Above: Christ Church (Old North Church), Boston, Massachusetts
Image Source = Library of Congress
Reproduction Number = LC-USZC4-402
WILLIAM CROSWELL (NOVEMBER 7, 1804-NOVEMBER 9, 1851)
Episcopal Priest and Hymn Writer
William Croswell was the third son of Harry Croswell (1778-1858) and Susan Sherman Croswell (1779-1855). Harry was a Federalist newspaper editor twice convicted of criminal libel. The standard for criminal libel was political then. The Sedition Act of 1798, a Federalist measure, targeted Jeffersonian Republicans, shutting down newspapers, imprisoning Jeffersonian Republican critics (but not High Federalist ones) of the John Adams Administration, and racking up a 100% conviction rate. Then came the Jefferson Administration in 1801. Jefferson, hardly the paragon of free speech some imagine him to have been, condoned and encouraged libel suits against Federalist journalists, such as Harry Croswell, one half of People v. Croswell (1804). The journalist had accused Jefferson of paying James Callender to publish stories critical of the President’s opponents. New York Attorney General Ambrose Spencer, one target of Croswell’s criticisms, took the editor to court on grounds of libel and sedition. The jury convicted Croswell. In 1805, however, the New York legislature passed a law providing for the defense of truthfulness in libel suits.
Harry Croswell was working as the editor of a newspaper in Hudson, New York, when William debuted on November 7, 1804. The family moved to Albany, New York, in 1809. There the father edited another newspaper and had to contend with more harassment in the form of libel suits. Finally he changed careers and became an Episcopal priest in 1814. Harry served briefly at Christ Church, Hudson, New York, before become the Rector of Trinity-on-the-Green Episcopal Church, New Haven, Connecticut, where he served from 1815 to 1858 (his death). While at Trinity Church he grew the parish, helped to increase the number of Episcopal congregations from one to eight, wrote books (mostly religious), and founded a night school for African-Americans.
William Croswell graduated from Yale College in 1822. He took a few years to settle on a career. Should he become a laywer? The private school he and brother Sherman Croswell operated at New Haven from 1822 to 1824 proved not to be his calling either. Our saint even tried editing a political newspaper, the Albany Argus, with his cousin, Edwin Croswell, for two years. (The politics of the Argus favored the nascent Democratic Party.) Finally, in 1826, William decided to study theology. He matriculated at the General Theological Seminary, New York, New York, that year, but health forced him to leave. Thus, in the following year, he resumed theological studies at Hartford College. In the meantime he worked as an editor of the Episcopal Watchman, which published some of his poetry. Ordination in the Episcopal Church came in 1828.
Our saint’s first parish was Christ Church, Boston, Massachusetts, or Old North Church, as in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s verse,
One if by land, and two if by sea,
in reference to the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere. Croswell served there from 1828 to 1839. During that time he married Amanda Tarbell (1808-1880).
Our saint’s second parish was St. Peter’s Church, Auburn, New York, of which he was the Rector from 1839 to 1844. He left there to become the founding Rector of the Church of the Advent, Boston, Massachusetts, which he served until he died at the end of the morning service on November 9, 1851. Between his departure from Auburn and his departure from this life Croswell received a D.D. degree from Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, in 1846.
William Croswell was a respected man who contributed to his communities. Manton Eastburn, Bishop of Massachusetts from 1843 to 1872, censured our saint for taking certain liberties with the rites of the Church, but Croswell was an excellent pastor and public citizen. Arthur Cleveland Coxe (1818-1896), Bishop of Western New York from 1865 to 1896, who edited and published our saint’s Poems, Sacred and Secular (1859), wrote of him:
As a pastor, few have been more exemplary and devoted than Dr. Croswell. He delighted to find Christ in his poor; and yet he was always beloved and admired by many among the most refined and affluent. As a preacher, he was chaste and fervent in his style, felicitous in his illustrations and expositions of Holy Scripture, and clear and evangelical in his statements of doctrine.
Charles Dexter Cleveland (1802-1869) included some of Croswell’s hymns on pages 83-86 of Lyra Sacra Americana: or, Gems from American Sacred Poetry (1868). Harry Croswell had published the Memoir (1851) of his son in 1851. That volume contained many poetic works.
Our saint’s literary legacy is secure, fortunately.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MAY 17, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR B
THE FEAST OF SAINT PASCHAL BAYLON, FRANCISCAN
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY
Dear God of beauty,
you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to
William Croswell and others, who have composed hymn texts.
May we, as you guide us,
find worthy hymn texts to be icons,
through which we see you.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK
THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH