vol. 7, no. 1 (Fall 2003)
ISSN 1094-902X



Randall K. Burkett
The Reverend Harry Croswell
and Black Episcopalians in New Haven, 1820-1860

Part II

Part I | Part II | Notes



2003 Randall K. Burkett.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.











































2003 Randall K. Burkett.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.






























2003 Randall K. Burkett.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.






































2003 Randall K. Burkett.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.















2003 Randall K. Burkett.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.



























2003 Randall K. Burkett.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.


























2003 Randall K. Burkett.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.













2003 Randall K. Burkett.  Any archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author.

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Croswell would not again have so close and sustained a relationship with any single African American, and over the next decade there are fewer diary entries referring to New Haven blacks. In early August 1828, just a few weeks prior to Oson's demise, Croswell had been made a director of the newly-founded African Mission School Society, Hartford, organized at the urging of Bishop Brownell.36 The first (and, as it turned out, the only) graduates of this school were Edward Jones, Gustavus V. Caesar, and William Johnson. Jones and Caesar had been trained as missionaries, and Johnson was a teacher. On August 4, 1830, Croswell noted that he went, while in Hartford for the annual diocesan convention, "to examine the black candidates for orders, who have been in the African Mission School. -- They appeared extremely well, and will probably receive orders on Friday."37 The two were ordained as deacons on August 6 and as priests on September 6, 1830, thus becoming the sixth and seventh men of African descent to be ordained in the Protestant Episcopal Church.

Croswell continued to visit his black parishioners during the 1830s, but such visits are less and less frequently noted. In May 1832 he commented on having attended the funeral of a black man, Timothy Merriman.

He had been brought up in the Clarke family, and they were chiefly there, besides a large funeral of white people, the bearers being white men of the best standing. Capt. S.J. Clarke rode over with me .... In the evening, was called to see a black woman at A.P. Sanford's, (Clarissa Bridge) whose mind was in much distress, having been frightened but not instructed at the Presbyterian meeting. -- Conversed and prayed with her.38

The following day, Croswell went to Sanford's house "to see Clarissa, and lent her a book." The opportunity to correct the misapprehensions created by a Presbyterian clergyman was sufficient to re-motivate Croswell to his pastoral duty.

Two diary entries in 1840 are as intriguing for what they leave unsaid as for their content. On June 13, Croswell noted "Had several interruptions -- Alexander Crummell, black, among others." Ten days later he noted "A call from Crummell, a black man who is a candidate in the church, and is pursuing his studies in the Yale Theo. Sem."39 Crummell was notorious the Episcopal Church for having been denied admission to General Theological Seminary because of his race and making a public issue of that denial. Beginning in mid-August 1839, the New York-based Episcopal newspaper The Churchman had carried weekly accounts of Crummell's attempt to enroll in the seminary. An old friend of Croswell's, Bishop George W. Doane, had been named to chair a Seminary Trustees Committee to investigate the case. A minority of one on the question, Doane resigned from the committee, which then proceeded unanimously to refuse Crummell's admission. Doane was subsequently denied permission even to speak to the full board to protest this decision.40 Croswell makes no diary comment on the Crummell affair, though he did keep in contact with Crummell during the latter's stay in New England. Crummell resided briefly in New Haven, but moved to Providence in March 1841, while studying for the priesthood. He was invited there by Thomas Howland and other prominent Providence citizens to help organize Christ Church, a short-lived congregation of black Episcopalians.41 Two years later, when black members of Trinity Church were organizing St. Luke's Church, Crummell would be the first person to whom they turned for a rector.

