J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2020

“Proceeding from the small share of light that is within us”

So you want to read the “instrument” that Godfrey Malbone composed for the committee of Congregationalists who came to his house in February 1772, questioning the credentials of his new Anglican minister, Richard Mosley?

The statement that addressed the dispute over whether Trinity Church could operate in what today is Brooklyn, Connecticut, with its congregants excused from the tax that would otherwise go to the established Congregationalist meeting and the cost of its new meetinghouse (shown here)?

The paper that Malbone asked the committee to sign after he read it, though they refused to make any promises, even though he insisted again and again, and they resisted just as many times?

The document that Malbone finally read out “as distinctly, emphatically and Yankily as I was able to do”?

Okay, here it is:
WE, the subscribers, appointed a Committee by the Society of Brookline, in the Township of Pomfret, in the County of Windham, in the Colony of Connecticut, for the inspection and transaction of the Religious concerns of the Society, do hereby make known, certify and declare unto all manner of persons, that to prevent as much as in us lies, every possibility of chicanery, fraud or collusion in those who have seceded from our independent congregational meeting, (where the worship of God is singly, simple, truly and spiritually performed, according to the very sensible and righteous manner which was framed and here established as the glorious Truth, by the great sagacity, wisdom and policy of the religion of our pure, holy and renowned forefathers,) and declared themselves conformists to the Church of England, and have invariably acted agreeable thereto since the month of Oct. 1770:

We, in consequence of that high and great authority, the utmost they could possibly bestow, delegated to us by the said Society of Brookline, or which we, being very active and zealous members, assumed of ourselves, it is no matter which, called upon Richard Mosley, Clerk, who presumes to style himself Legis Legum Baccalaurius a degree of honor conferred upon him by the University at Cambridge, in Great Britain, in consequence of his studies and literary merit, during a seven years residence at St. John’s College; and pretends to have been duly and legally ordained Deacon and Priest, according to the Cannon Law of said Church of England, and to have lately been employed in the service of his Majesty, George the 3d, by the grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, a Chaplain on board of his ship Salisbury of 50 great guns, commanded at Boston by the honorable Commodore James Gambier, and also to have frequently and publicly officiated as a Priest in each of the several Churches of the said good Town of Boston, the several Rectors or Ministors whereof may, for aught we know, have been such negligent, stupid, idle, and irreverent blockheads, as to have been very indifferent and careless whether they received and admitted into their desks and pulpits an impostor or not, provided they might have their business performed without any care or trouble to themselves.

The Lords of the Admiralty, also, may have been equally to blame, in suffering themselves to be imposed upon by appointing to the cure of a National ship, a worthless, vagrant person, without a due inquisition into his qualifications and religious character, previous to such, his appointment. Nay, who knows but the pretended Bishop who ordained him, that Bishop’s predecessor and the whole series of them up to the very founder of their order Himself, may have been, all of them impostors and their religion a cheat?

And yet, notwithstanding, it is reasonable presumption, the said Richard Mosley, in virtue of this before mentioned pretended power, with very great effrontery, (not having aforehand consulted our will and pleasure, and obtained our gracious consent for the same,) claimeth a right, and hath absolutely exercised the five months last past, the said office of Priesthood, according to the rites and ceremonies of the said Church of England, in this very Parish of Brookline, the like whereof hath never before been practiced or heard of in all Windham County.

Wherefore, as of our invaluable and indubitable right, and not to derogate from the high office, trust and authority committed to our exercise and keeping by the said Society of Brookline, We were not abashed, shamefaced, nor mealy-mouthed, but impertinently, boldly and peremptorily demanded of him, the said Mosley, the inspection and examination of his said letters of orders which he (undoubtedly influenced by the religion he professeth, which he saith ordaineth. that if a man take away thy coat to let him have thy cloak also,) took not the least offence at, but in a most becoming, humane and condescending manner, upon our solemn promise of signing with our Christian and Sir names, this present acknowledgment, declaration and certificate, immediately produced: and it appears to us, that the said Rev. Richard Mosley is really what we thought, or said we thought he only pretended to be; and that he is truly and absolutely, charged with the orders, both of Deacon and Priest, granted by his grace Robert, by Divine Providence, Lord Archbishop of York, which we have employed our best faculties to inquire into, and to the very utmost of our skill, knowledge and judgment, proceeding from the small share of light that is within us, pronounce them to be valid and genuine, and do hereby acknowledge ourselves to be therewith fully and duly satisfied.

In testimony whereof we have hereunto signed our names, at Brookline aforesaid, this 12th day of February, 1772.
Malbone had obviously enjoyed composing this document. He stated, “I made it ridiculously formal, availing myself of many of their common terms, in compliance with their own taste, as it would better open their eyes, and expose them to themselves.”

Needless to say, the committee of Malbone’s neighbors—Joseph Holland, Samuel Williams, and Josiah Tasset—were not so pleased.

According to Malbone, the men left “as much ashamed and confused as you can possibly imagine” to rendezvous with other townspeople “at a house moderately distant.” Their report of the conversation got more people angry. Malbone wrote: “they swore vengeance, and fire and faggot was the word.”

TOMORROW: Trouble for the Rev. Mr. Mosley.

(Malbone’s instrument and letter describing it appear in the Documentary History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, edited by Francis L. Hawks and William Stevens Perry and published in 1863.)


Peter Ansoff said...

I really liked "Yankily."

J. L. Bell said...

As I told another reader last night, as soon as I saw the word “Yankily,” I knew that I had to tell this story.

Mike said...

I imagine "Yankily" sounding like a poorly-done Boston accent similar to Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons.