Thomas John Claggett

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Thomas John Claggett
Thomas john claggett.jpg
Thomas John Claggett
BornOctober 2, 1743
White's Landing
Nottingham, Maryland
DiedAugust 2, 1816(1816-08-02) (aged 72)
Known forFirst Episcopal (Anglican) bishop consecrated on American soil, 1792
Thomas John Claggett signature.png

Thomas John Claggett (October 2, 1743 – August 2, 1816) was the first bishop of the newly formed American Episcopal Church, U.S.A. (also known as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.) to be consecrated on American soil and the first bishop of the recently established (1780) Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.

Early family life[edit]

Thomas Claggett, born October 2, 1743, was the son of the Reverend Samuel Clagett, an Anglican priest of the Church of England from Charles County, Maryland, and Elizabeth Gantt. He was the great grandson of Captain Thomas Clagett who emigrated from England and settled on St. Leonard's Creek in Calvert County, Maryland in 1671.[1]

Captain Clagett at one time owned more than 3,700 acres (15 km2) in central and northeastern Maryland in Calvert, Prince George's, Baltimore and Kent Counties. He was a Justice and Coroner of Calvert County and an opponent of Maryland Governor John Coode, (1648-1709), who was a leader of Coode's Rebellion (also known as the "Protestant Rebellion" in 1689 against the Lord Proprietor of the Province of Maryland, the third Lord Baltimore, Charles Calvert, [1637-1715]). Thomas John Claggett was the first to use the double "g" in spelling his family's name.[2]


After Claggett's father died in 1756 when he was 14, he was placed in the care of his maternal uncle, the Rev. Dr. John Eversfield. Eversfield was the "historically conspicuous"[citation needed] rector of St. Paul's Parish Church in Prince George's County, Maryland. Three years later Thomas Clagett began attending public school and enrolled at the Lower Marlboro Academy in Lower Marlboro, Maryland, founded by Rev. Eversfield on his plantation around 1745. Many of the youth in southern Maryland were educated at Eversfield's school. Claggett later served the parish from 1778-1780 and succeeded his uncle until 1786.

In 1762, at age 17, he entered the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). He graduated on 25 September 1764 and received theological training from Dr. Eversfield for the next three years.[3] In 1787 Princeton conferred on him the "Master of Arts" degree, and in 1792, after he was ordained and consecrated as the first American Episcopal Bishop, he was awarded the Doctor of Divinity from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland on the state's Eastern Shore, where the Diocese had been formed twelve years before in 1780.[1]


On 20 September 1767, while visiting in Great Britain, Claggett was made an ordained deacon in the chapel of Fulham Palace, by the then Bishop of London, Dr. Richard Terrick. Less than a month later, on 11 October 1767at the same place and by the same prelate, Thomas Claggett was made a priest. Rev. Claggett remained in England for about three more months, studying and visiting family. In the spring of 1768, he returned home, and was appointed as the Rector of All Saints' Church of Sunderland, Calvert County, Maryland.[4]

Maryland priest[edit]

The American Revolutionary War created tremendous conflicts within the Church of England in the Thirteen Colonies. The clergy, who had been ordained in England, had taken an oath of allegiance to the king. Soon after the Declaration of Independence, the clergy were required to sign an "Oath of Fidelity", which none felt they could sign without violating their ordination vows.[5]:30 Nine of the clergy gave up their congregations and returned to England, six moved to Virginia, one to Pennsylvania, one to Delaware, five retired to their estates, and two or three others took up teaching. Starting July 4, 1776, Congress and several newly independent states passed laws making prayers for the king and British Parliament acts of treason.[6] By 1779 the numbers of Anglican clergy in the area dwindled from 53 to just 15. Divisions and conflict arose among largely “loyalist” clergy and overwhelmingly “patriot” parishioners.[7]

Claggett avoided the conflict, retiring as rector and living on his estate of Croom in Prince George's County for two years. In 1778, he began officiating in his local home parish at St. Paul's, in Baden, of Prince George's County where he became rector on August 7, 1780, succeeding to the office after the death of his uncle, Rev. Dr. John Eversfield. Rev. Claggett remained there until 1786.[5]:30 Due to the severe shortage of priests after disestablishmnt, Rev. Claggett was also the second rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Guilford, Maryland from 1781–1782. In 1786, Rev. Claggett accepted the rectorship at St. James' Church (formerly Herring Creeke Church) at Tracy's Landing (now near Lothian) in Anne Arundel County.

Organization of American Church[edit]

Following the Revolutionary War, the Rev. William Smith was elected bishop of the Maryland diocese, but the Bishop of London refused to consecrate Smith. Unable to obtain consecration of their clergy from the Church of England, representatives from nine dioceses already organized met in Philadelphia in 1789 to form an independent Anglican church in America and to ratify a constitution for its governance.

