The History of St. James' Church
To discuss the origin of the Episcopal Church In America, one must begin with the origin of the Church in the Colonies; one must actually begin, therefore, with the Church of England. The religious strife in England during the 16th Century resulted in a break from the Roman Catholic Church and the Inauguration of the Anglican Church.
There were those, however, who felt the religious revolution was not taken far enough. They felt the Anglican Church in England was still too much like the Church of Rome. Terms such as "papist" and "popery" were used when referring to Anglican dogma these Puritans emigrated to North America and brought to each colony a form of the religion they practiced in England. They settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony and Connecticut; the Anglicans settled in Virginia.
The Anglican Church served not only as the religious foundation for these colonies but the government agency as well. In Easton, Pennsylvania, Wye Church has reconstructed their Vestry House, restoring the huge fireplace built at one end to allow the Vestry to meet there during winter months. The conference table and shelving for ledgers discovered proves this was the government seat of Wye Parish. The counterpart of modern townships to the colonies was virtually the Vestry. Documents of the Diocese of Virginia recently published indicate the Parish boundaries of long ago are township and county lines of today. The Vestries were first elected and then became self-perpetuating. The members were of the social and economic upper classes. Due to the absence of Bishops and Episcopal authority, there were conflicts between these Vestrymen and the Priests as to who should govern the Parishes and there is a direct correlation between these problems and the causes of the American Revolution. These Vestrymen were leaders of the Revolution and many were Episcopalians. George Washington began his political career as a Vestryman In Hunterdon County. He worshipped in Alexandria Township at St. Thomas'. St. Paul's Chapel in New York still maintains the pew he used when the army was occupying New York City.
In the colonies where the Episcopalians were inactive at the origin of the settlement, the Anglican Church gradually moved in. In western Connecticut, the Anglicans infiltrated from Westchester County, New York. New York became Anglican after the English took over from the Dutch. Significant during this period was the ordination of Timothy Cutler in the Presbyterian Church and his election as President of Yale University. In 1722, he became an Episcopalian and the first Rector of what is presently called the Old North Church in Boston. In eastern Connecticut the Episcopal Church came in from Rhode Island. The oldest Episcopal Church there is Trinity, established in 1771; it was built by those no longer willing to support the Congregational Church. In 1708, the Parish of St. Andrew's on Staten Island was founded. It is one of the first established in America. Three of its Rectors became Bishops of the Episcopal Church, the first being Samuel Seabury, Rector of St. Andrew's. Rector Richard Charleton was the grandfather of Elizabeth Seton; she was canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. Her father, Dr. Bayley, is buried at St. Andrew's.
Acknowledgments The Ven. Sydney E. Grant The Rev. Arthur Wing III