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 Structure Completed

1850 -1874


ON SEPTEMBER 23, 1850, the corporation of Saint Stephen’s parish decided to call its former rector, the Reverend Henry Waterman, to become fifth rector of the parish at a salary of $500 per annum. In retrospect, this decision readily displays the wisdom of the corporation. Waterman had been willing to spend four years with the parish during a time when the rectorate of Saint Stephen’s had meant hard work and little reward. He had succeeded in ridding the parish of the bulk of its debt. At the same time he had set stern spiritual discipline and uncompromising Catholic principles before his people. In spite of Waterman’s conspicuous financial successes during both of his rectorates, we never think of him primarily as a builder and promoter, but rather as a great pastor, scholar, and teacher.

The corporation, in issuing this second call to Doctor Waterman, must have realized that only a challenge to him and a promise of hard work could bring him back to the field of his earlier labors; for they affirmed that the Corporation of Saint Stephen’s Church in tendering this call to the Reverend Henry Waterman do it with the express desire and determination on their part to use every means to extend the field of his future labours by the erection of another and larger Church in a more central location as soon as any steps can with propriety be taken to that effect.[1]

On September 30, 1850, the corporation met to read the letter from Doctor Waterman declining their call to become rector of Saint Stephen’s. But they would not give up and they issued a second call to their former rector, increasing his salary to $1,000 a year.[2] Part of this larger salary was to be covered by an increase in pew rental. However, unknown to the majority of the parishioners, $250 of this increase was paid by Resolved Waterman, the father of Doctor Henry Waterman, and at that time senior warden of Saint Stephen’s. Resolved Waterman continued to pay this portion of his son’s salary until 1854 when the corporation released him from this responsibility.[3] The willingness on the part of Saint Stephen’s corporation and of the senior warden to take on great responsibilities with the hope and prospect of far-reaching results is clearly evident in their tireless and determined effort to make Henry Waterman their rector once again. All seemed to realize that the parish stood on the threshold of a great era. All seemed confident that Henry Waterman was to be the Joshua who would lead them forth into the promised land.

The corporation of Saint Stephen’s acted swiftly upon its promise to seek a new site, for on April 21, 1851, the wardens and Rollin Mathewson were made a committee to search for a lot on which to build a new church.[4] However, during the six years following the appointment of the lot committee little substantial progress was made. Each year at the Easter Monday corporation meeting the committee made no report, and each year the committee was continued until the next. Bishop Clark has told us that Doctor Waterman became very discouraged at this time. Once Doctor Waterman even went to the Bishop, determined to resign the rectorate. The Bishop encouraged him to wait for a year, and during that period the building plans began to progress once again.[5]

In this intervening period Saint Stephen’s was slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, beginning to function as a more firmly established parish. By 1850 her communicant strength had grown to 126 and her church school to 100. Perhaps the first of many specifically missionary acts which Saint Stephen’s performed to assist surrounding young parishes was to give her old communion silver to Saint Thomas’ Church, Greenville, Rhode Island, in April, 1852.[6] In 1850 Resolved Waterman had donated the land to the Greenville parish. The Reverend James H. Eames, Saint Stephen’s fourth rector, was then working out of Saint Thomas’ as diocesan missionary.[7] As the century progressed, Saint Stephen’s not only gave generously to new parishes, but also acted as the inspiration and founder of several. The gift of the communion silver indicated an increased security and stability in the thirteen-year-old parish.

Sometime during the 1850s the Negro parish, Christ Church, Providence, which had been founded in 1843 and whose representatives were the first Negro delegates to attend a diocesan convention in this country, was forced to disband. The remaining communicants of Christ Church were transferred to Saint Stephen’s; and from the time of this transfer, one of the earliest American parochial integrations, to the present, Saint Stephen’s has counted a sizable number of Negro communicants among its members. The first notation of a colored communicant appears in the parish register among the list of communicants as of 1856. Perhaps the people of Christ Church came into Saint Stephen’s then; but the chances are that they were joined to the parish in the early 1850s since the Reverend Eli Stokes, the last rector of the Negro Christ Church, left Providence in 1850.[8]

Apparently either a small debt had been incurred from running expenses or a debt had been left over from the 1840 building expenses and was still encumbering the parish in 1854. Resolved Waterman offered to contribute $500 toward the elimination of the debt.[9] At first, efforts to remove the encumbrance were futile, but by the time of the corporation meeting of 1855 the parish was reported to be debt-free.[10]

Music has always held an important place in the life of Saint Stephen’s parish. We can see embryonic beginnings of a serious interest in music as far back as 1855. In April of that year Rollin Mathewson offered his resignation as organist.[11] He was probably the first man to have held the position of organist at Saint Stephen’s for any length of time. But he can in no sense be considered an outsider or a professional musician. Indeed, he was part of the family, as his wife was Nancy Waterman, Henry Waterman’s sister. He had transferred from Grace Church, Providence, to Saint Stephen’s on the Second Sunday after Trinity, June 5, 1842, at the same time that Resolved Waterman, his father-in-law, had made his journey eastward and up the hill.[12] Some time after the middle of 1843 Mathewson must have become organist because Charles Muenscher (who later studied for holy orders) was hired as organist for six months from February 2, 1843.

In view of Mathewson’s resignation, a committee composed of the Reverend Henry Waterman, William Burrough, and William Binney was appointed to make arrangements for the music. A music budget of $400 for the coming year was also appropriated.[13] Probably the final lifting of all indebtedness enabled the vestry to release this generous sum for music. Very likely the money was employed to pay the organist and a four-part quartet and to buy sheet music. We know that in 1866 the church decided to dispense with a paid quartet which had supplied the music for some time. Probably this increased music appropriation marks the beginning of the “professional quartet” era.

