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The Appointment and Instruction of S. P. G. Missionaries

  • Alfred W. Newcombe (a1)


From the opening of the eighteenth century to the close of the Revolution the cause and interests of the Church of England were promoted in the American colonies mainly by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. During this period that organization, commonly known as the S. P. G., employed in the colonies a total of three hundred different missionaries. These men were settled throughout the thirteen colonies, but because of the privileged position occupied by the church in Virginia and Maryland, the distribution was by no means equalized.



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1 This material is largely drawn from a chapter of the writer's unpublished doctoral dissertation in the Library of the University of Michigan.

2 A total of 309 were appointed, but due to seven deaths from smallpox and drowning, to the cancellation of one appointment obtained by forged credentials, and to early misconduct in the case of another, 9 of that number never really served the Society. Of the remaining 300, 52 worked in South Carolina; 33 in North Carolina; 12 in Georgia; 2 in Virginia; 5 in Maryland; 45 in Pennsylvania and Delaware; 43 in New Jersey; 58 in New York; and 81 in New England. This accounts for a total of 331 of whom 31 served in more than one colony and have been counted more than once. Pascoe, C. F., Two Hundred Years of the S. P. G., London, 1901, II, pp. 849856, Presents a missionary roll for the colonies and a summarized table on p. 847.

3 The missionary roll as cited above is limited to the original thirteen colonies. The Society Journal, however, affords evidence of a contribution made to the development of the church in East and West Florida. The Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, through its Secretary, John Pownall, Requested the aid of the S. P. G. That Society recommended the Reverend Samuel Hart for Mobile, the Reverend William Dawson for Pensacola, and a Mr. Bovier, who spoke both French and English, as a teacher for Mobile. It agreed also to send books to the clergy in both East and West Florida, and strongly urged the Commissioners to provide churches and home for the Clergy and if proper, to advance some portion of the salary toward the expenses of the voyage. See the Journal for March 16, April 13, and May 18, 1764; also for July 19, 1765. During the same years, 1701–1784, the Society maintained 65 missionaries in other parts of the British possessions. Of this number 10 were stationed in Newfoundland and Labrador; 19 in Nova Scotia; 2 in New Brunswick; 2 in Quebec; 13 in Barbados; 10 in the Bahamas; 2 in Jamaica; 4 on the Moskito Shore; 2 in West Africa; and 1 in Europe. Pascoe, , Two Hundred Years, II, pp. 856 et seq.

4 For example, William Black and Edward Vaughn. Jour., July 19, 1706; Oct. 15, 1708. See also Georgia Colonial Records, I p. 327.

5 Jour., May 15, 1702; November. 14, 1704; February. 13, 1718–19.

6 Ibid., January. 15, 1702–1703.

7 For example, the church wardens and vestry of Newport, Rhode Island. Jour., January. 18, 1722–1723. See also Jour., january. 17, 1734–1735; S. P. G. I etters B XI, 37 (S. Johson, Stratford, Conn. to Secy. of S. P. G., october. 2, 1743); Foote, H. W., Annals of King's Chapel Boston, 1900, II p. 236.

8 Jour., July 20, 1744; Foote, , Annals, I, p. 255.

9 Jour., Mar. 16. 1759; Mar. 19, 1762; S. P. G. Letters. B IX, 28 (S. Seabury, New London, Conn. to Secy., Oct. 6, 1741); B. I, Pt. II, 212 (S. Johnzn, Stratford, Conn. to Secy., Apr. 28, 1727).

10 Jour., January. 16, 1740–1741; February. 17, 1748–1749.

11 Ibid., December. 21, 1753.

12 Jour., January 16, 1735–1736. “Wesley was a missionary, but not an appointee of the Venerable Society,” Says ProfessorOsgood, H. L., The American Colonies in the Eighteenth Century, New York, 1924, III, pp. 109110. But according to the Journal, Jan. 16, 1735–1736, Wesey was recommended to the S. P. G. by the Georgia Trustees to take the place of Samuel Quincy in Savannah when Quincy should leave. The Society agreed to the proposal. Quincy ended his work in 1736. Wesley served there from 1736 to 1737. A letter from Wesley to the Society dated Savannah, July 26, 1737, is reported by the Journal, July 21, 1738. In it he says his first idea was to receive no salary but food and clothing in kind only; he accepted the Society bounty for the good of his flock, which he did not need for personal subsistence.

13 Jour., April. 17, 1702; March. 2, 1704–1705; Journal of the Standing Committee, Apr. 7, 1702.

14 If married, missionaries were required to take their wives with them unless for reasons acceptable to the Society. Jour., November. 18, 1709.

15 Jour., March. 2. 1704–1705; Collection of Soeiety Papers, 1706, pp. 2021. This report can be most conveniently found in Pascoe, , Two Hundred Years, II, p. 837.

16 The Society later adopted a proposal of the clergy of New York and New Jersey to the effect that except in extraordinary cases no American and dates should thereafter be considered beyond those whom they had already accepted and to whom permission had been given to sail to England for orders. An exception was to be made if they were, or had been, students in some college and could produce a certificate of good behavior from the president of that institution. Jour. September. 15, 1769.

