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Samuel Seabury (1729–1796)

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Samuel Seabury-Bishop Episcopal Church USA

Samuel Seabury

Samuel Seabury (November 30, 1729 – February 25, 1796) was the first American Episcopal bishop, the second Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA, and the first Bishop of Connecticut. He had been a leading Loyalist in New York City during the American Revolution.


Samuel Seabury was born in Ledyard, Groton, Connecticut in 1729. His father, also Samuel Seabury (1706-1764), originally a Congregationalist minister in Groton, was ordained deacon and priest in the Church of England in 1731, and was a rector in New London, Connecticut, from 1732 to 1743, and in Hempstead, Long Island, from 1743 until his death.

Samuel Seabury (the son) graduated from Yale in 1748; studied theology with his father; studied medicine in Edinburgh from 1752 to 1753; was ordained deacon by the bishop of Lincoln and priest by the bishop of Carlisle in 1753; was rector of Christ Church, New Brunswick, New Jersey from 1754 to 1757, rector in Jamaica, New York from 1757 to 1766, and of St Peter's, Westchester (now annexed to The Bronx) from 1766 to 1775.

Revolutionary times

He was one of the signers of the White Plains protest of April 1775 against all unlawful congresses and committees, in many other ways proved himself a devoted loyalist, and wrote the Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress (1774) by A. W. Farmer (i.e. a Westchester farmer), which was followed by a second "Farmer's Letter", The Congress Canvassed (1774). Alexander Hamilton answered these open letters in A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, from the Calumnies of their Enemies. Seabury wrote a third "Farmer's Letter" titled, "A View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies," to answer Hamilton. Hamilton completed the exchange by writing, "The Farmer Refuted" (1775).

These three "Farmer's Letters" — a fourth was advertised but apparently was never published — were forceful presentations of the pro-British claim, written in a plain, hard-headed style; their authorship was long in question, but it is certain that Seabury claimed them in England in 1783 when he was seeking episcopal consecration. At the same time he claimed the authorship of a letter, not signed by the Westchester farmer, which under the title An Alarm to the Legislature of the Province of New York (1775) discussed the power of this, the only legal political body in the colony. Seabury's clarity of style and general ease of reading would set him apart from hist ecclesiastical colleagues throughout his life.

Seabury was arrested in November 1775 by local Patriots, and was kept in prison in Connecticut for six weeks. He was prevented from carrying out his ministry, and after some time in Long Island he took refuge in New York City, where in 1778 he was appointed chaplain to the King's American Regiment. At the end of the war he did not got to England but stayed in the United States; he moved to Connecticut and was loyal to the new government.

The episcopacy


Tablet marking Seabury's consecration at Marischal College, Aberdeen.

On March 25, 1783, a meeting of ten Episcopal clergy in Woodbury, Connecticut, elected Seabury bishop as their second choice (a favorite son was elected first, but declined for health reasons). There were no Anglican bishops in the Americas to consecrate him, so he sailed to London on July 7. In England, however, his consecration was rationalized as impossible because, as an American citizen, he could no longer take the oath of allegiance to the King. Seabury then turned to the Scottish Episcopal Church, whose bishops at that time refused to recognize the authority of King George III. He was consecrated in Aberdeen on November 14, 1784, with the one condition that in the matter of the Holy Communion he study the Scottish Rite and work for its adoption rather than the English rite of 1662. To the present day the American liturgy adheres to the main features of this Rite in one of its Holy Eucharist Liturgies. The anniversary of his consecration is now a lesser feast day on the calendars of both the Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Anglican Church of Canada. The fact of Seabury's consecration by the non-juring Scots caused alarm in the (Whig) British Government, who feared an entirely Jacobite church in the United States, and Parliament was persuaded to make provision for the ordination of foreign bishops. Seabury's tenacity in the matter had the effect of making a continued relationship between the American and English churches a possibility. The problem was revealed not to be one of liturgical restrictions (the oath) but of political plans.

Seabury returned to Connecticut in 1785 and made New London, Connecticut his home, becoming rector of St James Church there. A meeting of his Connecticut clergymen was held during the first week of August 1785 at Christ Church on the South Green in Middletown, Connecticut. At the August 2nd reception of the bishop his letters of Consecration were requested, read, and accepted. On August 3, 1785 the first ordinations on American soil took place there, at Christ Church in Middletown, Connecticut. Four men, Henry Van Dyke, Philo Shelton, Ashbel Baldwin, and Colin Ferguson, were ordained to the Holy Order of Deacons that day. On August 7, 1785 Collin Ferguson was advanced to the Priesthood, and Thomas Fitch Oliver was admitted to the Diaconate. Bishop Seabury said, prophetically, of Christ Church in Middletown, "Long may this birthplace be remembered, and may the number of faithful stewards who follow this succession increase and multiply till time shall be no more". Over the next 100 years there were 274 ordinations in Middletown. The validity of his consecration was at first questioned by some, but was recognized by the General Convention of his church in 1789. In 1790 Seabury took charge of the diocese of Rhode Island also. In 1792 he joined with Bishops William White and Samuel Provoost, who had received English consecration in 1787, and James Madison (1749-1812), who had received English consecration in 1790, in the consecration of Bishop Thomas J. Claggett of Maryland in 1792, thus uniting the Scottish and the English successions.

