, opposed this location, favoring one in the neighborhood of the Unitarian Society. Margaret B. Stillwell says that there were two reasons for their opposition. First, they maintained that the Benefit-Transit Street corner was not central enough. Second, the lot was a small one and left no room for expansion of the church. Immediately to the north is the Pardon Tillinghast burial ground. Nicholas Stillwell was a Tillinghast descendant, and did not wish to have the bodies of his ancestors disturbed. Those in favor of the Benefit-Transit Street location prevailed. Luther Lyon purchased the land in his own name from Willard Fairbanks and later sold it to the corporation of the parish.[25] By October of 1839, $3,000 had been raised toward the new church building. The economic pressure of the financial panic of 1837, however, caused the vestry to curtail efforts to raise any more money for a short period.[26]

About this same time Samuel Ames was made a committee of one to draw up an act of incorporation and present it to the state General Assembly.[27] On October 28, 1839, the General Assembly met at Kingston. Saint Stephen’s petition for a charter was read and laid on the table on October 31; on November 1, 1839, All Saints’ Day, the charter with some amendments was granted.[28] The names of the rector and the vestry appear on the charter as the legal founders of Saint Stephen’s Church in Providence.

Today it is casually assumed that any form of church polity not subversive or detrimental to the national welfare is agreeable to the state and federal government. It must not be forgotten, however, that 1839 was not far distant from the days of Calvinistic domination in New England, and that in those days only one form of church government was totally acceptable to the secular authorities. The amendments to Saint Stephen’s charter, as well as sections of the charter’s general tone, reflect the shadow of Calvinistic influence from the community. The petition shows that the subscribers had formed themselves into a Religious Society, a typical Puritan term to designate the formation of a parish church. The General Assembly cut the value of real property which the corporation could hold from $100,000 to $40,000. Reference to the governing power of the canons of the diocesan and national Church was stricken from the original draft of the charter. The first draft demanded the call of fifteen corporation members in order to have a corporation meeting. The amendment cut the number necessary to five. The original draft allowed membership in the corporation only to each owner, lessee, or hirer of a pew, not a member of any other church or religious society. The General Assembly made any pew-owner, lessee, or hirer a corporation member. Some of these changes in the corporation charter may look like a liberalization of the parish organization, but understood in their historic context, they represent the forces of Puritan conservatism attempting to imprint a congregational polity upon an Episcopal church.

It is not hard to discern, however, that the founders of Saint Stephen’s intended to set their parish upon a definitely Anglican course. From the beginning of his rectorate, Francis Vinton always presided over the meetings of the vestry and of the corporation. When the charter petition was presented to the General Assembly, Mr. Vinton’s name stood at the head of the list of subscribers. The Anglican paternal image of the rector, as father and ruler, clearly stands out in every early relationship between the priest and people of Saint Stephen’s.

On December 5, 1839, a subscribers’ meeting was held to receive and adopt the charter granted by the October session of the General Assembly. Section by section the charter was read, and, as a whole, it was adopted.[29]

While the young parish was busy securing its corporate identity, building plans began to move forward. At first a wooden church building was contemplated. The subscribers had authorized plans for such a structure to be drawn up.[30] The city ordinances, however, did not allow wooden structures to be built in the area of south Benefit Street in 1839. So the resolution to build in wood was rescinded by the corporation in January, 1840, and it was voted to build the new church of rubble stone, faced with concrete.[31]

Contracts for the structure were closed by March, 1840, and a small southern portion of Saint Stephen’s lot, at the corner of Benefit and Transit Streets, was exchanged with the city for a small portion of its third-district school property running to the west at the rear of the church lot. This was done in order to widen Transit Street. On April 15,1840, the Reverend Francis Vinton laid the first stone of the new building, and by Easter Monday, 1840, the workmen were constructing the foundation.[32]

Just as practical details for the building had begun to materialize, Francis Vinton, the first rector, submitted his resignation to take effect on Easter Monday, 1840. The corporation accepted Mr. Vinton’s resignation and authorized the wardens and vestry to seek a new rector.[33] Mr. Vinton had accepted a call to become rector of Trinity Church, Newport, Rhode Island. It is not surprising that this young man was whisked from the grasp of the infant Saint Stephen’s congregation almost before it had settled down under his leadership. Even during his short rectorate the number of communicants had increased from seventeen to forty-nine, and prospects for the future looked promising.[34] Undoubtedly the first rector’s background as a native of Providence accounted for much of his success. In addition he had received a good education at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, for an army career, at Harvard University for the legal profession, and at the General Seminary in New York for the priesthood.

