Project Canterbury

Life and Correspondence of Samuel Johnson, D.D.
Missionary of the Church of England in Connecticut and First President of King's College, New York.

By E. Edwards Beardsley, D.D.

New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1874.

Chapter V.


A.D. 1736-1743.

BESIDES his extensive correspondence in this country, upon Johnson devolved the chief duty of communicating with friends at home, and keeping them informed of everything here that concerned the general prosperity of the Church. His letters to the Bishops and to the Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel are numerous, and, for that period, minute in their details. [See Church Documents, Connecticut, vols. i. and ii., and author's History of Episcopal Church in Connecticut, vol. i.] He watched every movement that bore hardly upon the labors of the missionaries, and promptly suggested means of redress and encouragement. He advocated without ceasing the appointment of bishops for America, as the best plan of settling the Church upon a sure foundation, and saving it from the reproach of enemies. This thought was so constantly in his mind that he sometimes felt obliged to apologize for referring to it, as the following letter from the Bishop of Gloucester will show, written under date of--

LONDON, March 9, 1735/6.

SIR,--You needed no apology for any application you could make to me in relation to anything wherein you might think me capable of serving the Church in America. I wish my capacity were equal to my desire of doing it. No one is more sensible of the difficulties in general you labor under in those parts, and in particular of those you complain of for want of a bishop residing among you. My own interest to be sure is inconsiderable; but the united interests of the bishops here is not powerful enough to effect so reasonable and right a thing as the sending some bishops into America. The person whom you have sent hither to be ordained is a very sensible, and seems to be a serious man, and it is plain that he came over with no view to his private interests; his only motive could be to embrace what he thought to be right, and his only desire now seems to be to be rendered as serviceable as possible to the Church of Christ. I wish we could have sent him back to you in a post and with a salary better suited to his deserts; but however small the salary may seem, the income of the Society is so very low at present, that we were forced to break through some of our rules and regulations to allot this salary small as it is. I wrote a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford to recommend these gentlemen to the University for the favor of a Degree, and I have since received a letter from him to acquaint me that the degree of Master of Arts is by Diploma conferred upon each of them. [Jonathan Arnold and Rev. Henry Caner.] I wish Mr. Caner, who has the character from you and every one of a very deserving man, might acquire a better state of health by his journey hither.

The Bishop of Cloyne has for some time been in a very bad state of health, but by a letter I have just received from him I have the pleasure to hear he is better than he was.

I am, Sir,

Your faithful servant and affectionate Brother,


The plea was early set up, and it had its influence with the home government, that the establishment of bishops in America would lead to an independence of the Colonies. Allusion is made to this, and the idea spurned in a letter of Johnson to the Bishop of London, written--

Nov. 3, 1738. MY LORD,--I most humbly thank your Lordship for your kind letter of February 3d, and in answer to it can only lament the unhappiness of the times, and that it is not even in your Lordship's power to do those great and good services to the Church in general and here in America in particular, which you would gladly and have faithfully labored to do. All I can say is, that though it is a most unaccountable way of reasoning to conclude in us Americans any disposition towards an independency on our mother country from our general desire of bishops to preside over us,--the reverse of which is the truth,--yet since it is thus (and doubtless there are many more instances as strange as this in the reasoning of this desperate age), we must patiently submit and wait upon Providence till it shall please God to enlighten the minds of men, and send us better times. I have delayed the longer to acknowledge your Lordship's kind letter, because I was willing to wait the issue of an affair that has been in agitation among us, which I expected to have given your Lordship an account of myself, but since Mr. Arnold is obliged to go home this fall on that and some other affairs, I beg leave to refer your Lordship to our joint address to your Lordship, and remain--may it please your Lordship--yours, etc.,

S. J.

[Jonathan Arnold, the successor of Samuel Johnsq.n in the Congregational ministry at West Haven, conformed to Episcopacy in 1734, and afterwards went to England where he received holy orders, as may be learned from the Bishop of Gloucester's letter on the preceding page. He was not lost, as has been sometimes stated, on a second voyage to England in. 1739. He did not go home on the "affairs" referred to above, but removed to Staten Island, N. Y., where he became the Society's missionary in charge of St. Andrew's Church. See History of Episcopal Church in Connecticut, vol. i. c. viii. Complaints against Mr. Arnold by the wardens and vestrymen were transmitted to the Society, and by an order bearing date June 21, 1745, he was "dismissed from being their missionary to the Church of St. Andrew." The Rev. T. B. Chandler writing to the Rev. Dr. Johnson from Elizabethtown, February 26, 1753, said: "I had the pleasure of receiving your favor of January 29, and am sorry to tell you that Mr. Arnold did nothing in his will for his children in New England. Mrs. Arnold was left sole executrix, and everything her husband died possessed of was left to her disposal. However, she says she is willing that his children in New England should come in for shares with her own child in whatsoever lie left in your parts; and I believe she will not recall it. As to the temper of mind in which Mr. Arnold left the world, I find that he had his reason for some months before his death, which he retained to the last. But I have not heard what remarks or reflections he made on his past life, and what was the moral disposition of his mind."--MS. Letter.]

