The origins of Kings Chapel, the first Church of England congregation established in Boston and New England, are found embedded in the gradually emerging English imperial policies of the government of Charles II during the late seventeenth century. It is a transatlantic account driven by two forces, one in London by the members and bureaucrats of the Board of Trade and Plantations and the other in Boston encouraged by a handful of merchants with active and productive commercial ties with London and Bristol trading firms. Extending the Church to Puritan Boston in the aftermath of the revocation in 1684 of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s 1629 charter and the creation of the province as a royal jurisdiction may be viewed as a sixteenth century legacy of the burden and conscience of government in the company with the establishment of councils and the appointment of officials. It was reluctantly received in the town as a novel, abrupt and unwanted political and ecclesiastical act that signalled a shift from one religious climate to another. Massachusetts had become a royal colony, a jurisdiction of the crown, and subject to the imperial policies and administration of the Board of Trade and Plantations and the Privy Council of the monarch.1
Governing procedures for the Chapel differed from the practice in England in which affairs were placed in the hands of a local Patron like a wealthy land owner, or a collegiate corporation such as an Oxford or Cambridge University college, or in the hands of the respective diocesan bishop. The contrast is most notable in the varying methods of appointing a minister to serve the congregation during the colonial era. The first and third ministers were appointed to the office by the bishop of London while the second and fourth persons to hold the post were appointed locally, by the Boston church wardens and vestrymen.
The initial prospect for New England’s first Anglican congregation in Boston was unclear and uncertain. It was unknown how many local men and women would associate with the group. The supervision of the church in early America after 1677 rested in the hands of the Bishop of London Henry Compton and he appointed Robert Radcliff2 as the first minister of the congregation and he was familiar with the structure of the church in England but, presumably, few early members were not. Eventually, all native colonists seeking to become and serve as a clergyman in New England and early America, including the second minister selected by the vestry of the Chapel, were required to travel to London for ordination at the hands of the bishop of London or an episcopal designee of the London prelate. For the church in New England and the other American colonies a continuing and familiar link with the church in England rested with the use of the Book of Common Prayer for worship and not its episcopal structure and apparatus. Despite the establishment of the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a royal jurisdiction and the founding of a Church of England congregation in Boston, annual English financial support was required for the minister and after 1708 for the assistant minister.
For nearly a decade before the revocation of the Bay Colony’s charter and the introduction of royal government, crown imperial officials in London considered the means and policies for extending and maintaining the Church of England in early America. The novelty of the situation differed in time, scope and style in each of the geographical regions of settlement and administration in English America and would remain unresolved for another forty years.3 The effort and decision for the establishment of an Anglican congregation in Boston was undertaken without financial support from London for the construction and annual maintenance of a church, a burden that rested entirely in the hands of the founders and subsequent members of the congregation for the next ninety years. The expense of the first church building was met by the local founders and nearly a decade would pass before pews were installed in an attempt to establish a firm and expected source of annual income that was supplemented by the uncertain receipts of weekly collections at services of worship.
For half-a-century after 1725 vacillating financial circumstances constantly shadowed the affairs of the Chapel and prompted occasional and at times diligent pursuit of delinquent pew owners by the church wardens and vestrymen to recover unpaid annual fees or to confiscate and re-sell the property. During the late 1730s and early 1740s experts examined the state of the Chapel and advised the wardens and vestrymen that the nearly sixty-year-old wooden building was beyond repair and should be rebuilt. Immediately a short-lived and unsuccessful fund-raising effort was launched and abruptly abandoned. In 1747 the necessary campaign was renewed under the capable leadership of the minister, Henry Caner4, and a wealthy member of the congregation, Charles Apthorp. Yet the congregation was sharply divided over the need and expense of rebuilding the Chapel, a situation dramatically represented with a vote at the Easter Monday, Annual Meeting of the congregation on 18 April 1748, an occasion when two hundred and five members voted in favor of proceeding with the replacement of the building while one hundred and ninety-seven persons were opposed. A few days later the Wardens and Vestrymen facing the realities of the substantial expenses for rebuilding the Chapel agreed (22 April 1748) to borrow money on their own personal accounts to enable the project to proceed.
The congregation’s financial situation remained increasingly more difficult and unstable during the 1760s and 1770s, attributable in part to the death of Charles Apthorp in 1758, the declining health of the aging minister, Henry Caner, and the rising civil and public demonstrations of objections to British imperial policies. After several years attempting to resolve the Chapel’s dire annual financial situation the wardens and vestrymen turned to the Boston Episcopal Charitable Society for relief and assistance. The Society was founded in 1724 by a handful of Kings Chapel’s prominent members and leaders, an association that had continued over the intervening decades. Unsurprisingly, at least as early as 1767 and certainly by 4 July 1770, the Senior Warden, Dr. Silvester Gardiner, requested and received from the organization an undisclosed loan to address the financial circumstances, provided they will give lawful interest for the same.5 The terms and duration of the loan are unknown yet it may be described as a financial lifeline that sustained Kings Chapel until at least the outbreak of the War for Independence.
The appearance of a Church of England minister on the streets of Boston, the founding of a congregation in the town and the Bay Colony, launched and accompanied the introduction of royal authority and minor crown officials in the province. It marked too the launching of a crisis between the founders of the province’s old order and the introduction of a contrasting new order, a dramatic turn of events that cast a long and permanent shadow on the character and profile of the town, colony and region during the remainder of the colonial era: a new circumstance that launched a transformative political, social and religious process for nearly a century that meant the cross accompanied the English flag.
The founding and continuing support of a New England Anglican congregation required the interest of influential parties on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean that included high-ranking London civil and ecclesiastical officers who were charged by the crown with the supervision of the emerging overseas imperial territories. Establishing the congregation required a minister and at least the prospect of a handful of local supporters and potential leaders. But the Boston situation differed significantly from the initial appearance of the Church in the royal colonies of Virginia and Maryland or in the towns of Charleston, Philadelphia or New York. The Anglican congregation in Massachusetts called for the strong, protective and forceful attention of the royal governor of the province, Edmund Andros,6 for oversight of the establishment and advancement of the Church. His firm commitment to the first years of the Chapel was followed by successors in the office that continued with more moderate and nuanced support for the remainder of the colonial era.
The chronicle of the colonial era of Kings Chapel between 1686 and 1776 is defined by the varying chronological periods denoted by the service of the four ministers, political events and popular objection to British imperial policies and administration. Throughout the colonial period the organization of the congregation did not include the establishment of the office of Assistant Minister able to succeed to the position of Minister should a vacancy in the post occur, a situation that was perhaps determined by the continuing limited financial resources. Few personal biographical details survive to illuminate and describe their lives and are largely limited to the years of their graduation from college and the dates of their ordination. Little, if anything, is known of their wives or children or their procedures and manner of pastoral care for the congregation, or the number and content of their personal libraries to nurture and support their personal and professional interests. Our limited knowledge of the men is gleaned solely from the handwritten pages of the Kings Chapel records.
The first phase was remarkable and brief, only three years that marked the arrival of the first minister, Robert Radcliff, the establishment of the congregation and the bloodless overthrow of the first royal governor, Edmund Andros, and government in April 1689. Radcliff immediately resigned his post in the political and uncertain turmoil, fled to England and was succeeded by a young native colonist and Harvard College graduate not yet ordained, Samuel Myles, whose ministry lasted twenty-nine years until his death in 1728.
He was in turn followed by an appointee of Bishop of London Edmund Gibson, Roger Price7, who served the congregation between 1729 and his resignation from office in November 1746. At that time the vestry took matters into their own hands without consulting the London prelate and with the approval and endorsement of the proprietors of pews and the congregation launched the local effort to recruit and appoint a replacement minister. The honor fell to the English-born Yale College graduate, Henry Caner, whose tenure lasted for thirty years, until the outbreak of the War for Independence in 1776.
Emerging from a study of the records of Kings Chapel is an image of the congregation that was probably familiar to both its members and to non-Anglican residents and church leaders in Boston. An impression that was shaped by the use of the Book of Common Prayer for worship and the administration of the sacraments, the engaging interest and support of royal governors, lesser crown officials, prominent merchants, lawyers and local landowners. Governor Andros set the pattern and measure of interest and support for his successors, particularly by Joseph Dudley,8 William Tailer, and William Shirley,9 all of whom served for extended periods of time as active elected members of the vestry, the administrative and governing body of the Chapel. No significant issue or problem that confronted the congregation escaped the attention and counsel of the governors. The role of the Massachusetts officials was framed too by their official access by correspondence with the highest level of London-based civil and ecclesiastical officials for support. But their role differed substantially from colleagues in Virginia and Maryland who were provided on their appointments with Royal Instructions that defined their authority for the Church of England in their jurisdiction. Furthermore, several Bay Colony governors, in addition to their official oversight of Kings Chapel, were also philanthropically associated with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London as members.10 The authority of the leading civil official in the colony was recognized at the Chapel with a special pew assigned for the sole use of the governor and his family and the display of their family’s coat-of-arms on the walls during their terms in office in company with that of the reigning monarch.11 The personal and philanthropic support of the chief civil royal officials on behalf of Kings Chapel and the Church of England represents and illustrates the Kings Chapel’s position in Massachusetts and New England as the first and leading congregation of the English Church in Boston, the province and the region. It was also the most prominent example of British imperial Anglicanism in early America among such regionally distinguished company as Trinity Church in New York; Christ Church in Philadelphia; Bruton Parish in Williamsburg and St. Philip’s Church in Charleston.
Over-shadowing the nearly century-long colonial experience of Kings Chapel was its acknowledged English practices. A profile that was unfamiliar in the civil and ecclesiastical tradition or manner of a New England church, closely allied with the royal governor and government and the use of the English Book of Common Prayer. For nearly twenty years the Chapel was the solitary outpost in Boston and the Bay Colony of English imperial Anglicanism and an expression of more than one thousand years of England’s religious heritage. During the following decades, the ministers who served the congregation were all required to be ordained by an English bishop, not by a band of local ministers or leaders of a congregation and were obligated on the occasion of the ordination to take an oath of allegiance to the crown and parliament in an age when oaths were considered a serious commitment.
Boston in 1686 included three Congregational churches, the First Church founded in 1630, the Second Church (1655) and the Old South Church (1670), the First Baptist Church (1665), the French Huguenot Church (1685) and one Friends Meeting. But unlike the other religious groups that flourished in the town and the province at the time, the new Anglican congregation was the only religious group that enjoyed the favor and support of the English government, and the attention, support and leadership of royal governors.
A strong testimonial to the record, activity and purpose of Kings Chapel is provided over the decades by the increasing number of persons who were the subjects of and noted in the Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials performed year after year by the ministers during the colonial era. Records that denote decade after decade the names of persons baptized, the names of the parents and eventually the names of the sponsors; for marriages the names of the parties married, their towns of residence and the names of the witnesses; and for burials the name of the deceased persons, the causes of death, their ages and the names of the immediate survivor.
