Philander Chase

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The Most Reverend
Philander Chase
6th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
Chase Philander-Bishop Episcopal Church USA.jpg
Church Episcopal Church in the United States of America
See Illinois
In office 1843–1852
Predecessor Alexander Viets Griswold
Successor Thomas Church Brownell
Ordination 1799
Personal details
Born December 14, 1775
Cornish, New Hampshire, USA
Died September 20, 1852(1852-09-20) (aged 76)
Jubilee College, Illinois, USA
Previous post Bishop of Ohio, Bishop of Illinois

Philander Chase (December 14, 1775 – September 20, 1852) was an Episcopal Church bishop, educator, and pioneer of the United States western frontier, especially in Ohio and Illinois.

Early and Family Life[edit]

Born in Cornish, New Hampshire to one of the town's founders, Dudley Chase, and his wife Allace Corbett, Philander Chase was the youngest of fourteen children, and ultimately survived all his siblings. His ancestors had been Puritans who fled to New England. His father, a deacon at their local Congregational church, wanted one of his five sons to become a minister. As had three of his brothers (who however, had no inclinations toward ministry), Philander enrolled at Dartmouth College.[1] As a student, Chase became acquainted with the Book of Common Prayer and a lay reader in the Episcopal Church. After graduating in 1795, he worked as a lay reader in various New England towns while studying for ordination. Thus, he helped establish Trinity Church in his hometown.[2] He studied with Rev. Thomas Ellison, rector of St. Peter's Church in Albany, New York, while supporting himself teaching at the newly-organized city school.

He also married Mary Fay, of Hardwick, Massachusetts. They would have at least two sons George (b. 1797-), and Philander (1800-1824) before her death (after many years of health problems) in May, 1818. Chase remarried (to Sophia May Ingraham (1783-1864)) the following summer, and their children Henry (1820-1896), Mary (1822-1894) and Philander (1824-1872) would survive their parents.

While Philander Chase was bishop of Ohio (as discussed below), his 12-year-old nephew, Salmon P. Chase became his ward (his father having died). Rev. Chase oversaw the younger man's education in Worthington. The younger chase then entered Cincinnati College and went on to become a statesman and jurist of note, including Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.[3] His brother Dudley Chase also achieved distinction (as U.S. Senator from Vermont), as did his nephew Dudley Chase Denison (U.S. Representative from Vermont).


On May 10, 1798, Bishop Samuel Provoost ordained Chase deacon at St. George's Chapel on Long Island, New York, and also ordained Robert Wetmore to the priesthood. Both were assigned missionary duties in the state's northern and western parts (Chase becoming one of only three Episcopal clergymen above the Highlands). Wetmore found himself unsuited to the rigorous travels, and settled at Schenectady, while Chase continued evangelizing on horseback, as well as baptizing, preaching and otherwise meeting the needs of widely scattered Episcopalians and other Protestants in the more rural areas -- from Troy to Lake George to Auburn and Bloomfield. Thus, in 1798, he helped to organize the first congregation of Trinity Church in Utica, New York and the following year what would become St. John's Episcopal Church, Canandaigua, as well as preached to the Mohawk in Canajoharie (where a church had been established by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel).

In 1799, Rev. Chase accepted a position to serve congregations in Poughkeepsie, New York and relatively nearby Fishkill. After Rt. Rev. Provoost ordained him as a priest at St. Paul's Church in New York City on November 10, he called for his wife to join him. Chase then taught school in Poughkeepsie, as well as served more than five years at Christ Church, which Rev. Samuel Seabury had founded as a mission more than three decades earlier (but whose Loyalist rector had left during the American Revolution).[4]

