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A LETTER TO Dr. Franklin, FROM GRANVILLE SHARP, ON THE
SUBJECT OF AMERICAN BISHOPS.
Old Jewry, (London,) October 29, 1785.
to my last letter, by your friendly and obliging answer of the 5th July last, but I was then out upon a long tour into Scotland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, &c. for two months, and have been very much engaged since that time.
The approbation you have been pleased to express of my tract on the clection of bishops gives me particular satisfaction ; and as you have thought proper to favour me with some information on that subject, it becomes my duty to enlarge upon it, and to communicate my sentiments without reserve. Long before this time you will probably have heard of a letter which I wrote to a friend in America, expressing my doubts concerning the validity of Dr. Seabury's consecration by the nonjuring bishops in Scotland : a copy of which letter was taken (as I am informed by the clergyman to whom it was sent) in order to be laid before the convention of the Episcopal clergy of three American provinces, intendcd to be held at Philadelphia, in the last month : the result of which I earnestly wish to hear. You have intimated a probability that the people of America in a certain case, “ may think it right to elect ;" but the Episcopal clergy of America will, of course, be aware that a mere election of a presbyter to the office of a bishop, will not be sufficient to constitute the Episcopal dignity (nor to confer the kind of authority that is requisite for those who preside, according to the apostolick constitution, in the churches of Christ) without the outward form of laying on hands by other bishops, after solemn prayer for the inspiration of the holy spirit to assist and guide the elected person in the execution of such a solemn charge and trust in the church of Christ, as must render him most awfully responsible for his whole conduct before God and man!
I was anxious that this truly christian and scriptural rite of laying on hands should be communicated to the Episcopal church of America, by a channel of continuation from the apostolick times that should be as unexceptionable as possible ; and therefore I wished that the first American bishops might be consecrated by our English bishops, whose predecessors were particularly instrumental in promoting the reformation from Popery (several of them having sealed their testimony with their blood) and whose doctrine in general has ever since been limited by the test of holy scripture. The authority of the bishops of Scotland, who were ejected in the reign of King William and Queen Mary, was also equally unexceptionable at that time, as I have elsewhere declared, and though they were inhumanly persecuted during the remainder of that reign, and for a few years in the beginning of Queen Anne's reign, yet they had it in their power, soon afterwards (in the 10th year of that reign) to have continucd an unquestionable Episcopal church,
though not an established one ; for their meetings were tolerated, at least, and their “ letters of orders,” acknowledged and authorized by an express act of parliament in 1711 (which I have reason to believe was principally promoted by the interest and continued endeavours (for several preceding years) of my own grandfather*] on condition that they should take the oaths to the Queen, the Princess Sophia, and all the royal family. But up happily, through the unreasonable attachment of many of them (or of their successors) to the excluded Popish family, these terms were not generally complied with ; whereby they assumed the new character of Nonjurors and Jacobites, professing attachment to a foreign authority that was inimical to the established government: which unhappy disposition afforded a pretence afterwards to the enemies of the Episcopal church of Scotland to obtain a repeal of that just act, and to entirely abolish the reasonable toleration it afforded to the continuance of the Episcopal church of Scotland. (See acts xix. and xxvi. K. Geo. II. in 1746 and 1748) whereby no “ letters of orders" were allowed, but those of English or Irish bishops, after 29th September, 1748 : and this extreme severity was exerted, without making the least reserve for discriminating in favour of such Scottish bishops, or Episcopal pastors, who might have qualified themselves for toleration agreeable to the former acts, and therefore the acts of repeal were too plainly acts of unjustifiable violence, which nothing but the critical time in which they were passed (viz. during the extreme dejection of the Jacobite party by the happy suppression of the late rebellion in the heart of the kingdom) would have prorapted the opposite party in power to adopt ; nothing but an opportunity of irresistible power could have emboldened them to proceed to such cruel extremities under the external form of law! But however cruel and unjust this repeal of a mere tolera. tion may be deemed towards the more moderate part of the bishops and Episcopal pastors of Scotland, yet, it is to be feared, that by far the greatest part of them had not sufficient moderation to induce their submission to “ the powers that be," and to profess a due christian resolution to live quietly under the established government : for it appears that the professed Nonjurors were driven by the spirit of party to very unjustifiable lengths; and their attachment to the excluded family induced them (as I have been informed) to receive their Congés d’Elire from the Pretender : a practice highly derogatory to the rights of the christian church, and therefore justly exceptionable even under a protestant prince, but utterly inexcusable, when the submission was voluntary to a Popish descendant of the justly excluded family, who had not even a shadow of power or authority to enforce that undue royal interference in episcopal elections !
But this voluntary submission to the Congé d'Elire is not my only objection to the nonjuring bishops of Scotland. Their high tory notions of passive obedience, and indefeasible hereditary right, under the
* His grandfather was Archbishop of York.
influence of a foreign Popish prince, have led them to adopt (as I have been informed) some usages which are very exceptionable and apparently Popish! For, it is said, that they not only mix water with the wine in the commemoration of the Lord's supper (which is without authority of the holy scripture, howsoever the tradition, which they allege, of primitive times, may seem to favour it) but they also adulterate even the water in the other sacrament of baptism (contrary both to primitive tradition and the scriptures) with a mixture of chrism or oil, salt, &c. when pure water alone is commanded! And so dangerous it is to be wise above what is written, that prayers for the dead, and extreme unction have also been admitted (it seems) as usages among them!
