Chapter Five

The Period of the Episcopate of Bishop Griswold in the Eastern Diocese


With the election and consecration of the Rev. Alexander Viets Griswold as Bishop of the Eastern Diocese, comprising Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont, the Church in Vermont was at last fortified with the guidance of a chief shepherd, and from 1811 dates a new era in its history.

Bishop Griswold, who for over twenty years labored in Vermont, sharing his time here and in the other states of his jurisdiction, was born in Simsbury, Connecticut, April 22, 1776. In June 1794 he became a candidate for Holy Orders and began service as a lay reader. He was ordained Deacon June third, 1795, in Stratford, Connecticut, and Priest at Plymouth, Massachusetts October first the same year. He served ten years in Plymouth, Harwinton and Litchfield where he had before acted as lay reader.

He taught in the district school in winter, and not infrequently engaged as day laborer in summer.

In 1803 he visited Bristol, Rhode Island, for relaxation, preached there two Sundays, was called to become Rector, but declined until finally after a third call he accepted and in May. 1804 began his duties there. (Dr. Sprague’s Annals. P. 415 - 420.)

While Rector of this parish (St. Michael’s) Mr. Griswold was chosen Bishop of the Eastern Diocese.

This parish had been one of the strong parishes in colonial times, but had declined during the revolutionary period so that it had only twenty Communicants when Griswold went there, but it revived rapidly under his care.

His success as parochial minister led to his election as Bishop.

He was known as a shy, silent man, but also a man of great physical strength, unwearied patience and sound judgment.

Brought up under High Church influences he had become a moderate Evangelical early in his ministry having decided that the fundamental teachings of the Gospel, as he understood them, rather than the distinctive doctrines of the Church, should receive the chief emphasis in preaching.

Under his leadership the Churchmanship of New England outside of Connecticut, acquired a predominantly Evangelical character, which contrasted strongly with the High Churchmanship of his successor Bishop Hopkins.

The "Federated Diocese," of which the Eastern Diocese was the only successful example, was the creation of practical men trying to deal with a practical problem. When the individual states of New England found themselves unable to obtain bishops severally, it naturally occurred to them to join together for this particular purpose, while retaining their separate organization for all other purposes.
(William W. Manross, Church Historical Magazine, March 1935, "Alexander Viets Griswold and the Eastern Diocese.")

During the first few years of the episcopate of Bishop Griswold there is little to record. The convention met each year and the sessions were of a routine nature.

But on September 30, 1818, Bishop Griswold made an address before the biennial convention of the Eastern Diocese at Greenfield, Massachusetts, which contained many interesting facts about the progress of the Church in Vermont since his labors began. These are his words describing his pastoral visitations: "Tuesday, September 8, 1818, in Lanesborough, I was met by the Rev. Mr. Bronson (Rev. Abraham Bronson). Wednesday the ninth, though the rain was violent, through the kindness of friends and the blessing of God, we reached Arlington in Vermont. On the way it was my intention, had the weather been favorable, to have preached in Bennington".

"In Arlington we found a people much alive to a sense of religion and much engaged in its duties".

"The Lord has there during the present season awakened many to righteousness, and added to His Church such, we hope, as shall be saved. Thursday the tenth, I preached and confirmed in each of the two churches in that town and in one of them administered Holy Communion".

"Here we had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Hawley, of Washington, the present Chaplain of the Senate of the United States; he assisted in the services and preached a third sermon".

"Friday the eleventh I visited Manchester, another parish under the care of Mr. Bronson; preached twice and administered Confirmation and the Lord’s Supper. In that place the Lord’s work in converting the hearts of His people and adding many to His Church is also marvelous in our eyes. The pastor of these two churches is much blessed in seeing such abundant fruit of his labors. (The parishes in Arlington and Manchester had more than doubled the number of their communicants, now 86 and 37)".

"The next day I pursued my journey to Rutland and preached on the way at Wallingford. The Episcopalians at Pawlet and Wells are under the care of the Rev. Mr. Jewett; they attend public worship in the state of New York and receive Confirmation in that diocese. It was therefore not necessary that I should visit them".