17 Jour., July 19, 1706.

18 Ibid., September. 17, 1703.

19 Ibid., February. 21, 1717–1718.

20 Jour., August. 18, 1704. In some cases the bishop of London supplied the text and appointed some members to hear the sermon. On one occasion an individual member was asked to supply the text and hear the sermon. In most cases no information is available as to how the text was supplied nor as to how the hearers were chosen. Out of fifty-three texts which the writer noted, curious enough to warrant mention is the fact that forty-one were taken from the Gospel of Matthew; thirty-seven from the fifth chapter of that Gospel; eight from the third verse, and nine from the ninth verse of that chapter.

21 Jour., September. 15, 1710.

22 Ibid., July 19, 1706.

23 Sept. 28, 1763, quoted in Beardsley, E. Edwards, Life and Correspondence of Samuel Johnson, New York, 1874, pp. 277–8. In 1744 the Society informed the missionaries of its decision not to appoint any new missionaries, no matter how recommended, without permission previously obtained from the Society. S. P. G. Letters B XIII, 20, dated Sept. 27, 1744.

24 Jour., September. 19, 1760.

25 Ibid., October. 17, 1760.

26 Ibid., November. 21, 1760.

27 Dix, Morgan, History of the Parish of Trinity Church in the City of New York, New York, 1898-1906, I, p. 104.

28 Ibid., I, p. 104.

29 The evidence for this conclusion is to be found mainly in Pascoe, , Two Hundred Years, II, pp. 849856.

30 Hawkins, Ernest, Historical Notices of the Missions of the Church of England in the North American Colonies, London, 1845, pp. 193, 199. This is confirmed by Samuel Johnson in a letter to the Society, Nov. 12 1766. Jour., Mar. 20, 1767. John Wiswall in a letter to the Society from Boston, Aug. 11, 1775, reported a voyage to England for ordination cost him eighty pounds sterling. S. P. G. Letters B XXIII, 269.

31 Beardsley, E. Edwards, The History of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut from the Settlement of the Colony to the Death of Bishop Seabury, New York, 1869, I, p. 155.

32 Ibid., I, p. 197.

33 Foote, , Annals of King's Chapel, I. p. 317. Aware of this heavy expense, the Society at one time considered meeting it in part or in full. Collection of Society Papers. 1706, p. 74. In accordance with this evidence of its consideration, Samuel Johnson in a letter to the Secretary from Stratford, Conn., dated Apr. 28 1727, asked the Society to meet the expenses of Henry Caner. S. P. G. Letters, B I, 212. But neither in this nor in other cases does the Society appear to have taken action.

34 Osgood, , American Colonies in the Eighteenth Century, II, p. 32.

35 Society appointees about to sail for America were requested to take a passage if possible upon a merchant ship. Jour., October. 17, 1707.

36 Andrews, C. M., Colonial Folkways, New Haven, 1920, p. 207.

37 Ibid., p. 207.

38 Thompson, Thomas, An Account of Two Missionary Voyages by the Appointment of the S. P. G., London, 1759, pp. 12.

39 S. P. G. Letters, B IV, 9. 10. (Thomas Newman, North Carolina, June 29, 1722).

40 Pascoe, , Two Hundred Years, II, p. 854.

41 Beardsley, , Life and Corresp. of S. Johnson, p. 301. With their death the number of those who had lost their lives in quest of orders was 10 out of 51 candidates. Ibid.

42 Pascoe, , Two Hundred Years, II, p. 854.

43 Tiffany, Charles C., A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U. S., New York, 1895, p. 132. This is probably somewhat exaggerated. See also Johnson, Samuel; his Career and Writings, ed. by H., and Schneider, C., New York, 1929, I, p. 163; Beardsley, , Life and Corresp. of S. Johnson, p. 233.

44 Beardsley, , Hist. of Ep. Ch. in Conn., I, p. 142. In the same work the author tells us that the church at Hebron, Conn. failed in three efforts to get a missionary as the candidates whom they sent to England died there or were lost at sea on the return. Ibid., I, p. 207.

45 Whitehead, Benjamin, Church Law, London, 1892, p. 184.

46 Burn, Richard, The Ecclesiastical Law, ed. by Phillimore, Robert, London, 1761, I, p. 44–5; Gibson, Edmund, Codex Juris Ecclesiastici Anglicani, Oxord, 1761, I, p. 145; Watson, William, The Clergyman's Law, London, 1747, p. 142.

47 Beardsley, , Life and Corresp. of S. Johnson, pp. 35–7; Bartlet, W. S., The Frontier Missionary: a Memoir of the Life of Rev. Jacob Bailey, Vol. II of Coll. of Prot. Ep. Hist. Soc., New York, 1853, pp. 62, 64. See Sykes, Norman, “Episcopal Administration in England in the 18th Century,” Eng. Hist. Rev., XLVII (07, 1932), pp. 418–23 for the presence in London of other bishops.