Any letter from Johnson to a friend in London, was sure to be welcomed, and few young men went over for holy orders, who did not deem it necessary to take from him a note of introduction. His old associate in the first struggle for Episcopacy in Connecticut--Dr. Cutler--solicited his good offices, when he was about to send his son, a graduate of Harvard College in 1732, on the same errand which had carried them to England many years before. The answer which one of his correspondents returned is a matter of historic interest:--

DEAR SIR,--I had the favor of yours of Septemzber last by Mr. Cutler; who intends to make a longer stay with us than you thought of. He has had the good fortune to get a curacy of £50 per annum in Essex, about 30 miles from London, where he may live cheap and save money to buy books, and he will have a very great advantage in conversing a good part of the year with his Rector, Dr. Walker, a very ingenious and learned man, who will assist him vastly in critical learning, and furnish him for the present with all sorts of books he has occasion for. Dr. MacSparran has been honored with a Degree by the University of Oxford, and might to be sure go on it ad eundem at Cambridge, but I believe he will scarce have time to go thither. I hear with much pleasure that he has prevailed with the Bp. of London to appoint iMr. Checkley a missionary, and hope we shall soon see him here in London.

Your good friend the Bp. of Oxford is translated to Canterbury, to the universal satisfaction of almost everybody. Dr. Lisle at Bow might have succeeded him, but declined it, and the general expectation is that Dr. Secker, Bp. of Bristol, will be removed to Oxford, to make way for Dr. Gooch to go to Bristol, who (according to custom) could not be Bp. of Oxford as being a Cambridge man. Dr. Gooch is brother-in-law to Bp. Sherlock (of Salisbury), whom now in conjunction with the Abp. of Canterbury we reckon to be at the head of ecclesiastical affairs,--perhaps I should add here with us, for with you to be sure the Bp. of London is and must be at the head.

I am, dear Sir,

Your assured friend and humble servant.


SCOTCH YARD, Apr. 14, 1737.

Johnson was a great reader, and no new publication of any merit appeared in England which he did not immediately send for. In one of his letters to Mr. Berriman he said: "I am particularly thankful for the intelligence you have given me about books, a subject I shall always be glad our correspondence may turn upon, for I want very much to know what passes among the learned world." Intelligent people at that period read solid works, and he was ever ready to lend anything that he possessed to those who were earnest seekers of the truth. In the following note to Mr. Berriman, there is an allusion for the first time to one whose movements in this country were soon to fill him with watchfulness and anxiety:--

Sept. 10, 1739.

DEAR SIR,--Your kind letter of January 10, 1739, came not to my hands till some time this summer. I am very much obliged to you for it, and for your care in procuring and sending Parker's "Eusebius," which I desired Mr. Cutler to get for me to make up my set, having had the first volume burnt in a house where I had lent it. I have not seen Mr. Checkley 1 since his arrival, but hear he is like to. be very useful at Providence. I have nothing remarkable to tell you from hence. Though the Church here is very ill-treated by these dissenting governments, yet it daily increases. I should be glad to know from you what is the general sense of the clergy about Mr. Whitefield and his proceedings, of which our newspapers are generally filled.

[John Checkley, born of English parents in the city of Boston, 1680, finished his studies at the University of Oxford, and afterwards travelled over the greatest part of Europe. As the reader has already seen, he was with Johnson in London in 1723, and upon returning to this country published a pamphlet entitled: A Modest Proof of the Order and Government settled by Christ and his Apostles in the Church." It was the forerunner of the controversy upon Episcopacy on this continent, and undoubtedly had the approval and encouragement of Cutler and Johnson. The author of a reply, Rev. Jonathan Dickinson, observed that it was said to be reprinted at Boston, but he did not remember that he had ever seen any former edition. A second edition of the reply together with an appendix, called, Remarks on some part of Mr. P. Barclay's Persuasive, soon appeared. The latter was by the Rev. Thomas Foxcroft, a Presbyterian divine of Boston, who invited Johnson to a friendly discussion of the claims of Episcopacy, and wrote him two long letters, one in June and the other in August, 1726, besides sending him books and a pamphlet, entitled A Vindication, etc. Careful answers were returned to these letters, and in one of them, referring to the Vindication, Johnson said: "If you could not be satisfied without seeing some remarks upon this performance,--there is a gentleman in your neighborhood, far more able than I am, who if he were addressed in that gentlemanly and friendly Christian manner, wherewith you seem to aim at treating me, would, I doubt not, do it to your satisfaction, and with as much Christian friendly temper, moderation, and forbearance, as you can wish for from me; notwithstanding that he is so injuriously dressed up like a morose furioso, in the imaginations of your people, and notwithstanding the ungentlemanly, unchristian treatment he meets with among you." The pamphlet, A Modest Proof, etc., was followed by a republication of Leslie's "Short and Easy Method with the Deists, to which was annexed a "Discourse concerning Episcopacy, sold by John Checkley." For this he was arrested as a libeler, tried before a jury, and mulcted in fifty pounds to the king, and costs of prosecution, with securities for his good behavior for six months. Checkley reprinted his Discourse Concerning Episcopacy in 1728, in London, whither he went for holy orders--but obstacles were thrown in his way, and he returned without accomplishing his purpose. His desire to serve God in the ministry of the Church was unquenched, and again, when he was on the verge of threescore years, he crossed the ocean, and was ordained by the Bishop of Exeter, and appointed a missionary to Providence, R. I., where he officiated till his death, which occurred in 1753. His son John graduated at Harvard College, in 1738, and went to England for ordination; but fell a victim to the small-pox, and died during his sojourn abroad, in 1743.]

