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Old Trinity and the American Church.
BY ROBERT TOMES.
WE leave the Battery,* reconciled by the practical good of its beneficent emigration establishments, to its utilitarian transformation, but yet, as we recollect its early beauties, its attractive resorts, and its gala scenes, it is not easy to resist the indulgence of a sentimental regret at the change.
With New York's civic triumphs the Battery will always be historically associated. Here a swelling municipality was wont to vent its enthusiasm, in pompous military display, noisy cannonading and flatulent oratory, on every occasion of civic, political, and national festivity. Here the Briarean hands of municipal welcome were first extended to every distinguished foreign visitor. Here in 1824 Marquis de Lafayette landed, on his return to the United States, and here he felt the first grasp of that universal hand-shaking with which a grateful but a tiresomely-intrusive nation always welcomes its heroes.† It was at the Battery, too, though but so short a time ago, that the young Prince of Wales first took to horse, on that triumphal ride up Broadway. He passed almost at his start the Bowling Green, with its revolutionary reminiscence, of the demolished statue of his great grandfather, George III., and those early days of fierce contention, whose bitterness has long since been sweetened by years of friendly relation and international courtesy. The welcome given to England's heir showed that old grudges, if not forgotten, were buried, beyond, it is hoped, any chance of resurrection.
A hundred steps or so from the Bowling Green, brings us on our long walk up Broadway, to Trinity Church, a goodly gift from Queen Anne of pious memory, to her then loyal subjects, and a precious inheritance to their republican descendants. Its sonorous chimes
* See article on "Emigrants in America."
+ Though the Marquis, with true French politeness, yielded gracefully to the national demand for a touch of his glove, he became very sparing of speech. Of each one who came up, he asked as he shook hands with him, " Are you a married man?" If he was answered "Yes," the Marquis rejoined, "Happy fellow;" if answered "No," he exclaimed, "Lucky dog." With this meagre luggage of nine words, the economical Marquis is said to have kept himself in English speech, and made a creditable appearance during his whole journey from Maine to Georgia.
re-echo many a tradition of church and state, and its ever-green churchyard is full of the memorials of the great and good of the past.
This revered temple stands opposite to Wall Street, warning off all desecration from the irreverent money-changers of that busy mart, and reminding them that there is something more worth living and dying for than the dollar. The present structure dates only from the year 1846. It is one of those imitations of Gothic to which the modern rage for medieval art is ever exciting the architect, but only to show the impotence of the mimicry of a sentiment which is neither his own nor of that of the age in which he lives. As seen from the street, the building appears all spire, and the little that shows of the body, seems but a prop to sustain its lank height. The steeple itself is not an unimposing erection, and is said to be a very fair rendering of that of the Louth Cathedral in Ireland.
The green churchyard with its ancient trees throwing their deep shade over mouldering tombs and crumbling gravestones, is a surprise of repose and solemnity in the very midst of the most stirring and worldly of people. It contains among the crowded monuments of its dead those of Bradford, an Englishman by birth, who established the first newspaper in New York, in 1724, a tiny sheet of the size of a half foolscap; Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat; Alexander Hamilton, the revolutionary statesman; and young Lawrence, who fell in the gallant encounter between the Shannon and Chesapeake.
The churchyard is full of the tombs and gravestones, some dating two hundred years back, of the ancient burghers of New York. One of its most frequented spots is that where a stone slab records simply these words, "Charlotte Temple." This was the title of a sentimental romance, which was a great favourite with the grandmothers of the present generation of Americans. "It is a tale of seduction, the story of a young girl brought over to America by a British officer, and deserted; and being written in a melo-dramatic style has drawn tears from the public freely as any similar production on the stage."* The tomb is supposed to contain the remains of the original of the unfortunate heroine of this story, which is founded on fact. The ground about the tomb, kept constantly bare of grass by frequent steps, shows that the pathetic tale of Charlotte Temple has still its numerous readers and sympathisers.
