Samuel Provoost: First Bishop of New York
By E. Clowes Chorley
Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church Vol. 2 (June 1933): 1-25; (Sept. 1933): 1-16.
Reproduced by kind permission of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church.
THE Church had been established in New York one hundred and twenty-three years before she succeeded in obtaining the Episcopate. Save for the last four years of this period the Province was under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, who functioned through a Commissary. Appeal after appeal was made to the mother Church of England for a bishop "to visit the several churches, ordain some, confirm others, and bless all," but without success. Powerful political influences, both in the colonies and in England, were opposed to the introduction of Episcopacy in America, and they found an effective ally in the religious apathy of the times. The most effective opposition came from the Puritans. Their attitude was rightly divined by Lord Chatham when he said, "Divided as they are, into a thousand forms of policy and religion, there is one point on which they all agree; they equally detest the pageantry of a king, and the supercilious hypocrisy of a Bishop." Every effort to break down this opposition failed. The outbreak of the War of the Revolution shelved the question for the time, and the recognition by Great Britain of the Independence of the United States cut off the American Church from the Church of England.
For four years the Church in New York was without an official head. Each parish was a law unto itself, and there was no possibility of enforcing discipline; no one to confirm, or to ordain candidates [1/2] for Holy Orders. The same condition prevailed in the Church throughout the United States, save in Connecticut, Bishop Seabury having been consecrated Bishop of that diocese in Scotland in the latter part of 1784.
The first attempt to organize the Church in what was to become the diocese of New York was the convening of a Convention of clergy and laity which met in the city of New York on Wednesday, June 22nd, 1785. There were present five clergymen and eleven laymen, eight parishes being represented. The Rev. Samuel Provoost was elected president. After the election of deputies to the General Convention appointed to meet in Philadelphia in September, the convention adjourned to meet at the call of the President "at such time and place as he shall deem most conducive to the interest of the Church."
At the aforesaid meeting of the General Convention it was determined to request the authorities of the Church of England "to confer the Episcopal character on such persons as shall be chosen and recommended to them for that purpose from the Conventions of this Church in the respective States." [* Journals of the General Convention, (Perry's edition), 1785, p. 25.] It further resolved "That it be recommended to the said Conventions that they elect persons for this purpose."
In accordance with this recommendation a second Convention of the diocese of New York was held in St. Paul's Chapel, in the city of New York, on Tuesday, May 16, 1786. Seven parishes were represented. After receiving the reports of the General Convention the session was adjourned to the second Tuesday in June. The record of the following day runs: "In compliance with the directions of the General Convention, Resolved That the Reverend Mr. Provoost be recommended for Episcopal consecration." [* Journal of the Convention of the Diocese of New York, 1786, p. 9.]
Samuel Provoost came of an old Huguenot family which migrated to New Amsterdam in 1642. The son of John Provoost and Eve Rutgers, he was born in New York City on February 26, 1742, and was baptized in the Dutch Reformed Church by Dominie Du Bois. After passing through school he entered King's College, then housed in a frame building in the yard of Trinity Church. He graduated at the first Commencement of 1758, the youngest of the class; likewise the head. It was the custom in that day for men of position in New York to send their sons to one of the English universities, and in 1761 young Provoost sailed for England and entered as a Fellow Commoner at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. There he attained distinction as a linguist. To an accurate knowledge of Hebrew, [2/3] Greek and Latin, he added French and Italian. In April, 1765, he writes his father, "I can get my degree and Commendamus here whenever I please; nothing but being too young for Orders could prevent my returning home next summer."
From this letter it is evident that, though baptized in the Dutch church, he had determined to enter the Anglican ministry. It is not difficult to determine some of the influences which led him to this conclusion. King's was a Church college, and the President, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson, was one of the group of Yale men whose adherence to Episcopacy shook New England puritanism to its very foundations. Cambridge was predominantly Anglican, and in Provoost's youth there was in New York in the Dutch church a decided drift to the Church of England.
So Samuel Provoost was ordered Deacon in the Chapel Royal of St. James' Palace, London, on February 23rd, 1766, by Richard Terrick, Bishop of London. He was advanced to the priesthood on Palm Sunday, March 23rd, by Edmund Kean, Bishop of Chester, in King's Chapel, Whitehall. His marriage followed almost immediately. On June 8th, he was married in St. Mary's Church, Cambridge, to Maria, daughter of Thomas Bousefield, an Irish landowner and banker, and the sister of his friend and fellow-student at Peterhouse. He returned with his bride to New York in the autumn of 1766.
On December 23rd of that year Mr. Provoost was appointed one of the Assistant Ministers in Trinity Parish, New York, "to officiate in his turn at the several churches on the Lord's Day and at Prayers on Week Days when requested by the Rector." His stipend was fixed at £200 per annum. At that time Trinity was the only parish in the city, having two Chapels--St. George's, in Beekman Street, and St. Paul's, which had just been opened for divine service. The rector of the parish was the Rev. Dr. Samuel Auchmuty, and the other two Assistant ministers were the Rev. Dr. John Ogilvie and the Rev. Charles Inglis.
In 1769 Mr. Provoost obtained an extended leave of absence to visit England on private business. On resumption of his work in Trinity parish he encountered difficulties which eventually resulted in his retirement from active ministerial service for a term of years. The difficulties were partly theological and partly political.
From contemporary sources it may be gathered that Mr. Provoost was not an attractive preacher. President Duer, who knew him well, says,
"He read the noble Liturgy of his Church with critical accuracy without impairing the devotional spirit it is so well [3/4] calculated to excite. As a preacher he was not so happy. Although his enunciation was distinct as well as forcible, yet his sermons were delivered so emphatically--ore rotundo, that the exertion this induced, together with his plethoric habit, rendered the public services of the Church tedious and laborious to himself and to his hearers. But it is by no means certain that these circumstances did not tend to the improvement of his sermons by rendering them shorter." [* Duer: Reminiscences of an Old New Yorker, p. 16.]
Provoost's theology was typical of the Anglican theology of the day, distinguished for anything but warmth. The unpardonable sin was to display anything suggesting fervor. Enthusiasm was dreaded quite as much as sin. Mr. George Rapelye, one of his contemporaries, said of him, "He did not belong to the straitest sect of theologians, nor was his religion characterized by any great fervor; both his theology and his standard of Christian character were probably about the same as generally prevailed in the Established Church of England at that day." [* Sprague: Annals of the American Pulpit, Vol. V., p. 244.]
His fear of anything like religious enthusiasm was accentuated by the fact that it was obviously manifesting itself in certain religious circles in New York. Near by Trinity Church was the little John Street Methodist Chapel, which had been started by a group of Irish emigrants. Three years after his ordination the first itinerant Methodist ministers arrived in the United States and one of them was stationed in New York. The fiery preaching of Francis Asbury started a revival in the city which recalled the best days of John Wesley. Fuel was added to the flame by the advent in New York of George Whitefield, whose flaming evangelism aroused what became perilously near religious frenzy.
Provoost was so alarmed that he went to the other extreme, and thereby alienated some of his hearers. In a letter written about this time he says,
"I should think my situation perfectly agreeable, if it were not for the bigotry and enthusiasm that generally prevail here among people of all denominations. Even the Church, particularly the lower members of it, is not free from the general infection. As I found this to be the case, I made it a point to preach the plain doctrine of religion and morality in the manner I found them enforced by the most eminent divines of the Church of England. This brought an accusation against me by those people that I was endeavoring to sap the foundations of Christianity, which they imagined to consist in the doctrines of absolute predestination and reprobation, placing such unbounded confidence in the merits of Christ as to think their own [4/5] endeavours quite unnecessary, and not the least available to salvation; and consigning to everlasting destruction all who happen to differ from them in the most trivial Matters. I was, however, happy enough to be supported by many of the principal persons in New York." [* Dix. History of the Parish of Trinity Church in the City of New York, Vol. ii. p. 36.]
The difficulty was enhanced by Mr. Provoost's political views, of which he made no secret. He was an ardent Whig, while his clerical colleagues and many of the leading laymen of the parish were devoted loyalists. Long before the War of the Revolution the movement which resulted in the Declaration of Independence was quietly gathering momentum, and Mr. Provoost gave it his unreserved support both in public and in private. Preaching in the pulpit of Trinity Church on one occasion, he said,
"We are fighting for our laws and for our liberties, for our friends, families and country. May the guilty be prevailed upon to repent of their sins, and the righteous persevere in their integrity. May He grant understanding to our counsellors and teach our senators wisdom. May He inspire with steadiness and unanimity, with conduct and bravery our fleets and armies, and may the blessing of heaven attend us in all our just and lawful undertakings, and finally, may we be favoured in due time with a safe, honourable and advantageous and lasting peace and tranquility. Then will our trade revive and flourish, our fields yield their increase, and there will be no complaining in our streets; then will the divine protection be the glory of our land, and upon that glory there will be a defence." [* MSS. Sermon.]
Such plain speaking aroused hostility. In October, 1769, a motion was made in the Vestry of the parish to dispense with the services of Mr. Provoost, the ostensible reason recorded being "the insufficiency of the Corporation funds to support him." At the next meeting the Vestry temporised and resolved "That Mr. Provoost be continued, and paid by what can be raised by subscription only," and a committee was appointed to collect the subscriptions. The expedient was foredoomed to failure. The committee found that while some members of the parish were willing to contribute to Mr. Provoost's support, others would cancel their subscriptions for the stipends of the other two Assistant Ministers if Provoost remained. The committee therefore reported that "they were discouraged from prosecuting said subscriptions." Frankly recognizing the situation, Mr. Provoost resigned on May 21, 1771, and retired to the country.
 He settled on a small estate at East Camp, in Dutchess County, where he had for near neighbors Walter and Robert C. Livingston, both of whom had been fellow students at Cambridge. He usually addressed his letters from "Camp, Manor of Livingston."
There he remained for fourteen years, farming for a living, and botanizing and reading for recreation. His letters bear witness to extensive reading. Writing to his brother-in-law, Benjamin Bousefield, he says, "I received with pleasure the books you sent me by Captain Lawrence. They afford me the most agreeable amusement in my country retirement. Dalrymple has set the period he treats of in a clearer light than any person before him and made some most interesting discoveries unknown to previous historians. Lord Chesterfield had always the character of one of the politest writers and best-bred persons of the age. His letters show him, at the same time, the tenderest of fathers and most amiable of men." At East Camp Provoost pursued his favorite study of Botany and compiled an exhaustive index to Banshin's Historia Plantarum, in addition to translating some of his favorite hymns into German, French and Latin.