Two other actions indicate the increased prosperity of Saint Stephen’s as the sixth decade of the nineteenth century moved on. In 1854 the vestry had relieved Resolved Waterman of the responsibility of paying $250 of the Reverend Henry Waterman’s $1,000-a-year stipend; and on April 13, 1857, the vestry raised the rector’s salary to $1,250 a year.[14]

Also on April 13, 1857, the corporation allowed certain church school classes to meet in the church proper. One year later the corporation appointed a committee consisting of Gideon Gurnett, J. N. Shearman, and E. B. Carpenter to look for better accommodations for the church school.[15] From these space pressures we may deduce that the church school was growing rapidly, and church school growth could not fail to effect parochial expansion.

In March of 1857 the first concrete action toward obtaining the new church building was taken. A committee composed of seven men reported that approximately $20,000 could be raised within Saint Stephen’s parish toward the erection of a new building. This was not enough; therefore, the committee of seven continued to investigate in order to ascertain how much money could be raised from sources outside the parish.[16]

Several years later, on June 13, 1859, the youthful Robert Hale Ives, Jr., a member of one of Providence’s old and prosperous families, was confirmed, and on April 1, 1861, he was elected to the vestry.[17] During this same period Robert Hale Ives Goddard, the son of another prominent family, also became a member of Saint Stephen’s parish.[18] These young men came to Saint Stephen’s out of personal conviction. Their families had been connected with Saint John’s Church. Their entrance into Saint Stephen’s is attributable to the strong appeal of Doctor Waterman’s Tractarian teachings. Their presence greatly strengthened building possibilities.

Several other important men came into Saint Stephen’s during the late 1850s and early 1860s. William Binney, a lawyer; Abraham H. Okie, a physician; Edward M. Gushee, who later took holy orders; and Freeborn Coggeshall, Jr., long-time vestryman, all associated themselves with the parish shortly before the erection of the new church.[19]

During this period the leadership of the parish had gradually fallen to men of more extensive means than the 1839 founders. In addition to the men already named, others who took a large share in the erection of the new church were Resolved Waterman, the cotton merchant; B. B. Adams, also a merchant; John Barstow, president of the Exchange Bank; Jencks N. Shearman, harness-maker; Lyman Klapp of the Union Oil Company, India; and Zachariah Chafee of the Builder’s Iron Foundry.[20] Bishop Thomas March Clark of the diocese of Rhode Island also gave strong and generous aid to the construction of the new church. In addition to contributing financially, he lent his personal support by sending out a letter of appeal[21] and by presiding at several subscribers’ meetings.[22]

On February 21, 1859, the corporation of Saint Stephen’s Church met and read the resolution of September 23, 1850, concerning the desirability of building a new church. The members voted that the corporation should recognize afresh the desirability and importance of erecting a new church in another location and that it should ascertain by March 7,1859, what amount could be raised in the parish. They also voted to request the rector to appoint a seven-man committee to see what money could be raised by parishioners. Members of this committee were the Reverend Henry Waterman, William Binney, C. E. Whitaker, E. D. Fogg, A. H. Okie, J. N. Shearman, and E. B. Carpenter.[23]

During March of 1859 articles of subscription were drafted which stated that the Benefit Street location of Saint Stephen’s was unfavorable for growth; that no subscription would be binding until $35,000 had been raised; that all subscriptions would be payable within two years from the second day of May, 1859, in half-yearly or quarterly installments; that when $35,000 had been raised three subscribers might call a meeting; that a treasurer would then be appointed to demand and receive subscriptions; and that all subscribers would receive notes which would be transferable and redeemable for pews. A lot committee, matters concerning pew appraisal, and voting power of subscribers were all approved at this meeting.[24]

Doctor Waterman became chairman of the subscribers, E. B. Carpenter the secretary, and Rollin Mathewson the treasurer. Resolved Waterman, A. H. Okie, and R. H. Ives, Jr., were elected committee on the lot.[25] Later James Y. Smith was added to the lot committee.[26] In the midst of this drive for building funds, the vestry raised Doctor Waterman’s salary to $1,500 a year,[27] a sure sign of their regard for him and of their confidence in the parish.

Only two lots were considered as sites for the proposed structure. The first was on the south side of Waterman Street, east of Brown toward Thayer, practically across the field from the second lot on the north side of George Street, slightly west of Thayer.[28] On January 12, 1860, the lot committee announced the purchase of the lot on George Street. It measured 152 feet in front by 117 feet in depth, and cost $1.68 a square foot, or $12,093.12 for the entire property.[29] This lot was purchased from Marshall Woods and his wife.[30] The George Street location placed Saint Stephen’s precisely at the growing edge of the East Side, yet not far from the finest eighteenth-century residences of this area. Old pictures of the new edifice show a large Gothic nave rearing its clerestory above the trees and meadows of Lincoln’s Field, with large open areas to the east of it, dotted by an occasional house. During the fifty years following the construction of the church, the area for over a mile east would become entirely built up. The old campus of Brown University lay only a few hundred feet to the west.

Apparently there was some disagreement about the advisability of building immediately upon the George Street property, for on March 23, 1860, a motion was brought forward and defeated 87 to 10 to delay building. There may also have been controversy over the Gothic design submitted by Richard Upjohn, the architect. At this same subscribers’ meeting a motion to adopt the building plans was withdrawn and a motion authorizing the lot committee to procure and adopt plans was carried 85 to 16. The lot committee then approved and presented the plans of Richard Upjohn and Son for a church edifice, the same plans about which the subscribers had been dubious.[31] On March 27, 1860, Resolved Waterman, B. B. Adams, and John Barstow were elected the building committee.[32]

By October, 1861, the total cost of the land and building had been estimated to amount to $65,000. A total of $51,000 had been pledged and $48,000 collected, leaving a deficit of $17,000.[33] The largest single subscriptions of $7,500 and $2,600 were given by Resolved Waterman and Doctor Abraham H. Okie, respectively.[34] Many members of the Ives and Goddard families contributed generously. In several cases men who did not belong to Saint Stephen’s assisted with contributions. John Carter Brown, Providence’s leading financier and a Baptist, is listed among the donors to the new building. Mr. Brown’s wife and sons were Episcopalians; however, they belonged to Saint John’s at that time.

