Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

Such were the fathers of the Church in the newly-discovered continent; and it may be fairly presumed that, if all succeeding emigrants had possessed a kindred spirit, the form of religion which they introduced would have continued to prevail in the United States until the present day. But various causes soon contributed to multiply a very different class of settlers. In the year 1614, New York was colonized by the Dutch, who brought with them their own confession of faith, and their Presbyterian form of ecclesiastical government. In 1620, the Puritans succeeded in colonizing New England, and in establishing their peculiar doctrines and discipline. The Swedes and Finns introduced Lutheranism into Delaware and New Jersey in 1627; Maryland was settled by Roman Catholics in 1634; and Pennsylvania by the Society of Friends in 1681. Long before the termination of the 17th century, the members of the church of England in the colonies were exceeded in number by those of other persuasions. Nor was this all. From one denomination at least they soon began to experience opposition. The Puritans, although required by their charter to conform to the laws of England, had not scrupled to constitute a religious establishment widely different from that which the laws of England recognised. A few persons, offended at this procedure, withdrew from communion with their dissenting brethren, and assembled separately to worship God according to the Liturgy of the Church. This was too much to be patiently endured by the dominant majority. The leaders of the party, two brothers named Brown, were expelled from the colony, and sent home to England. A monument has been erected to their memory, in St. Peter's church at Salem, which describes these worthy men as the first champions of religious liberty in America. Heavy fines were inflicted on those who took part in episcopalian ceremonies, severe laws were enacted against the observance of any such day as Christmas or the like,' and an Inquisition existed in substance, with a full share of its terrors and its violence.

As the country increased in population, the Church, nevertheless, slowly advanced. Even in New England, a few churches were at length established, and, under a load of obloquy, gradually gathered strength. New York having fallen into the hands of the English, a church was erected in that city, Philadelphia, under the tolerant influence of the Friends, was blessed with an episcopal place of worship; and in Maryland, several congregations were organized. The cavaliers and their descendants fed to Virginia, during the persecutions of Cromwell's government; and in that country the Church maintained undisputed preeminence for nearly a century, notwithstanding the efforts of missionaries from New England to produce a defection.

Up to the period of the Revolutionary war, the number of Episcopalians was very small, except in the southern colonies.

In Virginia and Maryland, a provision for the maintenance of the clergy was made by law: the territory was divided into parishes, churches were built, and glebes attached. Here the Church possessed all the authority, and commanded all the respect of a national establishment. But in the provinces north and east of Maryland, the congregations were few and far between, and generally confined to the larger towns. It is believed that the only considerable endowment by the English government in favour of the Church, in the northern colonies, was a grant of lands to Trinity Church, New York. But during the early part of the eighteenth century, a zealous friend was raised up to the

Church in the British Society for propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts.' By means of this excellent institution, the greater part of the clergy resident in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, were maintained, and the number of congregations considerably increased. To this society a very liberal grant was made by the colonial government, which, under equitable management, might have sufficed to support the institutions of the Church to an indefinite extent. The territory of Vermont, when first surveyed, was divided into townships six miles square, 114 of which were granted by Governor Wentworth, of New Hampshire, an Episcopalian. In each of these, one right of land, containing usually 330 acres, was reserved for the first settled minister, one right as a glebe for the church of England, and one to the Society

for propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts. But the surveyors being unfriendly to episcopacy, the lots reserved for the society and for the glebes, were often situated within the same identical spot, and often on mountains, rocks, or morasses; in consequence of which, the grant promoted but little the cause which it was designed to subserve.

It is obviously important that something should be said in regard to the character of the clergy previous to the Revolution. · It is the more desirable on account of the many misapprehensions which exist in regard to this subject. Let it then be remarked, that the missionaries of the Society for propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts, were generally men of holy, self-denying lives, and of blameless reputation. The venerable society just mentioned issued a notice in 1735, and subsequently, in which they besought those concerned to recommend no man to them as a missionary, 'but with a sincere regard to the honour of Almighty God, and our blessed Saviour.' In the same circular, they expressed their persuasion that any clergyman in America who had disgraced his character, must have gone thither without their knowledge; and they concluded by promising to dismiss any one in their employment, against whom a just complaint could be preferred. It is true that many disorders prevailed in those districts where the law, by assigning a considerable stipend to ministerial services, held out an allurement to the unprincipled.

success.

And yet, even under these circumstances, the clergy and their people were free from many imputations which must for ever attach to the memory of their chief opponents.

The disorders which actually existed should be traced to their proper source, the want of an efficient episcopal supervision. This destitution again should be assigned in all justice to its principal cause, namely, the opposition of the powerful bodies of dissenters, especially the Puritans. For, although the Bishop of London was considered as the diocesan of the American episcopal churches, it is evident that his authority could not be effectually exerted at such a distance; and unworthy clergymen could not be removed without serious difficulty. The jurisdiction of a prelate beyond the seas was also viewed with jealousy by many; and the attempt to obviate existing inconveniences by the delegation of a commissary in 1700, met with but partial

Other causes contributed to render the appointment of a colonial bishop extremely desirable. The only resources for a duly authorized ministry were in emigration from the mother country, and in sending candidates to that country for orders. The first could not be the channel of a respectable permanent supply; and the second was expensive and dangerous, many having perished on the ocean, or died by sickness, in their efforts to obtain ordination. At the same time Churchmen beheld the various non-episcopal sects around them multiplying their preachers ad libitum, and availing themselves of every opening afforded by the defenceless state of the adherents to apostolic order. The Church, too, was of necessity presented to the people in an imperfect form, the rite of confirmation being unpractised, and almost unknown. It was undoubtedly owing to this unhappy state of affairs that, about the commencement of the 18th century, Baptists, Presbyterians, and others, obtained a footing in the southern colonies, where they increased with rapidity and vigour,

