Samuel Seabury, First American Bishop, 1796

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, and then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.


About the Commemoration

Samuel Seabury, the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church, was born in Groton, Connecticut, November 30, 1729. After ordination in England in 1753, he was assigned, as a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, to Christ Church, New Brunswick, New Jersey. In 1757, he became rector of Grace Church, Jamaica, Long Island, and in 1766 rector of St. Peter’s, Westchester County. During the American Revolution, he remained loyal to the British crown, and served as a chaplain in the British army.

After the Revolution, a secret meeting of Connecticut clergymen in Woodbury, on March 25, 1783, named Seabury or the Rev. Jeremiah Leaming, whichever would be able or willing, to seek episcopal consecration in England. Leaming declined; Seabury accepted, and sailed for England.

After a year of negotiation, Seabury found it impossible to obtain episcopal orders from the Church of England because, as an American citizen, he could not swear allegiance to the crown. He then turned to the Non–juring bishops of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. On November 14, 1784, in Aberdeen, he was consecrated by the Bishop and the Bishop Coadjutor of Aberdeen and the Bishop of Ross and Caithness, in the presence of a number of the clergy and laity.

On his return home, Seabury was recognized as Bishop of Connecticut in Convocation on August 3, 1785, at Middletown. With Bishop William White, he was active in the organization of the Episcopal Church at the General Convention of 1789. With the support of William Smith of Maryland, William Smith of Rhode Island, William White of Pennsylvania, and Samuel Parker of Boston, Seabury kept his promise, made in a concordat with the Scottish bishops, to persuade the American Church to adopt the Scottish form for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

 In 1790 Seabury became responsible for episcopal oversight of the churches in Rhode Island; and at the General Convention of 1792 he participated in the first consecration of a bishop on American soil, that of John Claggett of Maryland. Seabury died on February 25, 1796, and is buried beneath St. James’ Church, New London.

The Collects

I. Eternal God, who didst bless thy servant Samuel Seabury with the gift of perseverance to renew the Anglican inheritance in North America; Grant that, joined together in unity with our bishops and nourished by thy holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II. Eternal God, you blessed your servant Samuel Seabury with the gift of perseverance to renew the Anglican inheritance in North America: Grant that, joined together in unity with our bishops and nourished by your holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Psalm 133


Isaiah 63:7–9

Acts 20:28–32

Matthew 9:35–38


Preface of Apostles

18 thoughts on “Samuel Seabury, First American Bishop, 1796

  1. The date chosen for Seabury’s memorial is the date of his consecration in Scotland as a bishop, in 1784. Should we not consider moving this recognition to the date of his death, which he could share with John Roberts?

    Line 6 of paragraph 1: insert “,New York” after “County”. It may be news to those living in the north-east, but there are many Episcopalians who have no familiarity with East Coast geography. 🙂

    • Friend Byron Rushing says:

      I suggest we keep this date and restore the title from Lesser Feasts and Fasts: Consecration of Samuel Seabury.

      Paragraphs 3 and 4 give the reasons for commemorating this day; paragraphs 1, 2, and 5 are Samuel’s resume.

      Of the first five bishops of the American succession only William White gets a place in HWHM and I think that’s appropriate.

      Do we need the last phrase in the last sentence? If we are going to add travel and tourist information on shrines and grave sites, shouldn’t we be consistent throughout the biographies? (Yes, I’ve stood on his grave in the little chapel in St.James’ undercroft.)

  2. Collect: What is ‘the Anglican inheritance’ and can I get some, or at least be mentioned in the will? Does it involve jewels? Silver from Queen Anne? 🙂

    I like the new collect but it needs some tweaking to pray better.

  3. How unique that even now we must go into another country and seek permission to follow the calling of our hearts. God bless the Scots and their dear Queen Mary, who held closely to the Cross even unto her death. Be so as they, we who seek to live and abide by Divine Wisdom and suffer for Faith.

    • Estelle.

      This sounds more like a polite polemic rather than a comment regarding the commemoration of Blessed Samuel’s consecration.

      • Michael, being an Episcopal woman I must smile and say in a most kind and gentle Southern voice, “That’s nice.” For I have come to notice, within the Church, the voice of men supersede the thoughts of women.

  4. LFF had it right — it’s the consecration of Seabury that counts. The new write-up overstates his influence on the Church and white-washes his war-time service (he was map-maker/intelligence officer as well as chaplain to the King’s American Regiment).
    When the other colonies sent aid to the people of Boston, who were suffering from the closure of their harbor following the Boston Tea Party in 1773, Seabury was outraged. “In God’s name, are not the people of Boston able to relieve their own poor? Must they go begging . . . from Nova-Scotia to Georgia, to support a few poor people whom their perverseness and ill conduct have thrown into distress? If they are really under such violent concern for their poor, why don’t they pay for the tea?”
    Writing as “a Westchester farmer” in 1775, Seabury charitably denounced the “Virginia and Massachusetts madmen” who would enslave the people of New York. “If I must be enslaved let it be by a KING at least, and not by a parcel of upstart lawless Committee-men. If I must be devoured, let me be devoured by the jaws of a lion, and not gnawed to death by rats and vermin.”
    Had Seabury got his way after the war, there would have been no lay participation in the decision making of the church. Clergy would have been allowed to vote at General Convention only after having been “instructed” on the issues before them by “the Bishop of All America.” And our liturgy would have been enriched by the frequent recitation of “the most splendid ecclesiastical lyric ever poured forth by the genius of man,” the Athanasian Creed.