"Sunday the thirteenth, I was in Rutland and preached twice and confirmed a few. The congregation was large and attentive and appeared to be edified by the services. Very few of them had before that day seen a confirmation. It is hoped that the solemnity will excite in others a desire to witness a like good confession".

"It is about two years since a number of respectable people in Rutland formed themselves into an Episcopal Society; they have been very desirous to obtain the permanent services of a settled minister, and have manifested a very laudable liberality in offering to subscribe for his maintenance. They have been disappointed and disheartened; but not, I was happy to find, in such degree as report had given reason to apprehend. In the course of Monday the fourteenth I reached Middlebury, having officiated on the way at Salisbury where I met with the Rev. Mr. Leonard (the Rev. George Leonard) in a low state of health.

He has since returned to Windsor; but much to his disappointment he was unable to meet with us on this occasion.

"The Church in Middlebury is also destitute of a minister and will not probably increase until it is again with the wholesome ministrations of the Word and Sacraments. I preached there once only on the fifteenth, attending also to some other necessary things, and engaging, should the Lord permit, to visit there on my return".

"Wednesday the sixteenth, I preached in Vergennes, where the Church is in a declining state, suffering as do many other parts of the Vineyard the want of laborers. Could a clergyman have been continued in that place the parish no doubt at the present time would have been large and flourishing".

"At Vergennes I was happy in meeting the Rev. Mr. Beach who has since kindly accompanied me and given me much assistance. On Thursday it rained much; but through the generous assistance of kind friends we reached Burlington in the evening".

"At Shelburne, on our way, we had no small pleasure in assembling with the remnant of a church, formerly the flock of the Rev. Mr. Chittenden. Unfavorable as the weather was a respectable congregation convened. Mr. Beach performed divine service and I baptized an adult. I preached and administered Confirmation and the Lord’s Supper ".

"On Friday we reached St. Albans in season to unite with a pious people in the office of divine worship. The Rev. Mr. Townsend of Canada performed the evening service. I preached and administered Confirmation and the Eucharist. Our brethren, among whom I officiated in that place and the town adjoining appeared highly to prize the privilege of these ordinances and by them to be edified".

"On Sunday we pursued our journey to Sheldon, where though the rains continued, we found a large and very religious congregation assembled. There we had the pleasure of meeting with the Hon. and Rev. Dr. Stewart who assisted in divine service. The people appeared to be uncommonly devout and attentive and to ‘receive with meekness the engrafted Word.’ I preached and confirmed 49, whose hearts we have no reason to doubt the Lord has renewed. There, too, I received some communications from Berkshire, about 15 miles east of Sheldon, and the pleasing information that a new Episcopal Society has recently been organized with very favorable prospects of success".

"At Fairfield on Sunday the twentieth we had an interesting day. Though the rain continued to fall incessantly and most of the people had several miles to travel, their new church was filled at an early hour with a large and crowded assembly. The services were commenced by the solemn dedication of the House to the honor and worship of Almighty God".

"The Rev. Mr. Townsend performed Morning Prayer, the Rev. Mr. Beach administered Baptism. I preached and after the sermon confirmed 47".

"After an intermission of thirty minutes the evening service commenced. Mr. Beach was then instituted. Dr. Stewart delivered an excellent discourse, and after the sermon I administered the Sacred Memorials of Christ’s Body and Blood to 140 devout communicants".

"Monday the rain continued. By hard traveling we reached Burlington in season for divine service and Mr. Beach baptized eight children. Wednesday I preached, confirmed and administered the Holy Communion in Middlebury; the two following days we passed over the mountains to the eastern part of the state, arriving in Windsor in season for prayers and a sermon on Friday evening. In that place, since the biennial convention, has been formed an Episcopal parish highly respected for the number, character and liberal zeal of its members. The Rev. Mr. Leonard is their minister".

"In the afternoon of Monday we proceeded to Bellows Falls. There in Rockingham on the Vermont side is a parish recently formed which is already in a flourishing state under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Chapman. They have erected a neat and commodious church, which about a year ago was consecrated. They have also an excellent choir of singers and in proportion to their abilities no people of the diocese have gone before them in liberal efforts for the regular and decent ministrations of the Blessed Gospel. There also I preached and administered Confirmation." (Convention Journal, 1819.)

