Bishop Alexander Viets Griswold

Inducted: 2001
Born: 1766
Died: 1843

Griswold, Alexander V. (Alexander Viets), 1766-1843

Bishop Alexander Viets Griswold (1766-1843) was one of the most prominent American churchmen of the early nineteenth century. He was born in Simsbury, Connecticut, the son of Elisha Griswold and Eunice Viets who were farmers. As a young boy he came under the influence of his uncle Roger Viets, a former Presbyterian who had become an Episcopal priest. In 1785 Griswold married Elizabeth Mitchelson, a union that produced fourteen children, only one of whom survived their father.

For about ten years after his marriage, Griswold farmed, studied law, and prepared for the ministry. On October 1, 1795 he was ordained by the famous Bishop Samuel Seabury. After nearly a decade of missionary work, he was appointed rector of St. Michael’s Church, Bristol in 1804 and soon became both a religious and civic leader in his parish town. During his twenty-six year tenure, Griswold also assumed a leading regional role in the American Episcopal Church. Under his leadership, a united convention met in May 1810 consisting of delegates from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, met in Boston to form the Eastern Diocese, the first Episcopal diocese not to be coterminous with one state’s boundaries. Father Griswold was elected its bishop, and he was consecrated on May 29, 1811. In addition to his chores in Bristol, he also performed missionary work throughout his new diocese. The Eastern Diocese endured until the death of Griswold in 1843. By that date his diocese had grown from sixteen churches to one hundred.

In 1830 Griswold resigned his rectorship at St. Michael’s to take the same post at St. Peter’s Church in Salem. After a five-year tenure there, he left to devote his remaining years full-time to his episcopacy, having become, in 1836, the fourth presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church.

As a religious leader Griswold exerted a significant influence on his church, both locally and nationally. As a pamphlet writer and a dynamic missionary preacher, he became a leader of the Evangelical wing of the Episcopal Church, a party that opposed the “High Churchmen” within that sect whose rituals and doctrines resembled Roman Catholicism. According to one of his biographers, “Griswold molded an Evangelical party that influenced the Episcopal church throughout most of the nineteenth century.”

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