The statement, that during his retirement, Mr. Provoost "when souls were famishing and perishing for the bread of life, could find it in his heart to spend his days and years in study, withdrawn from all ministerial duty, at his country seat on the Hudson" is both unfortunate and unjust; the more so because it has been extensively reproduced. It should be remembered that the opportunities to officiate in the services of the Church were very limited at that time. Prior to 1774 there were but three Episcopal churches in Dutchess County--Trinity, Fishkill; St. Philip's Chapel, in the Highlands, and Christ Church, Poughkeepsie. Of these, St. Philip's was closed during the War, and in 1776 Trinity was in "a dilapidated and neglected condition, unfit for use." When the Provincial Convention met within its walls it was without seats or benches, and fouled by doves. [* Ladd: Founding of the Church in Dutchess County, p. 25.]There is full proof that Mr. Provoost officiated as opportunity offered. On Christmas Day, 1774, he preached the sermon on the occasion of the opening of Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, taking as his text, Luke VII, 5: "For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue." [* Reynolds. Records of Christ Church, p. 45-6.] Other records show that he preached at Albany, Cattskill and Hudson, and he himself writes, "I lately performed the funeral ceremony over the Judge's father and the eldest daughter of Colonel Peter Livingston, a very amiable girl about fifteen years old."
The fourteen years at East Camp were, for the most part, years of straitened circumstances. So long as the British were in possession [6/7] of New York City his property there was in the hands of the enemy. In his correspondence he speaks from time to time of being "pestered for money." In a letter to a trusted friend he writes,
"I have no salary or income of any kind; the estate which formerly supported me having been in the hands of the enemy ever since they took possession of New York. The place on which I live is so far from maintaining my family that I am now in debt for the greatest part of the wheat they have consumed since the beginning of the war. Besides selling part of my furniture, &c., and running in debt for various necessaries, I have, from time to time, borrowed money of my friends to considerable amount. My mother and family are refugees from the city, and nearly in the same situation with myself; and I am prevented by the constitution of the State, and canons of the Church, from entering into any secular employment." [* Norton. Life of Bishop Provoost of New York, p. 44-5.]
He nevertheless stedfastly refused any preferment either in the Church or the State. His political friends did not forget him in his retirement, and many attempts were made to enlist his active service in the patriotic cause. His name headed the list of delegates to the Provincial Congress, but he declined to serve, and he likewise declined the invitation to preach before the Convention of 1776, though he took occasion to express his conviction of "the justice of the cause." The following year he was elected chaplain of the first Constitutional Convention of the State of New York, which met at Kingston. The records show that "Mr. Provoost, for sundry reasons, is under the necessity of declining the honour of serving as Chaplain to the Convention." The "sundry reasons" are set forth in a letter printed in Norton's Life: he writes,
"In the beginning of the present war, when each province was endeavouring to unite the more effectually to oppose the tyranny of the British court, I remarked with great concern, that all the Church clergy in these northern States, who received salaries from the society, or emoluments from England, were unanimous in opposing the salutary measures of a vast majority of their countrymen; so great a harmony among the people in their particular circumstances pretty clearly convinced me that some, at least, were biassed by interested motives. As I entertained political opinions diametrically opposite to those of my brethren, I was apprehensive that a profession of these opinions might be imputed to mercenary views, and an ungenerous desire of rising on their ruin. To obviate any suspicions of this kind, I formed a resolution never to accept of any preferment during the present contest; although as a private person I have [7/8] been, and shall always be, ready to encounter any danger that may be incurred in the defence of our invaluable rights and liberties." [* Norton, p. 43-44.]
This was no empty boast. Though refusing all positions of profit, Mr. Provoost spared no effort to advance the cause of liberty. He wrote the prayers used at the Convention of 1776, and once placed himself at the head of a party of armed men to repulse a threatened attack on his property by British soldiers.
The same policy was pursued in reference to preferment in the Church. In 1777 it was reported to the Vestry of St. Michael's Church, Charleston, South Carolina, that "a Mr. Provoost would come out on proper application," he was called to be rector of that historic parish. In declining the invitation he wrote,
I embrace the earliest opportunity to acknowledge the receipt of your polite and obliging letter and to give you as candidly as I can my principal reason for declining the very advantageous offer that you hold out to me. In the beginning of our present disputes when each province was endeavouring to unite the better to oppose the Tyranny of the British court I remark'd with great concern that all the clergymen of the Church in these northern states who received salaries from the Society, [* Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.] or any emolument from England, were unanimous in opposing the measures of a vast majority of their countrymen, so great a harmony amongst people in their particular circumstances pretty clearly evinced that some at least were biass'd by interested views. As I had no pecuniary connection with old England, and entertained political opinions quite opposite to the rest of my Brethren, I was apprehensive that a profession of these opinions might be imputed to mercenary motives, and an ungenerous desire of rising upon their ruin. To obviate any suspicions of this kind I formed a resolution never to accept of any preferment during the present contest, though as a private person I have been and shall always be ready to encounter any danger that may be incurred in defence of our rights and liberties.
In consequence of this resolution I lately refused (when apply'd to by the Convention) being appointed Chaplain to this State, and now must return a negative to the application of the Vestry of St. Michael's though with the greatest reluctance. From the general character of the People and other circumstances there is no part of America in which I promise myself greater happiness than South Carolina. It may perhaps be weakness in me to sacrifice my interest thro' fear of undeserved censure, but it is a weakness I find [8/9] myself incapable of overcoming, and I shall think myself happier to live with studious economy on a trifling fortune than to accept of any preferment which I might be thought to have acquired by any low design or artificial conduct.
If we are blessed with success in this war, as there is the greatest reason to think we shall be, I am confident that America will be supplied with Clergymen from England, who will be an honour to the Church in this country. I can't help giving a paragraph from the letter of a gentleman of singular merit and eminence in the University of Cambridge dated so long ago as August 21, 1774.
"Perhaps," he says, "your sentiments and mine do not intirely agree with respect to American affairs, whatever yours be, I have no doubt they are the result of conviction, mine have long been intirely on the side of Liberty, and it is with Horror that I look upon all the proceedings of this country from ye stamp act to the conclusion of the scheme so clearly to my Apprehension manifested in the infamous Quebec bill. I carry the affair still further, as a well wisher to this Island I hope that unanimity and resolution blended with calm discretion may attend the counsels of ensuing congress, and if force be attempted that success may attend the struggles of men contending for their most valuable rights. The eyes of men seem now to be opening a little in this country, the Bishop of St. Asaph's Discourses and a little tract addressed to Protestant dissenters, the second part of which treats of American affairs, have conduced much to enlarge our idea upon this subject . . . . the Bishop of Carlyle is well and a friend to Liberty."
I hope what I have said may prove satisfactory to the gentlemen of St. Michael's whose kind intentions have impressed upon me the warmest sentiments of gratitude.
I shall always be happy to acknowledge how much I am
Dr Sir your most obliged
and very himble servant
To George Abbott Hall Esqre."
[* The draft of this letter appears on the last page of one of Dr. Provoost's manuscript sermons, it being his custom to use the blank pages at the end of his sermons for all kinds of memoranda. This particular letter is drafted at the end of a sermon dated August 2, 1767.]
For the same impelling reason Dr. Provoost declined a call to King's Chapel, Boston, in 1782.
During these years of retirement at East Camp Provoost's old parish of Trinity Church passed through fire and water before it emerged into the wealthy place. During the American occupation of New York city the parish church and its two Chapels of St. George's and St. Paul's were closed for three months. Dr. Ogilvie's death in 1774 was shortly followed by that of the Rector, Dr. Auchmuty. In the great fire of 1776 Trinity Church was left in ruins, and Dr. Inglis, [9/10] who had succeeded to the rectorship, was attainted for treason and left the country. On November 25th, 1783, the British troops evacuated New York and Washington entered in triumph.
The Rev. Benjamin Moore was elected rector of Trinity, but his tenure was short. The "Whig Episcopalians," who were now in the saddle, were determined that so important a position should be filled by one who sympathized with their political views, and their thoughts turned at once to Mr. Provoost. Under date of December 3, 1783, a friend wrote him saying,
"I have to congratulate you most cordially on the happy alteration of affairs here. General Washington, with the American army, entered last Tuesday amid the joyful acclamation of thousands, with such decorum that no riot or disturbance ensued, as was expected. The Tories who stayed behind on the Embarkation of the British remained quiet within their dwellings, and are still unmolested. You have a strong party here who will spare no exertions for you. They even talk of making you Bishop of New York, on the same footing that the Rev. Mr. Smith has lately been appointed Bishop of Maryland. This is the universal topic. In short, I am as sure something very handsome will be done for you, as I am of my own existence. There is to be a public meeting of the Whig Episcopalians this evening by notification. It is generally imagined that your name will be mentioned in their debates." [* Norton. Life of Bp. Provoost, p. 47-8.]
The writer was a true prophet. On the 2nd of February, 1784, Mr. Provoost returned to New York. Three days later the Vestry of Trinity parish notified Benjamin Moore that "The Reverend Mr. Provoost had been pleased, in compliance with our invitation, to take charge of the Episcopal Churches in this City, and we have delivered him the keys." [* Dix. History of Trinity Parish, Vol. ii. p. 17.] In this unconventional manner Samuel Provoost became rector of Trinity parish. The following Sunday morning he preached from the words, "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity," and he began his sermon thus: "So long a time has elapsed since I have had the opportunity of exercising this part of my profession, that I really rise with the greatest diffidence to speak before so respectable an audience." In his sketch of Bishop Provoost written by the late General Grant Wilson, the following reference is made to this historic occasion: "It happens that the joyous event was described to the writer in his youth by a venerable and ardent patriot who was present, and who said, 'It was a glorious occasion, and many friends of their country met that day for the first [10/11] time in years. There were no rascally Tories present that morning.'" [* Centennial History of the Diocese of New York, p. 134.]The year of Mr. Provoost's return to active ministerial service was a critical one for the American Church. Civil and ecclesiastical Independence went hand in hand. Reconstruction was as necessary for the Church as it was for the State, and for both the task was difficult and delicate. The Church was without bishops and the mere mention of corporate action aroused sharp suspicion. Connecticut acted quite independently in choosing a bishop, as did Maryland. Such conditions were fraught with grave danger. Advantage was therefore taken of a meeting held at New Brunswick to informally discuss the future organization of the Church. Mr. Provoost was not present, but he did attend a further meeting held in New York, and was a member of the committee appointed to draft a Constitution. The ultimate outcome was the creation of the General Convention.
