Christ Church records
Held at: Christ Church Archives [Contact Us]20 N. American Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19106
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Christ Church Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Christ Church is an Episcopal church located in the Old City section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was established in 1695 as a condition of King Charles II of England's 1681 Charter to William Penn, which allowed for the formation of Church of England congregations in Pennsylvania. The provision gave Henry Compton, the Bishop of London, the authority to send ministers to the new province, should one be requested by twenty or more laymen. The Charter did not establish the Church of England in Pennsylvania, however, and did not make clear how the churches would be financed or organized, an issue which would later affect Christ Church. In 1695, thirty-six laymen formed a congregation and purchased a church lot on 2nd Street in Philadelphia. The Bishop of London approved their request for a commissary and sent them Thomas Clayton and after his death, Evan Evans in 1700. The laymen controlled the church's assets and helped finance Clayton and Evans's salaries.
Anglicans were a religious minority in Pennsylvania and in order to bolster church membership, Thomas Gray and Henry Compton secured from King William III a charter for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) in 1701. SPG allowed the Church of England to send missionaries to congregations in the Middle Colonies (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania). In addition to missionaries, Christ Church was also given a library. (As of 2016, some of the library's collections are housed at the Library Company of Philadelphia.) The first Christ Church building was completed in 1698 and enlarged in 1711. In 1719, the vestry purchased a burial ground at the corner of 5th and Arch Streets. Several prominent colonial and American Revolution era figures are buried there, including Benjamin Franklin, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and other signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Christ Church's congregation flourished in the early 18th century, as it welcomed converts and new immigrants. It eventually grew so large that in 1720 the vestry decided to build a new church structure. Construction on the new church was delayed for seven years because the vestry was occupied with finding a suitable and permanent rector to fulfill the spiritual needs of the congregation, since there wasn't an American Bishop who could ordain and license Anglican clergyman. Evan Evans, who was appointed commissary of Christ Church by the Bishop of London in 1700, was unable to devote his full attention to Christ Church because he was also responsible for two additional congregations in Maryland. It is unknown who assumed Evans' duties while he was away from Christ Church. After Evans' departure from Christ Church in 1718, the vestry again experienced difficulty in finding a suitable replacement. They appointed visting clergy until 1719 when John Vicary, an ordained minister, was chosen to replace Evans. Because of illness, Vicary served only until 1722. The vestry then appointed William Ashton, a warden, to read prayers when Vicary was too sick to perform religious services. Between 1723 and 1726 Christ Church had two more rectors, John Urmston and Richard Welton.
Finally, in September 1726, Archibald Cummings became rector of Christ Church and served for fifteen years. During his tenure, the vestry was finally able to devote its attention to building the new church structure. The cornerstone of the new church was laid on April 27, 1727 and construction continued until 1744. A steeple was added in 1754. Additionally, members of Christ Church living in newly-settled Society Hill section of Philadelphia established St. Peter's Episcopal Church in 1758. Rising on land donated by William Penn's sons, Thomas and Richard, Saint Peter's was designed and built by Scottish architect/builder Robert Smith, who also designed Carpenter's Hall and the tower of Christ Church. St. Peter's and Christ Church were united until 1832.
Several notable Philadelphians attended services at Christ Church including Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross. In 1775, the Continental Congress assembled and attended a worship service at Christ Church. They met again at the church in May 1776 for prayer and fasting. Upon learning that the Congress had declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, the vestry voted to strike the traditional prayers to the King from the service. After the British occupied Philadelphia, Jacob Duché, who had become rector in 1775, restored the traditional prayers to the King without first consulting the vestry. He also wrote a letter to George Washington asking the general to withdraw his troops and pledge allegiance to King George III. Under pressure from the vestry and the congregation, Duché left Christ Church in December 1777 and returned to England. Although Duché did not officially resign from his post as rector, the vestry appointed William White, who would later become a founder of the Episcopal Church in the United States, to succeed him. In his famous 1782 pamphlet the Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered, White proposed that the Church should be presided over by bishops, independent from both the Bishop of London and the British Monarchy, and governed by a council of clergy and laity who would elect bishops. White's plans were soon adopted and became part of the constitution of the new Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States in 1789.
In 1785, White founded the Episcopal Academy, an all boys school, which later became a private coeducational school for pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade students. As of 2016, the Academy is located in Newtown Square, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. White became the first bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, the second United States Senate Chaplain, and served as both rector of Christ Church and nearby St. Peter's Episcopal Church until his death in 1836.
