Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of the United States,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. VIII: Literary Criticism - part 01 (1902), pp. 239-251


[page 239:]


[Southern Literary Messenger, March, 1836.]

THIS is a large and handsome octavo of 620 pages. The very cursory examination which we have as yet been able to give it, will not warrant us in speaking of the work in other than general terms. A word or two, however, we may say in relation to the plan, the object, and circumstances of publication, with some few observations upon points which have attracted our especial attention.

From the Preface we learn that, more than five years ago, the author, in conjunction with the Rev. Edward Rutledge, of South Carolina, first conceived the idea of gathering together such materials for the History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, as might still exist either in tradition or in the manuscripts of the earlier clergy. That these materials were abundant might rationally be supposed — still they were to be collected, if collected at all, at the expense of much patience, time, and labor, from a wide diversity of sources. Dr. Hawks and his associate, however, [page 240:] were stimulated to exertion by many of the bishops and clergy of the church. The plan originally proposed was merely, if we understand it, the compilation of an annalistic journal — a record of naked facts, to be subsequently arranged and shaped into narrative by the pen of the historiographer. In the prosecution of the plan thus designed, our author and his coadjutor were successful beyond expectation, and a rich variety of matter was collected. Death, at this period, deprived Dr. Hawks of his friend’s assistance, and left him to pursue his labor alone. He now, very properly, determined upon attempting, himself, the execution of the work for which his Annals were intended as materiel. He began with Virginia — selecting it as the oldest State. The present volume is simply an experiment. Should it succeed, of which there can be no doubt whatever, we shall have other volumes in turn — and that, we suppose, speedily, for there are already on hand sufficient data to furnish a history of “each of the older diocesses.”

For the design of this work — if even not for the manner of its execution — Dr. Hawks is entitled to the thanks of the community at large. He has taken nearly the first step (a step, too, of great decision, interest and importance) in the field of American Ecclesiastical History. To that church, especially, of which he is so worthy a member, he has rendered a service not to be lightly appreciated in the extraordinary dearth of materials for its story. In regard to Protestant Episcopalism in America it may be safely said that, prior to this publication of Dr. Hawks, there were no written memorials extant, with the exception of the Archives of the General and Diocesan Meetings, and the Journal of Bishop White. For other religious denominations [page 241:] the matériel of history is more abundant, and it would be well, if following the suggestions and example of our author, Christians of all sects would exert themselves for the collection and preservation of what is so important to the cause of our National Ecclesiastical Literature.

The History of any Religion is necessarily a very large portion of the History of the people who profess it. And regarded in this point of view the “Narrative” of Dr. Hawks will prove of inestimable value to Virginia. It commences with the first settlement of the colony — with the days when the first church was erected in Virginia — that very church whose hoary ruins stand so tranquilly to-day in the briar-encumbered graveyard at Jamestown — with the memorable epoch when Smith, being received into the council, partook, with his rival, the President, of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and Virginia “commenced its career of civilization” with the most impressive of Christian solemnities. Bringing down the affairs of the church to the appointment of the Reverend William Meade, D.D. as Assistant Bishop of Virginia, the narration concludes with a highly gratifying account of present prosperity. The diocese is said to possess more than one hundred churches “some of them the fruit of reviving zeal in parishes which once flourished, but have long been almost dead.” Above seventy clergymen are in actual service. There is a large missionary fund, a part of which lies idle, because missionaries are not to be had. Much reliance is placed, however, upon the Seminary at Alexandria. This institution has afforded instruction, during the last three years, to sixty candidates for orders, and has given no less than thirty-six ministers to the Episcopalty. [page 242:]

We will mention, briefly, a few of the most striking points of the History before us. At page 48, are some remarks in reply to Burk’s insinuation of a persecuting and intolerant spirit in the early colonial religion of the State — an insinuation based on no better authority than a statement in “certain ancient records of the province” concerning the trial, condemnation, and execution by fire, of a woman, for the crime of witchcraft. Dr. Hawks very justly observes, that even if the supposed execution did actually take place, it cannot sanction the inferences which are deduced from it. Evidence is wanting that the judgment was rendered by an ecclesiastical power. Witchcraft was an offence cognizable by the common courts of law, having been made a felony, without benefit of clergy, by the twelfth chapter of the first statute of James I, enacted in 1603. So that, allowing the prisoner to have suffered, her death, says our author, cannot more properly be charged to the ecclesiastical, than to the civil, authority. But in point of fact, the trial alluded to by Burk, (see Appendix XXXI,) can be no other than that of the once notorious Grace Sherwood. And this trial, we are quite certain, took place before a civil tribunal. Besides, (what is most especially to the purpose) the accused though found guilty, and condemned, was never executed.

