Views from the Archives

Archivist’s Report on NEA-ART Spring 2018 Conference in New Haven

In late March 2018, the New England Archivists (NEA) and the Archivists Roundtable of Metropolitan New York (ART) Spring Conference was held in New Haven, Connecticut. The conference was entitled RISE UP; its theme was archival advocacy.

NEA-ART Conference Poster Spring 2018

Some of the main questions considered throughout the three-day conference included “How can archivists better demonstrate the cultural value and social urgency of their work?” and “What kinds of advocacy can amplify awareness and bolster support for archival repositories within established institutions?”

As St. Michael’s Archivist, I made a presentation with two colleagues, Juliana Kuipers from Harvard University and Ross Mulcare from Brown University on What the Archives Reveal: Slavery in American Churches and Universities.

In my presentation, I focused on colonial and early national Episcopal Church archives as sources of information on slavery in the church, and I provided examples from St. Michael’s own archives. Among these were the story – to the extent that we know it – of the VanBrunts.

Written in the meticulous hand of St. Michael’s second rector, Samuel Farmar Jarvis,

John and Jane both slaves of William S. Davis, married on Sunday evening, July 14th, 1816 with the consent of their master & at the request of their mistress

A little less than two years after their marriage, John and Jane had a little boy, Charles. Jarvis’ entry is interesting on three counts. First, John and Jane have now acquired a family name, Vanbrunt or VanBrunt. Jarvis identifies them as “people of colour” and associates them with the Davis family, starting to write “slaves” and converting the word to “servants.” And almost two years later, in 1820, the VanBrunts had another little boy, Henry Rudolph.

Charles son of John and Jane Vanbrunt people of colour and slaservants of William A. Davis. Born April the 10th 1818. Baptized June 14th 1818.  Sponsors, the parents.

Henry Rudolph, son of John and Jane VanBrunt, people of colour, born March 17th, 1820, Baptized April 16th 1820. Sponsor Ann Eliza Davis.

Although the wealthy Davis family figures prominently in the first several decades of St. Michael’s history, the slave couple, John and Jane – subsequently free, and the parents of two little boys – disappear from St. Michael’s records. Further research beyond St. Michael’s is required to uncover their story.  How did John and Jane become free? Did Mr. and Mrs. Davis give them their freedom outright? Did they allow them to purchase their freedom? Slavery was not officially abolished in New York State until 1827; did Mr. and Mrs. Davis manumit John and Jane because they believed it was the right thing to do, or because they wanted to be sure to be ahead of the law? How different was the relationship of the slave couple and their owners from that of John and Jane as “servants” and the Davis family. … And where did the VanBrunt name come from?

Within the archives of colonial and early national universities in the East and the South are records of slavery as an integral component of their institutional culture. Universities such as Brown and Harvard have been mounting extensive exhibits about this material: special collection curators and archivists have been leaders in raising public awareness about the extent to which slavery permeated every aspect of colonial and early American life. The Episcopal Church is now beginning to confront its own complicity in slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and racism; primary source material – such as sacramental registers, vestry minutes and governance documents – are being carefully studied. Archivists and historians are together on the moral front-lines.

At St. Michael’s, the archives have been examined over and over again for almost two hundred years to look for details about the Davis family and their friends.

Now, we look for details about the VanBrunt family and theirs. It is an honor to do so.

April 21, 2018



Epiphany: Wisdom before and after the Last Day of Christmas

At St. Michael’s Church, since Christmas Eve, the Three Wise Men of St. Michael’s creche collection have been waiting at a long distance from the manger for their meeting with the new-born baby boy. They’ve been on the altar from St. Jude’s Chapel. They’ll move to the Creche itself on Epiphany.

Three Wise Men on St. Jude's Altar

We don’t know anything about the St. Michael’s Creche figures. We seem to have had this set for a long time.

In the mid-twentieth century, Rev. William Corker put creche figures at Christmas in the arches of the outdoors Amsterdam Avenue porch. He had to discontinue the practice because of attempts to steal the figures. Similarly, after St. Jude’s Chapel closed, Corker tried to maintain a twenty-four hour “Wayside Chapel’ on the porch: the St. Jude’s Altar was the centerpiece of the Chapel. But here, too, vandalism threats soon forced Corker to give up on the Wayside Chapel. It was a discouraging blow to Corker’s hope for evangelization in the changing neighborhood.

undated photo of Christmas creche on Amsterdam Ave

A photograph from the generous Corker-Holzer Archives Gift (2012) isn’t quite clear enough to enable us to be sure that the current Creche was the one Corker put on Amsterdam Avenue. It is tempting to imagine that the Creche figures we now see every Christmas were witness to – and part of – the world of the mid-twentieth century Upper West Side … but we can’t be sure.

