A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Faith & Freedom Friday: The Reverend and the Governor

Reverend James MacSparran, copy by Mary Updike after John Smibert. RIHS 1895.10.1

Reverend James MacSparran, copy by Mary Updike after John Smibert. RIHS 1895.10.1

James MacSparran (1693-1757) was an Irish born Anglican minister who arrived in Narragansett on April 28, 1721 to take charge of the church of St. Paul. MacSparran (shown here in a copy by Mary Updike of a portrait by John Smibert now owned by Bowdoin College) was also a missionary for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and as a missionary, he strove to bring as many souls as he could to, or back to, the Church of England.

In the RIHS Manuscript Collection there is a copy of a letter written on June 16, 174, by the Reverend MacSparran to Governor Stephen Hopkins, a Quaker. It is an attempt to convert Governor Hopkins to the Church of England by means of a present of a book.

MacSparran wrote, “The light in which your friends has set you in my view entitles you to the Character of an accute close reasoner and as such I presume to make you a present of this book. …To be brief in the present I don’t intend you any affront tho I will confess to you that I have some hopes, that reading these two treatise will go a great way towards reconciling you to revelation in general and the Church of England in particular. You must give me leave to say without offence, that the thought of Conformity to our church of a gentleman of your acknowledged abilities as it would be of infanite and everlasting advantage to your self, would be of unspeakable service to the church where you are, and as far as your character for good Sence has reached, and you are sure Sir that the tallants you are intrusted with, were not give you for that end? I rather hope they were; and that you will one day turn them towards surviving that Grand Interest, the son of God———-was contented to die for.”

A search of Alden  turned up a 1748 work printed in Newport by the Widow Franklin, and written by Henry Caner: “A discourse concerning the publick worship of God : Being an enquiry: first, concerning the nature of publick Christian worship; consider’d in both its parts, essential and circumstantial. Secondly, concerning the manner of its performance. Thirdly, concerning the liturgy of the Church of England; wherein is shewn, how well it answers the ends of publick devotions.”
It’s not clear if this is the volume Reverend MacSparran sent to Governor Hopkins, though the third section of the title would make it a likely favorite of a man sent to encourage converts to the Church of England. Near the end of the letter, Reverend MacSparran refers to “Littleton was as famous for contending for deism once as now he is for reveal’d Religion.”

Perhaps the volume sent to Hopkins was George Littleton’s 1748 publication, “A discourse on providence : being an essay to prove that this doctrine, as it is delivered in the Gospel, is a demonstration of the divine original of the Christian dispensation.” No copies of the Littleton book exist in Rhode Island, and only 11 copies are known in the world; would a local publication have been more persuasive?

The RIHS Library does have a copy of the Caner book (it is one of four known, with others at Yale, Newport Historical Society, and the Library of Congress), and while I had dearly hoped to find “Stephen Hopkins” or “MacSparran” on the fly leaf, I was disappointed. In the end, no correspondence acknowledging the gift has surface, and the Reverend did not convert the Governor.

~Kirsten Hammerstrom, Director of Collections

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2 comments on “Faith & Freedom Friday: The Reverend and the Governor

  1. Patricia Clarkin
    7 June 2013

    A huge land grant, from Kingston to the shores of Narrow River was an infanite (sic) & everlasting advantage to his Self and, no doubt, an incentive to propagate the Bible in these Foreign Parts.

  2. rihswebsite
    7 June 2013

    It was at least 300 acres, wasn’t it? The Reverend’s holdings of land and slaves will the topic of future posting; he is an interesting character.

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