The first Anglican service in North America occurred during Sir Francis Drake's circumnavigation of the Earth. It is recorded that he and his crew landed just north of San Francisco Bay in 1579 and celebrated Communion there. Further services must have been celebrated during the attempt made by Sir Walter Raleigh to found a colony in what is now North Carolina in 1589, whilst the first Anglican parishes were established with the Virginia Colony in the years following 1607. Each Virginia County was provided with a church, a minister, a vestry, magistrates, a courthouse and other essential institutions at the expense of the tax payer, and it was this tradition of self-governance that was to do much to form and inform the founders of the American Republic as they struggled to establish a new state.
Generally speaking, Anglicanism progressed from South to North among the American colonies. Virginia had a strong established Anglican Church from the start. Charles II (1660-85) established Anglicanism in Maryland, and six counties of New York, whilst Anglican parishes began to appear in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey at the end of the 17th century. Anglicanism had gained a toehold in Rhode Island quite early on, as there was no Puritan establishment to oppose it. However, the Church was weak in New England, and had to be supported by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, an English society which had been founded with just this work in mind in 1697.
One major problem for the Church of England in the American Colonies was the lack of a bishop. Puritan New England and the Whigs in England did all they could to scupper plans for a colonial Bishop during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14) and again under George III in the early 1760s. As a stop gap, various Bishops of London appointed "Commissaries" who exercised the non-sacramental functions of a bishop. Whilst this eased the situation somewhat, those who sought ordination still had to go to England to be made deacon and ordained priest, and about 1 in 10 of these men were lost at sea. Confirmation was a rite unknown in the Colonial Church, and folks were admitted to communion when they had learned the catechism, and the minister deemed them 'ready and desirous' to be confirmed.
By the 1770s, the Church of England in the America had around 250 churches and 200 clergy. These numbers were sharply reduced during the Revolutionary War, so that by 1782 probably a quarter of Anglican parishes, and a third of the clergy were no longer functioning. The Church was to be slow recovering from this set back.
The task of organizing the remnants of the Church of England into a new jurisdiction fell largely to a small group of men based in or near Philadelphia. The lead was taken by the Rev. William White, Rector of Christ Church and St Peter in that city. In 1782 he published a snappily entitled pamphlet 'The Case of Protestant Episcopalians Considered' which set out a model for a new church government of State Conventions affiliated to a General Convention which would administer the Church in the 13 States. He proposed electing bishops as the presiding officers in each diocese, and proposed a temporary non-episcopal form of ordination until bishops could be secured from England. This was not "Anglican" enough for the sterner spirits in Connecticut, where the clergy met in March of 1783 to elect a Bishop who they would then send to England (they hoped) for Consecration. The chosen candidates were Jeremiah Leeming, who declined, and Samuel Seabury, who set off for England in the spring of 1783, and spent the next 18 months knocking on doors, trying to secure consecration in England. Unfortunately, English law at that time did not permit the consecration of Bishops for dioceses outside of the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Isle of Man, so Seabury was checkmated until he was advised to go to Scotland and seek out the Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
The Scottish Episcopalians had been disestablished in 1690, and had managed to survive as a voluntary organisation ever since, though, because of the Jacobite sympathies of many of its members, it had been placed under severe restriction by the Hanoverian regime in Scotland. In any event, Seabury was consecrated by the Bishop Primus, Robert Kilgour, assisted by Bishops Skinner and Petrie, on the 14th of November 1784 at St Andrew's Church, Aberdeen. He returned as quickly as he could to Connecticut where he took up his duties as bishop.
Meanwhile, moves were made in England to allow for the consecration of three bishops for the USA, and a Bishop for Canada. The Act allowing this to occur passed in 1786. William White, Samuel Provoost, and David Griffith had been elected by the Diocesan Conventions of Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia respectively. The first two could afford to make the trip, and were duly consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Peterborough on the 4th of February 1787. Griffith resigned his election in 1787 and died shortly thereafter, while Virginia proceeded to elect James Madison to fill the vacant bishopric. Madison was consecrated in 1791 in London. The first Bishop to be consecrated on American soil was Thomas Claggett of Maryland who was consecrated by the four existing bishops in 1792.
For the next twenty years, the Church's future looked far from certain. Disendowment greatly weakened the Church in Virginia and broke the spirit of James Madison, its bishop. In New York, Bishop Provoost seemed to alternate between actively promoting the Episcopal Church and prophesying its doom. Seabury, White and Claggett proved to be active and capable men, so in Connecticut, Maryland, and Pennsylvania the Church got off to a solid start, which in the first instance meant that it survived. From 1797 onwards there was a steady stream of consecrations with Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, and New Jersey all receiving their first Bishops. Provoost resigned in 1801 and was replaced with Benjamin Moore, who proved to be quite active until a stroke seriously impaired his abilities in 1810.