The action of that Convention in applying to the Church of England for the consecration of bishops for America and recommending the Church in the various States to select such persons has already been set forth. Certain difficulties were cleared away and an act of Parliament was passed authorizing the Archbishops to proceed to the desired consecrations.
At a meeting of the Convention of the Diocese of New York held on September 20th, 1786, "A certificate, recommending the Reverend Doctor Provoost for Episcopal consecration, was signed by all the members present." [* Journal of Convention, p. 11.] Pennsylvania had selected Dr. William White for its bishop just seven days before, and Virginia had chosen the Rev. Dr. Griffith. At an adjourned meeting of the General Convention held at Wilmington, Del., in 1786, the testimonials of these gentlemen were signed in the form directed by the English Archbishops.
The diocese of Virginia was too poor or too indifferent to defray the cost of Dr. Griffith's journey to England, but White and Provoost sailed on the British Packet, Prince William Henry on November 2nd, and landed at Falmouth just eighteen days later. Immediately proceeding to London, their arrival was chronicled in one of the London papers: "The Rev. Dr. Provoost and Dr. White arrived here a few days ago and have taken lodgings in Parliament Street, where they are visited daily by persons of the first rank and respectability." On their arrival in London they were presented to John Moore, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by John Adams, the American minister to the Court of St. James. The Archbishop expressed himself as satisfied with the testimonials, but some delay occurred while the mode of consecration was under discussion. While awaiting the event Dr. Provoost wrote his wife saying,
 "The English papers have been premature in announcing our consecration. I expected we should have been the subject of frequent witticisms, but the following paragraph, which appeared in the Herald, is the only one I have met with:
'The ordination of the two American Bishops is an event concerning which the universities have formed strange conjectures. These new Right Reverends will, in the American device, restore the primitive fathers, and distinguish themselves with stripes.'" [* Norton. Life, p. 66.]
The bishops-elect were presented to George III, who received them very graciously.
Many legal formalities had to be observed, for the government was extremely sensitive to American opinion. Finally the royal license was issued on January 25th, 1787, and the consecration set for the fourth of February. Two days before one of the London papers said,
"We are informed that the ceremony of consecrating the American Bishops will be privately performed at Lambeth next Sunday, after which they purpose immediately to set off for America to communicate the sacred effect of it to their brethren, that in future they may have no occasion to go so far from home to kindle their Episcopal torch."
The memorable service was held on Septuagesima Sunday, February 4th, in the private Chapel of Lambeth Palace. The consecrators were John Moore, Archbishop of Canterbury; William Markham, Archbishop of York; Charles Moss, Bishop of Bath and Wells, and John Hinchcliff, Bishop of Peterborough. London was strangely indifferent to the event. There were present the family of the Archbishop, together with members of his household, and the presence of the Rev. Dr. Jacob Duche, formerly rector of Christ Church, Philadelphia, was especially noted. The Rev. Dr. Charles Inglis, one time rector of Trinity Church, New York, and then a refugee in London, was detained by illness. Bishop White preserved an interesting account of the service. He wrote,
"Dr. Drake, one of the Archbishop's chaplains, preached; and Dr. Randolph, the other chaplain, read the prayers. The sermon was a sensible discussion of the long litigated subject of the authority of the Church to ordain rites and ceremonies. The text was, 'Let all things be done decently and in order.'--I Cor. xiv, 40. The discourse had very little reference to the peculiarity of the occasion. The truth was, as the Archbishop had told us on Friday, on our way to [12/13] the Court, that he had spoken to a particular friend to compose a sermon for the occasion and had given him a sketch of what he wished to be the scope of it. This friend had just sent him information of a domestic calamity, which would excuse him from attendance; and the Archbishop was under the necessity of giving short notice to one of his chaplains." [* White. Memoirs of the Church, p. 157.]
It is interesting to note that Dr. Provoost seems to have made more of an impression on the London public than Dr. White. The Daily Advertiser said:
"By letters from America we are informed that Dr. Provoost, one of the newly consecrated American Bishops, is the most dignified clergyman in that country, being Chaplain to Congress, and rector of Trinity Church, New York, by far the most respectable living in the United States. This gentleman received his education at the University of Cambridge, was ordained in London 20 years ago, and is esteemed one of the greatest ornaments of his profession."
In contrast there may be quoted a paragraph from The New York Packet from its London correspondent:
"The American bishops do not take the style and title of Lord, or Lordship. According to their own request, they are directed to as Right Rev. Doctor, Bishop of &c., and addressed in the same style; neither have they yet submitted to the old hackneyed term, Father in God. Episcopacy is admitted in America, but it is simplified according to the original intention as much as possible."
The newly consecrated bishops sailed from Falmouth on February 15th. The passage was stormy, and at times perilous. Bishop Provoost was gravely ill, and for some days his life was in danger. After a voyage of fifty days they were brought to the haven where they would be and landed in New York just as the church bells called the faithful to the joyous services of Easter Day.
With the consecration of White and Provoost the American church had three bishops, the traditional number necessary to transmit the succession. The situation, however, was not free from difficulty. Many doubted the wisdom of the Scotch consecration of Seabury; others--and among them Provoost--questioned its validity. Doubtless due to his influence, the Deputies from the diocese of New York to the second General Convention were "instructed not to consent to any act that may imply the validity of Dr. Seabury's ordinations." [* Journal of Convention, 1786, p. 9.] Naturally, this was resented by Bishop Seabury, and he [13/14] absented himself from the General Convention until it was finally and generously settled.
Nor was this the only difficulty in the way of corporate union. From the outset the General Convention recognized the principle of equal lay representation in the councils of the Church. This principle was not acceptable either to the Connecticut clergy or to their bishop, with the result that Connecticut was not represented in the early General Conventions. Bishop White acted as mediator and effected a reconciliation between Provoost and Seabury. Three months after the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, the General Convention convened in Philadelphia. White was the only bishop in attendance, Provoost being "detained by illness." The way for Seabury's return was paved by the passage of a resolution by the Convention that "the consecration of the Right Rev. Dr. Seabury to the Episcopal office is valid." Adjournment was taken to September 29th, at which time Bishop Seabury appeared and "produced his Letters of Consecration to the holy office of a Bishop in this Church." [* Journal of General Convention, (Perry edition), p. 93.]They were read and duty recorded. As a result of conference Connecticut yielded on lay representation, and won for the Bishops the right to originate legislation and the power of veto. The Constitution was adopted and the American Book of Common Prayer authorized. This done, Bishop Seabury and the New England deputies signed the Constitution and "took their seats as members of the Convention." Thus equipped, the Church turned to the task of strengthening her cords and lengthening her stakes.
The first diocesan convention over which Dr. Provoost presided as bishop was held in St. Paul's Chapel, New York, on November 6, 1787. There were present six clerical and twenty lay delegates. The diocese had then no constitution, no canons and no Rules of Order. Hence it gravely proceeded to elect its own bishop as presiding officer. The record then runs, "The Right Rev. Bishop Provoost communicated to the Convention testimonials of his consecration, from his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, which were read." [* Journal, p. 14.] On the third day a welcome was accorded the bishop, which, though somewhat belated, was carried out with a degree of formality. The members of the Convention proceeded to the bishop's house, and escorted him to the Chapel. The procession moved in this order:
The Charity Scholars
Members of the Church
Gentlemen of the Vestry of Trinity Church
 Lay delegates of the Convention The Bishop and clergy.
Arrived at St. Paul's, an anthem was sung by the Charity Scholars. After Morning Prayer--so the Journal runs--"the Convention assembled in the front of the desk, and the Secretary, in their name addressed the Bishop as follows:--
Right Reverend Sir,
We, the Clergy and Laity, representatives of the Protestant Episcopal Church, now assembled in Convention, beg leave to address you on this solemn occasion, with sentiments of duty and unfeigned respect. After having successfully accomplished the great object which you had in view, we congratulate you on your return to your native city, safe from the hazards of a long and tempestuous voyage, and in a great measure restored to health from a painful and dangerous illness.
While we express in terms of warmest gratitude, the high obligations we are under to the English Bishops for their paternal interposition in our favour, we beg leave to present to you our hearty thanks for your compliance with our desires; and thus through many difficulties and sufferings, rendering our Church complete in all its parts.
This propitious event, so long and ardently wished for, forms an important era in the history of our Church. We are now by Divine Providence placed in such a situation, that a regular succession of the ministry may be continued to us and our posterity, without being reduced to the necessity of applying to a distant land.
Justly reposing the highest confidence in your integrity and piety, your love of peace and order, and in your unremitted endeavours for the advancement of true religion and virtue, we rejoice that the distinguished honour of filling one of the first Episcopal chairs in these United States, hath been conferred on a character so truly estimable; and we trust, that we, and those whom we represent, shall never fail to render you all due support, respect, and reverence.
May it graciously please the Almighty Ruler of the universe, so to bless your ministrations, that a firm foundation may be laid for the peace and prosperity of our Church, which shall remain unshaken to the latest ages. And may you, Right Reverend Sir, long continue in the discharge of your sacred office, an example for our imitation, and an ornament to our holy religion; and may we, and all those committed to your pastoral charge, derive from your ministrations a benefit which will be of everlasting duration: so that when we are called to answer for our actions, we may give an account with joy; and remain ever one flock, under one shepherd Jesus Christ, the Bishop of our souls."
 To this Address Bishop Provoost replied as follows:
Reverend and Most Dearly Beloved,
"This affectionate address, your obliging congratulations on my return to my native city, and on the recovery of my health, and above all your assurances of support in my ministrations, I receive with the utmost satisfaction and thankfulness.
The object of my late mission being the independence of our Church, and a regular succession of the ministry, was of such magnitude, that its happy accomplishment cannot fail of inspiring all its members with the highest gratitude to Almighty God, and to all who under Him, have by their good offices contributed to its success. To the English Bishops particularly, we are under indelible obligations, and I cordially unite with you in a public testimony of their benevolent and paternal exertions in our favour. Whenever we shall reflect on this important era in the history of our Church, they must be remembered with honour and reverence.
Let us, my beloved friends, zealously strive to make due improvement of the spiritual privileges which we now enjoy. Let our faith be sincere, and our lives unblemished, as our doctrine and worship are pure and holy, and GOD will continue to shower down His blessings upon us and our Church, with a bountiful hand."
"May you, my Reverend Brethren, aided by His gracious Spirit, continue to be watchful shepherds of the flocks committed to your charge, and maintain the doctrines and discipline of this excellent Church, with constancy and zeal; and at the same time with candour towards those who differ from us in religious opinions, that our moderation may be made manifest, and we may joyfully contribute to that peace, and love, and charity, which are so strongly enforced in the Gospel of our blessed Redeemer.
