Historical Introduction

THE three Anglican churches of eighteenth-century Boston, built where they were, King’s Chapel in the center, Christ Church in the North End and Trinity in the South End, and when they were, 1688, 1723 and 1734 respectively, were designed to provide an Anglican alternative to the Puritan or nonconformist Congregational churches already established and flourishing in Boston. One might conclude, at least in the early years, from reading the Trinity Records that the animosities between these two religious communities were less than those that existed during Trinity’s early years within the Anglican community itself. The nature of these external and internal dissensions may be suggested by an analogy drawn from the relations existing today between Israel and the Arab nations and a consideration of the internal posture of the Jewish nation itself. The Jews must put up a common front before the hostile surrounding Arabs; and it is this external pressure which is the main reason for Jewish unity in face of the common enemy. But this unity is so precarious within the State of Israel that the Jews have never been able to agree upon a constitution to govern themselves, and they continue to proceed on an ad hoc basis largely supported by outside help from the United States. The analogy is not exact; but at the end of the seventeenth century under the foolish and intolerant policy of the Stuarts, which resulted in the revocation of the Massachusetts Charter, the tyranny of the First Royal Governor of the Province, Sir Edmund Andros, and his overthrow in the revolution of April 1689, the newly planted Anglican church in Boston found itself in a distinctly hostile society dominated by such Puritan worthies as Increase Mather and his son, Cotton Mather. The father died in 1723, the year that Christ Church was founded, now the oldest surviving church building in Boston, and Cotton Mather died in 1728, the year in which a rich merchant, Leonard Vassall, agreed to convey land in Summer Street on which to build Trinity Church.

The late Professor Richard Pierce in his admirable edition of The Records of the First Church in Boston has brought out clearly that the first Puritans did not consider themselves to be separatists from the Church of England. In a petition to the rest of their Anglican brethren dated 7 April 1630 while still aboard the Arbella at Yarmouth, they addressed the Church of England as “our dear mother from whence we rise.” This early intimacy may to some extent account for that contempt and intolerance fifty years later which was exacerbated by the untactful way in which Governor Andros arbitrarily occupied the Old South Meeting House on Sundays for Anglican services in 1687. On the other hand even a less than ecumenical later day Episcopalian must admit that the arrogant behavior and vicious scheming of such Anglicans as Edmund Randolph and John Checkly, who wished to establish their own church at the expense of the Puritans, did not contribute to forging amicable relations between the two communities. But if we find the tension between the rigid and exclusive Congregationalism and the stately and aristocratic episcopacy continuing with lessening rancor throughout the eighteenth century, the second theme of internal dissension within the Anglican community is clearly traceable in the early records of Trinity Church.

One reason for this internal Anglican dissension was the lack of an effective episcopal authority either in the colonies, where there was no Bishop, or in England, where no effective diocesan authority for the colonies existed since the time when the Bishop of London sat on the Council of the Virginia Company in a purely ministerial rather than jurisdictional capacity. In 1725 the Bishop of London, Edmund Gibson, a learned and diligent canon lawyer, obtained from the King in Council a royal patent, personal to himself, granting him ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the plantations overseas. Under this authority the Bishop did not claim the right of presentation, the right to select a minister for a church, but the power to appoint a commisarius or officialis foraneus to perform those functions which the Chancellor of the Diocese and the Archdeacon could not perform by reason of distance, such as the calling of conventions of the clergy and the investigation of irregularities in the conduct of the brethren. Bishop Gibson appointed the Reverend Roger Price his commissary for the New England clergy in 1729 at the same time Price became Rector of King’s Chapel. Price’s commission expired with the death of Bishop Gibson in 1749, and no other Commissary was ever appointed to succeed him. The Reverend Mr. Commissary Price, as he was called, nevertheless figures prominently in the early history of Trinity Church.

The earliest document we have in the Trinity Church records is the copy of an indenture dated 25 April 1728. In this document a rich merchant, Leonard Vassall, undertakes to convey land on Summer Street for the sum of four hundred and fiftynine Pounds five Shillings in Good Public Bills of Credit of the Province to three persons, John Barnes, Merchant, John Gibbons, Apothecary, and William Speakman, Baker, for the building of an Episcopal Church.

But nevertheless to & for the Special Use, Trust & Confidence hereafter mentioned, & to & for no other Use Intent or Purpose whatsoever. That is to say, that they the said John Barnes, John Gibbons & William Speakman, any or either of them, their any or either of their Heirs or Assigns Shall & will with all convenient Speed immediately after said Conveyance, endeavor to procure a Building to be erected on the said Land for the Worship of God.

Which Building or Church, They, any or either of them Shall take care to be contrived & disposed both without & within, as They, any or either of them (in the absence of the other) Shall find & judge most conduceing to the decent & regular Performance of Divine Service, according to the Rubrics of the Common Prayer Book used by the Church of England as by Law Established. And the same be appropriated for the said Pious & most Christian Use, Intent & Purpose forever.

The three prospective grantees in this indenture were all members of King’s Chapel and ardent churchmen. The land was conveyed in 1730 and a list of subscribers immediately pledged over £2000 for the building of the church. The names of the subscribers, who transform themselves into the first Vestry of Trinity Church in April 1739, appear in an indenture of that year after the church has been erected but not completed. They are also all members of King’s Chapel, and some of them, William Speakman and William Price for instance, are not only pew holders in all three Episcopal churches but were Vestrymen and Wardens at various times in all these churches as well.

It has been said that Trinity Church, until it got its first minister in 1740, was the Chapel of ease of King’s Chapel. It is also well to remember that the Bonner map of 1722, sold by William Price in his shop “against the Town House,” contains the following statistics for Boston: “42 streets, 36 lanes, 22 alleys, near 3000 houses; 1000 brick, rest timber; near 12,000 people”: a town about the size of North Andover today. It was nevertheless at that time the largest town in British North America and still expanding. Its population in 1743 has been estimated at 16,000. There is no doubt that King’s Chapel was too small to contain the growing number of Anglicans.

The work of building the church began in 1733, the cornerstone was laid on 15 April 1734, by the Reverend Mr. Commissary Price, and the building was completed in 1735. It was a simple, functional structure that was to serve its parishioners almost one hundred years. The descriptions we have of the completed church do not suggest great elegance. A visitor to Boston, Captain Francis Goelet, described the church at a somewhat later period in the following words:

This Build is very Plain without, with Large Sash Windows, But within Verry Neat and commodious, the Architect Modern, with a very Neat little Organ Pretily Embelished. This Church having no Steeple looks more like a Prespytarian Meeting-House.

Its three bare doors caused Phillips Brooks much later to say that its appearance was “of such exemplary plainness as would delight the souls of those who grudge the House of God the touch of beauty.” In Drake’s Old Landmarks of Boston we read that within the roof was a great “arch resting on Corinthian pillars, with handsomely carved and gilded capitals. In the chancel were some paintings, considered very beautiful in their day.”

As soon as it was possible to hold a service in the uncompleted building we find the Committee of proprietors making their preparations. On 12 August 1734 they desired “the Church Wardens of Kings Chapple to lend their Books and Cushings . . .” and on 13 August they “voted that there be a Dinner provided at Mr. Withereds at the Bunch of Grapes on Fryday the 15th Currt. the Charge thereof to be paid out of the Church money” to which were invited “His Excellency the Governour the Honorable the Lieut. Governour the Captain of his Majesty’s Ship the Scarborough All the Episcopall Ministers that shall be in town that day and all the other Gentlemen that are in town that has given or lent money to Trinity Church & the three Head Carpenters.”

