The Americanisation of the English Church in the nineteenth-century United States

By Joe Hardwick

Nineteenth-century white Americans appear to have had an ambiguous and changeable attitude towards England and the English. On the one hand nineteenth-century America showed signs of being an Anglophobic society founded on the idea that monarchical England was everything that the young republic was not. More than one nineteenth-century English traveller complained about the vitriolic anti-Englishness that seemed to pervade American society.[1] But on the 217px-Shield_of_the_US_Episcopal_Church_svgother hand we have examples of nineteenth-century Americans consuming, appropriating and then naturalising symbols and institutions that, in origin at least, were English. Perhaps the most notable symbol – certainly it is the one that has attracted the most modern scholarship – was William Shakespeare. Early nineteenth-century Americans, so the argument goes, saw Shakespeare as familiar, local and relevant: Americans apparently spoke the ‘pure’ form of English found in Shakespeare, and the bard’s plays carried themes about the fate of tyrants that took easy root in republican America.[2]

It is not surprising that Shakespeare should have flourished in a society that spoke English and in which notions of ‘Anglo-Saxonism’ were important building-blocks of a nativist identity. What is more surprising is that the Anglican Church – perhaps the most ‘English’ of all English institutions – should have, like Shakespeare, survived and prospered in post-Revolution America. This is not to say that the institution that became known as the Episcopal Church of the United States was massively popular or of great social or political significance. It was not. Later American Episcopal bishops recognised that their Church struggled to keep its head above ‘nonconformist’ evangelicalism, and the proportion of Episcopalians in America as a whole declined as Irish and German immigration took hold from the 1840s onwards (by the twentieth century Episcopalians were not even in the ascendancy in its old Virginia stronghold).[3]

But the very fact that the Episcopal Church had survived in the United States would have been remarkable to those Anglican clergymen who were among the tens of thousands of loyalists who were evacuated from American ports during the American Revolution (around 60,000 left for new lives in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Florida, the West Indies and Britain itself).[4] For loyalist clergymen like Charles Inglis, the future bishop of Nova Scotia, the Church of England seemed to have little future in an America that had always been resistant to Anglican claims. It was true that not every loyalist was an Anglican, and it was also true that revolutionaries could be churchmen; but undoubtedly it was the case that the Church was widely associated in the popular mind with the forces of imperial control. The fact that the America lost roughly half its Anglican clergy between 1774 and 1785 (some died, but most of those who left were loyalist refugees) could only further damage the Church’s image as a conservative, loyalist and anti-republican institution.

The drain of clergy from Revolutionary America was just one element in the wider Anglican crisis: prominent lay people joined the loyalist exodus; the Church lost its established status in five southern states; in Virginia its property was sold off; and, perhaps most damagingly of all, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel – a British institution that had funded new churches and clergy in the American colonies – refused to send any money to the newly independent, post-Revolutionary Church in America. In spite of these hammer blows, Episcopalians bounced back; within less than a decade America’s remaining Anglicans showed that an apparently conservative and reactionary institution was able to acculturate itself to the new environment of republican America. Native-born clergy were recruited and ordained by newly-elected American bishops; individual congregations turned themselves into self-funding voluntary associations; and, most importantly of all, Episcopalians put together a system of Church government that seemed to pull off the impossible – reconciling a hierarchical and ostensibly non-democratic institution, episcopacy, to the climate and temper of a modern, democratic, republic.

