At the Metropolitan Museum, on the Mezzanine Level, hangs a portrait a curator titled “The Reverend.” “The Reverend” in question is the Rev. Dr. John Ogilvie, a priest at Trinity Church from 1764 until his death in 1774.
The Rev. Ogilvie likely paid a considerable sum for his painting. But the painting’s value has skyrocketed in recent decades—a portrait by the same artist sold for nearly $3.7 million dollars in 2005.
The story of the painting also provides a look at American life on the eve of the Revolution, complete with orphan children raised by Mohawk Indians, stolen liturgical robes and social climbing.
The Rev. Ogilvie’s portrait was painted in 1771, by John Singleton Copley Copley was born in 1738 to a family of modest means and raised in Boston. His stepfather was a mezzotint engraver (a type of printmaker), through whom Copley was introduced to art. Copley began painting in the 1750s and became the preeminent portrait artist of Boston’s upper class. Portraits were a sign of wealth and social significance, and it is said that Copley painted people as they wanted to be seen: astute, powerful, rising in the world.
Statue of Copley in Copley Square, Boston
In 1769, Copley married Sukey Clarke, daughter of a prominent Loyalist lawyer. Copley painted Loyalist and Patriot alike, and seems to have had friends on both sides of the conflict, which may have created problems for him as the Revolution neared. In April of 1771 he was invited to New York by Captain Stephen Kemble, an American-born officer of the British Army, who arranged for him to paint a number of portraits while he was in the city. Letters between Copley and Kemble include a list of names of those who signed up for Copley’s services in New York. Ogilvie is listed, suggesting that he commissioned the painting and paid for it himself.
Copley charged 20 guineas (around 20 pounds sterling) for paintings like Ogilvie’s at the time. According to parish records, Ogilvie was making 300 pounds sterling a year, so the portrait represented a significant percentage of his income. The painting shows a middle aged Ogilvie, in powdered wig and clergyman’s robes, in front of an opened bible.
Born in New York in 1722, Ogilvie graduated from Yale in 1748 and was ordained soon after. He married Catharine Symes in 1751, and Trinity Church Archives has records of the baptisms of six children. Ogilvie spent the first 15 years of his career on the fringes of the colonies, ministering to the Church at Albany, Mohawk Indians, and British Army regiments in the area.
The Reverend on the Frontier
Transcription of baptismal register kept by Ogilvie between 1749-1761.
Trinity Church Archives has the register of baptisms Ogilvie conducted during his years at Albany. They provide a glimpse into life on the frontier in the 1750s. Ogilvie baptized English, Dutch, slave, Mohawk and several unfortunate children labeled “bastards.” The records also show that he traveled regularly across a wide swath of the northeast, including parts of modern day Canada. On March 26, 1761 at La Cheynay he recorded the baptism of “John an Orphan taken Prisoner by the Savages & by Gen. Gage bound servant to Captain Osborn of y 46th Regiment: He is for the future to pass by the name of John Granby.”
Additionally, a 1756 Pennsylvania Gazette article tells the story of a group of “his Majesty’s” soldiers condemned to die for desertion that were ministered to by Ogilvie. Apparently his ministry was successful, as “..they confessed that their crimes deserved the punishment they were going to receive, and begged of their Fellow-Soldiers to observe the leap they were going to make into Eternity…”
The Stolen Gown & An Unusual Epitaph
A search of the archive of early American newspapers turns up a curious 1761 advertisement seeking return of Ogilvie’s clergyman’s gown, stolen from the entryway of the house of Sidney Breese in New York City. Interestingly, Breese left us with this imaginative, still-legible epitaph on his gravestone in Trinity churchyard. Find out more on the Registers & Churchyards page.
Grave of Sidney Breese. Epitaph reads: Made by Himself/ Ha, Sidney, Sidney!/ Lyest thou Here?/ I here Lye,/ Til time is flown/ To its Extremity.