It seems important to give this address of Bishop Griswold in fullness since it puts before us a good picture of the Church in Vermont during these years, and it is impossible to consider the growth of one parish alone apart from some knowledge of the general conditions of the Church in the diocese.

It was a day of small things. In 1814 the Rev. Messrs. Adams, Jewett and Henshaw who had been for several years connected with the diocese had left and the Rev. Abraham Bronson was again left alone in Vermont.

The Journal of 1818 records that there were four clergymen in the diocese, the Revs. Messrs. Bronson, Beach, Chapman and Leonard.
Soon after this the diocese was strengthened by several young men.

The Rev. Joel Clap was ordained Deacon by Bishop Griswold in October 1818 and Priest in September, 1819. Mr. Clap was very active in the diocese for many years, having cures in Berkshire and Montgomery (1818-1822), Shelburne and Bethel (l823-1827), Woodstock (1840-1846), Bellows Falls (1846-1858). He was secretary of the diocese from 1820 to 1832.

The Rev. Carlton Chase was also one of the clergy who gave valuable service during this period. He was ordained Deacon by Bishop Griswold, December 1818 and Priest, September 1820. In 1819 he was chosen Rector of Immanuel Church, Bellows Falls, where he remained twenty-five years.

He was a member of the Standing Committee during most of this period and was generally chosen as a deputy to the General Convention.
He was elected Bishop of New Hampshire and also Rector of Trinity Church, Claremont, performing this double duty of Rector and Bishop for nineteen years. (Churchman, January 24, 1870.)

The Rev. Stephen Beach was settled in Fairfield, Shelburne and St. Albans from 1815 to 1822. He came from Wallingford and had been a successful Methodist minister before coming into the Episcopal Church. Mr. Beach was ordained Deacon by Bishop Griswold in 1815 and Priest in 1817. In 1821 his moral character was questioned and it was deemed expedient for him to discontinue his services. He was tried and censured for indiscretion, but not convicted of crime.

The Rev. Jordan Gray was born in Arlington, May 26, 1793. He was educated at home under the Rev. Abraham Bronson. He was married in 1814. In 1817 he decided to devote himself to the ministry, though having a family and little property. In 1819 he became a lay reader at Sandgate where he revived and reorganized the church and pursued his studies. In October 1821 he was ordained Deacon by Bishop Griswold in Bethel Church, Arlington. After a few months he was settled in Berkshire and Montgomery and began a parish in Enosburg; he reported after four months work communicants in Berkshire 28, in Montgomery 27, in Enosburg 11. In the midst of his work disaster overtook him. On April 7, 1 823, he was called to a funeral across the Trout River, then much swollen by a freshet which had carried off the bridge.

The crossing was attempted in a skiff, he being accompanied by two men and a boy. As they struck the center current they were overturned. His two companions escaped with difficulty. The boy clasped Mr. Gray and clung to him and both were drowned.

After the departure of the Rev. Abraham Bronson from Arlington in 1824, the Rev. J. Howland Coit who was ordained by Bishop Griswold, October 1827, officiated at Arlington, where he remained for two years. In the diocesan Journal of 1827, Mr. Coit made the following report:

"The state of the Church in this place is such as to excite in our hearts the most lively emotions of gratitude, although we still have much reason to lament barrenness and lack of zeal in the service of our Master. There has been for two years past, more or less of an attention to religious things, the result of which has been an addition of 23 to the list of our communicants; our Sunday Schools, of which there are three attached to our church, are in a flourishing condition. A bible class has been established which is attended with considerable interest by a few of the young people, and we regret to say by a few. A female prayer meeting, which is held weekly, has been instituted, from which, with the blessing of God, we anticipate the most pleasing results. The whole number of communicants, after deducting deaths, is 93; funerals 2, baptisms 4 adults; marriages 3. Sunday scholars 130."

Mr. Coit also reports the following of St. Matthew’s Church, Sandgate: ‘The church was visited regularly once a fortnight, on a week day, for about the space of three months, besides some occasional visits before and since".