Christ Church also established Christ Church Hospital which served the medical needs of its community and gave shelter to poor and widowed women. The Hospital was founded in 1772 and was located in a small building on Arch Street. The hospital later moved to the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia and is now the Kearsley Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
Continuing with its tradition of community outreach programs, in 1915 Christ Church Neighborhood House was established to serve the lower income families in the Philadelphia community of Old City. In the one hundred years since it opened its doors, Neighborhood House has been used as a meeting house, soup kitchen, athletic facility, child care center, and performance space. As of 2016, Neighborhood House serves as an "arts incubator" that provides a platform for the creation and presentation of new work by various types of artists. This community space also houses the Christ Church Parish and Preservation Trust offices.
In 1950, Christ Church became a national historic site, and in 1965 the Christ Church Preservation Trust was created to "ensure the preservation, restoration and maintenance of historic Christ Church, Neighborhood House and the Christ Church Burial Ground." As of 2016, Christ Church is an active Episcopal congregation which regularly holds worship services.
Quoted text from: "Preservation Trust." Christ Church in Philadelphia. Accessed June 21, 2016. http://www.christchurchphila.org/Historic-Christ-Church/Preservation-Trust/62/
Christ Church Neighborhood House. "About."
Christ Church Philadelphia. "Church History and Those Who Attended." 2007. Accessed June 21, 2016. http://www.christchurchphila.org/Historic-Christ-Church/Church/Church-History-and-Those-Who-Attended/86/.
Druckman, Melissa. Guide to the Microfilm of the Archives of Old Christ Church Philadelphia. Philadelphia, PA: Old Christ Church, 1981.
This collection consists of the records for Christ Church including minutes, financial records, photographs, and other materials, dating from 1695 to 2016. Also included are records of affiliated institutions: Christ Church Hospital (now the Kearsley Home), Episcopal Academy, Christ Church Preservation Trust, and Christ Church Chapel, as well as records of St. James Church (prior to 1828) and Saint Peter's Episcopal Church (prior to 1832), which were united with Christ Church until 1828 and 1832, respectively. A more detailed finding aid is available on-site.
A portion of the collection has been microfilmed, some of which has been converted to PDF files. The microfilm is available at Christ Church, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and other repositories. Some records have been made available in an online searchable database, which can be accessed at: http://christchurchphila.pastperfectonline.com/. Additionally, early vestry minute books, 1717-1815, and parish registers, 1709-1913, have been digitized and are searchable online here: http://www.philageohistory.org/rdic-images/ChristChurch/.
There are a number of artifacts and published books associated with this collection that were not included as part of this survey, including a 1717 edition of the King James version of the Bible known as the "Vinegar Bible"; A Collection of Psalm Tunes, 1763, containing sheet music attributed to Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the designer of the first official American flag, and sometime organist at Christ Church; and the Book of Common Prayerin which Jacob Duché crossed out all references to the Royal Family, as directed by the Vestry in 1776.
The Christ Church records have been arranged into thirteen series: I. Vestry, II. Rectors, III. Accounting wardens, IV. Corporation, V. Parish organizations, VI. Affiliated institutions, VII. Miscellaneous and unidentified records, VIII. Printed materials and publications, IX. Historical collection, X. 20th century records, XI. Christ Church Preservation Trust, XII. Photographs and graphic arts, and XIII. Architectural and technical drawings.
Series I. Vestry, 1717-2016, includes minutes, 1717-2016; election records, 1789-1891; proposed resolutions and bylaws, 1761-1856; committee reports; records from various committees,1807-1960s, including St. James's Building Committee and Neighborhood House Building Committee; some correspondence, 1796-1922; and other materials.
Series II. Rectors, 1709-2016, includes parish registers; private registers of Cummings, White, and James; service record books; and personal papers of various rectors, arranged in the order of their service. Most of the rectors' papers are those of William White.
Series III. Accounting wardens, 1707-1976 (bulk 1790-1890), includes general account books such as ledgers, journals, and cash books; wardens' account books; receipt books; special account records such as bank books, collection records, pew rent records, burial fee records, charity fund records, and miscellaneous special account records; records of special subscription funds; individual bills, receipts, orders, and accounts; title records; bonds and loan certificates; estimates and contract; correspondence; records of congregational votes other than Vestry elections; and memoranda. Some of the materials in this series are oversized and stored in flat files, including the first deed for the church's land, 1695. Additional 20th century financial records for Christ Church can be found in Series X. 20th century records.
Series IV. Corporation, 1702-1922, includes charters, correspondence of the corporation, and correspondence and memoranda between members of the corporation.
Series V. Parish organizations, 1807-1957, includes records of the Musical Society, 1807-1808; Sunday schools, 1816-1932; Choir, 1832; Protestant Episcopal Association for the Advancement of Christianity, 1833-1836; Dorcas Society, 1859-1913; Historical Association, 1892-1919; Women's Auxiliary Groups, 1825-1957; Parish Council, 1912-1939; and other parish organizations.