Many gifts for the proposed Gothic edifice poured in from people of limited means. The poor and the middle class have always been active in the work of Saint Stephen’s. Even widows and children gave toward the building of this structure which was to remain beloved throughout the entire earthly existence of most donors. The smallest gift, five dollars, came from Masters T. and H. Sherman.[35] The new Saint Stephen’s became the work of many hands, the concern of the entire parish.

On October 22, 1861, the corporation voted to accept from the subscribers the lot and the church edifice upon it, together with any funds remaining in hand or to be collected.[36]

Because the subscriptions had fallen somewhat short of the total cost of the church edifice, the corporation authorized the treasurer to mortgage the church to the People’s Bank for $15,000, to be paid one year after the date of mortgage, interest to be paid semiannually in advance.[37]

A number of economy measures had to be adopted. The organ from the Benefit Street church was repaired and transferred to the new structure.[38] The pews in the Benefit Street building were valued at half their record valuation and then placed in partial payment for a new pew in the George Street church.[39] All privately owned pews were to be taxed at 7 per cent per annum of their record valuation. All pews owned by the corporation were to be rented at 10 per cent of their record valuation.[40]

The cornerstone of the new Saint Stephen’s was laid on Saint Matthew’s Day, September 21, 1860. In it were placed a Bible, a Prayer Book, the journal of the most recent triennial convention of the Church, and a copy of the convention journal of the Diocese of Rhode Island for the year 1860.[41] Interestingly enough, since the completion of the structure no one has been able to locate the cornerstone. Several theories pertaining to its location exist. The most likely one asserts that the stone was laid at the junction of the nave and chancel arch on the south side.[42] This location would conceal the stone entirely. Although he was very uncertain, Richard Upjohn’s son, R. M. Upjohn, suggested in a letter to Doctor Fiske that it might be on one of the outside walls of the priests’ sacristry.[43] If it lies there, the stone is not marked. The mystery remains; the searches of generations of choirboys, church school pupils, and acolytes have not solved it to this day.

On February 20, 1862, less than a year and a half after the cornerstone had been laid, the corporation of Saint Stephen’s Church requested the Bishop to consecrate their new structure on Thursday, February 27, 1862.[44] The new Saint Stephen’s, built on a rock,[45] we trust spiritually as well as physically, stood as a distinguished example for its times of the Middle Pointed or Decorated English Gothic. Richard Upjohn, the architect, was a strong Tractarian churchman.[46] In addition, he had been born and bred in England. This combination of staunch Catholic churchmanship and early association with medieval Gothic buildings probably accounts for the excellent quality of Upjohn’s churches. Saint Stephen’s was the product of his mature period. Earlier in the 1840s he had assured his reputation by designing and constructing Trinity Church, New York. During this same period he had also designed Grace Church, Providence. And since Upjohn had lived in both New Bedford and Boston during the early part of his career in the United States, his name was known in Providence.

Naturally, we cannot expect Upjohn’s Saint Stephen’s to be a completely straightforward example of Gothic building. No structure erected in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century was. However, there exist enough true Gothic features in Saint Stephen’s and in Upjohn’s other churches to demonstrate to us the claims that he was the foremost American Gothic Revival church architect of the mid-nineteenth century. The overall proportions of this Smith-field gray stone building, the solid masonry pillars and capitals made of Portland brownstone, the New Jersey brownstone window tracery and frames, all contribute to produce a convincing Gothic structure. Certainly the plaster arches support little or no weight, and much of Upjohn’s wainscoting is far more Victorian than Gothic; yet his lofty roof and full clerestory, his high side aisles, wide nave, and generously spaced bays look very much like Gothic. The interesting feature of a second aisle on the south, which forms the Lady chapel, adds a natural touch of medieval asymmetry probably rooted in Upjohn’s intimate and early knowledge of English country churches. The apse indicates a French influence evident in many Upjohn churches after his European tour.

One of the most interesting features of the interior of the new Saint Stephen’s was the altar placement. The entire area from the chancel arch to the east end of the apse was a presbytery and sanctuary. By medieval standards this is not a large area, only about twenty feet deep, but by Victorian standards it provided a generous space for the performance of the liturgy and the seating of the clergy. The vocal quartet sat at the head of the south aisle, entirely outside the chancel, immediately in front of the organ pipes which had an attached console. The high altar (presently used as the Lady altar) was set out from the east wall at the center of the apse. Behind it stood the canopied Bishop’s throne, surrounded by twelve canopied clergy stalls, six on either side of the throne. This arrangement came directly from the basilican form and is, of course, much in favor among promoters of the liturgical movement today. But for the nineteenth century, a freestanding altar and east-end Bishop’s throne must have been practically unique. The entire structure is 120 feet long, 86 feet wide, and 68 feet high.

On the day of the consecration of the new Saint Stephen’s Church a heavy snowstorm raged and swirled,[47] but the elements neither dampened the enthusiasm of the worshippers nor dulled the splendor of the consecration ceremony.

This beautiful Church was consecrated to the worship of Almighty God according to the order set forth in the Book of Common Prayer of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. At the hour appointed the Right Reverend Thomas M. Clark, Bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island, in his Episcopal robes, attended by a large number of clergy in their surplices was received at the entrance of the church by the wardens and vestry of the parish. The procession of the clergy walked up the middle aisle of the church, repeating the twenty-fourth psalm alternately, the Bishop taking one verse, the clergy another.