"During the time of my visiting them the services of the church were attended with much interest, and some seriousness manifested. They have also had occasionally lay reading. I would affectionately recommend this parish to the particular attention of the convention. The people are poor, but pious, and ardently attached to the church we all love, and are hungering and thirsting for the word of life. Number of communicants, 33, baptisms, 5 infants, 2 adults."

Joseph Howland Coit was born November 3, 1802, the son of Levi Coit and Lydia Howland, of New York. (Lydia Howland, daughter of Joseph Howland of New York, was descended from John Howland, the last survivor of the "Pilgrims" of the "Mayflower.")

Mr. Coit was brought up as a Presbyterian in New York. He graduated with honors from Columbia College. He entered Princeton Theological School to study for the Presbyterian ministry. He was converted through his studies to Episcopacy.

He applied for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church and was ordained Deacon by Bishop Griswold of the Eastern Diocese, in Bristol, Rhode Island, November 8, 1825.

He was ordained priest by Bishop Griswold in Arlington, October 18, 1827, and was Rector of the parish two years.

His ministry elsewhere was as follows: Rector of St. Andrew’s, Wilmington, Delaware, 1828-1832; the first church building in the parish was built during his rectorship. Rector of Trinity Church, Plattsburgh, New York, 1832-1844; Rector of St. Stephen’s, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1844-1852; Rector of Trinity Church, Plattsburgh (second time), 1852-1866. He died October 1, 1866, and was buried in Plattsburgh cemetery.

He was given the degree of Doctor of Divinity by Columbia College. He was a scholarly man, an orthodox High Churchman. His chief characteristic as a priest was his faithful pastoral work.

He was much beloved by his friends and parishioners. He was of a sensitive and affectionate nature.

Joseph Howland Coit and Harriet Jane Hard, his wife, were the parents of nine children, seven of whom lived to grow up.

The Rev. J. M. Tappan succeeded the Rev. Mr. Coit, entering upon the rectorship of the parish November 16, 1828.

The diocesan Journal contains his annual report from which are taken the following interesting facts: "For several months before my engagement the constant services of the Church had not been performed among them. In all probability for the present year there will be a heavy tax upon this parish, which will give some check to their ability for the support of a clergyman. Their attentions and exertions are now turned towards the praiseworthy design of erecting a new house of worship. A new building for the accommodation of this congregation is considered necessary and without doubt will be speedily erected. The people of this parish generally are much attached to the principles, doctrines and services of our Church, and seem disposed to contribute cheerfully for the advantages which come to mankind through the Gospel of Christ".

"Within a few weeks a Bible class has been formed and a Sunday school of about forty scholars is in a flourishing state. The number of communicants in this parish is 100."

In the following year the cornerstone of the new church was laid, the account of which is given in the November (1829) number of the Middlebury Episcopal Register as follows:

"The cornerstone of St. James Church Arlington, was laid October 26, 1829 by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Griswold".

"A large congregation assembled to witness the ceremony and the Bishop, after laying the cornerstone on the north wall delivered a very appropriate and interesting address. The Rev. A. Bronson and the Rev. James M. Tappan were present and assisted in the services".
"The church is to be built strictly in the Gothic style of a beautiful dark blue limestone to be found in great abundance in the immediate vicinity. It is to be 67 feet in length and 48 feet in breadth with a cellar under the whole church in which is to be the robing room, a Sabbath School room and a furnace to warm the house".

"The foundation is already laid and the wall raised five feet, the door frames and doors, the window frames and sash are completed, and a considerable quantity of stone and other materials are on the ground".

"It is contemplated to finish the church early next fall, and the estimated expense is not far from $6,000, which is to be borne wholly by members of the Society.

