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Source: April 1996 Volume 34 Number 2, Pages 71–74

A Prefatory Setting to the History of Old St. Davids Church at Radnor, Pennsylvania

Henry Pleasants

Page 71

One of the most important requisites for the exhibition of the beauties of a rare jewel is to secure for it an appropriate setting. Nor does the observance of this requirement become less important when the exhibition is but figuratively a jewel. Hence in the preparation of this historical account of the Old Welsh Church of St. David's, Radnor -pre-eminently the rural ecclesiastical landmark of the State -- it is desirable, in order to secure the full advantage which the mellowing light of two centuries has shed on such a jewel, briefly to review the history of the establishment of the Church of England in Penn's Quaker Colony.

In the chapter on "Church of England," of "Keith's Chronicles of Pennsylvania," it is stated that from the time of the British occupation of New Castle, in October, 1664, adherents of the English Church could have been found on the western shore of the Delaware River. It is also stated that Rev. John Yeo, who came up from Maryland in December, 1677, with a license from the Bishop of London, was probably the first English clergyman who ever officiated in Pennsylvania territory. These ministrations were, however, continued but a few months, and thereafter followed a hiatus of some nineteen years when no record appears of the public use of the Anglican liturgy in the territory now comprising the States of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Meantime had been granted, March 4, 1681, by Charles II, on the recommendation of the Committee of the Privy Council for the affairs of Trade and Plantations, a Patent or Charter of the entire Province to the Quaker statesman whose name it bears.

It was in this crisis in the history of the English Church in Pennsylvania territory, when the door opened for her entrance there, as the result of the almost bloodless conquest by England of the Dutch territory in North America, seemed about to be closed by the surrender of that territory to the Church's sectarian opponents, that a martial and mitred figure appeared in her defense and secured for her a special privilege in the entrance on that field which was of inestimable value.

Page 72

To the stormy character of one of the members of this Committee of Privy Council ~ Henry Compton, Bishop of London - is pre-eminently to be ascribed the laying of the foundation of Episcopacy in the Province.

A review of Bishop Compton's life in this connection is no digression.

Son of the second Earl of Northampton, who had fallen at Hofton Heath in defense of the throne of Charles I; in youth a pikeman and afterwards an ensign or cornet in the horse guards of the restored army of Charles II; Compton had entered the ministry, it is said, because of representations that it had need of men of noble birth; admitted to holy orders, he was subsequently entrusted as Dean of the Chapel Royal with the education and religious training of the Princesses Mary and Anne -- both, later queens of England � whereby his influence on the course of history, and in support of Protestantism, was almost incalculable. He was made Bishop of Oxford in 1674, and of London in 1675, where, under his direction, had arisen from the ruins of the old Cathedral -- destroyed in the great fire of 1666 - the "noblest of Protestant temples," St. Paul's Cathedral; and from the latter See he had been temporarily suspended and imprisoned by James II for his relentless attitude towards the Roman Catholic Church.[Note 1]

Again appearing "in a purple cloak with sword drawn" at the head of a troop of horse in the preparations for the dethronement of James II, he had rendered substantial aid to the Protestant cause and had, in the absence of the too loyal primate, Sancroft, supplied his place and formally crowned William and Mary at Westminster, April 11, 1689.

It seems to have been in his position as Privy Councillor, when Penn's petition was presented early in 1680 for payment in American lands of the debt due his father, that the martial prelate and the Quaker founder � "two politicians and preachers who were also patriots and philanthropists" - met and debated the status which the Anglican Church should sustain in the Quaker colony. This is indicated by Penn's letter dated , 1700, to his agent Charlton Lawton, wherein referring to Bishop Compton and Governor Nicholson, he says:

Page 73

"... Church is their Cry and to disturb their Merit whose labours have made the place; they misrepresent all we doe & would make us dissenters in our own Countrey; the Bishop of London at ye passing of my Patent did what he could to gett savings for ye Ch. but was opposed by ye E(arl) of Radnor yn Presd'd."[Note 2]

Keith suggests that these "savings for the Church" were probably the right of probate of wills in the new colony, then possessed by the English Bishops. In lieu of this valuable emolument, however, the Bishop's efforts secured for the Church the provision in Penn 's charter:

"That if any of the inhabitants of the said pvince, to the number of Twenty, shall att any time hereafter be desirous, and shall by any writing or by any person deputed for them, signify such their desire to the Bishop of London, that any preacher or preachers to be approved of by said Bishop, may be sent vnto them for their instruccon, thai then such preacher or preachers shall and may be and reside within the said pvince, without any Deniall or molestacon whatsoever."

