FREEMAN, JAMES (22 April 1759, Charlestown, MA-14 November 1835, Newton, MA). Education: A.B., Harvard, 1777. Career: Reader, King's Chapel, Boston, 1782-87; minister, 1787-1826; retirement, 1826-35.
The American Revolution left the Episcopal churches in America in a difficult position of being cut off from their ecclesiastical leaders in England and having to reformulate church government in the new republic. King's Chapel in Boston, the first Episcopal church in New England, found itself under particular difficulties as the war came. Its congregation was divided between loyalists and supporters of the Revolution, and its minister, a loyalist, was forced to flee Boston in 1776. As the church began to rebuild itself after the war, James Freeman was appointed "reader" in 1782 in the absence of available Episcopal clergy. Freeman's background was in New England congregationalism, and he wrote to his father after his appointment to assure him that "I have imbibed no High Church notions" (AAUP, p. 164). But Freeman was also beginning to have difficulty with the doctrine of the Trinity, which was a prominent part of the Episcopal creed. Freeman recognized that he could probably "obtain the settlement [at King's Chapell for life," but his growing liberalism brought him to the brink of resigning in the early 1780s (p.164). Freeman's friends, how ever, persuaded him to lay out the doctrinal basis of his objections to the Trinity in a series of sermons, and after hearing his exposition, the congregation agreed in 1785 to amend the liturgy as Freeman suggested, eliminating most references to the doctrine of the Trinity. This was a major transformation in the church, but the changes were not made with the explicit intention of withdrawmg from the Episcopal denomination. A further problem arose, however, concerning Freeman's ordination. He sought Episcopal ordination on the sole basis of his "declaration of faith in the Holy Scriptures" but was told that "for a man to subscribe to the Scriptures, was nothing, . . . for it could never be determined from that what his creed was" (p. 166). His frank disavowal of the Trinity thus prevented his ordination, and the result was that Freeman was ordained by the church itself in 1787. F. W. P. Greenwood memorably characterized the transformation of the church: "Thus the first Episcopal church in New England became the first Unitarian Church in the New World" (p. 165). Freeman's open avowal of the Unitarian name, at a time when those of similar views in New England were referred to as "liberals" or "Arminians," gave him the distinction of being "the first avowed Preacher of Unitarianism in the United States" (p.162). But Freeman had closer relations than other New Englanders with the English Unitarian movement and had been particularly influenced by William Hazlitt, an English Unitarian and associate of Joseph Priestley who had moved to Boston in 1784. Hazlitt's Socinian Christology was shared to a large extent by Freeman, and that set him apart from the Boston liberals who held an Arian Christology and wanted to maintain their distance from the Unitarianism of Joseph Priestley. Thus although Freeman was a pioneer of Unitarianism in Boston, his views were outside the mainstream liberalism of Charles Chauncy,* Joseph Stevens Buckminster, and William Ellery Channing,* the founders of American Unitarianism.
A. Sermons on Particular Occasions (Boston, 1812)'. Eighteen Sermons and a Charge (Cambridge, 1829).
B. AAUP, 162-76; DAB 7, 10-Il; Heralds 2, 1-19; F. W. P. Greenwood. A History of King's Chapel (Boston, 1833); Henry Wilder Foote, Annals of King's Chapel from the Puritan Age of New England to the Present Day, 2 vols. (Boston, 1882); Henry