Seabury played a decisive role in the evolution of Anglican liturgy in North America after the Revolution. His "Communion Office," published in New London in 1786, was based on the Scottish Book of Common Prayer rather than the 1662 liturgy in use in the Church of England. But how much credit Seabury deserves became a point of contention in the 1970s. The doctoral work of Marion Hatchett attempted to establish from documents and letters that Seabury had little interest in including the Scottish eucharistic rite in the 1789 prayer book, and that it was Bishop William White and others who urged the adoption of the liturgy. More recent studies by Yale professor Paul V. Marshall (work cited below) demonstrate from primary sources that the letters Hatchett relied on were written by William Smith, that Seabury was the only liturgically literate member of the House of Bishops in his day, and that William White at best did not understand the rite of the Scottish Church, much less endorse it. Furthermore, Marshall discovered documents not seen by Hatchett that indicate the active role Seabury took in liturgical revision in Connecticut and the extent to which the rank-and-file clergy were aware of his commitments. He demonstrated that Seabury kept very strictly his obligation to the Scots to study and quietly advocate their point of view in eucharistic matters. Hatchett has himself agreed that Marshall has the better data and interpretation.

Seabury's defense of the Scottish service—especially its restoration of the epiklesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit in the consecration of the Communion elements influenced the first Book of Common Prayer adopted by the Episcopal Church in 1789. The English 1662 Prayer Book Prayer of Consecration ended with the Words of Institution. But the Scottish Rite continued from that point with a Prayer of Oblation based on the ancient classical models of Consecration Prayers found in Roman and Orthodox Christianity (this prayer in the English Rite had been detached and placed at the end of the service as a kind of Prayer of Thanksgiving for Communion in order to avoid the suggestion that the Holy Eucharist was a Sacrifice or Offering to God by his Church in union with Christ). Thus the Episcopal Church's practice was brought closer to the tradition of the Roman church. In addition to the epiklesis Seabury argued for the restoration of another ancient custom: the weekly celebration of Holy Communion on Sunday rather than the infrequent observance that became customary in most Protestant churches after the Reformation. In "An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion," published in 1789 in New Haven, he wrote that "when I consider its importance, both on account of the positive command of Christ, and of the many and great benefits we receive from it, I cannot but regret that it does not make a part of every Sunday's solemnity." Seabury was ahead of his time, but two centuries later the custom of weekly Eucharist was rapidly spreading through many Protestant and Anglican congregations under the impact of the Liturgical Movement.

He died in New London on 25 February 1796, where his remains lie in a small chapel at St. James. The church also features a stained glass window depicting his consecration in Scotland. Seabury's portrait, by Ralph Earl, is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Another notable portrait hangs at the General Theological seminary and yet another (smaller) painting is to be found at the College of Preachers on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington.

Seabury was a superior organizer and a strict churchman. Seabury's "Farmer's Letters" rank him as the most vigorous American loyalist controversialist and, along with his prayers and devotional writings, one of the greatest masters of style of his period. His printed sermons and essays enjoyed wide readership well after his death.


Samuel Seabury was the 1st bishop consecrated for the Episcopal Church.


His son Charles (1770-1844) was rector in various Long Island churches; and Charles's son Samuel (1801-1872), who graduated from Columbia in 1823, was rector of the Church of the Annunciation in New York City from 1838-1868, and professor of Biblical learning and the Interpretation of Scriptures in the General Theological Seminary from 1862. William Jones Seabury (b. 1837), son of the last named, was rector of the Church of the Annunciation from 1868 to 1898, professor of ecclesiastical polity and law in the General Theological Seminary from 1873, and published a Manual for Choristers (1878), Lectures on Apostolic Succession (1893) and An Introduction to the Study of Ecclesiastical Polity (1894). William Jones Seabury's son Samuel Seabury (1873-1958) was a judge of the New York Court of Appeals.

Popular Society

Seabury Hall, at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, is named after Samuel Seabury.


