March 14/27 this year will mark the 266th anniversary of the falling asleep in the Lord of Colonel Philip Ludwell III of Williamsburg, Virginia. As many readers of this web site will know he is the first documented convert to Orthodoxy in the Americas, following his reception into the Church in London in December 1738. Last year, Metropolitan Hilarion, the First Hierarch of ROCOR and Ruling Bishop of its Eastern American Diocese blessed for panikhidas to be held in his memory on the anniversary of repose. Since this blessing was given more information has come to light that further enhances our picture of Colonel Ludwell and the relevance of his life to Orthodoxy in America today.
Philip Ludwell III was born in Virginia in 1716, some sixty years before the revolution that would give birth to the United States of America and the modern concept of the “nation state” founded on ideological ties rather than those of family, kinship and language. He travelled to London, England in 1738 and was received into Orthodoxy at one of the first parishes of the Russian Church established outside the boundaries of the Empire: But it should be clear that this was not a Russian church in any modern narrowly defined nationalistic setting. The priest of the parish who received him was Fr Bartholomew Cassanno, a half French, and half Alexandrian Greek who spent most of his adult life in England and had married an English women converted to Orthodoxy in the 1720’s. Following her repose he would become a hieromonk. Like the priest and his matushka most of the parish were either from the Greek speaking lands of the eastern Mediterranean or English converts to Orthodoxy.
From the Archives of the Holy Synod
Thanks to the tieless efforts of my dear friend Misha Sarni in London, I have recently obtained copies of documents regarding Colonel Ludwell from the archives of the Holy Synod in St Petersburg. As regards Ludwell’s arrival in London, Fr. Stephen Ivanovsky, the second ethnic Russian priest of the parish writes to the Holy Synod in St Petersburg in 1761:
In 1738, during the incumbency of the late Hieromonk Bartholomew Cassano at this holy Church, an English gentleman named Ludwell [transliterated as Лодвел – Lodvel – tr.], born in the American lands and living there in the province of Virginia, came to London seeking the True Faith, which he, with God’s help, has swiftly found in the Holy Graeco-Russian Church. And so on the 31st of December of the same year he was confirmed in the same with the holy Chrism. The next year, 1739, he returned to his native land, from whence he, having lived there for twenty years, came back to London last month of September, and brought with him his three daughters, two of whom are eleven years of age, and the third, twenty, who long time ago in America lost their mother, minding to have them united with the Holy Eastern Church here, gaining through this union the one Mother for them and himself.
Ivanovsky goes on to explain that during his years in America Ludwell had translated into English “The Orthodox Confession” of Metropolitan Peter Moghila of Kiev and now sought the Synod’s blessing to publish and distribute it to all sons of the Holy Eastern Church dwelling in London, without charge, for their spiritual nourishment.
The same man, filled with Orthodox piety, requested that I, unworthy, humbly petition the Most Holy Ruling Synod concerning the future condition of his soul. How should he conduct himself after returning to his home land with his family, what shall he and them do, keep the practice of prayer only at their home, or would they be permitted to go temporarily to an English church, having no church of their own? So that they could offer their Creator some due in public, even thrice a year, thus drawing away from themselves the anger of the local people, since there, and in the whole Province of Virginia, and in the whole of America, except nearby Pennsylvania, any other Religion except Protestant, is forbidden. Besides in his home country still nobody knows about his change of Religion, since he is a councilor in a high position in the King’s service.
Concerning the Holy Gifts, he humbly petitions the Most Holy Ruling Synod, whether it would consider it possible to send them from here once a year some Consecrated Holy Gifts, as was practiced by the Early Christians, so that they, having been deprived of this Spiritual Nourishment after their departure from here, should not fall into despair. Since he had no greater concern throughout his twenty years there than the absence of these Divine Gifts, which he oftentimes longed to partake for the strengthening of his faith. And this petition of the selfsame man who is full of pious zeal, which is stemming from his great love for the Holy Church, I, unworthy, make bold to bring for the Most Holy Ruling Synod’s compassionate consideration, and humbly beg for a decision that will bring him joy.
