Christ Church, Savannah from 1733-1758

The following is excerpted from the book, Georgia as a Proprietary Province: The Execution of a Trust (Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1917), by Ross McCain, a professor of American History at Agnes Scott College. pp. 309-328

As in all other matters concerning the management of Georgia, the Trustees were vested with full power in religious affairs, and they guarded jealously their authority, as in the controversy with the Bishop of London for example. They did not, however, desire seriously to restrict religious liberty in the colony. They proclaimed freedom of conscience in worshipping God to all persons except Roman Catholics, provided they should be content with the quiet and peaceable enjoyment of their religion without offense or scandal to the government. While almost all forms of worship were thus declared permissible, the Trustees after some opposition decided that it was incumbent upon them to furnish to the inhabitants of the province the gospel according to the forms and usages of the Established Church of England.

The Trustees had not planned to make such a provision for the Episcopal service at the beginning of the colonization; but a little more than a week before the first settlers sailed for Georgia, Dr. Henry Herbert met with the Board of Trustees and offered to go to the new colony and perform the religious duties needful without salary. His offer was promptly accepted; and he sailed with the first colonizing expedition to Savannah. It was understood that his appointment was to last for a single year. His stay in Georgia was only a few weeks in length, for he was taken ill and died on his return voyage to England. His work made no lasting impression on the settlement.

In the meantime, the Trustees were trying to arrange for a permanent missionary to Georgia. They appealed to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts for assistance in the finding and in the supporting of a suitable minister; but before the Society provided a man, Rev. Samuel Quincy applied to the Trustees for work and was accepted by them. He had good recommendations and gave promise of being a thoroughly satisfactory worker. The Society agreed to aid in his support if the Trustees would provide his expenses to Georgia and agree to furnish him with a glebe, looking to his permanent support as soon as the funds of the Trust would permit.

Quincy entered upon his duties early in May, 1733. Details as to his ministry are meager, but there is abundant evidence that he was not in harmony with the Georgia officials. He had serious quarrels with Thomas Causton, the first magistrate of the colony, and complained bitterly of the treatment received at his hands, speaking of him as an insolent and tyrannical bailiff. Quincy did not correspond with the Trustees or keep them informed as to the progress of his work; and Oglethorpe felt that he was not sufficiently diligent in the performance of it. He continued his pastorate for about two and a half years until the Trustees on October 10, 1735, revoked the license which had been granted him to serve as minister and appointed John Wesley to succeed him.

It was not wholly Quincy’s fault that he met with no better success in the colony. He was sick during a considerable portion of his stay in Georgia and had to supply his place with ministers from South Carolina. He found it difficult also to adapt himself to the frontier conditions that had to be faced in the new work. That he was an able and successful minister in other fields is fully established; for after leaving Savannah he went to South Carolina where he served most successfully churches at Dorchester, Colleton, and Charleston.

When Wesley volunteered as a missionary to Georgia, he did not intend to act as minister for an established congregation, but he rather expected to labor for the conversion of the Indians. His commission from the Trustees made no mention of the work among the natives, merely giving him general license to exercise in Georgia the office of a priest of the Church of England; but he hoped nevertheless that he would be able to carry out his first cherished plans in the new colony. On reaching his chosen field of labor in February, 1736, he expressed to Oglethorpe a desire to proceed at once among the Indians, and a conference was held with some of them; but Wesley was told that the time was not ripe for the prosecution of such missionary enterprise, and at Oglethorpe’s request he assumed the care of the Savannah mission.

At his new station he had charge of a group of about seven hundred persons, comparatively few of whom were regular communicants of the Church of England. He entered upon the duties of his office with zeal and enthusiasm, and he made a good impression. Wesley was delighted with the prospect, writing in his Journal, “0 blessed place, where having but one end in view, dissembling and fraud are not; but each of us can pour out his heart without fear into his brother’s bosom.” He exhibited in this early work something of the methodical tendencies that afterward distinguished him; for he planned a systematic campaign of religious instruction and Christian culture. Some of the more earnest parishioners were organized into a sort of society for the purpose of reproof, instruction, and exhortation in the Christian life. From this group, he selected a smaller number for still more intimate discussion and study in his own home. In his Savannah congregation, his energies seem to have been centered largely upon the development of persons already professing Christians; but in his dealing with other persons he was distinctly evangelistic in his teachings.

