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From the Archives: Bishop Wittingham’s observations regarding Harper’s Ferry in 1859

By Mary Klein, diocesan archivist

In some circles, John Brown’s raid on a federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, on October 16-18, 1859, made him into a martyr. But contemporary abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison called his revolutionary plan “misguided, wild and apparently insane.” Brown had tried to attract Frederick Douglas to join his plot as a liaison with slaves, and to then become the President of a “Provisional Government” but Douglas declined, saying, “An attack on the federal government would array the whole country against us. You will never get out alive.” Brown believed that slaves would flock to his side in open revolt, and he would sweep down the Appalachia Mountains, gathering supporters as he went. He said, “When I strike, the bees will swarm.”



While the shocking events in Harper’s Ferry were going on, the General Convention was meeting in Richmond, Virginia, and Bishop William Whittingham wrote daily to his wife. He detailed the dramas taking place in the House of Bishops, and on October 19, wrote, “The Virginia War is probably better known to you than to us. The excitement here is fast subsiding. It has served to show me how very rotten, even here, is the ground on which public security rests. From the greatest to the least, all felt thoroughly uneasy lest the ramifications of the contemptable plot which has fizzled out a hundred miles off, should have spread beneath the surface of society at this distance, and be threatening domestic treason and general insurrection under the seeming quiet of the undisturbed face of things. It will make all the South more bitter than ever against the North.”


The next day he wrote, “The insurrection is again exciting more attention. A young officer just returned showed me this morning a specimen of the pike. (He said 9,000 from the horse wagon loads; but two papers say more probably) 1,500 were found stored away together with many more of Sharp’s rifles. The pike was a really formidable weapon, and the worst of it is, it must have been made in the North to be used by Negroes here, when raised.”


By his letter of October 22, the events at Harper’s Ferry were not even mentioned, merely the day-to-day debates and actions of General Convention. But John Brown’s raid on a federal arsenal changed the course of American history. Before the raid, leading politicians wanted to believe that somehow the divisions between North and South would eventually lead to compromise, but John Brown’s actions terrified Southerners with thoughts of open slave rebellion and radicalizing many Northerners. Bishop Whittingham’s words that Brown’s actions would “make all the South more bitter than ever against the North” were prophetic indeed.

From the Archives: Claggett Center

By Mary Klein, diocesan archivist

From the beginning of his Episcopate in 1944, Bishop Noble Powell dreamed of having a place where the whole diocese could meet for conferences, study, retreats and camps, thus developing a family spirit within the diocese. A piece of property near Reisterstown was purchased for this purpose in 1947, but was soon sold because the cost to make the property suitable would have cost nearly $50,000. In 1950, the Buckingham School Foundation offered their school property in Frederick County to the diocese. The Buckingham School had existed from 1890-1944, and consisted of 290 acres, a working dairy farm, and school buildings. The Buckingham School Foundation even offered $30,000 to the diocese to help put the buildings in working order, so on November 30, 1950, the whole property was deeded to the diocese. By February, 1952, the Center was ready enough for the clergy conference to be held there; in addition to Diocesan conferences and camps, the facility was used by 4-H and Boy Scout groups.


In 1955, Bp. Noble Powell received a letter from a woman who had taken her daughter to summer camp at the Clagett Center, saying she was shocked to see “three negro girls” there as campers. Indignant that she had never been informed that there was “integration of the races” taking place at camp, she asked if the bishop could insure that in the future, “our children will sleep with those of their own race”. The bishop’s reply tells us a great deal about his own beliefs and struggles. Saying he was raised in the Deep South (He was born in Alabama in 1891), and understood the problems and the traditions of segregation, he said, nevertheless, “I know the inheritance, and at the same time, I know what is laid upon me as one who tried to follow Jesus Christ.”


Clarifying the position of the diocese and of himself, he continued, “The policy at Claggett is consonant with the tradition long established in the diocese, where in Church gatherings there has been no distinction, certainly in the more than a quarter of a century that I have known this beloved diocese…When Claggett policy was being formed, no question was ever raised as to what approach, other than the Christian approach, would be made to the use of the facilities. From the beginning there has been no segregation… We have tried to make Claggett Center the spiritual center for all, and we have tried to put Jesus Christ at the center of the Center.”


Addressing the bigger problem of racial problems in America, the bishop continued, “What disturbs me most of all, as I look at this problem of race, is the fact that we, in the Church, have not been leaders as we should have been, in solving the situation, but too often have left it to civil authorities to initiate what we should have taken in hand. In my judgment, we shall never be able to solve the question of race relationships by law. Only the application of the principles of Jesus Christ planted and growing in our hearts gives us any hope at all.”