It seems clear that the white members of Trinity Church did not welcome their rector's frequent pastoral visits to the predominately black sections of New Haven, nor did they extend to blacks the welcome that Croswell's visits implied. The diaries are equally silent on parishioners' attitudes and on the vestry's momentous decision to restrict blacks to certain pews, a central factor that impelled the formation of St. Luke's. William E. B. DuBois, writing about his grandfather Alexander, observed that "when the white Episcopalians of Trinity Parish, New Haven, showed plainly that they no longer wanted black folk as fellow Christians, he led the revolt which resulted in St. Luke's Parish."42 Trinity Church historian Edward Getlein identifies the specific event that caused the rift, noting that in 1842 the vestry voted to "rent four slips in Trinity church, Nos. 143, 144, 146, and 184, to colored people."43 These pews were in the rear of the gallery, and the vestry action -- a marked departure from previous practice -- outraged the black members and impelled them to seek their own house of worship.

Croswell's silence about that episode does not belie his continuing concern for his black parishioners. On March 12, 1844, he received a call from Edward Hawley, seeking to create a separate congregation. Two weeks later Amos G. Beman, pastor of the African Congregational Church, called, "very much concerned about the attempt on the part of the Episcopalians of the colored people to build a church."44 In late April Croswell went to Hawley's home to discuss plans for the parish and then stopped at the home of Alexander DuBois for the same purpose. Plans were made for the congregation to occupy the basement of the Trinity Church until their own place of worship could be secured. On June 7, Croswell described the formal organization of the church:

In the evening, went over on the Hill, to attend a meeting of the blacks at Wm. Merriman's, to organise the new parish of St. Luke's, all of coloured people. Found [Rev.] Mr. [Wm. E.] Vibbert engaged with them in a religious service -- and when this was over, proceeded to the business of the meeting, which was soon finished, and we came home, in the midst of a smart shower.45

Four days later St. Luke's was formally admitted as a parish in the Diocese of Connecticut at the annual convention held in Hartford. Croswell noted in the parish report printed in the annual diocesan journal that the congregation "now consists of about thirty families." Original officers were Peter Vogelsang, Clerk; Alexander DuBois, Treasurer; Henry S. Merriman, Warden; and Richard Green, Vestryman.46

Both the parishioners of St. Luke's and Croswell were eager to secure an African American as rector. The existing options were severely restricted, however, as there were only four blacks then ordained in the Episcopal Church and two of these were living outside the United States. In May, a young New Yorker, Samuel Vreeland Berry, had served as Lay Reader for the congregation, and Croswell wrote to Bishop Benjamin T. Onderdonk about the advisability of his being ordained for the position.47 Nothing came of this, however, and in late October Croswell met with the members of St. Luke's to discuss the matter. The following day he wrote to Alexander Crummell on their behalf, inviting him to consider a call from St. Luke's. On December 23, 1844, Crummell replied that he would officiate for the Christmas services, and the following day he arrived in New Haven and talked with Croswell about settling there.48 Crummell did not go to New Haven, accepting instead an invitation to become rector of the Church of the Messiah, Manhattan. St. Luke's was thus without a settled minister by the end of its first year.

In early July 1845 Croswell wrote that "A colored clergyman from Maryland, called with some of the members of St. Luke's. -- He is to preach for them, to-morrow evening, and next Sunday." This man was Elie Worthington Stokes, Maryland-born and educated, who had grown up in Baltimore and had been befriended by the Rev. John P.K. Henshaw, then rector of St. Peter's Church, Baltimore. In October 1843, Stokes had been ordained deacon by Bishop William R. Whittingham in St. James' African Episcopal Church, Baltimore, and he originally planned to go immediately to Africa as a missionary. When this proved impossible, he was appointed as assistant to the (white) minister of St. James', the Rev. J.T. Mcjilton. In November 1844 Stokes travelled to Port of Spain, Trinidad, in the hopes of raising a congregation somewhere in the islands. Six months later he returned to Maryland, having failed to secure a church in either Trinidad or Barbados, and he was immediately apprised of the position available in New Haven.49

In mid-July the members of St. Luke's met to decide whom to call as their rector. Minutes of the St. Luke's Parish Record indicate the action taken:

The Rev. Mr. Stoke, [sic] late from the West India [sic] having preached for St Luke parish on Friday evening, July 11th and also on the following Sunday a Meeting of parish was subsequently called to take into consideration the propriety of calling him to officiate for them in his ministerial character one year -- it was stated at that Meeting by one of the vestry that their [sic] were two candidates for that office viz Mr. Berry and Mr. Stoke but the people being unanimous the choice fell on Mr. Stokes, and the vestry were authorized to give him a call.50