This reorganisation and adaptation of the American Church began before formal independence came in 1783. In 1782 William White, the future bishop of Pennsylvania, penned a treatise – The Case of the Protestant Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered – that laid out a model of a unified and independent American Church governed by a ‘General Convention’ in which representatives of the clergy and laity elected ministers and voted on measures effecting the administration of the Church. This republican model of Episcopal government – a model that owed a considerable amount to the systems of secular government that were being developed contemporaneously at the level of the state and nation – was the one that was adopted when two bishops and twenty clergy ratified a constitution at the General Convention in October 1789.[5]

Yet Episcopalianism’s American transformation did not mean that the old metropolitan heritage was completely lost sight of – though there were those like John Henry Hobart, the third bishop of New York, who wanted to push the American Church as far away as possible from any association with an English past.[6] One problem, however, was that there were different British Anglican traditions on which American clergymen could draw. While White’s Pennsylvania followers maintained that the Church had to maintain the liturgy of the English Church, other Anglicans – a particularly important grouping were in Connecticut – looked to the more catholic and high church Episcopal Church in Scotland for inspiration. These connections between Scottish and American Anglicans were ancient (many of the clergy of the colonial period had Scottish backgrounds), but they also became more important after the Connecticut clergyman Samuel Seabury was consecrated as America’s first bishop in November 1784. Seabury would ordain a small number of men from Scotland into his diocese, and in 1789 he was successful in including a communion service that closely followed the communion service in the Scottish Church’s prayer book (the so-called ‘Scottish Office’), as opposed to that contained in the 1662 English prayer book.

But while the Episcopal Church could claim a Scottish foundation, the following decades saw American churchmen develop much closer links with the English church. English-born clergymen started taking up posts in the American Church very quickly after 1783 (and would continue to do so throughout the nineteenth century); American bishops undertook fund-raising missions in England from the early 1820s; and from the 1830s onwards American churchmen would keep a close eye on ecclesiastical movements in the mother country, such as the high church Tractarianism that came out of Oxford colleges in the 1830s. American interest in the revival of the cathedral in the second half of the nineteenth century, was, for instance, closely linked to the earlier revival of dioceses and cathedrals in the English Church.[7] The growing accord between the English and American churches – something that benefited from more positive perceptions of England in America – was reflected in the fact that references to the Episcopal Church as an ‘Anglo-American Church’ began to appear from the 1860s.[8] From the 1840s we can find American clergy, some with English backgrounds, others not, playing very active roles in English cultural events and monarchical celebrations in American cities.

Therefore by mid-century American churchmen appeared to have found a way to reconcile a set of seemingly competing heritages and identities. An institution that was attuned to the American landscape had found a way to display and celebrate their attachments to both England past and present. That Bishop Doane of New Jersey chose to deliver a panegyric on the unity of American and British civilisation on the Fourth of July 1848 vividly demonstrated how the Episcopal Church was able to retain and celebrate both its Englishness and Americaness at one and the same time. But what is important to recognise, is that while the American Church was discovering, or rediscovering its English heritage, British churchmen were discovering and learning from the American Church.[9] Bishop White’s model of a self-governing Church – one in which ministers were elected and the clergy and laity shared a voice in the running of the Church – was one that would eventually be rolled out in Britain’s empire of white settlement in the decades after 1850. So while America’s Church came to celebrate its English roots, British clergymen were finding out that America’s Church offered models for how the Church could survive in modern democracies.

[1] I. Fidler, Observations on Professions, Literature, Manners and Emigration, in the United States and Canada (New York: J. And J. Harper, 1833), pp. 37-8.

[2] Kim Sturgess, Shakespeare and the American Nation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), chs 4 and 6.

[3] E. S. Gaustad, ‘The Geography of American Religion’, Journal of Bible and Religion, 30:1 (1962), p. 44.

[4] M. Jasanoff, Liberties Exiles: The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire (London: Harper Press, 2011).

[5] For this adaptation, see Frederick V. Mills, ‘The Protestant Episcopal Churches in the United States 1783-1789: Suspended Animation or Remarkable Recovery?’, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church (1977), pp. 151-70.

[6] R. B. Mullin, Episcopal Vision / American Reality: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 196.

[7] James M. Woolworth, The Cathedral in the American Church (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1883).

[8] Recent Recollections of the Anglo-American Church in the United States: By an English Layman, 2 vols. (London: Rivingtons, 1861).

