John Henry Hobart

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John Henry Hobart

John Henry Hobart (1775-1830), American Episcopal bishop, was his denomination's leading statesman during the early decades of the 19th century.

John Henry Hobart was born on Sept. 14, 1775. His father, an enterprising ship captain, died the following year, and the serious, vigorously intelligent boy was raised by his mother, a member of an old Philadelphia family. After attending the Episcopal Academy, Hobart entered the College of Pennsylvania at the age of 13. Announcing his faith publicly 2 years later, he received confirmation. Hobart transferred to Princeton and obtained the highest baccalaureate honors in 1793. Rejecting a mercantile career after a short period in a Philadelphia countinghouse, he pursued ministerial studies while a tutor at Princeton. After further preparation under Bishop William White, he became a deacon in 1798.

Following brief tenures at parishes in New Jersey and on Long Island, Hobart was appointed assistant minister at Trinity Church, New York, in 1800. Even before his ordination to the priesthood in the same year, churchmen selected him for high posts in national and diocesan church councils. In 1811 a special convention elected him coadjutor to the infirm bishop of New York. Upon the bishop's death in 1816, Hobart assumed the chief office as well as rectorship of the wealthy and influential Trinity parish.

Hobart energetically and efficiently attacked the problems of identity facing a denomination associated in the public mind with aristocratic, Anglophile sentiments. On behalf of his extensive diocese, in 1826 alone, he traveled more than 3, 000 miles. Pastoral work at Trinity and visitations to New Jersey and Connecticut during episcopal vacancies increased his burden. In addition, he labored for mission, Bible, and Sunday school causes and other benevolent ventures, and he took special interest in the Christianizing of the Oneida Indians. A founder of the General Theological Seminary (1819), he occupied the chair of pastoral theology and pulpit eloquence from 1822 to 1830.

Physically exhausted, Hobart toured Europe from 1823 to 1825. Upon returning home, he professed loyalty to his country in terms that excited British disapproval and American pleasure. Nevertheless, Hobart staunchly, often tactlessly, acclaimed the English heritage and American canonical distinctiveness of the Church. This sectarian approach distressed ecumenically minded Broad Churchmen, who hotly engaged him in pamphlet warfare.

Hobart was a prolific writer and an eloquent, impassioned preacher. Among his many works were Feasts and Festivals (1804), Apology for Apostolic Order (1807), and an edition of a popular family Bible (1818-1820). He died on Sept. 12, 1830.

Further Reading

A primary source is The Correspondence of John Henry Hobart (6 vols., 1911-1912). The only biographies of Hobart are John Frederick Schroeder, Memorial of Bishop Hobart (1831), and John McVickar, Early Life and Professional Years of Bp. Hobart (1838). More accessible and useful to the modern reader are such histories of religion in America as Clifton E. Olmstead, History of Religion in the United States (1960); H. Shelton Smith and others, American Christianity (2 vols., 1963); and Edwin S. Gaustad, A Religious History of America (1966). □