Some observations of our author upon a circumstance which History has connected with the secular feelings of the colony, will be read with pleasure by all men of liberal opinions. We allude to the fact that when one of the colony’s agents in England (George Sandys, we believe) took it upon himself to petition Parliament, in the name of his constituents, for the restoration of the old company, the colony formally disavowed the act [page 243:] and begged permission to remain under the royal government. Now, Burk insists that this disavowal was induced solely by attachment to the Church of England, for whose overthrow the Puritans were imagined to be particularly zealous. With Dr. Hawks we protest against the decision of the historian. It can be viewed in no other light than that of an effort (brought about, perhaps, by love of our political institutions, yet still exceedingly disingenuous) to apologise for the loyalty of Virginia — to apologise for our forefathers having felt what not to have felt would have required an apology indeed! By faith, by situation, by habits and by education they had been taught to be loyal — and with them, consequently, loyalty was a virtue. But if it was indeed a crime — if Virginia has committed an inexpiable offence in resisting the encroachments of the Dictator, (we shall not say of the Commonwealth) let not the Church — in the name of every thing reasonable — let not the Church be saddled with her iniquity — let not political prejudices, always too readily excited, be now enlisted against the religion we cherish, by insinuations artfully introduced, that the loyalty of the State was involved in its creed — that through faith alone it remained a slave — and that its love of monarchy was a mere necessary consequence of its attachment to the Church of England.

While upon this subject we beg leave to refer our readers to some remarks, (from the pen of Judge Beverley Tucker) which appeared under the Critical head of our Messenger before the writer of this article assumed the Editorial duties. The remarks of which we speak, are in reply to the aspersions of Mr. George Bancroft, who, in his late History of the United States, with every intention of paying Virginia a compliment, [page 244:] accuses her of disloyalty, immediately before, and during the Protectorate. Of such an accusation, (for Hening’s suggestions, upon pages 513 and 526, of the Statutes at Large cannot be considered as such) we had never seriously dreamed prior to the publication of Mr. Bancroft’s work, and that Mr. Bancroft himself should never have dreamed of it, we were sufficiently convinced by the arguments of Judge Tucker. We allude to these arguments now, with the view of apprizing such of our readers as may remember them, that the author of the history in question, in a late interview with Dr. Hawks, has “disclaimed the intention of representing Virginia as wanting in loyalty.” All parties would have been better pleased with Mr. B. had he worded his disclaimer so as merely to assure us that in representing Virginia as disloyal he has found himself in error.

We will take the liberty of condensing here such of the leading points on both sides of the debated question as may either occur to us personally, or be suggested by those who have written on the subject. In proof of Virginia’s disloyalty it is said:

1. There is a deficiency of evidence to establish the fact, (a fact much insisted upon) that on the death of the governor, Matthews, in the beginning of 1659, a tumultuous assemblage resolved to throw off the government of the Protectorate, and repairing to the residence of Sir William Berkeley, then living in retirement, requested him to assume the direction of the colony. If such had been the fact, existing records would have shown it — but they do not. Moreover, these records show that Berkeley was elected precisely as the other governors had been, in Virginia, during the Protectorate.

2. After the battle of Dunbar, and the fall of [page 245:] Montrose, Virginia passed an act of surrender — she was therefore in favor of the Parliament.

3. The Colonial Legislature claimed the supreme power as residing within itself. In this it evinced a wish to copy the Parliament — to which it was therefore favorable.

4. Cromwell acted magnanimously towards Virginia. The terms of the article in the Treaty of Surrender by which Virginia stipulated for a trade free as that of England, were faithfully observed till the Restoration. The Protector’s Navigation Act was not enforced in Virginia. Cromwell being thus lenient, Virginia must have been satisfied.

5. Virginia elected her own governors. Bennett, Digges, and Matthews, were commonwealth’s men. Therefore Virginia was republican.

