Jonathan Boucher

English minister (1738–1804)

Jonathan Boucher (12 May 173827 April 1804) was an English schoolmaster, priest, clergyman and philologist, who spent some years in America, leaving in 1775 because, despite being a close friend of George Washington, he consistently campaigned against the Revolution.



"A View of the Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution" (London, Robinson, 1797)


The book contains annotated versions of thirteen sermons preached by Boucher between 1763 and 1775, published in the aftermath of the French Revolution, with a dedication to George Washington, whose statesmanship Boucher considered a key factor in America's relatively smooth- and to him pleasantly surprising- transition from imperial possession to republic. These quotations are all taken from the first sermon in the book, preached at Hanover, Virginia, in 1763, following the declaration of peace at the end of the Seven Years' War.

  • "Our rulers (both here and in Great Britain) will now have leisure to attend to every part of our American polity; and, among other things, to the state of Indians: … they have been looked upon as untamed and untameable monsters; whom, like the devoted nations around Judea, it was a kind of religion with white men to exterminate. We have treated them with a rigour and severity equally unsuitable to the genius of our government, and the mild spirit of our religion."
    • [In later footnotes, Boucher notes that by "white men" the native Americans mean the English; they call the French and Spanish by their proper names. He also gives examples of atrocities committed by colonists against native Americans, and expresses sarcastic surprise that "all such circumstances have failed to attract the attention of the writers of American history"].
  • "Territory we do not want; having, it is probable, already more than we well know how to manage. Instead therefore of countenancing that vagrant and unsettled way of life which has become habitual to so many of our people; and that very general passion they have to be for ever running back in quest of fresh lands; a practice not more unpropitious to all agricultural improvements, than likely to keep us involved in Indian wars; let us enlarge our empire by the civilization of the Indians; who already have a better title to any of our un-located lands, than we can possibly give any new comers"
    • [He goes on to cite the example of Sir William Johnson's work with the Mohawks as Indian Superintendent, and to explain further what he means by "civilization"- in particular, encouraging the use of agriculture instead of hunting].

  • "Were an impartial and competent observer of the state of society in these middle colonies asked, whence it happens that Virginia and Maryland (which were the first planted, and which are superior to many colonies and inferior to none, in point of natural advantage) are still so exceedingly behind most of the other British trans-Atlantic possessions in all those improvements which bring credit and consequence to a country? - he would answer - They are so, because they are cultivated by slaves. … Some loss and inconvenience would, no doubt, arise from the general abolition of slavery in these colonies: but were it done gradually, with judgement, and with good temper, I have never yet seen it satisfactorily proved that such inconvenience would either be great or lasting. … If ever these colonies, now filled with slaves, be improved to their utmost capacity, an essential part of the improvement must be the abolition of slavery. Such a change would hardly be more to the advantage of the slaves, than it would be to their owners."
  • [Boucher admits that the use of slavery in the British colonies is better regulated than in other countries, but notes that:] "it is surely worse in this, that here, in one sense, it never can end. An African slave, even when made free, supposing him to be possessed even of talents and of virtue, can never, in these colonies, be quite on terms of equality with a free white man."
  • [In a later footnote, he explains further:] "children can never be upbraided with their having had a felon for a father: whereas the descendants of a white person, married to a black one, would, for many generations, by their complexion, proclaim their origin. Accordingly, though many mulattoes and people of colour have obtained wealth, I remember no instance, in any European colony, of their having obtained rank."
  • "In one essential point, I fear, we are all deficient: they are nowhere sufficiently instructed. I am far from recommending it to you, at once to set them all free; because to do so would be an heavy loss to you, and probably no gain to them: but I do entreat you to make them some amends for the drudgery of their bodies by cultivating their minds. … though they still continue to be your slaves, they shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
    • [Boucher organised education for his own slaves, and baptised many others into the Anglican faith, on one occasion over 300 in a single day]

"Reminiscences of an American Loyalist" (first published serially in "Notes and Queries", 1874-)

    • [In Virginia, the Anglican clergy were selected by the parishioners:]
  • "It is surprising what improper and indecent contentions these popular elections occasioned. I have oftener than once known half-a-dozen candidates all trying for a vacant parish, and preaching alternately, to give their electors an opportunity of determining what they liked best. Voice and action, as is remarked in a very humorous pamphlet respecting London lectureships, almost constantly carried it. … Preachers and ministers so elected, continuing still in some degree dependent on the people, continued also chiefly to cultivate those arts by which their favour had first been gained. Their sermons were light, flippant, and ordinary; but their manner of preaching was pleasing and popular."
  • "As for lawyers, they seemed to grow up spontaneously; many of the first name and note in that profession were men without any education, and totally illiterate. Such a state of society was peculiar, and could not but have peculiar effects; for no other body of men, nor all the other bodies of men put together, had half so much influence as the lawyers...."

  • "That the people of America should be severed from Great Britain, even your fellow Congressionalists from the North would not be hardy enough yet to avow; but that this will certainly follow from the measures you have been induced by them to adopt, is obvious to every man who is permitted yet to think for himself. … see ye not that after some few years of civil broils all the fair settlements in the middle and southern colonies will be seized on by our more enterprising and restless fellow-colonists of the North? At first and for a while perhaps they may be contented to be the Dutch of America, i.e. to be our carriers and fishmongers, for which no doubt, as their sensible historian [Edmund Burke] has observed, they seem to be destined by their situation, soil, and climate: but had so sagacious an observer foreseen that a time might come when all North America should be independent, he would, it is probable, have added to his other remark, that those his Northern brethren would then become also the Goths and Vandals of America."
    • [from a letter to the deputies in Congress representing the Southern Provinces, 1774 or 1775, appended to "Reminiscences"]

Farewell Sermon at St Barnabas in 1775


Delivered to an angry crowd of 200 Patriots, and exited at gunpoint: Sprague, William Buell (1859). Annals of the American Pulpit; or Commemorative Notices of Distinguished American Clergymen of Various Denominations From the Early Settlement of the Country to the Close of the Year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty Five, Volume V.. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers. pp. pages 211-212. 

"Sincerely do I wish it were not now necessary to crave your indulgence a few minutes longer, - it shall be but a few, -to speak of myself. If I am to credit some surmises which have been kindly whispered in my ear, (and I am proud thus publicly to acknowledge that it is to a man whose political tenets are the opposite of mine that I owe the information communicated, no doubt from motives of good will and humanity,) unless I will forbear to pray for the King, you are to hear me pray no longer. No intimation could possibly have been less welcome to me. Distressing, however, as the dilemma confessedly is, it is not one that either requires or will admit of a moment's hesitation. Entertaining all due respect for my ordination vows I am firm in my resolution, whilst I pray at all, to conform to the unmutilated Liturgy of my Church; and referencing the injunctions of an Apostle, I will continue to pray for the King; and all who are in authority under him; and I will do so not a stupid, know what. I’m gonna be a patriot. continue to lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty." Inclination as well as duty confirms me in this purpose. As long as I live, therefore- yes whilst I have my being, will I, with Zadok the Priest, with Nathan the Prophet, proclaim God save the King"

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