In retrospect, 1811 was the turning point for the Protestant Episcopal Church when John Henry Hobart (1775-1830), and Alexander Viets Griswold (1767-1843) were elected to the Episcopate. Hobart's consecration took place in Trinity Church, Wall Street, in somewhat stressful circumstances. Bishops White and Bass were present, but it was not known until that morning that Provoost would be well enough to join them. In any event he was, and all was well, but it illustrates the fragility of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America (PECUSA) c.1810. No such drama attended Griswold's consecration a few months later, and it almost seems as though the church had already turned an important corner. Both Hobart and Griswold were dynamic men. Hobart was a High Churchman who believed in the Episcopal Church's distinctiveness, whilst Griswold clave to the Evangelical side of the Anglican inheritance. Both were great preachers. Slowly but surely, Hobart converted a dispirited New York diocese into the largest and most successful in the Episcopal Church, whilst Griswold (re)established the Church in the Eastern Diocese - Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts between 1811 and 1843. Vermont was spun off from the Eastern Diocese in 1832, whilst the other four states became independent Dioceses on Griswold's death in 1843.
A further move in the right direction came in 1814 when Richard Channing Moore (1762-1841), Rector of St Stephen's, New York City, accepted election to be second bishop of Virginia. The diocese was in a poor state, but Moore, a mild Evangelical whose religious convictions fit in well with the Virginia aristocracy (at least with the few that were religious) set about rebuilding it. He became the 'first circuit rider of the diocese' during his summer vacations, and many a Virginia parish owes its establishment or re-establishment to his efforts in the 1810s, 20s, and 30s. The similarly Evangelical, Philander Chase was active as Bishop of Ohio, and later Michigan, and by 1841, and the consecration of Bishop Lee of Delaware, and Elliot of Georgia, all of the original thirteen states had bishops, and the new states of Kentucky, and Ohio had also received their first bishops.
By the mid-1830s the Protestant Episcopal Church had built up a considerable impetus that was taking it westwards. Leonidas Polk was consecrated in 1832 to serve as Missionary Bishop of the Southwest, a vast territory that included much of the southern half of the Louisiana Purchase, whilst the northern half came under the jurisdiction of Jackson Kemper, the Missionary Bishop of the Northwest. Further expansion occurred with the consecration of Bishops for Texas, California, Oregon, and Washington in the late 1840s and early 1850s, which brought to a close the great pre-Civil War era of expansion.
The Protestant Episcopal Church had not split prior to the War Between the States. This was in large measure due to the fact that Episcopalians had an innate loyalty to the Church, and a tendency to be political moderates. The Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States formed only after secession with Stephen Elliott, Bishop of Georgia as its Presiding Bishop. At the end of the War Elliott, who was great friends with Bishop Hopkins, the Presiding Bishop of the northern Church, quietly arranged for the two Churches to reunite at the 1866 General Convention. At the 1863 General Convention, the Southern Dioceses had merely been reported as being 'absent' and little illusion was made to the political causes of the War then being fought.
There is no doubt that the War Between the States was an enormous set back for the Church's work in the South. Besides the obvious losses of men and plant - churches, schools, etc., - the whole process of Reconstruction further demoralized the Church. Several dioceses in the South were unable or unwilling to continue what was then called "Coloured Work" among the African-American population after the War. However, the great revival that swept through the Confederate Army in 1863-65 proved to be a very fertile breeding ground for new vocations to the Episcopal ministry. By the 1870s, the work of the Church in the South was moving forwards once again. West Virginia was separated from Virginia in 1877, following the death of Bishop John Johns who had been adamantly opposed to such a move, and new Missionary Districts were created in the Southwest to serve New Mexico and Western Texas, Arizona and Nevada, though the Church machinery in that part of the United States of America (USA) was to remain rudimentary for many years.
The rebuilding of the Church in the South was paralleled by the 'filling in' of the map in the Northwest. The vast Missionary District of Montana, Idaho and Utah was created at the 1866 General Convention, and 30 year old Daniel Tuttle (1836-1923) was chosen to be it first Bishop. He established St Mark's, Salt Lake City, UT as his pro-cathedral, which was the first non-Mormon place of worship in that city, if not the whole of Utah. The Missionary District was divided in the 1880s, and in 1903, Bishop Tuttle was translated to become the Bishop of Missouri, a See he had first been offer some twenty-five years earlier.
Throughout this period, the Church in the South and Southwest developed along mainly Low Church lines and that in the Midwest and Northwest mainly on High Church or Anglo-Catholic lines. The old eastern dioceses were a patchwork quilt, with Vermont, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Maryland tending High; and Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio tending Low. This variety of opinions made for a lively, if not always harmonious Church, which was distinguished by the number and variety of its educational institutions. However, this period - roughly 1880 to 1914 - was notable for a marked decline on the part of the Evangelical Party in PECUSA.
The Evangelicals had been the dominant party in the Church between about 1825 and 1850. The initial expansion of the Church into the Midwest, Georgia, Kentucky, and the former Louisiana Territory had been led by a series of strongly Evangelical bishops - Leonidas Polk, Philander Chase, Benjamin Lee, Benjamin Bosworth Smith, and Stephen Elliot.