A Stated Meeting of the Society was held at the house of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, No. 28 Newbury Street, Boston, on Thursday afternoon, 15 February, 1923, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Fred Norris Robinson, Ph.D., in the chair.
The Records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.
The Corresponding Secretary reported that a letter had been received from Mr. Kenneth Ballard Murdoch, accepting Resident Membership.
Mr. Francis T. Bowles offered the following motion, which was unanimously adopted:
Whereas, his Excellency the Governor has recommended to the General Court the construction of a building adjacent to the State House for the accommodation of the Supreme Judicial Court and the State Library, and as the General Court has under consideration at the present time a bill to carry out that recommendation;
Voted, That the President and Council be authorized and requested to recommend to his Excellency the Governor that the proposed building should provide also for the housing of the Archives Division, for the reasons that as a matter of public convenience the State Library and the Archives Division should be in the same building and that it is of first importance that the archives of the colonial and provincial periods as well as those of the Commonwealth should be preserved in a fire-proof building and under conditions of convenient access.
Mr. Albert Matthews stated that he and Mr. Merritt had long had in preparation lists of Boston clergymen, churches, and church buildings from 1630 to 1800, arranged both chronologically and alphabetically. It was their intention to make the notices of clergymen as brief as possible, but as new matter had been found in regard to various clergymen (especially the Episcopalian and Roman Catholic), some of the notices had far outrun the limits of the original plan and hence would be presented from time to time as separate communications.
Mr. Percival Merritt read the following:
Claude Florent Bouchard de la Poterie
The first public service according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church was held in Boston on Sunday (All Souls Day), November 2, 1788, when Mass was celebrated by the Abbé Claude Florent Bouchard de la Poterie. The Catholic residents in Boston, then probably about sixty to one hundred in number,312 mainly French and Irish, had leased for the purposes of their public worship the former French Protestant Church in School Street. The church had been built in 1716, and occupied by the French congregation until their dissolution in 1748. It was then sold to the (Eleventh) Congregational Society, recently gathered together under the pastorship of the Rev. Andrew Croswell, the deed of sale containing a proviso that the property should remain “for the sole use of a Protestant Church . . . for the worship of Almighty God, from henceforth and forever more.”313 After the death of Mr. Croswell in 1785 his society went out of existence, and the church building, by this time considerably dilapidated,314 appears to have passed into private hands.
While there is no uncertainty as to the time and place of the first public service, there is considerable variation in the statements, both of Catholic and Protestant writers, as to the time of arrival and antecedent history of the first priest. Father La Poterie is said to have arrived in Boston in 1784, in 1788, or between 1784 and 1788.315 He is commonly stated to have been an ex-chaplain of the navy, with occasionally the added statement that he had been dismissed from the service in disgrace.
It seems probable that he came to Boston in the fall of 1788, for it is hardly conceivable that a man of his mental activity and propensity for public self-advertisement, both by means of the local press and by pamphlets, would have remained either in silence or obscurity for any length of time.316 In an article on the Archdiocese of Boston, the writer justly remarks that “It is hard to believe that the Abbé would have lived here four years without making his presence known. His advent has all the character of a sudden irruption.”317 As to his previous connection with the navy there is good contemporaneous evidence, at least of the current opinion of the time. In an interleaved copy of Isaiah Thomas’s Almanac for 1788, which belonged to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap and is now in possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society, there is this entry in the month of November: “The first Sabbath in this Month a popish Chapel was opened in this Town—ye old French Protestant meeting House in School-street, a clergyman who was dismissed from ye French fleet in disgrace officiates.”318 A French squadron of seven vessels, under command of the Marquis de Sainneville, arrived off Boston harbor August 22, 1788, having sailed from Cape Francais,319 Haiti, on August 2, but on account of heavy weather the ships did not anchor in Nantasket Roads until Saturday, the 30th. The fleet lay at Boston for about a month, and various courtesies were exchanged between the squadron and the town. On September 28, de Sainneville set sail for France.320 It is within the range of possibilities that La Poterie came with the fleet from the West Indies, and remained in Boston when it sailed. Among the credentials which he offered for public inspection at his church, early in 1789, were: “A Commendatory Pass of the Municipal officers of his native town: Also, another Pass, by his Majesty in Versailles, at the time of his passage to the West-Indies.”321 It is possible that he may have been dismissed from the fleet on account of his previous record in France, which however at that time had probably not become known in Boston, though it is equally possible that the rumor was inspired by local prejudice rather than actual knowledge.322 He described himself as “Vice-Prefect and Apostolick Missionary,” having “Ample Powers and Spiritual Jurisdiction in the United States of America.” He also stated that he was born in Anjou of noble parents; that he was a graduate of the University of Angers; a Doctor of Divinity; Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and member of two learned academies in Rome.323 As to his pedigree he referred inquirers to “a Catalogue printed in France three years ago” , the Dictionnaire de la Noblesse.324 In the third edition of the Dictionnaire, 1863–1876, there is an account of “Bouchard, Famille noble d’Anjou.” In the sixth generation there appears the name, René Bouchard, Ecuyer, Sieur de la Poterie.325 His successor was Claude-Mathieu Bouchard, Sieur de la Poterie, born October 7, 1704, married July 6, 1734, died in January, 1781. To him two sons were born, recorded as: “1. René-Claude, passé aux Isles. 2. Claude-Louis, qui suit.”326 Claude-Louis succeeded his father, and was recorded as unmarried in 1783. The name of Claude Florent does not appear in the genealogy.
In addition La Poterie stated that the titles of the family were also recorded in the “Records of the Sovereign Council in the Island of Guadaloupe, Anno. 1769, Nov. 15.” The Dictionnaire de la Noblesse shows that members of the Canadian branch of the family of Le Roy de la Potherie were engaged in military and civil service in the Island of Guadeloupe during the eighteenth century.327 Whether La Poterie actually had any claim to descent from either family, regular or irregular, cannot be determined.
Prior to the opening of the church in School Street it is said that Mass was privately celebrated in the house of a Mr. Baury on Green Street at the West End.328 This probably refers to M. Baury de Bellerive who is named as churchwarden in a statement made by La Poterie concerning the early affairs of the church,329 and whose name appears in the Boston Directory for 1789 as “Bellerive de Beaury, gentleman, near Philips’s rope walk.”
The earliest reference to the opening of the church is found in the Boston Gazette of November 3, 1788: “Yesterday, for the first Time, MASS was publickly read at the French Chapel in School Street, formerly improved by the Rev. Mr. L’Mercier.”330 The Independent Chronicle of November 6 contained a more detailed account:
On Sunday last, the 2d instant, the Roman Catholic Chapel in School-Street, was opened and consecrated. The holy sacrifice of Mass was there celebrated by Monsieur L’Abbe de la Poterie, Priest, Doctor of Divinity, Clerk, and Apostolic Missionary, who pronounced a French sermon at the evening service, and made solemn prayer for the dead, according to the rites and usage of the Romish Church upon All Saints Day. The concourse of people assembled was so great, as to create an apprehension of some unfortunate accident, from the falling of the gallery, and they were obliged to make temporary props for this building, which, although dedicated to the worship of God, threatens immediate ruin, unless seasonably repaired.331
Notice was given that tickets for High Mass on the following Sunday could be obtained at the shop of Mr. Deverell on Marlborough Street, and that “A place in the sanctuary will be alotted to the Reverend Clergy.”332 At this first service, “The Rev. Abbe de La Poterie, Missionary Apostolic in New England, and Founder of the First Roman Catholic Chapel in Boston,” consecrated the church and dedicated it “to the Most High Almighty GOD, under the title and invocation of the HOLY CROSS.”333 On this occasion the Abbé “exposed, in a solemn manner, to the veneration of the Christians, the true CROSS of our LORD, JESUS CHRIST, which he brought from Rome—has dedicated to God, under the Title of the HOLY CROSS, and put this Church, and the Catholick Congregation, under the special protection of the blessed VIRGIN MARY.”334 It seems probable that the name of the first church, and of the present Cathedral, was thus derived from the relic of the true Cross which he had brought from Rome.335
While the opening of the new church naturally aroused a considerable interest, there appears to be no hostile nor unfriendly criticism reflected in the local press. The writer of a series of letters in the Herald of Freedom, signed Francois de la E—, which purport to be communications from a Frenchman in Boston to an absent friend, notes in the issue of December 22 that “A Roman Catholick Chapel is at length opened in this metropolis. This will be pleasing to many of our countrymen. The liberal part of the inhabitants (and to their honour there are but few who are not liberal) are highly pleased with it; and many of the Boston people attend on the worship of God, according to the mode prescribed by the Roman Church.”336
Faculties were granted to Father La Poterie, under date of December 24, 1788, by the Very Rev. John Carroll,337 Superior of the Missions in the United States, and in a petition dated January 17, 1789, the Abbé requested that in his capacity as French Missionary he should “be registered in the French Consul’s338 Chancery-Office at Boston, to spend our time in this city, here to exercise our cares and vigilance, and to give you all the spiritual assistance in our power.”339 An appeal was made to the public, under date of January 29, 1789, for subscriptions for the purposes of fitting up and maintaining the church. La Poterie stated that an indebtedness of about £100 had been incurred, and that books had been opened in which all benefactions would be recorded. He added that he would provide for his own needs, and that all contributions would be devoted to the purposes of the church. Quite characteristically he combined with this appeal a notice to the effect that he was prepared to give instruction in the French, Latin and Italian languages. On the 20th of April, and thereafter, he proposed to be at his lodgings340 on week-days from 8 to 11 o’clock in the morning, and also for an hour in the afternoon, for that purpose. He also expressed his desire to open an academical boarding-school at a later period.341
A few weeks later there appeared an elaborate pastoral letter, dated February 22, and signed “La Poterie, Vice-Prefect and Apostolick Missionary, Curate of the Holy Cross at Boston,” in which he gave notice of his Ash Wednesday service, and instructions for Lent. This was combined with an “Order of the Publick Offices and of the Divine Service during the Fortnight of EASTER,” and an “Abridged Formula of the Priest’s Discourse, Made every Sunday in the Church of the Holy Cross.” He also gave notice of a High Mass, to be celebrated on St. Patrick’s day, March 17, and closed by informing the public that contributions for the church could be deposited at Colonel Hurd’s Insurance Office on State Street.342
It is evident that about this time some doubts had arisen as to his character and professions, for he issued another appeal “To the Publick” containing the account of his lineage which has been referred to above. He also stated that “THE ABBE DE LA POTERIE, from false and scandalous aspersions thrown upon him, finds himself forced to give an account to the publick, of what must necessarily establish confidence in him, and command the respect due to the Holy Ministry.” A list of credentials was given, some thirteen in number, which were on deposit, and could be inspected, at the church, in substantiation of his graduation, ordination, titles and dignities, powers and jurisdiction.343 The pamphlet is undated, but it was probably issued in the latter part of February or very early in March, 1789.344 It appears that an appeal had been made by the French members of the congregation to the Archbishop of Paris, for assistance in equipping the church. In reply, the Archbishop “sent a needed outfit to the church in Boston, but warned the Catholics against wandering priests, and informed them that faculties had been taken from De la Poterie in Paris on account of his culpable conduct.”345 The Archbishop’s information evidently became known in Boston, and doubtless was conveyed, directly or indirectly, to Father Carroll in Baltimore.
