Project Canterbury

Memoir of Bishop Seabury

By William Jones Seabury, D.D.

New York: Edwin S. Gorham, 1908.
London: Rivingtons, 1908.

Chapter VII. The Rectorate of St. Peter's, West Chester. 1766.

THE tenure of the Jamaica Parish appears to have been terminated about two years after the Treadwell intrusion. In 1764 occurred the death of Mr. Seabury's father, the Rector of St. George's, Hempstead, to be near whom had been one of his inducements to settle in Jamaica; and this loss of a sustaining association, together with the great discouragements he was conscious of in his work at that place, led him to accept the offer of the Rectorate of St. Peter's, West Chester. His settlement as Rector appears to have been accomplished with perhaps somewhat more formality than was always observed in such cases. Whether this appearance is due to the precision of Sir Henry Moore, the then Governor of the Province, or to the fact that in some other cases there has not been the same preservation of records, T cannot say; but it is certain that in the present instance the papers extant seem to be more specific in their provisions than in others which we have met. There are four documents extant in relation to the matter, three bearing date December 3, 1766; and the fourth dated March 1, 1767. In the first three Sir Henry Moore under his hand and the prerogative seal of the Province of New York, respectively--1st, institutes Samuel Seabury clerk, Rector of the Parish Church at West Chester commonly called St. Peter's Church, including the Districts of West Chester, East Chester, Yonkers and the Manor of Pelham; 2d, admits him to be Rector of said Parish with the same territorial inclusion; 3d, declares that he has Collated, Instituted and Established him to be Rector of said Parish Church with the same territorial inclusion, and charges all Rectors and Parish Ministers within the Province, and the Church Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Peter's Church that in due manner him the said Samuel Seabury into the real actual and corporal possession of the said Rectory and Parish Church they induct or cause to be inducted, with all its rights and appurtenances, and him so inducted do defend. The fourth document is a certificate signed by the Revd. Dr. Myles Cooper, then President of King's College, that by virtue of the above Mandate he had on the date above mentioned inducted Samuel Seabury into the real actual and corporal possession of St. Peter's Church with all its rights, privileges and appurtenances whatever. [The two last cited of these documents I had the honour to give to St. Peter's Church on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Parish, and reference is now made to them through copies furnished to me by the courtesy of the Rev. F. M. Clendenin, D.D., the present Rector; the other two documents are still in my possession.]

In addition to his settlement as Rector of West Chester, Mr. Seabury was also transferred by the Society as Missionary to that place. [Beardsley's Life of Bp. Seabury, p. 21.]

From one of his reports to the Society, written in the course of his first year in the new station, which is printed by Dr. Beardsley, it appears that St. Peter's was then a small old wooden building, with an average attendance of about two hundred--his communicants numbering twenty-four. At East Chester, about four miles distant he reports the congregation as generally larger than at West Chester; and that their present building being insufficient they had completed the roof of a large well built stone Church, further work upon which was suspended for want of funds; that he preached every other Sunday morning at West Chester, and after prayers in the afternoon catechized the children and explained the Catechism to them. He reports having baptized at West Chester six white children and one mulatto adult; at East Chester eight white, and at New Rochelle seven white and two negro children; also that he had made two visits to Jamaica since leaving there, baptizing one adult, and two white and three black children.

Passing to temporal affairs he notes, among other things, that the people at Newtown had sent him £20 currency, which probably sustains the suggestion in a previous chapter in regard to the apportionment of salary in the Jamaica Parish. The salary in the West Chester Parish he says is by act of Assembly "£50 currency--the exchange from New York to London being generally from £70 to £80 for £100 sterling." The parsonage house he reports as needing an outlay of £100 currency to make it comfortable, and adds that the glebe has cost him near £20 to repair the fences.

This glimpse of the pastoral life at West Chester may perhaps suffice for the general understanding of the course of that life during the period of his active ministry in that Parish. There is little diversity in that kind of life, which involves the regular recurrence of services and sermons, visitations upon parishioners, and application of the teachings of the lessons and means of Grace of the Gospel to the individual needs, as well of the sick as of the whole, as opportunity may offer. And so far as I am aware there is nothing in the strictly pastoral life of the Rector of St. Peter's that was particularly worthy of being commemorated. The same faithfulness and diligence which he had previously manifested in other cures, and which throughout his life he continued to manifest in the exercise of the Pastoral function, was manifested here, and while the results of his work were of momentous importance to those who experienced the benefits of it, yet there has not come down, to me at least, the knowledge of any particular event which would be of general interest in that aspect of his career.

