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 IV. Historic St. Paul's

ONE of the first acts of the surveyors who planned the town of Halifax, was to lay out the site of a church, and among the first buildings, for the frames of which orders were sent to Massachusetts, was the venerable structure that stands in the centre of the town opposite the Grand Parade, known as St. Paul's, the Mother Church of the diocese of Nova Scotia. In a letter dated March 19, 1750, Governor Cornwallis says: "I expect the frame of the church will be here next month from New England. The plan is the same with that of Marybone (Marylebone) Chapel." [St. Paul's will thus, September 2, 1892, have completed the one hundred and forty-second year since its formal opening for divine worship.] A few months later he writes that the church then setting up will cost a thousand pounds by the estimate sent from Boston. Whoever was its architect, and whether the church was a copy of Marylebone Chapel or not, it has always been claimed that in its original form it was identical even to the size of the panes of glass with St. Peter's, Vere St., London, and we have Bishop John Inglis, the third bishop of Nova Scotia, as authority for the statement that the plans used in building it were the same as those used in building St. Peter's. The church, though not finished, was formally opened for divine service by the Reverend William Tutty, September 2, 1750,' and in a letter of this clergyman's to the Society, written October 2gth, he says that the church-when completed will be a very handsome structure. From 1750 to 1752 over two thousand Germans were added to the population of Halifax, and under the tuition of Mr. Burger, a German Swiss minister who came with them, Mr. Tutty devoted himself to studying their language in which he made such progress that he was soon able to minister to these people in their own tongue. After a time this Mr. Burger went to England for Episcopal ordination which he obtained, afterward starting for Halifax with a large number of German Bibles and Prayer Books for the use of his congregation. [In 1750, as also frequently afterward, the S.P.G., in connection with the S.P.C.K. sent out to Nova Scotia, a generous supply of Bibles and Prayer Books, in French and English.] Nothing more, however, is heard of him and it is probable that the vessel in which he sailed was Jost on the voyage.

In 1752, the Reverend John Breynton, who had been a chaplain on one of His Majesty's ships of war during the siege of Louisburg, was sent out to assist Mr. Tutty, and the latter soon obtained leave of absence to go to England on some private business. While there, in 1754, he died, and the Society, appointing Mr. Breynton to the charge of the Halifax mission, permitted the Reverend Thomas Wood to remove from New Jersey, where he had been the Society's missionary at New Brunswick and Elizabethtown, to Nova Scotia to share this clergyman's work. In the autumn of 1752 Mr. Breynton Wrote that Mr. Wood had given him very seasonable help all the preceding winter, but was then gone to Annapolis by the Governor's order.

In October, 1750, Mr. Tutty had written that the number of inhabitants not including the soldiery was then four thousand, but notwithstanding the arrival of so many Germans and others in the mean time, in December, 1755, Mr, Breynton writes that the population of Halifax, through the starting of other settlements, has fallen to thirteen hundred, eight hundred of whom profess themselves members of the Church of England. The church, he says, is now "completely finished without and makes a very handsome appearance, and it is aisled and plastered within and pewed after a rough manner by the inhabitants." During the year he had baptized a hundred and seventy-three children and two adults, and at that time his communicant list numbered ninety.

The parish of St. Paul's was organized with clearly drawn boundary lines and a corporate body of wardens and vestrymen in 1759. In the autumn of that year the first vestry meeting was held, on which occasion the ordinary English way of appointing church wardens was followed, the clergyman nominating one, the parishioners the other. At a meeting of the corporation, held April 7th of the following year, a sum of thirty pounds was assessed on the members of the parish for providing church elements, paying for surplices, and fencing in the new burying ground. In a joint letter of Messrs. Breynton and Wood, of December, 1760, these clergymen write: "The church at Halifax (called St. Paul's) is almost finished in a neat and elegant manner; and the Province laws in regard to the establishment of religion are as favorable to the Church of England as the circumstances of the colony will admit; and there will be at least five thousand persons in the out settlements this year, most of whom we have reason to believe would profess themselves members of our church, provided pious and prudent missionaries should be settled among them; and in the mean time, we promise to make it our constant endeavor to establish peace and unanimity among them, and to extend our mission as far as possible, having nothing so much at heart as the furtherance of our most holy religion, and approving ourselves worthy of the great trust reposed in us."

