For a number of years, Historical Society member, Byron Rushing, worked with St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, Philadelphia and The Union of Black Episcopalians to update the "official" biography of Absalom Jones in Lesser Feasts and Fasts of the Episcopal Church. Rushing is Vice-President of the General Convention's House of Deputies. Earlier volumes of LF&F provided information on Jones that was less accurate than possible and contained a number of errors.
Arthur Sudler’s biography of Absalom Jones is now the “official” biography in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 on p.90 and reproduced fully below. A few edits were made in the LFF volume to fit onto one page. The printed volume is available from Church Publishing.
REVISED ABSALOM JONES BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATIONBy Arthur K. Sudler, William Carl Bolivar Director, Historical Society & Archives, African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas
Absalom Jones was born enslaved to Abraham Wynkoop a wealthy Anglican planter in 1746 in Delaware. He was working in the fields when Abraham recognized that he was an intelligent child and ordered that he be trained to work in the house. Absalom eagerly accepted instruction in reading. He also saved money he was given and bought books (among them a primer, a spelling book, and a bible). Abraham Wynkoop died in 1753 and by 1755 his younger son Benjamin had inherited the plantation. When Absalom was sixteen Benjamin Wynkoop sold the plantation and Absalom’s mother, sister, and five brothers. Wynkoop brought Absalom to Philadelphia where he opened a store and joined St. Peter’s Church. In Philadelphia Benjamin Wynkoop permitted Absalom to attend a night school for black people that was operated by Quakers following the tradition established by abolitionist teacher Anthony Benezet.
At twenty, with the permission of their masters, Absalom married Mary Thomas who was enslaved to Sarah King who also worshipped at St. Peter’s. The Rev. Jacob Duche performed the wedding at Christ Church. Absalom and his father-in-law, John Thomas, used their savings, and sought donations and loans primarily from prominent Quakers, in order to purchase Mary’s freedom. Absalom and Mary worked very hard to repay the money borrowed to buy her freedom. They saved enough money to buy property and to buy Absalom’s freedom. Although he repeatedly asked Benjamin Wynkoop to allow him to buy his freedom Wynkoop refused. Absalom persisted because as long as he was enslaved Wynkoop could take his property and his money. Finally, in 1784 Benjamin Wynkoop freed Absalom by granting him a manumission. Absalom continued to work in Wynkoop’s store as a paid employee.
Absalom left St. Peter’s Church and began worshipping at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. He met Richard Allen who had been engaged to preach at St. George’s and the two became lifelong friends, Together, in 1787, they founded the Free African Society a mutual aid benevolent organization that was the first of its kind organized by and for black people. Members of the Society paid monthly dues for the benefit of those in need. At St George’s, Absalom and Richard served as lay ministers for the black membership. The active evangelism of Jones and Allen, greatly increased black membership at St George’s. The black members worked hard to help raise money to build an upstairs gallery intended to enlarge the church. The church leadership decided to segregate the black worshippers in the gallery, without notifying them. During a Sunday morning service a dispute arose over the seats black members had been instructed to take in the gallery and ushers attempted to physically remove them by first accosting Absalom Jones. Most of the black members present indignantly walked out of St. George’s in a body.
Prior to the incident at St. George’s the Free African Society had initiated religious services. Some of these services were presided over by The Rev. Joseph Pilmore an assistant St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The Society established communication with similar black groups in other cities. In 1792 the Society began to build the African Church of Philadelphia. The church membership took a denominational vote and decided to affiliate with the Episcopal Church. Richard Allen withdrew from the effort as he favored affiliation with the Methodist Church. Absalom Jones was asked to provide pastoral leadership and after prayer and reflection he accepted the call.
The African Church was dedicated on July 17, 1794. The Rev. Dr. Samuel Magaw, rector St. Paul’s Church, preached the dedicatory address. Dr. Magaw was assisted at the service by The Rev. James Abercrombie, assistant minister at Christ Church. Soon thereafter the congregation applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on the following conditions: 1) that they be received as an organized body; 2) that they have control over their own local affairs; 3) that Absalom Jones be licensed as layreader, and, if qualified, be ordained as minister. In October 1794 it was admitted as the African Episcopal Church of St Thomas. The church was incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1796. Bishop William White ordained Jones as deacon in 1795 and as priest on September 21, 1802.