These are my reasons for wishing, that the first American bishops may receive their consecration rather from our English bishops, tban from the nonjurors of Scotland And I have good authority to say, that several of the English bishops (and I have not the least reason to suspect that any of the rest eniertain different sentiments on this point) are very desirous to promote the episcopal church of Christ in America or else where upon true christian principles, without any idea of acquiring the icast ascendancy thereby, whicis might be derogatory to the independence of free national churches: and though they are, at present, so unhappily bound up by the aci of uniformity, that they cannot dispense with the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, yet I am assured on the best authority, that they will endeavour to obtain a due sanction or pow. er to do so (even if an express act of parliament should be thought neces. sary to effect it) whenever a proper requisition shall be made to consecrate a bishop, or bishops, for America, provided the elected persons sent from thence, bring with them the necessary testimonials of their ecclesiastical qualifications, morality, election, &c. (for the scriptural rubrick is to lay hands suddenly on no man) and I have ample reason to think that all due attention will be paid to so just a demand.
Be pleased to excuse the trouble I give you in perusing so long a let. ter, for it was not in my power to express all that I wished to communicate on this important subject in fewer words.
I remain, with irue respect and esteem,
GRANVILLE SHARP. His Excellency Benjamin Franklin, Esq.
HE observes that he had written before to a friend in America upon this subject. That friend was President Manning, of Providence. He wrote to him upon it in the winter before, when he sent a present of books to Providence college ; and a copy of the answer thereto is before me, dated Providence, July 26, 1785, which mentions, that said letter about bishops, was dated December 30, 1784, and the President says,
* YOUR letter relating to ecclesiastical matters, after perusal, I communicated to my ministering brethren of the episcopal church in my vicinity, who took a copy of it. I then took it to New York, and communicated it to some of the members of congress ; lent it to Dr. Prevost the rector, who desired liberty to copy it, which I granted him; withal, requesting bim to communicate it to his brethren. He proposed doing so, and laying it before the convention of the episcopal clergy, of Virginia and New York, inclusive, to meet at Philadelphia in September nest."
In answer to this, Mr. Sharp wrote December 11, 1785, and said,
“I AM much obliged to you for so candidly communicating my former letter, respecting the nonjuring bishops of Scotland, to so many respectable persons, and especially to Dr. Prevost, as his intention was to lay a copy of it before the general convention of the episcopal churches at Philadelphia. Having received a letter from Dr. Franklin (written just before his departure from Passy) on the subject of episcopacy, I thought it right to acquaint him that I had already wrote a letter on that subject to a friend in America (without mentioning names) wherein I had expressed my doubts concerning the nonjuring bishops of Scotland: and as these doubts and suspicions have been confirmed in my late journey to Scotland, wherein I received much more information concerning them than I was aware of, when I wrote to you, I thought it my duty to declare it without reserve in a letter to Dr. Franklin; and the same reasons, which prompted me to write him, induce me to send also to you a copy of that letter ; because it was not for the sake of individuals that I wrote so long a letter, but for the information of the publick. However, if you think there is any impropriety in communicating the copy of a letter addressed to an individual, before he himself may have received it, you will do well to conceal the address of the letter, and forbear to mention Dr. Franklin's name in the matter ; but I must entirely leave to your better judgment the propriety of doing so or not.
“ I am happy to find you have reason to think, that "in process of time the slavery of the Africans throughout the United States must be abolished : that the plan formed for the peopling of the new states does not admit of personal slavery, and as these will be contiguous to those where it still obtains, owners of slaves will derive but little advantage, as stepping over the line will ensure them their liberty. This will surely be a desirable happy effect! but yet I cannot help being jealous lest custom (which has for many years so shamefully prevailed in America) of taking up runaway slaves and delivering them up to their masters, for the sake of the advertised rewards, should still continue, if it is not prohibited by express laws, and a repeal of those by which it was wickedly encouraged; because use (even to a proverb) is second nature.
I have therefore enclosed an argument on that subject, which I drew up many years ago, when I first began to vindicate the rights of poor negro slaves in England, against the established opinions of some great lawyers (the Lords Hardwick and Talbot, Judge Blackstone, &c.) and my endeavours, thank God, were not in vain, but proved in the end, completely effectual to the enfranchisement of every slave (I mean every domestick or private slave) that touches English ground!
GRANVILLE SHARP. " P.S. I have an earnest desire to see an account of the determination of the late convention of the episcopal churches, at Philadelphia.
" Rev. Mr. Manning."
The foregoing letter to Dr. Franklin hath been transcribed with great care, from the copy which Mr. Sharp sent to President Manning, which is now before me; and the extracts of the other letters have also been carefully made, for the use of the Massachusetts Historical Society, by their humble servant,
ISAAC BACKUS. Middleborough, May 6, 1794.
A TOPOGRAPHICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE TOWN OF RAYNHAM, IN
THE COUNTY OF BRISTOL, FEBRUARY 6, 1793. By The Rev. PERES FOBES, LL. D.
AYNHAM is distant from Boston, the capital of the state, about
thirty-six miles ; in a southerly direction. This town, which, with a number of others, originally belonged to the old township of Taunton, was taken off and incorporated, in the year 1731. It is bounded on the east by Bridgewater; on the west by Taunton ; on the south by the river called Taunton Great river, and on the north by Eastown, Bridgewater, and a part of Nippaniquet pond. It is about eight miles in length and four miles and a half wide. This town makes a part of those lands which originally were known by the name of Cohanat, in the colony of New Plymouth. They were first purchased of Massasoit, the Indian chief, by Elizabeth Pool and her associates.
The lands in general are level and smooth. A stranger, riding through the towni, will form but an indifferent opinion of the whole, if he judges from that part only, which he sees. The roads are excellent,