In 1805 Rev. Chase accepted a challenge to establish the first Episcopal congregation in Louisiana, thus becoming the founding rector of what ultimately became Christ Church Cathedral, New Orleans. He and Mary had moved south hoping to cure her tuberculosis, but left their children with relatives in New England. Despite the successful parish organization and profitability of his school, they missed their children. Furthermore, with the vestry's help, Rev. Chase had purchased a slave, Jack from Baltimore for $500 to become their house servant upon finding that none were available for hire. Chase thought slavery an evil and had emancipated Jack, who, however, a few months later left on a ship for England (in late 1807, slavery would become illegal in England in 1808), which caused some in New Orleans to question his "character."[5] When Mary's health seemed to improve, and wanting to oversee the further education of their sons George and Philander (accepted at the Cheshire Academy), Rev. Chase accepted a position as rector of Christ's Church, Hartford, Connecticut in 1811, where he would serve there six years ( his autobiography called them the "Sunshine Years").[6]

However, Chase continued to feel a call to evangelize, and remained deeply interested in the religious condition and prospects of the westward pioneers. He also disagreed on educational and other matters with Bishop Provoost's successor, Rt.Rev. John Henry Hobart. Thus, in 1817 Rev. Chase traveled to Ohio, and on March 16, 1817, preached his first sermon in the new state, at Conneaut Creek near Salem. He continued to evangelize on the frontier, reaching Cincinnati in May, and helping to form what later became Christ Church Cathedral. Chase bought a farm in the relatively new town of Worthington (founded 1803), agreed to serve five parishes nearby, and became principal of Worthington Academy. He then called his family to join him in Cleveland. Rev. Chase chaired the first Episcopal convention in Ohio, which began on January 5, 1818, but his wife died that May. In June, Ohio clergy (six) and laymen met again in Worthington and elected him as their bishop (an unfunded position).[7]


Chase traveled east for ordination that winter, but was initially forced to defend his character before the Standing Committee would give its assent. Elderly Presiding Bishop William White led the consecration service at St. James Episcopal Church in Philadelphia on February 11, 1819, assisted by Bishop Hobart of New York, Bishop Kemp of Maryland and Bishop Croes of New Jersey.[8] He was the 18th bishop consecrated in The Episcopal Church.

Bishop Chase returned on horseback to his diocese, conducting a service at Zanesville on the National Road on February 28 and reaching his home in early March. Between June 1820 and June 1821, he preached 200 times, baptised fifty people, and confirmed another 175 while traveling 1279 miles on horseback.[9] The following year, he accepted the presidency of Cincinnati Academy, hoping to ease his fiscal crunch. Chase continued to build up the church in that state, lobbying for a seminary in his state (contrary to Bishop Hobart's belief that the General Theological Seminary in New York sufficed) and requesting missionaries from coastal states (Rev. Ethan Allen was among those answering the call).[6]

In October 1823, Chase even sailed to England (armed only with a letter of introduction from Henry Clay) to raise funds for his frontier diocese, especially his planned school and seminary. By the following July, he had raised nearly $30,000, and started home. The largest donation came from Jane, Dowager Countess of Rosse.[10] In November 1824 the Ohio convention authorized the seminary and the purchase of 8,000 acres in Knox County. In December, 1824 the Ohio Legislature chartered Kenyon College and Bexley Hall seminary (named after major donors Lord Kenyon and Baron Bexley). The foundation was somewhat bittersweet, for Philander Chase Jr., who had become an Episcopal priest like his father and accepted a position in South Carolina, died.

Though Chase had initially donated his Worthington farm for the school, realizing it needed more land, he purchased 8000 acres in Knox County northeast of Worthington, naming the location Gambier after another major donor, Lord Gambier. Chase hoped to establish a self-sufficient community free of urban vices (such as drinking and dancing), which would help students focus on their studies. The new institution included a grammar school as well as a college, post office, grist and sawmill, farm and printing press. His wife Sophia not only cooked for the students, did their laundry and nursed them, but kept the school running during her husband's many fundraising trips. However, his management style proved controversial with the trustees (among others). Some did not believe a bishop should hold so many positions, so the Ohio Convention of 1831 asked him to relinquish some control. Instead, on September 9, 1831, Chase resigned his bishopric, as well as positions at the school and college.[11] He was succeeded as Bishop and college president by Charles McIlvaine.[12]

Chase then moved his family about twenty miles away, to a new farm he had purchased near Millersburg, which he called the "Valley of Peace". The following spring, the missionary call returned, and he moved his family to Gilead, Michigan and began evangelizing again.

