This Old Pew: Rev. Stephen Lewis
What happened to the Anglican community during the American Revolutionary War? The story of Old North’s third rector, the Rev. Stephen Lewis, sheds some light on this period of great change.
In the summer of 1776, Rev. Lewis set sail from England with General Burgoyne’s 16th Regiment of Light Dragoons (mounted infantry). Lewis was the deputy chaplain to the troops. The ship was captured and the regiment, including Lewis, were taken prisoner. Because of Lewis’s status, his captivity meant being limited to the rural town of Boxford until January 1778 when he was exchanged for a Continental Army prisoner-of-war and sent to New York. Right before going to New York, however, he performed a private baptism at Old North, which had been shuttered since 1775.
In July 1778, Rev. Lewis told officials that he wished to disavow his connection to the British government and instead become a “subject” of Massachusetts. He offered to take an oath to that effect. It is unclear whether or when that happened, but in August he was named rector of Christ Church (Old North) and immediately resumed offering services as well as sacramental rites such as baptisms, marriages, and funerals. Since so many Anglican clergymen had left Boston in 1776, we can imagine the relief of the congregation to have a rector and a church community once again. In fact, for several years, Lewis traveled to churches that had no permanent clergy in order to minister to their needs. During this time, the prayers offered during services changed to reflect political realities. No longer were prayers offered for the king and royal family, as American Anglican churches moved away from loyalty to the king as head of the Church of England.
Lewis remained at Old North until late 1784 when he moved to South Carolina and became rector of a church in Beaufort. He married and began a family there, but died only a few years later in 1790. Notice of his death called attention to his “genuine piety & benevolence of his conduct.”