[9] George Washington Doane, America and Great Britain: The Address, at Burlington College, on the Seventy-First Anniversary of American Independence (Burlington: Edmund Morris, 1848).

English and Scottish Ethnic Associations in North America: A Comparison

By Tanja Bueltmann

In 1901 their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York embarked on Royal tours of both Australia and Canada, visiting locations throughout the two countries. At the end of September 1901 their journey brought them to the Canadian capital, Ottawa. Pavilions had been erected in the city, special Reception Committees were at hand to welcome the Royal couple, and there was a procession to the Parliament grounds. Four thousand school children flanked the main route, singing the national anthem and waving ‘their flags with great heartiness’. ‘On reaching the pavilion the Mayor … read the civic welcome. [And] then followed the presentation of addresses’ from several cities and organisations. Among the latter were presentations from both the Ottawa St Andrew’s and St George’s Society – the two associations united in dispensing a cordial welcome to the heir apparent, his wife and entourage. ‘As Scots and descendants of Scottish men, from his Majesty’s ancient kingdom of Scotland’, wrote the President of the St Andrew’s Society, ‘we rejoice that this Crown still unites Canada and ourselves with the country of our birth and origin, as well as with the kingdoms and possessions of the British Empire.’ – thus following, it seems, the motto of the Ottawa visit (see photo). Similar sentiments were expressed by the members of the St George’s Society, who stressed that ‘the national societies of Canada, although nominally separate, are … heartily united in devotion to the crown’.

The Royal Tour provides, of course, a very specific context for these expressions of loyalty to the old world, the crown and Empire. The St Andrew’s and St George’s societies’ involvement in the proceedings nonetheless highlights the important role ethnic associations played not only for their members, but also in wider social life.

Emigrants carried a rich array of associations with them to the new worlds in which the settled, often coming together along ethnic lines shortly after first foot fall. Yet while a key aspect of expatriate community life, two of the richest examples of this formal sociability, that of the English and Scots, have received only patchy attention. While Scottish associationalism, though understudied, has at least been an acknowledged feature of the Scots’ ethnic behaviour abroad—kilted lads and bagpipes providing a suitable iconography here—English associations have not been viewed in the same light: they have largely been dismissed, for instance by Charlotte Erickson, as elitist and out of touch with the larger immigrant community. More broadly, this view also reflects the frequent dismissal of ethnic associations as harbourers of nostalgia and romantic sentiments, their activities being perceived by many to simply replicate old world traditions for the purpose of keeping alive the memory of the native land. This view has been challenged recently by scholars like those of the English Diaspora project who recognise that ethnic associations serve much more varied purposes, providing a unique means to capture the experiences of migrants, their activities and networks. A comparison of the evolution of English associations and their activities with those of the Scots,  will help us better undestand the importance of English ethnic associations.

The first Scottish society in North America was the Charitable Society of Boston, which was set up in 1657 to provide relief for local ‘needy Scotch people, after proper investigation’.  One of the Society’s main roles in the eighteenth century became the provision of relief for the aged on a long-term basis—essentially a type of pension. The Society also maintained the Scots Temporary Home and a plot on the Mount Auburn Cemetery, setting the scene for the dispensation of Scottish charity through ethnic associations.

By the mid-eighteenth century St Andrew’s Societies had then been established in Charleston, South Carolina in 1729, in Philadelphia in 1747 and in New York in 1756.  What makes this establishment pattern of Scottish ethnic societies along the eastern seaboard of what were then still the original 13 colonies of the British Empire of particular interest is that the English followed very much the same pattern: Charleston’s St George’s Society was founded in 1733, New York’s in 1770 and Philadelphia’s Sons of St George’s Society in 1772. Perhaps an element of competitive ethnicity at play?