Meanwhile, in 1835, Episcopalians who had moved further west had decided that they needed a separate diocese, and established the Diocese of Illinois. Although Chase did not participate in that convention, he accepted their call to be their bishop (the first Episcopal bishop of Illinois), and soon moved to near Peoria, Illinois.

However, Chase still dreamed of establishing a self-sufficient rural college, and traveled to England first to raise funds for what became Jubilee College in Brimfield, Illinois. The cornerstone was laid in 1839. Fundraising proved more difficult this time, so Chase undertook another tour, this time in the southern states while his cousin Samuel handled operations, his sons Henry, Philander and Dudley handled the farm and sheep, and his daughter Mary ran a small girls' boarding school. The chapel was finished in 1840-1. However, fire destroyed the saw and grist mill in 1849.

Meanwhile, Rt.Rev. Chase grew in seniority. In 1843 he become the sixth Presiding Bishop of the national church.

Death and Legacy[edit]

Chase spent the final years of his life founding Jubilee College and the surrounding frontier community near present-day Peoria, Illinois. On September 14, 1852, while riding with his wife in a carriage near their home, it overturned. Chase was thrown and suffered a concussion. He told those carrying him home, "You may now order my coffin, --I am glad of it!"[13] He died in his sleep on the 20th, and was buried at Jubilee's cemetery.

The college faced financial difficulties after his death and closed within a decade. After service as a chaplain in the Civil War, Samuel Chase attempted to revive the college, but failed and sold off some land in 1871. However, the core of the college (other than the cemetery) was donated to State of Illinois, which restored some college buildings in the 1970s (after which it was declared a National Historic Site). Although the college buildings have generally remained closed since 2008 due to state budget cuts, the surrounding park remains open, including picnic and camping areas. His papers are held by Kenyon College.

The liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) remembers Bishop Chase annually on September 22.


  • Christianity and Masonry Reconciled (1814)
  • A Plea for the West (1826)
  • The Star in the West, or Kenyon College (1828)
  • Defense of Kenyon College (1831)
  • A Plea for Jubilee (1835)
  • Reminiscences: An Autobiography (First Edition, 1841)(Second Edition, 1848, various publishers in 2 volumes)[14]

See also[edit]

Laura Chase Smith, The Life of Philander Chase (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1903)


  1. ^ John N. Norton, Life of Bishop Chase pp. 13-14 (New York: General Protestant Episcopal Sunday School Union, 1857)
  2. ^ Trinity Church
  3. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Chase, Salmon Portland". The American Cyclopædia. 1879. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Philander Chase, Remniscences (second edition 1848) pp. 74, 332
  6. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg "Chase, Philander". The American Cyclopædia. 1879. 
  7. ^ Norton pp. 38, 43
  8. ^ Norton pp. 38-39
  9. ^ Norton p. 44
  10. ^ Greenslade Jr., Thomas B. "The Earl of Rosse's Leviathan Telescope". Kenyon College. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ The Last Page – Kenyon alumni bulletin has a succession of early college presidents. Retrieved on November 21, 2006
  13. ^ Norton p. 97
  14. ^


External links[edit]

Episcopal Church (USA) titles
Preceded by
New Diocese
1st Bishop of Ohio
1819 – 1832
Succeeded by
Charles Pettit McIlvaine
Preceded by
New Diocese
1st Bishop of Illinois
1835 – September 20, 1852
Succeeded by
Henry J. Whitehouse
Preceded by
Alexander Viets Griswold
6th Presiding Bishop
February 15, 1843 – September 20, 1852
Succeeded by
Thomas Church Brownell
Academic offices
Preceded by
Elijah Slack
President of Cincinnati College
1822 – 1823
Succeeded by
William Holmes McGuffey
Preceded by
President of Kenyon College
(and Bexley Hall)

1824 – 1831
Succeeded by
Charles Pettit McIlvaine
Preceded by
President of Jubilee College
1839 – 1852
Succeeded by