Revolutionary Anglicanism: The Colonial Church of England Clergy during the American Revolution

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Revolutionary Anglicanism: The Colonial Church of England Clergy during the American Revolution. By Nancy L. Rhoden. (Washington Square, N.Y.: New York University Press, 1999. Pp. xii, 205. $40.00, ISBN 0-8147-7519-5.)

Frederick V. Mills Sr.'s Bishops by Ballot (Oxford, 1978) remains the only thorough study of the process by which Anglicans formed the Episcopal Church. Historians of the American Revolution have usually only discussed Anglicanism as part of political debates over Loyalism or disestablishment. Most church historians are attracted by evangelicalism, not Anglicanism. Nancy Rhoden's Revolutionary Anglicanism fills part of the resulting historical gap, although the book's structure and focus prevent it from providing a full picture of the Anglican Church in this crucial time. Rhoden has followed a well-trodden path in constructing a collective biography of Anglican clergy who served between 1775 and 1783. Since her study covers all thirteen colonies/states, this is a daunting task, and, not surprisingly, there are gaps. Rhoden has covered the range of extant sermons, correspondence, and eighteenth-century pamphlet literature thoroughly. She has a less secure grasp of both local sources and the collective biographical work on Maryland and Virginia clergy, which is available in several 1970s dissertations. The result is that her study includes some men who were never ordained or were dead by 1775.

Rhoden argues that the Anglican Church has been wrongly cast as predominantly Loyalist. The members of the Anglican laity more easily could assume patriot roles than the clergy who were supported by English missionary groups, bound to the king by ordination oaths, and attached by liturgical values to an Erastian prayer book. Rhoden notes that the church was vibrant and growing prior to the Revolution. …