Our Rich History: The 18th Century
In the Beginning
The history of St. Philip’s Church in the Highlands begins in Peekskill over 250 years ago. St. Peter’s Church, a modest wooden church, was built in 1767 and it was formally recognized as the first church of the region by a charter from King George III in 1770. Beverly Robinson and Charles Moore were appointed as the first church wardens and among the first orders of business was the expansion of the church’s ministry to families located in an area known as the Four Corners in Garrison.
At first, services were conducted at the home of Jacob Mandeville, which still stands at the corner of Lower Station Road and Route 9D, until the congregants could move into St. Philip’s Chapel.
John Doty, a recent graduate of Columbia University, was called as the first rector of the two churches, St. Peter’s and St. Philip’s Chapel. The new minister was to serve and be supported by the co-joined congregations.
The Revolutionary War Period
At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Warden Beverly Robinson, by then one of the wealthiest and most influential men in North America, was asked by his friend, John Jay, to sign an oath of allegiance to the newly created United States of America. Robinson declined Jay’s invitation.
By all accounts a fine man, a good landlord, and devout Christian, Robinson chose to remain loyal to his British heritage, and refused to become part of the rebellion. In May 1777, he raised the Loyal American Legion. He served during the war years as a Loyalist Colonel in British Intelligence, leading agents made up of local citizens that aided the British armed forces. He helped plan and fought in the successful British conquest of Forts Montgomery and Clinton in October 1777.
In 1778, his home in Garrison was taken for the use of the Continental army, and Benedict Arnold came to occupy it in the summer of 1780, when he took up his post as commandant of West Point. Robinson’s entire estates were confiscated in 1779 on the establishment of the State government in New York.
Robinson was part of the plot, conceived by Benedict Arnold and the British spy, Major John Andre, to deliver the fortifications at West Point to the British. Robinson was on board the British ship, HMS Vulture, which Andre left to go ashore near Stony Point to meet Arnold and obtain the plans on Thursday, September 21, 1780. However, American cannon fire drove the Vulture back down the Hudson and Andre was forced to find another way back to British lines.
Dressed in civilian clothes, Andre was captured on Saturday, September 23. On the morning of Monday, September 25, Arnold learned that the plot had been uncovered and rode fullspeed to the landing where his barge waited. He ordered his men to row him to the Vulture, where he told the waiting Beverly Robinson of the plot’s failure.
Robinson and his family left for England at the close of the Revolution. Robinson died there in 1792, never returning to the Hudson River Valley. Some of the most touching early records of our church include letters, written after the war by Beverly Robinson to his old friend, John Jay, pleading for the restitution of his fortune and property. Jay’s letters in response simply say, “I’m sorry. It’s not possible!”
The turmoil of the war had a significant impact on the church and the surrounding community. Most of the residents of Garrison remained staunch Loyalists and, as the war continued and the cause of the colonials prospered, the church lost many families as parishioners fled north to Nova Scotia. Indeed, our first Rector, Rev. Doty, a staunch Loyalist, departed for Nova Scotia where he continued his career as a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Those families supporting the Colonial cause, who had remained in the area, felt resentment towards St. Philip’s because of its strong Tory ties.
The most telling anecdote of these war years involves a threat to very physical existence of the church. The story goes that a group of Colonials, bent on burning down the ‘Tory’ church, were turned away at its doors by George Washington himself. He is reported to have said to their leader, “That, sir, is my Church!” To recognize this momentous event, a stained glass window depicting General Washington was later placed in the vestibule of St. Philip’s, where it can be seen to this day.
Our Former Rectors
1771-74 Rev. John Doty
1792-94 Rev Andrew Fowler
1794-98 Rev. Samuel Haskell
1809-15 Rev. John Urquhart
1815-16 Rev. Petrus Ten Broeck
1820-22 Rev. Issac Wilkins
1826-29 Rev. Edward J. Ives
1832-33 Rev. James Sunderland
1835 Rev. Charles Luck ("Priest in charge")
1836 Rev. F Peake (four months, recalled by bishop)
1836-38 Rev. Henry Lemuel Storrs
1838-39 Rev. Edward C. Bull
1839-43 Rev. Ebenezer Williams,
1843-50 Rev. Robert Shaw
1852-53 Rev. David Eglington Barr
1854-57 Rev. Edward Mills Pecke
1857-59 Rev. Joel Clap
1860-73 Rev. Charles Frederick Hoffman
1873-82 Rev. Albert Zabriskie Gray
1883-98 Rev. Walter Thompson
1898-1907 Rev. Carroll Perry
1908-40 Rev. Edward Clowes Chorley
1940-45 Rev. William M. Sharp
1945-54 Rev. Lockett Ford Ballard
1954-1960, Rev. T. Carleton Lee III
1960-87 Rev. William Reisman
1987-2018 Rev. Francis Geer
During the post-Revolutionary years, the families around Garrison, having experienced the departure of more than one-half the local population, were challenged to rebuild their community and their church. In 1784 the Anglican Church of America was formalized with the consecration of Samuel Seabury as the first American Bishop.
By 1786, thanks to the efforts of William Denning, the new owner of Beverly Robinson’s forfeited lands and first post-Revolutionary warden of St. Philip’s, the chapel was refurbished with new additions of a pulpit and altar. The restoration of the congregational buildings from the ravages of the Revolutionary War period and the continuity of the church’s ministry to a sparse population of parishioners presented a challenge to the numerous clergy who were called to serve St. Philip’s during the next century.
The church experienced a revolving door of clergy with short tenures. Many followed the example of the Reverend Doty and became distinguished leaders of the growing American Episcopal Church in subsequent service. The first minister following the War, in 1792, was the Reverend Andrew Fowler, whose three year tenure as priest at St. Philip’s was followed by a very successful posting in South Carolina. Rev. Fowler is remembered as the founder of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
In 1794, Rev. Samuel Haskell, a Yale grad came from a parish at Queens College, New Jersey (now Rutgers), but left after four years because the vestry couldn't pay him. Following this, St. Philip’s was 11 years without a regular priest.