The Vestry, 1694-1982183 Boxes, 91.5 linear feet plus oversize
The Vestry is the governing Board that manages the affairs of the Parish. It is composed of the Rector, two Church-Wardens and twenty Vestrymen, all of whom (except for the Rector) are elected annually. Members are parish, community, and business leaders nominated from various fields to fill the significant stewardship needs of the Parish of Trinity Church, such as ministry, outreach, investment, and property management. Prominent vestrymen of the past have included John Jay, Rufus King, Richard Harison, James Duane, Philip Hone, and George Templeton Strong.
Scope and Content Note:
Vestry records are available from 1695 to 1982. Vestry and Vestry Committee meeting records consist of minutes and papers. Minutes provide an official account of resolutions discussed and adopted, while papers are the supporting material for the vestry and committee meetings. Vestry minutes and papers are arranged chronologically; Vestry Committee materials are arranged alphabetically by committee name. Some gaps exist in the records of individual committees.
Clerk of the Vestry
The Clerk of the Vestry (also known as Clerk of the Parish) is an officer of the corporation who was, according to the charter, originally appointed by the rector with life term tenure, and entitled to a stipend. In 1845, the vestry resolved that the clerk of the Vestry also act as solicitor to the Corporation. This legal responsibility was encoded in the ordinances by 1866. The revised ordinances of 1940 removed the role of attorney from the position. Currently the clerk is elected by the vestry, and customarily waives the right to life tenure and to financial compensation that pertains to the office. The position of Clerk has sometimes been held by a non-Vestryman.
Scope and Content Note:
Clerk of the Vestry records consist mainly of correspondence, office files, and ordinance revisions. They are arranged chronologically under individual clerk names, followed by records of the secretary to the clerk of the vestry.
Real Estate (1700-1815)
Anglicans were a minority religion in a city of dissenters when Trinity Church was founded in 1697. As the Vestry itself put it in a letter to the Bishop of London “the planting of the Church amongst us was the Glory & delight of some, so was it the object of Fear & envy of others, no less numerous in these parts.” Dissenters controlled the New York Assembly and, though they were happy to publicly support a Protestant Minister, they had no intention of confining the Act of Ministry of 1693 to the Church of England. The Assembly did consent to the disbursement of the £100 designated by the 1693 Act to the Rector of Trinity Church, but the public money and subscriptions barely covered the completion of the Church building and the raising of the steeple. To assist the Church, Royal Governor Benjamin Fletcher leased a tract of land to the parish for a period of seven years from 1697. That rural area, which stretched approximately from present day Fulton to Christopher Streets on the West side of Manhattan, was originally intended for the use of the Royal Governor under British rule. In 1705, Queen Anne granted the land by royal patent to Trinity Church, to serve as “a lasting foundation for its support.” Formerly known as the Kings Farm or the Queens Farm, the grant became known as the Church Farm after Trinity acquired the land.
In 1733, the Vestry wrote the Bishop of London that they were bringing in £25 from the Church Farm but they predicted that “as it is so near the Town, We could in a few years make the same very beneficial by laying part of it out into lotts, which would bring in a yearly ground rent and in time make the whole very valuable.” The population of New York quickly pushed North and, in 1751, the Vestry Committee of Leasing blocked out the whole Church Farm into lots and named the streets. Lots were leased for twenty one years with the proviso that, after that term, the buildings erected by the tenants could either be bought by the Church or moved by the tenant. In 1754, the land between Church, Barclay, Greenwich, and Murray Streets was granted to King’s College, the forerunner to Columbia University. By the 1760s long term leases for large pieces of land were assigned to Adam Mortier and Leonard Lispenard.
Trinity Church weathered the American Revolution allied with the losing Loyalist side. In October of 1783 the Vestry tallied the rents taken during the War and agreed to pay “the tenants of which have been absent from NY during the late disturbances” the rents taken during their absence. The Vestry also directed its Committee on Leases to personally visit blocks of the Church Farm to determine which lots to sell or lease to help it recover from the effects of the war. By the 1790s, the Vestry felt comfortable enough with its holdings to indulge in city planning resolving to make improvements that “may conduce to the interest of this Corporation and the Ornament of the City.” A good deal of land, especially South of Canal Street, was sold. The Church also generously granted lots “for the benefit and support of other Churches”. They provided land to Episcopal Churches in New York , both City and State, as well as to the Lutheran, French, and Presbyterian Churches. Trinity also granted land to the Episcopal Charity School, the Public Free School and the Society for Promoting Religion and Learning.
By 1815, the Vestry felt it should develop a strong management system to control the remaining estate. They appointed a Comptroller and Committee of Advice from their own ranks. Richard Harison was made the first Comptroller.
For Real Estate after 1815 see “Finance – Real Estate”
Scope and content Note:
The Vestry real estate files contain maps, rent rolls and registers of lots dating from 1767 to 1813. This series also holds Account books of pew rents for Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel. Pew rents were a common practice in the 18th century providing a resource for maintenance of the Church and payment of the Clergy and entitled the pew holder to the rights of membership. After 1815, pew rents were overseen by the Comptroller and records are found in the Finance record group.