There follows, in the Providence Journal’s account of the consecration, a list of the clergy present, among them such notable men as the Reverend Francis Vinton and the Reverend James Eames, former rectors, the Reverend John Henry Hopkins, Jr., of the Diocese of New York, and the Reverend Doctor George Randall, future Bishop of Colorado.

The Bishop sitting in his chair behind the altar, the request to consecrate the church was presented by William Binney, Esq., Junior Warden of the Parish. That most impressive book of consecration was then read by Bishop Clark, standing up and facing the congregation, after which, returning to his chair, the sentence of consecration was read by the Reverend Doctor Waterman, Rector of the parish. The consecration service was closed by the usual Thanksgiving offered by the Bishop.

Morning Prayer was then sung, followed by the Ante-Communion service. The entire congregation joined in singing the seventy-ninth psalm to the tune of “Old Hundred” to close the service, “young men and maidens, old men and children, joining in the song of praise, till the very rafters rang with the joyous melody.”[48]

Fifty years after the consecration a prominent city official wrote:

I remember vividly the return of some of our household from the consecration service fifty years ago. We were Grace Church people. That was the city’s great piece of ecclesiastical architecture then, and its interior was (as you do not remember) rather dark and sombre. Its graceful construction lines were all un-“decorated”; none of the windows could fairly be called “illuminated” except the chancel window, and even this while full of symbolism was not very full of light. We children did not need to have explained what the poet meant by his “dim religious light.” And the happy radiant enthusiasm with which my grandmother and my aunt came back from the new Saint Stephen’s is a delight to remember. There was light and color to talk about, and the windows and their stories. And the last thing that had caught their eyes was (naturally) the bit of wood-carving all around the casing of the door into the vestibule. There was a humanness about it that was lacking in the superb severity of the building they were used to, and they would talk about it with rapture. You may be sure it wasn’t long before my mother and I went to service in the new church, probably the next Sunday.[49]

Although the new Saint Stephen’s contained no objects unfamiliar to contemporary churchmen, this account vividly shows how new the look of Saint Stephen’s seemed to churchmen in 1862 and also how far the Catholic Movement has come in raising the standards of the entire Church to a more dignified and colorful ceremonial and decorative norm. The letter also foretells how effectively the new Saint Stephen’s would, in years to come, draw many people to her through the glory of her services and the certain speech of her architecture.

The church as it stood in 1862 was not entirely completed. The proposed 18o-foot tower and spire could not be finished because the funds on hand would not cover their construction. As financial reports in October, 1862, showed, the parish was supporting a good-sized debt. The total cost of land and building had been $69,521.86. The final amount collected on the whole subscription of $51,773.36 was $49,221.86. The disparity between the subscription collection and the total cost amounted to more than $20,000, so the corporation took two mortgages, one, already mentioned, for $15,000 from the People’s Savings Bank and the second for $5,300 on a note endorsed by Resolved Waterman and Zachariah Chafee.[50]

On September 17, 1862, Robert Hale Ives, Jr., who had entered the Union Army earlier in the year, was fatally wounded at the Battle of Antietam. He did not die immediately but lingered on until September 27, 1862. On the day before his death, he requested his father to offer the corporation of Saint Stephen’s Church $5,000 toward the liquidation of their $20,000 debt, provided that further money be raised which together with his gift would secure the total extinction of the debt within one year from the day of his death.

In a letter to the corporation dated October 23,1862, Robert Hale Ives, Sr., conveyed his son’s desire to assist in the immediate abolition of the parochial debt. The corporation accepted this generous gift and voted to clear the entire debt immediately.[51] By April 5, 1863, the $15,000 necessary to eliminate the debt had been raised. It took two separate drives to reach the goal. Many people who had contributed generously to the initial drive gave once again. Resolved Waterman pledged $5,000 during these second and third subscription drives.[52] There is no doubt that Resolved Waterman was the donor of the largest individual gift, a total of $12,000, for the erection of the new building. Most touching, of course, was the deathbed gift of the youthful Robert Hale Ives, Jr. In a tribute to him the vestry said,

Uniting himself to the parish in its day of small things, he adhered to it in the fluctuations of its fortune, giving the encouragement of a regular attendance at its worship, supporting it by his sympathy, and aiding it by advice, by personal labor, and by a munificent and steady liberality.[53]

As early as December 7, 1862, a group of Saint Stephen’s parishioners had determined to remain in the old building and to form a new parish, the Church of the Savior. Its first baptism was performed on December 7, 1862.[54] The corporation of Saint Stephen’s decided to sell their old building to this new parish for $6,000.[55]

The twenty-two men and women who left Saint Stephen’s to form the Church of the Savior[56] chose to separate from their old parish for at least two and perhaps more reasons. Most of these people lived at or near the extreme south end of Benefit Street. This area was not so fashionable as the expanding George Street area, which one writer calls the horse-and-carriage neighborhood.[57] The occupations of the founders of the Church of the Savior were machinist, Union Oil Company India employee, gunsmith, coal merchant, sea captain, carpenter, shoemaker. Several widows’ names appear among the founders.[58] Evidently location and, to some extent, social class figured in the formation of the Church of the Savior.

More important, however, was the matter of churchmanship in the formation of this new parish. The founders of the Church of the Savior were Low Churchmen who preferred to stay clear of the Oxford Movement,[59] and it may also be that those members of Saint Stephen’s who opposed building a new church in the late 1850s formed the core which carried on in the Benefit Street edifice.

In 1912 the Church of the Savior and Calvary Church merged to form Saint Martin’s Church. The old building was subsequently used by a Negro parish called the Church of the Savior, and finally it was sold to the Barker Playhouse in 1932.[60] The original Saint Stephen’s stands today, without its wooden round tower and spire, but otherwise much as it was.

During the period immediately following the erection of the George Street church, the Goddard family began to take an increased part in the life of Saint Stephen’s. On April 5, 1863, Robert Hale Ives Goddard was elected to the vestry of the parish.[61] With no more than the slight break of one year, some member of the Goddard family has always sat on the vestry of Saint Stephen’s from that day to this.

