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Reverend Thomas John Claggett

First bishop of Maryland

In 1750, the Maryland Assembly voted funds to enlarge and repair Christ Episcopal Church of Wayside, Maryland, under the direction of its rector, The Rev. Samuel Clagett. Forty years later this name was to make ecclesiastical history when his son, Thomas John Clagett, became the first bishop of Maryland.

Thomas John Claggett, first Episcopal Bishop of Maryland and the first consecrated in the United States.
Trinity Church, Upper Marlboro, St. Mary's City

According to Richard Feller and Marshall Fishwic, the Right Reverend Thomas J. Claggett, who became Maryland's first bishop in 1792, saw the need for an Episcopal church in Washington. While presiding over his diocesan convention in 1793, Bishop Claggett appointed a committee to study the idea.

Another strong advocate for a cathedral was Joseph Nourse, Washington's First Registrar of the Treasury. Nourse did not want the cathedral in downtown Washington, but on the hill overlooking the city – Mt. Alban.

Thomas John Claggett, the first to use the double "g" in spelling his family's name, was born on 2 August 1743, at White’s Landing near Nottingham in Prince Georges County to Samuel Claggett and Elizabeth Gannt. (The Rev. Claggett is the author's 4th Great Grand Uncle.)

He graduated from Princeton University in 1764 and went to England, where he  proceeded to London, where he was ordained deacon and presbyter in the same year. While in England, he investigated the origins of his family, and upon upon his return to the Colonies from England, added a “g” to his name. 

In 1792, at Trinity Church in New York City, he became the first Episcopal bishop of Maryland and was the first bishop of that faith consecrated in America.

Thomas John Claggett, was rector of St. Paul's Parish, Baden and Aquasco. Bishop Claggett later served as the first rector of Trinity Church, Upper Marlboro.

Bishop Claggett was appointed the third Chaplain of the United States Senate in 1800 and, in 1810, he founded Trinity Episcopal Church in Upper Marlboro. He married his first cousin Mary Gantt.

  1. Thomas John Claggett (1743-1816) m. Mary Gantt
    1. Thomas John (1785-1835) m. Sophia Martin (1793-1862) of Montgomery County
      1. Thomas John (1813-1873) m. Ann Perry Hilleary (1824-1897)
      2. Mary Priscilla (1815-1895)
      3. Laura Eliza (1817-1891)
      4. Elizabeth Ann (1818-1897)
      5. Violetta (1819-1897)
      6. Sarah Martin (1821-1883)
      7. Sophia Genevieve (1836-1902)
      8. Martha Matilda Ann (1828-1905)
      9. Samuel (1831-1900)
    2. Samuel Claggett d. 1802 unm.
    3. Mary m. John Eversfield, no issue
    4. Charles Nicholas, d. 1832 unm.
    5. Elizabeth Laura m. Josiah Young, no issue
    6. Priscilla Elizabeth (1776-1863) m. Colonel John Hamilton Chew of Calvert County, MD. Issue:
      1. Mary (1803-1875)
      2. Samuel (1806-1863)
      3. Priscilla (1809-1881)
      4. Thomas John (1811-1865)
      5. William Paca (1813-1857)
      6. Elizabeth Claggett (1818-1851)
      7. John (1821-1885)

Bishop Claggett died at his home near Croome, Maryland on 2 August 1816. In 1898, Bishop Claggett was re-intered at the National Cathedral. A memorial marker was erected on the grounds of his home church, St. Thomas, Croom, in 1932. A wood carving of the consecration of Bishop Clagett may be seen on the Bishop's Stall in the Washington Cathedral.

His epitaph, in Latin, was penned by his close friend and fellow churchman, Francis Scott Key, the author of the "Star Spangled Banner."

Thomas Joannes Claggett, D. D.
Maryland Episcopus Primus
Natus Sexto Nonis Octobris
Anno Salutis
Thomas John Claggett, D.D.
Episcopal Bishop of Maryland
Born October 16, 1743
Ordinatus Diaconus et Presbyter
Ordained Deacon and Presbyter

in London
Et Episcopus Consecratus
and Consecrated Bishop
Decessit in place Christi
Quarto Nonis Agusti
Departed in the Peace of Christ
August 4, 1816
Fidelitate et Mansuetudine
Ecclesiam Rexit
Uxori, Liberis, Sociisque
memoriam Clarissimam
Et Patraiae et Ecclesiae
nomen Honoratum Dedit
He ruled the church
with firmness and faithfulness 
and adorned in by his character.
He left a beloved memory to his wife,
his children and his friends and honored name to his country and the church

When the Civil War came, Bishop Clagget's grandson, the Reverend John H. Chew, became rector of Saint Alban's. Most of the congregation was made up of uniformed soldiers, and tents surrounded the church, given that many army units would stop there when passing through Washington. In 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln was killed, Saint Alban's, like all other churches in Washington, held a memorial service. 