It is evident from the tone of his diary that Croswell disliked Stokes. Indeed, it is only with reference to Stokes that one finds overt race prejudice in Croswell's diaries. Since Stokes had been ordained deacon by the Maryland Diocese, it was logical for that diocese to confer on him the priesthood, prior to his assuming the rectorship of St. Luke's. Croswell wrote,

Many interruptions. -- Stokes among others. -- Gave him $20 to be on his expenses to Baltimore -- and an old cloak, which may last him half his life. The money from the Missionary fund. -- The cloak from my wardrobe.51

Less than one month later Stokes returned to New Haven, for some reason not having received priest's orders in Baltimore, and Croswell proceeded to arrange for the ordination to take place in Connecticut. Thus, on January 19, 1846, Elie Stokes was the first person of African descent to be ordained in Trinity Church, New Haven, Bishop Brownell presiding and Croswell assisting in the service.52

Just four months later Croswell wrote to Bishop Brownell for letters dimissory for Stokes, who had decided to join his old friend, James P.K. Henshaw, recently named Bishop of the newly-formed Diocese of Rhode Island. Stokes took up the efforts Crummell had begun in Providence and became the first rector of Christ Church, Providence. He made several much-heralded trips in England to raise funds for his church in Providence, and evidently had substantial success. Croswell was not impressed, however, remarking on one occasion,

Among other calls, Rev. Mr. Stokes, who, having been to England, collecting money for his Church in Providence, preaching in chapels, and dining with Bishops and Arch-Bishops, would, I suppose, have condescended to dine with me, had I invited him. But it was not convenient.53

When Stokes left Providence for the mission field in Liberia, Croswell again heard from Stokes, and again he was not impressed: "This latter a very characteristic affair, showing that Mr. Stokes will be a negro, wherever he may be."54 A final reference to Stokes came in a diary entry dated 18 September 1857. Stokes had created so much dissension among the churches and clergy in Liberia that the Missionary Bishop John Payne insisted on a trial in Stokes' home diocese of Rhode Island. Croswell observed,

Had a call from Stokes, the colored preacher who has obtained a bad notoriety in connection with Africa. -- He wanted a chance to preach, etc. in behalf of his object. -- Could not consent to this, but gave him a trifle, rather grudgingly, I confess.55

Given the scarcity of black Episcopal clergy in the 1840s, by far the best means for St. Luke's to secure a rector was to ordain one of its own members. A likely candidate for this position was Richard Green, a long-time resident of New Haven who had been one of the organizers of St. Luke's. Green had for a number of years been prominent in public affairs in New Haven, serving, for example, on the Executive Committee of the Connecticut State Temperance Society of Colored Americans.56 On October 2, 1846, Croswell went to Green's home to discuss the possibility of his studying for the ministry. Green decided to do so, and on October 27, 1846, he was approved by the Standing Committee as a candidate for the order of Deacons. Croswell took great interest in Green's personal life, spending many hours, for example, counselling Green prior to an impending marriage in 1848. Croswell had buried Green's first wife in 1846 and performed his second marriage to Ester Jane Hendrickson on April 29, 1848.57 As late as 1850 Green was still listed as a candidate for orders in the Diocese of Connecticut. He was never ordained, though he remained an officer of St. Luke's Church more than two decades after Croswell's death.

