Trinity Church’s $6 Billion Portfolio

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Trinity Church in New York City was formed in 1697 by a small group of Anglicans. Alexander Hamilton, Eliza Hamilton, and Angelica Schuyler, three of the stars of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” are all buried in New York City’s Trinity Church.  Alexander and Eliza baptized five of their children at Trinity.  John Jay was also a parishioner.

Today, Trinity Church is very wealthy.  Over at The New York Times, Jane Margolies writes about the church’s real estate investments in the city and its own construction of a $350 million glass tower.  Here is a taste:

While many places of worship are warding off developers as they struggle to hold on to their congregations and buildings, Trinity is a big-time developer itself.

The church has always been land-rich. And it has long had its own real estate arm, which controls ground leases and office space rentals in the buildings it owns. But now it finds itself with a newly diversified portfolio worth $6 billion, according to the current rector, the Rev. Dr. William Lupfer.

After being instrumental in changing the zoning laws in Hudson Square, a neighborhood between West Houston and Canal Streets, Trinity Real Estate has entered into a joint venture that gives it a majority stake in 12 buildings that contain six million square feet of commercial space. A lucrative deal with the Walt Disney Company, valued at $650 million, was signed just last year.

And as it builds its glass tower — which will house administrative offices, public gathering spaces and, yes, commercial tenants — Trinity is also renovating the interior of its historic church, which is expected to cost $110 million.

Trinity has been able to do all this because it’s been a savvy manager of its resources. It is also, as a church, exempt from taxes.

But some wonder about the ethics of a religious institution being such a power player in the world of New York real estate.

Read the entire piece here.

George Washington Asks for a Ride to Church

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Federal Hall, Wall Street, and Trinity Church, 1789

Historian Jonathan Den Hartog of the University of Northwestern is working on a project on John Jay at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington this month.  At his Facebook page he shared this great 1789 letter from Washington to John Jay.

The President of the United States presents his Compliments to Mr Jay, and informs him that the Harness of the President’s Carriage was so much injured in coming from Jersey that he will not be able to use it today. If Mr Jay should propose going to Church this Morng the President would be obliged to him for a Seat in his Carriage.

The letter is dated “April-Dec. 1789.” Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, so it is unclear if he is POTUS yet.  There is no place mentioned on the letter, but all signs point to New York.  This was the site of the Federal Government until 1790 and it was the home state of Jay.  I would guess Washington needs a ride to New York’s Trinity Church where Jay was a church warden.

Hey, we all need a ride to church every now and then.

ADDENDUM: See the comments section.  It looks like GW was probably asking for a ride to St. Paul’s Chapel, not Trinity Church.  Nice work!

David Barton on the American Bible Society

It looks like I am not the only one interested in this subject. This video was just released by David Barton:

This video is a good example of why David Barton is more a politician than a historian and why his “historical” presentations need to be looked at very critically.  Most of what he says about the founding of the American Bible Society is accurate, but he does not paint an entire picture of the founding or the men involved in the founding.

For example:

  • Boudinot did indeed respect the Bible.  He defended its inspiration and authority against attacks from skeptics like Thomas Paine.  He also turned to it to make predictions about the end of the world and to claim that native Americans were the ten lost tribes of Israel
  • John Jay was a devout Anglican Christian.  He also tried to ban Catholics from participating in New York government.

My point here is not to drag these founders through the mud.  Sometimes it is important to talk about the good things that founders did and celebrate their achievements.  But historians must be committed to telling the truth about the founders.  This may require placing their accomplishments in the larger context of their lives and, in some cases, an eighteenth-century world that looks quite different from the one in which we live.

Barton is more interested in a sugar-coated history that makes all of his constituency feel good about themselves and their country.  Why would he talk about the full or complete history of these figures, or even the full story of the ABS (take my word for it, it’s interesting), when his only reasons for engaging the past is to win political points.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #56

John Jay was a life member of the ABS

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I spent most of my “writing time” today (about two hours this morning) working on Chapter Three of the American Bible Society book.  It is tentatively titled “A Bible for Every American Family.”  After giving more thought to this title I am not completely satisfied with it.  The ABS “General Supply” of 1829-1831 attempted to provide a Bible for every FREE family in the United States.  Slave families were not part of the distribution.  Perhaps the title should be “A Bible for Every Free American Family.”  What do you think?