Bishop Thomas J. Claggett - First of the Episcopal Bishops in Maryland

Biography from the Frederick County, Maryland The Daily News, November 12, 1898

Bishop T. J. Claggett - A long, useful and good life - born in Maryland, he devoted all of his years to the interests of the church in his native state and was highly honored.

Thomas John Claggett, the first Episcopal bishop of Maryland, of whose portrait a reproduction is given below, was born in Prince George's County, Maryland, on October 2, 1743. His father, the Rev. Samuel Claggett, was a man of considerable attainments and most undoubted piety, and was for many years rector of the William and Mary Parish in Charles County.

It is an interesting fact that the first Bishop of Maryland was a descendent of Nicholas Claggett, who, during the reign of George the Second, was Bishop of St. David's and afterwards of Exeter, England.

Samuel Claggett, father of Bishop Claggett, died while the future bishop of Maryland was very young and he then came under the care of his uncle, Mr. Edward Gantt, of Calvert county, and as soon as he was old enough was sent to the Lower Marlborough Academy, where he was thoroughly instructed in the rudiments of the Latin and Greek languages.

Having passed through the course at this academy with great credit to himself, young Claggett was removed to the "College of New Jersey," now the University of Princeton, where he graduated on September 23 [25?], 1764. Before leaving college he had openly expressed his determination to study for the ministry and soon after graduating he began the study of theology under the direction of his uncle, the Rev. Mr. Eversfield, rector of St. Paul's Church, Prince George's County. After three years of close application he went to England to be ordained, and was ordained deacon by Dr. Richard Terrick, Bishop of London, in the chapel of the Episcopal Palace at Fulham, on September 20, 1767, and was advanced to the higher grade of priesthood on October 11, in the same year, when he sailed for home.

The young clergyman felt that his first duty was to his native province and upon his return to this country determined to devote his energies to advance the church in Maryland. He was accordingly appointed by Governor Sharpe to the charge of All Saints' Parish in Calvert County. [It was one of the original parishes of Maryland, included all the land north of Hunting Creek in Calvert County. The present church was started in 1774 by exchange of tobacco under the rectorship of Reverend Thomas John Clagett.] His whole ministry was spent in Maryland.

Soon afterward his settlement in All Saints' Parish he married Miss Mary Gantt, and excellent lady, with whom he lived in the utmost harmony until his death and who survived him several years. He served for some years in All Saints' Parish and afterwards St. Paul's Parish in Prince George's County, Queen Caroline Parish in Anne Arundel county and St. James Parish in the same county, holding the last from 1786 until his election as bishop six years later.

Mr. Claggett took an active part in the efforts to reorganize the church in Maryland at the close of the Revolution and attended the convention of deputies from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina, held in Philadelphia during July and August 1789. He was a deputy from his native State and was made a member of the committee of seven appointed to prepare a body of canons for the governments of the church.

In 1789 the Maryland convention resolved to elect a Bishop at the nest annual meeting of that body and it was no slight evidence of the fitness of Dr. Claggett that at the convention which met in 1792 he was chosen the first Bishop of the diocese by a unanimous vote of both clergy and laity. The church in the United States had at that time but four Bishops and all joined in the consecration of Bishop Claggett.

The episcopate of Bishop Claggett covers a space of twenty four years. During this time, his place of residence was the old family estate at Croom, Prince George's County, where his ancestors had lived and died and in addition to his duties as Bishop he served as rector of St Paul's Parish and was most energetic and successful in advancing the interests of the church in his diocese.

Bishop Claggett was elected chaplain of the Senate of the first Congress to assemble in Washington after the removal of the seat of government from Philadelphia to that city in 1800. He is described as tall and of commanding figure, with long snowy hair and a benignant countenance. His voice was powerful, but [not] harsh and unmanageable.

The end of Bishop Claggett's long and faithful service came when he was on a visit to St. James Parish, Anne Arundel County, when he was seized with a fatal illness. He expired at his home at Croom on August 2 [3?], 1816, in the seventy-third year of his age. The diocese of Maryland, in which he had labored to nearly half a century and whose bishop he had been for twenty four years, greatly lamented his departure. His remains were interred at Croom, in a family burying ground, consecrated by himself. Over his grave was placed a massive marble tombstone, bearing an epitaph in Latin, written by Francis Scott Key. [Shown above.]

His remains, rested in the graveyard at Croom until the first day of the present month, when, in accordance with the resolution of the House of Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church, at their late General Convention. They were removed reentered at the site of the cathedral to be to be built in Washington city. Bishop Claggett's wife was also buried in the family graveyard at Croom and her remains, along with those of her husband, were removed to the cathedral site. Bishop Satterlee proposed to raise a fund of about $5,000 with which to erect a suitable monument.

The three grandchildren now surviving Bishop Claggett are Mrs. John H. Chew, Sr, of Washington, D.C.; Mrs Grafton Duvall Dorsey, living at Oak Park, Illinois; and Mr. Samuel Claggett, who is living a retired life at the old "Oakland Mansion," near Petersville, this county [Frederick County, Maryland].