Deeply sensible of my own imperfections, I feel with solicitude the weight of the important office to which I am consecrated. I rely on the grace of GOD, to enable me to discharge my pastoral duties with fidelity, to be instrumental in promoting true religion and virtue, in governing this Church in peace and unanimity, and laying a sure foundation for its lasting prosperity; that thus, through His divine protection, your expectation of my usefulness, may not be disappointed.
And, now unto GOD's gracious mercy and protection I commit you; the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you, the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace both now and evermore." [* Journal of Diocesan Convention, 1787, p. 17 ff.]
After this happy interlude the Convention completed its adoption [16/17] of a Constitution and Canons. Among the noteworthy acts was the election of a Standing Committee "to advise with the Bishop in all matters in which he may think proper to consult them." [* Journal of Diocesan Convention, 1787, p. 17.]
Provoost entered upon his episcopate in the day of small things. The diocese embraced the entire State. The number of clergy was lamentably small. The first official "Register of the Clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York" appears in the Diocesan Journal of 1791. It reads as follows:
"The Right Rev. Samuel Provoost, D. D., Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, in the State of New York, and Rector of Trinity Church, in the City of New York, ordained Deacon, by the Bishop of London, on the 23rd of February, 1766. Ordained Priest, by the Bishop of Chester, on the 25th day of March, 1766; and consecrated Bishop, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, on 4th day of February, 1787.
Rev. Jeremiah Learning, D. D., ordained Deacon by the Bishop of Llandaff, on the 5th day of June, 1748. Ordained Priest, by the Bishop of Winchester, on the 19th day of June, 1748.
Rev. Abraham Beach, D. D., Assistant Minister of Trinity Church, in the City of New York, ordained Deacon, by the Bishop of Llandaff, on the 17th day of May, 1767. Ordained Priest, by the Bishop of London, on the 14th of June, 1767.
Rev. Benjamin Moore, D. D., Assistant Minister of Trinity Church, in the City of New York, ordained Deacon, by the Bishop of London, on the 24th day of June, 1774. Ordained Priest, by the same Bishop, on the 29th day of June, 1774.
Rev. Thomas L. Moore, A. M., Rector of St. George's Church, South Hempstead, ordained Deacon, by the Bishop of London, on the 24th day of September, 1781. Ordained Priest, by the Bishop of Chester, on the 24th day of February, 1782.
Rev. Thomas Ellison, A. M., Rector of St. Peter's Church, Albany, ordained Deacon, by the Archbishop of York, on the 7th of July, 1782. Ordained Priest, by the Bishop of Durham, on the 19th day of September, 1784.
The Rev. Richard C. Moore, Rector of St. Andrew's Church, Staten Island, ordained Deacon, by the Right Rev. Samuel Provoost, Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York, on the 15th day of July; and Priest, on the 22nd day of October, 1787.
Rev. Daniel Foote, A. M., Rector of the United Episcopal Churches at Rye and White Plains, ordained Deacon, by the Right Rev. Samuel Seabury, Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of Connecticut, on the 11th day of June; and Priest, on the 22nd day of October, 1788.
 Rev. George H. Spierin, A. M., Rector of the United Churches of Newburgh and Wallkill, ordained both Deacon and Priest, by Bishop Provoost, in the month of July, 1788.
Rev. Elias Cooper, Rector of the Church at Philipsburgh, ordained Deacon, by Bishop Provoost, in the month of June; and Priest, on the 11th day of the same month, 1790.
Rev. Andrew Fowler, Rector of the Church at Oyster Bay, ordained Deacon, by Bishop Provoost, in the month of June, 1789; and Priest, on the 11th day of the same month, 1790.
The Rev. Theodosius Bartow, Rector of the Church at New Rochelle, ordained Deacon, by Bishop Provoost, on the 27th day of January; and Priest, on the 19th day of October, 1790.
Rev. William Hammel, Rector of the United Churches at Jamaica, Newtown and Flushing, ordained Deacon, by Bishop Provoost, on the 27th day of January; and Priest, on the 19th day of October, 1.790.
Rev. Elijah D. Rattoone, A. B., Minister of the Church at Brooklyn, ordained Deacon, by Bishop Provoost, on the 10th day of January, 1790.
Rev. Thomas F. Oliver, A. M., Rector of the United Churches at Johnstown and Fort Hunter, ordained Deacon and Priest, by Bishop Seabury.
The aforesaid fifteen men, including the bishop, made up the clergy of the diocese more than three years after the consecration of Provoost. Of the fifteen, six had received ordination in England. In addition to these, the official list adds the following:
Rev. Mr. Bostwick, of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, officiates every third Sunday in the City of Hudson.
Rev. James Nicholls, of Sandgate, Vermont, officiates every third Sunday at Camden.
Rev. Daniel Barber, of Manchester, Vermont, officiates every third Sunday at Kingsbury.
Going back to 1787 when Provoost became bishop, there were two Episcopal churches open for worship in the city of New York: St. George's Chapel, in Beekman Street, and St. Paul's Chapel. The mother church of Trinity was a blackened ruin. Brooklyn had one church, St. Ann's; St. Andrew's was the only parish on Staten Island. On Long Island, Jamaica, Newtown and Flushing, were served by one minister, and the churches at Huntington, Brookhaven and Oyster Bay were cared for by a lay reader. Many of the older parishes outside the city were partially recovering from the effects of the War of the Revolution. Rye was re-organized in 1787; Bedford, the year before. North Salem resumed in 1792, and the same year the churches at Courtlandtown (Peekskill) and Philipstown (Garrison) were reopened. [18/19] There were two parishes in Ulster County; two in active operation in Orange County; two or three in Dutchess; one at Hudson, in Columbia County, and one in Albany. North of Albany there were churches at Schenectady, Johnstown, Camden, Milton, Stillwater, New Stamford and Otsego. Beyond there stretched desert wastes. There were but few additions to the list of parishes during the Provoost administration. In the city of New York Trinity church was rebuilt and opened in 1788; Christ Church, Ann Street, was erected in 1793, and St. Mark's in the Bowrie, was added in 1799. Outside the city the churches at Ballstown and Duanesburgh were consecrated in 1793, and a church at Beekmantown was opened about the same time. Three years later four new parishes were admitted into union with the Convention--Stillwater, Milton, Waterford and New Stamford. Not until 1804 do parochial reports appear in the Journal, and prior to that time no formal report of official acts was made by the bishop. Unfortunately, the private Journal of Bishop Provoost has disappeared, and we are dependent upon casual mention made to the Convention.
At the second Convention of 1787 it is recorded that
"The Right Rev. Dr. Provoost expressed his satisfaction to the Convention, on account of the increasing state of the Church, and informed them, That he had ordained several persons--That he had lately made a visitation of several churches on Long Island, for the purposes of Confirmation; and hoped that the other churches here represented would be equally prepared for the reception of that sacred rite, as he intended to visit them next spring." [* Journal, 1787, p. 24.]
The following year he
"Expressed his satisfaction to the Convention, upon the prospect of the increasing prosperity of the Church in this State:--informed them that he had ordained several persons in the course of the last year:--that he had hitherto been prevented, by a multiplicity of other business, from visiting the congregations in distant parts of the State; but hoped that he should be able, before the next Convention, to carry his intention, with respect to the visitation of his diocese, into complete execution." [* Journal, 1788, p. 28.]
The next mention is in 1791, when
"The Convention received notice from the Bishop, that since their last meeting, he had ordained the Rev. Mr. [19/20] Barber--that the Rev. Mr. Foote, the Rev. Mr. Oliver, and the Rev. Mr. Blakesly, were added to the number of the Clergy; and expressed his satisfaction upon the increasing prosperity of the Church in the northern part of the State." [* Journal, 1791, p. 4.]
The following year he records the consecration of the Right Rev. Thomas J. Claggett, as Bishop of Maryland, [* The first consecration of an American Bishop in the United States.] and the ordination of Mr. Harris, Mr. Ireland, Mr. Gardiner, Mr. Jackson Sands, and Mr. Ammi Rogers, (the two last now settled in this State) and the consecration of the church at Philipsburgh (Yonkers). [* Journal, 1792, p. 60.] In 1793 mention is made of the consecration of a church at Duanesburgh, "erected solely by Judge Duane, at the expense of upwards of eight hundred pounds." [* Journal 1793, p. 67-8.]
The Journal adds,
"Bishop Provoost further informed the Convention, that he had consecrated a church at Ballston, and that he had there confirmed upwards of two hundred, and administered the Communion to above ninety persons, and was greatly pleased with the rapid growth and extension of that church. That he had also visited Poughkeepsie, and found that in the church of that place there had lately been an accession of some very valuable members." [* Journal, 1793, p. 68.]
There is no record of a Convention in 1795; no recorded report for 1796 and 1797, and for the three following years the Convention did not meet.
In spite of the meagerness of the official reports, contemporary sources bear striking witness to the extraordinary public interest in the services of Confirmation and Ordination. Writing in The Gospel Messenger in 1856, Bishop De Lancey said,
"In a recent Episcopal tour in Courtland county, in this diocese, I met, at the house of her son, Dr. R. C. Owen, the warden of Calvary Church, Homer, Mrs. Mary Owen, the widow of Dr. J. Owen, a native of the city of New York, born in 1774, whose maiden name was Mary Bell. She gave me an account, as an eye-witness, of the administration of the holy rite. She was then about fourteen years of age. His (Bishop Provoost) first Confirmation was held in St. Paul's Chapel--Trinity Church was then in ashes. More than three hundred persons were confirmed. The candidates occupied the body of the church below. The congregation were in the galleries. The Bishop addressed the candidates [20/21] from the pulpit before the Confirmation. Many aged persons were confirmed, some of them more than ninety years of age. She distinctly recollects two aged ladies led up to the altar by their coloured servants, who stood aside until the rite was performed, and then led their mistresses back to their pews. The Bishop was in his Episcopal robes. Among the clergy present, she recollects the Rev. Benjamin Moore, the Rev. Richard Channing Moore, and the Rev. Mr. Pilmore (Pilbury, she thought the name was). She does not distinctly remember the year, month, or day, but says it was warm weather, and not on Sunday, and she thinks in the same year in which the Bishop arrived from England." [* Norton. Life of Provoost, p. 132-63.]