The last African-American clergyman with whom Croswell was associated at St. Luke's Church was the brilliant religious nationalist, James Theodore Holly. Raised a Roman Catholic in Washington, D.C., Holly became an ardent emigrationist after moving with his brother to Burlington, Vermont, in 1850. By 1852 he was living in Windsor, Canada, where he joined Henry Bibb and the Rev. William C. Munroe in a variety of emigration schemes. He renounced his Catholicism and was confirmed in the Episcopal Church by Munroe, who had founded St. Matthew's Church, Detroit, in 1846. Holly was accepted as a candidate for orders in 1853 and was ordained deacon by Samuel A. McCrosky in Munroe 's church on 17 June 1855.58

Holly was ordained with the explicit understanding that he would be sent to work in the Haitian mission field.59 Less than a month after his ordination, Holly visited Haiti to investigate the possibility of establishing a mission there. Although he returned to the United States with glowing reports about bright prospects for the Episcopal Church there, he could not convince the directors of the Episcopal foreign mission board to open a new mission field and had to search elsewhere for employment. A few weeks later, the Literary Society of Colored Young Men in New Haven, invited Holly to give a lecture on Haiti. Members of St. Luke's Church may have helped arrange the lecture, since several parishioners, including John P. Anthony and Thomas Prime, were staunch emigrationists.60

Soon thereafter Harry Croswell noted the following in his diary for October 15, 1855:

Had a call from Mr. Prime, with a young colored clergyman, by the name of Holly, who is inclined to take charge of St. Luke's Church .... In the evening, Mr. Green came to get some papers drawn for Mr. Holly, to present to Bp. McCrosky, which I gave him with my own certificate.61

In early November Holly returned to New Haven to make arrangements for ordination to the priesthood. Letters testimonial were received from Samuel V. Berry, himself now ordained and serving as rector of St. James Church, Brooklyn, and William C. Munroe of St. Matthew's Church, Detroit. Wardens Richard Green and Frederick H. Benjamin, and vestrymen Bennet Merriman and Henry S. Merriman of St. Luke's Church, also wrote on his behalf.62 The ordination took place on January 2, 1856, one day after the forty-first anniversary of Harry Croswell's coming to Trinity Church.

There is only one subsequent reference to Holly in Croswell's diaries, so it is not possible to say what the elderly eminence at Trinity Church thought of the twenty-seven year old Holly. It is difficult to imagine that Croswell was personally attracted to Holly's aggressive black nationalism, but he records no personal reactions, either to the man or to his ideas. Active in public affairs in New Haven, Holly took a leading role in demanding better education for black children and served as principal of an elementary school between 1857 and 1859. In 1858 he opened the New Haven Select School for Young Colored Ladies and Gentlemen, whose four-year curriculum included "daily Episcopal devotionals and a strong emphasis on race pride."63

Certainly, Croswell sympathized with Holly's pro-emigration policy, and indeed, in mid-July of 1856, Holly was invited to lecture at Trinity Church on Haitian emigration and on Haiti as a prospective field for Episcopal missions. That same month Holly organized, with his fellow black priests, the short-lived "Convocation of the Protestant Episcopal Society for Promoting the Extension of the Church Among Colored People." This organization reflected Holly's twin goals of promoting the Episcopal Church among the race and creating a strong black nationality in Haiti, as the instrument through which all of Africa would be redeemed.64 While Croswell did not live to see those ideas come to fruition, Holly persisted in his plans with the support of Connecticut's Assistant Bishop, John Williams. In May 1861 Holly led a small group of emigrants, including John P. Anthony and thirty-six other recruits from Connecticut, in founding a colony in Drouillard, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The following year he would submit his first report to the Diocese of Connecticut as missionary in charge of Trinity Mission of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.65

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The Rev. Harry Croswell was held in high esteem by the African-American members of St Luke's Church throughout his lifetime. Evidence for this is found in an 1850 resolution, written at a critical moment in the parish's early history, when it had become necessary to suspend temporarily public services. The resolution declared:

The Wardens and Vestry of St Luke Church do hereby for themselves and in behalf of the congregation tender Rev Harry Croswell Rector of Trinity Church New Haven, their most cordial and hearty thanks for the interest he has ever manifested in their behalf, from the organization of the parish until now in securing for their a place of worship free of charge, in occasional ministrations and by representing this body at the annual Convention of the diocese, and by his present Solicitude for their future prosperity. Whilst they regret, the obliquy which may have been heaped upon him in consequence of his friendly feeling and acts towards St. Luke they are free to confess they have nothing to offer him but greteful [sic] hearts for his kindness and benevolence, which they beg he will thus accept.66