Nowadays, where is the Creche when it’s not Christmas? The figures reside on top of vestment and storage cabinets in the Lower Sacristy. At any time during the year, priests and deacons, acolytes and altar guild members, vestry members and wardens can look up to see Mary and Joseph, animals, angels, shepherds and kings: the plaster figures can remind anyone who cares to wonder about it just where we are in the liturgical year.

Christmas creche "in storage" in Lower Sacristy

According to our Christmas legends, the Three Kings were already wise before they came to see Jesus: their wisdom, indeed, compelled them to follow the star to look for the Savior. Their wisdom was then deepened and blessed by what they found in Bethlehem. Now, more than two thousand years later, the Three Kings ask us: Who is wise? What creates wisdom?

At St. Michael’s, on the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Three Kings move from the St. Jude’s Altar to Jesus’ manger-crib at the front of the nave, we are reminded that the history of St. Jude’s Chapel calls us to truth-telling. Without this, we have no claim to any wisdom of our own.

January 4, 2018



The Most Mysterious Book in the Archives …

Far and away the most mysterious and (from a twenty-first century Westerner’s point of view) exotic book in St. Michael’s Archives is this one:

photo of spine of book on 'Siamese Dancing'

The title page is elegant:

title page of book on 'Siamese Dancing'

Fortunately, in very faint pencil on the inside flyleaf, there is some information in English:

inscription in 'Siamese Dancing' book

The Art of Siamese Dancing with a Preface by H. R. H. Damrong Rajanubhab of Siam illustrated with 190 plates 1924

Aside from the Prince’s four-page preface, there is little prose in the book: it contains mostly photographs, drawings and formal plates. Perhaps one of these gentlemen is the Prince.

photo of two men at a desk in 'Siamese Dancing'

Born in 1862, Damrong was the son of King Mongkut and younger brother of later King Chulalongkorn of the Kingdom of Siam. Tutored when he was a boy by royal “professors,” Damrong was subsequently largely self-taught; his brilliance was universally recognized. When he realized as a young man that soldiers whom he commanded and court bureaucrats whom he regularly dealt with were all poorly educated, Damrong founded the Suan Kulap (Rose Garden Palace) School; established in 1881, the school would ultimately become the nucleus of the Ministry of Education.

As the king’s brother, Prince Damrong modernized Siam’s provincial administration, developed a national system for managing natural resources, and instituted protocols of both law and education that made Siam a “modern” country in late nineteenth century southeast Asia.

Encouraged to resign from government work by his young nephew, King Vajiravudh, in 1915, Damrong then devoted himself entirely to historical scholarship: he was determined to capture and maintain records of cultural materials once preserved only in oral traditions, focusing especially on literature and the arts. He founded both the Siam Society and the National Library. After the 1932 revolution, Damrong went into permanent exile in Penang, and, by the time of his death eleven years later, he had written close to one thousand books and articles about the history and culture of Siam.

In some sections of the The Art of Siamese Dancing, Damrong seems to highlight the careers of individual dancers.

dancer in 'Siamese Dancing'

In other sections of the book, he apparently focuses on particular dances.

two dancers in 'Siamese Dancing'



For almost every object – plates, textiles, water-bottles, chalices, documents, photographs … and books – contained in St. Michael’s Archives, we either know or can guess at its association with the church. For every single thing, there seems to be some discernible reason for its presence in the Archives. … Not so with this book.


Here is an archivist’s request.

As you make your New Year’s Resolutions, following up on plans – that several of you have told me about! – to declutter, clean out closets and give your St. Michael’s memorabilia as donations to St. Michael’s Archives, make sure you describe what you’re giving!

If there’s a story to tell, write it on a card or type out the information … If you’re giving photos, date them, identify the occasion and the people … All these details will enrich the historical value of your gift, adding to its usefulness, not just now but in the next century and the one after that as well.


dramatic dance moment from 'Siamese Dancing'

Happy New Year!

