Bishop Stone House, Salisbury, MD

This is part two of a two-part story. Read Bishop Stone Part I.

By Mary Klein, Diocesan Archivist

William Murray Stone was born on June I, 1779, about four miles north of Salisbury, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore, to a respected family of farmers and merchants. As a boy, he attended the principal school in the county, Washington Academy in Princess Anne, about nineteen miles south of Salisbury, which offered lodging. Washington Academy instructed the boys in Christian conduct, as well as scholastic subjects, and a 1784 advertisement for the school stressed that “Very particular care is taken in forming the boys to pronounce the English tongue, a matter of great importance in the pulpit and at the bar.”

After graduating from Washington Academy, Stone matriculated at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, and continued the classical studies in which he had been trained, including algebra, navigation, ethics, grammar and oratory, fine arts and classical readings. It seems his preparation at Washington Academy enabled him to finish his college courses in only one academic year, and he graduated from Washington College with a B.A. in 1799. Stone then began studying for the priesthood under the Rev. George Dashiel, who lived near Chestertown and was rector of South Sassafras Parish. The future bishop finished his course work in 1802, at which time Washington College conferred the M.A. degree upon him.

Having been ordained a deacon by Bishop Claggett on May 17, 1802, Stone became rector of his home parish, Stepney, near Salisbury, and was ordained to the priesthood on December 27, 1803. He set about building up the parish, and the 1807 Convention Journal lists four places of worship in the parish and 500 communicants. On March 23, 1809, Stone married Anne Savage of Northampton County, Virginia, and their first daughter was born in 1810, sadly dying in infancy. Three sons were born between 1811 and 1815, daughter Anne in 1817, daughter Jane in 1819 (she only lived six years), and in 1821 the mother of the children died giving birth to a fourth son, leaving Stone to care for six young children. Daughter Anne lived a long life, and all four of the Stone sons became physicians.

Cover of the Easton Gazette, July 7, 1838

William Stone was elected to the Standing Committee of the diocese in 1813, and as a deputy to General Convention. He was the preacher of the opening sermon at the 1815 Diocesan Convention and was again elected to the Standing Committee in 1816. Clearly, his fellow clergy held him in respect, but with the death of his wife, he pulled away from diocesan affairs to focus his energy on the daunting task of caring for six children aged 10 and under. He stayed away from larger duties for several years, but in 1828, with his eldest son turning 17, Stone again accepted election to the Standing Committee. In 1829, Stone became a deputy to General Convention once more, and the same year he was elected rector of Chester Parish in Kent County.

Maryland’s second bishop William Kemp had died in 1827, and the Diocese was unable to elect a bishop in 1828 or 1829, due to extreme party strife in the church. Loosely referred to as High Church and Low Church, these parties fought vociferously throughout the 19th century, and in to the twentieth. These disputes had less to do with ceremony or liturgy, than with the way people saw the church. High Churchmen tended to emphasize the authority of the church and insisted on strict adherence to the Prayer Book. They viewed the Episcopal Church as the guardian of a pure and Apostolic form of the sacraments. Low Churchmen stressed the authority of the individual conscience as informed by the Scripture, reliance on Biblical doctrine, and personal conversion. Extemporaneous prayer was anathema to High Churchmen, and Evangelical churchmen were in trouble even from Bishop Claggett for “undisciplined excesses” of such practices. (He never authorized any clergyman to pray any prayer publicly that wasn’t in the Book of Common Prayer.)

When William Murray Stone came to Convention in Baltimore in 1830, he was as shocked as anyone to find himself nominated as bishop. Since the wrangling of the past three years had pitted one Baltimore clergyman against another, Stone was nominated as a “foreigner” from the Eastern Shore. The Rev. John Johns, the Evangelical candidate was rector of Christ Church, Baltimore, and the Rev. William Wyatt, representing the High Church faction, was rector of St. Paul’s in Baltimore, and by the second day of Convention, it was clear there was another stalemate. Both clergymen consequently withdraw their names from nomination. Francis Scott Key, a respected layman, proposed that a committee of four clergy and four lay delegates meet to choose “a proper person to discharge the duties of the sacred office, and preserve the harmony to the Church.” The committee chose William Murray Stone, and the convention elected him.

The consecration took place at St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore, on October 21, 1830, and the new bishop was described this way, “Bishop Stone was tall and remarkably slender in his person. His features were small, his hair thin and light, his forehead projecting and his eyebrows uncommonly large and heavy, and the expression of the countenance altogether agreeable.”

Sermons preached in St. Paul’s on the Consecration of Bishop Stone

Poem about Bishop Stone in the Easton Gazette, July 7, 1838

Delmarva Living Sunday Times, 1970

Bishop Stone preferred to travel on horseback throughout his large diocese, visiting each parish every two years. In 1834, the first Episcopal school for girls in the United States was founded, Hannah More Academy in Reisterstown. Also significant in 1834 was Bishop Stone’s ordination of William Douglas, the first African-American priest to be ordained south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and only the fifth ordained anywhere in the U.S.

Bishop Stone was interested in founding Episcopal schools and colleges and had plans to build two co-educational colleges on the Eastern Shore and three on the Western Shore, each charging $50 annual tuition. Financial hard times thwarted most of these plans, and the only school to come to fruition was the College of St. James in Washington County. Although it was not opened until 1842 under the leadership of Bishop Stone’s successor, William Whittingham, the groundwork had been laid by Stone.

Diocesan missionary work also occupied Bishop Stone’s time and resources. He encouraged building new places of worship and filling them with clergy who were adequately supported. In his brief (just over 7 years) episcopate, he ordained 23 clergymen and opened eleven new places of worship. Rejoicing in the prosperity of the Diocese, Bishop Stone anticipated further successes, however in January of 1838 he became gravely ill at his home near Salisbury. He died at his home February 26, 1838, of what was described as “gastrick fever”.

Always organized, Bishop Stone had written a draft of his annual address to the Convention before his death, and, as the diocese met at Convention three months after his death, at St. Paul’s Church in Centreville, the address was read to the assembly. The final words were, “I commend you to God and the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified.”

A final episode to Bishop Stone’s story took place in 1876-1877, when the Right Rev. Henry C. Lay, the Bishop of the Diocese of Easton, spoke to his Convention about the condition of Bishop Stone’s final resting place. The bishop and his wife had been buried at the family farm near Salisbury, which was no longer owned by the family, and the graveyard was “exposed, with out any fence, in a cultivated field.” The rector of Spring Hill Parish suggested that the remains be moved to Parson’s Cemetery in Salisbury, and in 1877, “in the company of Dr. Thomas Stone, son of the bishop” the graves were opened, and the remains removed “with utmost care”. The old tombstones were also removed and re-erected in the Parson’s Cemetery on Division Street in Salisbury.

Bishop Stone’s tenure as Diocesan bishop may have been relatively brief, but he tried to navigate the divisions in the diocese and helped to transition the church into an era of growth, focusing on education, missionary work and clergy compensation. He was remembered as having lived “a life consecrated to Christ and His Church”.

Memorial Marker of Bishop Stone