Before long La Poterie came under the suspicion of endeavoring to evade his debts, for he found it necessary on April 24 to publish an address—
To the Publick. AS the absence of the ABBE DE LA POTERRE has given many malicious persons an opportunity of scandalizing him, and circulating reports much to his prejudice, the Publick may be assured that he has not left this town from a fear of being seized for debt, but merely on business relative to his mission. At this time, when strangers from all parts of the Continent will be at New York,346 and particularly Mr. Carrol, the Roman Bishop in this country, the propriety of the Abbe’s being there, to pay his respects, must be obvious to every unprejudiced person. The Abbe, so far from leaving this town in the manner reported, to shun his creditors, has left it with a determination to return speedily; and the Publick are desired to suspend their judgment for a reasonable time for him to visit New-York, and return. His journey was no secret, he notified his intentions to the Church previous to his departure.347
It is probable that Father Carroll had summoned La Poterie either to New York or Baltimore, to make some explanation of his conduct. Belknap wrote May 2, 1789, that “We have lost the Abbe. He has gone, they say, to Maryland, to answer to Dr. Carrol, his superior, for some misconduct. He is, I believe, but a speckled bird.”348 At a later period, in one of his many addresses “To the Public,” La Poterie gave his own version of this incident:
Mr. L’Abbe sometime since undertook a painful journey to Baltimore, to obtain assistance from the Rev. Father C. and in paying him the first visit, and acquainting him with the small number and poverty of his congregation, hoped that he would exert himself for their relief, and found a mode of paying their urgent debts, which were noticed in the last Herald, but the Rev. father C. . . . paid no attention to the Abbe, and exposed him to the necessity of publickly begging money in Baltimore and Philadelphia, to support him on his journey to Boston.349
Carroll’s biographer states that “The Rev. Dr. Carroll had also learned that he had been imposed on by an unworthy priest, whose life at Paris, Rome, and Naples was by no means creditable. His conduct in Boston justified the information, and the Very Rev. Prefect deputed the Rev. William O’Brien, of New York,350 to proceed to New England and withdraw the faculties of the wretched priest.”351 According to the Rev. J. M. Finotti, “letters from Paris tore the sheep’s skin from the wolf’s back, and Poterie’s ministrations came to a sorry and quick end, on the 29th of May, 1789, when he was suspended by Rev. W. O’Brien of New York, sent by Dr. Carroll to examine into the charges preferred against him.”352
At about this time an attempt was made to adjust and settle the debts incurred, and “by a writing registered in the said Chapel [of the Holy Cross] . . . on the thirty first of May . . . and signed by many responsible members of the congregation, viz. Messrs. Baury de Bellerive the Church-warden, Patrick Campbell, Mame Mason, Duggan, Julien, Jutau, and several others, it was resolved that all the debts contracted by M. la Abbé should be discharged in one year from the aforesaid date.”353 It was stated that Masson, the warden, and his partner Garreaux would have in time the means to do justice to creditors.354 The total indebtedness recorded, as shown by a schedule published in January, 1790, was slightly over £86, the leading creditors being:
Mr. Samuel Hall, Printer
Mr. Benjamin Russell
Col. Dudley Colman
Mr. Stratford was undoubtedly Samuel Stratford, the cabinetmaker, in Kilby Street. The bills of Hall and Russell were probably for printing. As for the fourth creditor, the nature of the indebtedness can be inferred from an entry in the 1789 Directory: “Coleman Dudley, American coffee-house, State-street.”
After his deposition by Father O’Brien, La Poterie seems to have planned to remain in Boston and devote himself to teaching. In the Herald of Freedom, June 19, 1789, he published an advertisement in reply to a query which had appeared in the Courier de Boston (no. 8, p. 63), “oii enseigne-t’on le Francois.”356 Referring to his “Address to the Publick” of January 29, he gave notice that on June 22 and every day thereafter except Sunday he would be at his lodgings, 23 Union Street, for the purpose of giving instruction in the languages. He added that he should make no charge, but that he hoped for gifts toward the debts and repairs of the Catholic Church.357 The response to this proposal could not have been very satisfactory, for on July 8 he left Boston to go to the Seminary at Quebec.358 He subsequently stated that he was obliged to make the journey to Canada on foot, owing to his poverty.359 Shea writes that he endeavored, unsuccessfully, to obtain a position there. He however “inserted in the ‘Journal de Quebec’ a profuse expression of thanks for the courtesies extended to him.”360 By the middle of December, 1789, he was back in Boston again after an absence of some five months. He found installed in his former position another French priest, the Abbé Louis de Rousselet, who probably had arrived in Boston sometime in September, with the authorization of the Superior of Missions, Father Carroll.361 La Poterie promptly came into conflict with de Rousselet, whom he professed to regard as an interloper and one of the instigators of his degradation.362 For a few weeks the local papers were weighted with his charges and defences, in the form of long and characteristic advertisements.
He had returned to Boston through Providence, where, on Tuesday December 8, as noted by Ezra Stiles, he had performed the Catholic service “for the first Time in the State of Rh. Isld.”363 The Providence Gazette of Saturday, December 12, contained the following notice:
Tuesday last, being the Festival of the immaculate Conception of the blessed Virgin Mary, the Reverend Abbé de la Poterie, French Roman Catholic secular Priest, and Doctor of Divinity, celebrated the holy Sacrifice of the Mass in this Town, at the Request of several Catholics of the Roman Communion; and addressed to the Almighty his humble Prayers for the constant and permanent Prosperity of the State of Rhode-Island.364
It is probable that he had returned from Canada by way of New York and Philadelphia, for it must have been at about this time that there appeared a little pamphlet entitled “The Resurrection of Laurent Ricci; or, A true and exact History of the Jesuits,” Philadelphia, 1789.365 It was dedicated “To the New Laurent Ricci in America, The Reverend Father John Carroll, Superior of the Jesuits’ (Footing) in the United States; Also, To the Friar-Monk-Inquisitor, William O’Brien (One of his many Contrivers to set his Engines at Work, without interfering visibly himself.)” Laurent Ricci was the last Superior-General of the Jesuits prior to their abolition in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV.366 The pamphlet is unsigned but is attributed to La Poterie by Sabin, Evans, and Finotti. The apparently meaningless use of the word “Footing” in the Dedication, and its employment in the final paragraph,367 taken in conjunction with La Poterie’s advertisement quoted below, where the word is used in connection with de Rousselet, afford fair evidence from a bibliographical standpoint as to the correctness of the attribution to him. The style of the pamphlet, which is a violent anti-Jesuit diatribe, bears a marked similarity to that of La Poterie as shown in his various advertisements of this period. In the Herald of Freedom for January 8, 1790, he covered three columns on the front page with an address “To the Impartial Public.” In the course of it he stated that he “would not have interrupted or quited divine service in the Chapel, but for a cabal of Jesuits.” Then after a reference to Father O’Brien, almost in the exact words of the dedication to the Resurrection of Laurent Ricci, he proceeded to assail de Rousselet with a richness of vituperation which might have aroused the envy of the most polemical of Puritan divines of the eighteenth century:
Finally, the Abbé will by no means refrain from rendering a public tribute of praise, homage and adoration to the Almighty, by singing the songs of Sion, in the temple which he has first opened and dedicated to the great creator, and if the jealous and intruding Jesuit, who is at present the priest of the congregation, and whose FOOTING is yet very uncertain, shall attempt to impose upon him a scandalous silence, holding in his hands the divine majesty (as audaciously did on Christmas, this hasty and wrongful priest, this wordy and tedious ROSSELET, this very poor orator and bad preacher, not able to persuade a single proselyte, but made to scare every one, by his rough speech, and insupportable accent, and by his eyes dark and hollow, this discordant and melancholy singer, in a word this jesuit by mission, by conduct, by manners, by rule and principle). This will be only an additional inducement to the Abbe, to divulge and publish all the indignities of his brotherhood, in all the orders of the church universal, which has expelled them from its bosom, and to expose the derision already incurred by the ceremonials and Spanish caricatures, and by the disgusting forms of proscribed Jesuitism, detesting and despising the fanatacism and intolerance of the latter, and the odious inquisition of the former. Monsieur la Abbé in order to employ himself in some business that will give him a living, submits the following proposal to all his friends in Boston and the town in general.368
Then followed a characteristic advertisement from “A Man of Letters, associate member to several learned academies,” in which he offered to teach the French, Latin and Italian languages, “Application to be made to the Rev. Abbé Mons. de la Poterie at his lodging, union-street, No. 23.” This time he announced a scale of charges, three dollars entrance fee, and three dollars monthly, for evening lessons from 6 to 9 o’clock. In the day time he offered private lessons at a guinea entrance fee, and a guinea monthly.369
A week later La Poterie made his final appearance in the Boston papers, with a long article addressed “To the Impartial Public and particularly Roman Catholics” and signed “De la Poterie, French Secular Roman Catholic Priest, Missionary Apostolic in New England, Founder of the first Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Cross in this metropolis.”370 In the course of the article he reviewed his various experiences, and related his grievances, revealing the grounds of some of the charges against him. He charged his early supporter, Baury de Bellerive, with being the cause of many of his troubles, and with having “hindered the Abbé from paying that tribute of homage and respect; which the Abbé would have been happy to have rendered to the Honourable Consul of France.”371 He paid a rather fulsome tribute to the Rev. John Thayer, the Catholic convert, who had just returned to Boston from Europe,372 and concluded with the statement that he took his leave of the press, unless it should become necessary to answer any attacks on himself. The next issue of the Herald of Freedom, January 19, contained a definitive statement from the church authorities:
Mr. Freeman, THE Catholic Congregation, in this town, requests you to inform the publick, through the channel of your paper, that not only M. Baury de Bellerive, but the whole congregation, have dismissed the Abbé de la Poterie, being fully and in every respect dissatisfied with him. By order of the congregation,
Boston Jan. 17, 1790.373
Hereafter La Poterie disappears from public view. He is supposed to have returned to Europe, though the exact time of his departure is not known. In the statement which he published on his return to Boston in the middle of December, 1789, he had notified any of his creditors who might have been overlooked to apply to him “immediately or before the first of February next. . . . After that period he intends to return to Europe.”374 Shea wrote that “He left Boston finally January 19, 1790,”375 but gives no authority for the statement. It seems probable that he drew his inference from the advertisement of the church wardens, cited above, which was published on that day.