The first step towards the organization of the Charleston St Andrew’s Society was taken at a meeting of gentlemen ‘chiefly natives of Scotland’, who had come together on 30 November 1729 for the purpose of celebrating St Andrew’s Day. As the preamble of the Society’s rules highlights, it was founded on wide-ranging philanthropic principles designed to aid newly arrived Scottish migrants in distress. This focus on benevolence is a key characteristic of both Scottish and English associationalism in North America. Typically, for instance, the founding statutes of the Philadelphia’s Society of the Sons of St George declared it existed ‘for the ADVICE and ASSISTANCE of ENGLISHMEN in DISTRESS’. The Scottish and English associations’ most practical application was the provision of support for immigrants,  and one often underpinned by a patrician sense of benevolence felt by the societies’ leading members.

But such characteristics and development patterns were not uniform throughout the English and Scottish diasporas. In Canada, for instance, ethnic associations were slower to emerge—this being a direct result of migration trends: Canada was not one of the principal destinations migrants until after the American Revolution.  The first recorded Scottish ethnic association in Canada appeared in 1768, when the North British Society (originally called the North British Society, or Scots Club),  was founded in Halifax Nova Scotia.  Apart from the St. Andrew’s Society of St. John, New Brunswick, established in 1798, other Scottish ethnic associations only emerged in Canada during the early nineteenth century, with their establishment often coinciding with the incorporation of major urban centres, such as Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, all of which had St. Andrew’s Societies by the 1840s.  Similar patterns are again traceable for the English. During the first-half of the nineteenth century, St George’s societies also spread with mass migration. In Canada, equivalents of the early American societies thus appeared in Toronto (1834), Quebec (1836) and Ottawa (1844).

For both groups sociability was a key factor for the establishment of ethnic associations, and one shaped by the class of participants. This explains, too, why activities differed. While the middle classes enjoyed lavish, civic dinners, working men organised earthier pursuits. Canada’s Sons of England in the prairie towns of the mid-west, for example, organized coyote hunts,  while the Sons of Scotland could be found enjoying picnics and football matches.

The English, like the Scots and many other ethnic groups, developed a lively scene of ethnic clubs and societies – and one that deserves to be fully recognised.

‘Off to Old England’: The Sons of England and roots-tourism

By Tanja Bueltmann

In July 1910, several Winnipeg members of the Sons of England left that city to join fellow society members in Montreal to embark on a month-long ‘home trip’ to England. ‘A more enthusiastic body of excursionists’, observed a reporter in a local newspaper, ‘could hardly be conceived, the east joining hands with the extreme west.’ A reported 700 people thus left Canada on the steamer Royal George eagerly anticipating the specially arranged programme of coach tours and cultural activities awaiting them in England. This instance of express loyalty extended to England by those Canadians of English descent travelling ‘home’ provides clear evidence of the pervasiveness of English ethnicity in North America. The organised excursions by the Sons of England society, an exclusive, English and Protestant association found only in Canada and South Africa, provide a particularly interesting prism in this respect: the society was only one of several associations formed by the English; it quickly spread across Canada and could boast a significant membership, counting 30,000 members on the eve of the Great War. So what were the Sons doing on their return trip to England?

Organised by a Mr Robert Verity, the Sons’ 1910 trip commenced in early July, when ‘five hundred sons and daughters of England gathered from various parts of Canada, [and] left by special train for Montreal’. An additional 200 excursionists joined the group in Montreal, making it ‘the biggest excursion party ever taken out of Canada’, going off to ‘visit the chief cities and interesting districts in the British Isles’. As one reporter observed, travellers were ‘all full of expectation of a delightful trip, and the renewal of old time associations. Long years have separated many from their friends and relatives, but the affection for the land of their birth still remains firmly rooted, not withstanding [sic] their loyalty to the land of their adoption. … a well known Winnipeg merchant, who has been absent 43 years, and who is now retuning for his first visit, but with a return ticket in his pocket. So far as can be learned, this is the case with all the voyagers, whose principal desire is to cement the ties which bind Canada to the motherland.’

