Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City

Overview

On a September afternoon in 1853, three African American men from St. Philip's Church walked into the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and took their seats among five hundred wealthy and powerful white church leaders. Ultimately, and with great reluctance, the Convention had acceded to the men's request: official recognition for St. Philip's, the first African American Episcopal church in New York City. In Faith in Their Own Color, Craig D. Townsend tells the remarkable story of St. Philip's and ...

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Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City

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Overview

On a September afternoon in 1853, three African American men from St. Philip's Church walked into the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and took their seats among five hundred wealthy and powerful white church leaders. Ultimately, and with great reluctance, the Convention had acceded to the men's request: official recognition for St. Philip's, the first African American Episcopal church in New York City. In Faith in Their Own Color, Craig D. Townsend tells the remarkable story of St. Philip's and its struggle to create an autonomous and independent church. His work unearths a forgotten chapter in the history of New York City and African Americans and sheds new light on the ways religious faith can both reinforce and overcome racial boundaries.

Founded in 1809, St. Philip's had endured a fire; a riot by anti-abolitionists that nearly destroyed the church; and more than forty years of discrimination by the Episcopalian hierarchy. In contrast to the majority of African Americans, who were flocking to evangelical denominations, the congregation of St. Philip's sought to define itself within an overwhelmingly white hierarchical structure. Their efforts reflected the tension between their desire for self-determination, on the one hand, and acceptance by a white denomination, on the other.

The history of St. Philip's Church also illustrates the racism and extraordinary difficulties African Americans confronted in antebellum New York City, where full abolition did not occur until 1827. Townsend describes the constant and complex negotiation of the divide between black and white New Yorkers. He also recounts the fascinating stories of historically overlooked individuals who built and fought for St. Philip's, including Rev. Peter Williams, the second African American ordained in the Episcopal Church; Dr. James McCune Smith, the first African American to earn an M.D.; pickling magnate Henry Scott; the combative priest Alexander Crummell; and John Jay II, the grandson of the first chief justice of the Supreme Court and an ardent abolitionist, who helped secure acceptance of St. Philip's.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Multicultural Review - A.J. Williams-Myers

A fascinating encounter with the dynamics of social and religious change impating African Americans in antebellum New York.

The Journal of American History - Graham Russel Gao Hodges

Townsend's book is invaluable to any scholar... and has wide application for students of religion and race.

Church History - Sandy Dwayne Martin

I highly recommend this very useful text.

H-Net Reviews - Kenneth A. Scherzer

[An] important contribution to our understanding of a neglected chapter of New York City religious history.

Ecclesiastical History - David Brown

Faith in Their Own Color will be of interest to all historians of the antebellum North and deserves a wide readership.

Multicultural Review
A fascinating encounter with the dynamics of social and religious change impating African Americans in antebellum New York.

— A.J. Williams-Myers

The Journal of American History
Townsend's book is invaluable to any scholar... and has wide application for students of religion and race.

— Graham Russel Gao Hodges

Church History
I highly recommend this very useful text.

— Sandy Dwayne Martin

H-Net Reviews
[An] important contribution to our understanding of a neglected chapter of New York City religious history.

— Kenneth A. Scherzer,

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231134682
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 10/19/2005
  • Series: Religion and American Culture Series
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Craig Townsend is Associate Rector at St. James' Church in New York City. His Ph.D. is in religion from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, where he studied with David D. Hall and William R. Hutchison.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

1 Improper associates 1
2 Freedom's defects 10
3 Hobart and the high church 18
4 One of their own colour 25
5 An orderly and devout congregation 32
6 A bitter thralldom 44
7 A Godly admonition 52
8 Peculiar circumstances 63
9 The chains that bind 73
10 Promoting improvement 84
11 Partaking of the heavenly gift 92
12 To employ a colored clergyman 98
13 A state of schism 108
14 A bishop's trials 115
15 Exciting the deepest feelings 125
16 Vouchsafed to all men 135
17 The heart must be changed 140
18 The beauties of freedom 147
19 Economic opportunity and religious choice 155
20 Attentive to their devotions 162
21 The express wishes of nearly all 171
22 Injurious to the cause of religion 179
23 A fulness of assent 188
24 But one fold and one Chief Shepherd 194
App Parishioners of St. Philip's church 199
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