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Seabury’s second act

When you watch the film version of Hamilton tonight, keep an eye out for Samuel Seabury, Yale Class of 1748. He’s the guy in the Anglican cleric’s robe singing a prim Baroque-style Tory denunciation of the Continental Congress on the streets of Manhattan, the guy who gets crushed in debate with Alexander Hamilton. (The two did spar in real life, but it was through warring pamphlets.) In the musical, Seabury is little more than a punching bag for Hamilton. But in real life, Seabury, an Anglican priest and Loyalist who was held captive by American troops for part of the war, had a remarkable second act. 

The Revolution caused a crisis for the Church of England in America. Many priests and followers of the faith had left the country once the British defeat was inevitable. And there was no church hierarchy: the colonies had never had their own bishop, which tradition required for the ordination of new priests. For the church to continue in the new American nation, it would need for the mother country to ordain an American bishop. A group of priests in Connecticut elected Seabury to go to England and seek ordination.

That turned out to be tricky. Parliament still required Anglican bishops and priests to swear an oath of allegiance to the King—a deal-breaker for Seabury and the American church. Seabury eventually gave up on the English church and went to Scotland. In 1784, three Scottish bishops consecrated Seabury, and he returned home as the first bishop in the United States.

Seabury oversaw the church in Connecticut and Rhode Island until his death in 1796. His biographer wrote that he was “a man for the times, far-reaching in his views, of a bold and resolute spirit, who thought and spoke for himself and spoke what he thought.”

When he could be heard over Alexander Hamilton, that is.

Filed under Hamilton, Samuel Seabury
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