During the years between 1686 and 1776 the Kings Chapel’s congregation was shaped by imperial officials in London and Boston; the ministers; the unknown and unnamed general members of the congregation; and the group of proprietors of pews after 1694 from whom the church wardens and vestrymen were elected to serve as the governing body. The Chapel and two other Anglican congregations founded in Boston during the 1720s gradually increased in membership during the years before 1765. At that time circumstances slowly began to change, particularly after the Stamp Act riots in Boston in 1765 and the rise in sustained popular objections to unfolding English imperial policies that continued until the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
A decade before the first Anglican services were held in Boston, Edward Randolph,12 an English civil servant, was instructed by the Board of Trade to undertake a brief survey of the compliance by Massachusetts merchants with England’s trade policies and the manner in which the province was fulfilling the requirements of its original charter.13 He arrived in Boston in June 1676 to investigate the situation in hopes of increasing the crown’s revenue from the region and to report to London officials on the state of New England conditions.14 After two or three months Randolph returned to London and reported to officials on the region’s situation and noted the continuing violations of England’s acts of Trade and Navigation by provincial merchants. He carried his observations further and firmly argued that the statutes of Parliament bound the colonies and the mother country, and as the Church of England was established by an Act of Parliament, it should also be established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.15 Two years later, he was appointed the Collector of Customs for the crown in Boston and throughout the American provinces. In turn, perhaps to advance his own career with influential London officials, Randolph also became a strong advocate and spokesman for the establishment of an Anglican congregation in Boston with the supportive assistance of a handful of local merchants.
Randolph shuttled between London and Boston on five trips during the next eight years reporting on political affairs in the Bay Colony and ardently urging the Board of Trade to initiate more active imperial control over the Massachusetts government. His reports to London officials convinced Charles II in 1684 to revoke the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s 1629 charter and issue a new instrument for the province. He returned to Boston on 14 May 1686, and brought with him two royal instruments: an exemplification of the revocation of the original Massachusetts charter and King James II’s commission for a new government. In a stroke of the pen the historic charter of the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay had been nullified together with all the rights and privileges founded on it. In its place, Massachusetts was established as a royal province, ruled by a council under a native son, Joseph Dudley, until the new governor arrived a few months later. Randolph also carried with him from London the commissions for the functionaries of the new government that appointed Dudley as President of the Dominion of New England and a member of the council, with the power to establish the Church of England in Massachusetts by force. The Dominion of New England included the colonies of Massachusetts, Maine, Nova Scotia and the lands in between.
THE FOUNDING YEARS: 1686-1689
Inaugurating the political change and transformation of the Bay Colony was the arrival on 14 May 1686 in Boston of Dudley, accompanied by Randolph, the progenitor of the new era. Appointed by the Board of Trade and Plantations with the approval of Bishop of London Compton, to serve as the first Anglican minister in Boston, Robert Radcliff was an Oxford-educated fellow of Exeter College16 in Oxford University and a distinguished preacher.17 For nearly a year, he conducted services at the Exchange until Easter 1687 when the first church building was constructed and opened for services in April 1689. The men arrived at Long Wharf without a cheering welcome from town officials or residents while walking from the wharf and passing the warehouses, shops and houses to reach the Town House.18 Popular confusion and controversy surrounded the introduction of the colony’s royal charter and the prospect of the establishment of an English congregation that represented a further fissure in the community’s vision of church and state and the established Puritan Church.
The first Church of England service of worship inaugurated the americanization process for the religious group, a course of action that gradually increased and strengthened in Boston and in each congregation founded in the region during the following century. Radcliff conducted the first public Anglican services at the Town-House in King Street (now State Street) on 6 June which was so great a novelty to the Bostonians that he had a very large audience. John Dunton,19 the prominent London bookseller, who had arrived in Boston, 16 February 1685/86, noted that he had heard Radcliff preach once or twice and that he was a very excellent preacher whose matter was good and the dress in which he put it extraordinary, he being as well an orator as a preacher and that he read the common prayer in his surplice both of which were religious novelties in New England.20
Nine days after the first service of worship, on 15 June, the first organizational meeting of the new congregation was held, probably at the Town House, with the minister and Edward Randolph and nine other men in attendance.21 The church records do not disclose how the gathering was summoned, by order or invitation, perhaps because they all were present at the first worship service or were well-known and recommended by Randolph. Yet each of these attendees represented standing and wealth in the community: three were physicians, Richard Bankes, Benjamin Bullivant22 and Harry Clarke,23 with Bullivant also serving as attorney general of the new royal government; Captain Charles Lydgett24, an Assistant Justice of the Superior Court; Captain Samuel Ravenscroft, an active trader between New England and Virginia;
Thomas Luscombe, Thaddeus Maccartie25 and Captain William White26 who with Bullivant and Lydgett were recognized as ‘rich taxpayers,’ and George Turfrey, a captain and a representative in the provincial Assembly in 1685. It is not known who presided at the meeting but it seems likely that the men were identified and selected with a strong endorsement from Randolph.
The committee was modelled after the vestry structure common in England and Wales that was comprised of the local parish ratepayers for the administration of secular and ecclesiastical affairs for the church and was chaired by the incumbent. Absent from the organization of the Boston church was the familiar English official known as a Patron, usually either a wealthy local landowner, who perhaps possessed the advowson for the church, the right to appoint the incumbent, or perhaps the bishop of the diocese or a collegiate body of one of the colleges of Oxford or Cambridge University, authority and alternatives unknown in New England, yet the novel procedures and session indicated a further step towards the americanization of the congregation. The governing body of the fledgling congregation was not charged with administering any civil duties such as the Poor Law as was common for vestries in England and Virginia.27
Two months later, on 5 August 1686, Judge Samuel Sewall28 noted in his diary that William Harrison, the Bodies-maker is buried, which is the first that I know of buried with the Common Prayer Book in Boston.29 Three days later he recorded that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is administered at the Town House.30 Writing to Archbishop of Canterbury William Sancroft 2 August 1686 Randolph provided details regarding the initial services of worship of the Boston congregation and the use of the Town House and to inform him that he has presented to the Harvard College Library Sancroft’s gift of Dr. Hammond’s Works.31
A MEETING PLACE — A NEW CHURCH BUILDING
Soon after Governor Edmund Andros arrived in Boston in December 1686, he attempted to make an arrangement for the partial use of the town’s meeting houses for Anglican worship. Several conferences with the ministers of the meeting houses seeking the use of one of the buildings for Anglican services were met with steely rejection by the nonconformist ministers but the governor insisted that the services of the Church of England would be held Sundays in the Third (South) Church led by the Reverend Samuel Willard32 over the objections of its officers to serve as the unwilling host of the Anglican congregation.33 Finally, on Wednesday 22 March 1687 Andros sent Randolph on a mission to demand the keys of the South Meeting House, now the Old South, and two days later, on Good Friday, Church of England services were held in the building. This proposed arrangement immediately encouraged suspicion and friction between the royal governor and Congregational church leaders.
After several attempts to purchase property had failed, the leaders of the congregation turned to Governor Andros and the Council of the Bay Colony to aid their effort. The officials responded in 1688 and appropriated a part of the corner of the old burying ground for the proposed church building at the present site of Kings Chapel at Tremont and Beacon Streets. Under Andros’s administration, funds were raised for the construction of the Royal, later known as Kings, Chapel. The new Anglican congregation immediately began to raise funds to meet the necessary expenses to acquire land for a building. Among the ninety-four subscribers for the church building were sixteen merchants and three royal officials.34 The subscriptions amounted to £256.09.00 of which Governor Andros contributed £30, Lieutenant-governor Francis Nicholson35 of Maryland £25 and Collector of the Customs Edward Randolph £5.36 The cost of construction of the church was £2220.127.116.11 Little is known regarding the structure of the church and absent from the records is any notice of the names and numbers of carpenters, masons, bricklayers, joiners, plasterers, carvers and painters who may have contributed to the construction of the building. A single reference notes Thomas Child, a London-trained painter, who donated his services in painting the window frames. The first Kings Chapel building was completed in 1688, presumably as an economy without pews. The enforced tenancy of the Third meetinghouse came to an end and the first worship service for the congregation was held in the new church 30 June 1688.38
Increase Mather,39 a son of Richard Mather, the eminent Puritan minister at Dorchester and a leader of the founding generation of the Bay Colony, artfully crafted and forcefully articulated political and religious opposition to the appearance of royal government and the Church of England in the province. A powerful and influential adversary, he was the late seventeenth century’s conscience and voice of the colony’s founders and immediately turned the changed civil and ecclesiastical issues facing the community into a transatlantic controversy. He personally led a party of Massachusetts political leaders to London to express their objection to the innovative imperial policies of the government to officials and King William III himself.40 Mather’s decisive, bold and dramatic words shaped the experience and discourse regarding the church in Boston and the Bay Colony immediately and across the decades until the Declaration of Independence. The new congregation at once represented the authority of parliament, the crown and the established English Church with the reigning monarch as its Supreme Head. His words represented three generations of fears of the return and renewal in the Bay Colony of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries legal and religious punishment unleashed on their members by imperial government officials. New political and religious circumstances shifted Mather’s rhetoric from an internal defense of requirements for church membership to an external attack on the nature of the Church of England, the office of bishops and the Book of Common Prayer, a New England attack on long-held Puritan dissatisfaction with the English state church. Absent from the 1686 Boston scene were any high-placed London officials of the church or state, no bishop or government minister to serve as a spokesman for or defender of the national and the imperial church’s presence.
Mather at once led a challenge and charge to the presence of an Anglican church and the legitimacy and presence of the English church when he published A Brief Discourse Concerning the Unlawfulness of the Common Prayer Worship. And of Laying the Hands on and Kissing the Booke in Swearing ([Cambridge, 1686]); Clifford K. Shipton and James E. Mooney, National Index of American Imprints through 1800: the short=title Evans (Worcester, 1969, No. 490.). He wove a tightly critical argument that linked The Book of Common Prayer to the offensive Catholic Breviary, Missal and Ritual. It was a familiar theme for Puritan polemicists and was recited repeatedly by his son Cotton and subsequent critics during the decades ahead.41
A year later, Mather published in London his essay Testimony Against several Prophane and Superstitious Customs Now Practised by some in New-England, The Evil whereof is evinced from the Holy Scriptures and from the Writings both of Ancient and Modern Divines (London, 1687). He was dismayed with the presence of a church that observed saints days and holy-days and tolerated the old customs connected with them and called for protest.42 In a desperate political effort to seek the restoration of the colony’s 1629 charter, Increase Mather travelled to London in 1688 to discuss the matter with government officials.
It remains unclear if the first known Anglican publication in North America printed in 1688 was a rebuttal to Mather’s sharp attacks on the English Church or was arguably a devotional manual for the use of prospective members of the new congregation. A popular work by the distinguished poet and bishop, Thomas Ken (1637-1711), in England entitled An Exposition on the Church catechism, or the practice of divine love and published in London in 1685 and in Boston in 1688, it is better known under its subtitle The Practice of Divine Love.43 Perhaps a copy had been carried from Oxford to Boston by Radcliff and that he arranged for it to be printed by Boston master-printer Richard Pierce. In any event the circumstances of its publication strongly suggest that it was the opening of an Anglican defense to Increase Mather’s sharp historical complaints.44 It is probable that Boston’s prominent Puritan ministers were familiar with Bishop of London Henry Compton’s appointment of Ken in 1679 to serve at The Hague as the chaplain for Mary, the wife of William III. During his appointment Ken was a keen observer of Dutch Calvinist clergymen and publicly raised strong doubts regarding the validity of their ordination. Yet it remains unclear how and why Richard Pierce became the printer for the first Anglican publication in North America in an era of strong censorship of the press by the colony’s officials. He was married to Sarah, the daughter of the family of John Cotton, her father was Seaborn, and Pierce was the printer for numerous publications by Increase and Cotton Mather45 and is best known as the printer of the first edition of the New England Primer in 1690.