There has been very much such a stir among the Dissenters in some parts of this country as he makes in England.

I am, sir, yours, etc.

S. J.

The members and professors of the Church of England living in Connecticut were aggrieved by an act of the Colonial legislature, whereby the proceeds arising from the sale of certain lands were designated for the sole benefit of the Congregational ministers and people. They complained of the injustice of denying them a share in the public moneys for the support of their ministers, and a memorial was sent to the General Assembly, signed by nearly seven hundred males attached to the Church of England, and asking for themselves equal privileges and protection. This memorial, which carefully recited no less than seven reasons why the legislative action should be amended, was drawn up by Johnson as were all similar memorials prepared during his lifetime, and having reference to the rights of Churchmen in Connecticut. He apprised his friends in England of these movements, and sought their advice whenever he was in any perplexity. The College at New Haven continued to interest him, and not only his affection for it, but his agency in securing important donations, led him to watch its progress and attend the public examinations in Greek and Latin, to which he was invited as the senior Episcopal Missionary in the colony, according to the terms of Berkeley's gift. So early as 1735, the Bishop of Cloyne wrote him, expressing great pleasure to find that a member of his own family, Benjamin Nicoll, had won distinction as a "scholar of the house," and he added a few words to indicate something of his design in founding the scholarship: "One principal end proposed by me was to promote a better understanding with the Dissenters, and so by degrees to lessen their dislike to our communion; to which end methought the improving their minds with liberal studies might greatly conduce, as I am very sensible that your own discreet behavior and manner of living towards them, hath very much forwarded the same effect." The subject of the memorial was the "affair" upon which the Connecticut Clergy jointly addressed the Bishop of London; and Johnson wrote to Berkeley about it, and about the treatment of Mr. Arnold, more pointedly, when in the following letter he reported "good struggle for the scholarship:--

May 14, 1739.

MAY IT PLEASE YOUR LORDSHIP,--I humbly thank your Lordship for your very obliging letter of May 11, 1738, which came not to my hands till precisely that day twelve months after it was written, and in the very interim when (having lately attended on the examination of the scholars at Yale College for your Lordship's premium) I was meditating to write to your Lordship and give you some account of the condition of things among us; which is as follows: We had a good struggle this year for the scholarship, and it is very agreeable to see to what perfection classical learning is advanced in comparison with what it was before your Lordship's donation to this College, though I cannot say it has much increased for these two years past, and I doubt it is got to something of a stand. Another son of Mr. Williams has got it this year, who had manifestly the advantage of the rest; but I think none have ever performed to so great perfection as one Whittelsey last year, who is son of a neighboring minister, whose performance was very extraordinary, not only for the scholarship, but also for books purchased with some money that had been forfeited by the resignation of Leonard.

I am very sorry to tell your Lordship how ungrateful New Haven people have been to the Church after so many benefactions their College hath received from that quarter, in raising a mob and keeping Mr. Arnold vi et armis from taking possession of the land, which, as I told your Lordship in my last, one Mr. Gregson of London had given him to build a church on near the College.

[In a pamphlet entitled A Vindication of the Bishop of Landaff's Sermon from the Gross Misrepresentations and Abusive Reflections contained in Mr. Wm. Livingston's Letter to his Lordship, published in 1768, the author, after speaking, page 40, of the treatment of the Society's Missionaries in New England, says: "Perhaps Mr. Livingston may remember some instances of this himself; once especially in a gallant exploit performed by the students of Yale College, in which he was more than a spectator. The scene of this noble action was a lot of ground in the town of New Haven, which had been bequeathed to the CHURCH for the use of a missionary. There these magnanimous champions signalized themselves; for once upon a time, quitting soft dalliance with the muses, they roughened into sons of Mars, and issuing forth in deep and firm array, with courage bold and undaunted, they not only attacked, but bravely routed a YOKE OF OXEN and a poor Plowman, which had been sent by the then Missionary of New Haven, to occupy and plow up the said lot of ground. An exploit truly worthy of the renowned Hudibras himself!" The pamphlet, though published anonymously, was written by Dr. Inglis of New York, aftcrwerds first Lord Bishop of Nova Scotia.]

