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.
The first congregation held services in the Lutheran church of New Netherland located on the west side of South Pearl street at the corner of Howard street, which at one time was called Lutheran street. This congregation first petitioned the Governor to build their own church in 1712. 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 poor person."
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.
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.