Step outside the gates of Trinity and into the bustle of Broadway and you'll likely to hear tour guides repeating some common myths about the parish.
The Archivist Mailbag has a favorite tour guide myth: Trinity Church was built by Captain Hook and his pirates. (And yet, there is no mention of Tinkerbell in the vestry minutes….) But Trinity Church does have a connection to a famous privateer: in 1696, Captain William Kidd was on the pew list and lent equipment for the constructing of the church. Kidd was famously hanged for murder and piracy in London in 1701.
This week, the Archivist's Mailbag uncovers the truth behind some other common myths about Trinity Church.
Myth #1: Trinity is the oldest church in Manhattan.
While Trinity parish, founded in 1696, is ancient by American standards, it was actually chartered sixty-four years after the construction of Manhattan’s first church.
On March 22, 1639, Gillis Pietersen van der Guow, the “master housecarpenter on the Island Manhatans” testified in an inquest about the work he had done during the year of 1633. He testified that he had built a “church with a house and stable behind it” on the north side of Pearl Street between Whitehall and Broad Streets.
Thirty years later, in 1678, New York’s colonial Governor Edmond Andros sent a letter to the Board of Trade in London answering their questions about the colony--and advertising for ministers.
“There are about 20 churches or meeting places [in the province] which above halfe vacant their allowance like to be from 40 pound to 70 pound a year and a house and garden. Noe beggars but all poore care ffor, If good ministers could be had to goe theither might doe well and gaine much upon those people.”Check back tomorrow for Myth #2.
Today, Christians around the world celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, known in some cultures as Three Kings Day. The culmination of the Christmas season, it commemorates the visitation of the three wise men, or Magi, to the infant Christ.
…new Christmas carol out, by John Henry Hopkins. I like it very much and bought 100 copies for the children [of the St. Paul’s Chapel School]…
On Christmas Day, he writes of their performance:
Weather most delightful. Went down to the Sunday School and practiced with the children for the last time before the service. At half past ten precisely the children and teachers were all in the church around the chancel. They commenced with their carols: 1. Christ was born on Xmas-Day*, 2. Three Kings of Orient, 3. Once in Royal David’s City, 4. While shepherd’s watched their flocks by night. They were never sung so well before.
*Note that Dix uses the abbreviation “Xmas,” occasionally attacked today for removing the “Christ” from Christmas. Dix, familiar with biblical Greek, knew that “X” was the first two letter of “Christ” in Greek, and used it to stand for the entire word.
Wednesday, October 31, 1866
It was the year after the end of the American Civil War. Andrew Johnson was president. New York City was a growing metropolis, flush with Irish immigrants who brought their All Hallows Eve customs with them.
Over the next decades, the gourd-carving, ghost-fleeing, Catholic All Hallows Eve customs of these immigrants would merge with American harvest festivals and religious beliefs (and native plants like the pumpkin) to create the modern Halloween celebration.
In Trinity's rectory at 50 Varick Street, The Rev. Morgan Dix, 39 years old, picked up his pen and recorded his impression of these early American Halloween celebrations:
"This was All Hallows Eve, and several young people came to make merry with the kitchen department. I spent a tolerably quick evening, and saw no ghosts whatsoever."
The following year he again mentions All Hallows Eve at the rectory:
Thursday, October 31, 1867
"…a delightful day, mild and pleasant again…spent a quiet and uneventful evening considering what a weird and spectral night it was. Clara came to attend upon Hallow-Eve festivities at my house, and spent some time in the library before going down the the lower hall to the apples and nuts."
One wonders what Dix would make of Trinity's modern Halloween is Happening celebration. Then again, he may be watching on this most spectral of nights.
The monument to General Richard Montgomery is fixed to the east window of St. Paul’s Chapel, facing Broadway. Tourists, over a million a year, pass into the Chapel without pausing to read its inscription. Commuters and neighborhood residents scurry down Broadway, many oblivious to the monument, unaware of the role General Montgomery played in the founding of the United States.
