powered by google
Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Advanced Search Options
Letter from Thomas Sherlock to the Board of Trade of Great Britain
Sherlock, Thomas, 1678-1761
February 19, 1759
Volume 09, Pages 81-84

[N. C. Letter Book. S. P. G.]
From the Bishop of London to the Lords of Trade

I have in obedience to your Lordships commands considered the Act of North Carolina which you are pleased to refer to me.

-------------------- page 82 --------------------

The two points referred to me to be considered are how far the provisions of this Act may affect & interfere with the Bishops Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction in the Colonies and

Secondly how they affect the rights of the Crown to the patronage & presentation to Ecclesiastical Benifices.

The Act having made provision for constituting a vestry & directed in what manner they shall be elected & qualified goes on to ascertaining the powers of the Vestry & in the first place gives them a presentation to every church in the Colony tho' the whole right of patronage is undoubtedly in the Crown, & the Kings Governor in Chief has a right to exercise that right in virtue of the King's patent granted to him; but to keep up some appearance of conformity with the law of England the Act gives the King or his Governor a right to present upon a lapse if the Vestry neglects to fill up within 12 months after a vacancy & the person who comes in by the Crown has a right to enjoy the whole salary which in the former part of the Act is settled at £50 a year but even this small gratuity bestowed upon the Crown is withdrawn again by the following provision provided nevertheless, that in case the Vestry of any parish that shall be vacant one year shall procure some neighboring or other minister to serve in the case of such vacant parish by performing divine service once in 3 months they shall thereby save to themselves & retain the right of presentation for so long time as such Minister shall so serve in the Cure of such vacant parish. It is observable that no salary is appointed for the kind preacher who perhaps may be had at a cheap rate & below £50 a year which would be a temptation to the Vestrymen to take this method to provide for the Churches.

And not contented with having thus appropriated the patronages to themselves of all the livings in the province (to the manifest injury of the Crown) they go on to set up over the Clergy a new jurisdiction which is quite inconsistent with the government of the Church of England & excludes the Bishop from examining or correcting all misbehaviours of the Church & takes from the Crown the right of appeal & in the next paragraph it is enacted that the Minister of such respective parish shall be obliged to officiate in such parts of the Parish & at such times as the Vestry or a majority of them shall direct.

After all these provisions what becomes of the Kings Supremacy? It seems to me to be all transferred to the Vestry of the several

-------------------- page 83 --------------------
Parishes so far are they from copying after the Church of England that I rather suspect that they borrow'd the model of their government from the Presbyterians & Independts of New England who at an Assembly begun May 28th 1718 did enact that the Inhabitants of the towns therein mentioned should have full power to chuse a Committee for the regulation & management of all affairs relating to the support of the public worship of God and for the chusing all necessary and proper officers in and for the 2d precinct parish or district & further to have all such powers & privileges as by any of the laws of this province are given or annexed to any district or precinct, any law usage or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.

I wonder not to see this form of Ecclesiastical Governmt in a statute from New England for it is agreeable to their principles, but how it should get into a statute of North Carolina where conformity is so strongly insisted on that in the very Act now under your Lordships consideration it is enacted that every Vestry man chosen as in the Act directed shall make the following Declaration—I, A B “do declare that I will conform to the Liturgy of the Church of England as it is by law established,” which is the very declaration which the Clergy of the Church of England whose peculiar business it is to officiate in all parts of the Liturgy are obliged to make.

As to the other matter refered to me vizt how far this Act may interfere with the Bishop's Ecclesiastical Jurisdictions in the provinces I am not so well prepared to answer, for it will be necessary in the first place to determine whether the Bishop has any power or what, as I had considered that point at large upon my first coming to the See of London & had laid before the King in Council what appeared to me to be most material give me leave to lay before you a copy of that address to which I shall only add a short account of what passed upon the occasion.

Soon after I was Bishop of London I went to wait upon the King & laid before him the state of religion in the plantations & the necessity there was of having a Bishop settled in those parts. His Majesty heard me very graciously, upon which I asked him whether I might apply to his Ministers, he consented to it but I never could have an opportunity of meeting with the Ministers. After frequent delays & no hopes of success I waited upon the King again and had his leave to acquaint the Ministers that it was his Majesty's pleasure they should take the affair into their consideration; this produced a meeting at Newcastle House but the meeting produced nothing. The last effort I

-------------------- page 84 --------------------
made was by desiring the King's consent that I might lay what I had to propose to His Majesty in Council, which accordingly was done six or seven years ago & I have heard nothing of it since

It may be asked perhaps why the present Bishop of London could not go on with the Jurisdiction abroad as his predecessors had done ever since the settling of the Colonies

My answer is that if the jurisdiction had come to me upon the foot of customary usage as it had done to my predecessors till Bishop Gibson's time I should have made no difficulty of acting upon that foot and I doubt not but those who come after me would have gone on in the same way, but when B'p Gibson for reasons best known to himself applied for a patent and the consideration thereof was referred to the Attorney & Solicitor General & they reported that the Jurisdiction was in the Crown & that the B'p of London had no right to meddle, it was time for me to consider the danger that attends the invasion of the prerogative of the Crown, which could not be avoided but by accepting a patent of like form with that which was granted before which I judge not proper for me to do.