An ugly so-called Gothic structure, which has the look of a gigantic
"Cyclopædia of American Literature," article, Susanna Rawson. By Evert A. Duyckinck and George L. Duyckinck. New York: Scribner.
pepper-cruet, is a late erection, made sacred professedly "to the memory of those brave and good men who died whilst imprisoned in the city, for their devotion to the cause of American Independence," but, in reality, as is well known, built to prevent the municipality from cutting a street through the old churchyard. An irreverent but democratic alderman might not, it was thought, hesitate to despoil a place dedicated to Deity, but would hardly dare touch that consecrated to a popular human idol.
Before the present unimpressive be-Gothicized structure was erected, there had been on the same site three other Trinity Churches. The first was built in 1696, on a spot then at the extreme end, as it is now at the very beginning, of the city. A nucleus for a parish had been formed when New York was taken possession of by the English in 1664, at the fort on the Battery, where a British chaplain read the service of the Church of England. The attendants were few, composed principally of officials, for there were hardly any other English Churchmen in New York at that early day. "Here bee not many of the Church of England," said Governor Dongan in his report,* dated Feb. 22, 1687, to the British Government; "few Roman Catholicks; abundance of Quakers, preachers, men and Women especially; Singing Quakers, Ranting Quakers; Sabbatarians, Antisabbatarians; some Anabaptists, some Independents, some Jews: in short, of all sorts of opinion there are some, and the most part of none at all." Each sect, as in more modern times, was a great stickler for its own doctrine; and "it is the endeavour of all persons here," added the Governor, "to bring up their children and servants in that opinion which themselves profess; but this I observe, that they take no care of the conversion of their slaves."
Clergymen of the Established Church, it appears, were scarce in New York in those days; nor was it surprising: for as the Governor testifies in regard to "the king's natural-born subjects, I find it a hard. task to make them pay their ministers." That official, finding it in consequence difficult to recruit for his army of martyrs among the Church clergy, was obliged to have recourse to the enemy's camp. He therefore selected a Mr. Vesey, "who," to use the words of the colonial document, "was at that time a Dissenting preacher on Long Island. He had received his education in Harvard College, under that rigid Independent, Increase Mather, and was sent from thence by him to confirm the minds of those who had removed for their con'Documentary History of New York," Albany, 1850, p. 116.
venience from New England to this Province (New York). For Mr. Mather, having advice that there was a minister of the Established Church of England, come over in quality of chaplain to the forces, and fearing that the Common Prayer and the hated ceremonies of our Church might gain ground, he spared no pains or care to spread the warmest of his emissaries through this Province (New York)."
Colonel Fletcher, then Governor, who "saw into this design" of the rigid Mather, determined to frustrate it. He accordingly secured this Mr. Vesey, the proselytizing emissary of the Independents, by converting him to a Church of England apostle. This was effected by nothing more miraculous than an invitation to the new Trinity Church, with £100 per annum, and a promise to advance his stipend considerably, and recommend him for holy orders to his Lordship the Bishop of London. This colonial Saul of Tarsus thus converted, and the Governor having performed his part of the contract, Mr. Vesey was duly installed Rector of Trinity Church; and though the process of his transformation was somewhat different, he is said to have rivalled his great predecessor St. Paul as a disseminator of the true faith.*
Mr. Vesey was also honoured with the appointment of Commissary to his lordship of London, and thus became a quasi Bishop, in addition , to his other dignities. Withal, however, he had great difficulty in getting money enough to support him. It became necessary, in consequence, to raise the prices of burials, the tariff for which was accordingly fixed as follows:-For burying an adult, £5; for a child above ten years of age, £2 10s. ; and for one below, £1 15s.
Even when the parish of Trinity was endowed with the gift by Queen Anne of what was called the Queen's farm, it remained for a long time so poor, that it was forced to place itself constantly in a begging attitude, now soliciting subscriptions to raise the steeple, or eke out the meagre stipend of the parson, or again demanding alms for the poor curate, or other needs.
This Queen's farm, which in colonial times was rented for the paltry sum of £35 a year, and gave but a meagre product of cabbage and potatoes, now forms, with a long front in Broadway, and a large stretch of crowded and busy streets in various directions, one of the richest portions of the city. Trinity Church, which still owns the property, derives from it now a princely revenue, which, in the course of not many years, when certain leases shall have expired, will be
* * Documentary History of New York," vol. iii., p. 264.