Francis Vinton could never have been considered a Tractarian Churchman, either during his time at Saint Stephen’s or afterward. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Muhlenberg Memorial which proposed the bestowal by Episcopal bishops of valid Catholic orders upon clergy of the Protestant denominations,[35] and this position would place Vinton in the broad church camp. Toward the end of his life, during his work as assistant at Trinity Parish, New York, and as professor of Ecclesiastical Polity and Law at the General Seminary, his ceremonial was influenced by the Tractarians. However, we have no reason to think that his theology moved in the Catholic direction. In 1848 he was elected Bishop of Indiana, but declined the office. He was the author of several books. He died in Brooklyn, New York, September 29, 1872, and is buried in Newport, Rhode Island.[36]

The vestry presented the names of the Reverend George Leeds of Salem, Massachusetts, and William R. Babcock of Providence, a senior at the General Seminary, New York, as candidates for the rector ate of Saint Stephen’s.[37] The Reverend George Leeds was elected rector; however, he notified the vestry that he was not free to leave Salem, Massachusetts, until after June, 1840. The vestry replied by raising the salary to $500 a year and requesting him to come as soon as his time in Salem expired.[38]

Finally, Mr. Leeds accepted the rectorate of Saint Stephen’s, but his arrival was delayed until the early part of October, 1840. From the first Sunday after Easter, 1840, until the seventh Sunday after Trinity, August 2, 1840, the Reverend John Rouse supplied. During this time Mr. Rouse faithfully preached three times on every Sunday and once on Friday evening, and attended a prayer meeting on Thursdays for a portion of the time.[39] The existence of a prayer meeting suggests Evangelical leanings in the parish during this period.

One indication of the high regard in which the people of Saint Stephen’s held Mr. Rouse, or perhaps of the respect with which they esteemed the priestly office, may be seen in the vestry’s request that he preside at certain vestry meetings.[40] And yet, as a supply priest, Mr. Rouse was not even a legal member of the vestry.

In June, 1840, the vestry authorized the purchase of a pipe organ. The price finally amounted to $1,750.[41] Soon, mention of a choir came into the vestry discussions. Jefferson Perkins was elected president of the choir in November, 1840, and was asked to form it under the direction of the rector.[42]

Nine weeks intervened between the departure of Mr. Rouse and the arrival of the Reverend George Leeds. Finally, on the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, the second rector officially took up his duties.

On November 26,1840, the first permanent edifice of Saint Stephen’s parish was completed and was consecrated by the Right Reverend Alexander Viets Griswold, Bishop of the Eastern Diocese. A large body of clergy was present at the consecration of the medium-sized Federal structure. Doctor Crocker of Saint John’s, Providence, read the sentence of consecration. The Reverend Francis Vinton and the Reverend Charles Taylor also took part in the service.[43]

The building now standing at the northwest corner of Benefit and Transit Streets, which was Saint Stephen’s first home, is an unpretentious structure. Naturally, a number of interior changes over the twenty-one years of Saint Stephen’s occupancy added to its churchly appearance. But in the beginning it possessed scarcely more than a tower and two floors, with lecture room in the basement and church on the first floor. The interior had eighty-two pews, with two side aisles and no center alley. The total cost of the structure, including the organ and land, was $13,000. In 1912 Lucius Waterman gave an interesting description of the interior of the building.

