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UPDIKE'S HISTORY OF THE CHURCH IN NARRAGANSETT.
Art. IV.-History of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett,
Rhode Island, including a History of other Episcopal Churches in the State ; with an Appendix, containing a reprint of a work now extremely rare, entitled, “ America Dissected,” by the Rev. J. Macsparran, D. D., with notes containing Genealogical and Biographical accounts of distinguished men, families, etc. By Wilkins Updike. 8vo. pp. 533. New York, Henry M. Onderdonk, 1847.
The early history of the Church in New England is yet to be written. The man of patient and impartial mind, qualified and prepared, rightly and fully to investigate the past, and rescue from oblivion the first struggles of Episcopacy on the soil pressed by Pilgrim feet, has not yet appeared. We have been accustomed to elaborate researches and plentiful reminiscences of another character. The whole civil and political history of New England is surcharged with laudations of the virtue and self-denial, the wisdom and fortitude, the purity and piety of the original settlers. Bancroft, in his popular work on Colonial History, moralizes upon the landing of the Pilgrim fathers at Plymouth, and takes occasion to affirm not only that a grateful posterity has marked the rock which first received their footsteps ; but, that the consequences of that day are constantly unfolding themselves as time advances. “It was," says he, “the origin of New England; it was the planting of New England institutions. Inquisitive historians have loved to mark every vestige of the Pilgrims; poets of the purest minds have commemorated their virtues ; the noblest genius has been called into exercise to display their merits worthily, and to trace the consequences of this daring enterprise.”
We will not complain that those who differ from us in religious opinion, have enlisted in their service "poets of the purest minds,” and men of “the noblest genius.” We will not deny to Puritanism the advantage of zealous historians, and transcendental teachers. It may sometimes excite our surprise, to note its contradictions and inconsistencies, and trouble us to “mark the vestiges” of it, in a modern celebration, where the song and the festival are shared alike by the priest and the pilgrim,-the lover and hater of Rome, -the enslaver of human opinion, and the votary of freedom and Catholic Christianity. But setting aside these strange developments, what has been done to perpetuate the memory of the original settlers in New England, we would fain see accomplished in behalf of the Church of our affections. Not exactly in the same shape, not in school-books, and tales, and poems, and orations, and over-wrought eulogies,-would we teach our history. But we would see it written with care, and studied by the members of our communion with eagerness and fidelity. Truth must ever carry with it, its own claims to acceptance and respect. The distortion of its lessons, the concealment of what is unpleasant, the suppression of any transactions and occurrences which have materially affected the public weal, will find no favor, save among those who have unconsciously sold themselves to the service of a particular sect or party. The story of religious persecution, has, indeed, many chapters. We would read them all. We would know how that the Aborigines and the Trojans were at the same time sought in war,-how that the Pilgrims after their settlement in this country, soon forgot the professed principles of their system, and resisted, with ill-tempered zeal, the establishment of the Church of England, and the introduction of her devoted missionaries. For this reason it is, that we welcome all contributions to our ecclesiastical history, from the simple parochial record, to the larger Diocesan narrative. They are scattered leaves blown from the Sybil's book, which the future historian of the Church must gather, and arrange, and compress for the instruction of succeeding generations. The volume placed at the head of this
article, owes its origin to a vote of the Convention of the Diocese of Rhode Island. In 1840, on motion of the Rev. Francis Vinton, then Rector of Trinity Church, Newport, a committee was appointed to "draught a History of the Church” in that Diocese, of which the mover was Chairman, and Mr. Updike and the late Prof. Goddard, of Brown University, his associates. In the distribution of the labor, the Church in Narragansett was assigned to Mr. Updike, and “while each member of the Committee,” says Mr. Vinton in a Preface to this volume, “gladly set himself to rescue from oblivion the local traditions which were registered, either in the memory of the aged, or in the records of neighboring parishes; they were both surprised and gratified to learn, that so rich materials were awaiting the author's research, and that he would give to the portion of the work such elaborate and persevering industry.” Prof. Goddard, who rendered valuable assistance in his preparation of the volume, died before it had passed through the press. “Had he have been spared to this day," runs the VOL. 1.-NO. I.
Preface, (shocking grammar, Mr. Vinton! “ Had have” has no authority in any of the books,)“ had he been spared to this day, none more than he would have rejoiced in its completion, and none would have contributed more liberally, from an ample fortune, to extend its circulation."
The plan of Mr. Updike's book has the merit of originality. After giving, in a suitable Introduction, some account of the long controversies and fruitless negotiations relative to the possession and jurisdiction of Narragansett, its erection into an independent Province by the King, and its final reunion with Rhode Island, he proceeds to the principal part of his work; which might be termed-“Extracts from the parochial register of St. Paul's Church, Narragansett, with sketches of political, personal and family history.” It is true, other Episcopal Churches in the State are noticed, and their beginning and progress traced with brief, yet becoming fidelity. But the great theme is Narragansett, —its religious character, -its aristocratic families,-its fascinating society,-its gay amusements, its frequent festivities,-its courteous urbanity; and the center of attraction in all these,—the man whose life and labors are most brilliant, and who seems to have left the impress of his remarkable mind upon every rood of that ancient region, is the celebrated and learned Dr. McSPARRAN. From the commencement of his missionary life in 1721, to its termination thirty-seven years after, he was, like the Apostle of the Gentiles, “in labors abundant and journeyings oft.” He traveled beyond the limits of the province where his lot was cast, with a simple devotion to clerical duty and the interests of the Church,--and according to his own account, was the “first Episcopal minister that ever preached at Providence,” and the chief agent in laying the foundation of the Church at New London, Connecticut. We find him immediately after his arrival upon his station, in correspondence with Gabriel Bernon, a protestant merchant of an ancient and honorable family of Rochelle, who prudently fled his native city just before the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and took refuge, first in England, and afterwards in America. While a descendant of the Huguenots lives in this western world, or a Churchman worships the God of his fathers in the old Providence plantation, the name of Bernon should not be forgotten. It was no scheme formed in the wild spirit of adventure that brought him hither, but it was the pure purpose of enjoying the privilege of worshiping his God, agreeably to the dictates of his conscience." Though subjected to manifold trials in his new settlement, and unjustly deprived of a large plantation at Oxford, Massachusetts, in the purchase of which he had expended much of the wealth that he brought with him from France, and which he had assured himself would prove a solid investment; he did not intermit his zeal for the cause of religion, nor evince the less solicitude to establish the Episcopal Church in every town where he chanced to reside. He was a vestryman of St. Paul's, Narragansett, before Dr. Mo:Sparran was appointed to the charge of that Church, and he seems to have been the prime mover in organizing the first parish in Providence, and procuring the occasional services of the neighboring missionaries.