Now, 224 years after its installation, the Montgomery monument has undergone a full restoration, bringing lustre back to both the monument’s stones--and its story.
Montgomery returned to England in 1765 and found life in the peacetime army difficult. Lacking a wealthy or influential patron, he was unable to rise through the military ranks. He became increasingly dissatisfied with the British government. In 1772, he sold his commission in the army and migrated to America.
In America, Montgomery purchased an estate and married into a family of prominent New York patriots, planning the quiet life of a gentleman farmer. In 1775, though he did not seek office, Montgomery was elected to New York’s Provincial Congress, and later entered the new Continental Army as a brigadier general. Montgomery would now fight against the British army in which he once served.
George Washington assigned Montgomery the role of deputy commander under Major General Philip Schuyler, and ordered their forces to invade Canada. Schuyler soon fell ill, leaving Montgomery in full control of the operation. Montgomery oversaw the successful siege of Fort St. Jean and the capture of Montreal in the fall of 1775. He was promoted to major general as a result of these victories, though he never learned of his promotion.
Montgomery and his troops then marched on Quebec. On December 30, in a heavy snowstorm, Montgomery led an advance force into the city and was killed by grapeshot. He was given an honorable burial by British commanders in Quebec.
On January 25, 1776, Congress approved creation of a memorial for Montgomery—the first monument ever commissioned by the United States. Benjamin Franklin, who would oversee the monument’s construction in France, was advanced 300 pounds sterling to cover the costs (about $45,000 today).
Franklin commissioned Jean-Jacques Caffieri, official sculptor of the French crown, to create the monument, originally intended for Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. The monument, minus inscription, was shipped to America in nine lead-sealed cases, with a manifest and specific directions for installation included. (These facts were recently uncovered by Professor Sally Webster, author of The Nation's First Monument and the Origins of Public Commemoration in America.)
Because of the war and its chaotic aftermath, the monument spent nearly a decade languishing in transit, first in Le Havre and later in Edenton, North Carolina, the only American port not controlled by the British at the time of its shipment. Franklin was unaware of its location, and wrote letter after letter seeking information on its whereabouts.
In 1784, Charles DeWitt, a member of New York’s delegation to Congress, introduced a resolution that the monument be erected in New York City. But it wasn’t until 1787 (and several more letters from both Franklin and Montgomery’s widow) that the Common Council of New York recommended that the monument be installed in “the front of St. Paul’s Church.” St. Paul’s Chapel was likely chosen for its architectural and cultural significance to the young city—it was the grandest building in town.
Trinity’s vestry and wardens, including then-Mayor James Duane, quickly approved the request. By June of 1788 it had been installed in St. Paul’s Chapel, likely under the direction of Pierre L’Enfant. L’Enfant, who later designed Washington, DC, was working on small engineering projects for the city at the time
There is no record of a dedication ceremony for the monument.
The other side of L’Enfant’s sculpture, the side visible from inside the chapel, is a depiction of the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Montgomery’s remains lay in state in the capital building in Albany on July 4, 1818. They were then placed on a steamboat for the journey down the Hudson River.
In General Richard Montgomery and the American Revolution: From Redcoat to Rebel, author Hal. T. Shelton describes what happened as the steamship carrying Montgomery’s remains passed the home of his widow:
Governor Clinton had notified Janet of the time when the [steamboat] Richmond would pass Chateau de Montgomery, and she went out on the veranda to view the ship carrying her general home. Forty-three years had elapsed since she and Montgomery parted at Saratoga. When pangs of nostalgia rushed over her, she requested to be left unattended on the porch. “At length, they came by,” she described the scene, “with all that remained of a beloved husband, who left me in the bloom of manhood, a perfect being.” The Richmond stopped, while a military band on board played the dead march and honor guard fired a salute, and then solemnly continued its passage to New York City. Emotions overcame the seventy-four-year-old widow. When her companions came to find her some time later, they found Janet unconscious on the floor where she had fainted.” (pp. 179-180)
Montgomery’s remains were re-interred at St. Paul’s Chapel on July 8, 1818, amidst great fanfare.