  • Letters of a Westchester Farmer (1774-5)
  • The Communion-Office, or Order for the Administration of the Holy Eucharist or Supper of the Lord with Private Devotions (1786)
  • An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion (1789)
  • Hamilton's View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies as "A. W. Farmer"
  • The Errors of Calvinism n.p. 1766 ST2
  • A View of the Controversy between Great-Britain and Her Colonies. New York 1774
  • Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress New York 1774
  • The Congress Canvassed. New York 1774
  • An Alarm to the Legislature of the Province of New-York, Occasioned by the Present Political Disturbances. New York 1775
  • A Discourse on Brotherly Love, Preached before the Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, of Zion Lodge, at St. Paul’s Chapel, in New York, on the Festival of St. John the Baptist, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Seven. New York 1777 SUI
  • A Discourse on II Tim. III. 16. Delivered in St. Paul’s and St. George’s Chapels, in New-York, on Sunday the 11th of May, 1777. New York 1777 SUI
  • St. Peter’s Exhortation to Fear God and Honor the King, Explained and Inculcated: in a Discourse Addressed to His Majesty’s Provincial Troops, in Camp at King’s Bridge, on Sunday the 28th Sept. 1777. New York 1777 Attributed although doubtful. SUI
  • A Sermon Preached before the Grand Lodge, and the Other Lodges of Ancient Freemasons, in New-York, at St. Paul’s Chapel, on the Anniversary of St. John the Evangelist, 1782. New York 1783 SUI
  • Samuel, by Divine Permission, Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the State of Connecticut [injunction regarding political prayers] n.p. 1785 Broad-side SUI, ST2
  • Bishop Seabury’s Second Charge, to the Clergy of His Diocess [sic], Delivered at Derby, in the State of Connecticut, on the 22d of September, 1786. New Haven 1786 SUI
  • Forms of prayer for the United States in Congress Assembled 1786 Only a fragment survives
  • The Address of the Episcopal Clergy of Connecticut, to the Right Reverend Bishop Seabury, with the Bishop’s Answer and, a Sermon, Before the Convention at Middletown, August 3d, 1785...Also Bishop Seabury’s first Charge, to the Clergy of his Diocess [sic], Delivered at Middletown, August 4th, 1785. With a List of the Succession of Scot’s Bishops, from the Revolution 1688, to the present Time. New Haven 1786 The Charge is paginated separately.
  • The Communion-Office, or Order for the Administration of the Holy Eucharist or Supper of the Lord. With Private Devotions. Recommended to the Episcopal Congregations in Connecticut. New London 1786
  • A Sermon Delivered before the Boston Episcopal Charitable Society in Trinity Church; at Their Anniversary Meeting on Easter Tuesday March 25, 1788. Boston 1788 SUI
  • A Sermon Preached in Christ Church, Philadelphia, Before the Corporation for the Relief of the Widows and Children of Clergymen at their Anniversary Meeting, October 7th, 1789. Philadelphia 1789 SUI
  • An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion; Addressed to Those Professors of the Church of England, in Connecticut, Who Neglect That Holy Ordinance. New Haven 1789 SUI
  • The Duty of Considering our Ways. A Sermon Preached in Saint James Church, New-London, on Ashwednesday, 1789. New London 1789
  • An Address to the Ministers and Congregations of the Presbyterian and Independent Persuasions in the United States of America, by a Member of the Episcopal Church New Haven 1790 SUI
  • A Discourse, Delivered in St. John’s Church, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, at the Conferring the Order of Priesthood on the Rev. Robert Fowle, A.M. of Holderness, on the Festival of St. Peter, 1791. 1791 SUI
  • A Discourse Delivered before the Triennial Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church at Trinity Church, New York, on the Twelfth Day of September, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-Two. New York 1792 SUI
  • Discourses on Several Subjects. New York 1793
  • Samuel, by Divine Permission, Bishop of Connecticut and Rhode Island [regarding the deposition of James Sayre] n.p. 1793 Broad-side SUI
  • A Discourse Delivered in St. James’ Church, in New-London, on Tuesday the 23d of December, 1794, Before an Assembly of Free and Accepted Masons, Convened for the Purpose of Installing a Lodge in that City New London 1794
  • A Burial Office for Infants Who Depart this Life before they have Polluted their Baptism by Actual Sin n.p. 1795 SUI
  • A Discourse Delivered Before an Assembly of Free and Accepted Masons, Convened for the Purpose of Installing a Lodge in the City of Norwich, in Connecticut, on the Festival of St. John the Baptist, 1795. Norwich 1795
  • Samuel, By Divine Permission, Bishop of Connecticut and Rhode-Island… [charitable fund] New London 1795 SUI
  • Samuel, By Divine Permission, Bishop of Connecticut and Rhode-Island…[Algerian Captives] New London 1795 ST2
  • The Psalter or Psalms of David, Pointed as They are to be Sung or Said in Churches. With the Order for Morning and Evening Prayer Daily Throughout the Year. [Also containing the Athanasian Creed, the Litany, Prayers for special occasions, Thanksgivings, and a Catechism] New London 1795
  • Discourses on Several Important Subjects. New York 1798

See also


  • E. Edwards Beardsley, Life and Correspondence of the Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury (Boston, 1881).
  • William Jones Seabury, Memoir of Bishop Samuel Seabury (New York, 1908)
  • Paul V. Marshall, One, Catholic, and Apostolic--Samuel Seabury and the Early Episcopal Church. New York: Church Publishing Incoorporated (2004).
  • The Episcopal Church Annual. Morehouse Publishing: New York, NY (2005).
  • Wilkinson, Todd. The Scottish Roots of the Episcopal Church. Scottish History Online. Accessed 14:49, 2 February 2006 (UTC)

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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Religious titles
Preceded by
1st Bishop of Connecticut
November 14, 1784 – 1796
Succeeded by
Abraham Jarvis
Preceded by
William White
2nd Presiding Bishop
October 5, 1789 – September 8, 1792
Succeeded by
Samuel Provoost
sv:Samuel Seabury (1729-1796)

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