December 1, 2018


Remembering Edward McClure Peters, junior (Christmas Day, 1892 – March 11, 1918)

In the Chapel of the Angels, the Edward McClure Peters, junior memorial calls to mind both the promise of a baby’s Christmas birth and the grief of a wartime death. It also evokes the end of an era at St. Michael’s Church.

E. M. Peters Memorial in Chapel of the Angels

Edward McClure Peters, jr was the nephew of John Punnett Peters, St. Michael’s sixth rector; he was the only child of Edward McClure Peters, one of John Punnett Peters’ eleven siblings, a younger brother, born in 1860.

Unlike his older brothers John (St. Michael’s rector) and William (vestry warden and treasurer for almost fifty years), Edward McClure Peters made decisions about his personal and professional life that took him away from the patterns of most of the men in the Peters family: for instance, unlike his Peters great-grandfather, grandfather, father, brothers (and then many nephews, great-nephews and, ultimately, great-nieces) who all attended Yale University, Edward McClure Peters attended Norwich University in Vermont and graduated in 1880. Even after pursuing some graduate work in chemistry at Columbia University, Peters remained loyal to Norwich and served the University for many years as a member of the Board of Trustees.

Peters would ultimately prove to be a shrewd businessman, developing tidy profits from the non-baking uses of cream of tartar (tartaric acid) as a fixative agent in gold and silver plating, metal polishing and leather tanning: he spent most of his professional life at the Tartar Chemical Company in New Jersey and was its Vice President when he died. But his most abiding passion was for the sea. As a young man, he was a master in the United States Merchant Marines, sailing throughout the Caribbean and on the Atlantic Coast of South America. From 1896-1898, he served as a navigation and ordnance officer in the Naval Reserve and then on the U. S. S. Portsmouth; he was one of the first officers ordered into the Spanish-American War by then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt. As Navigator on the U. S. S. Badger in the North Atlantic Patrol, Peters organized blockades of both Havana and Nuevitas, Cuba.

Edward McClure Peters, Sr

Throughout his life, Peters retained the rank of commander in the Naval Reserves of New Jersey. In 1892, Edward Peters married Eleanor Bradley, an extensively published genealogist and early suffragette; they lived in Brooklyn, and their one child, Edward McClure Peters, jr., was born on Christmas Day, 1894.

In their educational choices for their son, Edward and Eleanor Peters were interested in experiments. Beginning in the fall of 1907, after primary school education in the local public school, young Edward was in the first class of the innovative new Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts. “Pete” – as he was known when he was a boy – was described by the faculty as “a fair scholar,” who was best known for the breadth and energy of his interests outside the classroom: he was a prominent member of the Dramatic Club, a stalwart participant in all club sports and editor-in-chief of the school’s first student publication, The Dome. He was most remembered, especially after his death, for “his eager interest in life.”

“Pete” attended Harvard. He studied naval and military history; as soon as he could, he joined the National Guard. Classmates were impressed by his love of vigorous, long walks, and by his invitations to friends, both old and new, to accompany him. “Particularly fond of nature and adventure, he never missed an opportunity for a long walking trip in the back country or a cruise on the Maine coast.”

In November after his Harvard graduation in 1916, Peters received his commission as second lieutenant (Infantry) in the United States Army. After continued training at Fort Meyer, Fort Leavenworth and Eagle Pass, he was attached to the Sixteenth Infantry, Company D, a machine gun company.  As soon as the United States entered the war, Peters sailed to France: his company was part of the very first of the American Expeditionary Forces under General Pershing. He served as the intelligence officer of his Brigade and was known as its Captain even before he was officially awarded that title.

Edward McClure Peters, jr

The Harvard University “Memoirs of the Harvard Dead in the War Against Germany,” (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, MCMXXI), includes an extensive eye-witness account of Peters’ death in March, 1918 at Seicheprey in Lorraine.

It was shortly after midnight when Captain Peters … came into the dugout …The Captain talked quite freely to us during the ensuing hour or more of different things. It was a custom he had, and probably accounts for much of the support he always received from his men…. At nearly four o’clock (in the morning), a most violent shelling of our position took place … From within the dugout it was hard to discern whether the bombardment was from the Germans or whether our own batteries were opening up … The Captain and I went to the dugout entrance to ascertain what was going on and … a six inch high shell struck within six or eight feet of us.

