The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

John Williams

Fourth Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut: Coadjutor, 1851-1865; Diocesan 1865-1899

Biographical/Historical Note:

The Rt. Rev. John Williams (1817-1899) was the fourth Diocesan Bishop of Connecticut and the eleventh Presiding Bishop for the Episcopal Church in America. The only child of Ephraim and Emily (Trowbridge) Williams, he was raised and educated as a Unitarian, attending academy in Deerfield and Northfield before entering Harvard College at the age of fourteen, where he changed his religious affiliation from Unitarian to Episcopalian. Williams left Harvard after his sophomore year to attend Washington (Trinity) College where he completed his undergraduate studies in 1835. During his time at Washington College, Bishop Williams met and developed life long friendships with the Rt. Rev. Thomas Church Brownell (1779-1865), Washington College President and Dr. Samuel Farmar Jarvis (1786-1853), college professor, scholar, and future Historiographer for the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. Bishop Brownell ordained John Williams a Deacon in the Episcopal Church on September 2, 1838; and following the completion of his theological studies with Dr. Jarvis and the General Theological Seminary, Bishop Brownell ordained John Williams to the Priesthood on September 26, 1841 in Christ Church, Middletown.

Well known for his “…earnest pastoral care and winning personality…” Rev. John Williams served as assistant minister to Dr. Samuel F. Jarvis, Rector of the Holy Trinity Parish in Middletown, and as Rector of St. George’s Church, Schenectady, New York. He became president of Trinity College in 1848, received an honorary doctorate of Divinity from Union College in 1849, and was overwhelmingly elected and consecrated Bishop Coadjutor of Connecticut on October 21, 1851.

Following the death of his mentor and long time friend Bishop Thomas C. Brownell, Williams, became Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in 1865. An avid lecturer, scholar, theologian, and influential leader of the Episcopal Church in America, the Rt. Rev. John Williams succeeded Presiding Bishop Lee of Delaware to head the Episcopal Church in the United States in 1887. Bishop John Williams served as Diocesan for 49 years. Upon his death, many Episcopalians had known no other bishop.

Bishop Williams’ ecclesiastical responsibilities eventually made it difficult for him to continue as president of Trinity College, although his commitment to education and the episcopacy inspired him to organize and establish Berkeley Divinity School, in 1854. Bishop Williams lived, lectured and wrote on the Middletown grounds of Berkeley Divinity School from 1854 until his death in 1899.

Bishop John Williams notes among his ancestors The Rev. John Cotton, first Puritan minister of Boston, the Rev. Solomon Stoddard of Northampton, MA, Jonathan Edwards, theologian, Colonial army officers Thomas Williams and Ephraim Williams, founder of Williams College in Massachusetts. With such notable descendents, it is no wonder the author of such favorites as Ancient Hymns of the Holy Church [1844], and Thoughts on the Gospel Miracles [1848], was revered for his scholarly principles, which he shared with clergy and laymen alike through formal and informal lectures, essays, sermons, and editorials, among other literary formats.

  • Burr, Nelson Rollin, PhD. The Story of the Diocese of Connecticut: A New Branch of the Vine. Hartford, CT; Church Missions Publishing Company, 1962.
  • Rev. Frederic Gardiner, D.D.Rt. Rev. John Williams, D.D., LL.D. History of Middlesex County, Connecticut, with Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men. New York; J.B. Beers & Co., 1884.
  • Bishop John Williams of Connecticut. The Young Christian Soldier, Connecticut, Church Missions Publishing Company, Vol. XLVI, No. 17, March 19, 1899.

Collection Summary:

Creator:  Williams, John, 1817-1899
Title and Citation: Williams, John, D.D., LL.D, Rt. Rev., 1817-1899,  Fourth Bishop of Connecticut, Courtesy of the Archives of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. This series is part of Record Group 1: Diocesan Bishops (RG 1-A4)                                                                    
Dates:    1704-1957, 1977; Episcopate 1865-1899
Extent:   6 cubic feet plus artifacts
Language:  English
Formats:  Episcopal acts; manuscripts, documents, publications, photographs, scrapbooks, artifacts
Citation:  Courtesy of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut Archives, Rt. Rev. John Williams (RG 1-A4)
Processed:  Evelyn Green
Scope and Content Note:  This record group details the personal and professional life of the Rt. Rev. John William’s, including his consecration and tenure as the Fourth Bishop of Connecticut, President of Washington (Trinity) College, and founder of Berkeley Divinity School. It provides primary source evidence of Bishop William’s personal and diocesan correspondence, travel itineraries, personal, institutional and religious affiliations, reminiscences by colleagues and friends, photographs, educational and professional achievements, biographies, and literary publications, among other historical and cultural documents.

The record group is made up of ten series. The first eight manuscript series are arranged by the following headings Bio-Bibliography, Education, Ordination and Profession, Correspondence and Reminiscences, Elections and Consecrations, Official and Ecclesiastical Acts, Sermons, Travels, and Notebooks. Documents within series one thru eight are arranged chronologically and housed in acid free archival folders. Each folder is then arranged chronologically.

Series nine and ten contain photographs and ephemeral items, respectively. In the photograph series each photograph or portrait is housed in a photo sleeve for storage in oversized boxes. Oversized photographs are arranged chronologically when possible, housed in appropriate sized acid free photograph sleeves or other appropriate coverings.

Artifacts are subdivided by format and arranged chronologically when possible. Items are then housed in appropriate sized acid free archival boxes. Oversized items are arranged chronologically when possible, housed in appropriate sized acid free boxes.

All series contain both original and photographic reproductions of manuscripts or photographs. Contributors to the collection include, the Connecticut Historical Society, the Maryland Diocesan Archives, and the Diocese of Pennsylvania. See Record Group Finding Aid for series/subseries location information.
Special Note: For full texts of Bishop Williams’ sermons and addresses go to Project Canterbury, originated and maintained by Anglican Scholar Richard Mammana,


Collection Inventory:

  • Box 1: Personal, Education, & Episcopate Records
  • Box 2: Correspondence & Artifacts
  • Box 3: Photographs, Documents & Books Oversize
  • Collection Summary (.pdf)