A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Christ Church Records

With this post we’re beginning what will hopefully become a regular feature, our collection of the month, and our first collection to be featured is the records of Christ Church (MSS 9001-C).

Formed in the late 1830s*, the congregation of Christ Church Episcopal in Providence is notable as the first African-American congregation to be admitted to the Episcopal diocese.

Early on the congregation struggled with debt assumed in the process of constructing the church building in 1842. By the early 1850s it had ceased to operate and most of the members had transitioned to St. Stephen’s Church.

One of the most important early pastors of the church was Eli Worthington Stokes, who led the church from 1846-49. Stokes left Christ Church and Providence to be a pastor in Liberia, where he died in 1867, as the following excerpt from The African Repository** indicates:

The image above is taken from the “Record Book” of the church, which comprises our collection of their materials. The page depicted covers the period from 17-29 May 1842, which includes the climactic moment of the Dorr Rebellion,*** the attempt to capture the state arsenal in Providence. The event is noted in the first entry at the top of the page. Only a few days later, on May 24th, the record book records a fire at the church, set “by some person or persons” and causing $500 in damages.

Much of the existing second-hand knowledge of the congregation’s history derives from the diary of Bishop John Prentiss Kewley Henshaw, which is found in another of the Historical Society’s collections (MSS 1133). Entries relating to Christ Church begin in 1843 and continue through to the church’s dissolution. Henshaw’s materials arrived at the Historical Society separately from the Christ Church materials, providing an example of how items from across the Historical Society’s holdings can work in tandem to illuminate a historical moment.

* A limited account of the church is available in George F. Bragg’s History of the Afro-American Group of the Episcopal Church (1922), available online at http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/bragg/bragg.html#bragg102 .


** Vol. 44, no. 7 (July, 1867).

*** A forthcoming issue of Rhode Island History will include an article on the Dorr War.


2 comments on “Christ Church Records

  1. H.Kerrigan
    17 October 2010

    Do you know anything about E.W.Stokes’ death? I read an account of it somewhere on Google-books,but I could not find it again. He had been giving away his food and when his friends found him,he was too far gone.

  2. rihswebsite
    22 October 2010

    More information about Stokes might appear in Elwood Dunn’s A History of the Episcopal Church in Liberia, 1821-1980. I don’t have a copy at hand, but that seems like probably the best place to start.

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This entry was posted on 11 February 2010 by in Collection Of The Month and tagged , , , , .

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