Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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PROVOOST, Samuel, first P. E. bishop of New York, born in New York city, 24 February, 1742; died there, 6 September, 1815. The Provoosts were of Huguenot origin and settled in the New World in 1638. John, fourth in descent from David Provoost, the first settler and father of the future bishop, was a wealthy New York merchant, and for many years one of the governors of King's college. His wife, Eve, was a daughter of Hermann Bleecker. Samuel, their eldest son, was one of the seven graduates of King's (now Columbia) college at its first commencement. In l758, winning the honors, although the youngest but one of his class. In the summer of 1761 he sailed for England, and in the same year entered St. Peter's college, Cambridge, enjoying while there the advantage of a tutor in the person of Dr. John Jebb, a man of profound learning" and a zealous advocate of civil and religious liberty, with whom he corresponded till the doctor's death in 1786. In March, 1766, Mr. Proroost, having previously been admitted to the order of deacon by the bishop of London, was ordained at King's chapel, Whitehall, by the bishop of Chester In June of the same year he married Maria, daughter of Iboreas Bousfield, a rich Irish banker residing on his estate near Cork, and sister of his favorite classmate, afterward a member of parliament The young clergyman, with his accomplished wife, sailed in September for New York, and in December he became an assistant minister of Trinity parish, which then embraced St. George's and St. Paul's, the Reverend Samuel Auchmuty rector, the Reverend John Ogilvie and the Reverend Charles Inglis assistant ministers. During the summer of 1769 Sir, and Mrs. Provoost visited Mrs. Bousfield and her son in Ireland, and spent several months in England and on the continent.
Early in 1774 Provoost severed his connection with Trinity, the reason assigned being that his patriotic views of the then approaching contest with the mother-country were not in accord with those of a majority of the parish, and removed to a small estate in Dutchess (now Columbia) county, where he occupied himself with literary pursuits and in the cultivation of his farm and garden. He was an ardent disciple of the Swedish Linnaeus, and he possessed, for that period, a large and valuable library. (See book-plate on page 130.) Provoost was perhaps the earliest of American bibliophiles. While far away from " the clangor of resounding arms," he occasionally filled the pulpits of churches then existing at Albany, Catskill, Hudson, and Poughkeepsie. He was proposed as a delegate to the Provincial congress, but declined, as also an invitation to become chaplain of the convention which met in 1777 and framed the present constitution of the state of New York. After the British burned Esopus, on the Hudson, he joined his friends the Livingstons, and other neighbors, in their pursuit. Mr. Provoost was proffered the rectorship of St. Michael's church, Charleston, South Carolina, in 1777, and five years later that of King's chapel, Boston, where his patriotic principles and practice were strong recommendations; but he declined both calls. When the colonies had gained their independence and New York was evacuated by the British, he was unanimously elected rector of Trinity church, 13 January, 1784, immediately removed with his family to the city, and entered upon the duties of his office. Before the close of the year he was made a member of the Board of regents of the university, and when the Continental congress removed from Trenton, New Jersey, to New York, he was, in November, 1785, chosen as their chaplain. In the summer of 1786 he was elected first bishop of New York, and three weeks later received from the University of Pennsylvania the degree of D.D. In November of the same year he sailed for England in company with Dr. William White, where they were consecrated in Lambeth palace, 4 February, 1787, by the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the bishops of Petersborough and Bath and Wells. The centennial anniversary of this event was appropriately celebrated in Lambeth in Christ church, Philadelphia, and place, London, in the Chicago cathedral.
On his return, Bishop Provoost resumed his duties as rector of Trinity, the two positions being then filled by the same person. He was one of the trustees of Columbia college, and under the present constitution was elected chaplain of the United States senate. After his inauguration as president, Washington, with many other distinguished men proceeded on foot to St. Paul's church (see illustration), where Bishop Provoost read prayers suited to the occasion. The first consecration in which he took part was that of the Reverend John Thomas Claggett, for the diocese of Maryland, being the earliest of that order of the ministry consecrated in the United States. It occurred at Trinity church, 17 September, 1792, during a session of the general convention. As the presiding bishop Dr. Provoost was the consecrator, Bishops White, of Pennsylvania, Seabury, of Connecticut, and Madison, of Virginia, joining in the historic ceremony ..... and uniting the succession of the Anglican and Scottish episcopate. Mrs. Provoost died, 18 August, 1799, which, with other domestic bereavements and declining health, induced the bishop to resign the rectorship of Trinity, 28 September of the following year, and his bishopric, 3 September, 1801. His resignation was not accepted by the house of bishops, by whom, however, consent was given to the consecration as assistant bishop of Dr. Benjamin Moore. Provoost was subject to apoplectic attacks, and from one of these he died suddenly at his residence in Greenwich street. His funeral at Trinity was attended by the leading citizens of New York, and his remains were placed in the family vault in Trinity church-yard. In person Bishop Provoost was above medium height. His countenance was round and full and highly intellectual, as may be seen in the accompanying vignette, copied from the original by Benjamin West. He was stately and dignified m manner, presenting, in the picturesque dress of that day, an imposing appearance. He was a fine classical scholar and the master of several modern languages. He conversed freely with Steuben and Lafayette in their own tongues, and had several Italian correspondents, including Count Claudio Ragone. He translated Tasso's " Jerusalem Delivered," but it was never given to the world, nor any of his occasional poems in English, French, and German. His sermons were characterized by force and felicity of diction. He was learned and benevolent and inflexibly conscientious, fond of society and social life. Under his administration as rector of Trinity for seventeen years, the church was rebuilt on the same site. During his episcopate of fourteen years the church did not advance as rapidly as during the same period under some of his successors. It must not, however, be forgotten that those were days of difficulties and depression in the church, and that the people of Pennsylvania threatened to throw their bishop into the Delaware river when he returned from England in 1787. The Episcopal church was only tolerated, and many Protestants fiercely opposed prelacy, having but recently "escaped from kings and bishops." While it cannot be claimed that Provoost is among those "upon the adamant of whose fame the river of Time beats without injury," or that tie should rank with those eminent founders of the American church, Seabury and White, or with the epoch-makers Hobart and Whittingham, it may be asserted that for elegant scholarship he had no peer among his American so indifferent to literary contemporaries, He was reputation that not even a sermon of his appears to have been printed, although accomplishments in belles-lettres were many and admirable, as may be inferred from Dr. Hobart's remarks at the first meeting of the diocesan convention after the bishop's death: "The character of Bishop Provoost is one which the enlightened Christian will estimate at no ordinary standard. The generous sympathies of his nature created in him a cordial concern in whatever affected the interests of his fellow-creatures. Hence his beneficence was called into almost daily exercise, and his private charities were often beyond what was justified by his actual means. As a patriot he was exceeded by none. As a scholar he was deeply versed in classical lore and in the records of ecclesiastical history and church polity. To a very accurate knowledge of the Hebrew he added a profound acquaintance with the Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, and other languages. He made considerable progress also in the natural and physical sciences, of which botany was his favorite branch." See " The Centennial History of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Diocese of New York" (New York, 1886), and an address on " Samuel Provoost, First Bishop of New York," by General Jas. Grant Wilson (1887).
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