A portion of the shell struck the Captain, and he was killed instantly. He never knew what struck him … He was killed doing his duty for our country and looking to the welfare of his men. No man could do more. A machine gun officer’s duty is little understood by civilians. It is not like artillery or infantry, but a duty peculiarly its own and calls for daring, resourcefulness, ingenuity, and quick perception. Captain Peters died doing his duty.

Within the large extended Peters family, though many of Edward Peters’ cousins served in the war, he was the only one killed in action. Obituaries in the Berkshire School and Harvard University Bulletins were full and detailed; even Norwich University, where his father was trustee, reported on his death.

Edward McClure Peters obituary photo

Edward’s parents were devastated, unhinged. They separated almost immediately. His father’s interests in hobbies and clubs – even his beloved National Geographic Society, Navy Leagues of the U. S., and Companions of the Naval and Military Order of the Spanish-American War – waned.  He died just six years later, in 1924.

As soon after the Armistice as she could, Edward’s mother, Eleanor Bradley Peters, moved to France, to a town called Thiaucourt, to be near the grave of her son. Mrs. Peters was angered by the neglect of American cemetery of some 4,200 graves of Army soldiers, including her own son’s. Her outraged letter to the New York Tribune in October, 1919 reached the attention of both General Pershing and Mr. Hugh Wallace, the American ambassador to France; her recommendations served as guidelines for subsequent memorial maintenance.

Mrs. Peters continued her watch over the St. Mihiel American Cemetery for the rest of her life. She died in Thiaucourt in 1941 when she was eighty-six; World War II was well under way, and the town was occupied by the Germans. Eleanor Bradley Peters was buried in the Thiaucourt town cemetery, not far from the American military cemetery, with a cross of her own design, almost exactly identical to her son’s.

Eleanor Bradley Peters' grave, 1941, Thiaucourt, France

In 2017, a century after World War I, this Edward McClure Peters, junior memorial plaque in the Chapel of the Angels marks more than one brave young man’s war-time death. It evokes the imminent fracturing of the Peters world.

For almost a century, the rectorship of St. Michael’s Church had been in the powerful care of the men of one family: William Richmond, James Cook Richmond, Thomas McClure Peters and John Punnett Peters. Though the large Richmond and Peters families, connected by Thomas McClure Peters’ 1847 marriage to William Richmond’s daughter, were prominent in fields as various as law, finance and government throughout major cities of the Northeast, St. Michael’s Church was perceived by many – both within the families and beyond them – as their crowning achievement.

But by the outbreak of the Great War, John Punnett Peters was tired; confident that his assistant rector, Thomas McCandless, would be able to take over leadership of St. Michael’s, he began planning his retirement. By the early 1920s, St. Michael’s Church was no longer the center of the John Punnett Peters  family’s lives.

World War I changed every aspect of the world in which John Punnett Peters and his family experienced moral, political and social authority. The combat death of John Punnett Peters’ Brooklyn nephew must have felt, to the aging rector, like the violation of a whole world as well as an awful family loss.

December 26, 2017

Beyond West 99th Street: St. Mary’s Church in Manhattanville

St. Mary’s Church – on West 126th Street — was St. Michael’s first “daughter” church.

St. Mary's Manhattanville

Established in 1823 on land donated by Jacob Schiefflin, Manhattanville’s most prominent merchant and civic leader, and patriarch of a family long associated with St. Michael’s, St. Mary’s Church called William Richmond, already St. Michael’s third rector, as its first.  Initially dependent on St. Michael’s for pastoral support, St. Mary’s nonetheless rapidly developed its own identity as a spiritual anchor in its Manhattanville neighborhood; beginning in 1831, St. Mary’s official status as a “free pew” church assured the new young church’s enduring spiritual leadership within the diocese.

Schiefflin Vault at St. Mary's Church

During the whole nineteenth century, the two parishes remained closely associated through extensive family and friendship connections between the two communities and through shared commitments to institutions such as the Sheltering Arms; towards the end of the twentieth century, St. Michael’s and St. Mary’s also worked closely together in AIDS ministries. In recent years, as St. Mary’s has built on its extensive traditions of engagement with social justice issues, it has become informally known as the We Are Not Afraid Church.

St. Mary's Church Banner

St. Mary’s archival materials parallel and interconnect with St. Michael’s for the 1820s through the 1880s: baptismal, confirmation, marriage and burial records reflect the regular presence of William Richmond, James Cook Richmond (William Richmond’s brother; St. Michael’s fourth rector and St. Mary’s second) and Thomas McClure Peters (William Richmond’s son-in-law; St. Michael’s fifth rector and an early assistant at St. Mary’s) at both churches.