Whatever may have been the errors and indiscretions of La Poterie, he seems, at least, fairly entitled to the credit of having laid the foundation stones on which later his distinguished successors, Matignon and Cheverus, erected a noble edifice.
Louis de Rousselet
The immediate successor of the Abbé de la Poterie at the church of the Holy Cross was also a French priest, the Abbé Louis de Rousselet. As in the case of his predecessor, there is considerable variety and vagueness in the statements as to his arrival in Boston and previous history. He is said by one writer to have been here at about the close of the War of Independence.376 He is classed with La Poterie as being an ex-chaplain of the Navy.377 And references are made to his unedifying conduct, as well as to the discovery that “like his predecessor, he would bring disgrace and odium on the Church.”378 It seems probable that, in general, these statements are based on a confusion of the two priests, insufficient examination of what evidence exists, and hasty conclusions. During his residence in Boston much indeed occurred which was unedifying and calculated to bring odium on the newly established church. But so far as contemporaneous evidence can be relied on, it would seem as if de Rousselet was the victim of circumstances, and not the cause of offence. There is nothing to connect him with service in the navy, though equally there is nothing inherently improbable in the statement. Visits of French fleets to the United States were not uncommon at this time. One squadron was in Boston in September, 1788, and another in September, 1789, each coming from the West Indies. From the fact that he went to the Island of Guadeloupe when he finally left Boston, it might be inferred that he came from there in the first place, but this is purely a matter of conjecture.
As to his arrival in Boston, however, it may safely be concluded that he made his appearance sometime in the month of September, 1789, and then entered upon his duties as pastor of the church of the Holy Cross. During a controversy as to his status, carried on in the local press early in 1791, the wardens of the church made public the following letter from Bishop Carroll, written when he was the official Superior of Missions in the United States and also Bishop-elect:379
Baltimore, August the 31st. 1789.
I am exceedingly pleased at your determination to proceed to Boston; I know very well you will meet with difficulties; but all first settlements have such; and I not only pray, but likewise have a great assurance, that you will live to see, not only a comfortable situation for yourself, but likewise feel a great consolation in the establishment of a flourishing congregation. May the blessings of God be with you.
To the Rev. Mr. De Rousselet.380
About the middle of December, 1789, the Abbé de la Poterie returned to Boston from Canada, where he had gone not long after his removal, by Bishop-elect Carroll, from the charge of the Holy Cross. Soon after his return, there appeared in the local press the first notice of any public disturbance in the Catholic Church since its establishment in Boston. This took place at Christmas, but whether it was simply a consequence of the objection to Christmas services on the part of the Puritan community, a prejudice which by this time was already passing away, or whether it was due to the action of La Poterie himself, cannot be definitely determined. A charge made against de Rousselet by La Poterie in the Herald of Freedom for January 8, 1790, warrants the suspicion that he was probably the prime instigator. He there referred to de Rousselet as attempting “to impose upon him [La Poterie] a scandalous silence, holding in his hands the divine majesty (as audaciously did on Christmas. . . .”381 The day after Christmas, the Massachusetts Centinel contained the following notice: “The indecent conduct of certain persons, in disturbing the devotions of the Roman Catholick Church, on Christmas Eve, meets the detestation and resentment of every considerate citizen—and that the perpetrators may be brought to exemplary punishment for their misconduct, is the general wish.”382 In the next issue of the Centinel there appeared, on the part of the church, a letter of regret for the unfortunate occurrence. On account of its quaint wording and novel plan for avoiding a similar disturbance in the future, it seems worthy of reproduction in full. It was evidently written by a person to whom English was a foreign language, possibly by de Rousselet himself:
Mr. Russell, The Catholic Congregation of the town of Boston, and their own Priest, request you very much, to acquaint all the respectable Gentlemen and Ladies, who were pleased to attend their divine worship last Christmas-night, how sorry they are, for having been so unfortunate as to meet with so many troublesome people, who not only have given the greatest scandals, but have destroyed the greatest part of their pews—what is fully against that union and friendship, now in reign in all this Continent. In the same time, we desire you very much to testify, that from the very next Christmas, for the tranquility of the said Congregation, and for the satisfaction of all genteel people, who will be pleased to attend their divine worship, the night-prayers shall not begin, but at five o’clock in the morning; by that care, certainly no confusion at all will take place.383
On Christmass I attended the Worship & Communion of the Chapel, & heard Brother Freeman . . . & in the afternoon visited the Catholic Chapel in School Street. The Priest gave a discourse first in french, & then in english, & afterwards Christened a child. The behaviour of the crowd was rude, but there was not a disposition to countenance such behavior in the sober people, & it was principally attributed to the uncomfortable situation of the audience that any improprieties ensued.384
In the first week in January, 1790, there appeared in Boston a disturbing element in the person of the Rev. John Thayer, a Bostonian and a Catholic convert, who had just returned from Europe to his native city, filled with proselyting zeal and energy.385 On Sunday, January 10, he “for the first time celebrated Divine Service in the Roman Catholic Church in this town.”386 It seems probable that for a time Thayer shared amicably with de Rousselet the duties of the church. In an advertisement in the Centinel of April 24: “Mr. THAYER informs the Town, That every Sunday at six o’clock in the evening, (to begin from to-morrow) he intends preaching a Sermon at the Catholic Chapel in School-Street.”387 In addition, Thayer planned to extend his ministrations to Catholic families in the neighboring towns. Bentley recorded, under date of April 21, the receipt of a letter from him asking for the names of Catholics in Salem, and expressing his intention of saying Mass and preaching there, which he did early in May and again at the end of June.388
But certainly as early as the middle of May, and probably earlier, the relations between the two priests must have become sufficiently strained to bring about an appeal from the congregation, through the church-wardens, Masson and Campbell, to their Superior, Bishop Carroll. In reply the following letter was received addressed to the “Congregation of the Church of the Holy Cross, in Boston:”
I was honoured on May the 25th, with your letter of the 16th—give me leave to refer you to the inclosed, which was going to the Post at the moment I received your last, but then suspended until today; and likewise to refer you to a Letter written this day to Messrs. Rousselet and Thayer: To pacify all, and provide a Preacher for the most numerous part of the Congregation, in the language, which they understand, I once resolved to accept Mr. Rousselet’s proposals of leaving you. Your last Letter and others than [then] received, now determine me to appoint him the Pastor of the Church, if he can procure a comfortable subsistence. I wish indeed both could remain with you, but so, that Mr. Thayer be subordinate to Mr. Rousselet. You will see more fully my intentions by recurring to this last gentleman. I have the honour to be, with great respect, your most obedient and humble servant.
At the same time Bishop Carroll wrote Father de Rousselet as follows: “Here is the result of my reflection, and my resolution. I would have you remain in Boston, to act as the sole Pastor of that Church, for which I inclose you full powers.”390
Not long after the receipt of the Bishop’s letter of June 1, the church took the following action:
AT the meeting of the Roman Catholick Church, held this day, Voted, That the thanks of the members of this Church shall be given to our Bishop, John Carroll, for appointing the Rev. Mr. de Rousselet our Pastor, acquainting him that the members of this Church have with cheerfulness accepted his appointment. Further Voted, That this Church do settle from this day forward said Rev. Mr. de Rousselet, their only Pastor, Publick Teacher, Instructor and Curate of said Church of the Holy Cross in Boston. (Signed)
(In behalf of the Congregation)
(Signed) L. de Rousselet.391
The controversy would thus seem to have been settled, once for all, by the word of authority. At this stage of the proceedings Bentley recorded on July 27 that “Mr Thayer called upon me, & mentioned his purpose to open a Mass house in this town. Mr Rousselet having an appointment from the Bishop, & having been publicly received at Boston. He sinks fast in the public esteem, & has no prospect of success.”392 But a man of Thayer’s aggressive disposition could not rest easy under defeat, and his conversion evidently had not eradicated his inherited Puritan antipathy to all ecclesiastical authority, save his own. A few weeks later he attempted to establish his position by force as Bentley noted on August 24: “Thayer, the noted Convert, made forcible entry we are told, into the Catholic Church. Mr Rousselet endeavoured to dispossess him by a civil Officer, but was unsuccessful. Thayer is supported by the Irish, & Rousselet by the french. Thayer at length dispossessed.”393 Whereupon Thayer executed a sort of coup d’état and secured a lease of the church from the owners.394 On September 11 Bentley wrote:
Went to Boston, and found Mr Freeman very sick. . . . I spent the afternoon with him, & saw at his house Mr West, & Mr Rousselet. Mr R. informs me that in consequence of the proceedings mentioned p. 262,395 Thayer by his friends obtained a lease of the French Meeting House for three years, & Mr R. has removed & performs divine service in his own House. He intends to dispute the title to the House. Thayer is taken off in the Gazettes, & forsaken by his friend Campbell.396
Here then was a case of a priest de jure and a priest de facto, both claiming spiritual powers, and of a divided congregation. It is said that, in general, the French supported de Rousselet, and the Irish and Americans supported Thayer. The latter had the church and the former conducted services at his house in Union Street. Early in September an attempt was made to reconcile the two parties.
September 1st, 1790. At a meeting of the Congregation of the Roman Catholick Church, under the denomination of the Holy Cross, held at the house of the Rev. Mr. Rousselet, President of said meeting, Voted, That the Congregation having the good of their religion at heart, will, notwithstanding the ill usage which they have received of Mr. Thayer and his party, make offers of reconciliation to said Mr. Thayer and party, which offers are consistent in every point with the desires of our Bishop Jean Carrol, as appears by his Letter of the 1st day of June last.
