Jacob Duché was born on January 31st, 1738 in Philadelphia to Mary Spence Duché and Jacob Duché Sr. Duché’s father was a successful and wealthy lawyer who’s father, Anthony Duché, arrived in America in 1699 – a French Huguenot and potter by trade. After Anthony Duché expanded his business to pottery and dying he was able to purchase significant amounts of land to bequeath to his children upon his death in 1762. In the 1730s Anthony converted to Anglicanism, possibly for economic reasons, and it was Jacob Duché who would follow in his path as an Anglican minister. Jacob Duché was baptized at Christ Church in 1738 and it was the same church where he would one day serve as minister and preach his famous American Vine sermon.
Duché began his education in 1743 at Francis Alison’s New London Academy in Chester County, and it was here where he formed his opinions about consent and resistance to unjust government. Duché entered the College of Philadelphia in 1755 and was a student in the inaugural class. The curriculum was diverse in languages learned and subjects studied, and many of Duché’s classmates went on to be influential members of colonial society.
Duché became involved in politics when the fight between the Quakers and proprietors began over how to defend Pennsylvania as a result of the French and Indian War. Duché wrote a poem, Pennsylvania: A Poem, in 1756 that was published by Franklin because of its “Degree of Judgement, Genius and Public-Spirit seldom to be met with in Persons so young an age”. The ideas in this poem were resistance to political factions and expressed concern for stability of Pennsylvania, the latter of which would continue to be an important concept throughout Duché’s life. During his time at College of Philadelphia Duché served as Benjamin Franklin’s secretary and then graduated as valedictorian in 1757, heading to Clare Hall in England to receive his graduate degree.
Not long after Duché left for England, his father was successful in petitioning for a second church to serve the growing congregation of Christ Church. By 1759, the vestry of Christ Church had written a letter to the Bishop of London asking for Duché, Jr. to be “admitted to holy orders” and to “license him to officiate as an assistant minister in the churches of Philadelphia”. The Bishop of London complied and Duché became an ordained minister. Upon his return to Philadelphia the College of Philadelphia hired him as a Professor of Oratory, the first alumni professor and the youngest.
Duché’s theology and ideology are important to understanding the choices he made during his professional career. The three major points of Duché’s theology are his beliefs in the inherent sinfulness of man, the doctrine of universal grace selectively received, and evangelical morality. Duché believed that Adam’s fall was the sin repeated from generation to generation through free will, and that God’s wrath should not be blamed on God but on individuals responsible for their own sins and the consequences of those sins. Duché also believed that through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection God redeemed His people and revealed that He is a loving God, and that God gives all people the ability to accept or reject His grace through free will. Finally, Duché believes that all those who accept God’s grace have access to God working in and through them, but that the individual is still responsible for their life through Christ. Though an Anglican minister, Duché was influenced by the ideas of Calvinism, Arminianism and the individualism of the Great Awakening.
Duché’s ideology and political philosophy was expressed in a series of letters that he wrote and published in a local paper in 1772 and 1773 under the pseudonym Tamoc Caspipina, later published as a collection entitled Caspipina’s Letters. Duché’s primary view on government was that its most important role was to maintain an orderly society that would promote stability – the institutions that Duché saw as vital to societal stability were the churches, statehouse, library, college and the river system (which promoted commerce and a stable economy). Duché called for the acceptance of all people and less class distinctions, but didn’t believe in equality for all and was himself a member of the gentry or upper class. Duché believed that the collective happiness of society was equal to justice and stability, and that the enemies of a benevolent government were corruption and party factions – these views would be very evident in his sermon The American Vine. While a supporter of liberty and happiness within society, Duché did prefer order to freedom if the choice had to be made and this view might be more evident in his letter to Washington, written in the midst of the Revolution.
Duché was very involved in both the Anglican Controversy and the Bishop Controversy happening in the colonies, and was able to successfully work with ministers and congregations of other denominations. The two major controversial issues within the Anglican Controversy were the issues of power of the authoritarian structure of the Anglican Church and evangelicalism and its place within Anglican worship and theology. The struggle on the issue of authoritarian structure and power was between high church Anglicans, who believed that bishops and their policies were not to be questioned due to their divine ordination, and low church Anglicans, who believed that the vestries of individual churches should be given more authority over affairs. It is unclear which side Duché took on this issue, but his involvement with the Bishop Controversy shows that he may have been a high church Anglican. Evangelicalism was the second big issue within the Anglican church in the colonies, with some members wanting a more rational religion (called rationalists) and others wanting a more emotional and personal religion (called evangelicals). Duché was very influenced by the events of the Great Awakening and would eventually publically support famous evangelical preacher George Whitefield, appearing to some to be an evangelical. Duché’s views on individual responsibility and relationship with God also show that he held evangelical views.
The Bishop Controversy dealt with the issue of the Anglican church appointing an American Bishop to oversee clerical appointments and overall ecclesiastical organization within the colonial Anglican community. Many colonists of other religions felt that an Anglican Bishop in America was just another attempt by the British to assert control and restrict religious freedom in the colonies, and Duché worked very hard with other denominations to help them understand the purely organizational necessities of an American Bishop. One of the other important justifications for an American Bishop was more representation for the Anglican colonial churches in England, a justification that was in line with the overall political complaints against the British at the time.
After many years serving as assistant minister at Christ Church and being involved in church politics in the area, Duché was chosen by the Continental Congress to open their first session in prayer. Samuel Adams originally chose Duché because he was a respected minister, had great public speaking skills, was in good standing with other Christian denominations and was involved in politics. These qualities indicated that Duché’s prayer would satisfy all members of the congress, and so he was notified of his election the evening before the congress would meet for the first time. Duché accepted, and it was due to his moving and deeply emotional extemporaneous prayer that morning that Duché was asked to preach the American Vine sermon in the summer of 1775, and then to serve as the nation’s first official chaplain in 1776.
Unfortunately, Duché was a moderate revolutionary who did not support independence from Britain. While he supported resisting oppression from an unjust government, he could not serve as chaplain to a government going against his own fundamental beliefs and resigned from his position just a few months after accepting it. The members of congress, Duché’s friends and supporters, did not realize that anti-independence was his position until they read the letter Duché wrote to George Washington in 1777. In the letter Duché explained his position against independence and blamed his compliance on the needs of his congregations. Duché analyzed the current state of affairs between the colonies and Britain and claimed that independence is something that could never happen, and then urged Washington to turn to peace talks before the colonies were destroyed. Duché also attacked the men in charge of political affairs in the colonies, claiming that they were all common men who were unfit to lead and that their decision for independence was completely unsound. Nothing that Duché wrote in the letter made him a loyalist, but it didn’t support the cause that so many Americans already believed in and were fighting for – it was for these reasons that Washington had to hand it over to the committee, ruining Duché’s career in America until he and his family could return to Philadelphia in 1793.