The continued confidence of the parish both in its rector and in its own financial abilities is made evident by the regular salary increases which Doctor Waterman received every few years, until his stipend finally reached $3,000 per annum in 1867.[62] For this period $3,000 was a very generous clergy salary.

Soon the parish began to make plans to complete the tower, cut off halfway up the second stage of its construction in 1862. On March 28, 1864, the corporation appointed a committee to obtain subscriptions toward the completion of the tower. The same corporation meeting also appropriated $50.00 to pay for a plan for the alteration and removal of the organ and the erection of a gallery to hold the choir and the organ.[63] True to the historic conservatism of the Providence East Side, it took another thirty-six years to complete the tower. The organ and choir gallery has not yet taken substantial form, although clergy, organists, and many parishioners still long for the day when this most desirable musical arrangement will be accomplished. On April 17, 1865, Messrs. B. B. Adams and Lyman Klapp were appointed a committee to effect the completion of the choir and sanctuary according to the original plans. No corporation funds were to be used.[64] This project began to take shape eighteen years later in 1883.

The first mention of the Christmas decoration of the church with evergreens came at the March 28, 1864, vestry meeting. Messrs. Lyman Klapp, Samuel C. Blodget, and John C. Burrington were appointed to the decoration committee[65] The tasteful decoration of Saint Stephen’s Church has to this day been a notable feature of the Christmas celebration.

During the period immediately following the construction of the George Street church, Saint Stephen’s parish and its scholarly rector, Doctor Waterman, began to make a deeper impress upon the community than they had formerly exerted. On November 27, 1864, Doctor Waterman preached upon the subject of a Christian’s duty to his government. Undoubtedly the Civil War had inspired his choice of topic. So enthusiastically was this sermon received that the leading men of Providence wrote the vestry requesting publication of the discourse.[66]

Saint Stephen’s parish also traces its continuous connection with and influence upon Brown University back to the mid-1860s. On Ascension Eve, 1865, the Bishop Seabury Society for Episcopal students of Brown University was founded. At this time there was enrolled a large number of Episcopal men seeking holy orders. A majority of them had been touched by the Oxford Movement; therefore, the practice and teachings of Saint Stephen’s parish and its learned rector appealed to them. Many of the Bishop Seabury Society men assisted the Bishop of Rhode Island by taking services at small missions on the outskirts of Providence. In these places they circulated tracts by such Oxford Movement leaders as Pusey and Newman, some of these tracts bearing the inscriptions of their authors. Several Catholic party leaders, among them the Reverend Morgan Dix of Trinity Church, New York, and the Reverend Ferdinand Ewer of Saint Ignatius, New York, preached to the society. The young members of the Bishop Seabury Society fostered at least four Providence parishes: Christ Church, Saint Mary’s, Holy Cross (now Epiphany), and Saint Gabriel’s (later Saint Paul’s).[67]

The new location of the church building, just east of the Brown campus, enabled the parish to exert an influence on the university which the Benefit Street location could never have made possible. And although Saint Stephen’s Church was not the direct founder of the four parishes previously mentioned, her recorded financial gifts to them and her nurture of the Bishop Seabury Society entitles the parish to at least a godmother relationship.

Certainly it is unfair to make categorical judgments; however, it is not far from the truth to say that wherever college men are, trouble usually brews, issues frequently come to a head, and smoldering embers suddenly burst into flame. At least, so far as Saint Stephen’s Church in the year 1866 is concerned, something like this was true. Eugene P. King gave a vivid account of the manner in which Saint Stephen’s was pushed from the quartet into the boy choir era by some determined Brown students.

When the newly organized Bishop Seabury Society found they were to have Doctor Dix preach their sermon on the evening of Ascension Day, they asked the Saint Stephen’s choir to sing for them. (You remember the old organ front and the red curtains sliding on the iron rod; but you don’t remember the quartette choir that used to rise up in front of the organ and part aside the curtains when they were going to sing and sat down and drew the curtains when they were temporarily through.) The choir flatly refused unless they were paid, which, of course, was out of the question. Thrown on their own resources the college men determined to form a choir for the occasion from their college friends. The friends responded with characteristic college loyalty: Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists; it required many rehearsals to train the unaccustomed lips and tongues, but it was done;—I have a notion that The Journal next morning had something to say in praise of the singing. And soon the Saint Stephen’s people began to say to each other, “Why can’t we always have singing like that? Why can’t we be freed from these people that find fault every time they are asked to sing at an extra service?” And the change came.[68]

Circumstances in the parish, which had concurred with the Bishop Seabury Society service, convinced a majority of the people that the quartet was not as desirable as a boy choir. The recent organists had come and gone. J. O. Starkweather had resigned his position as organist in December, 1864. Charles C. Pond, his successor, had resigned as of Easter Day, 1865.[69] Between intractable quartets and elusive organists, the parish must have experienced constant discouragement over its music.

On September 17, 1866, Mr. Henry Carter of the Church of the Advent, Boston, was appointed organist and musical director of Saint Stephen’s Church at a salary of $1,000 per annum.[70] In order to set the tone of the new choir, Mr. Carter brought five solo boys from Boston with him: Fred Sayer, John Laster, Willie Breare (he soon left to become solo boy at Trinity Church, New York at a salary of $1,000 a year), Arthur Buttrick, and Walter Osgood (a contralto who was later replaced by Frank Hamlin). To this group of five, Walter Bartlett of Providence was added. These six formed the solo nucleus around which the rest of the choir was built. The other choirboys, all from Providence, were Zachariah Chafee, Isaac Gurney, Frank Wilkinson, Henry Shearman, A. Sheffield Arnold, Samuel Blodget, Charles Wiggins, A. C. Greene, and several more. E. L. Walcott, a well-known tenor from Grace Church, four Brown University students, W. H. Lyon, W. C. Poland, W. H. Buffum, George Buffum, William M. Goodrich, Captain Charles Chace, Waldo Steward, William Stewart, Charles Hitchcock, and Lemuel G. Carpenter formed the men’s section of the choir. The Brown students belonging to the choir were a small group descended from the large male choir which had performed the Seabury Society service at which Doctor Dix had preached.[71]