After news reached Boston in April 1689 of the overthrow of the government of James II, many local political leaders, apparently plotting a strategy to overthrow the insufferable and objectionable policies of Governor Andros, sought to re-establish the pre-1684 government of the province. Led by John Nelson,46 a fellow Anglican churchman, the militia took charge of the revolt against the royal administration and intercepted Andros’s anticipated escape. It is probable that Increase Mather was familiar with the plans in Boston during the early months of 1689 of prominent persons to develop a strategy to overthrow the autocratic government and policies of the Andros administration. Several top officials of Andros’s administration were arrested on 18 April and imprisoned including the governor; Randolph, the Collector of Customs; Charles Lidgett, an Assistant Justice of the Superior Court and a founder of Kings Chapel and later a judge at the Salem witch trials and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, Dr. Benjamin Bullivant, an apothecary; appointed by Dudley as Attorney General of the colony in 1686 and by the Council of the Province in November of that year as clerk of the Superior Court, also a founder of Kings Chapel; and three additional founders of the Anglican congregation, perhaps because of their churchmanship: Capt. Samuel Ravenscroft; Capt. George Turfrey; and Capt. William White.47 Andros and Randolph were imprisoned in the facility on Fort Hill while the leading members of Kings Chapel including Lidgett, Turfrey, Bullivant, Foxcroft, Ravenscroft and White were lodged in the old stone gaol on Prison Lane, along with Andros and Randolph, from April to the following January.48 During the revolt, Joseph Dudley was away from the town and was arrested on his return, but being ill he was placed under house arrest. Radcliff immediately resigned his position and returned to England. Three years later Charles Lydgett encountered Radcliff in London and wrote to a friend in Boston of the meeting noting that ‘he has a Mind once again upon a little incourgm’ to leave a Sure Benefice here for another Strowal into America.49
The controversial provincial revolutionary political events carried implications for the young English congregation. Kings Chapel was without an assistant minister to step forward and assume the duties and New England was without an ordained Church of England clergyman to be considered for the post. Furthermore, an appeal by letter to the bishop of London for the appointment of a successor would require a delay of several if not many months for consideration and travel. Plunged into uncertainty and a difficult position, the vestry comprised of local residents undertook a bold, controversial procedure and followed a very New England process of identifying, recruiting and appointing a successor for the position. A person, whom they knew, educated at the local college and who understood the character, interests and practices of the congregation and perhaps would be more amenable to their administrative procedures and supervision. It was a novel circumstance that required immediate attention, the congregation was not an identical twin of an English body found in a similar situation but a colonial American group struggling to establish its identity as a distinctive Boston representation of the Church of England comprised of English-born residents, royal officials and natives of the town and region. In turn the Chapel’s vestry members recruited and appointed as the congregation’s second minister the un-ordained former schoolmaster Samuel Myles50 a 1684 Harvard College graduate.
The religious culture of persons associated with Kings Chapel is difficult to describe during the colonial era. No diaries, journals, or correspondence of individuals who attended the Chapel’s services of worship survive to define, describe or illuminate the requirements and experience. Without a definition of membership perhaps the ministers, members, adherents or frequent attendees at worship services of the new congregation considered themselves as members of the group. All persons were welcomed at the Chapel and the terms of membership were without apparent qualifications throughout the colonial era. Unlike the Congregational Church there was no procedure for a person to demonstrate his or her conversion to qualify for membership nor could the Chapel refuse to allow a person to join in worship. In addition, when a man or woman joined a Congregational church their minor children automatically were included as long as they remained under parental care.51
Details are not forthcoming regarding the design, physical characteristic or location of the baptismal font in the Chapel or the performance of baptism for infants or adults; the preparation of members to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion without a bishop in America to perform the occasional rite of Confirmation according to the Book of Common Prayer; or the procedures for preparing and performing marriages and funerals.
Notably the term “Anglican,” does not seem to have been applied to the body during the period. Nor does the word appear in use on the pages of the bishop of London’s correspondence with colonial clergymen deposited in the collection of the Fulham Palace Papers at the Lambeth Palace Library in London. Only once during the era was the use of the word “Episcopal” noted in the records to describe and identify Kings Chapel or its members. The first usage of the term or the word “Episcopalian” does not occur until the 1760s and not in reference particularly to Kings Chapel but generally to the English congregations throughout New England. It was first noted in a reply to an essay by Jonathan Mayhew the minister of the West Church in Boston and the foremost Congregational Church preacher of his day, Observation on the Charter and Conduct of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.52 A legatee of the rhetorical opposition to the presence of the Church of England in Boston and New England more than seventy years earlier by Increase Mather and his son Cotton and several successive prominent clergymen, Mayhew renewed the protest against the number of English congregations in the region and the “real” ecclesiastical or civil purpose of the ministers paid by the Society, antedating by two years popular outbursts over other civil imperial administrative policies. Four years later several of Mayhew’s objections were addressed again in an essay by the longtime minister of the First Church in Boston, the Rev. Charles Chauncy, The Appeal to the Public Answered In Behalf of the Non-Episcopal Churches in America underscoring the number and size of Episcopalian churches in a region that was obviously well-served by Congregational churches.53 Mayhew’s candid and direct summary of the long-standing criticism of the Church of England in Boston and New England elicited the attention and a reply of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Secker to the controversy. He responded to Mayhew’s criticism in a 1764 publication, An Answer to Dr. Mayhew’s Observation on the Charter and Conduct of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in foreign Parts and noted and used for the first time the word “Episcopal” to identify Kings Chapel and its members as well as the other congregations of the church in Boston and New England.
Absent too from the records are any traces of an individual’s or private family’s devotions, Bible reading, prayers, or religious instruction. Perhaps Chapel worshippers were generally identified or perceived by public observers merely as adherents of the English Church’s theological and religious practices but as popular protests against imperial administration increased during the 1760s and 1770s they were recognized by their apparent political sympathies with the policies and practices of the English crown and government. Nonetheless a core group of pre-Revolutionary War members of the Chapel energetically aided the revitalization and reorganization of the congregation in the 1780s and later.
During the congregation’s first three decades its name changed as was known initially as Kings Chapel, for a while as the Royal Chapel, reverted briefly again to Kings Chapel while during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) it was known as Queen’s Chapel returning after the death of the Queen in 1714 to the original name of Kings Chapel. After the construction of the second and present building it was occasionally popularly referred to as the Stone Church.
Evading historical analysis is a profile of the character of the Kings Chapel congregation by gender, age, number or any other measurement throughout its colonial experience. The matter is compounded by several factors beyond the control of the religious group’s leadership including the role of royal government officials and the community’s social, economic, political and religious circumstances and generational changes. Initially the congregation was organized and led by several royal officials, prominent merchants with business ties to English counterparts and by substantial local property owners. It was from among this group that the first church wardens and vestrymen were elected to comprise the vestry and to administer church affairs. Several of the persons were English-born, undoubtedly familiar with the worship of the church, while others may have been attracted to the group by the novelty and significance of the new royal government and imperial administration. At no time during the colonial period was a census or membership roster of the congregation undertaken and recorded to identify and disclose its number. Perhaps some of the new congregants were in disagreement with local Congregational Church ministers or leaders over theological or other practices, or simply drawn to the new congregation by the Book of Common Prayer’s order and procedure for worship. The only estimate of the size of the Chapel’s congregation occurred in 1713 when it was said to have stood at about five hundred persons.
Few records survive for the Chapel before 1713, but beginning about that date the vestry books and the registers of births, marriages and burials performed at the Chapel begin to be maintained in detail. We are able to extract from the Chapel’s Registers the number and names of persons or parties baptised, married or buried by the ministers but without further notes regarding their ages, education, and number of children or extended family relations within the congregation. The sole source to suggest the diverse character of the Chapel’s congregation are the entries on the pages of the minister’s Burial Register. It is a record that provides a partial glimpse of the social composition of the congregation with the names, ages and occupations of the decedent, frequently identified as husband, wife or child of a spouse or parents. A range of occupations are noted including merchants, shopkeepers, tradesmen, laborers, mariners’, seamstresses and others. Unknown, however, is any suggestion as to how they thought of themselves, were they native colonists, colonists, English, English-American, American-English, New England colonists, or English colonists? The record is silent, we do not know.
Contrasting with the visible supportive role of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s governors on behalf of the interests of Kings Chapel, it is difficult to assess and determine the role and influence, if any, that the members of the congregation exerted on the course of affairs. They were without a vote on issues and other matters that came before the annual Easter Monday meetings of the body for consideration. At Kings Chapel and in other New England churches, the word congregation was commonly used to describe a body of persons assembled for religious worship or to hear a preacher. But its application for Kings Chapel may be expanded to define and describe the congregation as a social, political and religious body that encountered changing internal and external issues, needs and challenges. The group displayed under differing circumstance one or another of the three characteristics, on Sunday mornings and afternoons and at mid-week services the religious role, while during the construction of the second chapel its political features and attributes were exhibited and demonstrated in the negotiations with the Boston Town Council over the purchase of land and under all situations addressing varying duties and responsibilities its social aspects were demonstrated. The term congregation is also a partial description for an established religious group in a community that adheres to particular theological doctrines and practices of worship and begs the question.
Importantly, the founding of the first Anglican Church in Boston and New England occurred without the common and traditional English ecclesiastical organization; there was no American diocese created, or a resident bishop appointed to administer the present or future development of the church in the region, or other supervisory officers of the religious group familiar in England. The primary organizational force for the congregation was not an ecclesiastical official such as the bishop of London but prominent local civil, professional and commercial lay persons. Unknown is the pattern of the individuals attendance at Sunday worship and the composition of the membership by age, occupation, place of residence, wealth, interest and commitment.
Few records survive for the Chapel before 1713, but beginning about that date the vestry books and the registers of births, marriages and burials performed at the Chapel begin to be maintained in detail. We are able to extract from the Chapel’s Registers the number and names of persons or parties baptised, married or buried by the ministers but without further notes regarding their ages, education, and number of children or extended family relations within the congregation. The Chapel was served by four ministers who were charged with providing the spiritual and pastoral duties for the congregation, while the elected members of the congregation, the wardens and vestrymen who comprised the vestry, were the governing body for the church’s membership and responsible for the secular and financial affairs of the Chapel.
In 1694, seven years after the opening of the first Kings Chapel and immediately after the second minister, Samuel Myles, returned from his ordination ceremony in London, it was determined, presumably by him and the members of the vestry, that pews should be constructed and installed in the building, replacing the original benches. Pews were a common feature in other Boston and New England churches but represented a transformation of the social structure of the Chapel’s congregation for the remainder of the colonial period.54 The surviving records indicate that the proprietors of pews were comprised of individuals who purchased at a set fee a deed to sit in a particular location on the main floor or gallery of the church and agreed to pay either a weekly, monthly, quarterly or annual assessment to meet the expenses of the church for the privilege. It was a distinctive group of persons that immediately emerges as the owners, managers and ultimate authority for the church building, furnishings and maintenance of the facility and for the recruitment, supervision and payment of the minister’s salary. The proprietors became the controlling force in the affairs of the church and the owners of the church property and it was only from that group that all wardens and members of the vestry were selected. Among the ranks of proprietors were prominent merchants, traders, lawyers, property owners, sea captains, and military officers. The existing records of the congregation do yield the names of the persons who were elected and served as wardens and vestrymen of the church after it was organised but not those of the Boston merchants that Edward Randolph claimed prompted his efforts and supported the establishment of the Church of England congregation in the town in the 1670s. The vestry, the governing body of the congregation, was charged with setting the purchase price, annual assessment fees for the pews and assigning the pews to the persons who applied for and agreed to the terms for occupancy of the property. Between 1686 and 1776 sixty-one different persons served as church wardens and one hundred and fifty-six men as vestrymen. Non-pew holders were not eligible to stand as a candidate for election as either a church warden or vestryman.