The Rev. Ogilvie at Trinity Church
Ogilvie was called to serve as assistant minister at Trinity Church in 1764. While at Trinity he oversaw publication of a prayer book into Mohawk, a project started by his predecessor at Albany. He also seems to have written “an allegorical poem” titled Providence that was widely offered for sale. He continued to minister to criminals and preached sermons exhorting the faithful to support Trinity’s Charity School and other ministries for the indigent. His first wife died, and he married Margaret Philipse, a widow, at Trinity Church in 1769.
Newspaper account of a charity sermon
Newspaper advertisement for Ogilvie's poem
The Rev. Ogilvie's Death
Ogilvie died in November of 1774, after suffering a “stroke of apoplexy” during a Friday afternoon service in Trinity Church. He left money to the Charity School, King’s College (now Columbia University) and the fund for the relief of widows and children of clergymen. He was buried in the Ogilvie family vault on the south side of Trinity Churchyard.
Ogilvie's grave in the south chuchyard, next to Alexander Hamilton's tomb
A poetic elegy by “a Young Gentleman of this City” was published following Ogilvie’s death. It included the lines, “And Fame proclaims, that OGILVIE is dead:/ The pious OGILVIE! Is he no more?/ Then Zion mourn, thy heavy loss deplore;/…”
Ogilvie's portrait remained in his family until 1828, after the death of his daughter, Mary M. Roorbach. At that time the portrait was presented to Trinity’s vestry by her family. The vestry then gave the family $100 in light of the family’s “distressed circumstances.” The painting subsequently hung in various Trinity Church offices until it was loaned to The New York Historical Society in 1972, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994, where it hangs today.
New Yorkers are surrounded by history. But we don’t always realize it.
Take James J. Walker Park, for example. It sits just behind the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center at the intersection of Clarkson and Hudson Streets, an area that was once part of the Queen's Farm, owned by Trinity Church. Today, kids take batting practice and old men rest on sunny benches. It’s a quintessential New York scene. But the park, built in 1897, sits right on top of the old St. John’s Burying Ground. St. John's was a chapel of Trinity Church, established in the nineteenth centurty as New York's wealthy citizens moved northward. It’s estimated that 10,000 people were buried in St. John's Burying Ground in the years before 1860, when burials stopped—and very few bodies were removed and re-interred during park construction.
This is the story of one of the park’s original residents.
In September 1939, during a playground renovation, a child-sized cast iron coffin was removed from an underground vault. In shape and style it was made to look like a shrouded Egyptian mummy. The New York World-Telegram reported on the discovery, noting, “The girl’s cast iron casket…had a glass window in the top. Her white silk dress still looked fresh and dainty. After 89 years, you could still see that she’s been a pretty yellow haired child.” The World-Telegram also reported that the girl, dug up on city-owned land, was reburied in the Potter’s Field. It’s not true. She rests in peace in the catacombs under Trinity Church.
Who was she?
The silver coffin plate gave the child’s basic information: Mary Elizabeth Tisdall, 6 years and 8 months old, died April 14, 1850. A look through Trinity Church archives turns up the record of her burial. She died of “brain congestion”—probably encephalemia--and is listed as having lived at 219 East 9th Street in Manhattan, just off of Astor Place. The house is gone now. Her parents, Fitz Gerald Tisdall and Elizabeth Anne Clute, married at St. John’s in 1837. A visit to the New York Public Library reveals that her father arrived from Bristol, England, in 1833, and was a coal merchant. He was also a prominent Mason, grandmaster of St. John’s Lodge and author of a famous Masonic poem. Mary had a brother, Fitz Gerald Tisdall, who was ten years old at the time of her death and went on to a long career as a professor of Greek at City College. His portrait is available on Flickr.
Beyond the mention of her burial, there’s no record of Mary herself. The world around her is taking shape, but she remains a question mark. Was she mischievous or shy? Was she close to her brother? What excited her? What frightened her?
So the next time you walk past James J. Walker Park and hear children laughing, remember Mary Elizabeth, the pretty yellow haired daughter of a coal merchant. She probably would have enjoyed playing there.
Trinity’s archives helping shed new light on a number of old topics, including the development of African-American congregations and institutions in the early nineteenth century. An important figure in both the Diocese of New York and the abolition movement was Peter Williams, Jr., the second African-American ordained in the Episcopal Church and the first in the Diocese of New York.
