Samuel Seabury

 Samuel Seabury (1729-1796)

Bishop Samuel Seabury proposed and planned for an Episcopalian college in Connecticut.[1] In 1823, the men who founded Washington College (soon to be Trinity College) in Hartford fulfilled this vision. They immediately honored Seabury by naming the main college building after him. Bishop Seabury is celebrated on Trinity College’s current campus in the form of an academic building, Seabury Hall, and the original Seabury Hall at Washington College is depicted in the Trinity College seal. In recent years, the college community has explored its commemorative connection to its looming forefather.

Samuel Seabury was born in Groton, Connecticut, on November 30, 1729, and was the first American Bishop in the Episcopal Church and the first Bishop of Connecticut. He was educated at Yale University–graduating in 1748–where he studied theology, and at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied medicine. After returning to the United States, Seabury served as a rector in parishes in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Jamaica, New York, Westchester, New York, and New London, Connecticut. Seabury died in New London in 1796.[2]

Samuel Seabury was familiar in a direct and intimate way with the institution of slavery as well as enslaved individuals. He supported and benefitted from the eighteenth-century slave economy and enslaved persons over the course of his life.

Seabury and Slavery

The place where Seabury worked and lived for most of his life, the Connecticut Colony (and then the State of Connecticut), featured a robust maritime trade with intimate ties to the transatlantic slave economy. As one historian notes, “when the great city of Hartford was little more than a raw fort, a ship from Wethersfield was already ferrying onions and a horse down to Barbados, where African slaves worked the sugar plantations.”[3] The sugar cane produced by enslaved men and women in the West Indies was brought to Connecticut, where some 21 distilleries in Hartford County alone turned it into rum. The wealth of many early British colonists in Connecticut was tied to slave labor.[4]

Human slavery in the Connecticut Colony was legal and, by the time of the American Revolution, Connecticut had the most enslaved individuals (about 5,100) in all New England. Slaves represented about 3% of the colony’s population in the eighteenth century, but in larger towns like New Haven, Middletown, and New London, slaves made up nearly 10%. Most Connecticut slave owners, except for those on a few plantations in the eastern part of the colony, enslaved one or two, and at times up to six, individuals.[5]

Samuel Seabury grew up in a colony and family shaped by the slave economies and human enslavement. Seabury’s father owned at least one slave, named Newport, whose existence is marked in his father’s will.[6] Two weeks before Seabury married Mary Hicks on October 12, 1756, his eventual father-in-law gifted Mary the slave who had served and would continue to serve as her personal servant. The Seabury-Hicks marriage, therefore, meant that yet again Samuel Seabury lived—and this time managed—a household bound to human enslavement.[7]

There is no record that Seabury supported anti-racist or even antislavery principles. Indeed, at some point in a 1760s legal dispute over money with father-in-law Edward Hicks, Seabury obtained ownership of four enslaved men. These men moved into Seabury’s home, as did his father-in-law. After Edward Hicks died, as part of the ongoing financial disagreement, Seabury transferred ownership of three of these men back to the Hicks estate while continuing to claim a man named Charles as property.[8] Comfortable dealing with human collateral, Seabury disrupted the lives of the enslaved in untold ways as he and members of the Hicks family shuffled around roughly £200 of bonded humans.[9]

Seabury’s ownership and contact with enslaved individuals did not stop in the 1760s. According to the 1790 census, Samuel Seabury in New London County, Connecticut, had 3 enslaved persons in his household.[10] Two of the three slaves documented in the census are likely the ones named in the probate inventory from Seabury’s estate on his 1796 death. This document names among Seabury’s property the 38-year-old Nell and the 9-year-old Rose.[11] Lastly, Seabury’s journal states that his daughter, Maria, lived with him in the parsonage house supplied by St. James’s Church in New London. The Seaburys occupied this property from 1785 until Seabury’s death. Here, Maria directed the household, which included one servant and the enslaved woman Nell.[12]

Seabury’s Writing on Slavery

In the Revolution, Seabury earned a reputation as a loyal defender of Great Britain. He wrote extensively under the pen name A.W. Farmer in the Letters to a Westchester Farmer, pieces that display not only Seabury’s Loyalism, but a particular view of human hierarchy and human slavery. In “A View of the Controversy,” Seabury wrote that “liberty is a very good thing, and slavery a very bad thing” and later notes that “abject slavery” equated in some way with “cruel oppression.”[13] It is important not to remove these comments from the context of Seabury’s life. North American slavery was a racialized institution. Seabury, a slave owner, clearly did not believe “slavery a very bad thing” for Black individuals. In his Revolutionary writings, he indicated again and again that enslavement was a state that individuals—White, Loyal individuals—must avoid. In this Seabury aligned with his rebel American slaveholding counterparts, such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. These White men all wrote fearfully about being placed in bondage to American or British tyranny (though none was ever actually enslaved) because as enslavers they understood the emotional and physical traumas people suffered in conditions of unfreedom.


[1] Glenn Weaver, The History of Trinity College, Volume I (Hartford: Trinity College Press, 1967), 5.

[2] The best work on Samuel Seabury is Bruce Steiner, Samuel Seabury, 1729-1796; A Study in the High Church Tradition (Oberlin: Ohio University Press, 1971).

[3] Page One: Enslaved Africans in the Colony of Connecticut | The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (

[4] Page One: Enslaved Africans in the Colony of Connecticut | The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (

[5] All statistics from Peter Hinks, “Enslaved Africans in the Colony of Connecticut.” Microsoft Word – MOD 1 Hinks_forPDF.doc (

[6]Page 487…I, Samuel Seabury, Rector of St. George’s Church,” Abstract of Wills on File in the Surrogate’s Office, City of New York, vol. 30 (New York: Printed for the New York Historical Society, 1897), 347. See also, Steiner, Samuel Seabury, 29.

[7] All family details from Steiner, Samuel Seabury, 65-66.

[8] “Certifying the transfer of four slaves to father-in-law Edward Hicks from Samuel Seabury, 1765,” Samuel Seabury Papers, MSS Se116, General Theological Seminary, New York, NY. The document is misnamed as Seabury only transfers three slaves in the document. The catalogue entries of the Bishop Samuel Seabury Papers, General Theological Seminary, are found here: Bishop-Samuel-Seabury-1729-1796-Papers.pdf (

[9] For greater understanding of family financial dispute and estimate of slave worth see, Steiner, Samuel Seabury, 66, 75-79.

[10] See entry on page 129 in the 1790 census for New London, CT: New London County – Windham County ( While Seabury’s son, Samuel Seabury, Jr., also lived in New London at the time, Samuel Jr., required regular financial assistance from his father and could not afford slave ownership. See Steiner, Samuel Seabury, 315. The 1796 probate inventory for Samuel, Jr., records no slave property.

[11] Click here for the 1797 probate inventory of Bishop Seabury from the Connecticut State Library.

[12] “Seabury’s Journal B. 1791-1795,” The Bishop Samuel Seabury Papers, General Theological Seminary, Item 453, as cited in Steiner, 314.

[13] Samuel Seabury, Letters of a Westchester Farmer (White Plains, NY: Westchester County Historical Society, 1930), 109, 120.