Other than the names of the persons elected as officers of the Chapel at the Annual Meetings of the Proprietors on Easter Monday of each year, little is known about the individuals other than their name and the years in which they served between 1694 and 1776. Several undated lists of pew holders before 1749 survive but it is not until 1749 and the years of raising funds to rebuild the second Chapel that more accurate lists of the group emerge.55 No female proprietor was ever a candidate for or elected as an officer of the vestry and the record does not disclose the year in which a woman, either a widow or daughter, became in her own right a proprietor on the basis of inheriting the property from either her husband or father.
In England it was a long established practice for church wardens and vestrymen to take an oath of allegiance and loyalty to the reigning monarch on the occasion of assuming office. The procedure was extended and continued in the early American colonies in which the church was established by law: in Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, and North Carolina. It was followed too at Kings Chapel, perhaps introduced by Governor Andros or one of his successors, or by Radcliff, the first minister.56 Only one elected vestryman before 1775, John Checkley, the Boston bookseller and controversial pamphleteer and later Anglican minister, refused in 1719 to swear an oath of loyalty to King George I, indicating that he favoured and supported the Jacobite pretender to the throne. He was denied the right to serve at that time. Six years later he relented or changed his mind and took the oath and served as a vestryman from 1725 to 1736.
The largest segment of the congregation was the unnamed and unnumbered worshipers who occupied the public seats in the church without being contractually required to pay a fee to maintain the church’s fabric. The frequency and amount of their weekly contributions for the support of the Chapel is recorded in the financial records for a few years. No less elusive and impossible to identify and extract is the number of regular transient attendees at worship services, a group of persons perhaps with or without a regular attachment to another Boston religious group but they were solicited to contribute funds during the 1740s and 1750s for the rebuilding of the church building.
During the more than twenty years ministry of Samuel Myles, the numbers of the congregation had increased and required an enlargement of the building between 1711 and 1714. Enlisted to assist in the project was Henry Caner57 (ca. 1671 – 1731), a native of Long Ashton, in Somerset County, near Bristol, in England who was a recent arrival in Boston with his family. He called himself a housewright and was paid for unidentified services for work on the church building, perhaps for drawings for a steeple. Caner in 1719 was recruited as the master carpenter and architect for the first buildings of Yale College constructed in New Haven, Connecticut. He was the father of the fourth minister of the Chapel, Henry Caner, a 1724 Yale graduate who served the congregation from 1747 until 1776. In addition to enlarging the church building the congregation’s name during the period underwent several name changes, for a brief period it was known as the Royal Chapel, reverted briefly again to Kings Chapel and in 1702 became known as the Queen’s Chapel in honor of Queen Anne (reigned 1702-14) but returned to the original usage in 1714 on the occasion of the succession to the throne of King George I.
The decade of the 1720s was marked by several controversial events that brought critical attention to the Church of England but it is unclear if the congregation of Kings Chapel noted or encountered either in detail or substance the events or consequences of the issues. On the eve of the founding of the second Anglican congregation to absorb a portion of Kings Chapel’s membership that resided in the North End of Boston in 1722, Christ Church (the Old North), was constructed after the manner and architectural style of Christopher Wren and conducted its first services the following year. Boston bookseller and Kings Chapel layman, John Checkley, published several controversial essays that vigorously upheld the legitimacy of the historical episcopacy and brought renewed historical attention to the authenticity of ordination in the dissenter tradition. On a different but no less controversial track Cotton Mather unsuccessfully attempted to call a synod of the Bay Colony’s established ministers in 1725 that excluded Church of England clergymen and those of other religious groups that enraged the English ministers and brought objection from London officials. In addition, two Boston Anglican ministers, Timothy Cutler58 and Samuel Myles, both graduates of Harvard College, attempted to be appointed as members of the Harvard Board of Overseers, which was unsuccessful, met with strong and relentless opposition after five years of legal action.
During the first two decades of the eighteenth century, no congregations were established in Connecticut and New Hampshire and only three in Massachusetts at towns distant from Boston including at Quincy (Braintree) in 1704; at Newbury in 1711/12 and at Marblehead in 1715. In Newbury the local Congregational meetinghouse was in need of repair and the membership was divided on how to redress the matter, a majority of the members decided to move to a new location while a minority insisted that the old building could be rebuilt. To prevent a split, the majority obtained an order from the General Court forbidding the formation of a second church in the town. John Bridger, his Majesty’s Surveyor-General of Woods in America and a Kings Chapel vestryman, promised the dissenters his support if they would declare for episcopacy. They agreed and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel promptly sent a missionary to serve the remnant of the congregation in 1711/12.
The Society was founded in 1701 by the Reverend Thomas Bray59 (1658-1730), a deputy of Bishop of London Compton charged with the recruitment of men to serve American churches and his commissary for the church in Maryland. Educated at Oxford University, he became rector of St Giles’s Church at Sheldon in Warwickshire where he published the popular instructional essay Catechetical Lectures in 1697. His efforts interviewing and recruiting men to serve the church in Virginia and Maryland drove him to found the Society in 1701 with the guidance and support of Compton and the archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Tenison60. The organization recruited, appointed and financially supported men to serve the church overseas and pragmatically aided the implementation of the imperial ecclesiastical policies of the Board of Trade. It was not a chartered agency funded by the government but a philanthropic agency associated with the church but governed by Anglican leaders. More than half of the original ninety-four English members of the Society were clergymen, led by the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the bishop of London.
Radcliff was succeeded in 1689 by Samuel Myles, a graduate of Harvard College in 1684 and a schoolmaster in Charlestown for three years and not yet ordained.61 Perhaps he had been recruited and selected by the members of the vestry on the basis of attending services regularly at the Chapel or was a protégé of Radcliff and known to several members of the governing body. Whatever the circumstances, his appointment was out of reach of the influence and control of either the royal governor of the Bay Colony or the bishop of London. Myles had not been educated for the ministry by a local clergyman but he may have been a keen observer of the church practices of his father, John Myles, the minister of several Massachusetts Baptist congregations. Presumably he was unfamiliar with the historical origins, practices and Canons that governed Church of England congregations but he steadily performed his ministry for thirty-nine years without noticeable objection or controversy until his death in 1728.
During the first months after Myles’s appointment, he demonstrated that he was politically astute and a fervent royal loyalist. Joined by the churchwardens of the congregation, the Bostonians reported to King William III the details surrounding the overthrow of the Andros regime.62 Their intention may have been to arrest, undermine and terminate Increase Mather’s political efforts in London.63 Without mincing their words, Myles and his cohorts emphasized that the continuation of royal government in the province was essential for Anglican worship to survive in Boston.64 The writers noted that
only a few years have passed since by the favour of your predecessors
we were delivered from the thraldom of a most extravagant and arbitrary
government, being exercised over us under the pretence of a charter which
was never respected except in name, by that favour we gained freedom of
divine worship which we were never permitted till the charter was vacated
for none were admitted to the sacrament except members of their church
covenant, which does not include a tenth part of your subjects here.
Since our deliverance we have tried to carry ourselves void of offence to
those who dissent from us and have built a church, but such is the malice
of those that dissent from us that they put frequent indignities upon us,
while some of our principal teachers are charged in a printed treatise with
idolatry and popery. We have lately to our horror seen the Government
subverted, The governor and his officers seized, and the forts and garrisons
appointed for our defence dismantled and disbanded, to the great advantage
of our enemies --who have killed many hundreds of our fellow subjects and
laid much country to waste, H.M.S. Rose was also seized and dismantled,
leaving the seas open to pirates, who have done us £12,000 damage; and all
those by a party of pretended zealous & godly men from motives of envy
and malice and from greater regard to their charter, withal of its fame for
maladministration and persecution than to their King and Country. They
have now restored their former government and revived their pretended
privileges to the oppression of thousands, but more particularly of ourselves.
They have greatly damaged our Church and threatened daily to put it down,
destroyed our minister, and subjected us to excessive taxes for the support
of a disloyal government. We are content to suffer, not doubting of your
redress, and we rejoice and have confidence in your regard to the Church
of England. We beg not to be left under anarchy but that we may be ruled
by a Governor, Council and Assembly.
Signed. Samuel Myles, M.A.; Fra. Foxcroft, Sam. Ravenscroft, Church
Wardens. Read 24 April 1690.65
Despite the lack of Myles’s initial ministerial credentials he was not uneasy or reticent, directly communicating with Bishop of London Compton regarding the state of church affairs in Boston. He had reported on 29 November 1690 that many are going off the land, it being impossible for us to live. Our church is perpetually abused, the windows broken as soon as mended and we are much threatened with what shall be done when the Charter comes. Young Mr. Mather [Cotton] has received a letter from his father saying that the King has promised the Charter, which has raised fury and rage in the people against those whom they call enemies of their Country.66 Two weeks later Myles wrote on the failure of the expedition against the French in Nova Scotia noting that Young Mr. Mather informs the people that the reason for our calamities is permitting the little Chapel for the Church of England among us. It is insufferable for it to stand’ according to him, though it is battered and shattered most lamentably already.67
Four years passed before Myles sailed for London and ordination as a deacon of the Church of England by the distinguished theologian Bishop of Ely Symon Patrick (1626-1707), on 12 March 1693 and as a priest by Bishop of London Compton at St Botolph’s at Aldersgate on 11 June 1693.68 Perhaps it was his observation of the interiors of Christopher Wren’s recently designed and constructed London churches that initiated on his return a similar plan for pews at Kings Chapel.
A notable event for the young congregation and Myles was the arrival in June 1702 of the Scottish-born, educated, recently ordained George Keith, well-known in New England and Pennsylvania as former renegade Quaker. He had served as a school master in Philadelphia in 1689, 1691 and 1692, a visit that was marked by his leading of a movement identified as Christian Quakers, Keithian or Anglican Quakers that local Friends found objectionable and that led to his expulsion in 1692 from the Society of Friends in England. Keith embraced the Anglican Church and in an effort to convert Quakers, preaching to groups throughout England. On 10 May 1700 he was ordained a priest by Bishop of London Compton and in June 1702 he sailed for Boston from Cowes, Isle of Wight, in one of the Queen’s ships, the Centurion, for Boston charged by the recently founded Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to survey and report on the state of the church in the colonies.69 Welcomed and lodged at the residence of Myles, Keith preached on June 14th at the Sunday morning service at Queens Chapel, as it was known during the reign of Queen Anne, on the text of St. Paul’s letter to the residents of Ephesus, chapter two, verses twenty, twenty-one and twenty-two that declared the church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone. He noted in his Journal that he preached to a large Auditory not only of Church People, but many others.70 Keith indicated that his sermon contained towards the conclusion, Six plain brief Rules, which I told by Auditory did well agree to Holy Scriptures, and they being well observed, and put in Practice, would bring all to the Church of England, who dissented from her.71 At the request of Myles and the vestry his sermon was published in Boston and stirred the ire and pen of Increase Mather after the manner of more than a decade earlier and vigorously offered an intense exchange of adversarial opinions between the men in several publications.72 It represented during the ninety-year-long colonial period one of the few sermons delivered by the four ministers that successively served Kings Chapel that were published.73
After the death of Samuel Myles in 1728, Kings Chapel’s members were familiar with the New England procedures for selecting a minister but were without knowledge of the English procedure to appoint a successor. Perhaps the overture of the vestrymen to seek Bishop of London Gibson’s assistance in identifying a prospective replacement was merely a formality that should be undertaken in the expectation that he would deflect and urge the vestrymen to renew the procedure that was applied in 1689. If so, there is no record to confirm such guidance. The death of Myles provided Bishop of London Edmund Gibson the historical and supervisory opportunity for the first time in forty-two years to appoint a minister for Boston’s and New England’s premier Anglican pulpit and congregation. It was not an issue that the foremost legal scholar of the church entertained or considered lightly, acquiescing to the procedures followed in 1689 and Myles’s appointment. Gibson sought and obtained from the crown clarification of his authority for the church overseas before proceeding on the matter.