Trinity’s archives make reference to several repairs to the monument. Though not noted in records from the time of the monument’s installation, the monument’s original marble urn, visible in St. Alban’s etching made in France prior to the monument’s shipment, never made it to New York. A painted wooden urn, possibly designed by L’Enfant, was used until 1810 when it was replaced with a limestone urn. Mortars were used to patch the monument.
Conservators from ICR began by studying the monument to determine how it was attached to the window. Researchers studied Trinity’s archives and consulted Professor Sally Webster to gain a fuller understanding of the monument’s history. Then, the restoration—and the fascinating discoveries--began.
First, a barrier wall was constructed around the monument.
Next, the mortar used to repair cracks in the monument was painstakingly removed. Diamond-encrusted tools were used to separate the component pieces of the monument.
The nine pieces of the monument were removed, one at a time, from the window, revealing the monument’s original support structure.
One inch square metal rods, set into rough red bricks, supported iron pins that cantilevered the stones in place. The metal rods were found to be in pristine condition. Because the support structure extends through the window, tar-soaked oakum was used to create a watertight barrier around the monument.
And, most fascinatingly, the original installers—hoping to slow the monument’s deterioration--had poured molten lead around the iron pins, hoping to both keep water out. The lead also created a buffer between the oxidizing pins and the stones: rust could expand into the malleable lead before cracking the rock.
Dismantling the monument also revealed a portion of the marble that had been hidden by another stone for 224 years. Still in its original condition, this bit of hidden marble reveals that the monument was once highly polished and black-and-red.
Historians, leading architects, and stone experts visited the monument. (photo w/deep caption id-ing Sally, Lim Bon Hok, and LeBlaude)
Once separated, each stone was cleaned, removing all traces of earlier repair work, including paint splatter, repair mortar, and a protective coating that was applied to the entire monument at one time. Conservators also removed metal from the stones to prevent further corrosion.
Look closely at the upper-right area of the monument. In this early twentieth century photo (dated by the type of window glass behind the monument), both arrows are missing. Notice the bottom-left area as well: the sculpture truncates at a strange place.
Shots from after the 1920s general restoration of St. Paul’s Chapel show a repaired monument. Intriguingly, the side portions of the monument, seen here being cleaned, are intact and show no signs of having been repaired. Were the side portions of the monument replaced in the 1920s?
It's very possible. Professor Sally Webster, author of Nation's First Monument and the Origins of Public Commemoration in America recently discovered sculptor Jean-Jacques Caffieri's original packing list for the monument. The packing list, which was sent to America with the monument, lists the side portions of the monument as being made of marble.
The current side portions are limestone.
Trinity’s archives yield one piece of hard evidence. A 1929 cost estimate for repair and waterproofing of all of St. Paul’s exterior stone surfaces includes a reference to repairing any “cracks or broken parts” of the “Marble Statuary” on the Chapel’s East Portico—seemingly a reference to the Montgomery Monument. It’s very possible that the side portions were replaced.
The base of the monument’s column was too badly damaged to repair, and was replaced with a piece of marble from an Italian quarry. (The French quarry where the monument’s original marble was excavated closed many years ago.)
New stainless steel pins were used to attach the monument to the original support structure.
On August 10, 2011, the restored Montgomery Monument was unveiled.
Celebrating its royal heritage and ties to the Anglican Communion, Trinity Church on April 29 was a screening site for the royal wedding of HRH Prince William of Wales and Catherine Middleton. This got the Archivist thinking about another high-profile wedding in Trinity’s history: that of General Tom Thumb and Miss Lavinia Warren in 1863.