Another instance of injurious treatment the Church has lately met with from this ungrateful country has been in the General Assembly denying a most reasonable petition as laid before them last year. The case was this: all the lands within the bounds of this Government [Connecticut] were by charter alike granted to all the inhabitants, without limitation to those of any particular denomination in matters of religion. Now of these lands there remained a sufficient quantity for seven new townships, which were lately laid out and ordered to be sold, and the money (amounting to about ~70,000) to be considered as the common right of the whole community. When it was considered how to dispose of it, it was at length concluded that it should be divided proportionally to each town, according to their estates, for the support of dissenting teachers; whereby the Church people, who had manifestly a right to their proportion of it, were excluded. Whereupon we presented our humble address to the Assembly, signed by every male of the Church in the Government above sixteen, to the number of about seven hundred, praying we might have our proportion in these public moneys. But they were pleased to pass a negative upon it; and I should be very thankful for your Lordship's advice whether it be worth our while to apply to the King and Council on this affair.

I heartily rejoice with your Lordship in the health and prosperity of your lady and family, and am no less grieved for the illness you labor under, in your own person. I sincerely pray, God remove it, and give you health.

Good Dr. Cutler is in great grief, having lately lost a very hopeful son, nigh of age for Orders. Mr. Honyman has been till lately very much indisposed with grief for the loss of his spouse, but is within these few months recovered and married again to one Mrs. Brown, an elderly gentlewoman, mother to Capt. Brown of Newport. With our humble duty to your lady,

I remain, may it please your Lordship, etc.

S. J.

All letters to his English correspondents at this period allude to the action of the General Assembly, and in some of them, he speaks of the fickleness of Mr. Arnold and his removal to Staten Island. In writing to Dr. Astry, April 10, 1740, he said: "I am sorry the Society found themselves under a necessity of removing him to any other mission, though I confess he has not conducted so discreetly of late, especially since he had an intimation of it, as I could wish, and I fear the Church in these parts will much suffer on this occasion. At least his people falling of course again under my care will be a very great addition to my burden."

The memorialists were not disheartened by the refusal to grant their petition, and the clergy renewed it so earnestly that at last, rather than let the Church have its share, a proposition to repeal was adopted, and the proceeds of the sale of the lands by a former act went to the maintenance of popular education. Johnson writing to the Bishop of Cloyne shortly before the repeal took place, referred to the memorial once more, but seemed to be hopeless of any redress:--

June 20, 1740.

MY LORD,--I did myself the honor to write to you about a year ago, and acknowledged yours of May 11, 1738, and gave you some account of the condition of things among us in this Colony, and especially the College, which is so much indebted to your Lordship, that I think it is but fit that your Lordship should, at least once a year, have some account of the success of your generous donation to it; and this I hope will apologize for my troubling your Lordship once in a while with some account of our affairs which otherwise would not deserve your notice.

Our College has been in a very unsettled position this last year, which perhaps may be the reason that there has not this May appeared quite so good a proficiency in classical learning as heretofore (though very considerable compared with what used to be), there having been an interregnum of seven or eight months wherein it has had no Rector. Mr. Williams had been much out of health for some months, and last fall was persuaded it was owing to his sedentary life and the sea-side air, and accordingly took up a resolution, from which he would not be dissuaded, to retire up into the country, where he has lived ever since, and where, indeed, he seems to have enjoyed his health better; though some people are so censorious as to judge that, considering the age and declining state of our Governor, his chief aim was to put himself in the way of being chosen into that post. But if this was his view, it is not unlikely that he may be disappointed, for upon a considerable struggle last election for a new Governor, he had but few votes, and Mr. Eliot had a vast many more than all other competitors put together, and will doubtless succeed whenever there is a new choice. However, Mr. Williams was a Representative and Speaker in their Assembly, and was made one of the Judges of the Superior Court, and may possibly get to be one of the Council or Assistants, which is, I believe, the utmost he will attain to.

Upon his leaving the College the Trustees have appointed one Mr. Clap, late minister of Windham, to succeed, who seems to be a well tempered gentleman and of good sense and much bf a mathematician, and though he is not so well acquainted with the classics as might be wished, I hope he will improve much in that and all other points of learning, and prove a good governor to the College.

We have again applied to the Assembly about the seven new townships, that I mentioned to your Lordship in my last, and nothing has yet been done. Next October will be the last time of asking, but I do not expect they will finally grant our petition. However, the Church greatly increases, especially in the town. But I grow tedious, and will not add any further save my earnest prayers for your lady and family, to whom my very humble duty. I beg your prayers, and remain, my Lord, your Lordship's, etc.

S. J.

The arrival in New England in the autumn of 1740 of the Rev. George Whitefield was followed by an outburst of great religious enthusiasm. He had been ordained by the Bishop of Gloucester, and, before coming to this country, had given specimens of the extraordinary power and erratic zeal for which he was afterwards so celebrated. There had been "very much such a stir among the Dissenters" in some of the Colonies as he had made in England, and the people, therefore, were ripe for his extravagances, and crowded around him when he preached in the open air or in the meeting-houses. He soon put himself beyond the sympathy and sanction of the bishops and clergy of the Church, whose doctrines, worship, and discipline he was ordained to defend; and the more bitter his invectives against them became, the more earnestly did his adherents among the Independent or Congregational ministers encourage his work and promote his irregularities. No doubt many of them regarded him as an angel of light in human form, raised up by Divine Providence to awaken sinners to repentance, to seriousness of life, and the practice of virtue; and there is reason to believe that his preaching in several instances was attended with blessed results. But those who welcomed and caressed him with the idea that his course was calculated to check among their people a growing attachment to the doctrines and worship of the Church, discovered at length that so far from this, it shattered and divided their own churches, and in the end rapidly increased and strengthened the communion which they expected to see dwindle and die.