After at least a year’s delay Gibson appointed to the post in 1729 Roger Price, the son of a clergyman and of an interesting and distinguished family and also as the prelate’s commissary for the New England church. A graduate of Balliol College74 in Oxford University, Price had served briefly overseas as a missionary to Africa in 1722 and in Jamaica between 1722 and 1724.75 It is unclear why Gibson did not consider for the commissarial appointment one of the highly respected resident New England clergymen for the post such as ministers Timothy Cutler of Christ Church (the Old North) in Boston or Samuel Johnson of Stratford, Connecticut. He had discussed at length the state of the church in the region with both of them during their visit to London for ordination in 1723 and who both were quietly seeking the recognition and appointment.
Price’s seventeen-year ministry at Kings Chapel was defined in part by his recognition as an effective preacher but shadowed with pretentious manners and occasional conflicts with the vestry over trips to England where he held a living at Leigh-on-Sea near Southend-on-Sea in Essex from 1725 until his death in 1762.76 He resigned as minister of the congregation in 1734 indicating that he wanted to return to England but quickly changed his mind and asked to be reinstated in the post.77 The vestry, perhaps eager to avoid a vacancy and a search for a replacement that would probably involve the bishop of London, consented to reinstate Price under the terms of a strict, detailed and signed agreement of stipulations. Noteworthy, Price did not begin to use his title as Commissary of the bishop of London until after his reinstatement as the minister of Kings Chapel. Perhaps it was a gesture to indicate and impress the vestrymen of his official tie to the prelate that was charged by the crown with jurisdiction over the church in early America. While recognized as a capable preacher, Price published only one sermon, in honor of a prominent member of his congregation, John Jekyll,78 the Collector of Customs in Boston and a church warden. Yet Timothy Cutler, the former rector of Yale College and minister of Christ Church in the North End, held a dim view of his intellectual abilities and colleagues in New England had little contact with him.
Price seldom exercised his official commissarial administrative duties delegated to him by Gibson, holding only one visitation of the New England ministers, in 1743, fourteen years after his appointment and three years before his resignation. During his ministry in Boston he did not preach at one of the several conventions of the clergymen in Massachusetts and the region or visit the congregations and ministers in distant towns and seaports under his supervision. His appointment reflected and underscored a major difficulty for administrating the overseas imperial church without the apparatus familiar in an English diocese. Inevitably there were nuanced cultural, administrative and ecclesiastical differences between the experience of the ministers and congregation in early America and an English congregation of the period. It was not a dispute regarding the prerogative of the prelate to make such an appointment but recognition of the contrasting historical and ecclesiastical practices between an English congregation and a local New England group.
Kings Chapel and the Church of England congregations in Boston, Massachusetts, and Connecticut were untouched by the revivals of the Great Awakening movement that the Congregational churches encountered between 1740 and 1745. On 18 September 1740 the celebrated twenty-five-year-old English evangelist, George Whitefield79, arrived in Boston. The next day he attended worship services at the chapel and afterwards was invited to dinner by Price along with the other four Anglican ministers in the town to meet the popular preacher. Unlike George Keith thirty-eight years earlier, he was not invited to preach from any of their pulpits but instead was invited to preach from the pulpit of the Brattle Street Church by Dr. Benjamin Colman to a crowd of about four thousand people.80
Price purchased four hundred acres of land in Hopkinton and was often in residence there providing worship services in the community, perhaps attempting to emulate the role of an eighteenth-century English country parson after the manner of his father’s clerical appointment at Whitefield near Brackley in Oxfordshire.81 But he seems to have been as unsettled in Boston as he had been earlier in his career in Africa, Jamaica and England. In 1743 he gifted to the Society a glebe of two hundred acres at Hopkinton that included a house, barn and orchard where he enjoyed horse riding, for the use of a missionary of the Society and requested that he serve as the first occupant.82
The procedure for the search, selection and appointment of the last minister to serve as the minister of the Kings Chapel congregation during the colonial period is indeed noteworthy. In 1746 Price resigned as minister of the Chapel, a situation that may have led the wardens and vestrymen to inquire of a ministerial neighbour, Timothy Cutler, for his proposal to the vestry of a possible successor. Cutler, a former rector of Yale College during the period that Henry Caner was a student may have suggested his name to the wardens and vestrymen as a candidate for the post. But the procedure may also have been influenced by long-time local civil and religious practices of New England town meetings or the selection processes for clergymen of the Congregational churches. In any event the wardens and vestrymen called for a meeting of the Kings Chapel congregation to discuss the matter. The question was put to the group: should the search for a new minister be conducted among the Anglican clergymen of the region or undertaken by the bishop of London? The congregation resoundingly voted for the search and appointment of a minister from the ranks of Church of England ministers in New England, indicating an interest in the appointment of a person known and educated at either Harvard or Yale College. It was a radical and marked departure from the usual practice of a congregation in Great Britain and represented a procedure familiar to the practices of local town meetings and Congregational churches. It was a decision that placed in the hands of Boston persons the appointment of a clergyman rather than in the hands of a London representative of the crown or prince of the church. The first and only candidate was Henry Caner, the minister of the church at Fairfield, Connecticut; he was quickly invited by the vestry to consider the post at the Chapel. He immediately accepted the opportunity and succeeded Price in March 1746 and presided for the next thirty years demonstrating a strong, vital and effective ministry with the vestry and congregation.
The regular routine is unknown regarding Caner’s or his predecessors’ character of their pastoral duties, or the books that they read and the size and content of their libraries. Only one visual image of any of the men survives. A portrait of Caner by John Smibert83, ca. 1750, has been lost but his image survives in a mezzotint print of the painting executed by a member and pew holder of the Chapel, the artist Peter Pelham84, about 1750. Caner, like the second minister, Samuel Myles, was not appointed to the post after consultation by Boston officials with the London-based Board of Trade or the bishop of London, but by the elected members of the vestry. He deserves to be recognized as one of the 1,291 men who served the church in early America between 1607 and 1783, a group that included such accomplished regional and provincial leaders as James Blair the founder and long-time president of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg; William Smith, the president of the College of Philadelphia; and Samuel Johnson of Stratford, Connecticut, an eminent philosopher and the first president of Kings College in New York. The body also included the celebrated political essayists of the 1760s and 1770s as Jonathan Boucher, Thomas Bradbury Chandler and Samuel Seabury. But Caner differed from each of these men in several ways: he was not a native of Scotland as were Blair and Smith, or of Connecticut as were Johnson and Chandler, but of England, as was Boucher. He was a different kind of man and church leader; his talents were focused and limited to serving the congregations committed to his charge in Fairfield, Connecticut, and Boston, Massachusetts. His talents and abilities did not run to lend him to college teaching or administration, or to considering and writing essays on contemporary political and economic issues, or as a preacher, or author of religious tracts, or as a provincial and regional leader after the manner of his mentor Samuel Johnson among the Bay colony and New England ministers. Caner’s commitment and performance was simply serving as the minister of Kings Chapel, the oldest and most prominent congregation in New England, from December 1746 to March 1776.
Caner was born in 1700 in England at Long Ashton, Somerset County, England, the ancestral village of his father, to Henry and Abigail (Flagg) Caner, about two or three miles southwest of Bristol. The family arrived in Boston about 1710 but details are unknown regarding the son’s education in Boston, he may have attended the Latin School in School Street. He entered Yale College in 1721, during the rectorship of Timothy Cutler, and one year before the celebrated declaration of the apostates at the college commencement in September 1722.85 Caner graduated in 1724, taught school for a period and studied divinity under Samuel Johnson, a 1714 graduate and former tutor of the college and one of the apostates now serving as the Church of England minister at Stratford, Connecticut. Presumably under the guidance and recommendation of Johnson he became a lay reader of a small congregation in Fairfield and during his ministry a small church was built. Johnson recommended Caner highly to Bishop of London Edmund Gibson for ordination and he sailed for England in late May 1727. After his ordination and appointment as a missionary of the SPG at Fairfield he married the next year a member of his congregation, Anne, daughter of Dougal and Sarah McKenzie of Fairfield. A popular preacher, Caner’s congregation increased under his leadership from twelve to sixty-eight communicants and he successfully organized another parish in Norwalk in 1737 that increased in number to 115 communicants in 1747.
Caner’s thirty-year ministry at Kings Chapel represented the crowning height of the congregation’s colonial experience, enjoying a large membership, an able preacher and church administrator. Without an extensive and detailed biography of his life our knowledge of his professional career is drawn largely from the pages of the Vestry Books, the correspondence of the Building Committee to raise funds and construct the second Chapel building and from the copper-tinged inked pages of his two-volume Letter Books deposited at the Bristol University Library in Bristol, England, that have been partially edited and published.86 The extensive entries yield his personal and professional correspondence he maintained with persons in New England and England for half-a-century between 1728 and 1778.1 Included are the names of his correspondence with prospective and established clergymen, church officials, friends, merchants and booksellers in New England, New York, Philadelphia and Maryland, the successive bishops of London and archbishops of Canterbury and the Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Particularly noteworthy was his sustained interest and assistance he offered in aiding two prominent members of his congregation who sought his assistance on behalf of their sons for admission to Eton College. For Charles Apthorp, chairman of the committee for rebuilding the second Kings Chapel and his son East in 1748 and for Samuel Wentworth, son of a lieutenant governor and brother of a governor of the province of New Hampshire, a warden and vestryman for the Chapel, on behalf of his son of the same name in 1764. His longtime personal friendship with the Reverend John Burton, a Fellow of Corpus Christi College in Oxford and a Fellow and later vice-provost of Eton College eased the candidates’ successful consideration and admission to the English college. The two sons of prominent New England residents were direct beneficiaries of Caner’s friendship with Burton that began during a visit to England in 1736 and Burton at that time assisted in the effort for Caner to receive his first honorary degree from Oxford University. The pages of the Letter-Book note the personal and professional contrast between the service and profile of Caner not only with his predecessors but more particularly with his predecessor Roger Price, the bishop of London’s official deputy as commissary for the church in New England for seventeen years. Caner exercised the role unofficially with tact, interest and persistence from the earliest years of his ministry to 1776.
Kings Chapel’s fourth minister published more works than his predecessors combined but he is primarily remembered by historians for his significant publication that rebutted his friend the minister of Boston’s West Church, Jonathan Mayhew’s,87 1763 attack on the nature and legitimacy of the historic episcopacy and the purpose of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel’s missionaries in New England entitled A Defense of the Observation on the Charter and Conduct of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The circumstances of the esoteric debate between the dissenter and the Anglican minister was based on the contrasting and irreconcilable historical views of the nature or the ministry and a deep-seated distrust and suspicious view of the real purpose of the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as the financial sponsor of nearly all of the New England ministers. The position of the English church in the Bay Colony and throughout New England was vulnerable to such attacks since the eras of Increase and Cotton Mather and without an official leader and spokesman, such as a bishop or an accepted, respected and endorsed colleague, to publicly articulate and answer the charges. That authority rested historically and officially with the current bishop of London who was empowered with jurisdiction over the church in the region. Inconveniently, Bishop of London Thomas Sherlock was seriously incapacitated by illness and unable to take an active interest to explain, redress or arrest the dire situation for the church in the region. Four years passed before Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker,88 a Dissenter convert to the church as a young man and who had little contact with the overseas church, sprang to offer a cogent but tardy rebuttal. Secker’s reply to Mayhew published in 1767 recited the words of earlier Anglican quill-drivers but did not modify or change the course of the sustained acrimonious dispute. The mould was cast, the rage of the interminable controversy did not subside and prompted the London-based Society in 1767 to decide not to increase the number of new ministers and congregations that it would support in New England.
