An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


Representatives of the Bishop of London appointed to oversee the work of the Church of England in the American colonies during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. By the time of the Glorious Revolution (1688), the Bishop of London held responsibility for control over Anglican affairs in America. Since commissaries already performed functions for bishops in distant areas of dioceses in England, the Rt. Rev. Henry Compton, Bishop of London, decided in 1689 to appoint James Blair as the first American commissary. Blair served in Virginia for fifty-seven years. He established order over the church, enforced morality laws, and in 1693 founded the College of William and Mary, the first Anglican college in America. Blair's success demonstrated the usefulness of Compton's plan. Commissaries were soon designated for other colonies, including most notably Thomas Bray in Maryland. The system reached its peak of influence in the 1740s, when commissaries were active in nine of the thirteen colonies. However, the canonical powers of the commissary were limited, and the need for Anglican bishops resident in America gradually became apparent. As a result, the commissary system fell into disuse everywhere except in Virginia in the decade prior to the American Revolution. At least sixteen commissaries were sent to the American colonies.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.