In 1764, Mr. Wood, with the consent of the vestry and the leave of Governor Wilmot, removed to Annapolis, leaving Mr. Breynton in sole charge of Halifax, the population of which numbered still but thirteen hundred. The clergyman's labor must, however, have been very severe, for there were in the town, besides the regular inhabitants, five hundred of the army and seven hundred of the navy, who were professed members of the Church of England. Of Mr. Breynton's goodness and faithfulness too much cannot be said. His friend, Jonathan Belcher, the first Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, who never loses an opportunity of praising him, calls him a man of "indefatigable labors," "experienced assiduity," "moderation," and "perfect good acceptance," and what we know of his ministry seems such as entirely to justify even stronger praise than these epithets express. His interest in not only the mixed population he found in his new cure, but the ignorant and squalid Mic-macs of the Nova Scotia woods, his hearty God-speed to all of whatever name whom he found trying to do good to men, his solicitude for the unhappy Loyalists, who at the time of the Revolution thronged the little town, and especially for those clergymen who came to him from New England, homeless and destitute, stamps him the true priest, set apart not only by the hands of bishops but by the gentle Spirit of the living God. Dr. Hill says of him, "He was the personal friend and counsellor of the successive Governors and Lieutenant Governors, the associate and adviser of all others in authority, the friend and helper of the poor, the sick and afflicted, and the promoter and supervisor of education. He doubtless deserved the high encomium passed upon him during his absence by a brother missionary, the Reverend William Bennett, that ' he never knew a man so universally regretted by every individual of every denomination.' "While in England, in 1771, Mr. Breynton received the degree of Doctor of Divinity. In 1785, sometime before September, he sailed for England, leaving the Reverend Joshua Wingate Weeks in charge of the parish. Neither he nor the parish seems to have expected that he would not return, but for some reason he found it inexpedient to do so. After four years he resigned and the Reverend Robert Stanser, who later became the second Bishop of the Diocese, was appointed in England to the vacant rectorship, in June, 1789, sailing from Portsmouth to assume the charge. The successive rectors of St. Paul's since Dr. Stanser's time have been the Reverend John Inglis, who became rector in 1816, on the elevation of Dr. Stanser to the episcopate, the Reverend Robert Willis, elected in 1824, soon after Dr. Inglis was made Bishop, the Reverend George W. Hill, D.C.L., who became rector in 1865, the Reverend Charles Hole, who succeeded Dr. Hill in 1886, and the seventh rector, the Reverend Dyson Hague, inducted into the rectorship in 1890. In its history the church building has undergone several changes. In 1786, a large amount of money was expended on the interior of the building, the governor's pew also being "ornamented with a canopy and King's arms." In 1795, the church was railed in by the Duke of Kent, who was then residing in Halifax, and in 1812 an addition of twelve feet was made at the northern or entrance end, and a chime of three bells was presented by Mr. Andrew Belcher, son of Chief Justice, and father of Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Belcher, K.C.B. In 1868, wings were added to the church, and in 1872, a chancel was built.

From the close connection of St. Paul's parish with the Nova Scotia government, and with the public affairs of the province, important services have from time to time been held in this historic church. On Monday, October 2, 1753, Jonathan Belcher, second son of Governor Jonathan Belcher, of Massachusetts, was sworn the first Chief Justice of Nova Scotia, and after a stately reception and "an elegant breakfast at the "Great Pontac," a noted hotel of the period, in his scarlet robes, accompanied by Lieutenant-Governor Lawrence and many other public and private citizens, proceeded with the commission carried before him to the church, where the Reverend Dr. Breynton preached a sermon from the text: "I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel."

On Tuesday, February 17, 1761, at eleven o'clock, the president and members of the Council, officers of the army, and chief inhabitants, dressed in mourning, went in procession from Government House to St. Paul's Church, where the Reverend Thomas Wood preached a funeral sermon on the death of King George the Second. The pulpit, reading desk and governor's pew were hung with black, minute guns were fired from the batteries; the guns continued firing for an hour and a half, and the flags from the citadel and George's Island were at half-mast all day, all amusements being prohibited for a month, as part of the public mourning.