Jones was an earnest preacher. He denounced slavery, and warned the oppressors to “clean their hands of slaves.” To him, God was the Father, who always acted on “behalf of the oppressed and distressed.” But it was his constant visiting and mild manner that made him beloved by his congregation and by the community. St Thomas Church grew to over 500 members during its first year. The congregants formed a day school and were active in moral uplift, self-empowerment, and anti-slavery activities. Known as “the Black Bishop of the Episcopal Church,” Jones was an example of persistent faith in God and in the Church as God’s instrument. Jones died on this day in 1818.
Absalom's autobiographical sketch from Douglass' Annals (1862):
ABSALOM JONES AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH/ANNALS*
The following narrative is copied from the original manuscript written by himself:
“I, Absalom Jones was born in Sussex,” DEL., “on the 6th of November, 1746. I was small, when my master took me from the field to wait and attend on him in the house; and being very fond of learning, I was careful to save the pennies that were given to me by the ladies and gentlemen from time to time. I soon bought myself a primer, and begged to be taught by any body that I found able and willing to give me the least instruction. Soon after this, I was able to purchase a spelling book; for as my money increased, I supplied myself with books, among others, a Testament. For, fondness for books, gave me little or no time for the amusements that took up the leisure hours of my companions. By this course I became singular, and escaped many evils, and also saved my money.
In the year 1762, my mother, five brothers and a sister were sold, and I was brought to the city of Philadelphia with my master. My employment in this city was to wait in the store, pack up and carry out goods. In this situation, I had an opportunity, with the clerk, to get copies set for me; so that I was soon able to write to my mother and brothers, with my own hand. My spelling is bad for want of proper schooling.
In the year 1766, I asked my master the liberty of going one quarter to night-school, which he granted. I had a great desire to learn Arithmetic. In that quarter I learned Addition, Troy weight, Subtraction, Apothecaries’ weight, Practical multiplication, Practical Division, and Reduction.
In the year 1770, I married a wife who was a slave. I soon after proposed to purchase her freedom. To this her mistress agreed, for the sum of forty pounds. Not having the money in hand, I got an appeal drawn, and John Thomas, my father-in-law, and I called upon some of the principal Friends of this city. From some we borrowed, and from other we received donations. In this way we soon raised thirty pounds of the money, her mistress, Sarah King, forgiving the balance of ten pounds. By this time, my master’s family was increased, and I was much hurried in my servitude. However, I took a house, and for seven years, made it my business to work until twelve or one o’clock at night, to assist my wife in obtaining a livelihood, and to pay the money that was borrowed to purchase her freedom.
This being fully accomplished, and having a little money in hand, I made application to my master, in the year 1778, to purchase my own freedom; but, as this was not granted, I fortunately met with a small house and lot of ground, to be sold for one hundred and fifty pounds, continental money. Having laid by some hard money, I sold it for continental and purchased the lot. My desire for freedom increased, as I knew that while I was a slave, my house and lot might be taken as the property of my master. This induced me to make many applications to him for liberty to purchase my freedom; and on the first of October, 1784, he generously gave me a manumission. I have ever since continued in his service at good wages, and I still find it my duty, both late and early, to be industrious to improve the little estate that a kind Providence has put in my hands.
Since my freedom, I have built a couple of small houses on the small lot, which now let for twenty-two pounds a year.”
The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church offers a Syllabi Sharing resource through its website. Syllabi include a class structure outline, texts, assignments, and resource lists. They may be used by those teaching on or reading about the history of the Episcopal Church. They may be adapted for use as a teaching series in a parish, a church history course or for personal edification.