To facilitate the maintenance of these ties, a special programme had been arranged for the entertainment of the Sons of England party in England, and the party travelled in special cars and coaching and motor tours were organised to get the most out of the tight itinerary. The tour commenced in Bristol, where the city’s Lord Mayor gave the Sons a cordial reception. With stops being made in Cheddar and Bath, the party then made its way to London, spending five days in the capital. A large portion of the Sons went to visit the House of Commons, where, as was reported in the Edmonton Capital, ‘the members of Parliament were genuinely interested in them.’ The Ottawa Citizen added that the travellers were ‘delighted with the metropolis and have seen all the sights that are historic and picturesque.’ After their visit to London, the Sons left for provincial cities, visiting, among other places, Oxford, Warwick, Chester, Liverpool, as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Some of the Winnipeg members travelling home with the Sons were Mrs and Mrs John Eddy, J.S. Nicholas, W. Walpole and Mr and Mrs Jacob Freeman – all of whom had long since lived in Winnipeg and were well-known in the city and among the Sons of England. Jacob Freeman, for instance, had been the society’s District Deputy for the Winnipeg District. It was in that role that, in 1895, Freeman helped set up a new Winnipeg branch of the Sons to promote, as the local paper put it, benevolence and patriotism. The return home in 1910 was Mr Freeman’s first trip to England after 27 years in Canada, and may well have been a long-awaited culmination of this partriotism. Freeman certainly provided his local paper with an enthusiastic account of the trip. What his account also reveals, however, is that the Sons’ trip was not simply serving the purpose of revisiting the homeland: it was an active attempt to entice new migrants to Canada. As the Times reported, in fact, ‘each member of the party will try to induce one resident of Great Britain to come to Canada’.

The Forgotten War? The War of 1812

By Tanja Bueltmann

HMS Shannon leading the captured American frigate USS Chesapeake into Halifax, Nova Scotia (1813)

2012 is not only the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, it is also the bicentenary of the War of 1812. In the US and the UK, this war is often referred to as a forgotten War. The reason for this lack of remembrance can be found in the other political and military battles of the time, specifically the Napoleonic Wars. A series of conflicts that had already been going on since 1803, they simply overshadowed the War of 1812.

In Canada, however, the situation is notably different, with the War of 1812 being officially commemorated over the next few years (as the war went on until 1815). The Canadian federal government has made available substantial funds for the purpose. For Canada, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper explains, ‘the War of 1812 was a seminal event in the making of our great country. … – a war that saw Aboriginal peoples, local and volunteer militias, and English and French-speaking regiments fight together to save Canada from American invasion. The War helped establish our path toward becoming an independent and free country, united under the Crown with a respect for linguistic and ethnic diversity. … Events surrounding the 1812-15 armed conflict laid the foundation for Confederation and established the cornerstones of many of our political institutions. In short, the Canada we know today would not exist had the invasions of 1812-14 not been repelled.’ For further details on the official programme of commemorations, please visit the Canadian government’s War of 1812 site.

In essence the war of 1812 was a military conflict between the British Empire and the US, and one fuelled further by the goings on in Europe. While not all Americans were in favour of war, many merchants from New England and New York strongly opposed it for instance, war was eventually declared by US President Madison on 18 June 1812. Canada was pulled into the conflict as it was a British colony – and given the proximity of Upper Canada to the US. Hence there were several attempts by the US to invade Canada right from the start of the War. Later on, in 1814, British troops made it as far south as Washington, occupied the city and burned many buildings, including the White House. Click here for further details on the War.

Prior to the War there had already been many a heated debated about naturalization and continued loyalty to Britain. During the War suspicions ran high that English merchants trading internationally might be acting as spies, and many were interned, for instance at Fishkill, New York. A similar internment also took place in Charleston, South Carolina. English activity in ethnic associations, of which there were many by this point in time, was much more subdued. In New York, for instance, newspaper accounts of events are far and few between. Concerned about being accused of ‘divided loyalties’, or worse, loyalties to the old homeland, being overtly English in the US during the War of 1812 was not desirable.