In 1789 the Anglican congregations in nine states adopted the name of the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America" as their name and formally separated themselves from the Church of England. Using the term "Episcopal" emphasized their belief and usage of the historical succession by the "laying-on-of-hands" of the "Episcopacy" and the "episcopate" rather than the descriptive term "Anglican" which emphasized their English origins and the mother church of the Church of England, much like the Scottish Episcopal Church from which the American church's first bishop, Samuel Seabury was consecrated.

The American Episcopal Church was incorporated as “the first Anglican Province outside the British Isles.” At the time, in 1783, there were 47 parishes and about 38 clergy in the new first Diocese.[7]


"Being a man of excellent fitness for the office, as well as possessed of large private means," Claggett was elected the first Bishop of Maryland, and consecrated during the triennial General Convention (synod) of the Episcopal Church at Trinity Church on Wall Street in New York City on 17 September 1792. Thomas J. Claggett thus became the first bishop of The Episcopal Church ordained and consecrated in North America and the fifth Bishop consecrated for the Episcopal (formerly Anglican) Church in the United States.

Claggett was consecrated by four men who had been consecrated by the Bishop of London, and later presiding bishops of the Episcopal Church. They were:

New capital city[edit]

The first priest (presbyter) that Bishop Claggett ordained was the Rev. Walter Dulaney Addison, who first served in Queen Anne Parish in Upper Marlboro, Maryland from 1793-95 (succeeding his Tory uncle, Rev. Jonathan Boucher who had returned to England as well as financed his nephew's education), then became rector of King George's Parish succeeding Rev. Henry T. Addison. This parish included not only the Addison family's traditional estates near Oxon Hill, Maryland and much of Prince George's County, Maryland but also a few Episcopalian families the new District of Columbia. Thus, Rev. Walter D. Addison periodically held services in what soon became Rock Creek Church as well as in the local Presbyterian Church on "M" Street through the hospitality of the minister, the Rev. Stephen B. Balch. From this, Georgetown Parish formed in 1809 and St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square in 1815. Bishop Claggett and Rev. Walter Addison also became mentors of several important Episcopal priests in the new capital area, including Rev. William Holland Wilmer and future bishop William Meade in Alexandria, Virginia.

Bishop Claggett was among the first to envision the need for a national Episcopal Church in the nation's new capital and "Federal City", now often being referred to as "Washington City", after the first new President in 1793, as the town was being laid out. While presiding over his Diocesan convention that year, Claggett appointed a committee to study the idea. He had an ally in Joseph Nourse, the country's First Registrar of the Treasury. However, Nourse did not want the cathedral in downtown Washington, but even then foresaw the beautiful dominating hill-top of Mount Alban to the northwest overlooking the new rough city and the Potomac River valley. After years of controversy and discussion with debates about its location, construction of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, the Washington National Cathedral on Mount Saint Alban was eventually begun in 1897, and mostly completed by the 1980s, testifying to its founders' and visionaries' original conceptions. Memorial slabs recognizing Bishop Claggett and his wife are mounted in the basement outside the chapel dedicated to St. Joseph of Arimathea.

United States Senate chaplain[edit]

On November 27, 1800, the United States Senate at its first session in the new north (Senate) wing, of a barely serviceable Capitol building selected the Right Reverend Claggett as its third chaplain. He gave the opening prayer, the first offered in the new Capitol in Washington D.C. He served through the end of the session.[8]

His first group of confirmations, a class of forty-four, took place in 1793 at St. John's Church at Broad Creek, near today's Fort Washington overlooking the Potomac River, in Prince George's County a few months after his consecration, and were presented by the then third rector, the Rev. Joseph Messenger.[citation needed]

Trinity Episcopal Church[edit]

Memorial in St. Thomas Church to Thomas John Claggett.

In 1810, members of the church in Upper Marlboro, Maryland founded Trinity Episcopal Church so they could worship near their homes. The nearest existing Anglican churches were St. Thomas Church in Upper Marlboro and St. Barnabas' Church in Leeland, both long carriage rides over rough and often impassible roads.