On the other hand in respect to points at which the life of the Rector touched the life of the Church beyond the Parish, or of the people of the Colonies, the time spent at West Chester was very full of incident, and produced events which were of pervading interest then, and are very worthy of remembrance now: and it will be desirable to consider some of the steps by which the Rector became engrossed in interests which though not inconsistent in principle with the ordinary duties of the parish priest yet were practically incompatible with the regular discharge of them; and which reached far beyond them, appealing as they did to his convictions of duty both to the Church as a whole, and to the Country of which he was a citizen. This consideration will lead us through the period of his active ministry at St. Peter's, and beyond that into the time when the political controversies of the day culminated in the war of the Revolution; and will bring into view his connection with the efforts which were being made to procure the Episcopate, and also certain personal controversies in which that connection involved him. It will lead us also to take a view of his attitude toward the Civil Government, and against those principles which he deemed subversive of it, and calculated to work to the injury of the Church as well as of the State: and though the process will bring us into a somewhat diversified range of topics, it will be interesting to note how naturally one position followed another in his course of life, and how his simple devotion to the principles for which he stood seems to have necessitated his choice of actions in the complications in which he was involved.

In the last year of Mr. Seabury's stay at Jamaica an association was made by the Clergy of the Province resulting in their organization as a Convention. This association was designed in general for the benefit of mutual counsel, and for the promotion of the welfare of the Church in the Province, and particularly for the furthering of the movement for a Colonial Episcopate. It was, of course, a voluntary union, and was therefore styled a Convention, as distinguished from a Convocation which involves the idea of a superior authority by which the body is called together. But the body was duly organized by the consent of its members, and it provided by the same consent laws for its own government, and a Standing Committee for the administration of affairs between its sessions. It was in its inception, properly speaking, a Convention of the Church in the Province of New York as represented by its clergy; and was thus the forerunner of that Convention of the Church in the State of New York which was organized, with the addition of lay representatives, some twenty years later. Notwithstanding its particular connection with New York, however, the body received into it individuals among the Clergy both of Connecticut and New Jersey; men, for example, like Dr. Johnson of Connecticut and Dr. Chandler of New Jersey, of whose counsel and co-operation its members were glad to avail themselves. There seems also to have been a similar Convention in New Jersey, whether originating before or after that of New York I am not informed, but which was afterwards associated with that of New York, in a voluntary union, which was styled "The United Convention of New York and New Jersey, or New Jersey and New York, according to the Province in which they meet," an association which seems again to have foreshadowed the later voluntary association of the Churches in these and other States of the Civil Union, and which established the General Convention.

Of the body thus organized in 1766 Mr. Seabury was the Secretary, and the Minutes of the Convention of New York, and of the United Convention of New York and New Jersey, were written and signed by him as such, in a book which is now before me, for the period of a year, from May 21, 1766, to May 21, 1767. From the fact that the Minute book remained in his possession, and that it contains no entry of Minutes after the latter date, I infer that the meetings of the body ceased from that time, though I have no further information as to this point. The fact that this Convention, not only in the choice of its Secretary but also in certain other of its acts, is connected with the subject of this memoir; and the intrinsic interest of the record of its proceedings, have led me to give some account of its history. I extract from these Minutes such passages as bear upon the present story.

In a letter of the Convention to the Secretary of the Society, adopted May 22, 1766, in New York, after referring to the loss of Messrs. Wilson and Giles, and the loss of one-fifth of the Missionaries sent over by the Society, mention of which has already been made, the letter continues--

"This we consider as an incontestable argument for the necessity of American Bishops; and we do in the most earnest manner beg and intreat the venerable Society, to whose piety and care under God, the Church of England owes her very being in most parts of America, that they would use their utmost influence to effect a point so essential to the interest of the Church in this wide extended Country.