While all accounts agree that he was popular with the people and that his early efforts were appreciated, it was not long before he began to lose the esteem and confidence of many of them. There seem to have been several reasons why this was true. Strangely enough, in view of his later career, one of the principal charges against him was that he adhered too strictly to the literal requirements of the Established Church, without making due allowance for frontier conditions in the new province. Another source of dissatisfaction was his meddling in affairs with which he seemed to have no business, especially taking sides with certain malcontents in Savannah who were trying to overthrow the established rules of the Trustees. While these causes led to a certain amount of coolness toward him on the part of some of the leading members of his mission, they were not sufficient to drive him from the colony; and the immediate occasion of his leaving under very unpleasant circumstances was a quarrel with one of the leading families of the colony, growing partly at least out of a love affair.

When Wesley arrived in Georgia, he was welcomed freely into the homes of the leading people. Among those whom he frequently visited in a friendly way was Thomas Causton, the chief magistrate of the colony under the Trustees. In this home he became rather intimately acquainted with Miss Sophia Hopkins, a niece of Causton. He became much attached to her, and there seems to be no doubt that he wished to marry her; but the happy relations between them were suddenly broken up. The reason for this is not altogether clear. Wesley’s friends assert that he was advised by Delamotte and his Moravian friends not to prosecute the suit and that his showing coldness toward Miss Hopkins resulted in a breach between them. Other accounts indicate that the young lady without provocation from him chose another suitor. At all events, she was married rather suddenly to William Williamson, a clerk in her uncle’s store.

However Wesley may have felt about the advisability of marrying Miss Hopkins himself, there can be no question that he was piqued at her sudden marriage to another. He soon had occasion to reprove her conduct in some small particulars, and hard feeling resulted on both sides. A few weeks later, he excluded her from the holy communion on rather technical grounds; namely, that she had not previously notified him of her intention to commune. While he was within his strict legal right in doing this, it was an ill advised act in the case of Mrs. Williamson, with whom his relations were already somewhat strained.

As a result of Wesley’s refusal to allow her to partake of the Lord’s Supper, suit was brought against him for damages to the amount of £1,000 by Mr. and Mrs. Williamson. The whole community was also plunged into a bitter controversy over the matter. The action brought was a civil one; but it was also planned to prosecute him as a criminal. At the next meeting of the grand jury, Thomas Causton as chief magistrate charged that body to investigate the complaints against the minister. It certainly was not a proper thing for Causton to press the case in person, for his close relation to Mrs. Williamson made it evident that he was not acting impartially. The friends of Wesley claimed that the jury was packed with his adversaries. Whatever the truth may be as to that, it considered the matter and reported adversely to him. Two reports were presented by the grand jury; the majority, consisting of thirty-two members, found a true bill against Wesley on ten counts as follows:

1. Speaking and writing to Mrs. Williamson against her husband’s consent.

2. Repelling her from the holy communion.

3. Not declaring his adherence to the Church of England.

4. Dividing the morning service on Sundays.

5. Refusing to baptize Mr. Parker’s child, otherwise than by dipping, except the parents would certify it was weak and not able to bear it.

6. Repelling William Gough from the holy communion.

7. Refusing to read the burial service over the body of Nathaniel Polhill.

8. Calling himself Ordinary of Savannah.

9. Refusing to receive William Aglionby as a godfather only because he was not a communicant.

10. Refusing Jacob Matthews for the same reason; and baptizing an Indian trader’s child with only two sponsors.

The minority report, made by twelve members, was not presented to the court, but it was forwarded to the Trustees as a protest against the injustice that was being done Wesley. It took up the counts in order and expressed the opinion that none of them were sufficient for the prosecution of the accused.

Wesley himself demurred to all the counts except the first on the ground that they were strictly ecclesiastical and that the town court of Savannah had no authority to try such matters. He asked for immediate trial on the only civil charge; namely, speaking and writing to Mrs. Williamson against her husband’s consent. The court refused to give trial at that time, and it postponed the matter five or six times more at later meetings. In the meantime, the charges against him had been widely published in the papers of America. When Wesley found it impossible to vindicate himself in the colonial courts for lack of getting his case tried, there seemed to him no alternative but to try to clear himself before the Trustees.

