Project Canterbury

The Church of England in Nova Scotia and the Tory Clergy of the Revolution

By Arthur Wentworth Eaton

New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1891.

Chapter III. The Church Established

IN 1758 the first assembly of the province met, and the question of religion was of course one of the first to be considered. This assembly was composed of nineteen members, six of whom ranked as esquires, thirteen as gentlemen. A large proportion of them were men born in Great Britain, a few were of Puritan stock, born in the New England colonies, and one at least was of German origin. When we remember that three years before, the provincial authorities, seconded by the home government, had resorted to the extreme measure of the expulsion of the Acadians, and that that step had been made necessary, as was thought, by the active and long-continued hostility of Roman Catholic priests to English and Protestant rule, we shall not be surprised to find the first act regarding religion passed in the province, an act not only for the establishment of religion, but also for the suppression of Popery. From such an assembly, however, as that convened in Halifax in 1758, representing a population already considerably differing in faith, and now beginning to look toward Congregational New England for settlers for the lands of the exiled Acadians and for the enlargement of the trading and fishing settlements on the western shores, we shall not expect rigid laws in favor of the Church of England. The day for uniformity acts in the colonies, such as had been passed in Virginia in 1631-32, and in Maryland seventy years later, had now gone by, and toleration of Dissent was recognized, not only as expedient, but as the undoubted right of Dissenters themselves. Consequently, while the provisions of the act of this Nova Scotia Assembly are severe against Roman Catholics, they are correspondingly lenient toward all Protestant Dissenters of whatever name. The act of the thirty-second year of George II., passed by the first assembly, is as follows:


An Act for the establishment of religious public Worship in this Province, and for suppressing Popery.

Forasmuch as His Majesty upon the settlement of the Province, was pleased, in His pious concern for the advancement of God's glory, and the more decent celebration of the divine ordinances amongst us, to erect a Church for religious worship, according to the usuage of the Church of England; in humble imitation of his Royal example, and for the more effectual attainment of his Majesty's pious intentions, that we might in the exercise of religious duties, be seeking for the divine favour and protection, be it therefor enacted by his Excellency the Governor, Council and Assembly, That the sacred rites and ceremonies of divine worship, according to the liturgy of the Church established by the laws of England, shall be deemed the fixed form of worship amongst us, and the place wherein such liturgy shall be used, shall be respected and known by the name of the Church of England as by law established. And that for the preservation of purity and unity of doctrine and discipline in the church, and the right administration of the sacraments, no minister shall be admitted to officiate as a minister of the Church of England, but such as shall produce to the Governor, a testimonial, that he hath been licenced by the Bishop of London, and shall publickly declare his assent and consent to the book of common prayer, and shall subscribe to be conformable to the orders and constitutions of the Church of England, and the laws there established; upon which the Governor is hereby requested to induct the said minister into any parish that shall make presentation of him. And if any other person presenting himself a minister of the Church of England, shall, contrary to this act, presume to teach or preach publicly or privately, the Governor and Council are hereby desired and empowered to suspend and silence the person so offending.

II. Provided nevertheless, and it is the true intent and meaning of this act, that Protestants, dissenting from the Church of England, whether they be Calvinists, Lutherans, Quakers, or under what denomination soever, shall have free liberty of conscience, and may erect and build meeting houses for public worship, and may choose and elect ministers for the carrying on divine service and administration of the sacraments, according to their several opinions; and all contracts made between their ministers and their congregations for the support of the ministry, are hereby declared valid, and shall have their full force and effect, according to the tenor and conditions thereof; and all such Dissenters shall be excused from any rates or taxes to be made and levied for the support of the established Church of England.

III. And be it further enacted, That every popish person, exercising any ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and every popish priest or person exercising the function of a popish priest, shall depart out of this province on or before the twenty-fifth day of March, 1759. And if any such person or persons shall be found in this province after the said day, he or they shall, upon conviction, be adjudged to suffer perpetual imprisonment: and if any person or persons so imprisoned, shall escape out of prison he or they shall be deemed and adjudged guilty of felony without benefit of clergy.