This contemporary account has all the ear-marks of genuineness. The Bishop's first confirmation would naturally be in his own parish, and as soon as possible after his consecration. The large number of candidates is accounted for by the fact that it was the first time Confirmation had ever been administered in New York.
Even more interest was excited by ordinations. Bishop White, shortly after his consecration, wrote "We had determined never to ordain on Sunday, because of the concourse it brings." The same condition prevailed in New York. Bishop Provoost's first ordination took place in St. George's Chapel, on July 15, 1787, when Richard Channing Moore [* Later Bishop of Virginia.] and Joseph J. G. Bend [* After his ordination Bend became assistant to Bishop White in Philadelphia, and in 1791 went to Baltimore as rector of St. Paul's Church. He was a noted leader of the High Church party.] were ordered Deacons. The Daily Advertiser of the 17th contained the following account of the service:
"On Sunday last, in St. George's Chapel, in this city, Mr. Richard C. Moore and Mr. Joseph J. G. Bend were ordained Deacons of the Episcopal Church, by the Right Rev. Samuel Provoost, D. D., Bishop of said Church in this State. These gentlemen, according to the usage of the Church, are ordained Deacons with special permission to preach; and it is requisite they should continue Deacons for some time, previous to their admission into the order of Priesthood. The Chapel was unusually crowded, the ceremonies of Episcopal Ordination being novel in America. The solemnity of the occasion, the great good conduct which was observed through every part of it, and an excellent sermon, adapted to the present time, delivered by the Rev. Benjamin Moore, with an admired diction and eloquence peculiar to him, made a pleasing impression on the audience. [* Read that sermon here http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/bmoore/ordination1787.html
We cannot, on this occasion, but with pleasure reflect, [21/22] that the Protestant Episcopal Church, in these States, is now perfectly organized, and in the full enjoyment of each spiritual privilege (in common with other denominations) requisite to its preservation and prosperity."
An even more elaborate account of the second ordination of the Bishop appeared in The Protestant Churchman. The service was held in St. Paul's Chapel on October 18th, 1787. The account reads thus
"Columbia College was closed for the day. The President, Professors, and Students all attended at St. Paul's; and this, with the occasion, attracted a numerous audience. Here and there were to be seen venerable gentlemen in their large powdered wigs, and their gold-headed canes--such as the Rev. Dr. Livingston, Rev. Dr. Rodgers, Rev. Dr. Kunze, and other non-Episcopal clergymen of the city, who had been invited by the Rev. Dr. Beach, and were all personal friends of the Bishop. His early ancestors were French Protestants, who had fled from France after the massacre of St. Bartholomew in the year 1572. The Bishop himself was a native of this city, and was baptized in the Dutch Church in the Dutch language.
In his canonicals he read the Morning Prayer, and then left the reading-desk for an arm-chair within the railing of the chancel, and the Rev. George Wright ascended the pulpit. This divine was a native of Ireland, educated in Trinity College, Dublin, and having been admitted into the ministry, came out to this country. He was now Rector of St. Ann's Church, Brooklyn; and he took for his text, 'Behold, I send you forth as sheep among wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.' He expatiated on the origin and design of the Christian ministry, on the preached word, the right administration of the sacraments, and the succession of the ministry from the Apostles' time to the present, as constituting the only true Church. He admitted that sects had sprung up, but denied their validity; comparing them to the man who would convey an estate to another, when no title was vested in himself.
This boldness on the part of Mr. Wright made the Bishop restless and uneasy, lest Dr. Beach's invited clergy should take offence; but fortunately no notice was taken, except by Dr. Rodgers, who inquired of Dr. Beach, whether Mr. Wright was aware that Bishop Provoost had been baptized by Dominie Du Bois." [* Norton. Life, pages 130-31.]
During his administration Bishop Provoost took official part in two notable services. As a tribute to his loyalty during the War of the Revolution the Bishop was chosen as chaplain to the United States Senate. It then became his duty to officiate at the religious service [22/23] held in connection with the inauguration of General George Washington as President of the Republic. After the delivery of his inaugural address, the President "proceeded with the whole assemblage on foot to St. Paul's Chapel, where prayers suited to the occasion were read by Dr. Provoost, Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in New York."
The other notable service was the consecration of the second Trinity Church, the first having been destroyed in the great fire of 1776. For eight years the gaunt walls, which the Pennsylvania Packet declared "had long been a source of terror to the inhabitants," had stood a silent witness of the former glory. In 1788 the work of re-building began. The Daily Advertiser of August 23rd contains the following account of the laying of the corner-stone:
"On Thursday at 12 o'clock, the foundation Stone of Trinity Church was laid by the Right Reverend Samuel Provoost, D. D., Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the State of New York. On the stone is the following inscription: To the honour of Almighty God and the Advancement of the Christian Religion. The first stone of this building was laid (on the site of the old, destroyed by fire in 1776) on the 21st day of August, A. D., 1788. In the 13th year of the independence of the United States of America. The Right Reverend Samuel Provoost, D. D., Bishop of New York, being Rector.
The Honourable James Duane Esqr
The Honourable John Jay Esqr
The inscription was written by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson, first President of King's College.
In accordance with the custom of the day, pews were sold by auction. The sale took place on March 2, 1790, Mr. Bleecker being the auctioneer. The Daily Advertiser of the following day announced that "The number of persons that attended the sale was very great, and such was the desire of having seats in that church, that many of the Pews produced more than Fifty Pounds. The whole amount of the sale was Three Thousand Pounds." The seat of the Federal government being then in New York, the Vestry ordered
"That a pew be appropriated for the use of the President of the United States, with a canopy over it, and properly ornamented. And that another pew, opposite to the President's, be set apart for the Governor of the State and members of Congress."
The Bishop was requested to wait on the President, and inform him [23/24] that the Corporation had agreed to offer him a pew in Trinity Church. Mr. Washington expressed appreciation of the courtesy and regularly attended either Trinity or St. Paul's during his residence in New York.
The church was solemnly consecrated to the worship of Almighty God on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th, 1790. Bishop Provoost officiated, and the sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. Abraham Beach, Assistant Minister, from the text: "And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place: this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." The President occupied his pew of state, and the kindly feeling existing between the Church and other Christian bodies in the city was evidenced by the presence of their ministers.
Outside Trinity parish the only extension of the Church in the city of New York during Bishop Provoost's active administration was the establishment of Christ Church and the erection of St. Mark's Church, on the old Peter Stuyvesant farm in the Bowrie. Prior to 1660 the Governor had there established his country seat, and around it had sprung up a small settlement, a little chapel being provided for its spiritual welfare. Later it was abandoned. In 1793 his great-grandson, Petrus Stuyvesant, offered twelve city lots for the erection of a church. The offer was accepted, and on St. Mark's Day, April 25, 1795, the corner-stone was laid by Bishop Provoost. Four years later, on May 9, 1799, the building was consecrated by the Bishop, the sermon being preached by the Rev. Benjamin Moore. The church was far out of town; as late as 1807 the rector reported the number of communicants as 60 to 70 in winter, and 120 and 200 in summer. Christ Church, Ann Street, was created in 1793 to provide a pulpit for the Rev. Joseph Pilmore, a former itinerant preacher under John Wesley in England, and, who after the War of the Revolution, had been ordained by Bishop Seabury. Failing to secure his appointment as one of the Assistant Ministers of Trinity parish, his friends incorporated for him a new parish--an act strongly resented by the Corporation of Trinity which feared the new church might claim a share in the revenues of the mother parish. The lay delegates from Christ Church were refused recognition in the Diocesan Convention year by year until 1802. Notwithstanding this fact, Dr. Pilmore continued to preach to crowds of people who were content with standing room in the church.
In 1797 a golden opportunity to promote Church unity was missed by the Bishop and the Convention. The Journal of that year states that
"The Rev. Dr. Moore communicated to the Convention a letter addressed to him by the Rev. Mr. Ellison, stating [24/25] that some Lutheran clergymen had, in the name and on behalf of the Consistory of the Lutheran Church in the State of New York, intimated to him a desire to have it proposed to this Convention that their Church might be united with the Protestant Episcopal Church in this State, and that their ministers might receive Episcopal ordination." [* Journal, 1797, p. 86-7.]
As far back as 1663 the Rev. Joannes Ernestus Goetwater had arrived in New York with "a commission from the Consistory at Amsterdam to act as pastor to the Lutherans at the Manhattans." [* Disoway. The Earliest Churches of New York, p. 102f.] The Dutch had not learned religious toleration, and he was forbidden to preach and ordered to leave the Province. Under the English rule permission was given to send for a minister and build a church which was erected at the corner of Rector Street and Broadway. This building was destroyed in the fire of 1776, and the site was subsequently sold to Grace Church. The Diocesan Convention passed the following resolution concerning the overture:
Resolved, That the Rev. Dr. Moore, Rev. Mr. Ellison, and Rev. Mr. Rogers, be a Committee to meet such gentlemen of the Lutheran Church as may be duly appointed by their ecclesiastical authority to confer with them on this subject; and that, should it appear to the Conferees on the part of this Church proper and necessary to obtain the interposition of the General Convention for the accomplishment of this object, they shall be empowered, with the advice and consent of the Bishop, to make application, in the name of this Convention, to that body at its meeting in September next; and that they shall make a report of their proceedings to the next State Convention." [* Journal, 1797, p. 86-7.]
No mention is made of the matter in the Journal of the General Convention, and there is no record of a meeting of the Diocesan Convention for the years 1798, 1799, or 1800; neither is the subject mentioned in any subsequent convention.
THE episcopate of Bishop Provoost is noteworthy for the beginnings of missionary work on the far-flung frontiers of the State of New York. The first settlement in the new country west of Albany was made in 1784, when Hugh White, of Middletown, Connecticut, established a home at the mouth of the Sanquoit Creek. About the same time James Dean and Jedidiah Phelps settled near Fort Stanwix (Rome). Three years later there were scattered families where Syracuse, Auburn and Geneva now stand. [* Hayes: Diocese of Western New York, pg. 15.]
The first attempt to carry the Church to the new settlers appears to have been made by the Rev. Thomas Ellison of Albany. Under date of May 9, 1789, he wrote Bishop Provoost, saying:
"In January last I made an extensive journey, and christened twelve children; and had I been able to have spent a fortnight longer in the excursion, I suppose I should have christened at least forty. The distance I went was one hundred and twelve miles, a journey of four days, through a very wild country, which afforded most uncomfortable accommodations; but it afforded me a very high degree of pleasure to find that many of our Church were scattered throughout, who would not relinquish the hope of being able at some, though perhaps a distant period, to see churches established. I found that many of them had got children christened by ministers of other churches, despairing of the opportunity which my visit afforded, and, as I promised them to make a second visit during the summer, if I remain here, and should I find that I could afford to do so, I have [1/2] not a doubt that many will be offered to receive that Institution." [* Hooper: History of St. Peter's, Albany, pgs. 140-1.]