Peter Williams, Jr. was born around 1786. His father, Peter Williams, Sr., was born into slavery but freed in 1784. Williams, Sr. was one of several the founders of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church of New York City. Williams, Jr. eventually became involved with the African Episcopal Catechetical Institution, which petitioned Trinity Church for help in forming and purchasing land for what became St. Philip’s African Church. St. Philip’s was consecrated in 1819. Bishop Hobart ordained Williams, Jr. deacon in 1820 and priest in 1826. Williams, Jr. was a leading abolitionist and ardent supporter of the education of African-Americans. He died in New York City on October 17, 1840.
Peter Williams, Jr., wrote this letter, dated November 17, 1817, in his position as catechist of the African Episcopal Catechistical Institution. In it, he and other members of the Institution request Trinity’s help in acquiring a land for church and an Episcopal school. As Williams, Jr. mentions, at the time Trinity was deluged with similar requests for assistance.
Image of the 1817 letter.
“The Petition of Peter Williams, Jnr, Lewis Francis, Andrew Rankins, John Kent, Thomas Zabriskie, John Beas, John Marander, and William Pate, managers of the African Episcopal Catechetical Institution, in the City of New York, humbly Sheweth, that the attendants of the meetings under their charge having become so numerous, that the room which they occupy, though the most commodious they could hire, is not sufficiently large to contain them; and having reason to fear that it will not be to be rented much longer; feel an earnest desire to erect a place, which may better answer the purposes of the Institution, and may serve also as an Episcopal School for the instruction of coloured youth:that for this purpose they have drawn up a subscription, which the Right Reverend Bishop of Diocese having patronized by his subscription and recommendation, they hope, though the times are rather unpropitious for such charities, will be so far successfull [sic] as to raise a sum adequate to the building of such a place: provided they could obtain from the Corporation of Trinity church the grant of a piece of ground to erect it on. Your petitioners, knowing that the appeals to the bounty of your venerable & justly esteemed board, are very numerous and extensive, would not make this application were it not a case of urgent necessity. Being poor men themselves, and the congregation in whose behalf they act, though considerable in numbers, being also poor, though they feel disposed to give liberally according to their circumstances, they cannot hope to raise enough... They would appeal to the Right Reverend Gentlemen who presides over your board, and to all the Episcopal Clergy in the city for a Testimony of the order in which their meetings have been conducted, of the disposition which they have manifested to conform in all things to the rites & ceremonies of the church; and of the prospects they have in providing a convenient place, of receiving to the Church the attachment of a large number of coloured persons. On the other hand, it is most evident that if some such arrangement is not soon made there will be a great falling off in that class of Episcopalians.
Your petitioners have to lament, that within the compass of their knowledge, some hundreds have already left the church, whom they have reason to believe, would not have done so had some such provision been made for their accommodation. And as heads of families they feel the more anxious for it to be made, lest their children should also be led to Depart from that form of worship, and those doctrines, which they believe to be most scriptural and most conducive to the interests of true religion.
In making this address to your benevolence your petitioners would think it highly presumptous [sic], to designate any particular part of the city as being preferable for such a building. They would leave this matter entirely at the disposal of your honorable body, persuaded if their petition should be granted the spot selected would suit their purposes, and bind them in duty ever to pray for your happiness & prosperity.
Signed in behalf of the Board of
Managers of the African Episcopal
Peter Williams, Jr. Catechist
New York, November 17th, 1817”
The Vestry notes from December 8, 1817, record that the letter was received:
“…and an application from Peter Williams Junr and others Managers of the african Episcopal Catechetical Institution in the City of New York for the grant of a Lot of Ground as a Scite for the building they propose to erect for the accommodation of that Institution was also read and referred to the Comptroller, Mr Bayard, Mr Jones Mr Sherred & Mr McFarlan…”
Nine years later, Williams, Jr. writes again. In the intervening years, St. Philip’s was constructed and consecrated and after a long waiting period, Williams, Jr. had been ordained. The following letter, in which he requests additional financial and legal support for St. Philip’s, shines light on the attitudes of the city’s African-American community at the time.
