Part One

Description of the Records and Textual Introduction

The account of the ninety-year-long colonial experience of Kings Chapel is based on two extensive and significant primary manuscript sources: the minutes of its wardens and vestry and its parish registers. Volume One, as published here, the minutes of the vestry, is an amalgam of several, chronologically-overlapping, bound notebooks (specifically Boxes I.1, folders 1, 3-6, 13-15 of the Kings Chapel Records on deposit with the Massachusetts Historical Society). These materials are of historical interest on two counts. First, they offer a detailed account of the extension, founding, and subsequent growth of the first congregation of the Church of England established in Boston and the New England region. Second, they recount the procedures and obstacles that were encountered both within the congregation and from the town in the sustained effort to rebuild the Chapel, as well as the challenges faced securing prospective donors both locally and in England. 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 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 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.

As noted earlier, the edited document is a compilation of several chronologically-overlapping sets of records. Any repetition has been silently eliminated, as well as receipts for expenditures that are occasionally written in the back of the vestry minute books. The transcription does not attempt to reproduce that actual appearance of the original manuscripts; although line lengths generally approximate the original, page breaks and catch words have been eliminated. Original spelling and capitalization have been preserved, as well as abbreviations, except in those instances where they would be puzzling to the modern reader. Superscripts are retained, but insertions have been brought down to the line.