I have about one more day of outlining before I begin to create prose.  I need to make sure that all of the research I want to use in this chapter finds a place in the outline.


On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #39

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

When I first started this project on the American Bible Society I realized that if I was going to complete it by May 1, 2015 I would need to rethink how I use my time.  This means doing some work on the weekends and, once the school year begins, carving out considerable time for research and writing in the early mornings.  In order to make it through the year I will need to be disciplined with my time, be more consistent with an exercise plan, and perhaps drink more coffee than usual.  

Part of this effort will also require times of strategic rest.  I did work on the ABS project on Friday night, Saturday, and early Sunday morning, but I also spent part of my weekend hanging out with my daughters (who were recuperating from long weeks at volleyball camp and basketball camp) watching re-runs of Castle and NCIS.  We had some nice family dinners on our back deck (thank you Joy).  And I took a nap or two and went to church.  I don’t have this time-management thing down to a science just yet, but I am committed to making it work, even if it is only for the next ten months.

I continue to work on getting chapters one and two into shape.  This weekend I added to my section in chapter two on the millennial visions of Elias Boudinot and John Jay, the first two ABS presidents.  I also strengthened the chapters (and the footnotes) by adding material from Daniel Walker Howe’e What Hath God Wrought, David Paul Nord’s Faith in Reading, Peter Wosh’s Spreading the Word, and Paul Gutjahr’s An American Bible.

This week I am in Princeton teaching a seminar on colonial American history.  I am hoping to get in a few hours of work on the ABS each day.  Stay tuned.

John Jay: Christian Providentialist

This morning I read an excellent essay by Jonathan Den Hartog on the religious beliefs of John Jay–Founding Father, Federalist, diplomat, Supreme Court justice, and promoter of Christian voluntary societies. I have been talking a bit about Jay in my U.S. survey course this week and I am trying to write part of a chapter on his religious beliefs for my book on Christian America, so the timing could not have been any better.

Den Hartog’s essay appears in a valuable new collection entitled The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life (Notre Dame, 2009), edited by Daniel L. Driesbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry Morrison The book sets out to examine the religious beliefs of those men and women who the editors call “The Forgotten Founding Fathers.” While I think the title is a bit of a stretch (can we really say that Samuel Adams, Abigail Adams, Thomas Paine, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and Patrick Henry are “forgotten?”), it offers a study of the religious beliefs of the so-called “Founders” that takes us beyond the usual suspects: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. In addition to Samuel Adams, Abigail Adams, Paine, Jay, and Henry, the book includes essays on Oliver Ellsworth, Edmund Randolph, Roger Sherman, and Mercy Otis Warren. I am looking forward to reading some of these essays. The editors of this volume have done a real service for those of us who think, teach, and write about religion and the American Revolution. Mark Noll writes the book’s foreword.

After reading Den Hartog’s essay in this book, it is hard not to see Jay as one of the most self-consciously Christian “Founders.” He clearly connected his orthodox Protestant beliefs to the moral good of the new United States and even advocated for a “Christian nation.” (Although for Jay this meant an orthodox PROTESTANT Christian nation. He actually went out of his way at times to prevent Catholics from participating in the political life of the country). Jay’s religious roots were Calvinist (Huguenot), but he spent most of his religious life in the Anglican Church. If you read Jay’s religious rhetoric, especially during his stint later in life when he served a number of Christian voluntary societies, he sounds very, very evangelical. He regularly wrote about the workings of “Providence” in the world. (Den Hartog explains that when Jay wrote about “Providence” he meant it in an orthodox Christian way, as opposed to the more rationalist views of “Providence” employed by Washington, Franklin, or Adams). In fact, Jay even used this language of Providence in Federalist Paper #2 where he connected national unity to the plan of God.

Den Hartog’s essay is the best thing I have ever read on Jay’s religion. I know that Jay is an important player in Den Hartog’s current book project on Federalist religion–a book I am eager to read.