Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
Name of creator(s): Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts
Administrative/Biographical history: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (the SPG) was founded as a result of an enquiry on behalf of the Bishop of London into the state of the Church of England in the American Colonies. The Church there was found to have little spiritual vitality and to be in a poor organisational condition. Therefore, King William III issued a charter on 16th June 1701, which established the SPG as an organisation able to send priests and schoolteachers to America to help provide the Church's ministry to the colonists. The SPG’s remit was soon broadened to encompass evangelisation of slaves and Native Americans, and by 1710 the Society stated that the “conversion of heathens and infidels ought to be prosecuted preferably to all others”. The Society's first missionaries began work in America in 1702 and by the time the USA claimed independence the SPG had supported the work of about 300 men and had made a substantial contribution to the foundation of the Episcopal Church.
The SPG's horizons began rapidly to expand, first in 1703 to the West Indies and soon after to Nova Scotia, and later in the 18th century to the rest of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and West Africa. Early in the 19th century the SPG began sending missionaries to countries where migrants from Britain and Ireland were not present in large numbers, such as India (1820) and South Africa (1821). Work among indigenous people came to be a higher priority than care of the colonists, although the Society’s emphasis on pastoral ministry and education remained. In 1866 the SPG established the “Ladies’ Association for Promoting the Education of Females in India and other Heathen Countries in Connection with the Missions of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel”, which became in 1895 the “Women’s Mission Association for the Promotion of Female Education in the Missions of the SPG” and which enabled British and Irish women to become missionaries in their own right, rather than only as the wives of male missionaries. The nineteenth century also saw increasing numbers of indigenous missionaries of both sexes being supported by the SPG, as was medical missionary work. In addition the SPG began to work in countries that were outside the British Empire, such as China (1863) and Japan (1873). Throughout the 20th century the SPG continued to represent the missionary aims of the Churches of England, Wales, and Ireland through its pastoral, educational and medical work, until its merger in 1965 with the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa and in 1968 with the Cambridge Mission to Delhi, to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.
Custodial history: The early minutes and correspondence were probably deposited with the president of the society, Archbishop Tenison, before the organisation had any headquarters of its own.
Immediate source of acquisition: Transferred during the 18th century (?).
CONTENT AND STRUCTURE
Scope and content/abstract: The collection comprises minutes and financial records of the Society, as well as correspondence. The latter includes correspondence of Archbishops of Canterbury relating to (chiefly American) affairs. The most important documents are those relating to the confering of the episcopate on the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States after the Revolution.
System of arrangement: The collection is divided into: 5 volumes of minutes (1701-1750); 1 volume of financial records (1702-1796); approximately 10 volumes of correspondence (1667- 1826) subdivided geographically (American colonies and the USA (8 volumes: 1667-1826); British Isles (2 volumes: 1679-c1800); Canada (1 part volume: 1704-1826); China (1 letter: 1791); Europe (1 part volume: 1702-1711); India (1 part volume 1752-1803); the West Indies (1 part volume: 1704-1796)).
ACCESS AND USE
Conditions governing access:
Conditions governing reproduction:
Finding aids: Described in:
Also Tenison volume 1: a further volume of correspondence (1701-1706).
The archives of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel are held at Rhodes House Library, University of Oxford.
Partnership House Mission Studies Library holds the Partnership for World Mission Modern Collection of printed material, which consists of the post-1945 libraries of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Church Mission Society.
Wiltshire and Swindon Record Office holds the archive of the St Denys Missionary College (GB 0190 2969), where the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel sent students for training until the 1930s.
Copies: Micropublication of the SPG Papers is available from World Microfilms Publications; copies are held in a number of repositories chiefly in the UK and USA.
Archivist's note: Compiled by Caroline Brick on behalf of the Mundus Project, with assistance from Lambeth Palace Library staff. Sources:
Date(s) of descriptions: 22nd March 2002.