The Society for the Propagation of the
Gospel in Foreign Parts
In view of the
important relation, which this Society had to the growth and
maintenance of the Episcopal Church in this country during the
Colonial period and later, it will be profitable to give an
account of the origin of the Society and its early work.
In the book entitled
"The History of the Eastern Diocese" by C. R. Batchelder there
is a chapter devoted to the origin of this Society.
In this chapter the
author quotes from the papers of the Rev. Dean White Kennett,
one time Lord Bishop of Peterborough, relating to this Society,
published in London in 1706.
These papers state
that owing to the disturbance and uncertainty in the settlement
of the English in the New World, no progress was made in
converting the Indians; in fact religion was unpopular in our
It would appear,
therefore, that the evangelization of the Indians was an early
objective among the early settlers in New England.
In 1649 an ordinance
was passed for the promoting and propagating of the Gospel of
Jesus Christ in New England.
This was accomplished
by the formation of a corporation in perpetual succession known
as the "President and Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
in New England."
The purpose of this
Corporation was (1) to preach the Gospel among the natives and
(2) to establish and maintain schools for the children of the
natives. This Society was under the auspices of the Church of
England and supported by it.
For this purpose a
collection was appointed to be made through all the cities and
towns and parishes of England and Wales as the means of
accumulating a fund for this purpose.
In 1661 King Charles
II further provided that this Society should not only seek to
evangelize the natives in New England, and adjacent parts, but
should lay a foundation for "educating, clothing, civilizing and
instructing the Poor Natives, and also for the support and
maintenance of such Ministers of the Gospel, Schoolmasters, and
other instruments as have been, are or shall be set apart and
employed for the carrying on of so pious and Christian a work."
Unhappily New England
and its adjoining parts was first inhabited by persons who had
become disaffected toward the Established Church of England, in
fact the reason of their presence in these parts was that they
had taken refuge here to escape suffering for non-conformity at
At first then the
people in New England so far as their religion was concerned
were divided into independent congregations.
The Church of England
had no representation at all in Boston till about 1679 when
after having heard the appeal from several of the citizens of
Boston, the Lord Bishop of London prevailed upon His Majesty
"That a Church should be allowed in that Town for the exercise
of Religion according to the Church of England."
An Order of King and
Council was made to "commit to the Bishop of London the Care and
Pastoral Charge of sending over Ministers into our Foreign
Plantations, and having jurisdiction of them"
resulted from this order as the Bishop of London, having made an
investigation as to how the several colonies were provided,
found that there were only four Ministers of the Church of
England in America. This was in 1675.
The author further
says: "At that time there was no Church of England Minister
either in Pennsylvania, the Jerseys, New York or New England,
only the Chaplain to the fort at New York officiated in those
parts till a church was opened at Boston; and soon after the
People of Rhode Island built a Church to the same Purpose and
Colonel Fletcher when Governor of New York procured the Assembly
to set out six churches, with allowances from forty to Fifty
Pounds a year, for the maintenance of Ministers."
Some of the early
transactions of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in
Foreign Parts under the revised Charter are thus described in
Bishop Kennett’s Tract:
"Mr. Patrick Gourdon
was sent a missionary to New York with a competent allowance of
Fifty Pounds per Annum, or more if the Society should think fit.
"Mr. John Bartow, to
Westchester in the same Province, with Fifty Pounds per annum,
and a Benevolence of Thirty Pound.
‘‘Mr. Samuel Thomas
to South Carolina, with the yearly support of Fifty Pound, with
Ten Pound to be laid out in Stuffs, for the Use of the wild
Indians in those parts of South Carolina where the said Mr.
Thomas was to reside, and Twenty Pounds for his further
"Mr. John Talbot,
Rector of St. Mary’s in Burlington in New Jersey, was allowed to
be an Itinerant Companion and Assistant to the Rev. Mr. George
Keith, in his missions and Travels with an Allowance of Sixty
Pound per annum.
"Mr. John Brook was
appointed to serve at Shrewsbury, Amboy, Elizabeth-Town and
Freehold in East-Jersey, and was supported by an Annual Pension
of Fifty Pound.
"Mr. William Barclay,
the Church of England Minister at Braintree in New England, had
an Annual Encouragement of Fifty Pound, and a Gratuity of
twenty-five Pounds for present occasions.
"Mr. Henry Nichols
was settled as Minister in Uplands in Pennsylvania with an
Allowance of Fifty Pound per Annum from the Society.
"Mr. Thomas Crawford
at Dover-Hundred in the same Province had a like Annual
allowance of Fifty pound and Mr. Andrew Rudman had a Reward
given to him for the supply of Oxford, or Frankfort in the same
Of the fruits of
their labors as missionaries there is no record but in general
it may be said the foreign missionary work of the Church of
England under the direction and support of these early charters
was not as fruitful as might have been desired.