In response to Ivanovsky’s petition the Holy Synod very swiftly blessed the printing and distribution of the catechism and for Ludwell to dispense it freely to those who would like to own it for their benefit.
The Synod also responded:
That he, Priest Ivanovsky, having properly instructed and established the three daughters of the said gentleman Ludwell in the knowledge of our Orthodox faith, shall receive them into the Holy Eastern Church, of their own volition, through the appropriate Church service. As to ways to preserve their Orthodox faith after their departure, what order of prayer to follow in their native land, and other matters related to Church mysteries, you, priest Ivanovsky, shall, having diligently obtained from them the knowledge of all circumstances and customs observed there, and having carefully considered these, advise them with suitable caution.
Finally, as regards the Holy Gifts:
At the time of departure of said Ludwell and his family to their native land, in consideration of their needs and circumstances as reported by you, priest Ivanovsky, and also his, Ludwell’s, most fervent desire. If there is an unfailing hope in his perfect will to hold fast, now and henceforth, to our Orthodox faith, and in view of the above needs, the Most Holy Synod gives you, priest Stefan Ivanovsky, the blessing to provide him with the Holy Gifts, for himself and his children, in a proper Tabernacle, having given him appropriate instruction concerning their keeping.
Philip Ludwell and Benjamin Franklin
Last December I was able to visit the only extant house in the world of Benjamin Franklin, in Craven St, London. Colonel Ludwell also lived in Craven St during the last seven years of his life and the extent of his friendship with Franklin is gradually becoming clearer. In the mid 1760’s Franklin briefly returned to America and in February 1763 he wrote from there to Ludwell back in London:
I must shortly make a journey to your Country, which I should undertake with much greater Pleasure, if I could promise myself the happiness of meeting there with my dear Friend, (but this is not to be expected, for I hear you are to continue this year in England). I pray sincerely that every Blessing may attend you, wherever you are, and particularly that of Health. O that I could invent something to restore and establish yours! But we shall meet, I trust, in a better Country, and with better Constitutions, vigorous health and everlasting youth; and since t’will be an additional pleasure so great in itself and so easily afforded us, I am persuaded we shall know one another.
From this letter it is clear that Ludwell did not intend to remain in London, but rather to return to his native Virginia. God’s will was otherwise and he was to repose in London in 1767. Its seems highly probable that Benjamin Franklin may have been present at his funeral in the Russian Church at the end of March that year.
Franklin and Ludwell worked together in a number of important educational and charitable initiatives in early America. Franklin is credited with founding America’s first hospital, in his native Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1751. Two years prior to this he began the educational establishment that was to grow into America’s first full University – the University of Pennsylvania. What is much less widely realized is that Ludwell was the founding donor for both these institutions. Ludwell and Franklin together along with others funded an organization known as “The Associates of Dr Bray” who in 1760 opened the first schoolhouse for African American children in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The Piety of Philip Ludwell
All these actions attest to Ludwell’s love for his fellow man. His love for God is equally demonstrated by his adherence to the Orthodox Faith he embraced in his youth, retained for over twenty years whilst cut off from outward Church life and then brought his family into. In those wilderness years he labored to translate the catechism into English and also the Divine Liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St. Basil the Great. He penned a brief exhortation to piety entitled “How to Behave Before, In and After Divine Services in the Church.” In this he demonstrates the importance of reverence for God and awe in the presence of His holiness:
As then passest along to the Church present thy self before the King as the awfull majesty before whom thou art going to content thy self in the Courts of his house.
Enter the Church with gravity and composure and present thy self before the sanctuary and devoutly adore thrice; bless thy self with the sacred sign and say:
Surely the Lord is in this place!
How awfull is this place!
This is none other than the house of God and this is the Gate of Heaven!
How amiable is thy dwelling O Lord of Hosts!
My soul hath a desire a longing to enter the Courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh rejoice in the living-God.
Let the Words of my Mouth and the Meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy Sight O Lord my Strength and my Redeemer.
It is surely a remarkable thing that a man so connected to the early history of this Republic was also a devout Orthodox Christian who faithfully and diligently strove to live and witness to the Orthodox Faith, to love God and to care for the poor and disadvantaged. May his memory be eternal and may he be numbered among the blessed!