This Thursday is the 235th anniversary of the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury as the first American Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut and the wider Episcopal Church.
The decision to elect Samuel Seabury is a classic tale of not showing up for the meeting and then being signed up for the very task the meeting was gathered to discuss. Samuel Seabury was actually the second choice of the ten clergymen who gathered at The Glebe House on March 25, 1783.
The Glebe House and Gertrude Jekyll Gardens is located in Woodbury, Connecticut and is open to the public for tours. So, I called Dylan Mello, the Northwest Region Missionary for ECCT, and asked if he would join me at The Glebe House for a tour and a chance to relive a bit of Episcopal history.
The Glebe House was built around 1750 as the rectory for St. Paul’s Church, Woodbury. A glebe is a plot of land usually owned by a parish that is offered to the clergy person as a part of their benefice or income – sometimes it would also have a rectory on the glebe.
The Rev. John Rutgers Marshall lived at the Glebe House from 1771 until 1785, with his wife Sarah, nine children, and three slaves.
We toured through each of the main rooms on the ground floor. The formal sitting room included a secret passageway to the cellar where Marshall could hide. The kitchen, dining, and one bedroom (talk about open concept living), included a fireplace/stove that I could fit in.
The house, as it functions as a museum today, is decorated with furnishings of the time period – including some original pieces, which can make touring feel a bit like stepping back in time. Our tour guide Bonnie showed us a mouse trap, bone utensils, and several variations of candlesticks all from the time period of the house.
Then we landed in the study where the ten clergymen elected Samuel Seabury.
“To stand in a room that holds so much history is a pretty overwhelming feeling,” Dylan said. “Thinking about all that came from this specific moment in this specific spot in time really makes you appreciate things so much more including the church and the people who got us here.”
Seabury was the clergymen’s second choice, their first, Jeremiah Leaming, declined due to health and age.
First, Seabury was to travel to England and petition to be ordained by the Archbishop of Canterbury to “lay the foundation for a valid and regular Episcopate in America.” However, the Archbishop was unable to, as Parliament did not authorize consecration of foreign bishops who did not take an oath to the Crown. And, seeing as Seabury and the other clergymen literally crossed out references to the Crown in their copy of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (which is on display at the Glebe House), Seabury instead went to Scotland to be ordained.
The tour moved to the second floor to visit the bedrooms upstairs and into my favorite part, the storage area. Tucked behind the chimney and packed with 1700’s baskets and tools, was the very trunk that Seabury took with him to Scotland. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a wooden trunk with a lock.
For me, seeing and touching that trunk brought the history of my church – of which I have been a part since birth – to life. The history and the beginnings of The Episcopal Church became tangible for me, it was a simple box but what it stood for was so much more.
“[Visiting] the Glebe house is a chance to reconnect and understand our own history and to take advantage of this being so local to us in ECCT,” Dylan said. “Knowing who came through this house and what resulted from this historic vote made me feel closer to my own faith.”
In 1923 the Seabury Society for the Preservation of Glebe House was formed by Edward C. Acheson, Bishop Coadjutor of Connecticut, and was turned into a museum.
“I think it’s very important to visit Glebe House. Putting yourself here gives so much perspective to what these Anglicans/first Episcopalians were enduring,” said Dylan. “You really understand this was truly building something new.”
I encourage you to visit the Glebe House, you can find all touring information at glebehousemuseum.org. You can also see more pictures from Dylan and my tour of the Glebe House on our Instagram Highlights.