48 Whitehead, , Ch. Law, p. 120; Burn, , The Eccles. Law, III, p. 50; Gibson, , Cod. Jur. Eccles. Angli., p. 146; Watson, , The Clergyman's Law, pp. 142–3.

49 Bartlet, , Mem. of J. Bailey, pp. 61–2.

50 Bartlet, , Mem. of J. Bailey, p. 62; Hills, George M.. History of the Church in Burlington, New Jersey, Trenton, 1876, p. 314, gives the text of an oath taken by deacons.

51 Burn, , The Eccies. Law, III. p. 55.

52 Watson, , The Clergyman's Law, p. 143; Gibson, , Cod. Jur. Eccles. Angli., I, p. 151.

53 Sykes, , “Epis. Admin. in Eng. in 18th Cent.,Eng. Hist. Rev., XLVII, p. 435.

54 Seabury, W. J., Mem. of Bishop Seabury, New York, 1908, pp. 4, 6.

55 Beardsley, , Life and Corresp. of S. Johnson, pp. 35–7.

56 Ibid., pp. 217–8.

57 Watson, , The Clergyman's Law, p. 143; Gibson, , Cod. Jur. Eccles. Angli., I, p. 151.

58 Watson, , The Clergyman's Law, p. 143.

59 Ibid., pp. 143–5; Bartlet, , Mem. of J. Bailey, p. 64.

60 Ibid., pp. 64–5. See also Thompson, , An Acct. of Two Miss. Voyages, p. 2; Cross, A. L., The Anglican Episcopate and the American Colonies, New York, 1902, Appendix VII gives text of a typical license.

61 S. P. G. Letters, B VII, p. 75 (Church wardens of Scituate, Mass., to Secy., Dec. 1738); B I, Pt. II, 250 (Subscribers in Norwich, Conn., to Secy., Mar. 2, 1768.

62 Ibid., B I, Pt. II, 238 (Subscribers in Providence, B. I., to Bp. of London, Dee. 26, 1727); B XIII, p. 175 (Subscribers in Simabury, Conn., to Arehbp. of Canterbury, Apr. 28, 1744).

63 Ibid., B I, Pt. II, 250 (Subscribers in Norwich, Conn., to Secy., Mar. 2, 1768). They ask for the services of John Tyler.

64 Ibid., B IX, 2 (Roger Price, Boston, to Seey., Oct. 10, 3741); B VII, Pt. II, 32 (S. Johnson, Stratford, Conn., to Secy., Nov. 10, 1740); B I, Pt. II, 163 (Col. Dudley and Col. Nicholson, Boston, to Secy., Dec. 5, 1713).

65 Abstract of Soc. Proceedings (1770), p. 14; Ibid., (1771), p. 14.

66 Foote, , Annals. I, p. 255.

67 Jour., May 30, 1707.

68 Ibid., Oct. 17, 1707.

69 Jour., Oct. 7, 1715.

70 Ibid., Oct. 16, 1724.

71 It was later discovered that the Virginia establishment did not apply to the parish in question, Jour., Nov. 20, 1724. But Pascoe, , Two Hundred Years, II, p. 851, indicates that a minister there received Society aid, though his name was not recorded in the Journal.

72 Jour., Jan. 17, 1745–1746.

73 Ibid., Sept. 18, 1761.

74 Ibid., Feb. 17, 1764.

75 Ibid., June. 12, 1767.

76 Jour., Nov. 19, 1779.

77 Ibid., Sept. 21, 1781.

78 Ibid., Nov. 15, 1782.

79 Ibid., July 18, 1783.

80 For example, see Jour., June 19, 1702.

81 Jour., Feb. 14, 1706–1707. The average term appears to have been somewhat in excess of ten years. But the terms varied greatly. Of the three hundred missionaries, some served for a year or less, many for twenty-five years and over, while one. John Beach, served for fifty years, and even more surprising, John Usher served in Bristol, Rhode Island, for fifty--two years. Pascoe, , Two Hundred Years, II, pp. 852 and 854.

82 Jour., Feb. 21, 1706–1707.

83 Ibid., Mar. 2, 1704–1705.

84 Ibid., may 18, 1705.

85 These instructions may be found in the Coll, , of Society Papers, 1706, pp. 2432; in Anderson, J. S. W., The History of the Church of England in the Colonies, London, 1845-1856, III, pp. 154158; Pascoe, , Two Hundred Years, II, pp. 838840.

86 For a brief synopsis of this material consult Humphreys, David, An Historical Account of the Incorporated Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, London, 1730, ch. 4.

87 Anderson, , Hist. of the Col. Ch., III. p. 153.

88 A Standing Order of 1714 required them to acquaint the Secretary with the place of their London lodging and to keep in touch with him. Jour., Aug. 21, 1714.

89 A Standing Order of 1715 provided that in the future missionaries who did not sail in the Spring or Autumn season immediately following their appointment, should be dismissed. Jour., May 20, 1715.

90 Abstract of Society Proceedings, 1715, pp. 1217; Ibid., 1715, pp. 43–8.

91 Jour., Feb. 20, 1756; Abs. of Soc. Procs., 1756, pp. 43–8.

92 Jour., Mar. 11, 1756.

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