But conflict between Anglicans and non-Anglicans took another form during the 1760s and 1770s in Boston over British imperial policies and administration. Inescapably the Anglican ministers in the town were trapped in the crossfire of civil political controversy that cast doubts on their personal and political integrity, loyalty and identity. Regardless of their personal origins, education and professional experience the men who served the church were by association perceived by some critics as agents of the English government who had sworn at their ordination their loyalty to the crown and Parliament. Again recited were the critical complaints of the Mathers eighty years earlier that were revisited and reclaimed by later critics of the presence of the Church of England in Boston. The celebrated local lawyer and radical political leader, John Adams, recalled and remarked in 1817 that the debate over the prospect of a bishop in New England was one of the causes of the War for Independence.89
Caner’s observations of the Boston political scene during the fifteen years before the battles at Lexington and Concord were seldom recounted in his letters to the successive bishops of London or archbishops of Canterbury, for he kept his counsel. Absent from his correspondence are any indications of his personal opinions regarding the economic and political issues surrounding the events leading to War for Independence. He did not comment about his thoughts and reactions to the pressing political questions and events triggered by the Stamp Act crisis, Boston Massacre, and the Tea Party. Absent too from his letters were his personal observation about the events reported from the Continental Congress meetings in Philadelphia in 1774 and 1775 or the increasing presence of British military forces in Boston. He differed from his colleagues Samuel Seabury and Thomas Bradbury Chandler of New York and New Jersey respectively and avoided publicly expressing his loyalist political opinions. It remains how he thought of himself, his personal and national association; was he an Englishman, an English-American, an American or a Massachusetts Bay Colony resident? We do not know.
Among the ministers of Kings Chapel during the colonial period Samuel Myles (officiated 1689-1728) and Henry Caner (officiated 1746-76) served for the longest periods of time, twenty-nine and thirty years respectively, tenures that cast, sustained and exhibited strong influence over the congregation’s development and accomplishments. Over a ninety-year period, Table 1 summarizes the number of baptisms performed by the ministers of Kings Chapel by decades. The few numbers recorded for the period between 1686 and 1709 may be accurate but probably represents either the lack or loss of keeping a register for the period. After 1710 the registers note the name of the person baptized and indicate whether a child or adult, the name of the parents are recorded and eventually the names of the sponsors. During the following decades the number of baptisms increased steadily particularly during the 1720s and from 1740 to 1776 perhaps indicating the gradual growth of the congregation’s membership, Boston’s rising residential population and the public’s support of royal government a generation or two after its establishment. A decline in the 1730s may be partly attributable to the ministry of Roger Price, the Great Awakening movement or a smallpox epidemic. The substantial increase in the number of baptisms from the 1740s to 1776 perhaps reflects the continuing rise in the congregation’s membership, pastoral performance and or political stability during at least half of those years.
Tracing, analyzing and describing the financial affairs and circumstances of Kings Chapel, its income and expenses over the years, is a daunting and difficult task. In the first instance details regarding the salary of the first minister, Robert Radcliff, initially paid from the military account of Royal Governor Edmund Andros and later, at least in part by the congregation, is unclear during his three-year appointment. Absent too are details relating to the architecture and financial cost of materials and labor for the construction of the congregation’s first building. The record keeping does not improve with the appointment of the second minister, Samuel Myles, in 1689 concerning his weekly or annual salary or the perquisites that he was to receive for services rendered, such as for baptisms, marriages and burials. Missing too are details of the costs for the modification of the church building in 1694 on the occasion of the vestry’s decision to construct and install pews in the building in an effort to establish a stable and reliable source of annual income.90 Nearly half-a-century passes before the records begin to observe annually the income of the congregation but not one of the reports between 1728 and 1776 defines and states the income and expenses of the institution. During the 1720s and the 1730s the minutes of the vestry meetings take note that there were years of a rising number of proprietors of pews delayed in paying their annual fees due to the Chapel. Details are scattered regarding such major fixed financial obligations as those related to the salaries for ministers, assistant ministers, organists, sextons and the costs for the maintenance and repairs of the church building and property.
In 1740 and 1741 the members of the vestry of Kings Chapel enlisted experts to examine and report on the structural state of the fifty-four-year-old building. After an extensive review of the Chapel the consultants unanimously determined that the structure was beyond repair and recommended that it should be replaced. The decision was a defining moment in the history of the congregation and launched the need to raise substantial funds for the first time in half a century to construct a new building, a circumstance that marked too a transition in the manner and personnel that would prominently lead and govern the Chapel. At its founding and for five decades afterwards the Chapel was in the hands English-born royal officials, merchants with strong commercial ties to colleagues in England and a group of native colonists. During the following half a century three ministers of the Chapel were English natives and one was born in Massachusetts and a succession of royal governors and Collectors of Customs in Boston were significant leaders of the Chapel. But after the unsuccessful effort to raise £25,000 in funds during 1740 and 1741 to rebuild the congregation’s initial building, an effort that over a few months raised less than £2,000, the leaders of the congregation signalled that the lacklustre support was insufficient and a further effort to raise funds to underwrite the rebuilding of the Chapel should be suspended and reconsidered sometime in the future.91
Six years later the matter was revisited and reignited under changed clerical and lay leadership. The recently appointed minister, Henry Caner, was energetically committed to promptly undertaking a drive for funds to replace the Chapel’s original building. Perhaps at Caner’s urging, suggestion and guidance the vestry appointed several of its most prominent members, all merchants and lawyers, to serve as a Building Committee to launch and oversee the raising of funds for the reconstruction of the Chapel. Boston’s acknowledged wealthiest resident, Charles Apthorp,92 was adroitly solicited and agreed to serve as chairman of the group. Initially meeting regularly at the home of Caner, the committee quickly extended appeals for assistance to members of the congregation, well-to-do persons with links to Boston in the Caribbean Islands and in Great Britain who enjoyed a reputation for philanthropy. The solicitation for funds was stated directly and tactfully and relied heavily on the valuable contacts of London merchants doing business with Boston colleagues and the bishop of London and archbishop of Canterbury. The committee set a schedule to meet weekly, usually at Caner’s house, to establish a strategy to raise the funds and immediately set a goal to raise £2,000 sterling within one year.
During the years between 1749 and 1754 the vestrymen gave considerable attention to the financial affairs of the Chapel and the substantial expenses required for the construction of the new building. Attention inevitably turned to an increasing number of proprietors of pews who were delinquent in the payment of their annual assessment. The reason for the situation is unclear but perhaps in part may be explained and traced to the reservations and objections of some of the pew owners to the costs of building the second chapel or to other reasons regarding the governance and management of the congregation’s affairs.
In addition to undertaking and overseeing a systematic plea for funds, the committee was also responsible for identifying and selecting an architect for the new building and supervising the details of the construction process. Caner and Apthorp were a congenial and productive team that masterfully and diligently executed their carefully orchestrated strategies for raising funds from the members of the congregation and from philanthropists. No prospect for a contribution on either side of the Atlantic escaped notice and the committee gave constant detailed consideration to the rebuilding of the Chapel.
The Building Committee controlled, supervised and oversaw the application and procedures for the purchase of additional land essential for the modest extension of the new church with the members of the Boston Town Council, pursued the purchase of the stones from Braintree quarries for the foundation and walls of the building materials, recognized that the cost for construction of the church was substantially more than the committee had initially identified and that Caner or the congregation expected and could afford. Between 1749 and 1753 the committee persistently continued to address the urgent task of raising funds to complete the construction project. By 1751 one hundred and ten persons contributed to the campaign of which eight were women and a further effort undertaken the next year to complete and finish the building garnered an additional seventy-six contributors. Yet the total sum of contributions was not enough to meet the costs and the members of the Boston-based Episcopal Charitable Society, some of whom were members of Kings Chapel, stepped forward and for more than twenty years carried the financial burden for a substantial portion of the costs for the building. It is unclear how Caner came to suggest to the committee the English-born Newport architect, Peter Harrison, to produce the exterior and interior drawings for the proposed second Chapel. He was enlisted for the task and produced the plans that were approved by the committee and followed precisely by the construction workers. In the summer of 1754 the construction of the new stone Kings Chapel building was completed and Henry Caner conducted the first worship service in the new facility on August 21st.
After several years of intensively raising funds to construct and complete the second Chapel building the ministers, vestry members and congregation encountered a series of cascading social, political and military issues for more the next twenty years over which they had no control but that shaped their experience and destiny. The first and heaviest burden for the vestrymen was to continuously address the debt burden accumulated over the years in the course of the construction of the new building. There was no relief from the onerous financial obligation as the months and years passed that were accompanied by increasing popular objections to imperial policies and administration. It is difficult to measure the impact of a second issue on the affairs of Kings Chapel, the vibrant renewal of the long-standing debate between dissenter and Anglican clergymen regarding the esoteric subject of the historic legitimacy of episcopacy and the ‘real’ purpose of the missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Boston and New England. Third and finally were the public’s strong objections to numerous British imperial policies, including such acts of parliament as the Quartering Act and the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Act in 1767, the Boston Massacre in 1770, the Tea Act in 1773, the Coercive Acts, the Quebec Act and the Quartering Act in 1774 and followed the next year by the battles at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill in 1775 and the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
A consequence of these public and legislative events in Boston and London after 1765 was the Chapel’s steady decline of income. By 1768 the financial situation was dire and the vestry members were facing an escalating delinquency of the annual payment of pew assessments by several proprietors and compounded by the increasing fragility of the revered sixty-eight-year-old minister. The difficult financial matters would overshadow the congregation until the outbreak of the War for Independence and beyond.93
Complementing and supplementing the records of the Wardens and Vestrymen’s meetings of Kings Chapel during the colonial period that provide the names of the leadership of the congregation over the decades, a group comprised of prominent Boston royal government leaders, merchants, lawyers and property owners were the companion Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials performed by the ministers. The volumes yield a glimpse of the comprehensive character of the social structure of the congregation, the names listed in each volume are invaluable resources for persons searching for their Boston ancestors and for the historian of early New England offers a comprehensive overview of the persons who comprised the congregation and the wide ranging occupations that they represented.
The Tables that note by decade the gradual increases of baptisms, marriages and burials at Kings Chapel represent the increasing numbers of persons associated with the congregation. Table 1 notes that between 1686 and 1776 the Chapel’s Registers’ record 2,727 baptisms were performed by the four ministers. Initially, the Registers include the names of the persons baptized and the name of the parents, after April 11, 1747 the details were expanded to include the names of the three sponsors of the infant or adult baptised, suggesting extending family members and close social and business relationships.
NUMBER OF BAPTISMS
AT KINGS CHAPEL BY DECADE94
A systematic recording of marriages was not introduced and continuously maintained by the ministers of the Chapel until 1718, thirty-six years after the congregation’s establishment. Collateral records suggest, perhaps incompletely, that only six marriages were performed during the years between 1686 and 1720 and increased to ten during the decade of the 1720s. From 1730 to the outbreak of the War for Independence in 1776 the numbers rose significantly and were only sixty-nine less than the combined number of marriages performed at the two other Church of England congregations in Boston, Christ Church and Trinity Church. Table 2 records that 1,288 marriages were performed at Kings Chapel before 1776. The Register includes the names and dates of the persons joined in matrimony and the town of their residence.
