BENICIA is about thirty miles from San Francisco. The Stockton and Sacramento steamers, leaving this city every afternoon at four o'clock, stop there at six o'clock; so that it is of easy access from here. At the first settlement of the country great efforts were made to constitute it the emporium of the Pacific, but San Francisco took the lead, owing to its superior situation, and Benicia settled down into an inconsiderable place. For a little while the Legislature met there, but the members found it too quiet and the assembled wisdom of the State was transferred to Sacramento.
Benicia is now a scattered town, with "magnificent distances" between the houses. About a mile distant, connected with the town proper by straggling dwellings, is another settlement which has gathered around the works of the Pacific Steamship Company. A mile beyond this, and behind the hills, is the United States' Reservation, occupied as a military post. If the townspeople, the steamer employees, and the army people could be gathered into one place, they would together make quite a town.
As it is, they present materials for missionary work, and a a strong reason for establishing a parish at that point.
On account of its easy accessibility, Benicia has been chosen as a site for several schools; as not only do steamers stop there, but stages run from that point to the valleys above. There is a large seminary for girls and another for boys, while the Romanists have established the convent of St. Catherine, the inmates of which devote themselves to the education of their boarders.
Shortly after my arrival in California, this was made the Army Headquarters, and General Wool and staff were removed thither from San Francisco, very much to their dissatisfaction. By this order, both Churches in this city lost some of their most efficient supporters, among whom were Dr. Tripler, warden of Grace Church; and Major Edward D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General, who belonged to Trinity. These gentlemen, upon settling at Benicia, soon made a move to have the services of the Church; and I accordingly licensed Major Townsend to act as lay reader.
My first visit to this place--and, I believe, the first occasion on which service was performed by a clergyman of our Church--was in the first year of my residence in the Diocese, October 21st, 1854. I reached there at dusk; and being met on the wharf by Dr. Tripler and Major Townsend, I was driven out to their quarters, as I was to be their guest. During the time they were stationed there--for the next two years--this was always my home, and there are few scenes in this land to which I look back with more pleasure, than to my visits to their quarters. In long talks, protracted far into the night, some of my most agreeable hours were spent.
The next day, Sunday, we had service in the Court House. A good congregation was present and after service and sermon, I administered the Holy Communion to eight persons.
Then a few months passed, during which I was unable to repeat my visit. Major Townsend, however, was laboring with all the earnestness of a most devoted parish priest, seeking out children for Baptism and so preparing candidates for Confirmation that I found my seeing them previous to the rite was only a form. A large room, formerly used as a Masonic Lodge, was hired, and converted into a pretty chapel, with vestry room adjoining. The chancel was properly fitted with altar and other necessaries and the walls were covered with oaked paper. In my Convention Address, the following May, I make this mention of Major Townsend's efforts: "Since my former visitation to this place, a suitable room has been provided, and furnished in a church-like manner. It will be remembered that no services of the Church have been held here, except those of the two Sundays I was able to spend in the place. Everything else,--the Sunday services, the seeking children for Baptism and preparation of candidates for Confirmation--has been done by the lay reader. I cannot refrain, my brethren of the laity, from calling your attention to this little parish, thus organized and kept in existence by the exertions of one of your own number, as an evidence of how much can be effected by the laity when the lack of clergy prevents their having the services of an ordained minister."
On the 22nd of February, 1855, I made another visitation. In the previous week the parish had been organized by the name of St. Paul's Church. I went up on Friday evening and after spending Saturday with the major, in visiting the different families, on Sunday I held service in their new chapel. In the morning I preached, and administered the Holy Communion to twelve persons. In the afternoon, I again read service and preached, baptizing after the second lesson one adult and eight infants, and after sermon confirming six persons.
In July I again visited them, and held service one Tuesday evening, remaining for several days to visit the families. On the following Friday, I went over to Vallejo with the Major, and in the evening held the first service of our Church in that place. It is about seven miles from Benicia and separated by a narrow river from the Navy Yard at Mare Island. The population of the place was then about one thousand, many of whom are workmen employed in the Navy Yard. A Methodist chapel had been erected there, which was offered for our use, and notwithstanding the notice of but a few hours before, there was a good attendance, consisting of the officers and their families from Mare Island and the people at Vallejo. I returned the same evening to Benicia and the next day to San Francisco.
During the following January, 1856, we lost the aid of Major Townsend, as he was ordered to Washington. A more devoted and valuable layman I have never known; not only regularly discharging the Sunday duties of lay reader, but also the weekly and daily duties of "seeking for Christ's sheep that are dispersed abroad" and inducing them once more to place themselves within the hallowing influence of the services of the Church.
Providentially, at the time of Major Townsend's departure, I was able to supply the church by sending as Missionary, the Rev. David. F. MacDonald, who had come to me as a candidate for Orders, from the Bishop (Eden) of Moray and Boss in Scotland, and had lately been ordained Deacon. He usually officiated on Sunday morning at Benicia, and in the afternoon at Martinez, on the opposite side of the Carquinez Straits, and also held occasional services at Vallejo.
During the next three years but little progress was made. The officers and their families, on whom we chiefly depended, were constantly changing, and after about six months Mr. Macdonald removed to Colonia. Then there was a succession of lay readers, Dr. Tripler, Capt. Gardiner of the First Dragoons, Dr. Murray, U. S. A., and Lieut. Julian McAllister of the Ordnance Corps.
During the winter of 1858-9, I frequently spent Sunday there, having service in Benicia in the morning, and at Martinez in the afternoon. At the latter place the Methodist chapel was always offered for our use. I generally had also a third service at night. The Female Seminary, Miss Atkins principal, contained at that time about seventy pupils, the majority of whom attended the services at the chapel and indeed took charge of the music. They collect here from all parts of the State and in a year or two scatter to their homes, to be the future mothers of our people. Feeling how great an influence they might exert, I arranged for a Sunday evening service whenever I should be in Benicia. My service at the school was a familiar, extemporaneous lecture, prefaced by singing and the reading of some collects. During the last season (August, 1859), I held a special Confirmation at the school the evening before the term ended, to confirm two young ladies who were the next day to leave for their homes.
In May, 1859, the Rev. E. W. Hager became Missionary here, officiating on alternate Sundays at this place and Napa. As, however, he returned to the East in September, but little was effected.
During the following autumn, a lot was procured and subscriptions made for building the church edifice. The project was carried through, and a neat wooden church of Gothic architecture erected at a cost of about fifteen hundred dollars. It was consecrated in January, 1860. The day was beautiful and balmy, and the services were admirably conducted. The Rev. Messrs. Thrall and MacAllister of this city took part in the service. The Rev, Messrs. Ewer and Chittenden intended to be present, but, having trusted to the Suisun boat of that morning, arrived too late. Thus the parish is established on a firm basis and will be supplied by services from this city until it can procure a permanent Rector.