On October 7, 1737, he consulted his friends about the advisability of leaving. He showed them that there was no possibility of instructing the Indians, the purpose for which he had come; that he had never engaged himself to the Savannah church, and that he was no longer acceptable to many of his parishioners there; and that he might do the colony real service by reporting to the Trustees the true state of affairs. His friends advised against immediate departure; but after he appeared at court twice more without securing trial, they agreed with him that it was time to leave the colony. He gave public notice of his intention and sent a special written notice to the magistrates. They refused to allow him to leave, but they were not very zealous in their efforts to prevent his departure; and he went by boat to South Carolina on the night of December 2, 1737.

While many of the people of Georgia felt that Wesley was justified in leaving, other good men such as Secretary William Stephens regarded him as a fugitive from justice and thought that the manner of his departure was unworthy of him.

On February 22, 1738, Wesley appeared before the Trustees and gave them an account of his troubles in Georgia, presenting also various certificates from his friends in the colony to substantiate his report. The Trustees were somewhat inclined to sympathize with him, and both Williamson and Causton felt compelled to excuse the parts they had played in the transaction. The records do not show that any formal action either of condemnation or of approval was taken; but on April 26, 1738, Wesley was allowed to resign the appointment that he had received to do work in Georgia.

The career of Charles Wesley at Frederica was too brief to need extended comment. He reached St. Simons Island about the middle of February, 1736, and left in a little less than three months. He was acting in a double capacity, as Secretary for Indian Affairs, and as chaplain for the military settlement at Frederica. The combination of civil and ecclesiastical functions made his work difficult even if there had been no other handicaps; but within the first week of his labors he incurred the dislike of some of his parishioners. These made life miserable for him by tattling, and then succeeded in making even Oglethorpe suspicious of Wesley. He later regained in large measure the confidence and esteem of the General and of his other people at Frederica; but he was never able to be a really useful minister at that mission. In May, 1736, he left the town to attend to some civil business in Savannah, and he never returned. He wished to resign from his duties, but Oglethorpe requested that he continue for at least a while to hold the offices. In July, 1736, he was sent to England to carry dispatches. Sickness prevented his immediate return, and he finally surrendered his commissions both for civil and for ecclesiastical work.

The failure of Charles Wesley was due to practically the same causes as that of his brother John. They were both young and inexperienced when they came to Georgia. They were so intent on religious matters that they gave little thought to practical affairs, while the communities in which they labored were so engrossed with the daily problems of life that they did not want as many religious demands as the Wesleys made. Both ministers were prone to censure small defects, and Georgia was not a place suitable for enforcing the strict letter of either the civil or the religious code. Each of them lacked tact and ability to deal with the varied types of human nature that he encountered in the colony. While they were failures in Georgia as ministers, their characters were pure and sincere. They were earnest Christians; and their later careers of usefulness and of greatness fully justify the claims of their friends that they did not have in Georgia a fair opportunity of showing their true worth.

Before John Wesley left Georgia, he had succeeded in getting George Whitefield interested in becoming a missionary in the colony. As early as June, 1737, special contributions were taken in England to enable Whitefield to go to his field of labor; and on December 81, 1737, he was formally accepted by the Trustees to serve at Frederica as a deacon of the Church of England. He left the Downs for Georgia the day before John Wesley landed there on his return to England; but the transport on which Whitefield sailed was delayed and he learned of his friend’s leaving Savannah. He immediately wrote from the ship asking the Trustees’ advice as to the scope of his labors in Georgia in view of Wesley’s absence; and they gave him authority to officiate both at Savannah and at Frederica or at either place.

Whitefield reached Savannah May 7, 1738. He at once began work in two departments. With the aid of Habersham he prosecuted educational interests, especially those of orphans; and at the same time he began active work in the Savannah mission field. His achievements in education have already been related. As minister in Savannah, he made a strong impression from the first. He conducted as many services as Wesley did, but the people did not complain of them. He held four on Sundays and three formal ones during the week, besides daily readings and expoundings in small groups or from home to home. Even those who like Secretary Stephens did not approve the doctrines taught by Whitefield received him cordially and were regular attendants on his services.