Note: “two lots on Christie Street” refers to is land Trinity helped “the African Society” purchase after the closing of the African Burial Ground in 1795. The land was intended as a burial ground and space on which a church for African-Americans would one day be built. The transfer of ownership of the land to the church was delayed by legal technicalities and Williams, Jr. is requesting Trinity’s help with this matter.
Image of the 1826 letter.
”To the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of Trinity Church, in the City of New York
The petition of the Rector, Wardens and Vestrymen of St. Philip’s Church in the city of New York, humbly sheweth, that in the building of their Church, they were under the necessity of incurring a debt of nearly three thousand Dollars, that to discharge this debt, and meet the incidental and current expences of their Church, they have pursued a system of rigid economy, and used every means they could devise, to raise sufficient money for these purposes from the congregation connected with them, but that notwithstanding all their efforts, their debt has been on the increase,from their not having paid their minister the amount of salary ($800 per annum) stipulated to be paid him. In this grievous state of their affairs (while struggling for their existence, as a religious corporation, under the almost certain prospect that they must perish, unless God in his good providence, would incline the hearts of your venerable body to extend towards them further help) the seven years expired for which you had generously agreed to pay $270 per annum rent, for the lots on which the Church is erected, and the holder of the lease called upon your petitioners for payment. Being unable to meet his demand, they requested of him a delay until they could make a new application to you on the subject, which he assented to.
Your Petitioners therefore pray that your venerable body, would be graciously pleased to help them in their difficulties, by granting them such assistance as would enable them to pay their ground rent, and otherwise to support the Church, to which they have the strongest reasons to be attached. Their annual income does not ordinarily exceed $1000, their expences including ground rent and interest amounts to about $1600. Could your venerable body extend your liberality so far as the making up this deficiency, your petitioners would feel themselves under an additional debt of gratitude towards you, which it would be equally their duty and their pleasure to acknowledge, and you would have the satisfaction of doing much towards the promotion of our holy religion among the unhappy race of Africans. The experience of your petitioners warrants them in saying that the establishment of their Church has done much good among their brethren, and that the prospects of its future usefulness are greatly brightened. They can scarcely imagine a greater evil that could befal [sic] the coloured people of this city than the failure of their Church, and cannot but hope that your venerable body will renew towards them your former liberality. Your Petitioners would also solicit your aid in obtaining possession of two lots of ground in Christie Street, which were purchased by the African Society many years since for a burial ground for coloured persons, and with a view of erecting thereon at some future period an Episcopal Church. This Society was originally composed of about thirty coloured Episcopalians, but has become so diminished in numbers, by the decease of its members, that there are but five remaining. The deed of the ground was drawn in favour of the Corporation of the City to be held in trust by them, they having passed a resolution to transfer it to the said Society, whenever it should become incorporated as a religious body. As the members of this Society were at first all Episcopalians, and as all the survivors are members of St. Philips Church, and two of them Vestrymen of the same application has been made to the Corporation aforesaid, to transfer it to out Church, but has been refused in consequence of an informality in the deed, which disables them from making the transfer without a special act of the state legislature. The reasons which induce your Petitioners to solicit your aid in this matter, are that your venerable body were the largest donors of the amount paid for the ground, and that several of the leading members of the City Corporation, have declared your cooperation necessary to the obtaining of it by your petitioners. Your Petitioners beg that their necessities will be admitted as an excuse for their presenting themselves in this manner before you, and that such relief will be granted them as the support of their Church requires, and your Petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Peter Williams, Rector
New York Nov. 8th 1826 Lewis Francis Wardens
Samuel Chas [?]
William Hutson Peter Vogelsang
Saml Ennals John Marander, sen
Boston Cromwell Thomas Lipkins
Thomas Zabriskie Jr. Thomas Sobrioeo Jnr. [?]”
“Talking of Trinity Church, the old feud between Henry Erben and Edward Hodges has ripened into a row which resulted in Hodges being tossed vi et armis out of the organ loft and left sitting on his hinder end in the lobby calling for the sexton and rector.”
—from the diary of George Templeton Strong, September 28, 1846.