At St. Michael’s, a special memorial plaque on a column in the middle of the nave indicates that William Richmond is buried nearby.

William Richmond Memorial at St. Michael's Church

At St. Mary’s, an elegant memorial plaque reminds parishioners of their first rector’s spiritual legacies.

William Richmond Memorial at St. Mary's Church

Both plaques, making reference to William Richmond’s “labors,” identify the key component of William Richmond’s character. Service on behalf of others informed his every waking moment; he was most deeply at prayer when he was most actively engaged in pastoral and evangelical ministries.

Just six years from now, in 2023, St. Mary’s Church will be celebrating its Bicentennial. As St. Michael’s currently celebrates its own 210th Anniversary, the prospect of the historical celebrations at St. Michael’s first “daughter” church is filled with delights!

November 30, 2017

St. Cyprian’s at St. Michael’s: Hidden Clues, Enduring Presence

On Wednesdays, Feast Days and Sundays, in the early morning, in St. Michael’s Chapel of the Angels, when the Holy Eucharist is celebrated, an unornamented brass offertory plate is used in the service.

St. Cyprian's Offertory Plate

On a Wednesday morning this past October, a small group of Altar Guild members and St. Michael’s early-morning-regulars who’d never noticed the inscription on the plate’s underside rim looked at it in surprise.

Reverse side of plate with inscription

The inscription is hard to read … and to photograph. (The maker’s mark, in the center of the plate, is illegible.)

St. Cyprian's plate, first half of inscription St. Cyprian's inscription, second half

Presented to St. Cyprian’s Chapel by B’hood of St. Andrew #1852 A. D. 1910

Before St. Jude’s Chapel was St. Jude’s, it was The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel.

As thousands of Anglo-Caribbeans poured into Manhattan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries looking for the stability of employment, home and community, their worship experiences were often peripatetic; it must have been disconcerting for worshippers whose liturgy has always presupposed both formality and traditional altar furnishings. Before St. Michael’s actually funded the construction of  St. Jude’s Chapel at 19 West 99th Street in 1921, the St. Jude’s congregation endured its own neighborhood migrations. Worship, Bible study and various guild gatherings took place in rented rooms up and down West 99th Street. Two floors of a brownstone were usually taken for one or two year leases: church activities took place on the lower floor and the Howard family – Rev. and Mrs. Howard and their three little boys, Floarda, jr., Sumner and Bertram – lived in three or four rooms on the floor above. The building where St. Jude’s stayed longest –  four years – was at 27 West 99th Street; the two rented floors were over a grocery store.

As the St. Jude’s congregation grew, special services, on Feast Days for instances, took place with increasing frequency in the Saint Saviour Chapel at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The congregation was grateful for the elegant and airy Gothic space, but the wear and tear of carrying all the equipment for each service to the Cathedral and back to West 99th Street in all weathers was tiring for Rev. Howard, acolytes, crucifer, choir members and worshipers. When the permanent St. Jude’s Chapel was actually built, it must have been – in addition to thrilling – a relief.

The St. Cyprian’s Chapel offertory plate no doubt traveled all over the Upper West Side: carefully carried by some trustworthy parishioner from one sacred space to another, it was part of worship at 177 West 63th Street, in various rented rooms on West 99th Street, up at the Cathedral on Amsterdam Avenue and 113th Street, and back again at 19 West 99th Street.

Before it became part of St. Jude’s history, the offertory plate was already an important part of St. Cyprian’s, as the inscription makes clear.

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew was established in 1883; by the turn of the century, it was already well on its way to becoming the international fellowship of men and boys that it is now, in the early twenty-first century.

Brotherhood of St. Andrew 2017 logo

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew began as a mission to homeless men in downtown Chicago; it describes itself now, in 2017, as “a world-wide ministry to men and boys in the Episcopal-Anglican Communion” and sponsors 357 branches in Africa, Japan, the Philippines, Haiti, Great Britain, Canada and the United States. By the early twentieth century, the Brotherhood had a hefty monthly publication, St. Andrew’s Cross, “a church paper for laymen, advocating definite prayer and personal service.”