Mr. Updike's plan allows him a wide range in the choice of matter, and forbids the idea of any unity or consecutive arrangement in his work. The topic changes with the record of the Missionary, so that we are one moment reading of Puritan intolerance and the imprisonment of Churchmen for refusing to be taxed to support Presbyterian teachers, and the next, smiling at a “natural bone-setter,” whirled in a coach, against his will, to the door of a splendid mansion in Broadway, where, to escape the surveillance of learned surgeons, he slily adjusts a complicated dislocation, and thus surprises at once both the trembling patient and the doting parent. From a succinct history of slavery in the colony, and a sketch of the liberal legislation of Rhode Island, we pass to the state of society consequent upon wealth and leisure, and behold it, as with the vividness of reality, in the rich and graphic description which our author has given of the “ amusements, pastimes, festivities, and galas of ancient Narragansett.” The mention in the parish record of Mr. John Checkley, Jr., furnishes the occasion for producing interesting reminiscences of his father, a name of high repute in the early annals of the American Church. Although born in Boston, under the droppings of Harvard College, he was sent by his parents to England, to complete his classical education at the University of Oxford, and from thence, he started upon a tour of observation on the continent. He was an earnest and unflinching adherent to the Church, and after his return to his native country, he published tracts and pamphlets which exposed him to the legalized persecution of the Puritans.* He was contemporary with Dr. Cutler, the converted Rector of Yale College ; and he appears to have led a life of literary leisure till, at the advanced age of forty-seven, he determined to devote the residue of his days to the service of the Church in functions of the most sacred character. That he might be clothed with authority, he visited London, but the apprehension and vengeance of his enemies followed him thither, and so excited the prejudices of Bishop Gibson, that he declined to ordain him, and he was constrained to return without accomplishing his object. The following extract-not in the usual style of Mr. Updike-because contributed, we presume, by a friend-tells the sequel of his life.
* Our readers may be curious to know what the publications of Mr. Checkley were, which the Puritan authorities judged to be a “ false and scandalous libel" against the ministers of the Gospel by law established in the provinces. It was none other than the world-famous work, “ Leslie's Short and Easy Method with Deists,” together with his " Discourse concerning Episcopacy." Mr. C. was fined £50, and bound over to keep the peace for six months.
“Nevertheless, the anxious desire to serve God in the Gospel of His Son, slept not in the breast of this unfortunate Churchman.
In the year 1739, the Bishop of Exeter, Stephen Weston, a friend of Bishop Sherlock, was found willing to hear this impracticable man, begging at the age of fifty-nine, to be allowed to minister in one of the hardest spheres on earth to which a Churchman was ever doomed, and for enough, so far as the income of the post was concerned, to keep body and soul possibly in each other's neighborhood. Bishop Weston actually ordained him, perhaps the oldest candidate in the history of the Christian Church, who was ever admitted to the honors of an office, which was all but enough to kill any ordinary subject of his years in twelve round months. And it is pleasant to reflect, that he probably ordained him with the consent of Bishop Gibson ; for he was then alive, and, in fact, did not die till nearly ten years afterwards,
* Well, armed with his sacred credentials, John Checkley at last stood upon his natal soil, prepared to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. He was sent to Providence, in Rhode Island, no doubt to remove him somewhat from the atmosphere of Boston, which would certainly have mustered for his devoted head some good stout thunderclaps. And there he ministered, officiating at intervals at Warwick and Attleborough, for fourteen years ; till in 1753, in the seventy-third year of his ardent life, God gave him respite and called him home.
“ It was much to be desired that we had some authentic memorials of a ministry, began at almost the utmost verge of man's longest ordinary life. It ought to have been a curious and exciting thing to hear one who had been a scholar from his youth, a traveller, a wit, and a philosopher, who had been contending half his life, perhaps, to be permitted to be a Priest in any parish, however humble, and amid perils almost as thick and dangerous as an apostle's, and who at length clambered up to a Deacon’s ‘good degree,' with the marks of sixty winters on his head. But almost a century has piled its dust upon a Checkley's grave, and this short record is all, perhaps, which will ever so much as strive to do honor to his name. Peace to thine ashes, untiring servant of Christ and of the Church! The faith which sustained thee teaches us, that ample amends will soon be made for all earth's forgetfulOne day is with the LORD as a thousand years; and thou shalt
be recompensed immortally at the resurrection of the just." (pp. 210, 211.)
Mr. Updike has introduced into the body of his work, copious extracts from two of Dr. McSparran's Sermons, preached on extraordinary occasions. Another discourse of his, entitled,