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Samuel Seabury 1729–1796
A Study in the High Church Tradition

By Bruce E. Steiner

The year 1722/23 saw what, in the denominational usage of New Englanders, was called the Great Apostacy. The Rector of the recently founded College of Yale, and three of his colleagues, sought and received ordination from the Bishop of London. They came back as paid missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, zealous for the establishment of an American episcopal succession.

Into this new group of missionaries Samuel Seabury was born in 1729. His father before him was a missionary of the S.P.G. His life knew many vicissitudes. A Yale graduate of 1748, a medical student of Edinburgh University, an ordained S.P.G. missionary, he was active for an American episcopate and for an agreed settlement between the provincial assemblies and the Crown. He was in hiding from, and a captive of, the Revolutionary forces; and, after he was set free, a chaplain of the Crown. Refusing to leave his native land, and that of his fathers, to minister to the Loyalists in exile in Nova Scotia, he sought consecration, and received it from non-juring Scottish Bishops in 1784.

As Bishop of Connecticut from 1785–1796, he established a structure and liturgy suited to an indigenous New England Church, which was High in its theory, Evangelical in its preaching, and with roots among a clergy and laity of formerly Puritan background. In the controversies over the organization of an united American Episcopal Church he championed this native High Church tradition which was to grow and evolve into the American Oxford Movement and the Anglo-Catholicism of the present day.

Bruce Steiner received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and teaches at Ohio University.

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Religion · Christianity · 18th century · Biography

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