Three syllabi are currently available from educators in the field. The Rev. Dr. Robert Prichard, recently retired from Virginia Theological Seminary, shares two syllabi. The first includes the Colonial Era and Early National Period of the Episcopal Church with the second encompassing the period from 1830 to the 21st Century. The Rev. Dr. Lauren Winner, Duke Divinity School, shares a syllabus entitled The Anglican Tradition: History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. Educators are encouraged to submit additional syllabi that will be considered for addition to the sharing page.
Access to syllabi are a benefit of membership in the Historical Society. Members are able to log in to access a number of resources which are unavailable to the public. For information on becoming a member, visit hsec.us/membership.
The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church offers a Teaching Bibliography resource through its website. The bibliography is organized by theme and may be used by those teaching on or reading about the history of the Episcopal Church. It would be an excellent supplement for use in a teaching series in a parish, or personal edification.
Several topic areas are included. General texts on the history of the Episcopal Church include 21st century publications, early and late 20th century publications and 19th century publications. The Study of the History of Anglicanism provides publications from the broader Anglican tradition. Several are related to the history of African Americans, Women and Latinx in the Episcopal Church. The bibliography is intended to grow over time, so all are encouraged to submit suggested texts to be considered for inclusion.
Access to the bibliography is available to the public. Each title is linked to a source where they may be purchased. Many may be available through inter-library loan. To see the bibliography, visit hsec.us/bibliography.
Multiple studies and book reviews in the autumn 2020 issue of Anglican and Episcopal History (AEH) scrutinize legacies of racism and colonialism in churches. Two studies address changing historiography and practices influenced by decolonization.
“Historical Revision in Church: Re-examining the ‘Saint’ Edward Colston” investigates the legacy of a philanthropist, enslaver, and High Anglican who lived from 1636 to 1721. The study by Samuel J. Richards, a teacher at Shanghai American School in China, evaluates the role played by the Church of England in the development of the “cult of Colston” while describing actions at Bristol Cathedral starting in the early 2000s as “…part of a larger global pattern of historical revision and penance occurring in predominately white Christian communities coming to terms with complicity in the horrors of racism and slavery.”
Cn. Alan L. Hayes of Wycliffe College in the University of Toronto then examines “The Elusive Goal” of indigenous self-determination in the Anglican Church of Canada between 1967 and 2020. He argues “…colonial assumptions and structures have proven tenacious, and that, although Indigenous self-determination is consistent with historical patterns of Christian mission and organization, the theological, constitutional, and financial obstacles to decolonization have defied solution.” Hayes also explores models that could better promote indigenous self-determination within the Anglican Church of Canada.
In the final study, Jesse J. Lee, a doctoral candidate at Florida State University, invites readers to consider ways the Episcopal Church strived to maintain social unity amid great theological diversity and difference between Anglo-Catholics and lower-church Episcopalians in “The Contentious Conferences of 1924: A Study of the Proceedings of the Anglo-Catholic Priests’ Convention and the Thirty-Eighth Episcopal Church Congress.”
Book review editor Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook then sets the tone for a series of reviews focused primarily on studies of black identity, racism, and slavery in the Atlantic World. Kujawa-Holbrook examines Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel by Gary Dorrien. Other reviews include Christian Slavery: Conversion and Race in the Protestant Atlantic World by Katherine Gerbner, The Black Republic: African Americans and the Fate of Haiti by Brandon R. Byrd, Leonidas Polk: Warrior Bishop of the Confederacy by Huston Horn, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean by Randy M. Browne, and The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America. Among other topics, reviewers consider ways museums address religious history and Christian history, practice, and theology in Asia.
In addition to these studies and book reviews, church review editor J. Barrington Bates continues a series begun in the summer issue that examines ways congregations are adapting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second review in the series takes readers to St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Waco, part of the Diocese of Texas.
These articles and other book reviews in the autumn issue are available to members of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church and later available via JSTOR.org and other online services.
About Anglican and Episcopal History
Anglican and Episcopal History (ISSN 0896-8039), formerly The Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, seeks to raise the level of discussion, provide a forum for exchange of ideas, and review books of real worth and of interest to educated Anglicans. It is published quarterly in March, June, September, and December. Full text articles are available through JSTOR.org and for members of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church at https://hsec.us/AEH.