Series VI. Affiliated institutions, 1772-1932, includes minutes and other administrative materials, correspondence, financial records, and other documents from Christ Church Hospital, Episcopal Academy, Calvary Monumental Church, and Christ Church Chapel.
Series VII. Miscellaneous and unidentified records, 1723-1921, includes financial volumes, a scrapbook, a memorandum book, and various loose items. These materials are arranged chronologically.
Series VIII. Printed materials and publications, 1785-2007, includes a volume of Christ Church Hospital reports, 1850-1908; newspaper clippings, 1833-1976; loose and unbound printed materials, 1789-1943; published church histories; and publications from Christ Church, the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and other publishers that are affiliated with or mention Christ Church.
Series IX. Historical collection, 1764-1899, contains various 18th and 19th century volumes and documents, which are arranged chronologically by date of deposit, if known. Materials include sermons, pew receipts, letters, marriage certificates, legal documents, and other materials. Most items in this series are clearly related to Christ Church. However, the Church's connection to other items, such as a weather diary (1812-1815), certificates for the North American Land Company signed by Robert Morris (1795), and other materials, is less clear.
Series X. 20th century records, circa 1911-2016, contains financial records, including parochial reports, audit reports, monthly financial statements, general ledgers, and pledge statements; subject files, circa 1892-2016 (bulk 1920-1960), which include some church records, reference and research files, and materials relating to Christ Church's library and archives, the 1981 Philadelphia Antiques Show that featured artifacts from Christ Church, Christ Church's various buildings and properties, and commemorative celebrations; correspondence; fourteen scrapbooks, 1942-1975, with ephemera and newspaper clippings pertaining to Christ Church, current events (of the time), colonial and Philadelphia history, and celebrations related to these topics; and other materials. Various audiovisual materials such as VHS cassettes, DVDs, reel-to-reel recordings, Betamax videocassettes, CDs, audiocassettes, and digital audio files are also available in this series. Some of the audio recordings are of church services, 2005-2012.
Series XI. Christ Church Preservation Trust, 1965-2008, documents the activities of the Trust, which is charged with ensuring the preservation, restoration, and maintenance of Christ Church, Neighborhood House, and the Christ Church Burial Ground. This series is divided into eight different subseries: I. Administrative files, II. Strategic planning, III. Project files, IV. Financial files, V. Fundraising, VI. Public relations, VII. Special events, and VIII. Tourism. Photographs from the Christ Church Preservation Trust can be found in Series XII. Photographs and graphic arts.
Series XII. Photographs and graphic arts, late 19th century to 2016, includes drawings, prints, slides, film negatives, glass plate negatives, and postcards depicting: Christ Church, Neighborhood House, and the burial ground; the Church congregation, parishioners, rectors, and other groups and people associated with the Church; and various church related events and activities, including services. Images of the buildings include exterior and interior shots, many of which relate to renovation projects. Photographs from the Christ Church Preservation Trust are also included in this series.
Series XIII. Architectural and technical drawings, circa 1909-2009, includes architectural plans, elevations, plats, maps, mechanical drawings, site plans, and other building and property related drawings of Christ Church, Christ Church Burial Ground, Neighborhood House, Washburn House, and the rectory at 336 Spruce Street. Materials in this series are grouped by subject and in chronological order within these subject groups. An inventory for these materials is available on-site.
This collection, which documents Christ Church and its parish and congregation, could be of interest to researchers intersted in the Revolutionary War era or the history of the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. Of special interest in the collection are: an early 19th century travel diary written by Reverend Benjamin Dorr; a pew seating chart, 1762; and a letter from George Washington to his former reverend, William White. It is believed that the earliest church records were destroyed by fire.
Selected materials from this collection were digitized from 2018-2021 as part of the Philadelphia Congregations Early Records project. The Philadelphia Congregations Early Records project was made possible by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Resources, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Digtized materials are viewable on the PhiladelphiaCongregations.org website. Some items have been transcribed, and users are invited to contribute to the transcription effort. In addition, all of the digitized records are available in the ATLA (American Theological Library Association) Digital Library, and archival copies of the scanned images are preserved on the OPenn website at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.
Links to Digital Resources for this Collection:
- Browse all digitized items from Christ Church on the Philadelphia Congregations website.
- Browse all digitized items from Christ Church on the ATLA Digital Library.
- Browse all archival images from Christ Church on the OPenn website.
Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.
In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Christ Church Archives directly for more information.
- Christ Church (Philadelphia, Pa.) Archives of Christ Church, Philadelphia
- Christ Church (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- St. Peter's Church (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- United Churches of Christ-Church and St. Peter's (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Christ Church Archives
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by staff of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories using data provided by the Christ Church Archives
- This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
- Access Restrictions
Contact Christ Church Archives for information about accessing this collection. Some of the more recent materials may be restricted due to privacy concerns.