In 1863, at the time of the wedding, General Tom Thumb was the world’s most famous little person. He was born Charles Sherwood Stratton in 1838, to average-sized parents, and began touring with P.T. Barnum’s circus at the age of five. He sang, danced, and performed impersonations and comedy routines. Thumb’s bride, Lavinia Warren, born Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump in 1841 or 1842, had a rare type of proportionate dwarfism. She, too, performed with P.T. Barnum’s circus, where she met Thumb in 1862.
Once engaged, Thumb and Warren approached the Episcopal bishop of New York, Henry Codman Potter, about getting married, and requested use of Trinity Chapel—part of Trinity Parish—for the ceremony.
Barnum, ever the showman, quickly turned the wedding into a major event. Newspaper articles about the nuptials appeared daily. Attendance at Barnum’s Museum (located across Broadway from St. Paul’s Chapel) jumped to 20,000 visitors a day, and 15,000 people sought invitations to the ceremony. Thousands of dollars worth of weddings gifts were sent to the couple. Warren’s even smaller sister, Minnie, was named bridesmaid, and Commodore Nutt, another of Barnum’s performers, was named best man.
The public was fascinated with the “Fairy Wedding,” as it was called. A New York Times article read:
The approaching ceremony, which will unite for life Gen. THOMAS THUMB and Queen LAVINIA WARREN, is an event in the history of the world an event unprecedented, and as pregnant with study for the scientific, as with wonder for the million.
At the appropriate moment the TIMES will duly, and with all proper ceremony, chronicle the happenings of the eventful act, but for the present will be content with a mere mention of the interest which surrounds the preparatory operations, which invests the doings and proceedings of the Lilliputianic lovers.
The Rev. Dr. Morgan Dix, the Rector of Trinity, immediately objected to the use of Trinity Chapel for the wedding. His diaries offer little insight into his reasons—though it’s likely he felt the wedding was a publicity stunt.
The clergy of Trinity Chapel tried to change Dix’s mind. On Friday, January 23, 1863, Dix had five separate visitors stop by to discuss the Thumb-Warren wedding:
“The sexton of Trinity Chapel called about the wedding of the dwarfs; and I told him to inform the parties concerned that permission to use the chapel must be obtained from me.…
…Then to my own house again; where learned that Dr. Higbee and Haight [Higbee was vicar of Trinity Chapel; Haight was assistant minister at St. Paul’s Chapel] had called while I was out. Went at once to the Mission Office and had an interview with them about the dwarf wedding…
..after dinner Mr. Dugan came to see me about the dwarf wedding: this makes three times today that he has been here about the affair…”
The following Monday, January 26, a final effort was made to change Dix’s mind. The Rev. Wiley of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Thumb’s hometown, who was to perform the ceremony, called on Dix:
“One of the persons [at the office] was the Rev. Mr. Wiley, who came to make explanations about the Tom Thumb nuptials. After these Explanations he asked me to suggest such modifications in the programme, as might remove my objection to having the wedding at Trinity Chapel. Which I answered, by declining to allow the chapel to be used for the purpose. Whereupon he left to communicate with the secretary of Tom Thumb, and, I suppose, to consult what to do.”
The wedding was finally held in Grace Church at Broadway and 10th Street, on Tuesday, February 10, 1863. A New York Times article celebrated the event with an article titled “The Loving Lilliputians: Warren-Thumbelina.”
Dix recounted the event in his diary:
“The dwarf wedding was solemnized (?) today, in Grace Church; the Bishop did not officiate.”
Thumb and Warren’s marriage lasted until his death, of a sudden stroke, in 1883. They had been married over twenty years.
Author: Trinity Wall Street Communications
Created: March 18, 2009
Trinity Wall Street has played a pivotal role in the religious and civic life of the city and nation since its founding in 1697. This blog will answer readers’ questions and provide a glimpse into the fascinating and provocative history of the parish.