Archives are full of juicy, personal stories—if you have the time to piece the evidence together. Here is the tale of a fascinating feud between Edward Hodges, organ master, and Henry Erben, organ builder, that occurred in the late 1840s.
In 1838, Trinity Church contracted for a new organ and the Vestry appointed a committee to review the state of the music of the Church. The committee resolved to appoint a Chorister to have charge of the vocal music of all the churches and to establish a school for music. Trinity’s elderly organist, Peter Erben (father of Henry Erben), was informed that he and his choir were to be replaced when the new organ was installed. He protested his dismissal, which may have set the stage for the feud.
Henry Erben was employed to construct the new organ and Edward Hodges was appointed organist. Edward Hodges worked with Henry Erben and the architect Richard Upjohn to create a new organ for the new Trinity Church. Erben constructed the organ according to Hodges’ directions but the two could not bear each other, as the following excerpted letters sent to the vestry by the two gentlemen, attest.
From Henry Erbens to the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry
November 9th, 1846
…On the 20th of October last the Comptroller demanded the Keys of Trinity Organ, which I gave him, supposing it was for the purpose of surrendering the Organ to the Church: when I afterwards applied for them for the purpose of tuning the Organ he declined giving them to me: the Consequence is the Organ has not been tuned since... I am most desirous to have it kept in good order & I hope the Vestry will see the propriety of my having the Keys for the purpose as above stated…
Excerpt of the letter from Henry Erben
From Edward Hodges to the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry
December 14th, 1846
Until very recently, I have been engaged for the space of three or four years, about the planning & structure of an appropriate Organ for your already celebrated Church edifice…The might have been, throughout, a pleasing & gratifying employment, but for the uncourteous conduct of the contractor, Mr. Henry Erben... I was so frequently & so necessarily brought into contact with a man so strangely devoid of all urbane qualities.…I have been treated by the organ contractor, not simply without the ordinary courtesies observed between gentlemen, but, in a manner so rude, so ungrateful, so unjust, & altogether so abominable…This being Church work, it would seem to be desirable to avoid entrusting it to a man of unclean lips & profane conversation.
…for if the reputation of any person be involved in the character of the organ, it is surely mine, as the projector and author of all its peculiarities. Had the instrument failed, it is well known that Mr. Erben was prepared to leave all the responsibility upon my shoulders; but it succeeded beyond expectation, & he is now perfectly willing to assume it all himself…
…I surrender my keys to no man, except upon the official business of the Church.
Excerpt of a letter from Edward Hodges.
From Henry Erben to the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry
January 11, 1847
…I again beg leave to call the attention of the Vestry to my application of November last for the Keys of Trinity Organ: since that time I have frequently tuned it at the request of Dr. Hodges. The Organ would have been much better attended to if I had the Keys…The larger the Organ is the more attention it requires. The tuning & regulating they require is a Mechanical operation that the Organists know nothing about…
After receiving these letters, the Vestry issued their response in a Vestry Minute from February 8, 1847:
The Committee on the application of Henry Erben for permission to have the keys of Trinity organ made a Report, and on their recommendation it was Resolved that Mr. Erben be allowed to have in his possession one Set of Keys of the Organ of Trinity Church for the purpose of Keeping the same in tune, but that he shall never exhibit the organ to any Strangers without the consent of the Rector, and that this engagement shall continue until the first of November next, or until the further order of the Vestry: and that copies of this resolution be furnished to Mr Erben and the Organist of Trinity Church.
I am researching the stone industry in New Jersey, and understand that Trinity Church was built with sandstone from Little Falls, N.J., quarries. These were leased, I believe, during the 1840s by the church corporation. Upjohn, the architect, had selected the stone from that area as an excellent material. My questions are 1) Do you have any more detailed information about the selection and quarrying of the material, and the construction of the church with the stone, and 2) What is the condition now of the building stone...I know it was cleaned in the early 1990s and revealed a variety of shades. Thanks for anything you might be able to provide.
The third incarnation of the Trinity Church building was indeed built with sandstone from Little Falls, New Jersey. The details of the building of the church, including several account books relating to the purchase of stone, are contained in the building papers. However, our minutes of the Vestry Committee provide an overview, which I provide below.