As we esteem it our duty to give the Society every information relative to the state of religion in this Country, we are now to inform them, that there are now a great many Independent and Presbyterian teachers assembled at this place, to the number of above sixty, and many more expected, who call themselves a Synod; and we are credibly informed that the grand point they have in view is to apply to the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, to use their utmost influence with his Majesty and the British Parliament, that they may be incorporated and established, and endowed with the most ample privileges and immunities. As we foresee the greatest mischief from this scheme, should it succeed, we humbly assure ourselves the Society will use such methods as they think proper, to prevent these aspiring men from accomplishing their pernicious designs."

At the meeting of January 21, 1767, "Dr. Chandler having read to the Board a letter of his to the Ld. Bishop of Oxford, containing some animated and just strictures upon the Bishop of Glocester's unaccountable sermon before the Society anno 1766, which we apprehend will be attended with the most fatal consequences; it was resolved . . . that he be requested to forward it as soon as possible in its present shape; . . . Mr. Cooper having produced a letter from Dr. Durell, Vice Chancellor of Oxford, and Principal of Hartford College, in answer to the address upon the subject of American Bishops, which was sent to the University of Oxford, from the Clergy of New Jersey and New York; it was resolved that Mr. Cooper be desired to return the thanks of the Convention to the Doctor, for his kind letter; and to beg the continuance of his countenance and protection."

At the meeting of May 20, 1767, "On a motion made it was agreed unanimously, That no copy of any minute or minutes of the Convention, be given to any person except a member, without a particular order of the Convention."

At the adjourned meeting May 21st, the Convention adopted and signed a letter to Horatio Sharp, Esqr., Governor of the Province of Maryland introducing to him "the Revd. Doctor Myles Cooper, President of the King's College in this city, and a member of the venerable Society for the propagation of the Gospel in foreign parts, and the Revd. Mr. Robert Mac-Kean, Missionary at Amboy, New Jersey, whom we have desired to wait upon and confer with your Excellency, on an affair we have much at heart, namely an American Episcopate; with this the interest of the Church is so closely connected, that not only her welfare, but probably her existence in a short time--we apprehend--will depend upon our obtaining it.

The Revd. Gentlemen who are to present this, and in whom we repose entire confidence, will lay before your Excellency the plan of such an Episcopate as is proposed, which in our opinion, will remove every reasonable objection that can be made against it, either by the members of the Church of England, or Dissenters of any denomination; as none of the rights, privileges, or immunities of either will be in the least affected, or any ways affected by it." A letter to the same effect was given by the Convention to Dr. Cooper and Mr. McKean for the Clergy of the Province of Maryland.

It appears from these references that the appeal so often made by individuals for the gift of a Colonial Episcopate was now formally made by the united action of the Clergy of New York and New Jersey, to the Society, and to the University of Oxford, in the hope doubtless that from these sources effectual influence might be brought to bear upon the Civil Authority, the consent and authorization of which were essential to the accomplishment of the object; and also that an effort was made to secure the co-operation of the Governor and Clergy of Maryland in this enterprise. It was the rumour of the day that appeals had also been presented in other directions, but if such were the case the minutes afford no evidence of it. It will be observed, moreover, that exception was taken to the Bishop of Glocester's sermon of 1766; that the influence of the Society is earnestly invoked for the counteraction of the scheme to procure an incorporation of Dissenting Ministers in the Colonies, and that in the Maryland letter reference is made to a certain plan of the proposed Episcopate as designed to remove any reasonable objection to it. All of these points obviously bear directly upon the effort to procure the Episcopate, and it may be imagined that those to whom for any reason that project might be disagreeable would find ground for offense in the action taken by the Convention so far as it was known to them. Nor is it to be supposed that the alert intelligence of more than sixty of the unepiscopal ministry in New York, at the time that the Convention was held there, would fail to acquire some information as to the general nature at least of its proceedings in regard to a matter to which they were vehemently opposed; nor that this information would fail to spread, with more of increase than diminution, throughout the ranks of those in the Colonies who were jealously apprehensive of any movement toward the acquiring of the Episcopate. It is not surprising therefore to find so distinguished and influential a Divine as the Revd. Dr. Ezra Stiles, of Newport, Rhode Island, much disturbed by rumours which had reached him in regard to the actions of the Convention, and very desirous to trace them to an authentic source." [Dr. Stiles was born in 1727; graduated at Yale College 174(1; Minister of Congregational Church, Newport, Rhode Island, October 22, I75S; President of Yale College from 1777 to his death in 1795. Blake's Biographical Dictionary.) For this purpose he addressed himself to the Secretary, in a letter which, with the answer to it, will now be laid before the reader. Before giving room to this correspondence, however, it should be stated that the proposed plan for the Episcopate, which is referred to therein, and also in the Maryland letter above noted, is that which had been .set forth by the Rev. Dr. Thomas Bradbury Chandler, Rector and Missionary in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, in a paper published under the title of an "Appeal to the Public in behalf of the Church of England in America," not long before the date of Dr. Stiles' letter.