As we have seen, Croswell devoted a significant portion of his time and energy ministering to the black members his parish. He supported the efforts of talented individuals in their quest for education, he privately tutored them, wrote letters of recommendation, counselled and ministered to them and to their families. He lectured weekly to blacks in evening school in New Haven. This pastoral activity is remarkable in its scope among white clergy in the early nineteenth century. One can have no doubt that his actions brought down on him the "obliquy" of his white parishioners. But Croswell had a clear sense of right and of duty in virtually all matters, and he would not be easily swayed by the wishes of others.

To be sure, his sense of right by no means extended to the support of abolitionism. Two diary entries indicate his strong opposition to the anti-slavery cause. In April 1836, he "Had a visit from an abolitionist emissary, who wanted me to sign a petition to congress to refuse the admission of Arkansas to the Union. Made short work with him."67 And eighteen years later, he had not changed his opinion, noting a call from "a black man seeking aid to buy his family out of slavery, into poverty and misery. -- Treated him kindly, and sent him to the abolitionists."68

On the other hand, his support for the American Colonization Society is well documented. On at least one Fourth of July (1831), he followed the practice of many New England clergymen in preaching a sermon on behalf of the Colonization Society. Another time he agreed to take the chair at a meeting of the Connecticut Colonization Society, when Wesleyan University president Wilbur Fisk delivered "a long and powerful address, to the assemblage." On still another occasion, he permitted his assistant minister Francis Lister Hawks to preach on colonization.69

Leonard L. Richards, in his valuable study of anti-abolition mobs in Jacksonian America, points out that Connecticut was the most inhospitable of all the New England states for anti-slavery activity, having the largest number of anti-abolition and anti-Negro mobs during the 1830s and the smallest number anti-slavery auxiliaries for its population. Although the rector of Trinity Church was in this sense in the "mainstream" of Connecticut opinion on this important issue, he was certainly not representative of the "gentlemen of property and standing" whom Richards describes as the center of mob activity directed against abolitionists and against blacks.70 He was, rather, one of the few clergymen of his denomination who regarded African Americans as a natural portion of the constituency to whom he was called to minister. The affection and esteem of these men and women for Croswell is evident in the resolutions adopted by St. Luke's Church on his death, and they testify to his distinctive place in the denomination's history:

Whereas it has pleased almighty god in the afflictive dispensation of his providence to call the Soul of the Rev Harry Croswell, D D from his scenes of labor and usefulness on earth to the enjoyment of that heavenly and glorious rest which remains for the people of god therefore be it

Resolved by the Wardens and Vestry of St Luke's parish that in his mournful bereavement we mingle our weepings with the faithful of the church of christ throughout this country and the world for the loss of one of the most devoted stewards of our divine master and one of the ablest counsellors of his church on earth

Resolved that in our grief we do not sorrow for the dead as those who have no hope but rather with an assured confidence and a reasonable and holy hope that our temperal (sic) loss is his everlasting and eternal gain

Resolved that we feel ourselves to be under increased obligations to bear this testimony to the illustrious virtues of the deceased because we recognize in him under god the first spiritual guide and founder of our struggling parish of the church of christ

Resolved that as a further testimony [of] profound respect for the deceased that this vestry will attend his funeral obsequies in a body at the appointed time and place. 71

Part I | Notes


Randall K. Burkett is Curator of African American Collectionsat the Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University. He is the author of Garveyism as a Religious Movement: The Institutionalization of a Black Civil Religion (1978), editor of Black Redemption: Churchmen Speak for the Garvey Movement (1978), co-editor (with Richard Newman) of Black Apostles: Afro-American Clergy Confront the Twentieth Century (1978), co-editor (with Nancy Hall Burkett and Henry Louis Gates) of Black Biography, 1790-1950: A Cumulative Index (1991) and co-author (with Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Leon F. Litwack, Darlene Clark Hine, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.) of the Harvard Guide to African American History (2001).