The old Saint Stephen’s Church—the building, I mean, as it stood about fifty years ago, was a four-cornered room with a back gallery for organ and choir, and in front a railed off space in which two massive boxes with cushioned desks on the top served for reading desk and pulpit, respectively. A little communion-table stood at the back of the little chancel, against a screen which concealed the steep flight of narrow stairs by which the officiating clergyman climbed up from the robing-room in the basement. Very primitive, you will think, and very meagre. Well that poor room represented a great advance, won through painful struggle. I can just remember that putting in of the two boxes. I cannot recall what it was that preceded them. Probably it was a combination of pulpit and reading desk in one, set back against the wall, with a tiny table in front of it.[44]

Simple as this building was, its cost seemed to lie beyond the means of the young parish. On November 30, 1840, the pews were put up for sale in an effort to cover the entire price of the new structure.[45] The effort to raise sufficient funds to meet building costs failed, but several loyal parishioners came to the rescue with incentives and material aid. Joseph Cooke donated a 972-pound bell cast by Alfred Ivers of New York, provided the parish was out of debt by Easter Monday, 1846.[46] Finally, on June 18, 1841, Arba B. Dike kindly consented to take a $4,500 mortgage on the church to relieve the immediate financial pressure.[47]

Mr. Leeds was a faithful pastor and a good preacher. At the death of President Harrison he preached a sermon so much admired that the corporation requested him to have it printed.[48]

To the Reverend George Leeds we may trace the first definitely Tractarian or Oxford Movement teaching in Saint Stephen’s parish. During 1841 Mr. Leeds held services on Holy Days as well as on Sundays. He also catechized the church school children in the presence of the congregation.[49] Both of these practices indicate a distinct Catholic leaning for the early 1840s. Even more significant were the ceremonial changes introduced by Mr. Leeds.

The great battle was fought, back in the year 1840, by a young Deacon, the Reverend George Leeds. He instituted what was a startling change. He would not read prayers from behind the reading-desk, with his face toward the people. He used the reading-desk for the lessons only, and said the Service otherwise at the left hand end of the Communion-table, with his side toward the people.[50]

This practice, considered entirely normal today, brought down the wrath of the Evangelical Bishop Griswold. In his convention address of 1841 he said,

It is pleasing to see the improvement which is generally being made in the construction of our churches. Saint Stephen’s in Providence, is a beautiful, and, for die most part, a convenient church. But I was most pained in noticing the uncouth and inconvenient arrangement of the chancel.

I trust that none in this convention need being reminded of the absurdity of going back to the dark ages of Christianity for the models of our churches, or for the manner of our worshipping in them, or of adopting any of the fooleries of ignorance and superstition. Whether he (the minister) preaches or prays, or administers the ordinances of Christ, he should be in view of each and all of the congregation present; and in prayer it is quite as fitting that he should face them as that they should face him. To turn from them to the Communion-table implies the supposition that God is particularly present there, and sanctions the abominable doctrine of transubstantiation.[51]

On May 10, 1841, the Reverend George Leeds offered his resignation to the Saint Stephen’s vestry, and it was accepted.[52] Leeds had contracted to come for a year only; however, other reasons may have prompted his departure. Apparently because of poor health he had refused to conduct a Sunday evening service.[53] This service, which the parishioners desired, may well have been a prayer meeting and that, of course, was repugnant to High Churchmen of any persuasion. In addition, the implied personal criticism latent in Bishop Griswold’s opposition to the arrangement and mode of saying prayers in Saint Stephen’s Church may have discouraged the young rector from further efforts in the Eastern Diocese.

Mr. Leeds went first from Saint Stephen’s to Grace Church, Utica, New York, and later to the Diocese of Maryland where he became rector of Grace Church, Baltimore. Maryland, in the mid-nineteenth century, was a citadel for High Churchmen. While in that diocese, George Leeds took an important part as Standing Committee member. He died in 1885.[54]

To the Reverend George Leeds goes the honor of starting Tractarian traditions at Saint Stephen’s, three years before the first of the great New England Tractarian parishes, the Church of the Advent, Boston, was even founded. The work which Leeds began has never ceased. In many respects, the Catholic development at Saint Stephen’s has grown more naturally and with less friction than it has in most places. As this history unfolds we shall witness the gradual expansion and development of Catholic Church life, with little significant interruption.

