St. Paul’s Chapel, New York City


In the New York Gazette of May 14, 1764, appeared this notice concerning St. Paul’s Chapel:

“We are told that the Foundation Stone of the third English Church which is about erecting in this City, is to be laid this day. The church is to be 112 by 72 feet.”

For two years those who passed the corner of Broad-way and Partition (Fulton) Street watched the progress of the building. On October 30, 1766, it was ready for the first service.

On the opening day there was no steeple, no organ, and no stove. But those who entered the doors were abundantly satisfied with the work of the architect, who is said to have been a Scotchman named McBean, a pupil of Gibbs, the designer of St. Martins-in-the-Fields, London, to which church the interior of St. Paul’s Chapel bears a marked resemblance. In the account of the opening the New York Journal and General Advertiser said that the new church was ” one of the most elegant edifices on the Continent.”

Between April 13, 1776, when Washington arrived in New York, and September 15, 1776, when Lord Howe occupied the city, the church was closed, since the rector did not see his way to omit from the service the prayers for the king. But when the British took possession of New York the doors were opened once more. Until the city was evacuated, November 25, 1783, Lord Howe and many of his officers were regular attendants at St. Paul’s.

Six days after the beginning of the British occupation the church had a narrow escape from destruction. A fire, which Howe declared was of incendiary origin, burned four hundred of the four thousand homes in New York. St. Paul’s Chapel was in the centre of the burnt district. Trinity Church was destroyed, and St. Paul’s was saved by the efforts of its rector, Dr. Inglis. This was the first of five such narrow escapes. The steeple was actually aflame during the conflagration of 1797, but the building was saved. Three times during the nineteenth century, in 1820, 1848, and 1865, fire approached or passed by the chapel.

Immediately after the first inauguration of Washing-ton, at the City Hall, he walked to St. Paul’s to ask God’s blessing on the country and his administration. During his residence in New York, until Trinity Church was rebuilt, he was a regular attendant at the services. From 1789 to 1791 his diary records the fact many times, ” Went to St. Paul’s Chappel in the forenoon.” At first he used the pew built for the Governor of New York, but later, when a President’s pew was built, he moved to this. Canopies covered both pews, while they were further marked by the arms of the United States and of New York.

Dr. Morgan Dix, in his address at the Centennial anniversary of the completion of the building, told of an old man who had said to him that when he was a boy he used to sit with other school-boys in the north gallery, and from there he would watch the arrival of the General and ” Lady Washington ” as they came up Fair Street to the church, in a coach and four.

In the same address Dr. Dix said : ” The church remains, substantially, such as it was in the first days; alterations have been made in it, but they have not changed its general appearance. For justness of pro-portion and elegance of style, it still holds a leading place among our city churches, and must be regarded as a fine specimen of its particular school of architecture. When it was built, the western end commanded an uninterrupted view of the river and the Jersey shore, for the waters of the Hudson then flowed up to the line of Greenwich Street, all beyond is made land.”

In the portico of the old church is a monument to General Montgomery, a member of St. Paul’s parish, who fell at Quebec, and is buried in the chapel. This monument, which was sent from France by Benjamin Franklin, had an adventurous career. The vessel in which it was shipped was captured by the British, and some time elapsed before it reached its destined place.