The distance of this from the Mother Country, and the consequent separation of the members of the Church from their parent stock, which rendered them dependent for the ministry upon emigrations from England, or obliged them to send candidates to that Country, for Holy Orders, operated as a serious obstacle to the increase of the Church here. All the clergy of this Country were attached to the diocese of the Bishop of London, who thus became the only bond of union between them; but his authority could not be effectually exerted, at such a distance, in those cases where it was most needed; and, for these and other reasons, several efforts were made by the clergy to obtain an American Episcopate. But the jealousy with which such a measure was regarded by other denominations, and the great opposition with which it consequently met, prevented the accomplishment of the design. When, however, the tie, which had thus bound the members of the Church together in one communion, had been severed, by the independence of the United States, it was necessary that some new bond of union should be adopted; and renewed efforts were made to procure an Episcopate.
The clergy of the Church in Connecticut, at a meeting held in March, 1783, elected the Rev. Samuel Seabury, D. D., their Bishop, and sent him to England, with an application to the Archbishop of Canterbury for his consecration to that holy office. The English Bishops were unable to consecrate him, till an Act of Parliament, authorizing them so to do, could be passed; and he then made application to the Bishops of the Church in Scotland, who readily assented to the request, and he was consecrated by them, in Aberdeen, on the 14th of November, 1784. The Prelates, who were thus the instruments of first communicating the Episcopate to this Country, were, the Right Reverend Robert Kilgour, D. D., Bishop of Aberdeen, the Right Reverend Arthur Petrie, D. D., Bishop of Ross and Moray, and the Right Reverend John Skinner, D. D., Coadjutor Bishop of Aberdeen. Bishop Seabury returned to this Country, immediately after his consecration, and commenced his Episcopal duties without delay.
A few clergymen of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, having held a meeting at Brunswick, N. J., on the 13th and 14th of May, 1784, for the purpose of consulting in what way to renew a Society for the support of widows and children of deceased clergymen, determined to procure a larger meeting on the 5th of the ensuing October, not only for the purpose of completing the object for which they had then assembled, but also to confer and agree on some general principles of a union of the Church throughout the States. At this latter meeting, a plan of ecclesiastical union was agreed upon, with great unanimity; and a recommendation to the several States, to send delegates to a general meeting, at Philadelphia, in September, 1785, was adopted.
At the meeting, in Philadelphia, in September and October, 1785, there were present, deputies from seven of the thirteen States. This Convention framed an Ecclesiastical Constitution, recommended sundry alterations in the Book of Common Prayer, to adapt it to the local circumstances of the Country, now severed from the parent State, and also took some measures towards procuring the Episcopate from England. An Address was forwarded to the English Bishops, through his Excellency John Adams, then Minister to England, and afterwards President of the United States who zealously used his influence to promote the views of the Convention.
Another Convention was held in Philadelphia, in June, 1786, at which, a Letter was read, from the Archbishops and Bishops of England, in answer to the Address forwarded from the preceding Convention; and another Address to the same Right Reverend Prelates, was adopted, to accompany the Ecclesiastical Constitution now finally agreed upon. This Convention then adjourned, to meet again whenever answers should be received from England. The next meeting was held at Wilmington, in Delaware, in October, 1786, at which, Letters from the English Prelates were read, and also an Act of Parliament, authorizing the consecration of Bishops for foreign places. Sundry further amendments and modifications of the Ecclesiastical Constitution, and Book of Common Prayer, were agreed upon, another Address to the English Prelates was adopted, and testimonials signed for three clergymen, who had been elected Bishops by their respective Dioceses. Two of these clergymen proceeded to England, in the course of the next month; and, after some further delays, all difficulties were finally removed, and the Rev. William White, D. D., of Philadelphia, and the Rev. Samuel Provoost, D. D., of New York, having been elected to the Bishoprics of Pennsylvania and New York, were consecrated to their high and holy office, on the fourth of February, A. D.1787, in the chapel of the Archiepiscopal palace at Lambeth, by the Most Reverend John Moore, D. D., Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the Most Reverend William Markham, D. D., Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend Charles Moss, D. D., Bishop of Bath and Wells, and the Right Reverend Charles Hinchliff, D. D., Bishop of Peterborough. The newly-consecrated Bishops returned to America, April 7, 1787, and soon after, began the exercise of their Episcopal functions in their respective dioceses.
Of these three original Bishops of the Church, Bishop Seabury discharged his Episcopal duties between nine and ten years, and died, February 25, 1796. Bishop White continued to be as a patriarch of the Church for many years, his life having been prolonged to the age of 88, and the discharge of his Episcopal functions having continued forty-nine years. He died, July 17, 1836. Bishop Provoost died, September 6, 1815, in the twenty-ninth year of his Episcopate.
The first triennial Convention of the Church was held in July and August, 1789, and the sessions of this body continue to be regularly held every three years. Rev. James Madison, D. D., was consecrated Bishop of Virginia, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, September 19, 1790, and died March 6, 1812. Rev. Thomas John Claggett, D. D., of Maryland, was the first Bishop consecrated in the United States, having been elevated to that holy Order by the Right Reverend Bishops Provoost, Seabury, White, and Madison, in New York, September 17, 1792; since which time, thirty-three Bishops have been consecrated, making the whole number, thirty-eight, of whom twenty are now living. For the succession of Bishops, from the first establishment of the Church, to the present day, see Statistics.
The last General Convention was held in New York, in October, 1841, at which time, there were present, twenty-one Bishops, and 79 clerical and 57 lay members. The Bishops reported the consecration of 93 churches, the ordination of 355 clergymen, and the confirmation of 14,767 persons, in the years 1838 to 1841. The whole number of clergymen, at the present time, (1842,) is 1114. Other facts of interest, in relation to the Church in this Country, will be found among the Statistics of this volume; and for more full information, the reader is referred to "Swords's Pocket Almanack, Churchman's Register, and Ecclesiastical Calendar," a valuable little manual, published annually, and to the "Churchman's Almanack," also published annually; and for historical notices, reference may be made to Bishop White's "Memoirs of the Protestant Episcopal Church," Journals of the General, and State Conventions, Hawks's Ecclesiastical History of different States, and other similar works.