March 25: America’s First Episcopal Bishop


At a meeting held in Woodbury, Connecticut on March 25, 1783, ten clergymen concerned with providing for the future of the Episcopal Church named Samuel Seabury to be the first bishop of the new United States of America.  Seabury was born near New London on November 30, 1729, and had lived in Connecticut for most of his life — except for several turbulent years during the American Revolution when he was forced to flee Connecticut for more Loyalist-friendly environs in New York on account of his outspoken opposition to American independence.

Samuel Seabury, as painted by Ralph Earl, c. 1785. (National Portrait Gallery)

As there was no Anglican bishop already present in America to perform the necessary rites, Seabury sailed for England, only to run headfirst into a curious technicality: the Church of England determined that it could not proceed with the consecration because the ceremony required taking an oath of allegiance to King George III.  Seabury could not comply, since he was an American citizen.

Seabury then headed north and appealed to the Scottish Episcopal Church, which didn’t require the same demands of fealty to King George as the Church of England.  The Scottish Episcopal Church performed Seabury’s consecration ceremony on November 14, 1784, after which Seabury returned to Connecticut and became rector of St. James’ Church in New London.  He traveled throughout New England and New York extensively during his time as Bishop, and was buried in New London after his death in 1796.

Further Reading:

Shirley Carter Hughson, “Samuel Seabury, the First American Bishop,”

Margaret Smith and Nelson Rollin Burr, “Samuel Seabury,” Episcopal Church of Connecticut