First St. Peter's Edifice
In 1609, Henry Hudson sailed the "Half Moon" up the river which today
bears his name, and a few years later the Dutch established Fort Orange
at the site of present-day Albany. In 1664, the Dutch colony of the New
Netherlands came under British control and became New York. Although
British tolerance brought an end to the predominant influence of the
Dutch Reformed Church in Albany, it was not until the turn of the
eighteenth century that the Anglican presence in New York expanded.
This was primarily the result of increased British migration and the
creation in 1701 of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (S.
P. G.), an arm of the Church of England whose primary function was to
spread Anglicanism in the colonies. It was an S. P. G. missionary, The
Rev. Thomas Barclay, who established Albany's first Anglican parish in
1708 and eight years later oversaw the opening of its first Anglican
church, Saint Peter's.
So the history of Saint Peter's begins with the arrival of
The Rev. Thomas Barclay, whose task was to aid in establishing friendly
relations with the powerful and warlike Iroquois — the dreaded
Confederacy of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Tuscarora and
Seneca nations — and to bring sobriety and restraint to the 200
men and officers garrisoned in the British fort at Albany.
In 1714 the governor acceded to Mr. Barclay's request and
granted his license for the collection of money to build a church. The
response was gratifying. Governor Hunter himself gave all the stone and
lime required, in addition to money. The townspeople of Albany gave 200
pounds. Every single soldier in the Fort responded, as did "every
inhabitant in the poor village of Schenectady . . . excepting only one
The Governor of the Province also assisted in the selection
of a site for the building. In October 1714 the petition for a plot of
ground in the center of Yonkers (now State) Street, at the foot of the
eminence on which Fort Frederick reposed, was granted and a patent
ordered to be issued. The little church under the shadow of the fort
was the first house of worship of the Anglican Communion north of New
York and west of the Hudson River.
Second St. Peter's Edifice
In 1768 King George III granted a charter of incorporation
to the parish. The formal charter was signed in April of 1769.
Following the American Revolution, the parish was reorganized in 1787
and in 1789 by special act of the state legislature. The original
charter and grants of Saint Peter's were confirmed, and its legal title
changed to that which is has since borne: "The Rector and Inhabitants
of the City of Albany in Communion with the Protestant Episcopal Church
in the State of New York."
The site of the present edifice was deeded to the parish in
1790 by the City of Albany in exchange for the site on which the first
church stood in the middle of State Street. In 1802, the last year of
the rectorship of The Rev. Thomas Ellison, the second edifice, designed
by Philip Hooker, was built. It, in turn, was demolished in 1859 during
the rectorship of The Rev. Thomas Clapp Pitkin.
The foundation stone for the present structure designed by
Richard Upjohn was laid on St. Peter’s Day, the 29th of June
1859. A classic example of Gothic architecture, it is listed in the
National Registry of Historic Landmarks. Inside the sanctuary, historic
flags of the original colonies, plus others of relevance to our history
are hung above the tall columns on either side of the center aisle. The
stained glass windows on all four sides of the church are from the
finest American and English studios from the late nineteenth century.
The mosaic tile floor throughout the church is a fitting early
twentieth century addition to this truly historic building.
For more information on St. Peter's Church, visit the State Street Stories website sponsored by
the University at Albany's University Art Museum.
Note: This brief history was borrowed extensively from
"Historic Albany: Its Churches and Synagogues," edited by Anne Roberts
and Marcia Cockrell. We are especially indebted to articles by Charles
P. Richardson and Warren E. Roberts.