C010 (Amending Biographical Information for the Feast of Peter Williams Cassey and Annie Besant Cassey)

House of Bishops Message #32

The House of Bishops informs the House of Deputies that on Jul 8, 2022 it considered resolution C010 (Amending Biographical Information for the Feast of Peter Williams Cassey and Annie Besant Cassey). The house acted to:

Refer to an Interim Body

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring,

That the 80thGeneral Convention of The Episcopal Church amend the biographical descriptions for the feast day of Peter Williams Cassey and Annie Besant Cassey in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2018, in the following manner:


[Text in Lesser Feasts and Fast 2018, pp. 234-236, corrections either strikeout or in italics]

APRIL 16: Peter Williams Cassey, Priest, Deacon, 1917 and Annie Besant Cassey 1875

Peter Williams Cassey was ordained as a deacon in 1866, the first person of color ordained in the Episcopal Church west of the Mississippi River. He was a fourth generation freed African American. His great grandfather bought his freedom and founded the first black church in New York, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. His grandfather was the first African American Episcopal priest in New York and founder of St. Philip’s, Manhattan. His parents, Joseph and Amy Cassey were prominent abolitionists in Philadelphia.

Peter received the best classical education available at the time, speaking and fluently reading Greek, Hebrew and Latin. He arrived in San Francisco in 1853 and worked as a barber, where he formed an abolitionist group to help free slaves. He helped organize a community association to protect African Americans and other persons of color. In the late 1850’s he moved to San José, California where he formed an abolitionist group to help free slaves.

Peter married Annie Besant, who came from another prominent African American family. They were among the founding members of Trinity Parish, San Jose, California in 18621861.At the same time, they rented the former Bascom School for Girls and established St. Philips Mission for Colored People and opened St. Philip’s Academy. The school was not only for African American, but also for Native Americans, Mexican and Chinese students because no children of color could attend public schools.

Bishop William Ingraham Kip, first Bishop of California, recognized St. Philip’s as a mission congregation out of Trinity Church and in 1866 ordained Peter as a deacon. In 1872, the The bishop directed him to establish Christ Church for Colored People in San Francisco while Annie kept St. Philip’s going. Later this church would split into the African American Church of St. Cyprian and Christ Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Japanese American Episcopal Church). In 1881 Peter was called to St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in New Bern, North Carolina as the first African American rector in that state. In 1884 he was accepted a call to Florida where he served in succession three parishes until he died at the age of 86 on April 16th, 1917. He was never ordained a priest because of the racism of the clergy and Standing Committees of the three dioceses in which he served, even though the bishops favored his ordination.

Bishop Edwin Gardner Weed said at Peter’s funeral “that no other clergyman in the diocese came close to the theological maturity and scholarship that Peter Williams Cassey exhibited in his ministry and teachings. We should be proud of these great souls that helped lay the foundations of this diocese.”