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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Monday, November 09, 2020

A Church in Pomfret, Connecticut

When Cmdre. James Gambier sailed his flagship Salisbury back to Britain in August 1771, he left behind the ship’s chaplain, the Rev. Richard Mosley.

I’m still not sure why, but Mosley had decided to seek a post as an Anglican minister in New England, which was missionary territory.

Literally, the Puritan-founded colonies were so unfriendly to the established church and contained so few Anglicans outside of the port towns that the London-based Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) paid or supplemented the salaries of ministers willing to work there.

One such barely hospitable spot was Pomfret, Connecticut, a small town in the northeast corner of that colony known best for being where Israel Putnam of the village of Brooklyn killed a wolf in her den (shown above). How did any Anglicans end up there?

That story began with a Virginian named Godfrey Malbone (1696-1768) coming to Newport, Rhode Island, in his twenties. He was a member of the Church of England, not from an old Puritan family. Malbone built a fortune through privateering and transatlantic trade, commissioning a large mansion in town and another in the countryside. He invested more money in Connecticut real estate, hoping to develop a quarry and settlements in Pomfret.

In the 1760s Malbone’s businesses faltered. He had to mortgage property to the Boston Customs officer Charles Paxton. He assigned the Connecticut land to his sons in 1766 and died two years later.

The eldest son, the second Godfrey Malbone (1724-1785), had attended the University of Oxford in the 1740s before returning to Newport. With his father’s death, he had to move to that little town of Pomfret and try to get the most value out of the real estate there.

According to the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles of Newport, writing in January 1770:
Col. Godfry Malbone of Newport owns about one quarter of the Land in the small parish of Brookline in Connecticutt. For some years he voluntarily consented to pay a part of the ministerial Tax, as making a parish & settling a minister there has given perhaps a fourfold Value to his Land. I am informed that lately the parish voted to build a new Meetinghouse. His Lands as he is an Episcopalian are exempted by Law of that Colony. Perhaps he felt himself under some Obligations of honor to contribute a part.
Malbone had thus been supporting the Congregationalist meeting that was the town’s established church. But faced with the prospect of a rising tax bill for the new meetinghouse, Malbone with “his wife & family” decided they wanted to have their own church instead. Stiles continued:
I hear to-day that he had engaged to erect an episcopal chh there—prevailed upon 25 Families as is said to declare for the chh—& lately procured a Subscription here of three hundred Dollars in the Fryday Night Club, towards building a chh—& sent home to the Bp of London by Collector [Joseph] Harrison, to get the Society to erect a Mission.

Col. Malbone is a Gentleman of Politeness & great Honor, was educated at Oxford, and dispised all Religion. But now is become a zealous Advocate for the Church of England.
Stiles also claimed that part of Malbone’s pitch to neighbors to join the Anglican congregation was that they wouldn’t have to pay as much as in their previous meetings, given the financial support coming from London and Newport.

Malbone’s church started to go up in June 1770. The following April, the Rev. Samuel Peters of Hebron and another Anglican missionary in Connecticut traveled to Pomfret to dedicate this building as Trinity Church.

As for the S.P.G. in London, in March 1771 its secretary sent a letter to Malbone approving the establishment of a missionary parish covering Pomfret, Plainfield, and Canterbury and offering a salary of £30 per year. However, for that money they couldn’t find any English clergyman willing to emigrate to Connecticut.

With the S.P.G.’s blessing, Malbone wrote to various contacts in America, seeking an Anglican priest. Some recommended a recent Harvard graduate named Daniel Fogg, who was preaching in far-off North Carolina, but letters to him went unanswered.

In September 1771, the Rev. Richard Mosley arrived from Boston. He came with letters of recommendation from the Boston merchants Henry Lloyd and Shrimpton Hutchinson. According to Mosley, reporting to the S.P.G. in 1772:
Upon finding Mr. Malbone had taken so much trouble, and had been at so much pains, and had been at so great an expense, to erect a Church for the worship of Almighty God here at Pomfret, where few were disposed and inclined to join it, and the venerable Society’s charity not being able, together with their small means, to get a minister from England to do the service, I was willing to encourage so good an undertaking, being in hopes that it might be serviceable both to religion and the people’s salvation. These motives have influenced me to stay with them ever since Sept. 13th last.
Mosley and Malbone made no long-term commitments to each other. But Trinity Church in Pomfret, Connecticut, began to have regular sermons from former Royal Navy chaplain Mosley starting on 13 Sept 1771.

TOMORROW: A committee of Congregationalists.

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

The younger Godfrey Malbone entered Harvard with the class of 1744 but never really enjoyed it. He left after little more than a year and went to Oxford instead. Even so, that means there’s a lively if not fully reliable biography of him in Sibley’s Harvard Graduates.