On 15 August 1735 we read the following entry in the records:

Mr. Thos Harward read Prayers according to the Rubrick of the Church of England and the Revd Mr. Roger Price His Lordship’s Commissary Preached the first Sermon in Trinity Church from the 10th Chapter of the Hebrews 23 Verse. Lett us hold fast the Profession of our faith without waivering. Which Sermon was Preached before a large Number of People his Excellency Jona. Belcher Esq. being Present and likewise wee the Subscribers

Joseph Dowse

Thomas Child

William Price

Thos Greene

Now that the church was built it was necessary to hire a minister. There had been some ruffled feathers about this earlier; but when the proprietors decided to ask the Reverend Mr. Commissary Price’s Assistant at King’s Chapel, the Reverend Addington Davenport, to be their first Rector there was real trouble. It should be remembered that King’s Chapel had in the last ten years lost the equivalent of two full congregations to Christ Church and Trinity Church. Leading citizens such as we have mentioned could ill be spared, even if they kept pews in King’s Chapel. It must also be said that the Reverend Mr. Commissary Price enjoyed less than the most happy relations with his own congregation, many of whom did not accept easily his ecclesiastical authority; all of which undoubtedly contributed to his decision to resign his post in 1746 and return to England, the only known accepted resignation of any Rector of King’s Chapel in its entire history. The anticipated loss of Mr. Davenport, who had been conducting services with the Reverend Mr. Commissary Price in Trinity Church since 1736, coupled with the refusal of the Commissary’s own congregation to vote him his due salary, was extremely irritating to that gentleman.

During the winter of 1737 it appeared that the Reverend Mr. Commissary Price was putting clogs in the way of the Reverend Mr. Davenport’s removal to Trinity Church, and a letter was dispatched by the Wardens to the Archbishop of Canterbury seeking help. During this difficult period Price was desired to administer the Sacraments in Trinity Church, but refused to officiate there any longer. Although on Trinity Sunday, 17 June 1739, the Lord’s Supper was first administered to about forty communicants in Trinity Church by the Reverend Addington Davenport, the Reverend Samuel Seabury of New London assisting, it was not until after Easter in 1740 that the former gentleman was inducted as the first minister of Trinity Church.

Having obtained a Minister it was necessary for Trinity Church to have a communion service, and also to have its own organ to accompany singing during worship, which was becoming more and more the fashion. The interesting negotiations that led to the acquisition of the royal church silver and the fine organ from London “tryd by Mr. Hendall our great Master” may be followed in the records themselves.

The Reverend Addington Davenport died in 1746, and the Vestry had the same difficulty as before with the Reverend Commissary Price in obtaining their second Rector, William Hooper, who was finally approved and ordained in England in 1747.

The records of Trinity Church in the middle of the eighteenth century reflect the confusion in the currency that was a constant concern of everyone. Thomas Hutchinson’s redemption plan to base the currency on silver was completed in 1750 and for the first time in 1751 we find the name of the dollar mentioned. In 1759 we have a curious entry showing calculations in three different currencies.

In 1767 the Reverend William Hooper died and the Reverend William Walter became Trinity Church’s third Rector, serving from 1768 until 1776, when he left with other Loyalists for Halifax, only to return after the Revolution as Rector of Christ Church. Walter’s post at Trinity was taken by Samuel Parker, his Assistant, who became the church’s fourth Rector in 1779. Parker became one of America’s first Episcopal Bishops, and died in the odor of sanctity in 1804. The sermon preached by the Assistant Minister, the Reverend John Sylvester John Gardiner on the occasion of Bishop Parker’s funeral in Trinity Church is reproduced in Appendix D.

There are two matters included in the records of Trinity Church dealing with the Revolution that are of particular interest. The first shows how much the relationships within the Anglican community had improved over the years, while the second illustrates how the church had to adapt itself to the new order created by the Declaration of Independence. At the annual meeting of Proprietors of Pews in Trinity Church held on Easter Monday, 18 April 1776, an Address inviting the Reverend Mr. Parker to perform divine service in King’s Chapel signed by Dr. Thomas Bulfinch, father of Charles the architect, on behalf of the proprietors of King’s Chapel was read and considered. It was decided instead to invite the Chapel’s congregation to Trinity, which was the only Anglican church to remain open during the Revolutionary War. Nevertheless, a somewhat modified Anglican service had to be held in order to preserve the public tranquility, and so it became necessary to change the liturgy to prevent any prayers from being said publicly for the King.

