Clergyman. Garden was born in Scotland and educated at Aberdeen University. He became a priest in the Church of England and was rector of Barking Church, near the Tower of London. He came to South Carolina in 1719. Shortly after his arrival he became rector of St. Philip’s Church, Charleston, the first Church of England parish in South Carolina. On June 8, 1724, he married Martha Guerard of Charleston. The union produced five children.
Throughout the colonial period, the Church of England did not have bishops in the American colonies. Henry Compton, bishop of London from 1675 until 1713, addressed the problem by naming commissaries to the colonies. The canonical powers of the commissaries were limited. They could not ordain or confirm, but could call meetings of the clergy, discipline the clergy, and enforce morality laws. In general, the bishop of London appointed a commissary in a colony, usually selecting one of the leading local clergy. In 1729 the bishop of London, Edmund Gibson, named Garden the commissary to South Carolina, North Carolina, and the Bahamas. On October 20, 1730, Garden held the first convention of the South Carolina clergy at Charleston. At the meeting the clergy exhibited their letters of ordination and licenses to officiate in the colony.
In 1740 George Whitefield, a Church of England evangelical and itinerant preacher, visited Charleston. He preached in churches of other denominations, violated the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, and frequently attacked Church of England clergy.
Commissary Garden charged him with violating his ordination vows. After a period of controversy between the Whitefield and Garden, Whitefield preached a sermon against Garden based on 2 Timothy 4:14, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil; the Lord reward him according to his works.” Later Garden suspended Whitefield from the ministry of the Church of England, but that did little to inhibit his work. Garden defended his actions in a pamphlet, Letters to the Rev. Mr. George Whitefield (1740).
In addition to his religious duties, Garden also supported the education of people of color in South Carolina. Through his influence and leadership, in 1742 a schoolhouse for African Americans was built in Charleston. Garden purchased, at the expense of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, two intelligent black boys and prepared them in this school to teach other black children to read. He wanted slaves to be able “to read the scriptures and understand the nature of Redemption.” Garden thought that slaves would receive instruction more readily and willingly from black rather than white teachers. The school in Charleston continued until 1764, and as late as 1819 there were African Americans who had been taught to read by these two boys.
In 1749 Garden resigned as commissary, then resigned the rectorship of St. Philip’s in 1753. He was the last commissary to South Carolina. He died at Charleston on September 27, 1756, and was buried in the St. Philip’s Churchyard.
Bolton, S. Charles. Southern Anglicanism: The Church of England in Colonial South Carolina. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1982.
Hawkins, James Barney. “Alexander Garden: The Commissary in Church and State.” Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1981.
Keen, Quentin Begley. “The Problems of a Commissary: The Reverend Alexander of South Carolina.” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 20 (June 1951): 136–55.
Kenney, William Howard, III. “Alexander Garden and George Whitefield: The Significance of Revivalism in South Carolina.” South Carolina His- torical Magazine 71 (January 1970): 1–16.
Pennington, Edgar Legare. “The Reverend Alexander Garden.” Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 2 (December 1933): 178–94; 3 (March 1934): 48–55; 3(June 1934): 111–19.
Williams, George W., ed. “Letters to the Bishop of London from the Commissaries in South Carolina.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 78 (April 1977): 120–47; (July 1977): 213–42; (October 1977): 286–317.