It should also be stated that the letter of Dr. Stiles to the Secretary was not the only animadversion made upon the course pursued by the Convention. An attack had been publicly made upon the Convention, which had drawn out a letter in its defence from the Secretary, published in Mr. Game's Gazette of Monday, March 28, 1768, being as follows:0

[From a copy furnished to me by the Rev. Joseph Hooper.]

Whereas an anonymous writer who styles himself The American Whig in his last Monday's publication viz. No. II hath accused "a certain Convention of the Episcopal Clergy here" of having transmitted "seven petitions to some of the most respectable personages in England earnestly soliciting Bishops for America; representing the deplorable condition of an Unmitred Church, &c, and not sparing very injurious reflections upon our other denominations as seditious Incendiaries and disaffected to King and Government," I beg leave to observe that I have acted as Secretary to the Convention from its first formation, and have particularly attended to, and carefully read every petition they have transmitted to England, "soliciting Bishops for America;" and I do affirm that the Convention have never made any "injurious reflection upon the other Denominations," or as "disaffected to the King and Government." I do moreover affirm and declare, that this assertion of the American Whig, is absolutely, utterly and entirely false and groundless and I hereby call upon him in this open manner, both as a member of, and as Secretary to, the Convention publicly to produce the authorities upon which he has asserted so infamous a falsehood.

In this case the most positive proof is insisted on, nor will the respectable public be put off with a poor, simple, "We are told" which is nothing to the purpose.

Should any person think I do not treat this writer with proper respect let him turn to the last paragraph of the American Whig No. I, where Dr. Chandler and the Convention (Gentlemen at least as respectable as himself) are in fact accused of the grossest falsehood and deceit, in pretending to ask for a Bishop only upon the plan proposed in the Appeal while it is "not the primitive Christian Bishop that they want:" But &c "

Such a piece of effrontery and Malice I think deserves and would justify worse treatment than a regard to my own character would suffer me to give him.

S. Seabury.
March 23, 1768."

With this introduction we may come to the letter of Dr. Stiles to the Secretary of the Convention, and the answer of the Secretary thereto, which shall conclude the present chapter.

"Newport, 8th Mar., 1768.
Reverend Sir

The letters addressed by your Episcopal Convention to the King's Majesty, Several Dignitaries in the Church, the two English Universities, and to the Society, relate to a matter of public consequence, and of too great importance not to be attended to by all America--by far the greater part of which is, and doubtless through all American ages will continue to be Dissenters--even should the whole expanded territory from the Mississippi to the Atlantic be covered with Episcopacy and Episcopal reverence most assuredly projected for it. Dr. Chandler has asked our objections to an Episcopate here. He finds we have as many as Holland, Germany, Sweden, the whole protestant world except your church would have to the introduction of it within their territories respectively. The whole Dispute is now before the public. These letters gave us the first notice of a formal application. But the genuineness of the copies we have seen is disputed. I therefore apply myself to you, Sir, as Secretary of the Convention, for authentic copies of each, at least of that to the King, certified under your hand as Secretary. In this age of truth and liberty, the records of all ecclesiastical bodies in the Protestant world, we presume He open to public view and Examination; and extracts and copies of the proceedings thereof are freely permitted. But if any of the transactions of your Convention should be of a more restricted nature, yet those relative to Prelacy and the Imploring of Bishops cannot be such and least of all the letters in question. According to the copies we have seen, the Dissenters, that most respectable body in America, are represented by more than implication, as Revilers of the State, of perverse dispositions, as dangerous to Monarchy and unworthy the King's Clemency and Protection. Our Loyalty to the Sovereigns of the House of Hanover, our Love and Reverence for the British Constitution have been so conspicuous that we cannot submit to be thus represented to the Parent State. You, Sir, have said in the public prints that no such representation has been made. It will be a pleasure, Sir, to find your declaration confirmed by an inspection of authentical copies of those seven Letters. It is, Sir, for this end I ask them and I am sure your candor and politeness will most freely, most readily grant my request. Though we differ in Sentiments as to the external Policy of the Church of Christ, yet I sincerely wish the Divine Blessing upon all your labors in persuading sinners to be reconciled to God and to become sincere disciples of the Blessed JESUS. I send you this through the hands of the Rev. Mr. Rodgers of New York. Be so kind as to commit your letter to his care and it will be securely forwarded to, Reverend Sir,