The offer stipulated that Thayer and his party should sign over, or procure another lease of the property in favor of the church wardens, Masson and Campbell; that de Rousselet should continue to officiate as sole pastor and that Thayer should be settled, as vicar, under him. Thayer was called on to answer before 9 A.M. on September 3d, a failure to do so being understood as a refusal of the proposals. In case he did not comply, the wardens were “requested to wait on Mr. Sturges,” to deliver him a copy of the proposals, “and to desire him to give an order in writing, so that they may remove all our effects from the Church we lately occupied in School-Street, and for which we have lately paid or are engaged to pay.” This communication was dated September 7, 1790, and stated to be a true copy from the records. It was signed by Masson and Campbell the wardens, “In behalf of 40 of the Congregation.”397
That nothing was accomplished by this attempt is shown by the public statement of the wardens under date of September 15:
As the disunion now subsisting between the Roman Catholicks in this town, might appear, through the insinuations of the adverse party, in an unfavourable light to the prejudice of the followers of the Rev. Mr. Rousselet, they therefore think it their duty to exculpate themselves of the impressions, that the removal of the furniture of the Church, might give against them, by informing the publick of the following facts, lstly, That the Wardens of said Church are the followers of the Rev. Mr. Rousselet, and that they are the sole responsors for the payment of these articles, and therefore they look on them as their property. 2dly. That the followers of the Rev. Mr. Rousselet are not induced so to do by spirit of party nor by ill-founded malice against Mr. Thayer, but as they are really Catholicks they are obliged to follow the good Pastor appointed by their Bishop, agreeably to the rights of their Church. 3dly. That if the disunion has taken place, it is not for the want of proposals made by the followers of the Rev. Mr. Rousselet to Mr. Thayer and party. And the Subscribers are in hopes that by printing the following Papers, the publick will be convinced of the truth of their assertion.
(Signed) Mamey Masson,
The papers referred to in the third section were the letter of the Bishop of June 1, and the actions of the Congregation on July 4 and September 1, 1790, already cited above.
In the Centinel of September 18 Thayer replied to the wardens that he could refute the statements to his disadvantage, and that he stood ready to do so in private, but that he would “never engage in a paper war.” He added that he would take no further notice of what was said against him.399 The two wardens returned to the fray in the Centinel of October 2. Referring to Thayer’s statement of the 18th September, they called on him to come out publicly and refute them. As a parting shot they asserted that if he neglected to do so, the public would have the right to believe that he meant to impose on them.400 Here the matter rested for a time. Thayer had the advantage of controlling the church property. The Bishop was in England for the purpose of his consecration, thus leaving no authority to be appealed to by the dispossessed party.401
This condition of affairs gave rise, some two months later, to a curious and interesting incident, which showed on the one hand the intensity of feeling on the part of the French Catholics, and on the other the catholicity and truly Christian attitude of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Parker, and his associates, of Trinity Church. Toward the end of May, 1790, there had arrived in Boston the Treasurer of the Island of Guadeloupe, M. Breckvelt de Larive, who, with his family, had come to the United States on account of ill health.402 M. de Larive took up his residence in Dedham, where he died on November 4th.403 Father de Rousselet at that time was absent on a visit to the Mission among the Penobscot Indians, but was expected to be back in Boston about the middle of November.404 Evidently the family and friends of the late M. de Larive were unwilling to avail themselves of the services of Father Thayer, and an appeal must have been made to the Rev. Dr. Parker for assistance. On Monday, November 8, the public was notified that—
His Funeral is to proceed this Afternoon at half past Three o’clock, from the house of M. John Jutau, near Fort-Hill, and opposite the French Consul’s. It is wished that the Gentlemen of the town would please to join the Procession, to testify their regard for so respectable a subject of our great and generous Ally.405
On the following Wednesday the Centinel noted the death of M. Larive, and added that “On Monday his remains were attended to the tomb, in this town, by a very respectable number of citizens; and the funeral service was performed over him by the Rev. Mr. Parker, in Trinity Church, under which he was buried.”406 Two weeks later the Centinel published a notice that “The Rev. Mr. de ROUSSELET, Pastor of the Catholick Congregation in this town, has arrived from his visit to the Penobscot tribe, he will officiate tomorrow and Sunday following, at his House in Union-Street, and will open his Day and Evening School for French and Spanish Languages, on Monday next, the 29th inst.”407
The issue of December 1 contained the following advertisement:
AT the request of Mrs. Breckvelt de Larive, the Rev. Mr. de ROUSSELET, Pastor of the Roman Catholick Church in Boston, will perform a divine service in memory of the late Mr. Breckvelt de Larive, late Treasurer-General of the Island of Guadaloupe, and dependencies. The service will be performed, with all the ceremonies requisite on the occasion, and will begin Tomorrow at 11 o’clock A.M. at the Church of the Rev. Doctor Parker, where all the friends and acquaintances of the deceased are requested to attend.
Boston, Dec. 1408
On the preceding day, November 30, a meeting of the vestry of Trinity Church had been held, which was attended by the Rev. Dr. Parker, his church wardens, and nine vestrymen, when:
An Application was made by Revd Monsr L de Rousselet Minister of the Catholic Church thro’ the Revd Dr Parker for the use of Trinity Church to read the Prayers of the Catholic church over the body of Monsr de larive Treasurer general of the Island of Gaudeloupe & its dependencies &c who had been entombed under said church. . . . Voted unanimously that Revd Monsr L de Rousselet have liberty to perform the funeral Services according to the Rites of the Catholic Church in Trinity Church on Thursday next, or at any other time he shall see convenient.409
At a meeting of the vestry on the following Sunday, December 5: “A Letter of Thanks from Revd Mr L de Rousselet for the Use of said Church on Thursday last was communicated by Revd Dr Parker & read.”410
It is not surprising that this incident caused unfavorable comments in a community which failed to realize that the Catholic priest and the Episcopal rector, aside from some matters of dogma and practice, were spiritually more akin than were Dr. Parker and many of the latitudinarian Boston divines. The Columbian Centinel of December 4 contained an editorial notice stating that “It would ill comport with that spirit of toleration, which is our country’s boast, were we to insert the piece, intitled, ‘The Roman-Catholick done over—or the once Trinity House of God turned into a Puppet-shew room.’ If even ‘a little innocent satire on the subject’ would be savoury, particles of the above, are too saline for insertion.”411 The Rev. Jeremy Belknap, under date of December 7, furnished his correspondent, Ebenezer Hazard, with a full and rather virulent account of the whole proceeding:
We have had an exhibition in this town, of a singular nature. A Monsieur L’Arive, from Guadaloupe, died here about a month ago. At the time of his death, Mr Rousselet, the French priest, was absent on a visit to the Indians of Pennobscot, and the French here do not approve of Abbé Thayer, so they got Dr. Parker to read the Protestant Church service at his funeral. When Rousselet came home, he persuaded the widow to let him perform a requiem, after the Roman model. For this purpose, they obtained leave of Dr. P. and his vestry to use his church. Accordingly, last Thursday, Trinity Church was decorated with the insignia of popish idolatry, in the chancel, directly under the 2d commandment; and, after the Mass was said, a sermon followed, the whole composing as complete a farce as can well be conceived. The more they expose their religion to public shew, the more its absurdities appear; and it is become an object of ridicule even to our children. You know how much stress they lay on the argument from the unity of their church. Their conduct here is a most brilliant comment on this argument, for the French and Irish papists cannot meet in the same place without quarreling. Once the peace officers were called in to prevent them from coming to blows. Such is the unity of the Catholic Church in Boston.412
Toward the end of January, 1791, the controversy between the two factions of Catholics came to the surface again in the local press. On December 7, 1790, Bishop Carroll had arrived at Baltimore, on his return from England.413 It is not unlikely that the unfortunate condition which existed in the Boston church was promptly brought to his attention, although no direct evidence of an appeal to him at this time is available. It is possible also that the quasi-public recognition which had been given de Rousselet, by the authorities of Trinity Church, had stimulated Thayer to renew the assault. At all events, taking as a pretext the work of de Rousselet among the Penobscot Indians, Thayer inserted the following notice in the Columbian Centinel of January 26, 1791:
WHEREAS a Priest, by name Mr. Louis Rousselet, who styles himself Pastor of the Catholick Congregation of Boston, is carrying about a subscription for the education of two Indians; this is to give notice, that the said Mr. Rousselet falsely assumes that title in direct defiance to his and my lawful superiour, who has repeatedly ordered him to relinquish the office of Pastor to me. To gain belief to his pretension among gentlemen, he produces a letter from our Bishop, as old as the month of April or May, artfully concealing all those of a later date, by which he is condemned. If after this, Mr. R. has the effrontery to call himself Pastor of the Catholick Church, I shall publish some extracts from our superiour’s letters to convict him of falsehood. It is of no consequence to the publick who is Pastor of the Catholick Church; yet it is important that money should not be extorted from the humane under a borrowed title.—The Indians and all other Catholicks in this Commonwealth, are under my immediate jurisdiction; nor has Mr. R. or any other Priest a right, without my permission, to concern himself in their affairs. I stand ready, if government will recommend me to the tribes, to visit them and render them all the service in my power, without fee or reward—it is obvious to remark, that it is more agreeable to sound policy to entrust this charge in the hands of an American, who can have no interest separate from that of his country, than to a foreigner who obtrudes on the publick a title to which he has no right, and who, by the change of national interest, may one day become an enemy.
Catholick Missionary of Boston.414
The two church wardens again came promptly to the defence of de Rousselet. It is noticeable that in the various controversies de Rousselet himself never took an active, or at least an open part, and in striking contrast to his predecessor, La, Poterie, he avoided any personal controversial attitude. Masson and Campbell replied to Thayer, in the Centinel of February 2, with the following statement:
WHEREAS, Mr. John Thayer has the impudence to dispute the rights of the Rev. Mr. de Rousselet, in stiling himself Pastor of the Catholick Church, and lest some of the good people of this country might be led to listen to that imposition and falsehood, which not only reflects on the character of the Rev. Mr. de Rousselet, but also on that of his followers, by imputing to them a deviation from the excellent rules of the Church: Which are, not to follow any Priest but he who is duly and regulary appointed by their superiour, the Bishop of their district, Therefore we, the Wardens of the only instituted Catholick Church in Boston, do certify, that by our Church-Books and other Titles, which are in our possession, the copy of which we beg leave to present to the publick, the Rev. Mr. Rousselet, is the sole Pastor of that Catholick Church in Boston, That they who follow any other Preist, in that faith in said Boston, are guilty of Schism, and by the ordinances of our Church, the Priest who keeps them in that ignorance, and insists upon being followed by them, is guilty of a breach of fidelity to his superiours in the Church, and of the obligation entered into at the time of his ordination to the holy ministry of that Church, and therefore lies under pain of ex-communication.