During his first stay in Georgia, he confined his work very largely to Savannah, making only one brief missionary expedition to Frederica; but he was in the colony only a short while, leaving on August 28, 1738. He was criticised for his haste in returning so soon to England; but, as we have seen, his object was to prepare for better work in the colony by being ordained to the full priesthood in the Church of England and by preparing to carry on the orphanage work. He was cordially received by the Trustees, and they agreed to most of the proposals which he made. They had appointed a minister, William Norris, to succeed John Wesley as regular missionary at Savannah; but this station was assigned to Whitefield after he became a full priest, and Norris was sent to Frederica.

It was more than a year after his appointment as pastor before Whitefield went to Georgia; and he was then too much occupied with orphanage affairs to give very serious attention to his duties as minister. During the period of his service on this occasion, he greatly shocked some of the more conservative members of the Established Church by extempore prayers, strong pleas for justification of faith only, and anathemas against those who did not accept the new doctrines.

Whitefield was serving the Savannah people without pay, having offered of his own accord to do so; and he did not feel so much the responsibility of being regular in his ministry as he would otherwise probably have done. The irregularity of preaching soon had a bad effect on the congregation, for the attendance on divine services decreased rapidly. Whitefield suggested that he be allowed to supply a minister of his own choice to help him in the work, but the Trustees were afraid to risk that, especially as Whitefield was showing so many signs of being not fully orthodox. As we shall presently notice, he suggested to Rev. William Norris the plan of helping in the Savannah region in addition to the Frederica district, but the suggestion was not accepted

After his trial in South Carolina in the Court of Commissary Garden, Whitefield was supposed to be ineligible to preach in houses of worship of the Established Church; but we have already pointed out that he did not regard in the least the sentence of suspension against him, and there was no effort in Georgia to enforce it against him. He had been relieved by the Trustees of his duties as minister in Savannah before the sentence of Garden was passed, but they would probably not have been influenced by it even if it had already been passed.

Mention has already been made of the appointment of Rev. William Norris as a minister for Georgia. He was informally selected at a meeting of the Trustees on June 28, 1738, and was finally appointed on July 12. He reached Savannah the following October just at the time when Causton was being displaced as a storekeeper and when the prospects of the colony were darkest. His reception was not cordial. Oglethorpe intimated to him that he was not needed, as Whitefield was already the minister at Savannah and Habersham had been appointed to read the service while the pastor was away. Habersham and other friends of Whitefield were open in their criticisms of Norris, possibly because they regarded him as trying to displace the former as minister. Secretary William Stephens seems to have been almost his only friend among the influential men. Norris himself was quick to take offense at criticisms, and his letters are full of complaints. He felt that Whitefield had resorted to unfair means to secure the Savannah appointment from the Trustees after it had been given to him, though there is no evidence to support him in this belief.

When Whitefield reached Georgia, he was at first very cordial to Norris, inviting him to his house and asking him to assist him in the Savannah work, as orphanage matters would require his own absence very frequently. Norris declined the offer on the ground that the Trustees had removed him from work in the northern part of the colony, assigning him to Frederica, and he felt that he ought to devote himself exclusively as they directed; but he did remain in Savannah for more than two months and rendered some assistance in religious affairs. However, the friendly relations between him and Whitefield did not long continue. The latter accused him of preaching false doctrine and declared that he would never permit him to officiate in his church again. He also accused him of playing cards when he ought to be engaged in ministerial work, and on that ground refused to let him partake of the sacrament.

At Frederica Norris was cordially received by the inhabitants and was asked by Oglethorpe to serve as chaplain for the soldiers encamped there; but his popularity was of short duration. He was soon accused of idleness and neglect of duty, and in a short while he was charged with gross immorality. These charges were never thoroughly established, but they were not satisfactorily disproved, and they ruined the prospects of Norris’ usefulness in the community. In addition he alienated many of the officers of the regiment by lack of tact in dealing with them. About June 1, 1741, after a service in the town of little more than a year, he left for England. On his return to London, he made himself very obnoxious to the Trustees by giving the colony an evil report whenever he had an opportunity and by claiming that his salary had not been paid. For years he continued to be a source of expense and trouble to the Trust.