Whitefield had his imitators as well as his followers--preachers who undertook to adopt his style and imitate his dramatic action, and who travelled about from place to place seeking to make converts, and disregarding all ecclesiastical rights and regulations. Then came a set of lay-exhorters who added to the popular confusions and fomented the flames which had been kindled. Johnson carefully watched the progress of things and was at the head of his clerical brethren in guiding and steadying the Church through such great and manifold perils. He wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishops of Gloucester, London, and Cloyne to acquaint them with the strange commotions in Connecticut, growing out of Whitefield's itinerancy. It will be sufficient to quote only his letter to Berkeley, which contains other references, and is dated:--

Oct. 3, 1741.

MY LORD,--This comes to your Lordship upon occasion of our recommending to the Society, Mr. Richard Caner (brother to my good neighbor Mr. Henry Caner, Missionary to Fairfield, of whom you may possibly retain some remembrance), who well deserves the Society's notice on this occasion. I have the pleasure to inform your Lordship that upon the occasion of our new Rector, Mr. Clap, and his application to the business of the College, we have the satisfaction to see classical as well as mathematical learning improve among us; there having been a better appearance the last May than what I gave your Lordship an account of before; for this gentleman proves a solid, rational, good man, and much freer from bigotry than his predecessor.

But this new enthusiasm, in consequence of Whitefield's preaching through the country and his disciples', has got great footing in the College as well as throughout the country. Many of the scholars have been possessed of it, and two of this year's candidates were denied their degrees for their disorderly and restless endeavors to propagate it. Indeed Whitefield's disciples have in this country much improved upon the foundation which he laid; so that we have now prevailing among us the most odd and unaccountable enthusiasm that perhaps ever obtained in any age or nation. For not only the minds of many people are at once struck with prodigious distresses upon their hearing the hideous outcry of our itinerant preachers, but even their bodies are frequently in a moment affected with the strangest convulsions and involuntary agitations and cramps, which also have sometimes happened to those who came as mere spectators, and are no friends to their new methods, and even without their minds being at all affected. The Church, indeed, has not, as yet, much suffered, but rather gained by these commotions, which no men of sense of either denomination have at all given in to, but it has required great care and pains in our clergy to prevent the mischief. How far God may permit this madness of the people to proceed, He only knows. But I hope that neither religion nor learning will in the whole event of things much suffer by it.

I humbly beg an interest in your Lordship's prayers and blessing, and remain, etc.,

S. J.

In a similar strain he wrote to his friend, Dr. Astry, two days before, and spoke of the necessity, if possible, of an increase in the number of missionaries, at the same time that he entreated him to be present at the meeting of the Society when the application of Mr. Caner was presented. The reply of Dr. Astry deserves a place in this connection:

REV. SIR,--I had the favor of your letter by Mr. Caner, and have out of regard to your recommendation of him attended the Board whilst his business was depending. I hope and believe that you will find him satisfied with what has been done there in compliance with his request; and that he will do me the justice with you to bear testimony that he found me disposed to help him what I could. It would have been agreeable to my inclinations to have had more of his company. But the hurry of his affairs and haste to return to you, have been a bar to that satisfaction. As to his going to Oxford, he mentioned it not to me, and indeed I declined entering into it with him, for that I have very little acquaintance left in the University, and accordingly had little prospect of being instrumental in getting him a degree there, had he attempted it.

I lament the vexations you have had by means of that strange fellow Whitefield, and his successors. But as I find by you that the Church has not in the main suffered so much as might have been apprehended, and was designed by those who maliciously set them to work, one has reason to be content and to thank God that things are no worse. And I have the pleasure to think that among my friends in your parts, there are men capable of dealing with them so as to stop their progress, if not to bring good out of evil. I heartily pray that your endeavors may have that effect, the rather because the Society is very little in a condition to send you more fellow-helpers at present, however your occasions may require more. That they have added one in Mr. Caner I am very glad, as I see in him all good dispositions to answer the ends of his mission. [He was appointed a missionary to Norwalk, Ct., and transferred to the charge of St. Andrew's Ch. Staten Island, 1745, upon the dismission of Mr. Arnold, but died of small-pox in New York, Dec. 14, 1745.] My wife returns her compliments to you and yours, and I am with gratitude,

Sir, Your affectionate friend and servant,


ST. JAMES'S PLACE, Feb. 8, 1741-2.