This communication was accompanied by copies of the letters of Bishop Carroll of August 31, 1789, and June 1, 1790, which have already been quoted.416
The next issue of the Centinel, February 5, contained Thayer’s reply:
The piece signed Mamey Masson and Patrick Campbell, only tends to prove what I asserted, viz,’ That Mr. Rousselet produces an old letter, artfully concealing those of a later date, by which he is condemned’—I have not said what Mr. R. was last June; but I have said that he now falsely assumes the title of Pastor of the Catholick Church of Boston—However I have nothing to do with Messrs. Masson and Campbell. I now repeat, that when Mr. R. shall have the effrontery to style himself again, Pastor of the Catholick Church, of Boston, I will publish some extracts from our Superiour’s letters to convict him of falsehood.
Missionary of Boston.417
Thayer’s reply does not seem particularly conclusive. After basing his charges, January 26, on a letter “as old as the month of April or May,” he was confronted with the Bishop’s letter of June 1, 1790, accompanied by a copy of the powers conferred. He then removed his position, February 2, to the single standpoint of “some extracts from our Superiour’s letters.” In view of Thayer’s controversial and generally belligerent attitude, it is hard to believe that he would have refrained from demolishing his adversaries by means of the extracts from the Bishop’s letters, to which he had twice referred, if he really could have produced convincing evidence. Whether this deduction is warranted or not, at all events the newspaper controversy came to an end here.418 Thayer’s final move appears to have been a personal visit to Bishop Carroll.419 That the motive of his visit was well understood in the town may be inferred from a paragraph in the Centinel of May 25: “The Rev. Mr. Thayer, has arrived in town, from his ‘mission of love’ at the Southward.”420
It is obvious that the existing conditions could only make for dissensions among the small body of Catholics in Boston, and that they would work incalculable harm to the growth and development of the Church. Bishop Carroll, therefore, paid a visit to Boston for the purpose of examining into the situation and adjusting the matter. He arrived in the town toward the end of May, 1791, and on Thursday morning, June 2, “confirmed upwards of thirty persons, at the Roman Chapel in this town. We hear he will deliver a Sermon on Sunday morning, which, doubtless, must awaken the attention of the enlightened Protestants of this Country.”421 The following notice of his sermon on Sunday, appeared in the Herald of Freedom of June 7:
ON Sunday morning, the Right Rev. Bishop Carroll, preached an elegant and candid sermon at the Catholic Chapel, in School-Street. His Excellency the Governor422 and Lady, the Hon. Thomas Russell and Lady, the Hon. Edward Cutts and Jeremiah Allen, Esq. were among a crowded and very respectable audience; who appeared highly gratified by the charity, the benevolence, the piety which appeared to have subverted in the mind of the Right Rev. Preacher, superstition and priestcraft, too generally found among the less instructed Missionaries of the Romish Church (p. 3/1).
The Bishop was received in the most friendly manner in the community, and was the recipient of many attentions.423
On the occasion of the annual election of the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company Monday, June 6, the Rev. Dr. Parker preached the sermon at the Old Brick Meeting-house. After the service the Company escorted the procession to Faneuil Hall, including “The Right Rev. Bishop Carrol, and Rev. Dr. Parker.” At the dinner which followed “The blessing was craved by the Rev. Dr. Parker, and thanks returned by Bishop Carrol.”424 This occasioned the Rev. John Eliot to comment in his interleaved almanac: “June 6. An elegant entertainment at the hall, where a clergyman of the C. of England & a Romish Bp. acted as Chaplains. How would our fathers have Stared! Tempora mutantur &c. And much to the credit of modern times. [June] 8. I dined with Bp. Carroll at DT. Parkers.”425 Jeremy Belknap wrote Hazard on June 11: “Bishop Carrol is here yet, and I assure you is treated with the greatest attention and respect by most of our distinguished characters; but the cause which he means to serve is not the foundation of this respect: it is wholly owing to his personal character.”426
What course Bishop Carroll pursued in bringing about an adjustment of the Church’s affairs cannot be determined from contemporaneous sources. His biographer, John G. Shea, states that “He succeeded in uniting the two parties, who accepted Rev. Mr. Thayer; provision was made for the payments of debts incurred before the separation, including some created by the Abbé de la Poterie, and a bill due for church articles forwarded apparently through the Archbishop of Paris. Regulations were adopted for renting the pews, the best one in the church being reserved for the French consul.”427 Carroll had a complicated question to deal with, which he apparently settled along the lines of least resistance. Thayer possessed a decided strategic advantage in the control of the church building. The followers of de Rousselet had shown in their correspondence in September, 1790, some desire, at least, to effect a compromise, while Thayer was unyielding. The divided condition of the little Catholic community was highly unsatisfactory, and a constant reproach to the Church. That the settlement was not wholly satisfactory to the Bishop, is revealed in the closing paragraph of a letter which he wrote from Boston, June 11, to a friend, probably his correspondent in England the Rev. Charles Plowden: “It is wonderful to tell what great civilities have been done to me in this town, where a few years ago, a popish priest was thought to be the greatest monster in the creation. . . . If all the Catholics here were united, their numbers would be about one hundred and twenty. It is probable there are more concealed, and who in consequence of inter-marriages, long disuse, and worldly motives, decline making an acknowledgement and profession of their faith. In these circumstances, I am very sorry not to have here a clergyman, of amiable, conciliatory manners, as well as of real ability.”428 That his regret was justified is shown by the statement of his biographer: “But the troubles caused by his predecessors, and his own inexperience in the management of a congregation neutralized the efforts of Rev. Mr. Thayer;”429 and also by the fact that, in August, 1792, the Bishop sent the revered and beloved Father Matignon “to take charge of the church in Boston.”430
On June 16, 1791, Bishop Carroll left Boston and returned to Baltimore. The Herald of Freedom of Friday, June 24, referred to his departure as follows:
This amiable Gentleman and benevolent Christian left Boston on Thursday week, regretted by those who had been favoured with his conversation, and possessing the esteem of the candid, the liberal, and the wise. As a preacher, his talents were admired—as a companion his society was sought—as a man, he was esteemed, revered, and honoured. . . . Boston would congratulate the hour of this Gentleman’s return, and will remember with gratitude and pleasure, his visit to this State (p. 1/3).
The same issue which chronicled his departure, contained an article under the heading of “The CATHOLIC CHURCH.” It was unsigned, but judging from the characteristic style and internal evidence, there can be little doubt that it was contributed by Thayer himself:
PREVIOUS to the departure of the BISHOP, he established the Rev. Mr. THAYER, sole Pastor of the Church, to the general satisfaction of the flock. We are well grounded in asserting, that this pious and penetrating Bishop, has fully discovered the cause of all the opposition to Mr. THAYER, and those by whom the opposition was instigated. He has approved of Mr. Thayer’s conduct as priestly and canonical, and has seen what base passions have moved many to asperse and calumniate his character. Would Mr. T. listen to the wishes of several Catholic Churches at the Southward, he might be established in a more eligible situation, in a pecuniary view. But he prefers his present poor situation, because, (as he the other day declared,) it affords him an opportunity of doing and suffering more in the cause of his DIVINE MASTER. . . .431
Father de Rousselet now apparently went to the Indian Mission for a stay of a number of months. An appeal had been made by the Indians in May, 1791, to Bishop Carroll that a priest might be sent to them, and Shea states positively that “Rousselet after leaving Boston, had gone among these Indians.”432 He would seem to have been in Boston again in December, 1791, presumably only for a short stay, for in the Boston Gazette of December 5—
A Correspondent observes, That having heard that the Rev. Mr. de Rousselet, Catholic Priest, had returned to Boston from his visit to the Indians of the Penobscot Tribe, he went yesterday to the Catholic Chapel, in School-Street, expecting to be gratified with the ceremony of the Mass, as he had been formerly, but to his great surprise, after waiting a great while for the coming of the Priest, he was disappointed, which induced him to inquire the reasons of his disappointment?—and was told,—That the Church, being hired by some Irish Catholics, a French Priest had no right in it, unless he was expressly invited by the Irish tenants (p. 3/1).
De Rousselet remained with the Indians until the end of the summer of 1792. Colonel John Allan, the Indian agent, wrote from Boston, July 28, 1792, to Bishop Carroll stating that he had learned from Passamaquoddy that a new priest had come among the Indians there. He also said:
Before I received this I had an interview with Mr. Thayer who acquaints me there is no probability of any clergyman from France433—he proposes going himself, if an Indian chief would come and give assurance (in behalf of the tribes) of such a desire—upon receiving my letter I immediately gave intelligence to him, he is still willing to go, provided I persuade the Indians to leave Rosselett this is a matter too delicate & sacred for me to interfere in & might be the means of making trouble and confusion among them . . . as the Indians have put themselves under your protection & received your acquiescence (however they may have deviated from rule & method by the insinuating address of Mr. Rossellett) I think it more . . . & expedient to do nothing more on the subject untill your pleasure is known of which I have notified Mr. Thayer.434
By September, 1792, de Rousselet was back in Boston. He performed a marriage ceremony at Roxbury, a notice of which appeared in the Columbian Centinel of September 12.435 The wedding notice was accompanied by the following note: “* After the nuptials were celebrated, the French ladies and gentlemen made a collection of above two hundred dollars, which were presented to the worthy and persecuted Clergyman, who performed the ceremony . . . and who, as Catholick Missionary and Chaplain of the French families in Boston, and its vicinity, has merited by his conduct the patronage he enjoys.” Father de Rousselet had evidently retained the esteem and affection of the French residents of Boston.436
In November, 1792, proposals were issued for the publication of a weekly newspaper in the French and English languages, the Courier Politique de L’Univers. De Rousselet was the editor, and, as the proposals stated, he had obtained some American assistance for the purpose of translation into English of the French articles. So far as the principal article in the paper was concerned, an “Account of the French Revolution,” this assistance was furnished by John Quincy Adams. The publication was suspended in the middle of January, 1793, on account of de Rousselet’s being called to the Island of Guadeloupe, as he announced in the Centinel of January 19, at the request of “a great number of its inhabitants in order to fulfill the duties of an apostolic missionary.”437 His return to the island had a tragic sequel in the following year. Through the interest of Robespierre, Victor Hugues had been appointed Commissioner of Guadeloupe by the National Convention. In the spring of 1794 he commanded an expedition sent from Rochefort to the island. In the month of October he succeeded in wresting the practical control from the English, who were then temporarily in possession. After his success he brutally put to death some three hundred French Royalists who had sided with the British against the Revolutionists.438 It is stated that fifty of the Royalists were guillotined in an hour, and that de Rousselet met his fate with them.439
In general it may be said that the Abbé de Rousselet seems to have suffered both at the hands of his chroniclers and of his clerical associate. His predecessor, La Poterie, had made his path a difficult one, and his colleague and successor, Thayer, had increased the difficulties. Nothing is to be found among the available first-hand evidence to warrant linking him up with La Poterie as a man of similar character and past. He appears rather to have been a victim of circumstances, and of an aggressive opposition on the part of Thayer, who left no stone unturned until he finally succeeded in ousting his associate.