IV. And be it further enacted, That any persons, who shall knowingly harbour, relieve, conceal, or entertain any such clergyman of the popish religion, or popish priest, or persons exercising the functions of a popish priest, shall forfeit fifty pounds, one moiety to his Majesty for the support of his government in this province, and the other moiety to the informer, and shall also be adjudged to be set in the pillory, and to find sureties for his good behaviour at the discretion of the court.

V. And be it enacted, That every offence against this act, shall and may be inquired of, heard and determined, at his Majesty's Supreme Court of Assize, and General Gaol Delivery, or by a special commission of Oyer and Terminer.

VI. And be it further enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for any justice of the peace, upon information by oath, or any reasonable cause of suspicion, to issue his warrant for apprehending any such popish ecclesiastical person, popish priest or person exercising the function of a popish priest, or any persons knowingly harbouring, relieving, concealing or entertaining them or any of them, and to commit any such person or persons respectively, who shall so offend against this act, to his Majesty's gaol, for trial as aforesaid, and to require sureties for the appearance of the witness or witnesses, against any offender or offenders upon such trial; and to make return of his proceedings to such court on the information of such witnesses, and the examination of any offender or offenders.

VII. Provided nevertheless, That this Act shall not extend, or be construed to extend to any such Romish ecclesiastical persons, who shall be sent into the province as prisoners of war, or who shall by shipwreck or any other distress or necessity, be driven into the province, so as that such prisoners of war do not escape before they can be sent out of the province, or that such persons arriving through necessity as aforesaid, depart out of the province as soon as there may be opportunity; and that they also forthwith after their arrival, attend the Governor or Commander-in-Chief of the province for the time being, if near the place of his residence, or otherwise a justice of the peace, and represent the necessity of their arrival, and obey such directions as the said Governor, Commander in Chief or Justice shall give them for their departure; and so as that neither the said prisoners of war, nor the said persons arriving through such necessity, shall exercise any ecclesiastical jurisdiction, or any part of the function of a popish priest, during his or their abode in the province, in which case he or they shall be liable to the penalties of this Act.

The fierce enactment of the first provincial assembly against the Roman Catholic worship, must soon have caused dissatisfaction, for it is certain that there were always members of that church sprinkled among the Protestants in Halifax and the adjacent settlements. For twenty-five years, however, no Roman Catholic church was established in the province; but at last, in 1783, the law was repealed, and the next year, on Monday, July 19, 1784, "in presence of a great concourse of gentlemen and other people "the frame of a church was raised in Halifax, near the site of the present St. Mary's Cathedral. "Test oaths against popery," however, were required from all candidates for office until 1827, in the early part of which year, the Reverend John Carrol and other Roman Catholics made a strong and successful petition to the house of assembly that the Test Act should be abolished. In this petition, the original of which is said to have been in the handwriting of Lawrence O'Connor Doyle, the Roman Catholics say that the tests are based on a misunderstanding of their tenets and impute to them practices which their souls abhor: "We do not adore the saints," they say; "but we pray to them. We know they possess no inherent power; but that they feel an interest in us. Even this present petition will illustrate this Tenet; in it we pray your Honorable House to intercede with his Majesty, though you have none of his authority; so we solicit the saints to interpose with Christ, though they have nothing of his Divinity; as then we can pray for the intercession of your Honorable House without an insult to your Sovereign, so we pray for the intercession of the Saints without an offence to our God." "The Mass," they add, "is the principal rite of our Church. In it we adore none but God. He told us he gave us his body. We only believe that he meant what he said."

The speeches in the house on receipt of this petition were perhaps among the finest ever made in the provincial legislature. The assembly contained such men as Samuel George William Archibald, Thomas Chandler Halibur-ton, Richard John Uniacke, and Charles Rufus Fairbanks, men of great dignity of presence, marked power of mind, and fine oratorical ability. The most telling speeches were made by Richard John Uniacke, and Thomas Chandler Haliburton. Mr. Haliburton said that, in England since the Protestant Reformation it had been thought necessary to impose test oaths, lest the Catholics, who were the most numerous body, might restore the ancient order of things, and particularly as there was danger of a Catholic succession; but when the Stuart race became extinct, the test oaths should have been buried with the last of that unfortunate family. Whatever might be the effect of emancipation in Great Britain, here there was not the slightest pretension for continuing restrictions; for if the whole house and all the council were Catholics, it would be impossible to alter the constitution--the governor was appointed by the king, and not by the people, and no act could pass without his consent. "Every man," said he, "who lays his hand on the New Testament, and says that is his book of faith, whether he be Catholic or Protestant, Churchman or dissenter, Baptist or Methodist, however much we may differ in doctrinal points, he is my brother, and I embrace him. We all travel by different roads to the same God." Mr. Uniacke also said eloquently: "Far be it from me to disparage the creed of others; no, in my opinion, the humblest clergyman in the humblest church of the humblest congregation, if he practises the precepts of his God---if he conforms to the rules of morality, that man is, in my conviction, an object as pleasing to Heaven as he who wears the richest mitre in the proudest cathedral of Europe." It may be said here, that the Roman Catholicism of Nova Scotia has usually been of a mild and conciliatory character, and that there has been the freest social intercourse, especially in Halifax, between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