A bitter and uncharitable spirit grew out of the religious enthusiasm consequent upon the intinerancy of Whitefield. Divines of the standing order were divided--part sympathizing with the new light, and part stoutly maintaining a continuance in the old ways and opposing innovations. The odium theologicum was never more fierce, and any attempt to restrain it proved unavailing. Large numbers of sober and thoughtful persons in Connecticut, disgusted with the extravagances of the time and finding in Congregationalism no rest from strife and dissension, broke away from their former associations, and fled for comfort and quietness to the bosom of the Church of England. This excited in an unhappy degree the displeasure of her opponents, and harsh judgments and irritating reflections fell upon the missionaries and upon the doctrines of the communion which they were appointed to teach and maintain.

Johnson was brought into sharp conflict with Mr. Gold, the dissenting minister in Stratford, and a correspondence was carried on between them which involved very important principles as well as dangerous precedents. It had been said of him that he was not converted; nor any of the Church of England people in Stratford; that he was a thief, and robber of churches, and had no business in the place; that his church doors stood open to all mischief and wickedness, and other words of like import, which could only be uttered in the heats of angry passion or religious excitement. He was not willing to rest under these charges without calling the author to account, and so he addressed him a letter, which speaks for itself, dated,--

July 6, 1741.

SIR,--.... I thought it my duty to write a few lines to you, in the spirit of Christian meekness, on this subject. And I assure you I am nothing exasperated at these hard censures, much less will I return them upon you. No Sir! God forbid I should censure you as you censure me! I have not so learned Christ! I will rather use the words of my dear Saviour concerning those that censure so, and say, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

As to my having no business here, I will only say that to me it appears most evident that I have as much business here at least as you have,--being appointed by a Society in England incorporated by Royal Charter to provide ministers for the Church people in America; nor does his Majesty allow of any establishment here, exclusive of the Church, much less of anything that should preclude the Society he has incorporated from providing and sending ministers to the Church people in these countries. And as to my being a robber of churches, I appeal to God and all his people, of both denominations, whether I have ever uncharitably censured you, or said or done anything to disaffect or disunite your people from you, as on many occasions I might have done; on the other hand, whether I have not on all occasions put people upon making the kindest constructions possible upon your proceedings, and whether there has ever been anything in mine or my people's conduct that could be justly interpreted to savor of spite or malice, though we have met with much of it from some of our neighbors.

If any of your people have left you, I appeal to them whether it has been owing to any insinuations of mine, and whether it has not been many times owing to your own conducting otherwise than in prudence you might have done, that they have been led to inquire, and upon inquiring to conform to this Church. And pray why have not Dissenters here as much liberty to go to church, if they see good reason for it (as they will soon do if they seriously inquire), as Church people to go to meeting if they see fit, as some have done, without my charging you so highly? In short, all I have done which could be the occasion of any people leaving you, has been to vindicate our best of churches from the injurious misrepresentations she has labored under from you and others; and this it was my bounden duty to do. And indeed I shall think myself obliged in conscience to take yet more pains with Dissenters as well as Church people than I have ever yet done, if I see them in danger of being misled by doctrines so contrary to the very truth and spirit of the Gospel as have lately been preached among us up and down in this country.

And as to my Church being open to all wickedness, I appeal to God and all that know me and my proceedings whether I have not as constantly borne witness against all kinds of wickedness as you have, and been as far from patronizing it as you have been, and must think my people are generally as serious and virtuous as yours. And lastly as to your censuring me and my people as being unconverted, etc., I will only beg you to consider whether you act the truly Christian part in thus endeavoring to disaffect my people towards my ministrations, and weaken and render abortive my endeavors for the good of their souls, when I know not that I have given you any occasion to judge me unconverted,--much less to set me out in such a formidable light to them. However, I leave these things, Sir, to your serious consideration, and beg you will either take an opportunity to converse with me where and when you please, or rather return me a few lines, wherein (as you have judged me unconverted, etc.) I entreat you will plainly give me your reasons why you think me so; for as bad as I am, I hope I am open to conviction, and earnestly desirous not to be mistaken in an affair of so great importance, and the rather because I have not only my own, but many other souls to answer for, whom I shall doubtless mislead if I am misled myself. In compassion, therefore, to them and me, pray be so kind as to give us your reasons why you think us in such a deplorable condition.

In hopes of which I remain, Sir, your real well-wisher and humble servant,


Replies and rejoinders followed in quick succession, and though Mr. Gold denied having used the severe language attributed to him, yet he appears to have retained his uncharitable feelings, and to have been as far as ever from understanding the true teachings and doctrines of the Church of England. His last letter to Johnson should be quoted, if for no other reason, at least to show the spirit which possessed the most ardent and enthusiastic followers of Whitefield--