According to a Vestry meeting minute from 11/11/1839, "The joint Committee on the rebuilding of Trinity Church made a report to the vestry, recommending brown Sand Stone as the material to be used in the Construction of the new Edifice, which recommendation was approved & adopted." In 1841, a lengthy paragraph from the Vestry Meeting of January 11th provides insight on the lease and acquisition of the stone:
"The Chairman on behalf of the building Committee of Trinity Church stated that the Committee had Entered into a new Agreement with the Jersey Little falls manufacturing Company by which more Effectually to secure a full supply of Stone from any part of their Quarry in case the lessee thereof should fail to fulfill the Conditions of his lease, and that by the tenor of such agreement it is provided that this Corporation shall from time to time retain out of the monies which shall become payable to the lessee on account of Stone to be delivered from the said Quarry for the completion of the Church, such sums as may be sufficient to meet his drafts to be passed to the said Company for the rent reserved by the said lease, and also if the Quarry shall hereafter revert to the lessors and be worked for or under the direction of this Corporation further providing that it shall be accountable to the said Company for the rent of the Quarry & for the principal & building of Stones to be raised there from and not used in the Church Edifice at the rates and in the manner specified in the lease. It was thereupon ordered that such agreement be approved and that the Comptroller and Clerk be authorized to sign the same and affix thereto the Seal of this Corporation."
Trinity appears to have been supplied the stone through a William H. Harris, and later through Robert Baldwin & Silas Kitchell: "The building Committee of the new Church Edifice reported to the Vestry that William H. Harris having failed and abandoned the further Execution of his Contracts for the delivery of Stone they had made a new Agreement with Robert Baldwin & Silas H Kitchell for the Supply of such further Stone from the Quarry at Little falls as may be required for the Completion of the building, and that such new Agreement was contained in a written Contract now produced it was thereupon ordered that the Comptroller and Clerk be authorized to sign and affix the Corporate Seal to such Contract." (Vestry meeting minutes of 5/9/1842)
As for the selection of Little Falls stone, it is recorded in a recap of the project of building the church in the minutes of January 1st, 1847, that "The Committee made every inquiry as to the fitness, quality and cost of the various kinds of Stone for the proposed edifice and of the Supplies that could be had, from the different quarries within a convenient distance from the City, and selected the brown Stone from Little falls New Jersey as the most suitable in colour and durability and the same was recommended to and adopted by the Vestry. And the Stone from Little falls was thereupon furnished by contract, and the whole exterior of the Church, tower and Spire, the large Cut Stone columns to support the Clerestory and other fine work of the interior were constructed of this Stone."
The church was cleaned in 1990, at which time the pink color of the stones was revealed. Due to build-up of environmental pollution, the building had been previously thought to be a much darker color.
If you wish to examine the building papers for the purpose of scholarly research, you are welcome to make an appointment to visit the archives.
I am sending this message from the Minster Church of All Saints, Rotherham, England.
I discovered on an internet search that the Trinity Church on Wall Street before the revolution possessed an organ built by John Snetzler. We have in our present organ parts built by Snetzler in 1777 when he installed our organ.
Our organist and myself were chatting about it this morning and both wondered if Snetzler had actually travelled to New York to install the earlier instrument or had he despatched it to be constructed in his absence?
If you have any other information about Snetzler's connection with your church and the organ I would be very interested to hear about it.
While we do have a record of an organ being ordered from England in 1761 and delivered in 1764, we have no record of Snetzler being involved with or attached to the organ in any way. Thus, if the organ was indeed a Snetzler organ, it is unlikely that he was involved in the installation. Here is an excerpt from the Vestry minutes of April 5, 1764, concerning the delivery of the organ by ship:
"Mr. Bache communicated to the board a letter from Mr. Grub of London directed to Mr. Walton Mr. Harison and himself which they had received by the Hope Capt. Jacobson accompanying the New Organ for Trinity Church Whereupon this board requests the favour of the said Mess: Bache Harison and Walton to receive the same and give their assistance in directing the puting it up and that they also be desired to write to Mr. Grub and return him the thanks of this board for his care and trouble about the same and for his generous benefaction of his commissions And also that the same Mr. Grub be desired to return the Thanks of this Corporation to Mr. Hanley for his care and assistance about the said organ."