During Mr. Carter’s time as musical director, Saint Stephen’s choir performed much nineteenth-century English music. Very advanced for this period in the American Church was Saint Stephen’s use of the English Psalter from at least May, 1867, on.[72]

Often the elimination of one problem breeds the growth of another. When the quartet, with its prima donna curtain-pulling, had been dispensed with, the boy choir brought another and quite different problem to Saint Stephen’s—discipline. Boys frequently race and tear about large buildings. Something like this must have taken place in 1867 among the newly organized boy choir, for the vestry passed a resolution “that the choir boys be not permitted to enter the church building at any time, without the presence of the organist or rector or some member of the vestry.”[73] The cure must have seemed worse than the disease; the enforcement of the law can be more painful than its fracture. Later on in the same meeting, the vestry decided to reconsider the stringent discipline leveled at their potentially angelic singers. Ultimately no special discipline was passed;[74] choirboys were once again allowed to be choirboys.

The first high tide of Tractarianism in Saint Stephen’s rose at about the same time as the male choir was formed. A full ritualistic service required a good-sized building, extensive musical resources, a knowledgeable rector, and a receptive and intelligent congregation. By 1866 Saint Stephen’s possessed all of these prerequisites. Her parish records show approximately 225 communicants, a substantial, though not gigantic, number for a parish of this period. Among these communicants Saint Stephen’s numbered many financial, intellectual, and social leaders of the city. Professor J. L. Diman and Professor Gates are found among her active communicants during this period, along with many community leaders already mentioned. In addition, the parish had twenty-five years of sound church teaching behind the projected ritual development. In 1912 the Reverend Lucius Waterman said,

It was about forty-five years ago (1867) that the rector of one of our chief parishes in Providence, a man high-minded and pious and not very exceptionally unwise, was reported as having said that he regarded the appearance of “Ritualism” at Saint Stephen’s as a special manifestation of the power of Satan and he should gird on all his armour against it.[75]

Sometime during 1866 the weekly celebration of the Holy Communion was begun at Saint Stephen’s.[76] The American Catholic, a Pacific coast church paper, in referring to the Requiem Mass celebrated at Saint Stephen’s after the death of Bishop McVickar in 1910, said, “It was in this Church that many years ago the weekly Mass was first restored, here in America.”[77] Whether or not we can be entirely certain of the absolute priority of Saint Stephen’s claim, certainly her weekly celebration came very early in the history of the Catholic Movement and was the first in Rhode Island.

Doctor Waterman was also the first priest in Rhode Island to introduce special services during Lent. These services were held at 6:30 in the morning, and frequently the church was nearly filled. Some people walked two miles in order to attend them.[78]

On March 29, 1869, the vestry voted to authorize the rector to erect an altar in the chapel “for the due celebration of the Holy Eucharist.”[79] At this time the altar was dedicated to Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary.[80] Both the term “Holy Eucharist” used in the 1869 vestry minutes and the title and dedication of the chapel altar display the open Catholic teaching of Doctor Waterman at this early date. Doubtless many staid Low Church rectors of Providence reacted indignantly against such alleged demonic manifestations.

During this period of intense teaching and strenuous activity, about 1866, Doctor Waterman’s health began to give way. Although he was only fifty-three years old, his tireless and loving work began to take its physical toll. The vestry attempted at this time to secure the services of the Reverend G. W. Brown of Trinity Church, Pawtucket, as assistant minister. Unfortunately, several such attempts proved fruitless.[81] Next the vestry authorized the rector and Messrs. R. H. I. Goddard and J. C. Burrington to call an assistant minister for not more than $1,200 a year.[82] These further efforts failed also. On June 14,1868, the vestry voted to allow the rector to engage the Reverend G. A. Coggeshall (an old parish boy) as assistant minister for one year, provided that his salary be taken care of by funds other than the parish funds.[83] No further mention of Mr. Coggeshall is made in the vestry minutes and only one reference to his performance of an official act occurs in the parish records.[84] Therefore, it would seem that he never took duty as assistant minister at Saint Stephen’s.

Not only was Doctor Waterman forced to contend with problems of health as his rectorate drew to a close, but he also had to deal with music problems. In May of 1871 Mr. Carter, the musical director, demanded a salary increase from $1,000 to $1,200 a year, and a $200-a-year increase of the $800 choir budget. If these demands had been adhered to, the music budget would have amounted to $2,200 a year, a rather large sum for 1871. After several battles, the vestry decided to hold its ground and told the music committee to do what it deemed best, but not to spend more than $1,800 a year on the organist and choir.[85]

By 1872 Doctor Waterman’s health had become extremely poor. The parish recognized this fact and decided to show its appreciation by sending him on a five-month trip to Europe. The parishioners subscribed $2,000 for the purpose, $1,500 to help defray the cost of the trip and $500 to pay for a supply in the rector’s absence. Needless to say, the rector’s salary was paid during the entire period of his absence.[86]

While Doctor Waterman was on leave of absence, what was probably the first full choral Nuptial Eucharist in the United States was celebrated by the Reverend Emery H. Porter on the Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, October 28, 1872, at the wedding of the Reverend Samuel Johnson French and Miss Ednah Augusta Hall.[87]

Unfortunately Doctor Waterman’s leave of absence did not restore him to health, for on October 20, 1873, he sent a letter to the corporation of Saint Stephen’s requesting the acceptance of his resignation as their rector, not later than Easter Monday, 1874. In the letter Doctor Waterman said that he should have resigned two years earlier and that the parish had suffered from lack of adequate pastoral supervision for some time.[88]