On August 13, 1810, the newly formed Trinity Church Vestry elected the Right Rev. Thomas John Claggett as the first rector. He organized the congregation in an abandoned wooden Presbyterian building built 106 years earlier in 1704. During the War of 1812, notes from the vestry minutes of May 1814 describe British troops camping in the church and preventing the Vestry from meeting. Rev. Clagget served as the congregation's rector until his death on August 3, 1816.[5][9]

Other congregations[edit]

On October 16, 1811, Rt. Rev. Claggett consecrated the replacement structure at Christ Church, also known as the "Old Brick Church", in Queen Caroline Parish, western Anne Arundel County (now town/city of Columbia in Howard County).[10] On January 9, 1814, due to Bishop Madison's death without a successor, Bishop Claggett consecrated a rebuilt Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia (home parish of General and President George Washington, (1732-1799)).[11]

An assistant bishop, James Kemp was appointed to assist Bishop Claggett in 1814, and succeeded him two years later. Bishop Claggett published a few sermons, pastoral letters, and addresses to his convention.[2]

Death and burial[edit]

Latin English[12]
Maryland Episcopus Primus
Natus Sexto Nonis Octobris
Anno Salutis
Ordinatus Diaconus et Presbyter
Et Episcopus Consecratus
Decessit in place Christi
Quarto Nonis Agusti
Fidelitate et Mansuetudine
Ecclesiam Rexit
Uxori, Liberis, Sociisque
memoriam Clarissimam
Et Patraiae et Ecclesiae
nomen Honoratum Dedit
Thomas John Claggett, D.D.,
First Bishop of Maryland,
Born October 2, 1744
Ordained Deacon and Presbyter
In London, 1767.
Consecrated Bishop, 1792
Departed in the Peace of Christ,
August 3, 1816,

He ruled the church with firmness and faithfulness
and adorned in by his character.
He left a beloved memory to his wife,
his children and his friends and honored name to his country and the church.

Claggett died August 4, 1816, at Croome, in Croom, Maryland, his family home, which burned on December 25 of 1856 or 1858. Originally interred in the family plot on the property, his remains were moved in 1898 to the Washington National Cathedral, then beginning construction the year before where a wood carving of his consecration was added to the bishop's stall. There is a marker and memorial bell tower at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, in Croom, of Prince George's County, Maryland.[13] Many of his papers are housed at the Diocese of Maryland's archives.[14]

Claggett's epitaph, which includes the dates of his ordinations, was penned by his friend and fellow churchman, lawyer-poet Francis Scott Key, (1779-1843), author of the "Star Spangled Banner".[2]

In popular culture[edit]

The Diocese of Maryland in Frederick County built a summer camp and later retreat center known as the "Claggett Center". It serves the recreational, physical education, and spiritual needs of young Episcopalians. It is also a retreat and conference center for members and guests of the Church and Diocese.[15]

St. James School outside Hagerstown in Washington County, built a large boys dormitory they named "Claggett Hall". It also contains offices for the headmaster, admissions, and business divisions, and a common dining room.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Utley, George Burwell. The Life and Times of Thomas John Claggett: First Bishop of Maryland and the First Bishop Consecrated in America. Archived 2014-07-07 at the Wayback Machine R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co., 1913. Original from the New York Public Library
  2. ^ a b c d Wilson, James Grant and John Fiske (1901). Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography 6 Volumes (hardcover). New York: D. Appleton and Company.
  3. ^ William Stevens Perry (1895). The Episcopate in America: Sketches, Biographical and Bibliographical, of the Bishops of the American Church, with a Preliminary Essay on the Historic Episcopate and Documentary Annals of the Introduction of the Anglican Line of Succession Into America. Published by The Christian Literature Co. Original from Harvard University.
  4. ^ Epitaph, Thomas John Claggett
  5. ^ a b c Utley, George Burwell. The life and times of Thomas John Claggett: first bishop of Maryland and the first bishop consecrated in America. Chicago: R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-112-51973-4. Archived from the original on 2014-06-28.
  6. ^ Hein, David; Shattuck, Gardiner H. ,Jr. (2004). The Episcopalians. New York: Church Publishing. ISBN 0-89869-497-3.
  7. ^ a b "A history of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington". History of the Diocese. Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  8. ^ Senate Chaplain Archived 2006-06-14 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Trinity Episcopal Church History Page". Trinity Episcopal Church. Archived from the original on 14 September 2011. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  10. ^ "National Register of Historic Places -- Application" (PDF). United States Department of the Interior. December 1, 1976. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
  11. ^ "A Brief History of Christ Church". Archived from the original on 2008-09-16. Retrieved 2008-09-16.
  12. ^ "Bishop T. J. Claggett - First of the Episcopal Bishops in Maryland". The Daily News. November 12, 1898. Archived from the original on 16 September 2016. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  13. ^ Prince George's County: Over 300 years of History Archived 2007-03-03 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Library of Congress Religion Collections in Libraries and Archives: A Guide to Resources in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia Archived 2017-03-16 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ "Our History". The Claggett Center. Retrieved 26 December 2015.[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]

Episcopal Church (USA) titles
Preceded by
1st Bishop of Maryland
1792 – 1816
Succeeded by
James Kemp
Preceded by
William White
3rd US Senate Chaplain
November 27, 1800 – December 8, 1801
Succeeded by
Edward Gantt