In 1796 the diocese adopted a Canon creating a "Committee of the Protestant Episcopal Church for the Propagating the Gospel in the State of New York." The committee consisted of three clergymen and three laymen, with the Bishop as chairman. The Canon further provided that "the ministers of this Church are hereby required and enjoined in the month of September each year to preach a sermon and make a collection in their respective congregations for carrying this laudable plan into effect, and to transmit the sums collected to the Treasurer, who shall be appointed by the Committee." [* Journal, 1796, pg. 81.]
The first missionary sent out to prosecute this new work was the Rev. Robert G. Wetmore, who was ordered deacon by Bishop Provoost on May 21, 1797. Prior to his ordination he had been a lay delegate from the church at New Rochelle to the diocesan convention, and had forsaken the practice of the law for the ministry. His commission as a missionary was dated May 25th, and ran as follows:
"Be it known by these Presents that the bearer hereof, the Reverend Robert G. Wetmore, a Deacon of the Protestant Episcopal Church, has been engaged and employed by the Committee of the Protestant Ep. Church for propagating the Gospel in the State of New York. As a missionary with authority to preach, to administer the sacrament of baptism, and to solemnize the matrimonial and funeral offices, and it is hereby recommended to the members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in all parts of this State where he may offer his services, to receive and respect him in the aforesaid character. Signed in the name and on behalf of the Committee in the City of New York, on the twenty-fifth day of May in the year of our Lord 1797.
Bp. of the Prot. Epis. Ch., N. Y.,
and Chairman of Committee,
J. Bessett, Secy.
Mr. Wetmore appears to have immediately started upon his work, for at the Convention held in October his letters and journal were read and approved. Unfortunately, this invaluable contribution to the early history of missionary work in the State has disappeared. Some precious gleanings, however, have been garnered by Hayes in his History of the Diocese of Western New York, who writes:
 "From other sources we learn that Mr. Wetmore went in the fall of 1797 to Canandaigua, where he received from some of its earliest settlers, such as Judge Moses Atwater and the Sanborn family, sturdy Connecticut Churchmen, the same hearty welcome which they gave a year later to his successor. In December he is on a visit to the Oneidas at their 'Castle,' baptizing 24 of them; thence to Bridgewater, Oneida County, where he hears of some churchmen at Paris Hill, and sets out before daylight for that place. There his work had been anticipated by the organization on the 13th day of February, 1797, of St. Paul's Church, the first in the present diocese of Western New York." [* Hayes: History of the Diocese of Western New York, pg. 17.]
Further light is shed on the labors of Mr. Wetmore by his successor, Philander Chase, who writes:
"Two missionaries were successively employed, who traveled in the remote and unsettled parts, and visited the vacant parishes throughout the State. The first of them, the Rev. Robert G. Wetmore, traveled 2,386 miles; performed divine service and preached 107 times; baptized 46 adults and 365 children, and distributed among the indigent and deserving a number of copies of the Book of Common Prayer. To learn what this good, pious man did by his ministrations throughout the State, one must travel where he traveled, and converse with those with whom he conversed. The benefits arising to the Church of Christ and to individuals were apparently many and great. He exhorted the indolent, comforted the desponding, and awakened the careless; in short, he so roused the people from their lethargy, and excited them to a sense of their religious duties, that in the year following there were incorporated in the State seven new congregations, and divine service began to be performed in many places where people had never attempted it before." [* Reminiscences of Philander Chase, Vol. I, pg. 37.]
One year's such arduous work so impaired Mr. Wetmore's health that he retired to the parochial care of Schenectady and Duanesburgh. He was afterwards compelled to move to the South, and died at Savannah, Georgia, in 1803.
A successor was found in the person of Philander Chase, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1795. Brought up a Congregationalist, he determined to enter the ministry of the Episcopal Church. The nearest clergyman to his home was the Rev. Thomas Ellison of Albany, and to him Chase wended his way, walking from Claremont, New Hampshire. He had no letter of introduction "and still further to depress his feelings, had but one crown of money in his pocket." [3/4] Nothing daunted, he set out on the long journey, and thus describes his meeting with Mr. Ellison:
"Having passed Market, he entered Court Street, and stopping at Wendel's Hotel, inquired, 'Where lives the Rev. Thomas Ellison, the Episcopal clergyman?' 'What, the English Dominie?' replied a friendly voice, 'you will go up State Street--pass the English stone church, which stands in the middle of that street, and as you go up the hill, turn the second corner to the right; and there lives the English Dominie, the Rev. Mr. Ellison, in a newly built white house, the only one on the block or clay bank.' It was indeed just so; and the writed mounted the plank door-step, and with a trembling hand knocked at the door of the rector of St. Peter's, Albany. 'Is this the Rev. Mr. Ellison?' said the writer, as the top of the Dutch built door was opened by a portly gentleman in black, with prominent and piercing eyes and powdered hair. 'My name is Ellison,' said he, 'and I crave yours.' Giving his name, the writer said, 'I have come from New Hampshire, the place of my nativity, and being very desirous of becoming a candidate for Holy Orders, I will be much obliged for your advice.' Mr. Ellison then said, 'God bless you; walk in.'" [* Chase: Reminiscences, Vol. I, pgs. 19-20.]
Through the influence of Mr. Ellison young Chase was appointed a teacher in the city school of Albany at a salary of four hundred dollars per annum. The first Sunday he conducted services at Troy, where all the denominations met in one house, each having in turn its own form of service. On the 10th of May, 1798, he was ordered Deacon by Bishop Provoost in St. George's Chapel, New York, Mr. Wetmore being priested at the same service.
No mention of Chase's missionary work appears in the Journal, because there was no meeting of the Convention for three years. Happily, the outline of that work was preserved by Chase himself, and published in his Reminiscences. When he began there were few clergymen north of Westchester County. Mr. Sayers was just leaving Poughkeepsie; Mr. Ellison was at Albany; John Urquhart at Johnstown and Mr. Wetmore at Schenectady. Chase made his way to Albany by Sloop, and after a detour to Lake George, set his face towards Utica, which he found to be a small hamlet with the "stumps of the forest trees standing thick and sturdy in the streets." There he lingered long enough to organize Trinity Church, and then pressed on to Canajoharie, where he preached in the dilapidated church and found the Oneidas and the Mohawks "now dwelling together in peace." The new parish at Paris Hill he found had been kept together by lay readers. Where Syracuse now stands there was "a dreary [4/5] salt marsh dotted with a few huts of the salt burners who carried on their work in winter." At Herdenberg's Corners (now Auburn) he was welcomed by the Bostwicks, a church family from Massachusetts, and steps were taken to organize St. Peter's Church. The journey westward ended at Avon, on the Genesee River, "there being then no road to the west except an Indian trail, uninhabited even to the Niagara River." On this missionary journey Chase traveled about 4,000 miles, baptized 14 adults and 319 infants, preached 313 times and distributed many Prayer Books, Catechisms and Tracts. On his way he organized a parish at Batavia, and visited the scattered church folk at Lebanon Springs, Athens, Hudson and in Putnam County, as well as Father Nash in Otsego County. In the autumn of 1799 he was ordained priest by Bishop Provoost in St. George's Chapel, New York, and settled as rector of the united churches of Poughkeepsie and Fishkill, in the county of Dutchess. Thus were laid the foundations of that missionary work in the State which was destined to develop under the fostering care of Bishop Benjamin Moore and the inspiring leadership of Bishop John Henry Hobart.
As has been noted, there was no meeting of the Convention of the diocese of New York in the years 1798, 1799 and 1800. The reason we do not know, save that in 1798 there was a widespread fever which prevented the General Convention from holding its stated meeting.
There are, however, underlying indications that Bishop Provoost was developing a desire to withdraw from public life. The records of the Corporation of Trinity Church show that, on the 8th of September, 1800,
"It having been represented by Dr. Charlton as the wish of the Bishop to resign his office as Rector of this Corporation at some future period,--Resolved that his resignation be accepted whenever he chuses to relinquish the office, and that he be allowed one thousand dollars yearly during his life, to commence from the time of his resignation." [* Dix: History of Trinity Parish, Vol. II, pg. .167.]
He appears to have waited for the election of John Henry Hobart as Assistant Minister, which was done on August 11th. Accordingly, in November, the Bishop took steps to consummate his retirement. On the 9th of that month provision was made to continue his salary as Rector until the following first of August, and that he should have the use of the house for one year. On the 22nd of December Dr. Provoost formally presented his resignation in the following terms:
 "In the Name of God, Amen. I, Samuel Provoost, Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York and Rector of the Parish of Trinity Church in the City of New York, before you, the Church Wardens and Vestrymen of said Church and in the presence of credible witnesses here present, for certain just and lawful causes me and my mind hereunto specially moving without compulsion, fear, fraud, or deceit; Do purely, simply and absolutely give up the said Rectory of the Parish of Trinity Church; and my office of Rector in the Corporation of 'The Rector and Inhabitants of the City of New York in Communion of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York,' by whatsoever Name the said Rectory may be most properly known and distinguished, and also the said Church with all the Rights, Members and Appurtenances thereunto belonging unto the hands of you the said Church Wardens and Vestrymen the Patrons thereof; with all my Right, Title, and Possession of, in, and to the same. I quit, cede, and renounce them and expressly recede from them by these Presents. In witness thereof whereof I, the said Samuel Provoost, have hereunto set my hand and seal the twenty-second day of December in the Year of our Lord One thousand Eight hundred." [* Dix: History of Trinity Parish, Vol. II, pgs. 169-70.]
This formidable document, duly executed, completed the act of resignation and it is recorded that the Rector "took his leave of the Board in the most affectionate manner." There seems to have been a combination of reasons for this and his subsequent action. The death of Mrs. Provoost, in August, 1799, after a long illness, was a great blow to the Bishop; added to this--Norton says--"In the ensuing July, he followed to the grave his younger and favourite son, who came to a most distressing end, while his cup of misery was filled to the brim by the conduct of his only surviving son." [* Norton: Life, pgs. 165-66.]
What is described in the Journal as a "Special Convention," convened at the request of the Bishop, met in Trinity Church on September 3rd, 1801. Immediately after organization, the following minute is recorded:
"The Right Reverend the Bishop Provoost addressed the Convention, and resigned his Episcopal jurisdiction of this diocese." [* Journal, 1801, pg. 90.]