When the Trustees revoked the commission of Whitefield on July 7, 1740, they thought that his place would be at once filled by Rev. William Metcalf, who had been highly recommended to them. He was duly commissioned for the Savannah work and he was long expected in the colony, but he died before he could enter upon his new duties.

Rev. Christopher Orton was appointed to the Savannah field on September 14, 1741. He was a “good natured, harmless young man,” who was not of age when first chosen by the Trustees. He did a valuable work in the colony for a few months. Conditions were very much disturbed on account of the Spanish invasion, and there was not much heart for religion on the part of many people; but he looked after the outlying districts, revived the school work, and served Savannah faithfully. His work was cut short by a severe fever from which he never recovered, dying on August 12, 1742.

It was no easy matter to secure missionaries for the Georgia work, and it was nearly a year before the vacancy could be filled. After investigating the fitness of other possible workers, the Board of Trustees finally selected Rev. Thomas Bosomworth for the position. He had already lived in Georgia, having acted as clerk for Secretary Stephens and having also served in the army under Oglethorpe. He had not given promise of being especially religious, but shortly before his appointment he had, returned to England and taken orders. He was chosen for the Savannah mission; but he went instead to Frederica and began to assist as chaplain of the regiment until the Trustees learned of his change in plans and ordered him to follow his original directions. He was a trouble maker all the while he was in the colony. He was a bitter enemy of the orphanage and, as we have seen, he wrote to the Trustees with a view to getting it suppressed. He continued in Georgia until 1745, when he left the province without getting leave from his superiors, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and the Trustees; nor did he make any provision for services to be continued in his absence. He explained to the Venerable Society that he found it necessary to leave the colony both for his own preservation and for the peace of the colony. He claimed that he and his Indian wife had not been treated well by the white people and that the Indians were threatening to cause trouble out of sympathy for them. To avoid such evil consequences, an abrupt departure was his only recourse.

The Trustees did not feel that his excuse was sufficient, and they addressed a letter of reproof to him and revoked his commission. Bosomworth later returned to the colony, though not as a minister; and he gave to the authorities of Georgia more real trouble and anxiety perhaps than any other person who ever resided there, for he succeeded in stirring up the Creek Indians against the colony. The efforts he made were purely selfish, and it was not his fault that they did not succeed.

The next appointee for the Savannah mission of the Church of England served longer and on the whole did better work than any of the men who preceded him. He was Rev. Bartholomew Zouberbuhler who had been born in Switzerland, but was reared and educated in South Carolina. As early as 1741, the German inhabitants of Savannah had requested that he be allowed to supply them with preaching, as he could give them instruction in their own language. The request was granted by the Trustees, but there was no way of paying for his services at that time. Other requests had been made also for a minister who could speak both French and German. As Zouberbuhler could meet this requirement, and as he was ordained a priest of the Established Church, the Trustees felt that he would be the very man to meet the needs in Savannah; and he received his appointment November 1, 1745. He proceeded at once to Savannah and entered upon his duties. He was a zealous worker, preaching regularly in both English and German, holding frequent prayer services, and visiting all persons within a radius of six or eight miles from Savannah, whether or not they were members of his congregation.

In spite of his earnest labors, Zouberbuhler did not supply all the religious work that was desired by the foreign speaking people of the vicinity. Those living in the little villages of Vernonburgh and Acton had petitioned the Trustees to allow a Swiss minister, Rev. John Joachim Zubli, to serve them; and he had actually entered upon the duties of the work before he learned that the Trustees on account of the expense could not agree to his employment. In 1746 these people wrote the Trustees again, telling that they were trying at their own cost to provide a house of worship and asking once more that Zubli be appointed as minister. The Trustees desired to encourage the people in their efforts to help themselves, and so they wrote to Zouberbuhler recommending that he accept Zubli as his assistant and stating that if he would allow the assistant £10 annually from his salary they would give him an additional servant. To such an arrangement, Zouberbuhler was not at all willing to consent. He did not like Zubli, as he regarded him as an interloper in his parish; and he was not willing to surrender any part of his salary. On the contrary, he wrote the Trustees and also the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts that servants were an expense rather than an aid and that he did not have a sufficient income even without dividing with another.

