St. Peter's survived the Revolutionary War with barely a scratch, although occupying British soldiers had burned the wooden fence surrounding the church and the yard to keep warm during the bitter winter of 1777-78. William White succeeded Jacob Duche as rector, after Duche pulled back his support for the American cause and fled to England. Duche later returned and died here in 1798. The late 1780s witnessed the creation of the Episcopal Church as an independent entity, and White, as one of its first bishops, in the forefront of changes.
The Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie (1758-1841),assistant minister of the United Churches, took it upon himself one Sunday to lecture President Washington on the President's failure to take communion. One story has it that "when the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was to be administered, Washington's custom was to rise just before the ceremony commenced, and walk out of the church. This became a subject of remark in the congregation as setting a bad example."
Dr. Abercrombie decided it was up to him to say something. "I considered it my duty, in a sermon on public worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly of those in elevated stations, who uniformly turn their backs on the celebration of the Lord's Supper."
A few days later, Dr. Abercrombie said, Washington told a senator that "on the previous Sunday, he had received a just reproof from the pulpit for always leaving the church before the administration of the Sacrament; that he honored the preacher for his integrity and candor; that he had never sufficently considered the influence of the example, and that he would not again give cause of the reproof; and that, as he had never been a communicant, were he to become one then, it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal, rising altogether from his elevated station."
The President never attended church again on "Sacrament Sunday," although he came on the other Sundays.
1786 Another convention in Philadelphia; another boycott; White leaves for England for consecration.
Feb. 4, 1787 Dr. White is consecrated bishop of Pennsylvania at Lambeth Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Bath and Wells and Peterborough, as is Dr. Samuel Provoost, first bishop of New York. Dr. Duché attends.
1787 Congressman John Swanwick donates an episcopal chair to Dr. White for his use in St. Peter’s.
1789 A loft is built for the organ case above the altar.
1790 Capital established in Philadelphia until 1800; the Washingtons attend both churches, sitting in Mayor Powel’s pew when attending St. Peter’s.
1790 Bishop White founds the Sunday School Society.
1792 Absalom Jones and Richard Allen lead African Americans out of St. George’s Methodist Church after they are told to sit in the balcony; Jones confers with White, who agrees to accept the group as an Episcopal parish. Jones would serve as lay reader, and after a period of study, would be ordained. Allen founds the African Methodist Episcopal Church instead.
1793 Eight Native Americans, including seven chieftains, die of smallpox and are buried in the churchyard (January to April).
August to November 1793 The Yellow Fever epidemic decimates the city, killing almost 6,000 of the city’s 55,000 residents and sending the federal government, and most of the wealthy, into exile. Jones and Allen assist Stephen Girard and others with caring for the sick, yet freed Africans who care for white residents are accused of robbing them. Many of the dead are buried in St. Peter’s yard in unmarked graves.
1794 St. Thomas African Episcopal Church opens at Fifth and Adelphi Streets.
1795 Absalom Jones is ordained a deacon at St. Peter’s by Bishop White. He is ordained a priest in 1804 at St. Thomas.