The Convention thereupon appointed a committee to "consider and report what measures are necessary to be pursued in the present position of this Church." The following day the committee reported thus:
 "The Right Rev. Samuel Provoost, D. D., having declared that he resigned his jurisdiction of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this State, and having expressed his affectionate wishes for the prosperity of the Church in general, and the individual members of the Convention,
"Resolved, That the Convention return their thanks to the Bishop for his kind wishes, and whilst they regret that he should have judged himself under the necessity of quitting so suddenly the exercise of the Episcopal office, and those solemn and important duties which are connected with it, they beg leave to assure him of their sincere and fervent prayers that Divine Providence may so guide and govern him in all his ways, as will most conduce to his temporal and eternal felicity." [* Journal, 1801, pgs. 90-91.]
The General Convention was about to meet, and to Bishop White, as President of the House of Bishops, Provoost addressed the following letter:
New York, Sept. 7, 1801.
"Right Rev. and Dear Sir,
I think it my duty to request that, as President of the House of Bishops, you will inform that venerable body, that, induced by ill health, and some melancholy occurrences in my family, and an ardent wish to retire from all public employment, I resigned at the last meeting of our Church Convention my jurisdiction as Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York.
I am with great regard, dear and right rev. sir,
Your affectionate brother, Samuel Provoost."
"Right Rev. Bishop White."
It should be carefully noted that in the letter as originally written the words, "my office of bishop," appeared. They were then crossed out and the letter left as above.
This was the first time in the brief constitutional history of this Church that the problem of an Episcopal resignation of jurisdiction called for definite action. It proved to be a very troublesome problem, as it did again in 1832, when Bishop Philander Chase so abruptly abandoned his jurisdiction in Ohio. On the second day of the General Convention the following message was sent by the Clerical and Lay deputies to the Bishops: "The House of Clerical and Lay Deputies wish to know from the House of Bishops whether they have received any communication from Bishop Provoost, on the subject of his resignation of his Episcopal jurisdiction in the State of New York."
The bishops had received such a communication, and were perplexed to know what to do with it, and the more so, because the [7/8] diocese of New York had proceeded to fill the vacancy by the election of Benjamin Moore. The Journal has the following record:
"The House of Bishops having considered the subject brought before them by the letter of Bishop Provoost, and by the message from the House of Clerical and Lay Deputies, touching the same, can see no grounds on which to believe that the contemplated resignation is consistent with ecclesiastical order, or with the practice of Episcopal Churches in any ages, or with the tenor of the Office of Consecration. Accordingly, while they sympathize most tenderly with their brother Bishop Provoost, on account of that ill health, and those melancholy occurrences which have led to the design in question, they judge it to be inconsistent with the sacred trust committed to them, to recognize the Bishop's act as an effectual resignation of his Episcopal jurisdiction. Nevertheless, being sensible of the present exigencies of the church in New York, and approving of their making provision for the actual discharge of the duties of the Episcopacy, the Bishops of this house are ready to consecrate to the Office of Bishop any person who may be presented to them with the requisite testimonials from the General and State Conventions, and of whose religious, moral, and literary character, due satisfaction may be given. But this House must be understood to be explicit in their declaration, that they shall consider such person as assistant or coadjutor Bishop during Bishop Provoost's life, although competent, in point of character, to all the Episcopal duties; the extent in which the same shall be discharged by him, to be dependent on such regulations as expediency may dictate to the Church in New York, grounded on the indisposition of Bishop Provoost, and with his concurrence." [* Journal, 1801 (Perry edition), pgs. 272-3.]
The following day Moore's testimonials were presented to the House of Bishops and arrangements made for his consecration.
In view of subsequent bitter controversy, the text of the resolution of the House of Bishops is of great importance. Certain things are clear. The Bishops refused definitely to accept the proffered resignation of Bishop Provoost. They consented to meet the situation in New York by the consecration of another person, but expressly provided that during Provoost's life he should be assistant or coadjutor, competent to exercise the functions of the Episcopate in that diocese as expedience dictated, but always with the concurrence of the diocesan. Had the Bishops acted consistently, there would have been no difficulty. Unfortunately, they did not so act. The official Certificate of Moore's consecration shows that "they rightly and canonically . . . consecrate . . . into the office of [8/9] Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York" the said Benjamin Moore. Hence, New York had at one and the same time two diocesan bishops.
Bishop Provoost immediately went into retirement and took no official part in the services of the Church for ten years. In 1811 the diocese elected an Assistant Bishop, John Henry Hobart. It was found difficult to secure the presence of the three bishops necessary for the consecration of Hobart and Griswold. So much so, that Bishop White says it was "feared that the American Church would be subjected again to the necessity of having recourse to the mother Church for the Episcopacy, or else of continuing it without requiring the canonical number." [* White: Memoirs of the Church, pg. 247.] Under these circumstances Bishop Provoost, although in ill health, consented to make an effort to take part in the service. Norton gives a vivid account of the consecration:
"The immense congregation there assembled was very generally deeply impressed with the solemnity and importance of the crisis. It was probably, as it turned out to be, the last time that three of the then Bishops could be assembled. When it was ascertained that Bishop Provoost had actually arrived at the church, there was a thrill of emotion throughout the assemblage. He's come!' 'Thank God!' were audibly whispered ejaculations. He remained in the Vestry room until the close of Morning Prayer. It was the original expectation and intention that he should continue there until after the sermon, and enter the chancel in time to unite with Bishop Jarvis in presenting the Bishops-elect to Bishop White. Feeling, however, able to join the other Bishops at an earlier period, and to take part in the ante-communion service, and particularly desirous of once more hearing a sermon from his old friend, Bishop White, he entered the church after the close of Morning Prayer. He read the Epistle. It could be heard, and that with difficulty, by those only who were near the chancel. But the appearance of this venerable man, his visage somewhat marred by Palsy, and discoloured by jaundice, and then seen in public ministration for the first time in nearly ten years, by many who had been of his flock, doubtless produced quite as solemnizing an effect, and this even increased by the difficulty or impossibility of hearing him, as would the most audible, and most rhetorically enunciated, word of the Holy Book."
The controversy centering around the election of John Henry Hobart as Assistant Bishop of New York will be dealt with in due course. Here we are concerned only with the part played by Bishop Provoost. The leader of the opposition to Hobart was [9/10] the Rev.Cave Jones, one of the Assistant Ministers of Trinity Parish. Mr. Jones was subjected to an act of ecclesiastical discipline by Bishop Moore for stirring up controversy. Mr. Jones and his friends refused to accept the validity of the sentence on the ground that Bishop Moore was not, and never had been, the Bishop of the diocese, having been elected as Assistant Bishop, and therefore had not the power of discipline, save it had the approval of the bishop of the diocese. Jones therefore appealed to Bishop Provoost in the premises, and received from him the following letter:
New York, 5th of Nov., 1811.
I have examined the documents covered by your letter of this date, purporting to be the proceedings of the Bishop of this diocese and his presbyters; I can only say, that I think these proceedings totally unauthorized by the constitution and canons of our Church, and, so far as I have been able to judge, they are not sanctioned by the principles of our religion or humanity; my advice to you, therefore, is to disregard them.
Rev. Sir, I am, with great respect, and esteem, Yours sincerely,
Samuel Provoost, D. D.,
Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York, and Diocesan of the same."
The Rev. Cave Jones.
[* This letter is printed in "The Report of the Case between the Rev. Cave Jones and the Rector and Inhabitants of the City of New York in Communion of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the State of New York, &c." New York: Printed by William A. Davis, 1813, pgs. 10-11. [To read this booklet, and two others on the Cave Jones case, go to http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/cave_jones/]
It will be observed that in the above letter Bishop Provoost is careful to describe himself as "Diocesan."
So matters stood until the time drew near for the assembling of the Diocesan Convention of 1812. The Journal of that Convention contains, as part of its proceedings, the following letter "Addressed to The Rev. Clerical and Lay Members of the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York:
This being the day appointed by our Church for your Convention, I think it proper to address you.
You well know that in the year 1801 I proffered to the State Convention a resignation of my jurisdiction as Bishop of this Diocese, and that immediately afterwards I communicated to the General Convention, then in session at Trenton, information of the step I had taken. For a long time I fully believed that my act of resignation was recognized as effectual. But having some time since become [10/11] acquainted with the proceedings of the State and General Conventions in relation to this subject, and feeling a due respect for the sentiments of the General Convention, so strongly and decisively expressed in the resolution of the House of Bishops of the 7th of September, 1801, I think it my duty to inform you, that though it has not pleased God to bless me with health that will enable me to discharge all the duties of a Diocesan, and for that reason I cannot now attend the Convention; yet I am ready to act in deference to the resolution above mentioned, and to concur in any regulations which expediency may dictate to the Church; without which concurrence I am, after the resolution of the House of Bishops, bound to consider every Episcopal act as unauthorized. With my earnest prayers to Almighty God for the prosperity and peace of our Church, for the spiritual welfare and temporal happiness of all its members,
I am, My dearly beloved Brethren,
Your affectionate Father in God,
Bishop of the Prot. Epis. Church in the State of
New York, and Diocesan of the same.
New York, 6th Oct., 1812.
The Journal adds, "Whereupon the following resolutions were proposed and considered:
"Whereas by the Constitution of this Church the right of electing the Bishop thereof is vested in, and appertains to the Convention of this State: And whereas the jurisdiction of the Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church as the Diocesan thereof may be resigned, although the spiritual character or order of the Bishop is indelible; and such resignation, when the same is accepted by the Convention, creates a vacancy in the Office of Diocesan Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this State: And whereas the Right Reverend Samuel Provoost, D. D., being then the Diocesan Bishop of said Church in this State, did, on the third day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and one, resign his Episcopal jurisdiction of this Diocese to the Convention of the said Church in this State; and the said Convention did on the next day accept the said resignation, and on the following day proceeded to the choice, by ballot, of a person to succeed the said Diocesan Bishop; and thereupon the Rev. Benjamin Moore, D. D., was unanimously chosen by the Clergy and Laity, and received from them, as Bishop-elect of this Church, the testimonial required by the Canon of the General Convention: And whereas the said Benjamin Moore was, on the eleventh day of the said month of September, rightly and canonically consecrated into the office of Bishop of the said Church, and from that time hath exercised the powers and [11/12] jurisdiction of Diocesan Bishop in this State: And whereas this Convention hath been given to understand that doubts have been entertained whether the office and jurisdiction of Diocesan Bishop became vacant by the said resignation and acceptance thereof, and whether the said Benjamin Moore was of right the Diocesan Bishop of the said Church in this State by virtue of the election and consecration herein before mentioned: And whereas this Convention hath further understood that since the last Convention the said Bishop Provoost hath assumed, and by his letter read this day in Convention does claim, the title and character of Diocesan Bishop--Now, therefore, in order to obviate the said doubts, and with a view to restore and preserve the peace and order of the Church, this Convention doth hereby resolve and declare,
"That the Right Rev. Samuel Provoost, from and immediately after the acceptance of his resignation by the Convention of the Church in this State, ceased to be the Diocesan Bishop thereof, and could no longer rightfully exercise the functions or jurisdiction appertaining to that office; that having ceased to be the Diocesan Bishop as aforesaid, he could neither resume, nor be restored to that character by any act of his own or of the General Convention, or either of its houses, without the consent and participation of the said State Convention, which consent and participation the said Bishop Provoost has not obtained; and that his claim to such character is therefore unfounded.
