About James MacSparran, M.D.
Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM
McSPARRAN, James, clergyman, born in Ireland about 1680; died in South Kingston, Rhode Island, 1 December, 1757. He was educated at the University of Glasgow, and received the degree of M. A. in 1709. He was made deacon, 21 August, 1720, by the bishop of London, and priest, 25 September, 1720, by the archbishop of Canterbury. The next year he was sent by the Society for propagating the gospel as a missionary to Bristol, Rhode Island, and neighboring towns. He received the degree of D. D. from Oxford in 1731. He visited England twice in 1736 and 1754, and was for thirty-seven years minister of St Paul's church, Narragansett, which is shown in the illustration. Dr. McSparran was an energetic defender of his church. He published numerous sermons, of which that oil "The Sacred Dignity of the Christian Priesthood Vindicated" is noteworthy, and excited much opposition. His chief work is entitled "America Dissected, being a Full and True Account of the American Colonies" (Dublin, 1752). His aim was to warn poor people against emigrating to America, on account of bad climate, bad money, danger from enemies, pestilent heresies prevailing, and the like. This curious work was reprinted in an appendix to Wilkins Updike's "History of the Episcopal Church in Narragansett " (New York, 1847).
Upon his return to Ireland he changed his church affiliation owing to the clash with Cotton Mather, and when he again set foot in Rhode Island in December 1721, it was as a presbyter of the Church of England assigned as a missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Foreign Parts to the Narragansett County of Southern Rhode Island and other outposts. MacSparran’s parish church was Old St. Paul’s, founded in 1707, about five miles south of Smith’s Castle at Cocumscussoc and moved to its present site in Wickford in 1800.
For the next thirty-six-and-a-half years, the learned Anglican clergyman was a dominant religious and intellectual influence in South County. In addition to his pastoral work, MacSparran became a gentlemen farmer, a tutor whose students included Thomas Clap, later president of Yale, and a practicing physician. On his visit to England in 1736, his achievements prompted Oxford University to confer upon him an honorary Doctorate of Sacred Theology.
MacSparran was the author of a series of analytical letters to friends in Ireland graphically depicting the American colonies in their various aspects--environmental, political, economic and religious--that were published in 1753 under the title America Dissected. MacSparran kept a diary--a document rich in human interest, some of which (the entries for 1743-45 and 1751) has survived. This narrative is one of the few extant, day-to-day records of farming in colonial New England, and it is regarded as the best written record of slave labor on the plantations of southern Rhode Island.
A major blemish on MacSparran’s record is that he held slaves, like the other major South County landholders. In mitigation of this fact is the observation of historian Carl R. Woodward that “a perusal of his diary leaves one with the impression that in some respects Dr. MacSparran’s slaves commanded nearly as much of his interest and concern as did his parishioners. Actually he counted not only his slaves but those belonging to other parish families as members of his flock, deserving of his ministrations, both medical and spiritual.”
MacSparran was an imposing speaker and had a commanding presence. Tall and portly (his weight reputedly near 300 pounds), sometimes dominating in manner and given to certain foibles, he has been described by Professor Woodward as “the most able divine sent to this country by the Society [for the Propagation of the Gospel].”
"A huge land grant, from Kingston to the shores of Narrow River was an infanite (sic) & everlasting advantage to his Self and, no doubt, an incentive to propagate the Bible in these Foreign Parts."
7 June 2013 "It was at least 300 acres, wasn’t it? The Reverend’s holdings of land and slaves will the topic of future posting; he is an interesting character."