The corporation hesitated to accept their beloved rector’s resignation and instead appointed a committee of five, William Ames, the new junior warden, J. N. Shearman, E. B. Carpenter, Freeborn Coggeshall, and S. C. Blodget, to study the letter and make recommendations. At the corporation meeting held on November 10, 1873, this committee regretfully recommended the acceptance of Doctor Waterman’s resignation.[89]

Human and ecclesiastical ties so long and faithfully maintained could not be easily sundered. The corporation displayed genuine sorrow at the loss of their sixty-year-old rector. The tribute of the corporation to Doctor Waterman expresses their debt of respect:

To his unwearied exertions, Saint Stephen’s owes its progressive life, the beautiful edifice in which we worship, the Diocese the introduction of the lenten services and the weekly Eucharist with its manifold blessing.[90]

In addition the parish owed the beginning of free pews to Doctor Waterman; for in April of 1872 pews 26 through 30, 73 through 75, and 119 and 120 were made free.[91] Intellectually, Saint Stephen’s owed a debt of gratitude to Doctor Waterman for his great knowledge of the English church divines—the foundation of his Catholic theology—and for his many well-prepared sermons, of which a neighboring priest once said,

I never saw a man who put so much into his sermons to whom it was a matter of such special work as it was to him.[92]

The Diocese of Rhode Island also owed Doctor Waterman a large debt of service both as member and president of the Standing Committee and as representative to the General Convention of the Church.[93] But the laity of the diocese had a cruel way of thanking this faithful priest for his long and devoted labor. On June 10, 1874, Doctor Waterman was emphatically chosen by the clergy of the diocese to represent them once again at the General Convention; however, the laity refused confirmation of his election. Their rejection of the leading Tractarian cleric of the diocese came at a time when the entire High Church movement stood under a cloud. Bishop Clark’s 1874 convention address was largely concerned with the dangers presented by Tractarian teaching;[94] and the General Convention of 1874 devoted much of its energy to an attempt to deal with the Catholic Movement in the Church. The day following this humiliating blow, Doctor Waterman rose to speak to the convention. He said he realized that his churchmanship had been the bone which lodged in the throats of the laity, leading to his defeat; then he publicly withdrew from all further elections in the diocese.[95] Almost immediately the convention regretted its stupid, heartless action; however, the damage was past and irreparable. On Saint Luke’s Day, October 18, 1876, Henry Waterman died.[96] Although Doctor Waterman’s stature was never fully recognized by the diocese, his parishioners, who later erected an altar and reredos in his memory, gave a more complete estimate of the man who by the grace given him, restored to the Church in Providence some forfeited treasures of primitive piety, notably the Daily Service in the Season of Lent and the Weekly Celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It was given him also to teach to some penitents the joy of Absolution and to some mourners the comfort of prayers for the faithful dead. In such works of restoration, which could not but trouble some quiet hearts, he himself was called to endure grief deeply, to the shortening of his days for Jesus’ sake. Think upon him, my God, for good according to all that he hath done for this people.[97]

[1] Corporation Minutes, September 23, 1850, Record Book I, p. 68.

[2] Ibid., September 30, 1850, Record Book I, p. 68.

[3] Ibid., April 17, 1854, Record Book I, p. 77.

[4] Ibid., April 21, 1851, Record Book I, p. 70.

[5] The S. Stephen, Vol. 15 No. 4, March 1900, p. 4.

[6] Vestry Minutes, April 12, 1852, Record Book I, p. 73.

[7] Dudley Tyng, Rhode Island Episcopalians (Providence, Rhode Island: Little Rhody Press, 1954), pp. 82-83.

[8] George F. Bragg, History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church (Baltimore, Maryland: Church Advocate Press, 1922), pp. 102-105.

[9] Corporation Minutes, April 17, 1854, Record Book I, pp. 77-78.

[10] Ibid., April 9, 1855, Record Book I, p. 80.

[11] Vestry Minutes, April 9, 1855, Record Book I, p. 81.

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

[13] Vestry Minutes, April 9, 1855, Record Book I, p. 81.

[14] Ibid., April 13, 1857, Record Book I, p. 86.

[15] Corporation Minutes, April 13, 1857, Record Book I, p. 85 and April 5, 1888, Record Book I, p. 87.

[16] Ibid., March 7, 1857, Record Book I, p. 89.

[17] Parish Register, Book I, p. 33 and Corporation Minutes, April 1, 1861, Record Book I, p. 99.

[18] Parish Register, Book I, p. 141.

[19] Ibid., pp. 31-34.

[20] The Providence Journal, October 21, clipping in The Journal News Library, Providence, Rhode Island.

[21] Thomas M. Clark, to the parishioners of Saint Stephen’s, March 17, 1859, Record Book 2, p. 2.

[22] Subscribers’ Meeting, March 27, 1860, Record Book 2, p. 21.

[23] Corporation Minutes, February 21, 1859, Record Book I, pp. 88-89.

[24] Ibid., March 14, 1859, Record Book I, p. 90.

[25] Subscribers’ Meeting, 1859, Record Book 2, p. 13.

[26] Ibid., November 25, 1859, Record Book 2, p. 16.

[27] Vestry Minutes, April 25, 1859, Record Book I, p. 92.

[28] Subscribers’ Meeting, November 25, 1859, Record Book 2, p. 16.

[29] Ibid., January 12, 1860, Record Book 2, p. 18.

[30] Vestry Minutes, November 18, 1861, Record Book I, p. 113.

[31] Subscribers’ Meeting, March 23, 1860, Record Book 2, pp. 19-20.

[32] Ibid., March 27, 1860, Record Book 2, p. 22.

[33] Record Book I, pp. 107-108.

[34] Record Book 2, pp. 3 and 4.

