The Church of England in North Carolina: Documents, 1699-1741

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ROBERT J. CAIN ED. The Church of England in North Carolina: Documents, 1699-1741. Raleigh, North Carolina: Division of Archives and History, The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1999. Pp. Ixix + 615, introduction, appendix and index. $75.00.

This volume of the Colonial Records of North Carolina is an invaluable source for scholars interested in colonial Anglicanism, early North Carolina, and governance of the empire. By combing archives in England and North Carolina, Robert J. Cain has created a comprehensive set of materials that historians will be able to mine for many topics. Historians of the church in Virginia and South Carolina will also find revealing materials.

As one reads the portions of minutes of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.P.G.), letters from clergy and laity, and the vestry minutes of St. Paul's Parish, Edenton (the only extant minutes from the early eighteenth century), North Carolina's neglected, outpost status becomes all too evident. Religion (of any form) had minimal support in the colony, and what little financial support was provided in law to the Anglican Church was undermined by local leadership unwilling to collect the taxes authorized to build or repair buildings and supplement support of the clergy. Political instability and precarious lines of communication and transport (mostly through neighboring colonies) isolated those few clergy who did serve the colony and left the S.P.G. leaders frustrated at their inability to determine what was going on and which of many contradictory reports to believe.

After an initial burst of energy when the S.P.G. sent several missionaries and furnished parish libraries, the English missionary organization became more skeptical. Clergy died, proved less reliable than expected, complained bitterly about living conditions and the need to farm in order to feed their families. Letters went astray, churchwardens refused to collect tax money or pay clergy when they had collected money. Clergy complained of the laity and of each other. Lay members appropriated parish libraries. As a result, the S.P.G. reduced its goals in North Carolina to the maintenance of two itinerant ministers, even ordering one minister who had settled part-time in a parish to cease serving local people and return to itinerancy. …