SIR,--I don't wonder that a man is not afraid of sinning that believes he has power in himself to repent whenever he pleases, nor is it strange for one who dares to utter falsehoods of others to be ready at any time to confirm them with the solemnity of an oath,--especially since he adheres to a minister whom he believes has power to wash him from all his sins by a full and final absolution upon his saying he is sorry for them, etc.; and as for the pleas which you make for Col. Lewis, and others that have broke away disorderly from our Church, I think there's neither weight nor truth in them; nor do I believe such poor shifts will stand them nor you in any stead in the awful day of account; and as for your saying that as bad as you are yet you lie open to conviction,--for my part I find no reason to think you do, seeing you are so free and full in denying plain matters of fact; and' as for your notion about charity from that 1 Cor. xiii., my opinion is that a man may abound with love to God and man, and yet bear testimony against disorderly walkers, without being in the least guilty of the want of charity towards you. What! must a man be judged uncharitable because he don't think well nor uphold the willful miscarriages and evil doings of others? This is surely a perverse interpretation of the Apostle's meaning. I don't think it worth my while to say anything further in the affair, and as you began the controversy against rule or justice, so I hope modesty will induce you to desist; and do assure you that if you see cause to make any more replies, my purpose is, without reading of them, to put them under the pot among my other thorns; and there let one flame quench the matter. These, Sir, from your sincere friend and servant in all things lawful and laudable,


STRATFORD, July 21, 1741.

Johnson waited ten days, and then concluded to venture the sacrifice of one letter more, in vindication of himself and his people. He would not bear the imputation of having opened a controversy thus closed upon him, but he was chiefly anxious, for the sake of the truth, to disabuse the mind of his neighbor of the idea that the Church of England holds and teaches that a man has power in himself to repent when he pleases, and that the minister has power to wash him from all his sins by a full and final absolution upon his only saying he is sorry for them. These two propositions he regarded as so false and mischievous to the souls of men, that if the Church taught or practiced according to them he owned he would "abhor and fly from her as from the face of a serpent." "As our absolution," he added, "is nothing else but the declaration of God's pardon to all true penitents, so we hold no absolution in any other sense than you do yourself. Pray, Sir, where did you learn these dreadful notions of the Church? Have you lived nigh twenty years so near the Church and all this while understood us no better?"

He wrote to Dr. Bearcroft, the Secretary of the Society, in March, 1742, that the raging enthusiasm in this country was "like a kind of epidemical frenzy," and in order to prevent mischief and take advantage of the popular excitement, the clergy were obliged to be continually riding and preaching. He himself had scarcely failed all the previous winter to officiate three times, and frequently six times in a week, going to different parts of the Colony and directing the minds of people to the true plan of salvation and the Scriptural doctrines of the Church. While he was thus fulfilling his ministerial duty with a diligence and prudence equaled only by his learning and firmness, a complaint was brought against him which is best explained in the following note from the Rev. Roger Price, the Commissary for all New England, holding his office under the appointment of the Bishop of London:

REV. SIR,--Mr. Morris made a complaint to me and the clergy convened at Boston relating to your going to the dissenting meeting, and suffering your son to do the same, which gave some uneasiness to your brethren. [The Rev. Theophilus Morris -- an Englishman by birth--who succeeded Mr Arnold at West Haven as an itinerant missionary.] I hope your prudence will always direct you to avoid anything that may show such a favorable disposition towards the separation as will obstruct the growth of the Episcopal Church.

I am your affectionate brother and humble servant,


BOSTON, June 18, 1742.

Johnson lost no time in replying to the reproof thus administered, and the answer reveals the religious habits of his elder son, who was then a student in Yale College:--

July 5, 1742.

REV. SIR,--I received yours of the 18th of June, and do take in good part and with humble submission the tender chastisement which you and my brethren have thought fit to send me relating to my going myself and permitting my son to go to meeting.

As to myself, I cannot think the charge is at all just, for I never have been to meeting since the last convention at Rhode Island that could with any propriety bear that name. All the foundation of Mr. Morris' complaint is only this, that on Commencement night, when Davenport was raving among the people there, Mr. Wetmore and I went in the dark, no mortal knowing us but our own company; and stood at the edge of the crowd and heard him rave about five minutes, and then went about our business; this I humbly conceive could not be called going to meeting any more than a visit to Bedlam,--for we heard no prayers nor anything that could be called preaching, any more than the ravings of a man distracted.

As to my son, I am and so is he, as far as you can be from approving his going to meeting, and would by no means permit it, if it were possible to avoid it consistently with his having a public education. But this is what I must entirely deny him, or not forbid him once in a while to go to meeting, and of two evils I think it my duty to choose the least. He comes home once in a fortnight or three weeks, and when Mr. Morris goes to West-side, he hears him, so that he goes to meeting as little as possible. And in this case I do not think it the unpardonable sin, though I have as little opinion of the meeting as anybody can reasonably have.