John Thayer, the fourth son of Cornelius and Sarah (Plaisted) Thayer, was born in Boston May 15, 1758.440 With regard to his early youth and education he said of himself: “At first I had refused to study, but at the age of sixteen, by reflection, and a certain desire of improvement, I entreated my parents to put me to school. By dint of application, I repaired lost time, and by the help of a good teacher, made a tolerably rapid progress.”441 Such collegiate education as he had he received at Yale, but it cannot be determined exactly how long he was there. At Commencement, September 7, 1779, he received an honorary degree of A.B.,442 which would seem to imply that he had had a sufficient amount of instruction to warrant its conference. In a copy of the annual broadside catalogue for 1774, in the Library of Yale University, there is the following entry in manuscript: “1779h [Johannes Thayer, Boston].”443 This indicates that he entered Yale with the class of 1778,444 did not graduate in course, but received his honorary degree in the following year.445 Thayer stated that “At the conclusion of my studies, I was made a Minister of the Puritan sect, and exercised my functions for two years, applying myself to the study of Holy Scripture, and to preaching.”446 He is commonly referred to as a Congregational, Presbyterian, or Puritan minister, and as a chaplain to Governor Hancock. As to the former statement, it is probable that he received a licence to preach as a candidate, but he was never ordained as a clergyman over a Protestant church. As to the latter statement, it is known that he served for some nine months—from August, 1780, to May, 1781—as chaplain at Castle William, enrolled in Captain-Lieutenant William Burbeck’s company under command of the Governor.447
Of his movements after the close of his service at Castle William, Thayer wrote: “I embarked for Europe, and arrived in France at the end of the year 1781. I remained there ten months. . . . I was there attacked with a fit of illness. . . . After my recovery I spent three months in England. . . . I was desired to preach; I complied.” From England he returned to France with the intention of going to Rome, which he soon did, proceeding from Marseilles to Rome by sea.448 Bishop Spalding wrote that while Thayer was in Paris, “He visited Franklin, and requested to be appointed his Chaplain. The philosopher-statesman made him the characteristic reply: that he could ‘say his own prayers, and save his country the expense of employing a Chaplain.’”449 This statement is partially confirmed, at least, by a letter written by Franklin to his sister, Jane Mecom, from Passy, September 13, 1783: “Tell my Cousin Colas that the parson she recommended to me is gone to Rome, and it is reported has chang’d his Presbyterianism for the Catholic religion.”450
While in Europe, Thayer, who was naturally of a disputatious nature, was in the habit of engaging in arguments with the design of maintaining the superiority of the Protestant belief over the Roman Catholic. After his arrival at Rome he came in frequent contact with several Jesuits, who seem to have shaken his confidence by then-arguments and evidence. Finally by means of his personal knowledge of a miraculous cure of a nun, effected by the holy Benedict Labre451 who died while Thayer was in Rome, and by reading an account of a Protestant convert to Catholicism,452 he became convinced of the superiority of the Catholic faith, and publicly conformed to the Church on May 25, 1783.453 After his conversion Thayer returned to France, and, entering the College of Navarre, “was admitted by the Archbishop in an Institution for Recent Converts. Having decided to enter the ecclesiastical state he was received into the Seminary of St. Sulpice.”454 Shea writes of Thayer: “After his three years’ course [at the seminary] he was ordained by the Archbishop of Paris for the mission of the United States.”455 He evidently had, from an early period of his conversion, the desire and intention of returning to his native land, to proclaim to his countrymen the advantages of the faith whose tenets he had embraced.456 This expectation was undoubtedly understood and generally sympathized with by his superiors.
The Rev. John Carroll, then Superior of the Missions in the United States and Bishop-elect, wrote under date of July 12, 1789, in referring to the Abbé de la Poterie, that “Mr. Thayer will have much to do to repair the scandals committed by this man.”457 B. U. Campbell states, regarding the appointment to Boston of the Abbé de Rousselet in 1789, that Father Carroll expected “he would soon be joined or succeeded by Rev. Mr. Thayer, whose return from Europe was daily expected.”458 His return was foreshadowed in the local press as early as September, 1788, when the Independent Chronicle published a communication from Portsmouth stating:
We are informed, from good authority, that Mr. John Thayer, late a protestant minister of the puritan sect, in Boston . . . is shortly expected to arrive at Boston, in the character of Popish Bishop. He has been offered a handsome living as minister to a chapel in France; but he declined it, preferring (as he says) poverty, and visiting his relations and countrymen, hoping to convince them, that as there is but ONE faith, and ONE baptism, so there is but ONE church, . . . He is become very near the Pope, and all the ecclesiastics of the See of Rome.459
The Massachusetts Centinel of January 6, 1790, announced that “The Rev. John Thayer on the 16th ult. arrived at Baltimore, from Havre-de-Graee, and, we are informed, is now in this town. This gentleman is a native of Boston, and formerly chaplain of Castle William—who embraced the Roman Catholick religion, at Rome.”460 Bentley recorded on Thursday, January 7, that “On Saturday last arrived at Boston the noted John Thayer formerly of Boston, educated at Yale College, sometime chaplin at the Castle, now a convert to the Catholic Roman Faith. The singularity of his conduct before his conversion has made this visit a subject of curious nature. It is supposed he has an American Mission, &c.”461 On Sunday January 10, 1790, Father Thayer officiated for the first time in the Church of the Holy Cross on School Street.462 At that time the church was under the charge of a French priest, the Abbé Louis de Rousselet, who had arrived in Boston in the month of September, 1789, under the authorization of the Superior of Missions.463
Thayer had been in Boston for barely four days when he began his attempts to dislodge his associate. Under date of January 6, 1790, he addressed the following letter to Father Carroll in Baltimore:
Rev’d Sir:—I troubled you with a letter from N. York, in which I gave you my idea of the chapel in the place. Things in this town are perhaps worse. The Catholics are exceedingly few, not above fifty or sixty at most & those very poor for the most part, I am positive they must have great difficulty to maintain a single priest, much less can they maintain two of us. Besides this, La Poterie (who is actually here and in poverty) has run the church so deeply in debt that it will be a long time before it will emerge from its present situation.464 I shou’d therefore, wish you to place Mr. Russelet in another parish as soon as possible, as he will be in some measure useless here on account of his language. Ys seems to be his own desire, as he has express’d it to another person tho’ not to me. I suppose he will soon write to you on ys head. I pray you to do this speedily as his long & tedious disposition of the exercises at chapel must be an obstruction to my zeal & to the good which I may produce in this place. The reception which I’ve receiv’d from the Governor, from the ministers, from my family & in fine from all classes of people is the most flattering & is an omen perhaps of good success; tho’ I am prepared for & expect opposition. . . . J. Thayer.465
Sir:—I once more beg you not to put me in shakels by permitting any priest to officiate in the N. England States unless authorized by me. In this town especially one priest is sufficient at present. My reason for mentioning this so often is my fear lest religion, which is at present—an ebb,—still suffer from some intruder. I should wish for an authentic paper in Latin from you constituting me superior of the mission in N. England under you, which I might be able to show to every arriving priest. I suppose, Sir, you believe my intention so pure as not to wish this from desire of domination or superiority. I’ve said, Sir, Mr. Rosselet is long & tedious in disposing his chapel exercises; v.g., on a week day of obligation, when people can hardly find time for a low mass he’ll say or sing two litenies, four prayers & give 1 benediction in 1 morning, & in 1 afternoon he’ll have vespers, benedictions, & a spiritual reading, tho’ only four or five people can attend & cannot understand one word out of four which he says. Some have told him he keeps them too long in the cold, & he answers we might never think it too long to be in God’s House. . . . My address is the Rev’d Mr. Thayer, at Mr. Campbell’s, Water Street, Boston . . .466
B. U. Campbell quotes a letter written by Thayer to a friend, in which he stated that after he had been in Boston about a fortnight, he was seized by an illness which kept him in bed for a month. “The danger appeared to me so serious on one occasion, that I requested the Holy Viaticum of a French clergyman with whom I am associated in the work of the Lord and of his Church.”467 After his recovery from his sickness, he appears to have arranged to preach every Sunday evening in the church in School Street,468 and also to extend his ministrations to Catholic families in the adjacent towns. Bentley notes on April 21, 1790, the receipt of “A Letter from Mr Thayer a Romish Missionary requesting the names of the Catholics, a proper place for lodgings, & notifying his intentions to say mass, & preach in Salem, asking a convenient place of worship. I communicated it to the Selectmen of this part of the Town, & to such persons as would probably make it public.”469 Thayer appeared in Salem in the first week in May, when Bentley received him in his own house for several days, went with him to see the members of the Catholic faith, and gave him the opportunity of saying his daily Mass. That Thayer’s sense of humor was not as highly developed as his zeal is indicated by an incident which Bentley records under date of Friday, May 7: “This morning Thayer prepared to say Mass as on the preceeding morning. But as no one of his devotees appeared he called on me to take the place of Responser, which I declined. On the morning of Thursday, an Irish Stranger came & assisted him.” When Thayer returned to Boston he left in Bentley’s charge his clerical vestments, altar stone, altar cards, and a missal. He also left with him some four hundred books and pamphlets which he wished to have “committed to the custody of some proper person for sale.”470 Mr. Thayer arrived in Salem again on June 29, and preached in the Court House on the following day.471
In the meantime the relations had become seriously strained between the two priests in Boston and their followers, de Rousselet being supported by the French, and Thayer by the Irish and Americans. Both parties appealed to their Superior in Baltimore.472 On June 1, 1790, Father Carroll gave the French priest full powers as sole pastor of the Church, but expressed the wish that Mr. Thayer might also remain with the congregation, “but subordinated to Mr. Rousselet.” This would appear to have settled the matter permanently.473 But after the departure of Father Carroll for England, early in the summer of 1790, for the purpose of receiving consecration as Bishop, Thayer executed a flank movement on his opponents. He obtained a lease of the church building in School Street from the owners, and ejected his colleague. After an unsuccessful attempt on the part of the French parishioners to effect a compromise, the Abbé de Rousselet was compelled to conduct services for his countrymen at his lodgings, while Thayer occupied the church.474
This unedifying state of affairs naturally militated seriously against the development and prosperity of the struggling church. Not long after the return from Europe of Bishop Carroll in December, 1790, the controversy was reopened in the local press, and eventually it necessitated a visit of the Bishop to Boston toward the end of May, 1791. He seems to have made the best settlement he could under the circumstances and established Thayer as the sole priest, while de Rousselet went, for a time, to the mission among the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Indians. That the settlement was not entirely to the Bishop’s satisfaction is indicated by his statement, in a letter to his correspondent the Rev. Charles Plowden, that under the existing circumstances of the Church in Boston he was “very sorry not to have here a clergyman, of amiable, conciliatory manners, as well as of real ability.”475 It is also significant that, with an eye to the future as well as to the present, Bishop Carroll evidently exacted a statement of submission from the Rev. Mr. Thayer:
The subscriber having been charged with saying that he would not obey the Bishop but place himself under the jurisdiction of the Pope in case he should be ordered by the Bishop to leave Boston, hereby declares that he does acknowledge and will submit to the authority of the Bishop in case his removal should be required by him and this shall be binding on him until a general regulation respecting the power of the Bishop in removing Clergymen be settled by common consent of the American clergy.