1905 St. Andrew's cross

In the December 1905 edition of St. Andrew’s Cross, an issue most of which was devoted to the Brotherhood’s work throughout Canada, the editorial staff announced new chapters as part of its regular international administrative updates: St. Cyprian’s Chapel had just become Chapter 1852.

notice of 1905 St. Cyprian's Chapel Brotherhood of St. Andrew Chapter

The inscription on the offertory plate gives the St. Cyprian’s Brotherhood of St. Andrew Chapter number: 1852.

In 1910, five years after the St. Cyprian’s Chapter successfully passed its probationary phase, its members – men and boys of St. Cyprian’s – gave the offertory plate as a gift to the West 63rd Street Chapel they loved.

The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel was officially begun in that same year.

We don’t know when the St. Cyprian’s offertory plate became a permanent part of St. Jude’s collection of service items … but it seems to have been a part of St. Michael’s collection ever since St. Jude’s was closed in 1957.

Made in 1910, the plate has been in constant use ever since. It has been cared for and cleaned by clergy and Altar Guild members of three closely connected congregations – St. Cyprian’s, St. Jude’s and St. Michael’s – and has received worshipers’ thankful offerings in support of their church for more than a century.

November 23, 2017


Beyond West 99th Street: Remembering Bishop Seabury (1729-1796)

On this day in the calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, we remember Samuel Seabury, first bishop of the Episcopal Church, and we consider the connections between Seabury and St. Michael’s first two rectors, John Vanderbilt Bartow (rector: 1807-1809) and Samuel Farmar Jarvis (1810-1819).

Samuel Seabury was a man of contradictions. A Loyalist during the North American colonies’ rebellion against the Crown, he nonetheless was subsequently chosen by fellow colonial clergy as the first bishop of the newly created Episcopal Church; consecrated not in England but in Scotland to lead the English church, now made American, in the new United States, Seabury codified the Episcopal Church’s organization, set its liturgical tone and developed its first independent theology, especially around issues related to the Eucharist.

Bishop Samuel Seabury

Seabury did not create the Episcopal Church nor was he alone in sustaining it, but his leadership, both practically and symbolically, could not have been more important. In one way or another, Seabury was connected to many of the early Episcopal churches and clergy families of the Northeast.

Equally wealthy and prominent, the large Seabury family and the large Bartow family were neighbors, both property owners in Westchester, New York: in the colonial era, they were similarly influential in both secular and church affairs. The two families crossed paths regularly in New York and elsewhere.

Bishop Samuel Seabury and Bishop Abraham Jarvis, grandfather of St. Michael’s second rector, Samuel Farmar Jarvis, were clergy colleagues.

St. Michael’s two first rectors – John Vanderbilt Bartow and Samuel Farmar Jarvis – would both have been raised on Samuel Seabury stories: their grandfathers both knew him. When Seabury died, in 1796, John Bartow, living in New York, was just nine years old and Samuel Jarvis, in Connecticut, was ten. Both little boys, as they grew up and then moved into decisions to become priests – like men in their families for generations back – must have been conscious of themselves as inheritors and transmitters of important church history, living participants in the church’s transition from the colonial era to the age of national independence.

St. Michael’s first fourteen years – Bartow’s rectorship and Jarvis’ – witnessed expansion in both the new Episcopal Church and the new United States. In 1807, there were seventeen states and astonishingly large swaths of unexplored continent. Over the next several decades, the development of American political identity and Episcopal Church growth were interconnected.

Political Map of US Expansion

St. Michael’s first two rectors – the men whose childhoods overlapped with Samuel Seabury’s last years – secured St. Michael’s place in New York City: by 1820, St. Michael’s was well established. Over the following thirty years, St. Michael’s would simultaneously follow the country’s Westward expansion – the next two rectors established many churches in states and territories across the North American continent – and initiate new forms of domestic mission in New York City.

Bartow and Jarvis both went on to long and distinguished careers after their first jobs in the little Bloomingdale church. Jarvis, in particular, was aware of himself as a link between his church’s past and its future: a professor on the first faculty of General Theological Seminary in New York City, the first seminary in the Episcopal Church, Jarvis was also the church’s first Historiographer, appointed by General Convention in 1838.



At St. Michael’s Church, Bishop Samuel Seabury’s legacy – “the gift of perseverance to renew the Anglican inheritance in North America” – was secure.

