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William White, the first Bishop of Pennsylvania (1787-1836), was born into a wealthy and prominent family in Philadelphia in 1748. He was educated at the College of Philadelphia, where he eventually received his Doctor of Divinity degree. Ordained deacon in 1770 and priest in 1772, White became first assistant minister and then rector of Christ Church and St. Peter’s in Philadelphia, a position in which he served for the remainder of his life. He also served as chaplain of the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War, president of the first and fourth General Conventions, and Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America from 1795 until his death in 1836. Additionally, White played a leading role in many civic organizations and educational institutions such as the Philadelphia Bible Society, the American Philosophical Society, and the General Theological Seminary.
Bishop White was a critical figure in the formation of the Protestant Episcopal Church, contributing not only as a talented organizer and a pragmatic reconciler between differing opinions, but also as a proponent of constitutional law and republican forms of government. His accepted recommendations for the Church constitution that included the establishment of The Episcopal Church as a self-governing and independent ecclesiastical body, the inclusion of laity with equal representation as clergy in governing bodies, and the right of dioceses to elect their own bishops. In addition, he proposed a new Prayer Book and planned for obtaining the episcopate from the English bishops that would extend the line of apostolic succession to America without requiring bishops to swear allegiance to the King of England.