Brief reference, finally, should be made to two particularly important matters in the life of Trinity Church in the early nineteenth century: the famous litigation over William Price’s bequest, which saw Daniel Webster as counsel for Trinity Church in a hotly contested legal battle with King’s Chapel, and the tearing down of the old church to build the second edifice. This second building survived until 1872, when it was destroyed in the great fire of 9 November of that year. Even before the fire, however, the Wardens had bought a triangular lot on the east side of what is now Copley Square, but which was then “a desert of dirt, dust, mud, and wind,” in the words of Bishop William Lawrence, on which to erect the present imposing Romanesque structure of H. H. Richardson, now dominated by the stark glass tower of the John Hancock Insurance Company.

William Price, described as a cabinet maker in 1713, when he appears also as temporary organist at King’s Chapel, was a zealous churchman holding a pew in all three Episcopal churches. He later became a “Pikterman” dealing successfully in engravings and books. He was a Vestryman and Warden in both Trinity Church and Christ Church at various times. He died in 1771 at the age of 87 leaving a detailed and complicated will, the text of which is reproduced in Appendix B. According to this will, Price’s property in Cornhill passed to his wife and two nieces for life with remainder to King’s Chapel on certain conditions, and if the Wardens of the Chapel did not accept it, to Trinity Church. When the remainder fell in in the nineteenth century, King’s Chapel was no longer Anglican but Unitarian. Nevertheless, the doctrinal issue was never decided in the subsequent litigation; the legal rule that churches can change their theology while keeping their property was developed elsewhere. The Vestry of Trinity offered to negotiate a settlement of the dispute over Price’s bequest with the Minister and Wardens of King’s Chapel. The offer to negotiate led nowhere. After Trinity Church won a lower court judgment, the two churches agreed wisely to compromise the matter, with Trinity administering the property and paying half the income to King’s Chapel. The annual income from the Price fund in 1970 was over $50,000.

The fifth Rector of Trinity Church, the Reverend John Sylvester John Gardiner, was recuperating from an illness when the last service was held in “the old and combustible” edifice of Trinity Church on 3 August 1828. His Assistant, the Reverend George Washington Doane, future Bishop of New Jersey, took the service, which is described in the following words in the records:

On Sunday August 3d. 1828. The Holy Communion was administered in the Old Church for the last time, (the Rector being absent for the recovery of his health) by the Rev. Geo. W. Doane the assistant minister; who also in the afternoon preached the last sermon from 1st Samuel 7th Chap. 12 verse. “Then Samuel took a stone and set it between Misper & Shem & called the name of it Ebenezer saying, hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” Notice was given at the same time that the congregation, during the rebuilding of the church, would assemble at Boylston Hall.

Boylston Hall, where services were held for almost two years until the new building, a stone Gothic structure, was ready, was above a meat market built by Charles Bulfinch in 1810 at the corner of Boylston and Washington Streets. The Handel and Hayden Society regularly sang in this hall. So in addition to oratorios, pious services of worship flourished, in Francis W. Hatch’s words:

Undaunted by proximity

Of sausage on the rack.

The records of Trinity Church show that the cornerstone of the second church building was laid on 15 September 1828 in the course of a ceremony which saw the Rector, Dr. Gardiner, strike the stone with a hammer, step on it and deliver a suitable address “stating distinctly, among other things, the reasons of our preference for the Episcopalian Doctrine.” On 11 November 1829, the new church was formally consecrated by the Bishop, the order of service being the last document printed in this publication.

James Bishop Peabody

Boston, Massachusetts