The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

Thomas Church Brownell

Third Diocesan Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, 1819-1865

Photo Credit: Thomas Church Brownell, Public Domain. Cedar Hill Cemetery Association

Biographical/Historical Note:

Thomas Church Brownell was born in Westport, Massachusetts.  Brownell attended Brown but transferred to Union College in Schenectady, New York after his sophomore year and graduated in 1804.  In 1805, he was appointed as tutor of Greek and Latin at Union College and in 1806 accepted a potion as professor of logic and belles-lettres.  

After spending a year in England and Ireland studying chemistry and kindred sciences, Brownell began teaching chemistry at Union College in 1809.  In 1813, he was baptized and confirmed as an Episcopalian minister and in 1816 was ordained deacon by Bishop Hobart in New York. In 1819, Brownell was chosen by the diocese of Connecticut to serve as the state’s 3rd Presiding Bishop – a position that had been vacant for six years.

As Bishop, Brownell reignited efforts to establish a faith-based college in Connecticut and in 1823, Washington College (now Trinity College) was chartered by the legislature in Hartford, and Bishop Brownell was elected its first president. Serving as president for nearly a decade, Brownell resigned as president in 1831 at the request of the convention of the diocese.  Although he was named in the honorary office of chancellor, Brownell focused his time on serving as Connecticut’s Bishop. Brownell was also instrumental in founding “The African Mission School” for young men in Hartford, CT. Here too, men prepared for the priesthood. Bishop Brownell was the first to ordain two African American candidates for Holy Orders, with the proviso that after their ordination, they would travel to Liberia as missionaries.

In 1852, Brownell was appointed as the 7th Presiding Bishop of the United States Episcopal Church – a position he held until his death in 1865. During the roll call at the House of Bishops, Bishop Brownell included the names of bishops from states that had seceded from the Union and as a result, the Episcopal Church remained united. This was during a time when a number of Protestant denominations formed separate churches in the Southern states. Prior to his death, Brownell had witnessed the number of the Episcopalian clergy increase fivefold and the number of Episcopal churches increased 18-fold. 

Because of Thomas Church Brownell’s commitment to the Episcopal faith, his contributions to education, and being recognized as the founder of Trinity College, a large statue of Brownell stands on the College campus.  Also of note, Bishop Brownell presided over the marriage of gun manufacturer Samuel Colt and Elizabeth Hart Jarvis in 1856.  Thirty-one years earlier, Bishop Brownell presided over the marriage of Elizabeth’s parents, Reverend William Jarvis and Elizabeth Miller Hart.  Brownell’s final resting place at Cedar Hill Cemetery is adjacent to the final resting place of Samuel and Elizabeth Colt.

To read the full text of his sermons, go to
Photo Credit: Thomas Church Brownell, Public Domain

Cedar Hill Cemetery Association

Collection Summary:

Creator:  Brownell, Thomas Church, 1779-1865

Title and Citation:

Brownell, Thomas Church, Rt. Rev., 1779-1865, Third Bishop of Connecticut. Courtesy of the Archives of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. This series is part of Record Group 1:  Diocesan Bishops (RG1-A3)
Dates:    1810-1864
Extent:   2.5 Cubic feet
Language:  English
Formats:  Manuscripts, documents, publications, pictures, biography.
Scope and Content Note: This record group details the personal and professional life of Thomas Church Brownell, the third Diocesan Bishop of Connecticut, election and consecration, his Episcopal Acts, correspondence, and his relationships with clergy and family.

Collection Inventory:

  • Box 1: Bishop Thomas Church Brownell Correspondence Files, 1810-1850
  • Box 2: Bishop Thomas Church Brownell Correspondence Files, 1851-1864
  • Collection Inventory (.pdf)