NUMBER OF MARRIAGES
PERFORMED AT KINGS CHAPEL BY DECADE95
The names of persons for whom burial services were performed at the Chapel are recorded in a Burial Register that began to be maintained in 1714. Table 3 notes by decade the number of burials performed by the ministers. The Register was not maintained at Kings Chapel until 1714 and records that 1,146 were performed by the ministers at the Chapel between 1714 and 1776. The entries include the decedent’s name, the next of kin, if a child, the name of the parents and if an adult, the name of the husband or wife and occasionally the person’s occupation. The cause of death is seldom noted but occasionally it is recorded as from small-pox, injury on the job, or a stroke. There were 27 burials of British military personnel, 25 of whom occurred in 1775 and 1776. Interestingly, the occupations of 213 of the 1,146 deceased persons is noted for 18.58 per cent of them and ranges across a wide spectrum of 58 different occupations and economic interests that included 25 servants; 18 laborers; 17 merchants; 12 shopkeepers; 6 sea captains; 6 bakers; 6 cordwainers; 5 rope-makers; 3 each of attorneys, coopers, physicians, tailors; 2 distillers, blacksmiths, chaise-makers; and 1 Doctor of Physic, gun-smith, tallow chandler, peruke-maker, notary public, wine cooper, shoe maker, stay-maker and others.
In addition to yielding details regarding the occupations and military affiliations of persons noted in the Register the names are listed of fifteen residents of the Alms House and Workhouse located across the street from the Chapel at Park and Tremont Streets. It is not known if any of the persons were occasional or regular worshippers at the Chapel or were served or attended by the ministers in the course of their lives, or summoned them to serve only at their final hours and burials.
The smallpox epidemics that occurred in Boston during 1721 and 1752 may have contributed in part to the increase in the number of burials recorded in the Register but the numbers during the 1730 event are unknown as the record was incomplete for the decade between 1729 and 1739. But a question is raised regarding the substantial increase in the number of burials of men, women and children in 1775 of the public health circumstances in Boston and suggests that perhaps the smallpox epidemic that took place in the town between 1776 and 1783 may have begun a year earlier.
NUMBER OF BURIALS
AT KINGS CHAPEL BY DECADE96
Throughout the colonial period the presence of the English Church in Boston, Newport and the seaports and country towns of New England represented a visible local public symbol of the extension of England’s imperial civil and economic authority power. But the tide turned gradually, particularly after the French and Indian War, the chain of acts of parliament and the increased British military presence in Boston. Kings Chapel, the leading Anglican congregation in Boston, became the church that British soldiers, sailors and officials turned to for the performance of marriages and the baptisms of their children and the burials of comrades fallen in battle or to disease. The first occasion for the ministers to provide for the burials of British army officers and soldiers occurred in 1758, 1759 and 1760, all perhaps casualties of the Seven Years War, particularly the battle of Quebec. The need was dramatically renewed again following the battles of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill in 1775.97
During the years between 1770 and 1776 the number of baptisms, marriages and burials at the three Church of England congregations for British military personnel between 1760 to 1769, represented of the total number of ceremonies 27.4 per cent of baptisms; 25.6 per cent of marriages; and 12.2 per cent of burials. But a substantial change occurred in the number of baptisms, marriages and burials for British military personnel at Kings Chapel during 1774 and 1775. In 1774, of the 112 baptisms performed 36 were for children of the royal forces, while the next year the figure stood at 40 and included 6 such offspring. Among the 21 marriages performed by the ministers in 1774 none were for royal officials but the next the number increased to 38 of which 6 were for English military personnel.
Only seven marriages were performed for British military people, five in 1775 and two in 1776, to women who were probably all Bay colony natives.98 During 1775 Kings Chapel’s ministers performed forty-two baptisms, thirty-seven marriages and eighty-seven burials, all numbers comparable to the figures of recent years. But the situation changed dramatically during the first two months of the next year when only two baptisms were performed; four marriages and five burials before the final entries were recorded in the church’s Registers on February 18th. A similar pattern took place on a reduced scale at Trinity Church between 1768 and 1776 where eleven baptisms, eleven marriages and two burials took place.99
In Boston it was risky for a person to irritate the mob that objected to episcopacy and the king.100 At Kings Chapel the gilt mitres and crown which used to surmount the organ, typifying the relation of the Chapel to the Bishop of London and the King of England were quietly removed. The seventy-six-year-old minister, Henry Caner, expressed his political opinions not in printed word or pulpit pronouncements but by fleeing his post and boarding a British vessel on 17 March 1776, Evacuation Day, with Governor and General William Howe and other British officials and loyalists bound for exile in Halifax, Nova Scotia and England.101
Caner’s action was not an isolated occurrence but was followed too by several officers of the congregation and proprietors of pews. A few members of the congregation sought exile immediately with the British forces, officials and others while some individuals remained until efforts were undertaken by public officials to seize and confiscate their property or they were banished from the province. Included among the group were the two Church Wardens in 1776, both long-time prominent leaders of the congregation, Sylvester Gardiner and Charles Paxton later a member of the American Board of Customs,102 were joined by Francis Brinley,103 Gilbert104 and Lewis Deblois,105 Francis Johonnot,106 John and William Vassall,107 Robert Auchmuty, Isaac Royall, John Moody the Clerk of the church, Dr. John Jefferies and John Haskins.108 Twelve of the thirteen men were local royal officials serving under oath to the King and Parliament, prominent merchants or property holders and former wardens or vestrymen of Kings Chapel who, upon taking office, were required to take an oath of loyalty to the reigning monarch.
Accompanied by his adopted daughter, Sarah Foster Gore and an ‘old housekeeper’, Caner carried with him into exile property of the congregation of Kings Chapel that included ecclesiastical vestments, silver and record books.109 His sentiments, expectations and reservations at the time are unknown but probably reflected his fear that the course of the war would possibly lead to the destruction of the objects and records of the Chapel by the mob and his effort was simply to preserve the objects and material. But we do not know the state of his mind or his political opinions that led him to promptly seek exile in the company of British officials and military personnel. Perhaps he thought that finally the British forces would overwhelm and defeat the rebellious American troops and that pre-war political circumstances would be reinstated. The nation of his nativity and the state and church for which he subscribed loyalty at his ordination oath to the crown and parliament may have weighed heavily and influenced his decision and action. After briefly embarking at Halifax and leaving in the care of the local Anglican minister, Dr. Breynton, ‘two boxes of Church plate, and a Silver Christening Bason’ for safe-keeping until Caner’s further order, he sailed for London and eventually settled at Long Ashford in Somersetshire. He carried with him too his personal Letter-book of correspondence of two volumes that he maintained with individuals in early America and England during the course of his long ministry and that is now deposited in the Library of Bristol University. He remained in England until his death in December 1792 at age ninety-two years and was buried in the church yard of his father’s ancestry at Long Ashton two long generations after his birth in the village.
Circumstances drastically changed for the church in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence and the termination of the bishop of London’s jurisdiction over the congregation and ministers of Kings Chapel and the New England and American Church. American candidates for ministry could no longer be ordained and supervised by a Church of England prelate and the role of the London Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was limited to continuing to fulfil its obligations to pay the annual salaries of the missionaries on its rolls. The New England legislatures closed the Anglican churches during all or a part of the war years. A period and afterwards that took a toll on the New England ministers, nearly all of whom were native-born graduates of Harvard and Yale. Throughout the colonial period the presence of the English Church in Boston, Newport and the seaports and country towns of New England represented a visible local public symbol of England’s imperial power and political and religious past and present. Three-quarters-of-a-century later it was again the policies of the English government and acts of parliament that began to cast shadows over the presence and future of the church in New England.
In Boston two of the three Church of England congregations were closed for various periods during the War for Independence, Christ Church and Kings Chapel. Turmoil gripped the members of Christ Church after the minister, Timothy Cutler, suffered a paralytic stroke in 1756 and died nine years later. Trinity Church remained open during the entire course of the war, served by Samuel Parker, who considered exile but was persuaded by the wise and charitable counsel of the minister of the New North Church, Andrew Eliot, to continue and serve all of the Anglican Church members residing in the community.110 The provincial legislature in 1778 ordered the English churches to close but perhaps based on Parker’s modest political opinions it remained open during the period. In contrast the political sentiments of a larger but unknown number of members of Kings Chapel that included shopkeepers, tradesmen, craftsmen, and laborers, whether they ranged across the spectrum of active loyalists to active patriots, are unknown. The value of their property, if any, was beyond the concern of reigning public officials and their political and economic influence was considered modest.
During the ninety years before the outbreak of the War for Independence the history of Kings Chapel was encouraged, shaped and accomplished in Boston under royal government, a royal governor and four Church of England ministers. At the close of the conflict the Chapel was not served again by an episcopally ordained clergyman but followed a different and new path shaped in part by a remnant of the colonial congregation, novel and independent religious ideas and leadership to serve Boston, Massachusetts, New England and the new American Republic.
In March 1776 Henry Caner had served with diligence and distinction Boston’s Kings Chapel congregation for thirty years. During the previous decade the association had been overshadowed by increasingly outspoken popular political objections and tensions related to British imperial provincial policies and administration. During the early months of 1776 the circumstances of the congregation drastically changed in the wake of cascading political and military events. Few baptisms, marriages or burials were performed and the vestry ceased to meet. Writing to Richard Hind the Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London on 10 May 1776 from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Caner noted that after January 10th ‘I continued to officiate to the small remains of my parishioners tho’ without a support till the 10th of March, when I suddenly & unexpectedly received Notice that the King’s troops would immediately evacuate the Town. It is not easy to report the distress & confusion of the Inhabitants on this occasion.’111
Details of Caner’s flight from Boston in the company of the last royal governor to serve in Massachusetts, soldiers and other refugees are gleaned from the pages of his Letter-Book in which he recorded his correspondence with persons over half-a-century. His words, thoughts and expressions of feelings of hope and disappointment were written far from his appointments in Fairfield, Connecticut and Boston, Massachusetts, in the distant towns of Halifax, Nova Scotia, London, England and Cardiff, South Wales between 1776 and 1778. Caner was not a political activist discussing or responding in favor or opposition to local or imperial issues but he was a witness to a chain of public events, political oratory and polemical publications that led to his dislocation and exile. Perhaps he desperately hoped that the revolutionary situation and war would be brief and the old order would be restored, modified and recovered. If so it would explain his possession and preservation of the Chapel’s most valuable inventory of Church plate, a part of the Records of the Vestry, which had usually met at his house,112 and the Registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, the primary records of the congregation’s ninety year history. His unrelieved words in letters to friends, fellow clergymen, the bishop of London and archbishop of Canterbury, are filled with the sense of heartache and heart break. The words of his messages to the two prelates recite the repetitive aftershock of agony, loss, and the bleak prospects for a clerical appointment to fill his time and support his life. Caner’s fervent hope and unquenched desire was to return to Boston and New England soon, his homeland for more than seventy of his seventy-eight years, as quickly as possible.