[35] Ibid., p. 5.

[36] Corporation Minutes, October 22, 1861, Record Book I, p. 108.

[37] Ibid., November 5, 1861, Record Book I, p. no and Vestry Minutes, November 5, 1861, Record Book I, p. 113.

[38] Vestry Minutes, November 18, 1861, Record Book I, p. 114.

[39] Lyman Klapp, to the pew owners, February 20, 1862, in Record Book 2, p. 49.

[40] Corporation Minutes, March 25, 1862, Record Book 2, p. 52.

[41] The S. Stephen, Vol. I No. 4, March 1886, p. 4.

[42] Ibid., Vol. 17 No. 12, November 1902, p. 4.

[43] R. M. Upjohn, to the Reverend George McC. Fiske, October 8, 1902, in The S. Stephen, Vol. 20 No. 12, November 1905, p. 4.

[44] Corporation Minutes, February 20, 1862, Record Book I, p. 117.

[45] Report of the Building Committee, October 30, 1862, Record Book 2, p. 60.

[46] Upjohn had previously refused to build the Arlington Street Unitarian Church, Boston, because of the Unitarian theological position.

[47] The S. Stephen, Vol. 27 No. 4, March 1912, p. 4.

[48] The Providence Journal, February 28, 1862, in The S. Stephen’s Historical Notebook, p. 40.

[49] The S. Stephen, Vol. 27 No. 4, March 1912, p. 3.

[50] Corporation Minutes, October 30, 1862, Record Book 2, p. 63.

[51] Ibid., October 30, 1862, Record Book 2, p. 65.

[52] Ibid., April 5, 1863, Record Book 2, p. 71.

[53] Vestry Minutes, October 30, 1862, Record Book 2, p. 68.

[54] Church of the Savior, Parish Register, Book I, p. 42.

[55] Corporation Minutes, April 5, 1863, Record Book 2, p. 76.

[56] Church of the Savior, Parish Register, Book I, p. 86.

[57] D. Tyng, Rhode Island Episcopalians, op. cit., p. 15.

[58] Providence Directory, 1864.

[59] Margaret B. Stillwell, The Pageant of Benefit Street (Providence, Rhode Island: The Akerman-Standard Press, 1945), p. 138.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Corporation Minutes, April 5, 1863, Record Book 2, p. 75.

[62] Vestry Minutes, April 5, 1863, March 28, 1864, April 1, 1864, May 6, 1867, Record Book 2, pp. 78, 82, 84, 117.

[63] Corporation Minutes, March 28, 1864, Record Book 2, p. 81.

[64] Ibid., April 17, 1865, Record Book 2, p. 93.

[65] Vestry Minutes, March 28, 1864, Record Book 2, p. 83.

[66] Ibid., December 7, 1864, Record Book 2, p. 86.

[67] The S. Stephen, Vol. 5 No. 8, July 1890, pp. 2-4.

[68] Eugene King, to the Reverend George McC. Fiske, January 3, 1909, in The S. Stephen, Vol. 24 No. 8, July 1909, p. 4.

[69] Vestry Minutes, December 30, 1864, Record Book 2, p. 88 and March 24, 1865, Record Book 2, p. 90.

[70] Ibid., September 17, 1866, Record Book 2, p. 108.

[71] The S. Stephen, Vol. 24 No. 2, January 1909, p. 3.

[72] Vestry Minutes, May 13, 1867, Record Book 2, p. 118.

[73] Ibid., May 6, 1867, Record Book 2, p. 117.

[74] Ibid.

[75] Lucius Waterman, The Reformation Principles of Saint Stephen, sermon, preached February 27, 1912, at Saint Stephen’s, Providence, Rhode Island (n.p., privately printed, n.d.), p. 13.

[76] The S. Stephen, Vol. I No. 9, August 1886, p. 3.

[77] Ibid., Vol. 25 No. n, October 1910, p. 3.

[78] Ibid., Vol. 5, No. 4, March 1890, p. 3.

[79] Vestry Minutes, March 29, 1869, Record Book 2, p. 126.

[80] The S. Stephen, Vol. 13 No. 2, January 1898, p. 3.

[81] Vestry Minutes, April 2, 1866, Record Book 2, p. 99 through Vestry Minutes, May 4, 1866, Record Book 2, p. 106.

[82] Ibid., May 18, 1866, Record Book 2, pp. 107-108.

[83] Ibid., June 14, 1868, Record Book 2, p. 123.

[84] Parish Register No. I, p. 103.

[85] Vestry Minutes, May 1, 1871, Record Book 2, p. 135 and Vestry Minutes, May 7, 1871, Record Book 2, p. 136.

[86] Ibid., May 22, 1872, Record Book 2, p. 143.

[87] Samuel Johnson French, to the Reverend George McC. Fiske, October 24, 1887, in Parish Register No. I, inserted at p. 110.

[88] Henry Waterman, to the Saint Stephen’s Corporation, October 20, 1873, in Corporation Minutes, October 20, 1873, Record Book 2, p. 148.

[89] Corporation Minutes, October 20, 1873, Record Book 2, p. 150 and Corporation Minutes, November 10, 1873, Record Book 2, p. 152.

[90] Ibid., December 18, 1873, Record Book 2, p. 156.

[91] Ibid., April 1, 1872, Record Book 2, p. 139.

[92] The S. Stephen, Vol. 5 No. 4, March 1890, p. 3.

[93] D. Tyng, Rhode Island Episcopalians, op. cit., p. 72.

[94] Ibid., p. 41.

[95] The S. Stephen, Vol. 9 No. 9, August 1894, pp. 3-4.

[96] Biographical Cyclopedia of Rhode Island (Providence, Rhode Island: National Biographical Publishing Company, 1881), p. 385.

[97] Sanctuary wall plaque, Saint Stephen’s Church, Providence, Rhode Island.