In 1812 some attempt was clearly made to get a law passed by the assembly to exact support for the Church of England from the people at large, for in April of that year, the house resolved to address the governor to the effect that, "as the inhabitants of this colony are composed of persons professing various religious sentiments, all of whom, since the first settlement of this province, have been exempt from yielding any support to the Church of England, except such as profess to be members of that Church, the house of assembly, anxiously desirous of preserving harmony among all denominations of Christians, cannot agree to make provision for the clergy of the Church of England out of the public treasury, or in any way raise money by taxes on other classes of Christians for the support of that Church."

The first provincial assembly also passed a law restricting marriage by license, without the publication of banns, to clergymen of the Church of England. The Church of England Prayer Book prescribes that banns of marriage shall be published on three successive Sundays, but the law also allowed speedier and more private marriages than the publication of banns admitted of, by means of licenses obtained from the proper authorities. The law in Nova Scotia was similar to that in England and Scotland. Neither English Dissenters, nor ministers of the Scotch Church were allowed to obtain licenses directly. The law concerning marriage by license specified that licenses should be granted only to clergymen of the Established Church, and should not be performed except with the use of the marriage service of the Book of Common Prayer. This restriction seems early to have caused dissatisfaction, and for a long time was in many places practically a dead letter. In 1800, Sir John Wentworth, who casually speaks of his long-continued devotion to the interests of the Church of England, complains to Mr. King, under secretary of state, that Mr. Stanser of St. Paul's, was in the habit of receiving marriage licenses, and transferring them to Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist clergyman, receiving the fees, himself. This was a clever way of evading an unjust law, and was undoubtedly common in other parts of the province besides Halifax. That part of the law which prescribed the use of the Prayer Book was in such cases, probably, wholly ignored.

In 1818 the Dissenters petitioned the house to have these restrictions abolished. The issuing of licenses to Church clergymen alone, they alleged, was an infringement of their legal rights. The gentlemen who spoke on behalf of the Dissenters in the house of assembly declared warmly that in their opinion it was a grievance that Dissenters were obliged to ask for licenses to marry, from the head of a church to which they did not belong. After considerable discussion the house resolved that "His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor be requested (in case he shall consider himself authorized by law to do so), to grant licenses to clergymen dissenting from the Church of England, authorizing them to celebrate marriages, pursuant to the rites and ceremonies of their respective churches; and that Mr. Speaker do deliver the foregoing resolution to His Excellency." The next year a joint address of both houses to the lieutenant governor, respecting marriage licenses, containing their reasons for passing this bill, was adopted, in order that the lieutenant governor might communicate its statements to His Majesty's ministers. A little later, however, Earl Bathurst writes to the governor, Lord Dalhousie, disallowing the new act, and giving his reasons at length. He considers that the right to marry by banns is all that Dissenters can properly ask, as marriage by license is not in use among them, and is, on the whole, dis-approved of by the English Church as tending to irregularity. He wishes any such bill to be rejected by the governor.

Early in this century the statute restricting marriage licenses to Church of England clergymen with any other statutes discriminating against Dissenters, was finally abolished, and since that time, whatever pre-eminence the Church may have had in Nova Scotia, has been not legal but prescriptive, the result of her ancient traditions and the superiority of her organization and methods. Numerically, as we shall see in the chapter on other religious bodies, the Church of England has long stood only fourth among the religious denominations of the province.

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