1 Reply Latest reply on May 31, 2019 3:17 PM by Jason Atkinson

    Seeking content of service at St. Paul's Chapel in NYC


      The congressional records indicate that George Washington, at his first inauguration, led the Congress to St. Paul's Chapel for a service.  What was the content of that service?

        • Re: Seeking content of service at St. Paul's Chapel in NYC
          Jason Atkinson Ranger

          Dear Mr. Malmin,

          Thank you for posting your request to History Hub!

          According to the following editorial note from The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, vol. 2, 1 April 1789 – 15 June 1789 Congress arranged that “after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President and the members of the Senate and House of Representatives, proceed to St. Paul’s Chapel, to hear Divine Service, to be performed by the Chaplain of Congress already appointed.” The editorial note then goes on to state that “Following the address the president and the members of the House and Senate walked about seven hundred yards to St. Paul’s Chapel to attend services conducted by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Provoost, bishop of the Episcopal church of New York and rector of Trinity Church. Prayers were offered and a Te Deum sung, and after the services GW retired to the presidential mansion.” The Reverend Samuel Provoost, Episcopal Bishop of New York, was appointed as the Senate's first chaplain on April 25, 1789. The diary of Tobias Lear, personal secretary to George Washington, simply stated that “the bishop read prayers suited to the occasion.”  Likewise, the description in the Gazette of the United-States given on May 2, 1789 refers to it as simply as “divine service.” Unfortunately, while one of sources does specify that the Te Deum was sung, none of these sources provide the text of any of these prayers, nor do they specify if the service was performed according to the liturgies in use by the Episcopal Church at the time or according to some other order of worship written especially for the occasion. Likewise, no mention is made of a sermon being given or not.  We also contacted the parish archives for Trinity Church, Wall Street, and they informed us that they do not have an account that tells any of the specifics of the service.

          The following archival institutions might have records that can shed additional light on this topic.  The Center for Legislative Archives (LL) might have records of the First Congress regarding the planning of the inauguration activities or records of Rev. Provoost in his capacity as the chaplain to the Senate. They can be contacted at legislative.archives@nara.gov. You also may contact the Diocesan Archivist and Historiographer for The Episcopal Diocese of New York. Also, try searching for the personal papers of those who would have attended the service, such as members of Congress.

          We hope this information is helpful. Best of luck with your research!

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