"I was struck at once with his frank and open-hearted manners and conversation, and his prompt indication of his ecclesiastical views. Our intercourse was, from the first, that of bretheren and fellow laborers, with such intimacy as disparity of age did not preclude. There was nothing assuming, dictatorial or patronizing in his demeanor, but all was frank and friendly during our professional connection."

-- W.H. DeLancey, Geneva, N.Y.

"Dr. Abercrombie wrote with great classical correctness. He might be said to be fastidious if not hypercritical. His voice was inclined to be harsh, but his delivery was dignified and agreeable; though an increased degree of energy would have rendered it more effective. His published sermons evince a degree of refinement and careful culture, which give them a high rank among that class of productions in his day."

-- David Paul Brown, Esq., Philadelphia

"He was justly regarded as one of the most guileless, frank, and kind hearted of men. The writer can say from some knowledge of his private habits, that he was one of the most sincere, one of the most conscientious, and one of the most devout. He was often misunderstood—frank men always are. He was often misrepresented—the unresisting and the innocent must expect to be. But, after all, he passed through life, and discharged the duties of a long and prominent ministry in his native city, with the respect of his brethren, the general reverence of the community, and the warm affection of a large circle of friends."

-- The Banner and the Cross, 1841

"When the body was let down into its final resting place, and the voice of the Bishop [H.U. Onderdonk] was heard committing the remains of the man of God to earth, to ashes, and to dust, a solemn stillness pervaded the vast throng assembled at his grave; and sighs and tears from the Clergy and the people told that one had gone whom his brethren loved, and all honoured. It was altogether a most imposing and touching spectacle,—a fitting tribute to good old Dr. Abercrombie."

--The Rev. John Coleman, Trinity Church, Southwark

"There is no composition in the English language so difficult to read as our Liturgy—there are but two men in America who can read it properly, and one is Abercrombie of Philadelphia."

--The Rev. J.S.J. Gardiner, Trinity Church, Boston


The Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie, assistant minister of St. Peter's Church (1794-1832).

  Most widely known in his time as the minister who reprimanded George Washington from the pulpit for not taking communion, the Rev. James Abercrombie, D.D. (1758-1841) was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 26, 1758, the only surviving child of sea captain James Abercrombie (1717-1760), a native of Dundee, Scotland, and his second wife, Margaret Bennet (1728-1803). His father was lost in the North Sea in 1760, when the boy was just two.  His mother wanted her only child to be a minister, a desire James shared from early childhood, and he manifested it as soon as he was able to read by standing and kneeling on a chair, on Sunday evenings, with a white apron around his shoulders, in imitation of a surplice.

  Having been instructed, during several of his earliest years, by his mother, he was placed under the care of a Dr. Gardiner, who conducted an English academy, which the boy attended for three years before entering the College of Philadelphia (Penn).  He graduated in June 1776, but the Revolution interferred with his plans to go to England to study for the ministry. He began studying instead with William White, but was afflicted with a disease of the eyelids. Dr. Thomas Bond, a founder of Pennsylvania Hospital, recommended that Abercrombie travel to England for treatment, but the Executive Council of Pennsylvania refused to allow him to go. When British troops under General Howe occupied the city, Dr. Grant, his surgeon General, undertook the cure by lunar caustic, to be applied for five hours. Dr. Grant, dining that day with General Howe, forgot his appointment, and the caustic remained several hours too long. When it was removed, the eye was swollen and black, and apparently in a hopeless state. After the British evacuated, Dr. Bond was able to accomplish a complete cure. Abercrombie abandoned theological studies and became a merchant and was elected to City Council in 1792, but a year later asked Bishop White to ordain him, and after examination, he was ordained a deacon at St. Peter's and a priest on Dec. 28, 1794. He became an assistant minister at the United Churches, although he also regularly officiated, until 1810, every third Sunday at the "rural" parishes of Trinity, Oxford (Circle) and All Saints in Upper Dublin (Torresdale).

It has been said that Abercrombie's lecture to President Washington might have been repayment for Washington's decision to deny him the post of Treasurer of the Mint in 1792, before he became a priest. In his diary, Francis Gurney Smith Sr., a St. Peter's vestryman, claimed Abercrombie had a need for money that manifested itself in performing wedding ceremonies for runaways, even though the Rev. S.F. Hotchkin, in his 1890 work Early Clergy of Pennsylvania and Delaware, says that Gurney presented St. Peter's with a photograph of Abercrombie that was displayed in the vestry room. Bishop DeLancey, quoted in Sprague's Annals of the Episcopal Clergy, said Abercrombie "had loved St. Peter's Church since childhood."

With the Rev. Samuel Magaw, former rector of St. Paul's, Third Street, he founded the Philadelphia (later Episcopal) Academy in 1800 and became sole director in 1803. He resigned in 1817 because it interferred with his church duties. When he resigned in 1832 as assistant minister, he was awarded an annuity from the two churches of $600 a year.

In the beginning

The 18th Century

The 19th Century

The 20th Century

The People of St. Peter's

The Choir

Mission and Outreach

Did You Know?

The Next 250

The Hero of Tripoli

The Book