Chapter Thirteen

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 plantations.

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 home.

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"

However, little 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 Encouragement.

"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 county."


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 necessary.
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.

In Massachusetts 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 situated.

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 England.

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."



Next | Back | History