[For more information on Bishop Samuel Seabury, see Holy Women, Holy Men: November 14:]

November 14, 2017




Early 20th Century Altar Guild Minutes: Donations to The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel

(In August 2017, as part of the long-range 210th Anniversary archives cataloging project, early twentieth century Altar Guild record books were transferred from storage in the Lower Sacristy to the Archives. These previously unexamined records – mostly minutes from weekly meetings – contain rich and significant evidence of daily life at St. Michael’s.)

At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the San Juan Hill neighborhood of Manhattan – an area from the West 50s to the 70s, where Lincoln Center is now located – was the first, and sometimes the main, destination for Afro Caribbean immigrants. The Episcopal Church was quick to meet the needs of the new “colored” arrivals in the city: these Anglican immigrants needed a church of their own. The city’s oldest African American Episcopal church, St. Philip’s, was in the process of arranging its move from lower Manhattan to Harlem, had its own deeply rooted culture and traditions, and wasn’t able to meet the needs of the massive Caribbean influx. Accustomed to establishing chapels for recent immigrant groups such as Germans and Italians as well as African Americans from both the South and the Caribbean, the Episcopal Mission Society of the Diocese of New York built St. Cyprian’s Chapel – a “colored” chapel – at 177 West 63rd Street in 1906.

St. Cyprian's Chapel on West 63rd Street

St. Cyprian’s was not the first diocesan African American mission chapel, but, led by its vicar, the Reverend John Wesley Johnson, it was, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the best organized.


St. Cyprian's 1906 expansion

But the San Juan Hill neighborhood was bursting at the seams; Caribbean immigrants needed to look elsewhere to find homes. They discovered the West 90s and 100s, an area where African Americans could rent rooms and apartments in the brownstones lining these streets.

St. Michael’s Church, always alert to the needs of its neighbors, noted the growth of the “colony of colored people” on its own street; simultaneously, the Episcopal Mission Society and St. Cyprian’s considered the possibility of opening a “branch” of St. Cyprian’s on West 99th Street. In 1909, St. Michael’s rector, John Punnett Peters, and the vestry decided to explore the possibility of supporting and assuming full responsibility for this mission; it would be led by the newly ordained Rev. Floarda Howard, the talented young brother-in-law of St. Cyprian’s vicar, Rev. Johnson.

The first evidence of St. Michael’s commitment to this new endeavor occurs in the June 1911 Altar Guild minutes.


1911 Altar Guild Minutes

The meeting was opened by Dr. J. P. Peters after which he requested that any choir vestments which could no longer be used by the choir of St. Michael’s Church be sent to The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s Chapel.

A way to support the new mission … a natural, thoughtful gesture … an impulse which most well-off housekeepers might understand: beautiful and lovely things have become worn, a little drab and frayed perhaps, but they’re still usable in a pinch. What to do with them? It doesn’t seem right to just throw them out. Surely they can still be of use to someone … And the solution presents itself: give the still-good-quality pieces to someone who has none at all. Charity and utility meet.

The recipients of the time-worn cast-offs surely felt … We don’t know actually know the full range of emotions they felt; we only know that, according to St. Michael’s vestry minutes, gratitude was expressed.

Over the years, St. Michael’s regularly donated used vestments, altar furnishings, hymnals and prayer books to The 99th Street Branch of St. Cyprian’s, or, as it was known to all by 1912, St. Jude’s Chapel.

In 1916, the St. Michael’s Altar Guild Minutes report on the gift of “old ribbon markers” for service prayer books in addition to old choir cassocks already sent.

1916 Altar guild minutes

For half a century, the periodic gifts of cast-offs and hand-me-downs from St. Michael’s to St. Jude’s contributed to the complex institutional relationship between the church and the chapel: the charity of “second hand” fit effortlessly into the social and cultural assumptions of “separate but equal” in an era when this arrangement was the law of the land.

November 13, 2017

A Skull at St. Michael’s in 1889

In 1889, construction on St. Michael’s third church began. The eastern Amsterdam Avenue wall was being built while the second church, immediately behind it, still standing, continued in use for regular  worship. It was a surprising sight.

1889 Third Church construction photo

Children watched, fascinated.


One of the children was apparently a little girl, Estelle Clark Burdick. Seven years later, in 1896, she was confirmed with an aunt, three  cousins and a group of more than twenty other confirmands by Bishop Horatio Potter at St. Michael’s. That spring, In 1896, the third church had been standing for just six years, and the seven lancet windows of St. Michael’s Victory in Heaven had been installed just sixteen months before.

