Chapter Three

How Two Bishops-Elect Failed to Become Bishops of Vermont


The annual diocesan Convention, which was held at Arlington, June 18, 1890, was the commemoration of the Centennial of the first Convention of the Episcopal Church in Vermont held at Arlington, September 20, 1790. This centennial was called "Our Jubilee."

The Rev. A. H. Bailey, DD., who gave the historical address on that occasion, makes the following mention of the first convention:

"On the morning of September 20, 1790, the leading churchmen met at the dwelling house of Nathan Canfield, Esq. (which stood on the west side of the highway leading to Manchester, about half a mile north of the village), and talked over the steps necessary to be taken to organize the convention, and agree upon them. They then adjourned to the church for divine service." (The church though not completed until 1803 was by this time ready for occupancy.)


The Rt. Rev. William Henry Augustus Bissell, DD., the Bishop of the Diocese, who presided at the centennial convention, in his address said: "The first convention was a gathering of two clergymen, the Rev. Daniel Barber, of Manchester, and the Rev. James Nichols, of Sandgate, and eighteen laymen. There was one delegate from parishes on the eastern side of the mountains.

"There is no evidence as to how or by what authority it had been called. It did not claim to be acting anything like a constitution or organic law. Its members had heard, no doubt, that clergymen and lay-men in other states were holding such meetings for a common action to the advantage of the Church in their localities, and believing that there was need of united action to care for the interests of the Church in Ver-mont they held the first convention."

The lay delegates to that first convention from this parish were: Caleb Dayton, Luther Stone, Zadok Hard and Nathan Canfield.

The principal business of this convention was the appointment of Messrs. Giddings, delegate from Manchester, and Todd, Arlington representative to the state Legislature, as a committee to endeavor to procure an Act of the Legislature for the purpose of securing to the Church the possession of its Glebe Lands.

The Glebe Land Grants was the subject of a long and tedious litigation for many years. This litigation resulted finally in the securing of half of the lands to the Church, the rest being lost by a technicality. (See "Documentary History of the Church in Vermont.")

On September 19, 1792, the second convention of the Church in Vermont was held in Manchester with two clergymen present, the Rev. James Nichols and the Rev. Daniel Barber and seventeen lay delegates from seven parishes. The Journal of the Diocese mentions only its organization.

There was manifest need of Episcopal supervision.

During the period from 1764 when lay services were conducted by Captain Jehiel Hawley for upwards of twenty years, augmented by occasional services by clergymen, notably the Rev. Gideon Bostwick, of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, up to the present date (1792) the Episcopal Church in Vermont had no bishop.

A bishop was needed to provide clergymen for the parishes, and to ordain them; to take care that both in doctrine and manner of life the clergy who ministered were performing their priestly office in accordance with the doctrines of the Gospel as this Church had received them. Not only in Vermont, but also in other states, the Church had been only partially functioning because of this serious deficiency.

The Convention of the Church in Vermont, which was held in Pawlet on September 18, 1793, was called for the election of a bishop.

Four clergymen, the Rev. James Nichols, the Rev. Daniel Barber, the Rev. Bethuel Chittenden, of Shelburne, and the Rev. J. C. Ogden of Hartland, appeared, who with eighteen lay delegates represented fourteen churches.

A Standing Committee for recommending candidates for Holy Orders was appointed, consisting of the Rev. Messrs. Barber, Catlin, Nichols, and Chittenden and Messrs. Baldwin and Hard.

The Rev. Daniel Barber and Col. M. Lyon were appointed deputies to the General Convention. A Committee was also appointed to apply for a conveyance of the S. P. G. Lands.

Most important of all, a committee consisting of the Rev. Messrs. Nichols, Ogden and Chittenden, and Messrs. M. Lyons, T. Squiers and George McEckron were appointed to nominate a bishop.

On the next day the convention elected the Rev. Edward Bass, Rector of St. Paulís Church, Newbury, Massachusetts to be Bishop of Vermont.