"Sylvester Deming has engaged to pay one third of the cost of the building, and to furnish the church when finished with an organ and bell. In a cavity of the cornerstone was deposited a leaden box containing a Prayer Book and a parchment with an inscription as follows:
This Cornerstone of St. James’ Church Was Laid By The Rt. Rev. Alexander Viets Griswold, D.D., Bishop Of The Protestant Episcopal Church In the Eastern Diocese October 26 A.D. 1829 Being The 53rd Year of The Independence of The United States of America.
The Rev. James M. Tappan - The Minister of the Parish Being Present and Assisting - Noble Hard and Simeon Cole - Being Wardens; Enos Canfield, Samuel S. Baker, Anson Canfield, Zadok Hard and Martin C. Deming – Vestrymen; Lewis Dyer – Clerk; Martin C. Deming, Samuel S. Canfield. Cyrus B. Hills, Simeon Cole, and Phineas Smith - Building Committee and William Passwan of Aulston, Yorkshire, England - Architect."


In "Old Vermont Houses," by Herbert Wheaton Congdon, page 179, the author says:

"The oldest church building in Vermont that may be charitably considered pure Gothic is St. James’ Church, Arlington".

"Its interior was originally a mixture of classic and Gothic architecture, Roman egg-and-dart moldings decorating unexpected Gothic features.

"The old pulpit was excellent classic, but the communion table was good Gothic.

"The tower is certainly Gothic in effect, as are the pointed windows". (By permission of Mr. Congdon).

The late Mr. James Ross Roberts, to whom the writer is indebted for this and other bits of history incorporated here and there among these writings, said he had heard his father, John C. Roberts, tell the story of the laying of this cornerstone.

He says: "At that time he was just approaching manhood, and as he described it to me, a boy, it seemed as though he was telling about something that had happened in some far-off age.

"Now after more than half a century I still hear the tones of his voice and am wondering if he was not thinking of that scene of the unfinished temple walls, the divinely commissioned man of God with his pioneer flock about Him while He taught me the words of the hymn so applicable to the present occasion, the words which find such response in the hearts of all of us from Jehiel Hawley even to the child in our Sunday School:

‘I love Thy Church, 0 God,
Her walls before me stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye
And graven on Thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend,
For her my toils and cares be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.’


The convention of the Church in Vermont was held in Arlington on August 31, 1831 in the Vestry room of St. James’ Church.

During the sessions of this convention - St. James Church was consecrated by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Griswold.

The following clergy were present: The Rev. Abraham Bronson, Rector of Zion Church, Manchester; the Rev. Carlton Chase, Rector of Immanuel Church, Bellows Falls; the Rev. Joel Clap, Rector of St. James’ Church, Woodstock; the Rev. Silas A. Crane, Rector of St. James’ Church, Middlebury; the Rev. William Horton, Minister of St. Paul’s Church, Windsor; the Rev. Louis McDonald, Rector of Trinity Church, Shelburne; the Rev. James Sabine, Rector of Christ Church, Bethel, and the Rev. William S. Perkins, Deacon, Minister of St. James’ Church, Arlington.

The laymen of St. James’ Church in attendance were: Sylvester Deming, Samuel S. Baker, Simeon Cole, and Enos Canfield.

During the episcopate of Bishop Griswold the diocese forged ahead rapidly in the increase of its clergy and in the establishment of Churches throughout the state.

The number of clergy present at the diocesan convention in 1811 was two, the Rev Abraham Bronson and the Rev. Parker Adams, with seven laymen. The number present at the diocesan convention of 1832 was: thirteen clergymen and forty laymen.

During these twenty-one years Bishop Griswold ordained 17 candidates for the priesthood as follows: The Rev. J. P. Henshaw (brought up a Congregationalist) June 13, 1813; the Rev. Stephen Beach (formerly a Methodist Minister) 1817; the Rev. George T. Chapman (educated in law) 1816; the Rev. George Leonard 1818; the Rev. Joel Clap 1819; the Rev. Carlton Chase (Bishop of New Hampshire 1844) 1820; Alfred R. Baury, 1822; the Rev. Jordan Gray, 1821 at Bethel Church, Arlington; the Rev. Benjamin B. Smith, 1818; the Rev. Samuel Brenton Shaw, 1824; the Rev. Joseph Covell, 1824; the Rev. Moore Bingham, 1828; the Rev. John Brested, 1827; the Rev. Louis McDonald, 1827; the Rev. Anion B. Hard, 1831; the Rev. William S. Perkins, 1831 (settled in Arlington, 1829; the Rev. J. M. Tappan, 1829).



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