Boston, June 13th, 1791.
Mr. THAYER, Catholick Priest, of Boston, fully persuaded that he has found the inestimable treasure of the Gospel, is greatly desirous of imparting it to his dear countrymen. For this purpose, he offers himself to preach on the evenings of the week-days, in any of the neighbouring towns. If any persons desire to hear the exposition of the Catholick Faith (of which the majority of Americans have so mistaken an idea) and will furnish any place for the accomodation of the hearers, Mr. Thayer will be ever ready to attend them. He will also undertake to answer the objections any gentleman would wish to make either publickly or privately to the doctrine he preaches; and promises that if any one can convince him that he is man [in?] errour he will make as publick and solemn a recantation of his present belief, as he has done of the Protestant religion in which he was educated—Freely he has received
—freely he gives. N.B. He may be seen every morning at half past nine, at his Church, in School-street, or at other hours may be found at his lodgings, No. 82, Newbury-street (p. 3/2).
A response to Mr. Thayer’s offer to answer any objections to his doctrines appeared in the Essex Journal, Newburyport, on December 22nd: “Newbury-port Dec. 1, 1790. As the gauntlet has been thrown by Mr. John Thayer, in favour of the Church of Rome, the challenge is accepted, by GEORGE LESLIE, Pastor of the Church, in Washington, state of New Hampshire.”477 Mr. Thayer published a reply in the Centinel of January 26, 1791, inviting Mr. Lesslie, “or any other Minister to appoint me a time and place in Boston, or any of the neighbouring towns, for the combat proposed; . . . Perhaps Mr. Leslie’s desire is to dispute in the publick papers—If this be the design of his challenge, I will begin as soon as any Printer will consent to give our controversies a place.”478 “In consequence,” wrote Thayer, “a printer sent me a polite note by which he offered me a place in his Gazette. I accepted his invitation, and soon sent him my first paper.”479 A correspondent in the Centinel of February 9, 1791, stated that “THE publick may now felicitate themselves on the prospect of the ecclesiastical controversy between Mr. John Thayer, and his reverend opponent Mr. Leslie, as the Editor of the Essex Journal, published at Newbury Port, has informed both the gentlemen, that he is ready to publish their disputations gratis, and Mr. Thayer has promised in his challenge that he will begin as soon as any Printer will give the controversy a place.”480
Mr. Thayer, under a number of heads, stated simply and clearly the principles of the Catholic faith. Mr. Lesslie, for whatever reason, delayed his reply for some months, thereby subjecting himself to some rather caustic criticisms.481 The Centinel on June 18 finally announced that “The Rev. Mr. Leslie will begin his refutation of the Rev. Mr. Thayer’s principles, in the next Newbury-Port paper.”482 The Herald of Freedom, July 1, stated that “THE Rev. Mr. Leslie has, after a consideration of five months, come forward in the Newbury Port Paper, and beat a row dow on the Infallibility Drum. This we believe was one of the stipulated Non disputables, which even Mr. Thayer (who feels himself strong enough to attack the whole Host of Clergy on other controverted points) does not chuse to venture on.”483 Mr. Lesslie had virtually paid little attention to Thayer’s arguments, but concentrated his efforts on an attack against the doctrine of Infallibility. Thayer replied to his opponent, but Lesslie maintained a permanent silence,—whether because he realized himself outclassed, or because he was advised to do so by others of the clergy cannot be determined. In the published account of the Controversy Thayer addressed himself to Lesslie as follows: “I have expected your reply for a full year; and, as none has appeared, I have a right to conclude that you do not find the Catholic doctrine on this point totally unscriptural and absurd.”484
In July, 1792, Thayer carried on a controversy in the columns of the Centinel with John Gardiner, in which he replied to some of the latter’s criticisms of the Catholic faith.485 Here again he appeared to better advantage than his opponent. Gardiner’s reply degenerated largely into personal abuse and ridicule of his antagonist, and of his account of his conversion. In the fall of 1793 Thayer gathered together and published in a pamphlet486 the various articles which had appeared in both controversies, together with several anonymous newspaper communications and his replies. He also included two letters of a controversial nature which he had written to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap in July, 1793, and to the Rev. John Lathrop in September, 1793.487 On the whole Mr. Thayer presents a much better figure in these various theological controversies than in his disputes with his colleague, de Rousselet, or in his correspondence at various times with his Superior, Bishop Carroll. Both in style of argument and in manner he showed himself superior to his principal antagonists. He devoted himself entirely to the exposition and defence of his creed and faith, and did not descend to abusive personalities.
As has already been indicated, Bishop Carroll does not appear to have been altogether satisfied with the settlement effected by him in June, 1791, in the affairs of the Boston church. He evidently contemplated removing Father Thayer when a favorable opportunity offered, or at least joining with him a desirable coadjutor.488 Shea stated that “Though devoted and earnest, Rev. Mr. Thayer was not fitted to guide a congregation or win the general esteem.”489 B. U. Campbell wrote of Bishop Carroll that “Anxious for a learned, prudent, and pious priest, to unite with the Rev. Mr. Thayer in the labors of the extensive mission of New England, his solicitude was rewarded by Providence with one.”490 This was the Rev. Dr. Francis A. Matignon, a revered and a highly educated French priest, who had been driven from his native land by the French Revolution and had arrived in Baltimore toward the end of June, 1792. The Bishop then decided to withdraw Mr. Thayer from the Boston church and sent Dr. Matignon to take the charge of it. “Immediately on his arrival, he communicated the wishes of Bishop Carroll to Father Thayer, and after spending a few weeks in the study of English, entered upon his public ministry on the 20th of August, 1792.”491
So far as is known Mr. Thayer accepted with submission this disposition of affairs by the Bishop, and apparently his acknowledgment of the ecclesiastical authority, under date of June 13, 1791,492 now proved effective. He probably remained in Boston or its vicinity for some time, engaged in missionary work. In his newspaper articles and in his Controversy pamphlet he signed himself simply as Catholic Missionary. It is difficult, however, to trace his movements with exactness for some half dozen years. The Rev. Mr. Connolly, in his sketch of Thayer,493 states that he visited as Missionary, Salem, Newburyport, Plymouth, Wrentham, Hanover, Braintree, Scituate, and nearly every town of importance in Massachusetts; and also that he went to Dover and Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Newport, Rhode Island; Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia; and that he travelled from state to state until he removed to Kentucky in 1799.494 His removal to Alexandria, Virginia, seems to be foreshadowed in the final paragraph of his letter in the Centinel of July 11, 1792, referring to a possible discussion with John Gardiner: “The combat must take place during this summer, because at the close of the season, I must retire from the scene of hostilities to my more important affairs in the southern states.”495 But in all probability he was not settled at Alexandria until near the close of the year 1793.496
Mr. Thayer wrote from there on January 24, 1794, to Bishop Carroll, stating that there was no regular place of worship, nor any prospect of having one, but that he was holding services at the house of a Colonel Fitzgerald.497 During the first six months of that year he had apparently asked to be relieved from duty at Alexandria, for the Bishop wrote him on July 15, 1794, as follows:
I cannot easily resolve myself to grant you a letter of exeat, while the Diocese is in such pressing need of Clergymen; nor can I think that the reason alleged, to wit, your difficulties concerning Negroes, is sufficient to justify either your departure from the service of the Diocese, or my allowance of it. While you confine yourself within the bounds of solid doctrine, you may act freely, & unrestrained by any ecclesiastical interference, in remedying the abuses of slavery; and when you have done your duty, if all the good effect possible and desirable does not ensue from your endeavors you must bear that, as every pastor must bear the many disorders, which will subsist in spite of his most zealous exertions.498
Some months later, April 10, 1795, Father Thayer wrote to Bishop Carroll: “I wish you would quicken Colonel Fitzgerald with respect to the building of the Chapel.”499
In 1796 Mr. Thayer finally realized his desire of leaving Alexandria. An application had been made to the Bishop by a number of the parishioners of St. Peter’s Church, New York, to appoint Father Thayer as an assistant to the pastor of the church, the Rev. William O’Brien. The latter had made decided objections to receiving him in that capacity, and Thayer wrote from New York on June 21, 1796, to Bishop Carroll: “If therefore you send a refusal [to his transfer to New York], I beg that it be accompany’d with yr Exeat wh. you promis’d me, on your Episcopal word (as you were stepping into ye boat at Alexandria) if you cou’d not place me here, or at Philadelphia. I beg it may be granted as speedily as possible, as I believe I shou’d be able to obtain shortly a passage to Europe in an agreeable company & gratis.”500 Bishop Carroll replied on July 5:
I thought my last had been sufficiently explicit: for I meant to renew without any ambiguity, what was expressed in my former letters, that Mr. O’Brien had rendered services too important to the Church of N. Y. for me, to force an assistant on him who did not enjoy his confidence. . . . I have been and remain convinced of the expediency of an assistant priest, and should have been well contented if a right understanding had existed between you and Mr. O’Brien. But this not being the case, I comply reluctantly with your request and send you the enclosed Exeat, wishing you more satisfaction than I have been ever able to procure you. . . . Last Sunday I administered confirmation to your former congregation of Alexandria. They are laying the foundation and burning bricks for their Church. Your faculties in this diocese will cease as soon as you publicly make known your intention of leaving it.501
It seems probable that Mr. Thayer returned to the New England states, after leaving Alexandria, and engaged in general missionary work there as outlined by the Rev. Mr. Connolly in his Historical Sketch.502 He is known to have been in Boston in May, 1798, when he preached a sermon at the School Street Church on the occasion of a National Fast day.503 The Centinel, May 30, stated editorially that “In point of federalism, independence, information, and true American spirit, Mr. Thayer’s Sermon on Fast day, at the Catholic Church, ranks foremost in the patriotic effusions of the day.”504 In 1799 Bishop Carroll sent Father Thayer to Kentucky to assist the Rev. Stephen T. Badin, who had been appointed to the charge of the Missions in that state in 1793. Bishop Spalding stated that “Here he remained for about four years, during two of which only he was engaged in the ministry. He left Kentucky in 1803; and subsequently went to Ireland.”505 Shea wrote a little more in detail that “The Rev. Mr. Thayer labored in Kentucky for four years, but he was unfitted for a slave State, and his life did not meet the strict views of Rev. Mr. Badin. In 1803, Bishop Carroll having withdrawn his faculties, he left the State and went to Europe.”506
