Philander Chase

The American clergyman Philander Chase (1775-1852) was a pioneer Episcopal missionary in the early years of westward expansion and the first Episcopal bishop in both Ohio and Illinois.

Philander Chase was born on Dec. 14, 1775, at Cornish, N.H., the last of 15 children. He grew up in the Congregationalist faith of his parents, but while a student at Dartmouth College he converted to the Episcopal Church. Following graduation in 1795 he married and soon after began his theological studies under a rector at Albany, N.Y. He was ordained deacon in 1798 and priest a year later.

Chase's career began as a missionary in central New York (1799-1805) and continued when he was appointed a rector in New Orleans (1805-1811), and later in Hartford, Conn. (1811-1817). Enthusiasm for westward migration encouraged him to set out on his own in 1817 for Ohio, still largely unsettled. Preaching and organizing parishes as he traveled, Chase soon became conspicuous among the few Episcopalians in the region, and in 1818 when Ohio was organized as a diocese, he was elected its first bishop.

Since Chase's episcopal duties received no compensation, he settled at Worthington, where he served St. John's Parish, was principal of a local academy, ran a farm, and still managed to travel throughout the state. During 1821-1822 he was president of Cincinnati College, but this limited his episcopal functions. To build up the diocese required more clergy, and there was little missionary help from the East. Consequently, he determined to educate his own clergy by creating a seminary in Ohio. Untiringly he solicited funds for this purpose, first in the East without success and then in England, where he received enough support to start the venture. His dream was realized in 1828, when Kenyon College opened at Gambier.

Chase attempted to function as college president as well as bishop, but his autocratic nature aroused antagonism. Alienated faculty, students, and clergy worked to limit his dual authority, and in 1831 he resigned both positions, retiring to a farm in Michigan.

In 1835 the Church's problem of what to do with a bishop without a see was resolved when Chase accepted election as first bishop of the new diocese of Illinois. With characteristic determination he relieved his earlier experiences: traveling, preaching, organizing, raising money, and starting another school (Jubilee College near Peoria, now closed). By seniority he became presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1843, lending his support to "Low Church" interests. Though he was authoritarian and contentious, his zeal and diligence were respected. He died on Sept. 20, 1852, at Jubilee College after being thrown from his carriage.


Further Reading on Philander Chase

Chase's ponderous autobiography, Reminiscences of Bishop Chase (2 vols., 1848), is less appealing than the affectionate biography written by his granddaughter, Laura Chase Smith, The Life of Philander Chase (1903). Brief biographical summaries are in Raymond W. Albright, A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church (1964), and James Thayer Addison, The Episcopal Church in the United States, 1789-1931 (1951).