Confirmation Record, 1896

Estelle Clark Burdick appears nowhere else in St. Michael’s registers.

In 1956, apparently out of the blue, Rev. William Corker, St. Michael’s rector at the time, received a note. It is written in a very shaky and barely legible hand.

280 Chestnut Street

Ambler, Pennsylvania

March 21, 1956

Dear Father

When I was a little girl – I am now 75 – I attended services in the old Saint Michael’s 99th and Amsterdam with old Dr. Peters the rector. Then the cemetery [was] torn up right at the corner to build the beautiful new big stone church … and dear Dr. John Peters was rector then – I was confirmed there in 1896 — … I still remember the glorious stained glass windows over the altar – I always loved the figure of St. Michael … I still remember holding a scull (sic) in my hands as the cemetery was being dug up, a very very old cemetery –


Mrs. Estelle M. B. Wright

Rev. Corker  — or perhaps Mrs. Corker who often helped her husband with some of his correspondence – wrote back that he was pleased that Mrs. Wright had such happy memories of St. Michael’s.


As we think about the construction of the third church and the fact that bones from St. Michael’s first, early nineteenth century cemetery were apparently dug up in the 1889 excavation and building process, we can only hope that the soul associated with the skull that little Estelle held in her hands belonged to a children-loving and good-humored member of the early St. Michael’s community.


October 31, 2017

All Hallows’ Eve


Beyond West 99th Street: The Sheltering Arms … At 129th Street in Manhattanville, and throughout New York City

Some of the most modest memorial plaques in the Chapel of the Angels at St. Michael’s evoke the richest histories. Former children of the Sheltering Arms – no names specified – came together and collected funds for a memorial to Sarah Seaton Richmond (1836-1906, daughter of James Cook Richmond, St. Michael’s fourth rector) longtime Superintendent of the Sheltering Arms.

Sarah Seaton Richmond Sheltering Arms plaque

The Sheltering Arms, founded in the middle of the nineteenth century by clergy and lay leadership of St. Michael’s, was truly revolutionary. It was the first organization to take children from families in crisis, and then feed, clothe, house and educate them while helping parents get back on their feet; the goal was to reunify the family. The Sheltering Arms was a paradigm of what we now know as foster care.

In the beginning, Thomas McClure Peters, rector of St. Michael’s from 1858 to 1893, gave his large home for the experimental first Sheltering Arms building and moved with his family to a new rectory. Though the administration and management of the Sheltering Arms initially proved difficult, the value and success of its core mission were immediately obvious. More children than could possibly be admitted petitioned to be cared for at the Sheltering Arms and Peters’ former private home was soon deemed impossibly small.

A fund-raising campaign at St. Michael’s and among colleague Episcopal churches in and beyond the Diocese quickly accumulated enough money for a new dormitory complex; the large, impressive building extended from 126th to 129th Streets on 9th Avenue, adjacent to St. Mary’s Church in Manhattanville, St. Michael’s first “daughter” church.

Sheltering Arms 129th St drawing

Over time, this Sheltering Arms facility was modified and redesigned, serving as the institution’s base.  However, as the numbers of children being served expanded and the governance structure of the organization was stabilized, the Sheltering Arms moved to Yonkers where several cottages of different sizes were built for girls and boys of varying ages and for invalids.

postcard of Sheltering Arms, no date

In the 1940s, as Robert Moses’ urban redevelopment plans altered the New York City landscape, the 126th Street building was torn down. Today, the only remaining Manhattanville vestige of the original Sheltering Arms facility is the playground which bears its name (

Sheltering Arms NYC Park 2017

As of 2017, however, the legacy of the Sheltering Arms throughout New York City remains strong.

For more than one hundred and fifty years beginning after the Civil War, various charitable organizations, including the Episcopal Mission Society and St. Barnabas House as well as the Sheltering Arms, all founded by St. Michael’s Church, served abandoned and orphaned children, women struggling in poverty, and broken families. At the end of the twentieth century and in recent years, these various organizations and others have frequently been reorganized, reconfigured and consolidated.

Sheltering Arms 2017 logo

Today, the Sheltering Arms ( , with offices and facilities throughout the city, provides counseling support in areas such as domestic violence, mental illness, substance abuse and trauma response in early childhood education and after school programs as well as foster care and adoptive services.

October 13, 2017