6. Virginia was infected with republicanism. She wished to set up for herself. Thus intent, she demands of Berkeley a distinct acknowledgement of her assembly’s supremacy. His reply was “I am but the servant of the assembly.” Berkeley, therefore, was republican, and his tumultuous election proves nothing but the republicanism of Virginia.

These arguments are answered in order, thus:

1. The fact of the “tumultuous assemblage,” &c. might have existed without such fact appearing in the records spoken of. For these records are manifestly incomplete. Some whole documents are lost, and parts of many. Granting that Berkeley was elected precisely in the usual way, it does not disprove that a multitude urged him to resume his old office. The election is all of which these records would speak. But the call to office might have been a popular movement — the election quite as usual. This latter was [page 246:] left to go on in the old mode, probably because it was well known “that those who were to make it were cavaliers.”

Moreover — Beverley, Burk, Chalmers and Holmes are all direct testimony in favor of the “tumultuous assemblage.”

2. The act of surrender was in self-defence, when resistance would have availed nothing. Its terms evince no acknowledgment of authority, but mere submission to force. They contain not one word recognizing the rightful power of Parliament, nor impeaching that of the king.

3. The “claiming the supreme power,” &c. proves any thing but the fealty of the Colonial Legislature to the Commonwealth. According to Mr. Bancroft himself, Virginians in 1619 “first set the world the example of equal representation.” “From that time” (we here quote the words of Judge Tucker,) “they held that the supreme power was in the hands of the Colonial Parliament, then established, and of the king as king of Virginia. Now the authority of the king being at an end, and no successor being acknowledged, it followed, as a corollary from their principles, that no power remained but that of the assembly,” — and this is precisely what they mean by claiming the supreme power as residing in the Colonial Legislature.

4. Chalmers, Beverley, Holmes, Marshall and Robertson speak, positively, of great discontents occasioned by restrictions and oppressions upon Virginian commerce: and a Memorial in behalf of the trade of the State presented to the Protector, mentions “the poor planters’ general complaints that they are the merchant’s slaves,” as a consequence of “that Act of Navigation.” [page 247:]

5. It is probable that Bennett, Digges, and Matthews, (granting Bennett to have been disloyal) were forced upon the colony by Cromwell, whom Robertson (on the authority of Beverley and Chalmers,) asserts to have named [[named]] the governors during the Protectorate. The election was possibly a mere form. The use of the equivocal word named, is, as Judge Tucker remarks, a proof that the historian was not speaking at random. He does not say appointed. They were named — with no possibility of their nomination being rejected — as the speaker of the House of Commons was frequently named in England. But Bennett was a staunch loyalist — a fact too well known in Virginia to need proof.

6. The reasoning here is reasoning in a circle. Virginia is first declared republican. From this assumed fact, deductions are made which prove Berkeley so — and Berkeley’s republicanism, thus proved, is made to establish that of Virginia. But Berkeley’s answer (from which Mr. Bancroft has extracted the words “I am but the servant of the assembly [[Assembly]]”) runs thus.

“You desire me to do that concerning your titles and claims to land in this northern part of America, which I am in no capacity to do; for I am but the servant of the assembly [[Assembly]]: neither do they arrogate to themselves any power farther than the miserable distractions in England force them to. For when God shall be pleased to take away and dissipate the unnatural divisions of their native country, they will immediately return to their professed obedience.” Smith’s New York. It will be seen that Mr. Bancroft has been disingenuous in quoting only a portion [[a portion]] of this sentence. The whole proves incontestibly that neither Berkeley [page 248:] nor the assembly [[Assembly]] arrogated to themselves any power beyond what they were forced to assume by circumstances — in a word, it proves their loyalty. But Berkeley was loyal beyond dispute. Norwood, in his “Journal of a Voyage to Virginia,” states that “Berkeley showed great respect to all the royal party who made that colony their refuge. His house and purse were open to all so qualified.” The same journalist was [[“]]sent over, at Berkeley’s expense, to find out the King in Holland, and have an interview with him.”

To these arguments in favor of Virginia’s loyalty may be added the following.

1. Contemporaries of Cromwell — men who were busy in the great actions of the day — have left descendants in Virginia — descendants in whose families the loyalty of Virginia is a cherished tradition.

