To Jonathan Boucher
Mount Vernon May 4th 1772
After a tiresome, and in my opinion, a very unimportant Session, I return’d home about the middle of last Month accompanied by Colo. Bassett &ca.
The expediency of an American Episcopate was long, & warmly debated, and at length rejected. as a substitute, the House attempted to frame an Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, to be composed of a President and four other Clergymen, who were to have full power and authority to hear and determine all matters & causes relative to the Clergy, and to be vested with the [power] of Suspension, deprivation, & visitation—From this jurisdiction an appeal was to be had to a Court of Delegates, to consist of an equal number of Clergymen & Laymen; but this Bill, after much canvassing, was put to Sleep, from an opinion that the Subject was of too much Importance to be hastily entered into at the end of a Session.1 An Act has passed this Session empowering Trustees (to be chosen by the Subscribers to the Scheme) to raise money by way of Subscription, & Lottery, for the purpose of opening, & extending the Navigation of Potomack from Tide Water, to Fort Cumberland; & for perpetuating the Toll arising from vessells to the adventurers in the Scheme—but the Execution of it must necessarily be suspended till some thing similar passes into a Law in your province.2 An Act has also passed for Erecting a Light House on Cape-Henry, from which I think the Shipping will derive great advantages3—and a Bill went through the House, but rejected in the Council, for having Septennial Vestry’s, and a general dissolution of all those now in existance.4
Herewith I send the Pamphlets you desird me to get, together with your Accts from both Printing Offices dischargd; both Printers being desired to forward your Gazettes for the future to the care of Mr Lowndes of Bladensburg.5
I expected to have made you a visit soon after my return from Williamsburg, and to have gone from thence to Annopolis, but am a little uncertain now when it will be in my power to enjoy this pleasure; as I have business that will call me into Loudoun, Fauquier, and Berkley (one of the New Counties taken from Frederick, the other Dunmore) sometime between the middle, & last of this month;6 & am now engaged in Fishing and other matters, which seems I think, to require my attendance. Mrs Washington presents her Compliments to you and Miss Boucher, to which please to add those of Dr Sir, Yr Most Obedt Hble Servt
1. In 1771 at the height of the public debate in Virginia over the proposal to have a bishop placed over the Anglican church in the American colonies, the House of Burgesses voted unanimously to thank “the Reverend Mr [Samuel] Henley, the Reverend Mr [Thomas] Gwatkin, the Reverend Mr [Richard] Hewitt, and the Reverend Mr [William] Bland, for the wise and well timed Opposition they have made to the pernicious Project of a few mistaken Clergymen, for introducing an American Bishop” (JHB, 1770–1772 description begins H. R. McIlwaine and John Pendleton Kennedy, eds. Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia. 13 vols. Richmond, 1905–15. description ends , 122; see also Isaac, Transformation of Virginia description begins Rhys Isaac. The Transformation of Virginia, 1740–1790. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1982. description ends , 183–86). In the next session of the assembly, on 25 Feb. 1772, the Committee on Religion, to which GW was added upon his arrival on 3 Mar., was ordered to “inquire into the State of the established Religion in this Colony” (JHB, 1770–1772 description begins H. R. McIlwaine and John Pendleton Kennedy, eds. Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia. 13 vols. Richmond, 1905–15. description ends , 189). The committee made its report on 27 Mar., recommending “that for superintending the Conduct of the Clergy a Jurisdiction consisting of Laymen and Clergymen be established.” After the committee’s recommendation was read a second time, the Burgesses discussed it in a committee of the whole house which recommended that a board of clergymen only, not clergymen and laymen, should monitor “the Conduct of Clergy,” but “with an Appeal to a Court of Delegates” (ibid., 275). The speaker appointed a committee to bring in a bill to this effect, but there is no record of its doing so.
3. The construction of the lighthouse was to begin as soon as the Maryland assembly passed an act of the same import (8 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 539–41). The Maryland act was not passed until the November–December 1773 assembly (Md. Archives description begins Archives of Maryland. 72 vols. Baltimore, 1883–1972. description ends , 64:256–59).
4. On 25 Feb. 1772 it was ordered that “Leave be given to bring in a Bill for better regulating the Election of Vestries” (JHB, 1770–1772 description begins H. R. McIlwaine and John Pendleton Kennedy, eds. Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia. 13 vols. Richmond, 1905–15. description ends , 189). A bill to this effect was passed on 16 Mar. and sent to the council, which never approved it (ibid., 247). See also ibid., 221, 241.