About the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church
The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church (HSEC) is an association of people and entities dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of information on the history the Episcopal Church and its antecedents. Anyone who has an interest in the objectives of HSEC is invited to visit: https://hsec.us/membership.
The Homebrewed Christianity Podcast of August 14, 2020 features the Rev. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, PhD, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church. The episode “A Christian Reading the Mishnah Avot & Weird Anglican Twitter” was sponsored by the Historical Society. In a conversation with host Tripp Fuller, Joslyn- Siemiatkoski shares his church experience, describes work a church historian and seminary professor, explores the nature of comparative theology, and discusses his recent book The More Torah, The More Light: A Christian Commentary on Mishnah Avot.
The Membership and Promotions Committee of the Historical Society has launched a number of initiatives to better fulfilling its purpose of preserving and disseminating information about the history of the Episcopal Church in the 21st century. It determined to sponsor a number of episodes on this podcast with 75,000 listeners each month and over 2 million downloads last year from over 150 countries. It has been sharing conversations between friends, theologians, philosophers, and scholars of all stripes since 2008 and boasts previous guests such as Rob Bell, N.T. Wright, Marcus Borg, Brian McLaren, Morgan Freeman, Walter Brueggemann, Phyllis Tickle, Diana Butler Bass, Richard Rohr and many other influential and emerging Christian thinkers.
Joslyn-Siemiatkoski is the Duncalf-Villavoso Professor of Church History at the Seminary of the Southwest where his teaching focuses on integrating Anglican and Episcopal identity with the broader sweep of Christian history and Jewish-Christian relations. He is author of Christian Memories of the Maccabean Martyrs and has authored chapters in various edited volumes and articles in Anglican Theological Review and Anglican and Episcopal History. He serves as an assisting priest at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin.
The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church is pleased to announce its recipient of the 2020 Nelson R. Burr Prize, Dr. Jonathan S. Lofft. He teaches the history of Christianity at Trinity College in the University of Toronto. He is a Research Fellow of Huron College at Western University, and a member of the academic faculty of Queen's College at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. A Trustee of the National Episcopal Historians and Archivists, Jonathan serves as vice-president of the Canadian Church Historical Society and of the Canadian Society for the Study of Names. His research interests include Anglican/Episcopal history and identity, hagiography, imperialism, medievalism, and critical place-name studies.
Dr. Lofft is honored for his article published in the September 2019 issue of Anglican and Episcopal History entitled "X Marks the Spot: the Cult of St. Alban the Martyr and the Hagiotoponymy of Imperial Anglicanism in Canada, 1865-1921." The prize was awarded and received during the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Historical Society.
The Burr prize honors the renowned scholar Nelson R. Burr, whose two-volume A Critical Bibliography of Religion in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961) and other works constitute landmarks in the field of religious historiography. Each year a committee of the Society selects the author of the most outstanding article in the Society's journal, Anglican and Episcopal History, as recipient. The award also honors that which best exemplifies excellence and innovative scholarship in the field of Anglican and Episcopal history.
Download X Marks the Spot: the Cult of St. Alban the Martyr and the Hagiotoponymy of Imperial Anglicanism in Canada, 1865-1921.
The Summer 2020 issue of Anglican and Episcopal History (AEH) is available featuring research essays, church reviews, and book reviews. AEH is the peer-reviewed journal of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church (HSEC).
In the issue, the Rev. Robert B. Slocum’s lead article examines the “Faith, Freedom, and Sacrifice” of Episcopal seminarian Jonathan Daniels (1939-1965) who was murdered while advocating for Civil Rights in Alabama. This is followed by “The Making of the American Prayer Book of 1928” by Prof. Lawrence Crumb who helps “…reveal an approach to the task of revision that was both conscientious and meticulous…” possibly providing ideas for contemporary prayer book revision. The final study, “Institutionalizing Theology: A.B. Goulden and the Community of Reparation to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament”, offers an Anglo-Catholic perspective by Nashotah House professor Greg Peters.
In addition to the three studies, church review editor J. Barrington Bates introduces a series of upcoming reviews that will examine ways parishes are adapting worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bates describes the “wide spectrum of responses in worldwide Anglicanism.” The first review of the series visits the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Canonsburg, Pa.
Book reviewers consider past and present visions for the Anglican Communion using Ellen K. Wondra’s “Questioning Authority: The Theology and Practice of the Authority in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion,” Ashley Null and John W. Yates III’s “Reformation Anglicanism, A Vision for Today’s Global Communion,” and “The Promise of Anglicanism” by Virginia Theological Seminary professors Robert Heaney and William Sachs.
Other reviews range from biographies to scholarly studies of literary fiction. William Paterson University history professor Suzanne Geissler reviews “A Christian and a Democrat: A Religious Biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt” begun by longtime AEH editor-in-chief John F. Woolverton (1926-2014) and recently completed by Calvin College’s James D. Bratt while S. Scott Rohrer considers Thomas S. Kidd’s “Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father.” In the area of literary fiction, Salem State University communications professor Christopher Fauske reviews “Anglican Women Novelists from Charlotte Brontë to P.D. James” edited by Judith Maltby and Alison Shell.
These and other book reviews in the summer issue are available to members of HSEC and later available on JSTOR.org and other online services.
The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church (HSEC) is an association of people and entities dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of information on the history the Episcopal Church and its antecedents.
Founded in 1910 in Philadelphia as the Church Historical Society by a small group of clergy and laity who were determined to provide an organization and structure to focus on keeping the history of the church and share it with others. HSEC members include scholars, researchers, teachers and students, archivists, historians, professionals, and enthusiasts of history. Anyone who has an interest in the objectives of HSEC is invited to visit: https://hsec.us/membership.
The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church awarded grants to 4 recipients in 2020 to support significant research, publications and projects related to the history of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Recipients are encouraged to publish, when appropriate, in Anglican and Episcopal History, the quarterly journal of the Historical Society. Applications for consideration were reviewed by the Grants Committee with final awards determined by the Board of Directors at their meeting in June. $13,000 was available for grants in the 2020 budget.
The Rev. Dr. Robert Tobin, Chair of the Grants Committee, announced recipients from applications received.
Additional details may be found at hsec.us/grants.
The Annual Meeting of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church was held virtually on July 29, 2020. The meeting included reports on the activities of the Historical Society over the past year and elections. There was also time allowed for members to share their thoughts and ideas for the good of the order.
The Rev. Dr. Robyn Neville chaired the meeting. She reported a concentrated effort to promote the Historical Society and increase its visibility and recognition among academic and ecclesiastical groups. There are also targeted initiatives to boost membership, especially among students, and ongoing development of creative initiatives for future sustainability. Preident Neville noted “It is not enough to keep the Historical Society running smoothly for the present; it is not enough to look back into the past by directing the bulk of our energies to uncovering the narratives that have brought the church to where it is today. We also need to be intentionally forward-thinking, so that we may respond appropriately to changing situations in order to create a necessary resource for the church to reference as it grows and adapts to uncertain times.”
Additional reports included the awarding of grants to four recipients, the status of print and digital presence of the Historical Society’s quarterly journal, Anglican and Episcopal History, the recipient of the Burr Prize for the best article in the journal, plans for seeking the next Editor of the journal, a financial report reflecting strength, and a report on the African American Episcopal Historical Collection, a joint project with the Virginia Theological Seminary.
The following officers were elected: President: the Rev. Dr. Robyn Neville; First Vice President: Dr. J. Michael Utzinger; Second Vice President: The Rev. Dr.Robert W. Prichard; Secretary: Dr. Pamela Cochran; Treasurer: Mr. George DeFillipi.
The following were elected to the Board of Directors: The Rev. Dr. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski; The Rev. Jonathan Musser; The Very Rev. Dr. William S. Stafford.
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