The Friends having made such inroads into the Presbyterian Church, there seemed a good opening for establishing a Church of England. Accordingly the Rev. George Keith, a converted Quaker, but now an itinerant missionary of the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts, resorted to Hempstead several times in hopes of gaining over both Friends and Presbyterians to the Church. On one occasion Keith, following the steps of one Samuel Bownas, a traveling preacher, to Hempstead, appointed a meeting at the same hour as Bownas had, and to preach within hearing distance. Between the two appointments there was a very large gathering. The Quaker champion says; "I being very young and strong, my voice was plainly heard by the people who were with Keith, so that they all left his meeting but the clerk and William Bradford, and came to ours, for we had room enough for both meetings, it being a very large barn of Nathaniel Pearsall.
Keith says; 1702, September 27, (Sunday), I preached at Hempstead, in the afternoon, from Luke x, 42, where was such a multitude that the church (Independent meeting-house) could not hold them, so that many stood at the doors and windows to hear, who were generally well affected and greatly desired that a Church of England minister should be settled amongst them. November 26th, (Thursday), I preached there on Acts, xxvi, 18; and November 29, (Sunday), I preached there again on Hebrews, viii, 10, 11, 12. In 1703, November 21, (Sunday), I again preached there on 1st Peter, ii, 9, and lodged at Isaac Smith's, (north side the Plains), four miles from the church, where I baptized a young woman of his family, and a boy and girl of his relations, and neighbor's child, a boy. This Smith had formerly been a Quaker, and was scarce then fully come off, but came and heard me preach, and was well affected and did kindly entertain me.
1703, January 12, "At a general town meeting, John Pine was chosen warden, and Jonathan Smith, Samuel Denton, John Haviland and _____ ______, vestrymen for Hempstead; Mr. Thomas Jones, church warden, and Edmund Wright, Isaac Doughty, Samuel Dickinson, Richard Willis and Nathaniel Coles, vestrymen of Oysterbay. Thomas Gildersleeve was chosen, April 1st, in place of John Pine.
The above election was held agreeable to the Ministry Act of September 22d, 1693, which seems to have lain dormant hitherto, but was probably revived by the new Governor, Lord Cornbury. By this act Hempstead and Oysterbay were constituted on parish, and were required to raise £60 per annum for the support of a good sufficient Protestant minister.
The successive steps by which a Church of England minister was eventually settled at Hempstead are not well know, but we give all we have discovered.
The Rev. John Bartow, of Westchester, writes (May 24, 1704,) that "Hempstead has long expected a Missionary from the Venerable Society, and I hope they will soon be answered."
The Rev. Mr. Pritchard, of Rye, writes (November 1, 1704,) that "The Venerable Society would do well to recommend Mr. Stuart to Hempstead, where they stand very much in need of a minister, and complain very much for (want of) a Churchman, it being the best place in the Province of New York, and best affected for the Church. I design to preach there frequently, (God willing) in order to continue them in a good opinion of our Church till a minister comes. Mr. Vesey and the people of Hempstead have been very pressing on me to remove thither, saying Lord Cornbury would willingly consent thereto."
Lord Cornbury writing (August 23, 1703,) gives Mr. John Thomas a letter of commendation to the Venerable Society. He says he is a sober, ingenuous gentleman, and has served as lecturer over three years in Philadelphia. I hope you will send him to Jamaica or Hempstead. Keith says (April 2, 1703,) Mr. John Thomas, an ordained deacon, has set up a school in Philadelphia, and managed it well for above two years. He intends for London a year hence to be ordained presbyter. He was assistant to Rev. Evan Evans, and also preached in the country places about Philadelphia. The vestry of Christ Church commend him to the favor and patronage of the Bishop of London, as being discreet and inoffensive to all. Mr. Thomas had left Philadelphia by or before April 7, 1704, and had returned from England, in December following, in priest's orders and with an appointment to the church at Hempstead.
MANDATE FOR THE INDUCTION OF JOHN THOMAS.EDWARD, the most illustrious Viscount Cornbury, Captain General and Governor of the Province of New York in America, Vice-Admiral of the same, &c.
To all and singular and rectors, vicars, chaplains, curates, clergymen and ministers whatsoever in and throughout the whole Province of New York, wherever established, and also to the present church wardens of the parochial church of Hempstead, Greeting.
Whereas, I commit to you jointly and severally our beloved in Christ, John Thomas, clergyman, presented to the rectory or parochial church of Hempstead, now vacant, to be instituted as rector of the same, and firmly enjoining I command that you collate and induct, or cause to be inducted, the same John Thomas (or his lawful proctor for himself and in his name) into the real, actual and corporal possession of said rectory or parochial church, and into all its rights and appurtenances, and that you defend him so inducted; and what you shall have done in the premises you will (when duly required thereto) certify me or some other competent judge in this behalf, or he will certify whichever of you being present may have executed this mandate.
Given under the prerogative seal of said Province, the 26th day of December, Anno Domini 1704.
Geo. Clark, Sec'y.
We whose names are subscribed, by virtue of the above instrument have inducted the Reverend Domine Thomas into the real, actual and corporal possession of the rectory or parochial church of Hempstead, the 27th day of December, Anno Domini 1704.
William Vesey, Rector of Trinity Church, N.Y.
Rector of the Parish Church, Jamaica
Thos. Jones Thos. Gildersleeve, Church Wardens.
In a letter of March 1st, 1705 Mr. Thomas thus writes of his new situation, to the Venerable Society; "After much toil and fatigue, I am through God's assistance safely arrived, and have been two months settle at Hempstead, where I met with civil reception from the people. They are generally Independents or Presbyterians, and have hitherto been supplied, ever since the settlement of the town, with a dissenting ministry.
"The prejudice and bias of education is the greatest difficulty I labor under. The country is extremely wedded to a dissenting ministry, and were it no for His Excellency my Lord Cornbury's most favorable countenance to us, we might expect the severest entertainment here that malice and the rigor of prejudice could afflict us with. All we of the clergy need the influence of His Lordship's most favorable aspect. Government is our great asylum and bulwark which My Lord exerts to the utmost when the necessities and interests of the Church call for it. His countenance, next to the Providence of Heaven, is my chiefest safety. I have scarce a man in the parish truly steady and real to the interest and promotion of the Church any farther than they aim at the favor or dread the displeasure of His Lordship. His Lordship's extraordinary respect to the clergy has set them above the snarling of the vulgar and secured to them respect and deference from the best people. The people of Hempstead are better disposed to peace and civility than they are at Jamaica. This is the face of affairs here according to the best observation I could make in the short time I have lived here.
"The gall of bitterness of this Independent kidney is inconceivable-not unlike that of Demetrius and his associates at the conceived downfall of the great Diana of the Ephesians. We have a great work to go through, unruly beasts (with Daniel) to encounter, but we trust that the great God whose cause we stand for will enable us to go on.
"The fathers of these people came from New England, and I need not tell you how averse they of that country are to our Church discipline. The people here being generally very poor, and utterly averse to the service of the Church of England. The inhabitants transported themselves here from New England, and have been ever since their first settlement supplied by a ministry from there.
"I have neither pulpit nor any one necessary for the administration of the Holy Eucharist, and only the beat of a drum to call the people together. His Excellency Lord Cornbury is a true nursing father to our infancy here, his countenance and protection is never wanting to us, his being by inclination a true son of the Church moves him zealously to support that wholly. If it had not been for the countenance and support of Lord Cornbury and his Government, it would have been impossible to have settled a Church on the Island."
It appears that the possession of the church, house and lands at Hempstead were willingly surrendered by the Independent minister, when demanded by Mr. Thomas.
1705, April 23. Mr Thomas writes that "The church is not only better attended now than it ever was before, under the Dissenters, according to their confession, but I have admitted to the communion at one time three, at another four of the most rigid of the Independents, while twelve had just received the holy ordinance of baptism, among whom were several adults."
1705, May 26. Mr. Thomas writes; "My path here is very thorny; all my steps are narrowly watched; I am obliged to walk very singuly. I have brought some few of the honestest, best-inclined, to religion, and the soberest to the holy communion, and hope in time (if God enable me) to have a plentiful harvest among them."
1705, May 30. Governor Cornbury orders, "the parsonage house and home lot to be repaired so that they may be tenantable, and the parsonage meadow fenced at the town's cost, and the church to be repaired, and what is needful about them all." Town meetings were held in the church.
1705, June 27. "The people here are all stiff Dissenters-not above three Church people in the whole parish-all of them of the rebellious offspring of '42. Brother Urquhart, of Jamaica, and myself belong to one county, and the only English ministers on the Island. We are the first that brake the ice amongst this sturdy, obstinate people, who endeavor what in them lies to crush us in embryo; but, blessed be God, by the propitious smiles of heaven and the particular countenance of my Lordship's Government, we keep above water, and, we thank God, have added to our churches."
1706, April 7. Mr. Thomas writes; "I have by God's blessing advance the number of my communicants from three to twenty-one, all of them rigid Dissenters, influenced against conformity to the Church by the strong bias of deep prejudice, inveteracy and a contrary education. I have the prospect of a plentiful harvest among them, having already waded, I hope, through the most formidible difficulties."
1707, April 22. Mr. Thomas writes that; "Common Prayer Books are very much wanting to be given away, for though the people cannot be prevailed upon to buy, (were they to be sold), yet being given away, the might in time be brought to make use of them. My Lord Cornbury is very countenancing and assisting to me, and it is by an order from him that this building (a gallery in the church) gets forward. He is truly our very good friend; we want nothing that the countenance of Government can make us happy in."
"The inhabitants of this county are generally Independents and what are not so are either Quakers or of no professed religion at all. The generality are averse to the discipline of our Holy Mother the Church of England, and enraged to see her ministers established among them. Their prejudice of education is our misfortune, our Church their bugbear, and to remove the averseness imbibed with their first principles must be next to a miracle."
TO BE CONTINUED
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