On July 9, 1841, the corporation of Saint Stephen’s Church voted to call the Reverend Henry Waterman to become its third rector.[55] The twenty-eight-year-old Doctor Waterman demonstrated his firm and exacting character by answering the corporation’s call with a set of conditions. All but one member of the corporation voted to call him accepting these conditions; however, unanimity was considered desirable, so another meeting was held three days later, September 6, 1841, and Doctor Waterman was unanimously called with all the stipulations in his letter fully accepted by the corporation.[56]

Henry Waterman, like Francis Vinton, was a native Providence man. He was born to Resolved Waterman and Lucia (Cady) in Centerville, Rhode Island, on August 17,1813. His father was a prosperous manufacturer of cotton goods. While Henry Waterman was young his parents moved to Providence. In 1831 he was graduated from Brown University. Significantly, he studied theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the short-lived seminary of John Henry Hopkins and George Washington Doane, the leading old-fashioned High Churchmen of New England during the 1830s. Doctor Waterman finished his theological training at the General Seminary in New York City, and was made deacon in Providence during June, 1835, and ordained priest in Boston during January of 1837. From 1835 to 1841 he had been rector of Saint James’ Church, Woonsocket, Rhode Island.[57]

During the interim between the departure of the Reverend George Leeds and the arrival of the Reverend Henry Waterman, the Reverend Foster Thayer supplied the parish.[58] With the arrival of Doctor Waterman, a new era in the life of Saint Stephen’s Church began.

Though not the founder of this parish, he was its re-founder, as it were, and its re-creator.[59]

Doctor Waterman was an early Tractarian of the school of Keble and Pusey. While the Reverend George Leeds had made some initial steps toward the introduction of Catholic practice into Saint Stephen’s, it was Doctor Waterman who built the complete foundation upon which the contemporary characteristic parish life of Saint Stephen’s now rests.

Doctor Waterman’s first rectorate was concerned primarily with putting the young parish on a firm financial and organizational basis. Perhaps the most pressing practical problem which encumbered the three-year-old parish was the large building debt of $6,000. An attempt was made in 1842 to pay this through private subscription of pews at 20 per cent less than their fixed value. Finally some pews were auctioned off.[60] This plan did not succeed in raising very much money, and the affairs of the parish remained in a somewhat unsettled state through 1842.[61]

In January, 1843, the vestry decided to attempt to raise the necessary $6,000 by subscription. The subscribers were to receive scrip in proportion to the sums they subscribed for pews. The subscription was not to be binding unless the total sum subscribed amounted to $6,000. At this time the pews were also devalued by one-third.[62]

In September, 1843, the corporation decided to mortgage all movable church property—organ, lamps, and the like—up to $1,000. However, this plan was not successful, and later in the same month the corporation had to endorse a promissory note taken with the movable church property as security.[63]

Up to this time the measures adopted to reduce the debt had been primarily defensive and external. In December of 1843 a basic and internal step was taken in the approval of weekly offerings beginning the first Sunday in January, 1844. Bishop Henshaw, the new diocesan, had recommended weekly offerings in his pastoral letter of 1843.[64]

Finally, in the rector’s parochial report for 1844 he could say that most of the debt, approximately $5,000, had been removed.[65] Doctor Waterman’s tireless work was largely responsible for this substantial debt reduction, only slightly more than three years after the church building was completed and five years after the parish was formed. We may consider this financial relief one of the chief contributions of Waterman’s first rectorate.

In speaking of the tremendous work which the Reverend Henry Waterman achieved for the parish, we must not neglect the contributions of his father in this same area.

Resolved Waterman, the father, was born in Smithfield, Rhode Island, December 10, 1787, and grew up in Greenville, Rhode Island. His mother was a descendant of the famous Waterman family of Rhode Island. Although Resolved Waterman became a Methodist in 1805, he became an Episcopalian at a later date, probably after he moved to Providence from Centerville in 1827.

The elder Waterman made a comfortable fortune manufacturing cotton goods and was liberal with the church in the dispensation of his fortune.[66] On the Second Sunday after Trinity, June 5, 1842, Resolved Waterman transferred from Grace Church to Saint Stephen’s Church.[67] During that same month he was chosen delegate to the Rhode Island Annual Convention in place of John F. Moore.[68] The following year he was elected to the vestry of Saint Stephen’s Church[69] and was chosen senior warden by the vestry subsequently.[70] He held this position until his death in 1886.