Saturday's New York Timescarried coverage of an unusual event in Trinity Churchyard--an exploration of the ground underneath a vault stone. The sandstone slab, located in the north churchyard, is engraved with the name of famous eighteenth century fictional character: Charlotte Temple.
Charlotte Temple is the tragic protagonist of America’s first bestseller, Charlotte, A Tale of Truth,published here in 1794. It tells the story of an aristocratic English schoolgirl who is seduced by a British army officer. They flee to New York, where he leaves her pregnant and destitute. Charlotte gives birth to a daughter and dies and, according to legend, is buried in Trinity Churchyard.
Author Susanna Rowson claimed that Charlottewas a true story based on the life of Charlotte Stanley, granddaughter of the Earl of Derby, and Col. John Montresor, Rowson’s cousin. Historical evidence does not support this assertion. Trinity’s burial records from the time were destroyed by fire, and there is no record of Charlotte’s birth in England. The details of Montresor’s life also don’t match up with Rowson’s tale—-though, tantalizingly, he had connections to Trinity Church.
Whatever the truth, “Charlotte Temple” quickly became a celebrity, subject of plays and a touring exhibition of wax figures. No one knows for sure when or how the Charlotte Temple grave appeared in Trinity Churchyard. An 1829 letter to the editor of the New York Daily Advertiserasks for information about the location of the stone, which the writer was unable to find. By 1855, however, stories about throngs of weeping visitors were a fixture in New York newspapers. The present Trinity Church was built in the intervening years, and there is evidence to suggest that “Charlotte Temple” was carved into the grave during the construction process.
Questions remain. The Charlotte Temple stone has a rectangular indentation that has been cemented over. It could have originally held a plaque. Was there a plaque, and did it list, as the legend asserts, Charlotte Stanley’s name, place of birth, and the name of her betrayer? Or was it the grave of someone unrelated to Rowson’s novel? Was "Charlotte Temple" carved into the stone in good faith, or was it a joke?
The vault stone bearing the name Charlotte Temple was lifted to determine if there was, in fact, a vault underneath--and if the vault had any markings that would yield clues to the true identity of the person buried there. Unfortunately, no vault was found--so the mystery remains.
The stone is lifted.
Read The New York Times story here. (offsite link)
I am a descendant of Captain William Kidd (1645-1701) who was active in the building of Trinity Church before he became a pirate! I understand there is a plaque to his memory in the churchyard. Do you have a reference to this? We were frequent visitors to the church when we lived in NY, but were unaware of this possibility until now.
-John and Anne
Dear John and Anne,
There is no plaque commemorating Captain Kidd in our churchyard. In our Vestry Meeting Minutes from January 6, 1982, it is noted in the Rector's report that:
"Captain Kidd, the infamous pirate who died on the gallows, was never a Vestryman of Trinity Parish in spite of the claim made by "Ripley's Believe It or Not." He was on the pew list of 1696 and lent equipment for raising stones of the first Trinity Church. Since Captain Kidd left New York in September of 1696, two years before Trinity held its first service, he never worshipped in the church."
The associations noted in this resolution are the only ones Trinity has with Captain Kidd, and are the only record of his involvement with Trinity.
Trinity Wall Street’s archives go back to 1695, making them an excellent resource for students of history--as well as those who want to shape the future. Trinity’s Archive was made fully accessible for the first time in 2003. In addition to its own history, Trinity’s records shed light on the development of the Episcopal Church and the Dioceses of New York. As landowner since 1705, its archives detail the stories of the New York neighborhoods now known as Tribeca and the West Village. Trinity's congregants have included Alexander Hamilton and John Jay; among its tenants were Aaron Burr and John Jacob Astor.
Check out the Guide to Archives for information on accessing the archive. I'll answer frequently asked questions on this blog, and post some of the interesting things I come across in my work.
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.