The records of this convention stated that the choice was made "deliberately, reverently and unanimously." A letter informing him of the conventionís action was prepared and sent to him, promising that upon his acceptance the necessary steps would be taken for his consecration. The reply of Dr. Bass, dated January 2, 1794, was in the nature of an acceptance on the condition that "only temporary visitations should be required of him until, by the increase of the Lands, he should be able to live in his proper district." In other words he said in effect: "I shall accept, provided you do not require my constant residence."

In view of the importance of this election and its very strange reversal, the account of which will soon be recited, it will be of interest to become acquainted somewhat with the character and personality of Dr. Bass.

Born in Dorchester, Massachusetts, November 23, 1726, Edward Bass was graduated with honors from Harvard College in 1744. He pursued theological studies and was licensed to preach in the Congregational denomination. As evidence of the theological character of contemporary academic work, Bassís masterís thesis bore the title of: "Will the blessed in the future world after the last Judgment make use of articulate speech and will that be Hebrew?" He took the positive side of the question. (The New England Anglican Clergy in the American Revolution, by the late Charles Mampoteng, M.A., also Addison "Life of Bishop Bass," p. 7.)

In 1752 Mr. Bass left the Congregationalists and went into the ministry of the Episcopal Church, making the journey to England for ordination.

After his return from England he took charge of St. Paulís Church, Newbury, Massachusetts.

It is related that before Mr. Bass took charge of this church he passed under the inspection of Warden Atkins, who was led to remark:
"Well, gentlemen, he pares an apple and lights a pipe more like a gentleman than any of the other candidates you have brought to me". (Addison "Life of Bishop Bass," p. 14.)

During the Revolution Mr. Bass, who is described as having been a very mild Tory," with reluctance conformed in the use of the Liturgy so far as respected the King and the Royal Family, to the wishes of his parish and the public sentiment of New England.

On account of this the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts withdrew his salary as missionary.

Friends, however, aided him to continue in the discharge of his ministerial duties. Historians estimate him not decisively pro-American but "in a mild way too compliant to the rebels."

His success in being elected to the Episcopate is regarded as due not to his intellectual force or brilliancy but to his benevolence and simple humility.

On June 4, 1789, Mr. Bass was elected Bishop of the Churches in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Application was made for his consecration to the Bishops of New York and Pennsylvania.

Since the election was irregular, the churches in Massachusetts and New Hampshire not being in union with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, the papers relating to it were laid before the General Convention at Philadelphia, July 30, 1789. At this time these two churches in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, having formally agreed to the constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States were admitted into union with the convention.

No steps, however, were taken for his consecration and on September 19, 1793, Dr. Bass was elected Bishop of Vermont.

However, before the reply of Dr. Bass had been received to his notification of election there seems to have been much activity and ecclesiastical politics brewing in the minds of certain members of the convention to advance the cause of another to fill this important office.

On February 27, 1794, a special convention of the diocese was held at Manchester. This was a little less than six months after the previous convention had elected the Rev. Dr. Bass.

At this convention Col. John A. Graham nominated for bishop a relative and friend of his, the Rev. Samuel Peters, DD.

While the convention was in session the reply of Dr. Bass to his notification of election was received and read by the Secretary.

Some members of the convention thereupon insisted that the reply of Dr. Bass was unsatisfactory, that the Church in Vermont must have a resident bishop. This plan seems to have been devised deliberately by friends of Dr. Peters.

The tide was then turned in favor of the new candidate and he was elected. It is recorded, however, that the Rev. Bethuel Chittenden was opposed to the election of Dr. Peters, and that he wrote him frankly telling him the reasons for his opposition.

Whatever the objections were, on the part of some, to this hasty and, to say the least, ill-advised election, it seems to have been accepted.

There was no Chancellor to whom to turn for decision as to the legality of the election and no constitution to consult.

They therefore took steps to consummate the election by seeking a speedy consecration.

The convention, through its officers first made application to the Archbishop of Canterbury. In response the Archbishop made objection by pointing out that the Act of Parliament permitting the consecration of bishops for foreign countries was limited to three for one country, and that three American bishops had already been consecrated.