We do not have a record which testifies to the liberality of Resolved Waterman in the elimination of the 1840 debt; however, judging from his later generosity, which we can substantiate, we are certain that his gifts helped greatly to alleviate the early financial embarrassment of the young parish.

During Doctor Waterman’s rectorate the parish began to mature by taking on many of the responsibilities and refinements of older and larger parishes. In October, 1842, the corporation voted to take out a $6,000 insurance policy on the church and a $1,000 policy on the organ.[71] On Easter Monday, 1843, the corporation voted to hire their first paid organist, Charles Muenscher, for six months from February 2, 1843, at a salary of $100 per annum.[72]

Although we have no record of it, we can imagine Doctor Waterman during his first rectorate teaching the faith, exhorting his people to the sacraments, catechizing the young children, and generally building up the spiritual and sacramental life of Saint Stephen’s parish. No great ceremonial changes took place during this time as far as we can tell. However, we may rightly imagine that Doctor Waterman planted the seed for a harvest which he and others would reap in coming years.

On November 10, 1845, Henry Waterman announced his resignation as of December i, 1845, to accept the rectorate of Christ Church, Andover, Massachusetts. From the many affectionate resolutions passed at this meeting, it is evident that the parish attributed its recent success in clearing the bulk of the mortgage to Doctor Waterman.[73] In addition, during Doctor Waterman’s rectorate the communicant list had grown to ninety and the church school to 100 pupils and fourteen teachers. In many respects we may consider Doctor Waterman the first important rector of Saint Stephen’s, particularly since his four-year tenure of office strongly influenced the historical development of the parish. Each of his two predecessors had stayed less than a year. It would be difficult to imagine that any far-reaching patterns had been set during such short periods of tenure.

On November 20,1845, the corporation of Saint Stephen’s Church called the Reverend James H. Eames to be the fourth rector of the parish at a salary of $500 per annum. In a letter dated December 3, 1845, the thirty-one-year-old Mr. Eames accepted the call, and said that he would arrive after January 1, 1846.[74]

James Henry Eames was born in Dedham, Massachusetts on November 29, 1814, the son of James Eames and Sarah (Mumford). During his childhood his parents moved to Providence, so we may consider him, along with Vinton and Waterman, a native Providence man. In 1839 he was graduated from Brown University. He prepared for holy orders privately and was ordained deacon by Bishop Griswold in 1842. At this time he was made rector of the Ascension parish, Wakefield, the position which Francis Vinton had once held, and remained there until 1846 when he became rector of Saint Stephen’s.[75]

We know very little of the somewhat less than five-year rectorate of Doctor Eames. Vestry minutes tell us that all was peaceful during his time. Probably, after the payment of its mortgage, the parish was enjoying a breathing spell. Very likely Doctor Eames carried on the conservative, Tractarian traditions of Henry Waterman. Silence regarding change would seem to argue for the lack of it. A good indication of the steady trend of the Catholic life of Saint Stephen’s may be discerned from a disciplinary action recorded in the parish register during 1849, when certain men were removed from the parish list because they had absented themselves without cause from the Holy Communion.

One problem did constantly arise during Eames’s rector-ate. In April, 1848, he wrote the corporation requesting a larger salary because of practical financial needs. At this time the corporation voted to raise the rector’s salary from $500 to $600 a year.[76] The corporation started a subscription to raise the additional salary; however, it must have failed, for on July 16, 1850, Doctor Eames wrote another letter stating that his salary must be increased. He had not received the $100 per annum increase promised in 1848 because the parishioners did not subscribe to the plea. The vestry, feeling somewhat embarrassed, authorized E. B. Carpenter to raise $141.50 for Doctor Eames, the amount in arrears since 1848.[77]

In March of 1849, the corporation discussed the possible sale of their church property at the corner of Benefit and Transit Streets for $9,000. Complete unanimity had never been reached with regard to the Benefit Street location; perhaps here was a chance to rectify an old mistake. Certainly, the parish growth had not been rapid. Before these negotiations went very far, however, the buyer, Mark Fuller, realized that he could not raise sufficient capital to purchase the church property.[78]