your most obedient Very humble ser

Ezra Stiles. Rev. Mr. Seabury."

To Dr. Stiles.

"In answer to your letter of the 8th March which I did not receive till the 8th May I must inform you that I am precluded by a rule of the Convention from giving out any copies of Minutes or papers committed to my care without an order of the Convention. I have however shewed your Letter to two or three of my Brethren, and their Sentiments as well as my own are, that the manifest unaccountable want of candor in the opposers of an American Episcopate, upon the proposed plan, is so very great, that they cannot think it a proper time to make public any of those Letters which you mention. Several persons who were consulted with regard to the propriety of Dr. Chandler's publishing his appeal, at the time it was published predicted the very treatment, it, and its author, and the whole body of Clergy met with. I was, I confess of a different opinion: I had such favorable sentiments of the Candor and friendly disposition of the Dissenters, that I imagined, they would have calmly and soberly pointed out the disadvantages they apprehended from the proposed plan that they might have been removed. The consequence has been the plan is approved but the thing opposed. Now to suppose an American Episcopate upon any other plan than the one proposed, is fighting with a shadow, a mere nonentity. But to do this in such an illiberal, abusive, scurrilous manner as has been done here, argues so bad a disposition, that I have no inclination to give a name to it. The whole Body of the Clergy of the Church, have been represented by the American Whig, as Tories, that is in the estimation of that Faction, Traitors and Rebels to their King and country. The Convention has been represented as a number of false deceitful men, pretending to ask for one thing, while they really are aiming at another. When I denied publicly, that any accusation was made against the loyalty of Dissenters; I was represented as a furious fellow, too much in a passion to ]<now what he said--and that I really had affirmed a matter of fact, of which it was impossible I could be a competent judge. Consider these things, Sir, and judge yourself, whether there is that probability of Candour and moderation among the Dissenters, which is sufficient to induce us to a Compliance with your demand. Far be it from me to imagine that Dr. Stiles is thus void of candour and moderation--but then it cannot be thought that Dr. Stiles wants those copies solely for his own inspection, and that no other person is to see them. With regard to the authenticity of those copies which you intimate are abroad, I can say nothing. Those persons who know from whom and by what means they were obtained are the best judges of that.

And with regard to an "Ecclesiastical Reverence most assuredly projected for an Episcopate, which is to cover the whole expanded Territory from the Mississippi to the Atlantic," I really Sir, never heard, either of such an Episcopate, or of such a reverence.

I must also express my doubts, relating to the proceedings of all ecclesiastical Bodies being so open to public view and examination, as freely to permit copies and extracts of their proceedings to be taken. If that is the case, I would propose an expedient, that possibly would satisfy all parties, viz. let the Convention and the Synod publish all their proceedings, letters &c and then the public would be competent judges, whether the Church or Dissenters entertained sentiments the most favorable to universal liberty of conscience.

I have Sir, indulged the same liberty of thought and expression, which you have in your letter, and which I conclude will not be disagreeable to you. I shall conclude with assuring you that the Episcopate for America which we have so much at heart, is upon the plan in the appeal and no other. If there are any inconveniences which they apprehend from this plan, when they are coolly and candidly pointed out, we will join our endeavours to yours to get them removed. I am Sir your most obedient,

humble servant
Samuel Seabury. June 4th, 1768."

Project Canterbury