Writing to Bishop of London Richard Terrick from Halifax on 24 April 1776, Caner declared that the British troops evacuated Boston on 17 March and that he had but six hours warning of the event. He noted that ‘I had not time to bring off any of my effects except Bedding and Cloath[e]s & a little provision. Before we left the Harbour I had noticed that my Library worth above [£] 200 Ster. was plundered & my Household Goods worth at least 500 more thrown into the streets & either carry’d off or demolish’d. My house113 which not long since cost me 1200 has, I am told, been much broken & defaced, & the rest of my Interest consisting of Notes & Bonds is all in the Hands of the Rebels. In this destitute Condition I was crowded with my Daughter114 & an old Hous[e]keeper on board a Vessel with forty people, & after a tedious passage of above 3 Weeks, landed at Hallifax, my Health & Strength almost exhausted. I have neither any Employment, nor any thing to support me, & with the assistance of some friends & a very little Money I brot from my House am preparing for a passage to England, which I hope in a few days to enter upon. What reception or provision I shall meet with in Eng. I know not. At worst I can but perish there, which must be the case if I stay here’.115
In a letter to the Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in London, Richard Hind, on 10 May 1776, from Halifax, he recorded that after January 10th ‘I continued to officiate to the small remains of my parishioners tho’ without a support till the 10th of March, when I suddenly & unexpectedly received Notice that the King’s troops would immediately evacuate the Town. It is not easy to report the distress & confusion of the Inhabitants on this occasion’.116
After his arrival in London Caner wrote to John Breynton, the Anglican minister at Halifax, on 1 July 1776, noting that since his arrival he had ‘not received any assistance in England except a share of the Donations for the Suffering Clergy,117 nor have I even a promise of any stated provision. When I offer my service, to enter upon any duty here, the answer is: We can’t think of your residing here. We want such men as you in America. [I say,] Favor me then with some temporary provision till a return is practicable. [Their answer:] We hope the force is gone from hence will soon bring that about. (Such is my present State, which I leave to your own reflection.)…. Lord George….. said, ‘That no further pension should be granted to any one American Claim, nor any Notice taken of them till the Dispute is settled in America’.118
By 17 July 1776, Caner was residing at No. 30 Suffolk Street, near the Hay Market, Westminster, in London.119 Writing again to Breynton on 24 July 1776, he remarked that when he arrived in England, the ‘Custom House Officers at Gravesend seiz’d & examined all our private letters I am suspicious they did not return them all again’.120 While in a letter on 13 Aug. 1776, he informed a parishioner and wife of a vestryman, Lady (Agnes) Frankland, that ‘I have received £100 of the Bounty collected for the Suffering Clergy of America, but that will soon be expended …. You know that I have lived well [but] that is now passed’.121 A few months later, on 27 March 1777, he wrote her again and disclosed that he had recovered from smallpox.122
In light of the escalating popular political objections in Boston during at least the fifteen years before events at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill, it is remarkable that the escalating church and civil circumstances that officials in London had not discussed and prepared to implement a plan for the care, removal and safety for government officers and Church of England ministers in the region. Both the archbishop of Canterbury and bishop of London were members of the king’s Privy Council and presumably familiar by attendance or minutes of the meetings of the nation’s distant overseas jurisdictions and circumstances.
By 28 June 1777, Caner informed Dr. Sylvester Gardiner, a longtime friend, warden and vestryman, that he moved to No. 3 Delahay St., Westminster [only a short distance from S.P.G. headquarters at 19 Delahay Street].123 While on 5 Aug. 1777, more than a year after his arrival in England and London, Caner wrote to Mrs. Elizabeth Wentworth, a refuge at Halifax, that he ‘does not expect to see America again. The people of Boston seem more enraged against the friends of Government than ever, & as we are inform’d carry their Resentment even to Barbarity’.124 Six months later, on 10 January 1778, Caner again wrote to Gardiner thanking him for his letters and noting that ‘I think my situation preferable to any Prison or Dungeon in America, I pray God support those worthy Clergymen & others in N. Eng. who with the Spirit of the Confessors, or rather of Martyrs, have witnessed a good Confession & who, besides the loss of every other enjoyment have sacrificed their Liberty, & some of them their lives in support of a good cause & a good Conscience. I have not the Authority of an Episcopal Blessing to bestow, but such as I have I freely give, & pray God san[c]tify it to their comfort, & growth in grace’.125 On the same day he penned a note to Mrs. Wentworth, stating that ‘I am hackney’d about sometime to preach at the Abby [Westminster], at St. Paul’s [Cathedral], the Temple [at the Inns of Court] & other Churches in the City, but no state provision made’ [for a full or part-time church appointment].126
A year and a half after arriving in London Caner sent another letter to the Rev. Breynton on 10 January 1778 at Halifax, noting that ‘you will probably quit Halifax & return to England; & in that Case I hope you will bring with you the two Boxes of Church plate, & the Bason I should be glad I left with you. Indeed, if you should not come home I should be glad [if] you would ship the Plate for me by some Man of War, as it may be some Years before the Church at Boston [Kings Chapel] will be again open’d, if ever it be so, & I would therefore deposit it in the hands of one of my Church Wardens, now here, who is a much younger Man than my self, & therefore, more fit for the trust’.127 Six weeks later he wrote to Breynton again on 26 February 1778, declaring that ‘Whether I shall return to America is yet uncertain, & will depend upon the Compromise that may take place between G. Britain & Amer[ica]. My Situation here has recd no improvement, nor is it lik[e]ly to do so.’… I beg the favor of you to ship the two Boxes of plate, & the Bason I left with you by some Ship of War or other safe Conveyance for me directed to the Care of Wats & Rashley’.128 It was a plea that Caner renewed again on 22 April of that year.129
During the spring of 1778 Caner shared an exchange of letters with William Apthorp, the youngest son of Charles Apthorp, the able chairman of the committee for the rebuilding of the Chapel during the late 1740s and 1750s, about his dim continuing financial circumstances. Residing in Cardiff, South Wales with business interests in London, Apthorp replied to Caner and noted that living expenses were considerably less in that community and informed Caner of a house that was available for occupancy.130 Caner replied to Apthorp on 5 May 1778, and thanked him for the information in his letter of 1 May. ‘I think I shall be well pleased with the house you describe, but wish the owner was not in so much hurry…. I am loath to loose the Opportunity of securing the house you mention, so must desire you to engage it before the 10 days are expired, if you find you can delay it no longer, & provided you hear nothing from me to the contrary within the time. I believe I shall want your direction how & where to lodge my furniture at Bristol, till I may have opportunity of a Boat to Cardiff, which may be some days first’.131 During May and June 1778 the seventy-eight-year old planned and executed his removal from metropolitan London to Cardiff with the ever supportive assistance of Apthorp.132
Yet the aged and long-experienced Boston and New England Church of England minister noted and entreated the Rt. Hon. Lord Dartrey from Cardiff, on 21 July 1778 that ‘I have no employment here, & should readily return to London or any part of England, if any living or other emolument should offer in the exercise of which I might obtain a clerical support by my own labour. I hear of no likelihood of a composition with the Americans, so have no prospect of returning thither or of recovering any part of my interest in that Country’.133
The final entry in Caner’s Letter-book occurred on 12 Oct 1778, noting his correspondence with Lord Dartrey, Thomas Dawson, a former member of parliament (1749-68) and substantial landowner in Monaghan County, Ireland. He thanked Dartrey for his generous benevolence, it is unclear if it was personal or a contribution from a church or government agency but Caner compared the kindness with the indifference of those who should have been helpful and were not.134 Under the terms of legislation enacted by the Massachusetts General Court in the same year that proscribed, banished and confiscated property of Loyalists, Caner’s land and house adjacent to Kings Chapel on Common (Tremont) Street was confiscated and sold to Samuel Henley, a wealthy merchant and Charlestown distiller.135
The end of the Revolutionary War’s military operations in the autumn and the approval of the terms of the Treaty of Peace between Great Britain and the United States in 1783 brought to a formal end the war but not the circumstances of the loyalist refugees who had fled Boston and New England to England. In July 1783 the British Parliament established the Royal Commission on the Losses and Services of American Loyalists that received and heard claims of sworn testimony from petitioners seeking to recover at least a portion of their damages. Henry Caner presented a request and his Memorial was heard and considered by the Commission on 8 October 1784.136 He recounted in his statement his flight from Boston and the value of his losses that included the cost of the land on which he built his house and the expense for the construction of his house at £50 and £1000 sterling respectively; £53.16.0 pence for liquors in his house; kitchen furniture; a Chaise & Harness; a library of books and other personal property that he valued at £805. Caner noted that the value of his living as minister of Kings Chapel was £200 per year. His claim and testimony was supported by two former longtime wardens of Kings chapel, Dr. Sylvester Gardiner and Charles Paxton.137 The eighty-four year old claimant was awarded by the Commission compensation of £900 sterling.
Little is known of Caner’s residence and final years save that the records of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel indicate that he died in London on an unknown date, at an unknown address in 1792. His remains were buried on an unknown date in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of the ancestral village of his birth, Long Ashton in Somerset County, England.
The account of the ninety-year-long colonial experience of Kings Chapel is based on two extensive and significant primary manuscript sources: the at least four journals that interchangeably chronologically recorded the accounts of the meetings of the Wardens and Vestrymen (1686-1776) and the records of the Committee for Rebuilding the Chapel (1747-53).
These materials are of historical interest on two counts. First, by offering a detailed account of the extension, founding, and subsequent account of the first congregation of the Church of England established in Boston and the New England region. Second, by extensively recounting the procedures and obstacles that were encountered within the congregation, the town and from prospective donors locally and in England in the sustained effort to rebuild the Chapel. The congregation’s appearance marks and represents a new era in the administration of the royal government of the Bay Colony from London and in the province and illuminates the evolving and changing religious and social character of Boston as the strongest example of Anglican imperialism in the thirteen American colonies. The Chapel’s collections, deposited under the watchful custodianship of the Massachusetts Historical Society, also include the separate registers that recorded during the passing decades the baptisms, marriages and burials that were performed by the ministers.
The records do not yield a profile of the social origins of the members of the Kings Chapel’s congregation over the decades of the colonial period. It would be interesting to know the number and proportion of the body that were English-born, or natives of Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Colony or one of the other New England provinces. The diversity of occupations noted in the Burial Registers suggests that the congregation represented a cross-section of the Boston population of the period. Yet it must be noted that throughout the colonial era the governance of the congregation was in the hands of the few and not of the many. Notably, after 1694 and the installation of pews in the Chapel, it became the sole prerogative of the proprietors of pews to elect the leadership of the congregation, the Church Wardens and Vestrymen, and the records recount their official meetings, correspondence and efforts to manage and maintain the Chapel’s property. The vestry members were the owners and managers of all church property and only pew owners were allowed to stand as a candidate and vote for the election of church officers. Interestingly, it was not noted in the records that the persons elected as Wardens of the congregation were not required to be communicants of the body until 1747, a requirement not stated but perhaps expected by persons elected as vestrymen. The records are few of the ownership of pews between 1694 and 1728 but become more extensive after that date and more so after 1754 and the opening of the rebuilt Chapel. Usually all transactions of sales and purchases of pews are reported in detail in the regular meetings of the vestry. The annual sums levied and required to be paid by pew-owners was the primary source of income to maintain the Chapel’s property and the ministers. The extensive accounts of the meetings of the vestry of Kings Chapel reflect the constant attention of officials after the late 1720s to meet financial obligations and the maintenance of church property and pursue pew holders who were delinquent to meet their annual financial obligations. Absent from the minutes of meetings and recorded correspondence with individuals is any note of conflict and controversy between parties of the vestry, congregations or the public. In addition to the records describing the governance and management of the Chapel further knowledge regarding its experience are supplemented by the registers of persons baptised, married and buried under the supervision and services of successive ministers.
The experience of Kings Chapel during the colonial years reflects and represents too an enduring theme and aspect of the American experience throughout its history. The search by individuals and institutions for popular acceptance of their identity, a search for Kings Chapel largely within the limits of the town of Boston but that resonated among countless persons in New England, the other colonies and in the new nation after the War for Independence. A search for identity that was marked and underscored by the exile of the last colonial minister and a band of members who were identified as loyalists to the English crown, a theme that has been revisited and recited at large by successive generations of new persons, groups and institutions in the new nation.