On September 2, 1850, James H. Eames resigned the rectorate of Saint Stephen’s Church, the resignation to take effect October 1, 1850. The vestry accepted his resignation.[79] At the request of Bishop Henshaw, Doctor Eames continued to work as Rhode Island missionary from 1850 to 1858. Later he became rector of Saint Paul’s Church, Concord, New Hampshire. He died in Hamilton, Bermuda, on December 10, 1877.[80]

With the close of Doctor Eames’s rectorate we can discern the end of an era for Saint Stephen’s. It was no longer a young parish, for it had been in legal existence for eleven years. It owned its property free and clear, and it had worked with four rectors.

The parish tradition of conservative Tractarianism had already been set, without any churchmanship wars from within or without. This is most unusual, for during the 1840s many of the new Oxford Movement parishes experienced severe persecution and strife.

One troublesome problem still existed for the parish. It had not grown as rapidly as its founders might have hoped. Many of Saint Stephen’s members had already decided that the south end of Benefit Street was not central enough to the growing edge of the East Side to be a good location for their church. A time of important decision was soon to approach the partially grown parish. Strong leadership would be important to insure wise decisions for the future. Saint Stephen’s people next turned their minds toward the search for a fifth rector.

[1] Welcome Arnold Green, The Providence Plantation (Providence: J. A. and R. A. Reid, 1886), p. 78.

[2] Ibid., p. 150.

[3] Ibid., p. 86.

[4] Interview with Margaret Bingham Stillwell, retired curator of Ann Mary Brown Memorial, Brown University, January 9, 1962, in which she indicated that this account came from family tradition.

[5] Margaret B. Stillwell, The Pageant of Benefit Street (Providence: The Akerman-Standard Press, 1945), p. 137.

[6] Francis Vinton, “Sketch of the History of Saint Stephen’s,” Easter Monday 1840, Parish Register Book I, p. 326.

[7] The S. Stephen, Providence, Vol. 3 No. 12, November 1888, p. 4.

[8] City of Providence, Council Records, 1832-1840, No. I, p. 334, in City Clerk’s Office, City Hall, Providence.

[9] The S. Stephen, Vol. 17 No. 9, August 1902, p. 4.

[10] F. Vinton, op. cit., p. 326.

[11] S. Stephen's Historical Notebook, p. 2.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Vestry Minutes, January 31, 1839, Record Book I, p. 1.

[14] F. Vinton, op. cit., p. 326.

[15] Biographical Cyclopedia of Rhode Island (Providence: Biographical Publishing Co., 1881), p. 342.

[16] Ibid., p. 497.

[17] The Providence Directories 1838-44 (Providence: H. H. Brown Co., 1838-44).

[18] The Providence Journal, October 2, 1939, clipping in the News Library of The Journal, Providence, Rhode Island.

[19] M. B. Stillwell, The Pageant of Benefit Street, op. cit., foreword.

[20] Vestry Minutes, April 12, 1839, Record Book I, p. 3.

[21] The Providence Morning Courier, Saturday, June 15, 1839, p. 2.

[22] Vestry Minutes, June 10, 1839, Record Book I, p. 3.

[23] Ibid., August 1, 1839, Record Book I, p. 4.

[24] Ibid., August 5, 1839, Record Book I, p. 4.

[25] Ibid., September 24, 1839, Record Book I, p. 6.

[26] F. Vinton, op. cit., p. 326.

[27] Vestry Minutes, August 1, 1839, Record Book I, p. 4.

[28] State of Rhode Island General Assembly, Petition for Charter of Saint Stephen's Church, State Archives (Providence: State House, 1839-1842), p. 22.

[29] Subscribers’ Minutes, December 5, 1839, Record Book I, p. 7.

[30] Ibid., October 30, 1839, Record Book I, p. 7.

[31] Corporation Minutes, January 3, 1840, Record Book I, p. 11.

[32] F. Vinton, op. cit., p. 326.

[33] Corporation Minutes, January 3, 1840, Record Book I, p. 11.

[34] F. Vinton, op. cit., p. 326.