"And further this Convention doth declare and resolve, that the spiritual order of Bishop having been canonically conferred upon the said Benjamin Moore, he became thereby, in consequence of the said previous election, ipso facto, and of right, the Diocesan Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in this State, and as such, well entitled to all the jurisdiction and pre-eminence belonging to that office, and which have been, and may be, canonically exercised by him personally, or through his co-adjutor, in the said character.
"And this Convention, in their own names, and for the Protestant Episcopal Church in this State, do hereby solemnly declare and acknowledge the said Benjamin Moore, and no other person, to be their true and lawful Diocesan Bishop; and that respect and obedience ought of right to be paid to him as such." [* Journal, 1812, pgs. 236-37.]
Stripped of its ponderous legal verbiage this declaration is in direct contradiction to the constitution of the American Church. In every constitutional step taken for the election and consecration of a bishop, the action of a diocese is subject to the consent and approval of the General Convention. The choice of a diocese may, or may not be ratified by the General Convention when in session, or by the [12/13] Bishops and Standing Committees at other times. "The right of election" by the State Convention, is not questionable, but that election must be approved by the constituted authority of the Church. To say, as this statement does, that the moment Bishop Provoost's resignation of jurisdiction was accepted by the Diocesan Convention, he ceased to be Diocesan Bishop, is obviously incorrect. It did not, and could not be effective, until such resignation was accepted by the House of Bishops. And the House of Bishops, after the most careful deliberation, refused to accept Provoost's resignation of jurisdiction. Their language is most explicit. They judged it "to be inconsistent with the sacred trust committed to them, to recognize the Bishop's act as an effectual resignation." And though, to meet the situation in New York they consented to consecrate Benjamin Moore, it was with the explicit statement that, during the lifetime of Bishop Provoost, they would consider him as "assistant or coadjutor," and his Episcopal acts were to be subject to the concurrence of the Diocesan. However much the action of Bishop Provoost in reassuming diocesan duties after so long an interval may be regretted, it seems clear from the record of the action of the House of Bishops that he was in fact, and by right, the Diocesan Bishop.
Bishop Provoost appears to have borne this rebuke in a meek and quiet spirit and to have retired once again into private life. He lingered for about four years, and died on September 6, 1815. On the evening of that day the following notice appeared in The New York Post:
"Suddenly this morning, in the 73rd year of his age, the Right Reverend Samuel Provoost, Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York. As among such a number of relations, and so long a list of friends, it is impossible to send particular invitations, without some, tho' involuntary omissions; the friends and relations of the family, and of Mr. Colden, [* Cadwallader Colden, the Bishop's son-in-law.] and generally the friends of the Church, are hereby invited to attend the funeral of the Bishop from his late residence, No. 261 Greenwich Street, tomorrow afternoon at 5 o'clock."
Every mark of respect was shown. Bishop Hobart was absent on a distant visitation of the diocese, but the parish church was draped in mourning. The Evening Post of the 11th has the following account of the funeral:
"The funeral of Bishop Provoost took place on Thursday. Owing to the short time for the preparation and notice, arising from the full habit of body in which the Bishop died, the tokens of respect were not such as would otherwise have [13/14] been witnessed. Yet as far as information could be imparted, a solicitude was manifested to pay the last sad offices of affectionate regard. All the Episcopal clergy of the city, and some visiting brethren, attended, as did also those of other denominations. The Pall, covered with the Bishop's robes, was borne by the older of the clergy, among whom were some of the Bishop's old acquaintances and friends. In the procession was the Lieutenant Governor, the Judges of the Courts of the United States, the Mayor, the Recorder, and Members of the Corporation, Gentlemen of the Bar, Physicians, and members of the different public bodies with which the deceased had been connected, as the Vestry of Trinity Church, Trustees of the College and of the Charity School, together with an immense number of the members of the Church, as well as of other denominations, who, besides the immediate friends and relations attended out of a deeply implanted and long-standing regard.
"The procession, headed by the children of the Episcopal Charity School, of which Bishop Provoost had for many years been the protecting guardian and friend, moved at 6 o'clock down Greenwich street, up Partition street, and thence down Broadway to Trinity Church. During the whole time the bells in the city were tolled by order of the Corporation. As the procession passed St. Paul's, where the family of the Bishop used to attend divine service, the deep-toned sound of that noble bell, which appeared to be muffled, seemed to speak the sense of his attendants of his former faithful services, as well as a regret for the happy days that are passed, and greatly added to that deep feeling of sorrow which pervaded the attending multitude.
"When the procession arrived at Trinity Church, after a solemn and mournful dirge from the organ, full service was performed. The Psalms and Lessons were read by the Rev. Mr. How; [* Rev. Thomas Yardley How, Assistant Minister of Trinity.] a sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. Harris; [* Rev. Dr. William Harris, Rector of St. Mark's Church.] and the funeral service was performed at the interment by the Rev. Mr. Jones. [* Rev. Cave Jones, formerly of Trinity Parish.] The church was immensely thronged and the effect was deeply solemn and impressive.
"The members present, who had for many years been witnesses of the parochial labours of their departed Rector, bore testimony to the representations of the preacher, when he stated the regular, uniform, unintermitted and conscientious discharge of the duties of the sanctuary, for which the Bishop was remarkable; his amiable, easy, yet dignified deportment, towards all the members of his flock; and especially his charity and kindness to the poor.
"The clergy who had been under his Episcopal jurisdiction bore equal testimony to the representation, of that inflexible integrity, that uniform adherence to principle, that spirit of impartiality, that cool, deliberate judgement [14/15] in investigating, and that firm, unshaken constancy in executing which appears in every part of Bishop Provoost's administration.
"He sought the happiness of his clergy, as the preacher justly enforced, he studied their comfort; he guarded against any unhappy collisions, or he took the most effective means to heal them. His house ever presented a home to every visiting member of his spiritual family; and they met with a hospitality, and welcome truly affectionate and parental."
At the following diocesan convention Bishop Hobart added his tribute in the stilted language of that day when he said:
"The Right Reverend Bishop Provoost has very recently departed this life. To the benevolence and urbanity that marked all his intercourse with his Clergy, and indeed every social relation, there is strong and universal testimony: and with respect to the manner which marked his official intercourse, there can be no testimony more interesting than that of the venerable Bishop of our Church in Pennsylvania, [* Bishop William White.] who, on a public occasion, several years since, referring to the intimate relation between himself and Bishop Provoost, introduced the sentiment, that 'delegation to the same civil office is a ground on which benevolence and friendly offices may be expected,' and then remarked, 'how much more sacred is a relation between two persons, who, under the appointment of a Christian Church, had been successfully engaged together in obtaining for it the succession of the apostolic office of the Episcopacy who in the subsequent exercise of that Episcopacy, had jointly laboured in all the ecclesiastical business which has occurred among us; and who, through the whole of it, never knew a word, or even a sensation, tending to personal dissatisfaction or disunion." [* Journal, 1815, pg. 313.]
These contemporary judgments should go far towards correcting many misapprehensions which tradition has associated with Bishop Provoost. His somewhat abrupt resignation has overshadowed the great value of his ministerial service. His episcopate can only be fairly judged by the standard of his day. He lived in difficult times as far as the Church was concerned. From the beginning of his ministry and throughout his active episcopate the Church was under suspicion; distrusted, as someone remarked, "as a piece of baggage left behind by the British troops," and the episcopate was distrusted even more than the Church. The early bishops found it necessary to be "wise as serpents and harmless as doves." Prior to 1811 the Church was on the defensive. The consecration of Hobart in that [15/16] year ushered in a new day--the day of aggression. Provoost did not strive or cry; nor was his voice heard in the streets, but he served God and the Church in and according to his day and generation.
Bibliographical Note. There is only one small Bibliography of Bishop Provoost--Life of Bishop Provoost, by John N. Norton (N. Y. Episcopal Sunday School Union and Church Book Society, 1859, pp. 183). Though not very adequate and not free from errors, the author had the advantage of access to the Bishop's private papers which have not since been available. Dr. Berrian's Historical Sketch of Trinity Church (New York: Stanford & Swords, 1847) contains a sketch reprinted from The Churchman, and written by Cadwallader Colden, son-in-law of the Bishop, with additions by Mr. George Rapelye, p. 197 ff. The latter gentleman also contributes an important letter appended to the sketch in Sprague's Annals of the American Pulpit, Vol. V, p. 240-245 (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1859). President William Duer gives some personal reminiscences of Provoost in his Reminiscences of an Old New Yorker, p. 16 (New York: Printed for W. L. Andrews, 1867). The Centennial History of the Diocese of New York contains a brief biography from the pen of General James Grant Wilson, p. 127 ff (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1886). Valuable material is found in Dr. Morgan Dix's History of Trinity Parish; also in the appendices. In the New York Historical Society's Collections for 1870 there are reprinted the notices in the New York press relating to Trinity Church from 1730 to 1790. They contain many references to Bishop Provoost. The Archives of the General Convention, Vol. II, contain a sketch and a facsimile of the Bishop's letter of resignation. The relations of Seabury and Provoost are treated, from the Seabury point of view, in Beardsley's Life and Correspondence of Bishop Seabury; also in Perry's History of the American Church; and Bishop White's Memoirs of the Church (De Costa edition). The early history of missionary work beyond Albany is told in Hayes' History of the Diocese of Western New York (Rochester: Scranton, Wetmore & Co., 1905). The early journals of the Convention of the Diocese of New York (1785-1819) were reprinted in 1844 and published by Henry W. Onderdonk, 25 John Street, New York. Bishop Provoost left no printed material.