The fact that Dr. Peters was residing in England was also pointed out as a barrier to his consecration as one of the canons of the American Episcopal Church forbade the consecration of anyone as bishop who had not resided and officiated as a clergyman in the United States for three years previous to his being consecrated.

Col. Graham who had been sent by the Vermont convention to London to present the case of Dr. Peters thus failed in his mission. Dr. Peters then appealed to the Scottish Bishop Skinner, one of the consecrators of Bishop Seabury, with the result that Bishop Skinner gave it as his opinion that application should be made to the American bishops.

The American bishops were in turn appealed to in 1795. A further complication arose from the fact that Vermont had not as yet been admitted into union with the other churches in the United States. The Presiding Bishop therefore ruled that Vermontís Bishop-elect could not be consecrated until such time as the Church in Vermont had acceded to the general ecclesiastical constitution of the Church in the United States.

Another serious obstacle in the way of securing a bishop for Vermont was the fact that the legislature of the state had taken possession of all the chartered lands on which the Church had chiefly relied for the support of a bishop.

By the Act of legislature the Glebes were appropriated to the support pro rata of all the religious teachers in the several towns; and the lots chartered for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts were appropriated to the support of the common schools. This, the legislature did in 1794.

It was a serious blow to the progress of the Episcopal Church in Vermont, because she was thus deprived of her chartered rights. The decision of the legislature was made on the ground that "all lands in this state granted by the British government to the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, after the Revolution became vested in the state."

The late Charles Mampoteng was the author of historical papers relating to the clergy of this period. These papers have been edited and published in the Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church in its issue of December, 1940 by the associate editor Dr. Edgar L. Pennington, under the title: "The New England Anglican Clergy of the American Revolution."

After reading this article the conclusion seems inevitable that the diocese escaped a period of dire unhappiness through its failure to consecrate its first bishop-elect.

"The most obnoxious Anglican clergyman," says the author, encountered by the Connecticut Whigs was the Rev. Samuel Peters of Hebron (Connecticut). This ambitious and imprudent gentleman in his love for the King and hierarchy aped the British nobility; having a country house in the forest and keeping a coach.

"Scorn for the Whigs became an outstanding characteristic of the tall, muscular and pompous priest.

"As patriotic demonstrations grew in fervor prior to the war, he was prone to write inflammatory epistles about the dissenting clergy.
For example, "The Episcopal Church must soon fall victim to the rage of the Puritan nobility, if the old Serpent, that dragon is not bound." (Van Tyne, "Loyalists in American Revolution," p. 110.)

"Further endearing himself to the militant clergy of Whig sympathies, he wrote that "spiritual iniquity rides in high places with halberts, pistols and swords."

"The patriots finally tired of his intemperate outbursts, and in August, 1774, a mob dragged him out of his house, intent upon tarring and feathering him; but more moderate counsel prevailed.

"Peters had met the crowd arrayed in his robes for protection".

"But the exasperated Whigs seized him to the "damage of his garments," carried him to the horse-block behind the meetinghouse, and forced him to read a prepared confession, whereupon he was freed".

"He left at once for Boston and then to England, where he continued to lash the Americans with his pen".

"Before leaving the country, however, he threw a scare into the patriotís ranks when his letter to his mother, telling of the dispatch of six regiments and warships to hang the rebels, was intercepted".

"Not having exercised his ecclesiastical functions during the twenty years he spent in England he was unable to obtain testimonials when in 1794, he was chosen Bishop of Vermont". (This statement no doubt explains the real cause of the archbishopís unfavorable decision.)
"His pension was withdrawn in 1803, after which he came to America and tried to sell his land grants to the Indians, but his methods involved him in legal difficulties.

"Finally he was forced to live in New York upon the charity of his friends from 1818 till his death in 1826."

(NoteóUpon his election as Bishop of Vermont he penned an elaborately embellished "Apostolic Epistle to my dear children in the Lord." (Sprague, "Annals of American Pulpit," Vol. 5, p. 195.)



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