At the time of the final approval of Perm's charter (February, 1680-81) Bishop Compton was also entrusted by his fellow Lords with the preparation of a bill for establishing the Protestant Church (i.e., the Church of England) in Pennsylvania, but Penn's opposition to anything so foreign to complete religious toleration "for such a holy experiment," seems to have been sufficient to strangle the measure.

In the shaping of a policy for the treatrment of the Indians in Pennsylvania territory, however, the Bishop's influence seems again to have been very potent, although Penn himself has for two centuries been regarded as the author of the peace and payment policy. That neither was the actual originator of such a policy is but too evident to any intelligent reader of history, for the Dutch and the Swedes had already demonstrated its feasibility and value on the very territory in question.[Note 3]

That the English Church through its mitred peer was quite as responsible, as was the Society of Friends, for the establishment, if not enforcement, of the noble, as well as astute policy, practiced towards the aborigines during the life at least of the Quaker Founder, is indeed demonstrated beyond argument by the language of Penn in his letter of August 14, 1683, to the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council:

Page 74

"I have exactly followed the Bishop of London's counsel [council] by buying and not taking away the Native's land with whom I have settled a very kind correspondance."

Bishop Compton's aid in founding the English Church in Pennsylvania was, however, not confined to his relations with Penn. It was, unconsciously to himself, of a much earlier origin. Immediately upon his elevation to the See of London, he had revived in a modified form some earlier legislation on the subject of missionary enterprises -�originating, indeed, in the Long Parliament in relation to the labors of the Indian apostle, John Eliot, whereby the pastoral charge of sending ministers to British colonies and jurisdiction over them there, was attached specially to the London See, and an allowance of money made to each minister or schoolmaster for passage, and an allotment of books for the use of colonial churches.

The opportunity thus offered for the establishment of missionary work in North America was vigorously embraced and developed by Rev. Dr. Thomas Bray, whom Bishop Compton had appointed commissary to Maryland in 1696, and through the efforts of both these men was instituted in 1699 the "Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge," from which later developed, largely through the same untiring efforts, "The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts," the first meeting of which was held at Lambeth Palace, June 27, 1701.

It was directly to the efforts of this "Venerable" (in the primitave meaning of the word) Society -- whose origin is thus briefly traced -- that Old St. David's Church, Radnor, owes its existence.

This review of historical details leading to the founding of the English Church in Pennsylvania, is the setting in which it is desired that this history of Old St. David's Church may be presented. No more can be added without fear of detraction from the subject itself -- though the temptation is strong to recall some of those political struggles between the first missionaries of Christ's Church and the Quaker magistrates, which led to the cry from Shippen: "They are bringing the priest and the sword amongst us, but God forbid we will prevent them." These struggles fully justify Keith's significant observation concerning this period: "it is sorrowful to see that there was often more politics than theology in the minds of the adherents of the Church of England."

[Reprinted from Pleasants' "The History of Old St. David's Church at Radnor, Pennsylvania 1715 - 1915"]

1. But for this suspension Compton had been one of the companions of Sancroft and the other immortal six Bishops who in July, 1688, were indicted and tried for seditious libel, in remonstrating against James II's Declaration of Indulgence, and were acquitted with the plaudits of Protestant England.

2. 1 Pa. Arch. (1st. ser.) 141.

3. "The real author of the policy of the Founder of Pennsylvania and his companions was probably some moralist statesman, ruler or pioneer, who spoke or acted long before the Duke of York's Conquest of Manhattan." (Keith, 31 Pa. Mag., 385.)


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