[35] James Thayer Addison, The Episcopal Church in the United States (New York, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), p. 184.

[36] Biographical Cyclopedia R.I., op. cit., pp. 372-373.

[37] Vestry Minutes, January 13, 1840, Record Book I, p. 12.

[38] Corporation Minutes, January 24, 1840, Record Book I, p. 12 and Vestry Minutes, February 8, 1840, Record Book I, p. 13.

[39] John Rouse, “Sketch of the History of Saint Stephen’s” Parish Register, Book I, August 5, 1840, p. 327.

[40] Vestry Minutes, May 24, 1840, Record Book I, p. 17.

[41] Ibid., June 19, 1840, Record Book I, p. 18; Ibid., October 22, 1840, Record Book I, p. 20.

[42] Ibid., November 18, 1840, Record Book I, p. 21.

[43] George Leeds, “Sketch of the History of Saint Stephen’s,” Parish Register, Book I, October 18, 1840, p. 327.

[44] Lucius Waterman, The Reformation Principles of Saint Stephen, sermon, preached February 12, 1912, at Saint Stephen’s Church, Providence, Rhode Island (n.p., privately printed, n.d.), p. 11.

[45] Vestry Minutes, November 19, 1840, Record Book I, p. 21.

[46] Corporation Minutes, May 14, 1841, Record Book I, p. 25.

[47] Historical Notebook, op. cit., p. 1.

[48] Corporation Minutes, April 12, 1841, Record Book I, p. 24.

[49] Historical Notebook, op. cit., p. 53.

[50] L. Waterman, op. cit., p. 11.

[51] The S. Stephen, Vol. 9 No. 7, June 1894, p. 4.

[52] Vestry Minutes, May 10, 1841, Record Book I, p. 25.

[53] Corporation Minutes, May 14, 1841, Record Book I, p. 26.

[54] The Living Church Annual 1886-87 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Young Churchman Publishing Co., 1887), p. 139.

[55] Corporation Minutes, July 7, 1841, Record Book I, p. 27.

[56] Ibid., September 3, 1841 and September 6, 1841, Record Book I, p. 28.

[57] Biographical Cyclopedia R.I., op. cit., p. 385.

[58] Historical Notebook, op. cit., p. 1.

[59] George McC. Fiske, A Good Steward of the Manifold Grace of God, sermon, preached May 26, 1906, at Saint Stephen’s Church, Providence (n.p., printed by parishioners and friends, n.d.), p. 7.

[60] Corporation Minutes, January 6, 1842, January 13, 1842, March 10, 1842, Record Book I, pp. 29-31.

[61] Rollin Mathewson, to the Honorable William R. Staples, April 23, 1842, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, Rhode Island.

[62] Corporation Minutes, January 2, 1843, Record Book I, pp. 33-34.

[63] Ibid., September 18, 1843 and September 28, 1843, pp. 37 and 38.

[64] Vestry Minutes, December 1843, Record Book I, p. 41.

[65] Rector’s Report 1844, Historical Notebook, p. 56.

[66] Biographical Cyclopedia R.I., op. cit., p. 221.

[67] Parish Register, Book I, p. 3.

[68] Vestry Minutes, June 13, 1842, Record Book I, p. 32.

[69] Corporation Minutes, April 17, 1843, Record Book I, p. 35.

[70] Vestry Minutes, Easter Monday, 1843, Record Book I, p. 36.

[71] Corporation Minutes, October 31, 1842, Record Book I, p. 33.

[72] Vestry Minutes, Easter Monday, 1843, Record Book I, p. 36.

[73] Corporation Minutes, November 10, 1845, Record Book I, p. 46.

[74] Corporation Minutes, November 20, 1845, Record Book I, p. 47.

[75] Biographical Cyclopedia R.I., op. cit., p. 395.

[76] Corporation Minutes, April 24, 1848, Record Book I, p. 54.

[77] Vestry Minutes, July 16, 1850, Record Book I, p. 65.

[78] Corporation Minutes, March 23, 1849, Record Book I, p. 54.

[79] Vestry Minutes, September 2, 1850, Record Book I, p. 66.

[80] Biographical Cyclopedia R.I., op. cit., p. 395.