As early as the reign of Charles II. the colonists took measures to obtain an Episcopate, which almost proved successful. The subject was agitated in following years, until the death of Queen Anne put a stop for a considerable time to all proceedings of this description. The Church, nevertheless, continued to advance, and several distinguished dissenters were at different periods added to its ranks. Mr. Timothy Cutler, Rector of Yale College, and Mr. Samuel Johnson, a tutor in the same institution, both congregational ministers, became convinced, after indefatigable study, that their ordination was invalid; and shortly afterwards connected themselves with the church of England. Being joined by several other persons of note, their defection was a great shock to the existing establishment. They proceeded to England for ordination ; and on their return in 1723, Dr. Cutler was settled as pastor of Christ church in Boston, and Mr. Johnson as missionary of the Propagation Society in Connecticut. In that colony the latter was for some time the only episcopal clergyman; but distinguishing himself by his controversies in behalf of the Church, he was appointed, in 1754, President of King's College, New York. By his writings, he succeeded in awakening general attention to the question of episcopacy; and about the year 1763 the applications for a bishop were renewed. At this proceeding, the dissidents from the Church in New England took alarm, and strongly resisted the introduction of the only means by which their conforming brethren could fully practise the rites which their faith demanded. In addition to this, they contended that the Propagation Society transcended its powers when it authorized its missionaries to settle in the villages and seaports of New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Dr. Mayhew, a congregational preacher in Boston, was the leader of this controversy in behalf of the dissenters; while a talented advocate for the Church was found in the Rev. East Apthorp, a missionary at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and afterwards prebendary in the cathedral of St. Paul, London. Several others engaged in this discussion, among whom was Archbishop Secker, a warm friend of the colonial Church.

The efforts to procure an episcopate continued to prove as unsuccessful as before. Yet so obviously was it necessary, that, notwithstanding repeated discouragements, within ten years after the controversy with Mayhew, another attempt was made, in the course of which the Rev. Dr. Chandler, of New Jersey, appealed to the public in favour of this great object. But the times were unpropitious. Political difficulties had arisen between the colonies and the mother country ; and many of those who had previously desired an American episcopacy, now feared lest it should be made an instrument of accomplishing the designs of Great Britain. Some of the clergy themselves were not free from this apprehension, and four ministers of the establishment in Virginia actually protested against Dr. Chandler's plan, and received for their protest the thanks of their colonial government. The war of the Revolution commenced shortly afterwards, and amid the clash of civil strife the whole subject was for a time forgotten.

At the commencement of the struggle between the colonies and the mother country, the condition of the Church, although far from flourishing, was more promising than it had been at any earlier period. In Virginia, the number of clergy was above an hundred; in Maryland and the southern provinces, it probably exceeded fifty; and in the colonies to the northward and eastward of Maryland, it was not much less than eighty. As yet, however, the ministrations of religion were confined to the districts immediately bordering on the sea coast; for the interior of the continent remained a pathless wilderness, tenanted only by savage beasts, or still more savage men. But when the colonies were actually separated from Great Britain, the destruction of the Church appeared almost inevitable. A few years nearly overthrew the work which had been slowly carried forward by the exertions of a century and a half; and, had not Omnipotence interposed, the ruin would have been complete. The fostering hand to which the American church owed a long continuance of care and protection, was withdrawn; and the Propagation Society no longer rendered its accustomed aid. Many of the clergy were thus left entirely destitute, and some were obliged to betake themselves to secular employments for support. In the northern states the clergy generally declined officiating, on the ground of their ecclesiastical connexion with the Liturgy of the church of England. In the south, many worthy ministers, conceiving themselves bound by oath to support the government of Great Britain, refused to enter upon a new allegiance, and quitted the country. By an unjust decision, the lands possessed by the Propagation Society in Vermont were confiscated, and applied to the purposes of education. In 1823, after a protracted litigation, a considerable portion of this property was recovered to the Protestant Episcopal Church. An equally unconstitutional sentence, obtained through the united efforts of sectarians and infidels, despoiled the Church in Virginia of its glebes, and even of its houses of prayer; while, in addition to all these calamities, Episcopalians in general became subject to unmerited and cruel political prejudices. Most of their churches were destitute of worshippers; their clergy had departed, or were left almost entirely without maintenance; no centre of unity remained, and no ecclesiastical government existed.

Of the pitiable state of the Episcopal Church in America, thus generally described, some idea may be formed from the actual condition of the Church in Virginia, in the year 1802, after the clergy in that state had, by an act of the Virginian legislature, * been deprived of their glebes, which had been legally conferred upon them by members of the church of England, many years before a single dissenter had been settled in that state. The Rev. Dr. Hawks, (to whose very interesting volume we may return in a future number, after giving a narrative of the passing of this act, thus exhibits its practical effects : The

very natural inquiry (he says) will here be proposed, 'What was the effect of this law, and how far were the people benefited by the sale of the glebes ?' We answer this inquiry in the words of one of our contemporaries, who has always lived in Virginia :-- Under this act not only glebes, but churches, and even the communion plate, have been

* This act was passed, after twenty-seven years of determined hostility, particularly by the Baptists.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »