At the time of the Revolution, the Anglican church in the American colonies was the established church in Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and the southern counties of New York. It was funded generously by monies coming from England. It had legal standing, wealth, and power. It was comfortable. But, it was entirely absent of bishops. Nominally, the bishop of London was solely responsible for every single Anglican in the colonies. All of the priests serving in the colonies had to face the perilous journey to England for their ordination, and also submit to the requisite oaths of allegiance to the Crown.
After the eruption of the Revolution, the Anglican parishes in the colonies were ripped apart by division and argument over the rifts between the colonies and Great Britain. Gone was the security they had known under English rule. Many of the clergy, in particular, felt bound by honor to respect the vows they had taken to the Crown, and publicly opposed the Revolution. By the end of the war and the emigration of Loyalists to Canada or back to England, the Anglican parishes in the new United States were disestablished, no longer received funding from England, and half of the parishes were closed or destroyed. It’s estimated that almost 65% of clergy left for Canada; North Carolina had no priest; Virginia’s pre-Revolutionary parish count of 107 dropped to 42. And, there was an ocean and some sour feelings dividing the Anglican churches in the US and the closest bishop. Eventually, though, priests traveled to Great Britain, and were consecrated bishops for the American church, first in Scotland, then in England. But the sense of loss and change wasn’t entirely gone even after America obtained its own bishops: the first bishop of New York, Samuel Provoost, despaired that the church would survive, so in 1801, he retired as bishop and became a botanist, convinced that the Episcopal Church would fade away when the last members of the pre-Revolution generation died. At his time, there were only 10,000 Episcopalians in the entire nation of 4 million.
But that wasn’t the end of the story….
Read it all.