  5. Michael – I would second Estelle Irene Kinkade Wilson’s “That’s nice,” with an equally Southern, “Well bless your heart!” And I’m only a come-here form the Middle West! Of course, the come-here started in 1971.

    • Estelle and Cynthia.

      Whatever nerve I have touched, I apologize. The lack of nuance in an email/blog apparently have skewed the intention of my comment. I never imagined that I was a man superseding ‘the thoughts of women’. 😦 [And I get the Southern put downs, too … 😦 ]

      Let me try again.
      In recent years some Episcopalians have left The Episcopal Church and are now part of the Province of the Southern Cone of America, the Anglican Province of Kenya, The Church of the Province of Uganda, the Church of the Province of West Africa, and others.

      It seemed, at least to me, that you were equating Samuel Seabury’s quest for ordination – successfully accomplished by the Scottish Episcopal Church – with this current phenomenon.

      • Michael Dear,

        No comparison to the acts of atrocity of the African Anglican Church, of which my Brothers and Sisters of Transition give their lives for God and Faith. The thought was Samuel Seabury who had remained faithful to Crown, was required to be recognised by the Church of Scotland prior to his Bishop’s Seat being recognised by the same Crown he swore allegiance.

        Though my family has been founded in Southern Indiana for into our third century, I understand the disappointment The Right Reverend Samuel Seabury endured. My branch of the Wilson’s of the Carolina’s did leave our heritage due Crowns command of abolitionism and with shared royal heritage did seek sanctuary in French held territories. My dear Michael, from Nazarene preachers child to Episcopal Aspirant Sister has been a long journey of return to heritage. I do appreciate your reading and look forward to correspondence in the future. We share one bread, one cup.

  6. I agree that November 14 is the significant date. It was Seabury’s consecration and his introduction of the “High Church” (in its original sense) theology of the Scottish Episcopal Church that were his particular contributions to the American Episcopal Church. I do not object to the new collect, but the one in LLF was more on point.

  7. According to Bishop Paul Marshall in his autobiography of Seabury (_One, Catholic, Apostolic_), Seabury’s theology and churchmanship were formed well before his Scottish consecration. Marshall uses primary sources (letters, essays, etc.) to show the theological influence of Samuel Johnson (not the English Samuel Johnson) on Seabury in his youth. Marshall also shows that it was the mature Seabury’s influence, tempered by that of+White of PA, which kept the first American Book of Common Prayer from doctrinal distortion done to appeal to Enlightenment thinkers like Benjamin Franklin.

  8. 1) Breaking out beyond ecclesiastical colonialism
    2) The Empowering of a Church in North America
    3) The episcopacy beginning its struggle for identity in the United States

    I’ll leave those three items as a list for brevity’s sake (yes, Virginia, LaVoe did just use the word “brevity”) as background for stating that unlike most of the commemorations, which are generally about outstanding individuals carrying out the particularities of their Christian callings, simultaneously showing how their inner faith was developed and sustained, THIS commemoration is not so much about a heroic individual (nor one with whom some of the commentators above obviously still have issues). Rather, it is about an unfolding that is the overlapping story of The Church as a whole — at this part of it. For that reason, I have to agree with Leonel Mitchell’s observation that the LFF collect is more on track with what matters. Trying to bring lthe commemoration more into line with the majority of others is understandable, but loses something in the translation.

  9. John, have you read Bishop Paul Marshall’s biography of Seabury? Seabury is one of those figures in history who has been overly praised for many years (the “hagiography” stage, ironically, considering the purpose of the commemorations), then “debunked.” Marshall wanted to set the story straight. I’m afraid what you say above is pretty much still in the “debunking” phase–you imply that Seabury wasn’t all that great a figure himself, just part of the tide. Marshall shows Seabury’s unique contributions to the development of the American church, and especially to the first American prayer book. The BCP is where our “doctrine” is illustrated, and since that is the case, it was crucial to our church that sound doctrine be in our liturgies. Seabury made sure that it was, and his perseverance in doing so illustrated your phrase above: he was indeed an “outstanding individual carrying out the particularities of (his) Christian calling, simultaneously showing how (his) inner faith was developed and sustained.” I don’t share Seabury’s dim view of the role of the laity in church governance, and he was on the wrong side of the American Revolution. But as he matured in his faith, he understood what was basic to our faith as Anglicans and made sure that it was not “watered down” in the American prayer book.

  10. Here is a comment about Marshall’s follow-up scholarship to Hackett’s that I found in a Wikipedia article. I would especially like to know what Leonel thinks of it (as well as others). I do agree with Marshall that a fair assessment of Seabury is very important to our understanding of the history of the Episcopal Church in America.

    “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.”

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