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