He was so much in earnest about the matter that he went to England to confer in person about it. He requested the Society to remove him to some mission in South Carolina where he might at least procure food and raiment, both of which he was in danger of lacking in Georgia. The Trustees appreciated his services so much that they were not willing to permit him to leave Savannah. As a result of several conferences with him, they agreed that if he would return to Savannah they would give him double the salary he had been getting, would provide him with two servants, would repair or rebuild the parsonage, would lay out the glebe in a better place, and would give to him and to each of his two brothers five hundred acres of land. More signal proof of their appreciation of him could hardly be given, for at this time the colony was in greater financial difficulties than at any previous time.

Encouraged by the consideration shown him, Zouberbuhler returned to his work and continued to perform faithfully his duties until the end of the proprietary period. The most notable event of his remaining ministry was the completion and dedication of the Savannah church, but this will be noticed later. When, in 1758, the royal province of Georgia was divided into parishes of the Church of England, Bartholomew Zouberbuhler was named Rector of Christ Church in Savannah, the principal church in the colony.

The only other mission which the Established Church through its societies attempted in Georgia was at Augusta. Here the enterprise was begun on the initiative of the settlers themselves. They requested the Trustees to supply them with a minister, but the expiration of the period of the Trust was near at hand; and the Board felt that they would be unable to pay the salary of a missionary. However, as they had so frequently done before, they presented the petition to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts with the request that it send a worker if possible. The people of Augusta promised to pay £20 annually toward the salary of a minister, to cultivate a glebe and build a parsonage for him, and to provide a handsome church, the building of which was already considerably advanced. The Venerable Society finally agreed to the proposal on condition that the Trustees grant the glebe and that the people perform their promises. Rev. Jonathan Copp was the missionary selected. He was an American, a graduate of Yale, who had gone to England for ordination as deacon and priest because there were no bishops in the colonies. He reached Augusta in August, 1751, and was joyfully received.

In spite of the cordial welcome given to the new minister, the work at Augusta did not prosper. Copp himself was partly to blame, for he had hardly begun his work before he stirred up disputes among his people; but they too were at fault. When they had secured a minister, they were not so enthusiastic in providing for him as they had been when they were trying to get him. The Trustees were too occupied with preparations for surrendering their charter to urge the people to perform their duty. Copp remained until after royal control was established in Georgia; but his letters to the Society abound with complaints and indicate fully his disappointment with the field of work to which he had been assigned.

In addition to the work of the Church of England outlined in the preceding pages, its services were held irregularly for Oglethorpe’s regiment. A Mr. Dyson acted as chaplain from its arrival until his death in 1739; but he was a drunkard and otherwise immoral, and his ministry only served to bring things religious into contempt. We have already pointed out that Norris served as chaplain for a while; and, though he baptized many soldiers during his ministry, he was soon discredited. Other men followed him for short periods, but none of them accomplished enough for us to consider them here.

On the whole, one cannot help joining in Copp’s feeling of disappointment as he reviews the work of the Established Church in Georgia. Only two or three centers were reached at all, and the efforts in them were too spasmodic to hope for much success. It was the favored religion of the Trustees, and they regretted that it did not reach effectively more of the colonists. If the Trust had lasted longer, it is probable that more systematic efforts would have been adopted to cover the whole province with the influences of the Church. In 1751 Zouberbuhler suggested accomplishing this object by the establishment of a system of itinerant catechists; but there was no time for the Trustees to try the experiment, and nothing came of it.

Note: In 1999, Bartholomew Zouberbuhler was listed as a Saint of Georgia by the 9th Bishop of Georgia, the Rt. Rev. Henry I. Louttit, Jr.The Rev. Bartholomew Zuberbuhler went on to work for 21 years as the minister of Christ Church Parish. He died in 1776 at the age of 46. The Revs. John and Charles Wesley, also both referenced above, were also named as Saints of Georgia in 1999. They are also commemorated as Saints of The Episcopal Church through its calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. The full listing of saints of the Diocese of Georgia is found here: Saints of Georgia.