2. The question, being one of fact, a mistake could hardly have been made originally — or, if so made, could not have been perpetuated. Now all the early historians call Virginia loyal.

3. The cavaliers in England (as we learn from British authorities) looked upon Virginia as a place of refuge.

4. Holmes’ Annals make the population of the state, at the commencement of the civil wars in England, about 20,000. Of these let us suppose only 10,000 loyal. At the Restoration the same Annals make the population 30,000. Here is an increase of 10,000, which increase consisted altogether, or nearly so, of loyalists, for few others had reason for coming over. The loyalists are now therefore double the republicans, and Virginia must be loyal.

5. Cromwell was always suspicious of Virginia. Of this there are many proofs. One of them may be [page 249:] found in the fact that when the state, sympathizing with the victims of Claiborne’s oppression, (a felon employed by Cromwell to “root out popery in Maryland”) afforded them a refuge, she was sternly reprimanded by the Protector, and admonished to keep a guard on her actions.

6. A pamphlet called “Virginia’s Cure, an Advisive Narrative concerning Virginia,” printed in 1661, speaks of the people as “men which generally bear a great love to the stated constitutions of the Church of England in her government and public worship; which gave us the advantage of liberty to use it constantly among them, after the naval force had reduced the colony under the power (but never to the obedience) of the usurpers.”

7. John Hammond, in a book entitled “Leah and Rachell, or the two fruitful Sisters of Virginia and Maryland,” printed in 1656, speaking of the State during the Protectorate, has the words “Virginia being whole for monarchy.”

8. Immediately after the fall of Charles I, Virginia passed an Act making it high treason to justify his murder, or to acknowledge the Parliament. The Act is not so much as the terms of the Act.

Lastly. The distinguishing features of Virginian character at present — features of a marked nature — not elsewhere to be met with in America — and evidently akin to that chivalry which denoted the Cavalier — can be in no manner so well accounted for as by considering them the débris of a devoted loyalty.

At page 122 of the work before us, Dr. Hawks has entered into a somewhat detailed statement (involving much information to us entirely new) concerning the celebrated “Parson’s cause” — the church’s controversy [page 250:] with the laity on the subject of payments in money substituted for payments in tobacco. It was this controversy which first elicited the oratorical powers of Patrick Henry, and our author dwells with much emphasis, and no little candor, upon the fascinating abilities which proved so unexpectedly fatal to the clerical interest.

On page 160 are some farther highly interesting reminiscences of Mr. Henry. The opinion of Wirt is considered unfounded, that the great orator was a believer in Christianity without having a preference for any of the forms in which it is presented. We are glad to find that Mr. Wirt was in error. The Christian religion, it has been justly remarked, must assume a distinct form of profession — or it is worth little. An avowal of a merely general Christianity is little better than an avowal of none at all. Patrick Henry, according to Dr. Hawks, was of the Episcopalian faith. That at any period of his life he was an unbeliever is explicitly denied, on the authority of a MS. letter, in possession of our author, containing information of Mr. H. derived from his widow and descendants.

It is with no little astonishment that we have seen Dr. Hawks accused of illiberality in his few remarks upon “that noble monument of liberty,” the Act for the Establishment of Religious Freedom. If there is any thing beyond simple justice in his observations we, for our own parts, cannot perceive it. No respect for the civil services, or the unquestionable mental powers of Jefferson, shall blind us to his iniquities. That our readers may judge for themselves we quote in full the sentences which have been considered as objectionable.

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In Chapter xii, the whole history of the Glebe Law [page 251:] of 1802 — a law the question of whose constitutionality is still undetermined — is detailed with much candor, and in a spirit of calm inquiry. A vivid picture is exhibited of some desecrations which have been consequent upon the sale.

In Chapter xiii, is an exceedingly well-written memoir of our patriarchal bishop the Right Reverend Richard Channing Moore. From this memoir we must be permitted to extract a single passage of peculiar interest.

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The historical portion of the work before us occupies about one half of its pages. The other half embraces “Journals of the Conventions of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocess of Virginia — from 1785 to 1835, inclusive.” It is, of course, unnecessary to dwell upon the great value to the church of such a compilation. Very few, if any, complete sets of diocesan Journals of Conventions are in existence. We will conclude our notice, by heartily recommending the entire volume, as an important addition to our Civil as well as Ecclesiastical History.






[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of the United States)