I look upon the worst part of going to meeting to be, being present and joining with extempore prayers, and yet this is what Dr. Cutler and Mr. Usher permitted their sons to do every day in the College Hall [Harvard], without being ever found fault with. Upon the whole I can truly say, and thank God for it, my prudence has always directed me and always shall, to avoid anything that could show the least favorable disposition towards the separation as such, or to obstruct the growth of the Episcopal Church. So far from this, that I believe I may say without vanity that I have labored as faithfully, and with as good success, as any of my brethren in promoting that cause. I came alone into this colony a few years ago, when there were but 70 or 80 adult Church people in the whole Government, and now there are above 2000; there are ten churches actually built and three more building, and seven settled in the ministry. I have nigh 150 communicants, of whom there wanted but four of fourscore together and received the Communion last Sunday, and my people are as regular and rubrical in our worship as any congregation that I know of. Can it then be supposed that I have obstructed our growth? In short, I have labored, and studied, and wrote, and rid, and preached, and pleaded, and lived all that was in my power to promote the growth of the best of churches. I have neither farming nor merchandise, nor do I suffer any other pursuit of either pleasure or profit to embarrass or hinder me in promoting the growth of the Church, which is the single point that I have in view. If it would not savor of something like vanity, which I hope may be excused on this occasion, I might almost venture to say I have labored more abundantly than they all, and yet I must, it seems, be, as it were, singled out by my brethren to be censured as one from whom there is danger apprehended of obstructing the growth of the Episcopal Church. No, Sir; I trust the danger is not from any conduct of mine, but from that spirit of indolence and negligence, of bigotry and bitterness, which has called my conduct in question, and let him that is without fault, or has less fault than I, cast the first stone. For God's sake, Sir, is there nothing but not forbidding a son to go to meeting when he can't help it that can obstruct the Church? Could you find nothing worse than this to except against in the conduct of any of our brethren? I fear you might; if not, God be praised. And particularly, my brother Morris, whom I have ever used in the best and kindest manner, I must think had, of all men, the least reason to complain, and I fear he has much more deserved the censure of his brethren for his violent passion, rashness, and inconsistency in his conversation, and his neglecting his people again and again by such long and needless journeys, especially at this important juncture. And I believe he had better have gone twenty times to meeting, than once have shown such a spirit of ingratitude and malevolence as he has done. But I heartily pity and forgive him, and pray that he, as well as I and all the rest of us, may live to better purpose than to bring our order into contempt, and to disgrace the best Church and religion in the world.

I am, Rev. Sir,

Your most obedient humble servant,


This apology or explanation, which Johnson wished the Commissary to communicate to as many of the brethren as he had opportunity, was the end of the matter, except that he gently remonstrated with Mr. Morris, and asked what he meant by raising such a "clamor against him both at New York and Boston." He challenged further scrutiny of his conduct, and was willing the complaint should be carried before the Bp. of London and the Venerable Society; but Mr. Morris had misapprehended his intentions, and finding himself unable, from the peculiarities of his temperament, to secure a better living in the Colony, he soon withdrew and returned to England.

The clergy of Connecticut felt the want of an overseer in these critical times more than ever, and as they had been repeatedly refused a Bishop, they asked for a Commissary to reside among them, and for this purpose sent a formal petition to the Bishop of London. Their distance from Boston was such as to render it inconvenient, if not impracticable, to attend the Conventions there, and the growth of the Church in the Colony had been so great that they anticipated many advantages to come from the appointment. They all signed or supported the petition except Mr. Morris. Of their own free will, and without any influence on his part, they presumed to mention for the office the Rev. Mr. Johnson of Stratford, as a person in whose ability, virtue, and integrity they had full confidence. But the Bishop of London was unwilling to revoke or change any part of the commission which he had granted to Mr. Price without his consent, or until his death or resignation, and so no Commissary for Connecticut was appointed. The petition was renewed six years later to Sherlock, then Bishop of London, and the successor of Gibson; but he was so persuaded of his inability to do justice to the Church in the American Colonies, and so bent on the establishment of one or two Bishops to reside in proper parts of them, and to "have the conduct and direction of the whole," that he declined to take a patent from the crown for the exercise of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and only consented to ordain candidates and supervise the clergy till a better provision could be made. I should be tempted," said he "to throw off all this care quite, were it not for the sake of preserving even the appearance of an Episcopal Church in the plantations." But Johnson without the appointment of Commissary continued to be the prudent guide and adviser of his brethren, and the calm watcher of all movements that related to the peace and prosperity of the Church, not only in New England but throughout the country.

It was a great gratification to him to receive from the University of Oxford the degree of Doctor of Divinity, which was conferred upon him by diploma February, 1743. Twenty years before, when he visited that ancient seat of learning, his merits had been recognized, and the hope expressed that by his ministry the English Church might be revived on this Continent: aliam et eandem olim nascituram Ecclesiam Anglicanam. The hope had been partly fulfilled, and the second and higher distinction, due to his learning and his labors, was spoken of by the Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Hodges, when he resigned his office, as one of the most agreeable things that had been done during his administration. It was stated in the Diploma, ut, incredibili Eccelesiae incremento summam sui expectationem sustinuerit plane et su peraverit. Johnson thanked his friends, particularly Dr. Astry, and Dr. Seeker Bishop of Oxford, for their agency in the matter, and wrote to his son at Yale College, April 23, 1744, that he might share in the joy of his success: "I have the pleasure to let you know that my good friend Dr. Astry hath accomplished for me what he so kindly undertook. Dr. Gardiner, lately returned from England, writes to me that he has brought my Diploma. I hope you, as well as I, shall consider this great honor, which the University of Oxford has done me, as a fresh motive to the use of diligence in well-doing, that we may deserve the notice you see they are so ready to take of those that faithfully endeavor to have true merit."

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