Some time after returning to Europe Mr. Thayer settled down in Limerick, Ireland, for the remainder of his life.507 It is probable that he did not exercise ministerial functions there,508 but he is said to have been “locally esteemed as a priest of edifying piety and ascetic life.”509 He died at Limerick on February 17, 1815.510 He had had very much at heart the project of establishing a convent in Boston, and is said to have collected about $8000 for that purpose.511 In addition he left the remainder of his private fortune to be employed to that end. “Inspired by this wish the three daughters of a merchant named James Ryan, with whom he lived in Limerick, emigrated to Boston (1819) and there founded the Ursuline Community,512 whose convent, Mount Benedict, near Bunker Hill, Charlestown, was burned and sacked by an anti-Catholic mob on the night of 11 August, 1834.”513 William Bentley in November, 1815, noted the death of Mr. Thayer, who, as he said, had been known to him from his youth. He summed him up in the following words: “He was a man who had little in his manners or person to recommend him, but was a real Dreadnought in adventures. He has officiated at my house. But was always thought worse of than he ever deserved. Upon the whole he was as sincere in religion as in anything.”514 There seems little reason for doubting his sincerity, but very good reason for questioning his discretion and tact. If these had been equal to his zeal and energy he might have accomplished much in the development and growth of the Catholic Church in New England. So far as his treatment by the local Congregational divines and by his contemporaries is concerned, he fared no worse than did the clergymen who, earlier in the century, had forsaken the Congregational communion for the Anglican. Catholic writers in general treat him gently, but practically all agree that he was not fitted for his position by reason of his temperament and personal qualities. One writer stated the case quite accurately when he wrote: “The truth is that not a little of the uncompromising Puritan spirit clung to Thayer to the end.”515 This characteristic combined with his egotism and domineering nature negatived his efforts. His conversion had changed his creed but not his character. He welcomed the authority of the Church in its application to others, but was loath to accept it when applied to himself, as is shown by his attitude toward his Superior, Bishop Carroll. There is a touch of weary resignation in the Bishop’s letter, granting Thayer his exeat from Alexandria in 1796, when he wished him “more satisfaction than I have been ever able to procure you.”516 The fact is that Thayer remained essentially a Puritan and a protest-ant, to the end of his service in this country.517
Mr. John W. Farwell exhibited reproductions of some old views of Boston and commented upon them, speaking in substance as follows:
In spite of all that has been written on these old views, there is still something to be learned about them. The earliest mention of any map, plan, or view of Boston occurs in a letter dated July 20, 1686, in which Wait Winthrop spoke of “a map of the towne, with Charlestowne, taken by Mr Foster, the printer, from Nodles Island. Twas sent for Amsterdam, and yr printed.”518 Dr. Samuel A. Green says that this “was probably a View of the two towns—and not what is now meant by a map—as seen from Noddles Island or East Boston, and sent to Holland to be engraved by a skilled artist.”519 In this opinion I agree, as the word map was not then used in the restricted sense it is to-day. In a letter dated July 15, 1686, Judge Sewall referred to “a Mapp of this Town” which he had sent his correspondent.520 No doubt this was the same map as that mentioned by Wait Winthrop, but no copy is now known.
In the New England Courant of October 8, 1722, William Price advertised “A View of the Great Town of Boston, taken from a Standing on Noddles-Island.” This not receiving sufficient encouragement, it was advertised again in the Courant of November 12, 1722, but with William Burgis as undertaker. Again there was a failure to secure subscriptions, and on May 13–27, 1723, William Price advertised “A Prospect of the Great Town of Boston, taken from Nodles-Island.” This appeal also failed, and on December 23-January 6, 1723–1724, we find the following: “Whereas a North East Prospect of the great Town of Boston in New-England, has been taken, which is not so much to Advantage as the South East Prospect, now to be seen at Mr. Price’s, . . .” This brought results, and in the Courant of July 17-August 28, 1725, Price announced for sale “Also a new and correct Prospect of the Town of Boston, curiously engrav’d.” This is, of course, the well-known Price view, of which only one copy of the original impression is known, the one now in the British Museum, and that has been brought down to 1746 by the addition of pasters to some of the buildings.521
Engraved for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts from the original owned by the Essex Institute
The Essex Institute owns a unique copy of an old engraving about which we know very little, although it has been carefully studied by some of the best authorities. It is entitled “A North East View of the Great Town of Boston.”522 Sometime ago I obtained permission to have the view photographed for the purpose of careful examination, and later I had an enlargement made of the section about the Old South Meeting-house. This, though not so clear as one could wish, discloses some interesting things.
It is different from any of the other old views of Boston, and it has eighteen reference numbers, with references at the bottom of the plate.523 All of these references appear among those on the Price view, but do not follow them.
One peculiarity of this plate is that the title and references are engraved upon a separate plate and afterward attached, to the main plate by dovetails. In attaching the title plate to the main plate, the engraver’s name, if there was one, was cut off, so that there is no clue to either designer or engraver. This makes it very difficult to form an opinion as to its date of issue, and we can only guess it by examining the plate itself.
The latest-built building shown is Christ Church, erected in 1723 and first occupied on December 29th of that year, so that the view could not have been made earlier than 1723. Some years ago the late Dr. James B. Ayer persuaded the authorities of the British Museum to have the pasters raised on their copy of the original edition of the Price view and photographs524 taken of the Old South Meeting-house before and after the pasters were raised, so that the tower of the old meeting-house could be studied. The tower, thus exposed, was shown to be the tower of the old cedar meeting-house, which corresponded with that shown on the Bonner map of 1722; and, on examination, we find the same tower in this view. The last service in the old cedar meeting-house was held on March 2, 1729, and they began to tear it down the next day. Hence it is pretty clear that this view represents the town between 1723 and 1729. The only North East View of Boston, made about that time, of which we have any knowledge was that made by Burgis and advertised by Price. When last advertised, on May 27, 1723, it was stated that “unless subscriptions come in it will not be printed.” With the apparent age of the Essex Institute print and the character of the engraving, I cannot avoid the conclusion that it was made from the design drawn by Burgis.
We have now to consider the well-known Carwitham view, of which there are three states of the plate. The first two were published by Carrington Bowles and the last one by Bowles & Carver, all at 69 St. Paul’s Church Yard, London. The first two are entitled “A South East View of the Great Town of Boston in New England in America,” and the last “A South-East View of the City of Boston in North America.” This view has been much discussed, but I think it is now generally conceded to be copied from the Price view. It seems desirable to find out, if possible, when it was issued.
The three states vary but little. The first has reference numbers on prominent buildings, following those on the Price view, but no references, and the last substitutes “City” for “Great Town” of Boston. All states were engraved by Carwitham and show Hollis Street Church, built in 1731, indicating that it was probably copied from the second state of the Price view. Bryan states that Carwitham “was an English engraver who flourished about 1730, and was chiefly employed by the booksellers. His plates are sometimes executed with the graver only, but at other times are etched and finished with the graver in a style resembling that of Bernard Picart. There exists by him a plate of the ‘Laocoon,’ dated 1741, after the antique marble group, and some frontispieces, among which is an emblematical one, from a design of B. Picart, dated 1723.”525
On the back of the copy of this engraving in the Boston Public Library, Justin Winsor has written: “The print is one of a large set, issued about the middle of the last [eighteenth] century, to use as slides in a magnifying box. This one which I have belongs to a set imported with such a box by Ebenezer Storer [Treasurer of Harvard College] in the last century. The number on yours (34) is the serial number I suppose in that set. Mine is number 39.” We find James Buck, “at the Spectacles in Queen Street,” advertising in 1750 such a “Set of Prints compleatly coloured, proper for viewing in Cameras Obscura.”526 My own copy is numbered 34 and my London correspondent wrote to me: “We had to buy some thirty colored views of the same period, all of them being European except this one, and many of them had their printed inscriptions cut off and pasted on the backs, and some of them had been taken off again and replaced at the bottom.” The Bostonian Society owns a copy of this print which belonged to Miss Eliza Susan Quincy, who said it was one of the set brought in by Ebenezer Storer. This copy has the title pasted on; sometime ago this was lifted off, but nothing was found under it.
I learn from London that Carrington Bowles was in business between 1765 and 1793 at 69 St. Paul’s Church Yard, and that Bowles & Carver were at the same place from 1793 on. From this it would seem that the earliest examples of this plate could not be earlier than 1765, and that the last state could not be earlier than 1793. It is quite probable that there was an earlier edition of this view, but if so no copy is now known.
A map by H. Moll dated 1720 has the imprint: “Sold by Tho. Bowles next ye Chapter House in St. Paul’s Church Yard.—John Bowles at the Black Horse in Cornhill.” And another old map was “Printed for I. Bowles Print & Map Seller at the Black Horse in Cornhill and T. Bowles, Print and Map Seller next to the Chapter House in St. Paul’s Church Yard and over against Devereaux Court, without Temple Bar.” From either of these, Carrington Bowles may have received the plate.527