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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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Settling the Rev. Mr. Mosley in Pomfret

When the Rev. Richard Mosley arrived in Pomfret, Connecticut, in September 1771, asking about the need for an Anglican minister, Godfrey Malbone was cautious.

He certainly needed a minister for the little church he had designed and built himself. For over a year after forming his Anglican parish in northeast Connecticut, Malbone had presided over most of the services, reading from the Book of Common Prayer. But if he didn’t have a real minister soon, the town would deem his church to be nothing more than a tax dodge.

Malbone had asked the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.) in London to send a missionary, but no Englishman was willing to emigrate for such a small salary. Malbone also asked the Anglican clergy in his home town of Newport and in Boston.

The Rev. John Troutbeck, assistant at King’s Chapel, had instead recommended that the former Newport merchant leave Pomfret altogether:
I shou’d certainly advise you not to spend the very best Part of your Days amongst the Savages, for the Rustics in this Part of the World are not much better than Indians. Of all the People that have left off Business in this Town, & retired to a Farm, I cannot recollect one that, has not suffered by it; & I cou’d mention several, who have died extremely poor. To have a thoro knowledge of the Business, & to be able to endure the Fatigue of a country Life, a Man shou’d begin in his Childhood.
As for the rector at King’s Chapel, the Rev. Dr. Henry Caner, he appears to have recommended David Fogg, a young man from New Hampshire who had graduated from Harvard College in 1764 with an unusual interest in the Church of England. After a few years as Caner’s protégé while he earned his master’s degree, Fogg had sailed for England in May 1770 to receive holy orders. That’s definitely not how Fogg’s Harvard professors had hoped things would go.

When Caner wrote back to Pomfret, the Rev. Mr. Fogg was serving at his first assignment at St. Thomas’s in Bath, North Carolina (shown above). Malbone duly sent off an invitation to the young man. But it was a long way from rural Connecticut to rural North Carolina, and there was no response.

Then Mosley arrived from Boston in September 1771, bringing recommendations from two prominent Anglicans. On first acquaintance, Malbone liked Mosley’s “agreeable private Behaviour & Conversation,” which was important because he would host the minister until he got around to building the man a separate home. After hearing Mosley deliver a sermon, Malbone felt sure “he would be a very popular Preacher.”

Still, the colonel wanted to be sure, so he wrote back to Caner and Troutbeck:
the Gentleman is a perfect stranger to me; and I never heard of nor saw him until this visit, and the Business is of too delicate and important a Nature for me to act upon of my own Head. . . . I must beg the Favour of You, provided You have discovered by a Residence of Eleven Months of Mr Mosely at Boston, that his moral Character and Qualifications perfectly correspond with the Rules established by the Society, that You will be pleased to recommend him to me in Form as a proper Person to fill up this Mission.
The Boston rectors declined to recommend Mosley, saying they didn’t know him well enough. Caner added: ”He had met with the Fate of all Strangers that came among us, to be censured for a Freedom and Openess which do not exactly correspond with our Manners or the Taste of the Country.”

But Malbone wasn’t a typical Yankee either, and he came to like this former naval chaplain. So did the people of the region, according to Mosley. Writing in May 1772, he said he had “preached and lectured this winter frequently, both at Plainfield and Canterbury, though the season has been remarkably severe, and had a great audience each time.”

In February 1772, Malbone fended off an inquiry by a Pomfret town committee seeking to inspect Mosley’s credentials, as I described over the past two days. That opportunity to get the better of his neighbors appears to have cemented Mosley in Malbone’s plans. The two men talked about Mosley becoming Trinity Church’s permanent minister. Meanwhile, a 24 January letter from the S.P.G. approving a £30 matching grant for a salary was on its way across the Atlantic.

On 22 April, Easter Sunday, Trinity Church had its first formal organizational meeting. Eighteen members signed bonds to pay the Rev. Mr. Mosley £28 per year, which they thought was close enough to the contribution they expected from London. Malbone and Dr. William Walton became church wardens. The congregation chose to save money by paying its clerk only twenty shillings a year and not hiring a sexton.

And then the Rev. Daniel Fogg arrived in Pomfret, ready to take the pulpit that had been promised to him by letter.

TOMORROW: Two men enter, one man leaves.

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