Notes on collections at the RIHS
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.
** Vol. 44, no. 7 (July, 1867).
*** A forthcoming issue of Rhode Island History will include an article on the Dorr War.