A statement from our bishop on recent gun violence

Dear People of Christ,
Gun violence is now striking our people dead in rapid succession. Last Friday, in response to the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre – the largest mass killing of Jewish citizens in our nation’s history – I joined with our governor, senators, and other governmental and faith leaders at the Jewish Community Center in Baltimore to be in solidarity with the victims and their families, to pray together, and to express our love and care for each other.
Our people are dying. No region, no community, is immune to the spreading virus of violence. There have been mass shootings in Florida and Kentucky. Two days ago twelve people were struck dead by an active shooter in a night club in California. And just yesterday two people were shot, one of them killed, on the campus of one of our two Episcopal historically black colleges in the country – Voorhees College in South Carolina.
People are carrying guns to protect themselves, in the hopes of protecting others. This will surely lead to more death. Our people are dying at the hands of armed citizens. We cannot continue to allow the second amendment to supersede the second commandment of making for ourselves any idols. Nor the sixth commandment against murder. Nor the baptismal promise we make to seek and serve Christ in all persons.
We must pray, we must vote, we must advocate. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. But this, my people, I know: prayer works. Taking time to set your intentions on Christ, on true love for neighbor, and on treasuring every one of God’s people, does matter. Without it we are lost in despair. To pray in love, rather than going to get a gun (or more guns, or more lethal firearms) in fear, works. It grounds and surrounds us in love and calls us to work for the betterment of our society.
Pray intentionally. Pray. And then ACT in love, not fear, from that prayer.
In Christ’s love,
A statement from our bishop on recent gun violence. You can find resources for prayer, liturgy and action, as well as a public statement from Bishops United Against Gun Violence, at ( For The Episcopal Church advocacy resources and opportunities, see The Episcopal Public Policy Network  ( and Maryland Episcopal Public Policy Network. Please join together in your communities and pray, discern, act. #buagv Episcopalians Against Gun Violence #CommunityofLove #notfear #benotafraid #love #pray

Presiding Bishop Curry featured on the TODAY show

Our presiding bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry, appeared on the TODAY show this morning, on the Feast of All Saints. He spoke about the power of love as the only way make change for the positive. Bishop Curry has released a new book of sermons called, The Power of Love, published by Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, which plans to send a courtesy copy to each diocese of the Episcopal Church, according to Episcopal News Service.  Bishop Curry’s new book can be purchased at your local Episcopal bookstore and other booksellers.

Watch the video of Bishop Curry’s TODAY show appearance below. He speaks to the massacre in Pittsburgh and other occasions in which we must depend on the power of selflessness, the power of love, to survive. Bishop Curry served as rector of St. James, Baltimore prior to his election as Bishop of North Carolina.

Mission to Seafarers

By Mary Klein, diocesan archivist

Baltimore’s International Seafarer’s Center is affiliated with The Mission to Seamen, an English organization. When his son asked the Rev. John Ashley in 1835 how people on ships went to church, the Anglican priest began the Bristol Channel Mission, which served the needs of the seafarers on four hundred sailing ships in the Bristol Channel. By 1856, various similar ministries organized under the name The Mission to Seamen Afloat, at Home and Abroad, and in 1856 shortened the title to The Mission to Seamen, adopting the Flying Angel logo still in use today.

In Baltimore, the April 5, 1874, minutes of the meeting of the Convocation of Baltimore noted that the Rev. George A. Leakin, the chaplain for Public Institutions and Seamen, moved “that a committee be appointed to report what can be done to promote the spiritual interests of seafaring men in this city.” Always an advocate for the poor and neglected, Leakin ministered to  the Home for Incurables, Johns Hopkins Hospital, The Aged Women’s Home, The city jail, the Orphan Asylum, the House of Refuge, the Industrial Colored Home, Fort McHenry, the Penitentiary, the Maternity Sanitarium, a hospital ship, the Marine Hospital and the Nursery and Child’s Hospital. He did not give up advocating for ministry to the seafarers, and in 1881 urged the diocesan Missions Committee to “be instructed to take action for commencing services among the seamen of the Port of Baltimore”, and to report its progress. During the April 19, 1882, meeting of the Convocation of Baltimore, Mr. Leakin read “excerpts from the journal of the Rev. D.M. McCaffrey who visits the ships in our harbor and gave interesting particulars of his own work among the same people.” The Rev. Dominic McCaffrey worked at Church of the Ascension in Baltimore, the assistant to the Rev. Campbell Fair, and ministered to seamen in the port.

The Rev. Campbell Fair, rector of Church of the Ascension from 1875-1886, was to reiterate his interest in the needs of seamen at the 1889 General Convention. Having been called to become rector of St. Mark’s Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1886, he was a deputy to General Convention from Western Michigan and introduced a resolution: “many of our population are engaged on oceans, bays, rivers, canals, and lakes, contributing to the prosperity and comfort of our citizens, while no provision has been made for their spiritual welfare.” Noting that “recent missions on British waters have been remarkably successful”, he wanted a committee of three bishops, three priests and three laymen to form a committee and report to the next General Convention “what may best be done to aid any present organizations, or to originate missions on waters of the United States”. George Leakin’s insistence on caring for seafarers had echoed all the way to the national church.

In his 1890 report to the bishop, George Leakin said, “application was made to procure a Hospital Ship for the care of sick and wounded dredgers. In answer to this request, the Secretary of the Treasury sent the ‘Stevens’ (with every medical appliance) which about February 1st was anchored at the mouth of the Patuxent River amidst a fleet of bay vessels. I held services on board assisted by the choir from Solomon’s Island. One hundred twelve patients treated in the first month. Arrangements are organizing for procuring a library, organ and other offerings to brighten the hard lives of these “toilers of the Bay.” This ministry continues today with the Baltimore International Seafarers’ Center and is supported through gifts to the Bishops’ Annual Ministries Appeal.