By means of the
Society, however, the Bible had been printed in the Indian
language, and many in the American Colonies were aided in the
work of evangelization.
However, after a
period of about fifty years of pioneer missionary work done
under many privations and in the face of much prejudice, it was
decided for the spiritual welfare of the Colonists, as well as
the natives, that a missionary society of larger scope was
On March 13, 1700 a Committee of the Lower House of Parliament
was appointed to prepare the papers for the enlargement of the
Charter of the Old Society.
The charter of the
Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts was
signed and sealed on June 15, 1701.
The following are
some of the important provisions of the Charter:
1. Whereas We are
credibly Informed that in many of Our Plantations, Colonies and
Factories beyond the Seas, belonging to our Kingdom of England,
the Provision for Ministers is very mean, and many others of our
said Plantations, Colonies and Factories, are wholly Destitute
and Un-provided of a Maintenance for Ministers and the Public
Worship of God, and for lack of Support and Maintenance for
such, many of our Loving Subjects do want the Administration of
God’s Word and Sacraments, and seem to be abandoned to Atheism
and Infidelity; and also for want of Learned and Orthodox
Ministers to instruct our said Loving Subjects in the Principles
of True Religion, divers Romish Priests and Jesuits are the more
encouraged to pervert and draw over Our said Loving Subjects to
Popish Superstition and Idolatry.
2. And whereas we
think it our Duty, as much as in us lies, to promote the Glory
of God, by the Instruction of our People in the Christian
Religion; and that it will be highly conducive for accomplishing
those Ends, that a Sufficient Maintenance be provided for an
Orthodox Clergy to live amongst them, and that such other
Provision be made as may be necessary for the Propagation of the
Gospel in Foreign Parts."
Then follows the
declaration of the appointment of the membership of the
Corporation to be known as the "Society for the Propagation of
the Gospel in Foreign Parts."
The charter further
provides that these members and their successors shall provide
for the better Support and Maintenance of an Orthodox Clergy in
Foreign Parts by the granting of Lands, Tenements, etc., for a
term of years.
The Society is
empowered to take Subscriptions and to collect such Monies as
shall be contributed for the purposes aforesaid.
At the time of the
formation of this Society, according to the report of Governor
Dudley there were in the Province of Maine, about 3,000 people
and no congregation of the Church of England.
there were about 70,000 people supplied with Congregationalist
Ministers and Schools.
There was one
Episcopal Church in Boston, and the Rev. Samuel Myles was the
rector. Six hundred persons attended divine service and 120 the
Holy Communion. In New Hampshire there was a population of about
3,000, generally supplied with Congregationalist ministers.
In what now constitutes Rhode Island there were about 10,000
people, and there was an Episcopal Church at Newport.
The Rev. Mr. Lockyer
was the minister.
About 150 people
attended the services and 30 the Communion.
There were, however,
in various towns many people attached to the Church of England
who would gladly have received its ministrations.
In 1702 the Society appointed the Rev. George Keith and the Rev.
Patrick Gordon to travel through the Colonies as their
emissaries in proclaiming the Orthodox faith.
The mission of these
representatives from England was fraught with difficulties that
seemed almost insurmountable, owing to the prejudice against the
Church of England by Quakers and Separatists who were largely
represented in the communities and large centers in New England.
The attitude of the Clergy from the Propagation Society was
hardly one of appeasement, as they met Opposition to their
preaching of Anglican doctrines with unfaltering and
uncompromising loyalty to the faith, which they had been sent
forth to propagate.
However misguided these clergymen of those pre-Revolutionary
days were, they at any rate took a stand, which ultimately
commanded the respect of those who sincerely desired the
advancement of the best interests of the people.
The Society for the
Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts during the Colonial
period was the beneficiary of many grants of land in New York
and New England, and the income from these lands later was
transferred to the Church in the diocese where they were
The Society also
furnished the salaries for many of those early clergymen who
were willing to face hardships and persecution to help plant the
Gospel of Christ as taught by the Church of England in this new
land of liberty.
In the period of
fifty or more years preceding the Revolution, the Society for
the Propagation of the Gospel paid the salaries of the
missionaries who were sent from England and who first
established and maintained congregations in various parts of New
Due to the dominance
of Puritan and Separatist sentiment in New England communities,
and also to the unfriendly attitude of the Colonists toward
England at this time these Church of England clergymen, very
many of them sympathetic to the Crown, were looked upon as
ecclesiastical intruders and their progress in establishing the
Anglican faith was attended with hardships and persecutions.
Note - See chapter on: "The History of the Glebe Lands."
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