In July, 1766, the Rev. Mr. Wood, having sufficiently studied the Micmac language, read prayers in that tongue in St. Paul's in the presence of a number of Indians as well as the Governor, Lord William Campbell, Colonel Dalrymple, and most of the officers of the Army and Navy and the leading citizens. Before the service the Indians sang an anthem, and then a Micmac chief came forward and kneeling down prayed that God would bless His Majesty, King George the Third, "their lawful King and governor," and when he rose up Mr. Wood at his desire, explained his prayer in English to the congregation. The natives then sang another anthem, and when all was done "thanked God, the Governor and Mr. Wood for the opportunity they had had of hearing prayer in their own language."

St. Paul's church contains more mural tablets and escutcheons than even the cathedral at Quebec. No less than fifty tablets line its walls arid to the pilasters are attached eight hatchments. The first person known to have been buried in the vaults beneath it was Colonel Charles Lawrence, governor of the province during those important events, the expulsion of the Acadians, and the re-settling of their lands by Puritans from the New England States. To show their appreciation of the service he had done the province the House of Assembly voted money to defray his funeral expenses, and also to erect a monument to his memory in the Church, which seems never to have been done. In 1782, Baron de Seitz, a Hessian officer, Knight of the Order pour la Vertu Militaire, was buried here in full dress, with an orange in his hand, as is the custom when the last baron of a noble German house dies, and shortly after, his fellow-countryman and companion in arms, Baron Kniphausen. In 1784, Lord Charles Greville Montagu, a distinguished officer who had commanded a brave corps of Carolinians in the recent war between Great Britain and Spain, was laid here, and in 1791, with great ceremony, Vice-Admiral John Parr, another royal governor, Bishop Charles Inglis reading the burial service at his funeral. St. Paul's is the resting place of Sir John Wentworth, Bart., who died in 1820, of Chief Justices Jonathan Belcher, Bryan Finucaneand Sir Brenton Halliburton, of Bishop Charles Inglis, of the wife of Bishop Stanser, and of other distinguished and titled personages--public officials of Nova Scotia, brave officers of the army and navy, able jurists and statesmen, and noble private citizens, both men and women, who filled well their several spheres in this life and died in the faith of Christ and his Church.

Besides the record for good works St. Paul's has made, there are several facts in her history deserving of especial notice. One of these is of a truly unhappy character. In 1824, the rector, Dr. John Inglis, was raised to the episcopate, and the Crown, having in Dr. Inglis' own case exercised the right of election to the vacant rectorship of St. Paul's, now claimed the same prerogative. This the parishioners would perhaps not have disputed had the appointment of the English authorities been to their mind, but whether by Dr. Inglis' own suggestion or not, it is hard to say, the appointment was given to the Reverend Robert Willis, formerly chaplain of a flag ship, then rector of Trinity Church, St. John, New Brunswick, the parish presenting as their candidate the Reverend John Thomas Twining, for seven years curate of St. Paul's under Dr. Inglis. Mr. Twining, an earnest man, a decided low church man, and with administrative ability probably quite equal to the demands of the parish, himself felt that he had a prior claim; and so began a heated discussion between the parish and the British Government over the right of presentation, which lasted from October, 1824, until the beginning of 1826, and called out many bitter and acrimonious words. The case seemed so hopeless of peaceful settlement, that it was even put in chancery, but at length the parish was compelled unwillingly to submit and the Reverend Mr. Willis was inducted into the vacant charge. It will be remembered that many of the parishioners of St. Paul's at this time were Loyalists, or the children of Loyalists, proud, highly cultured people with minds of their own, which had not been rendered any more pliable by the experiences they had lately undergone. We are not surprised, therefore, that when they found themselves no longer able to withstand the stronger power, a large number of them left the church. For a time they worshipped as a separate congregation, with Mr. Twining as their minister, but this arrangement was not permitted by the Bishop long to continue, and at length many leading families belonging to the opposition formed an independent congregation which soon allied itself with the already important Baptist denomination and gave it the prestige of their social standing and their wealth. The whole correspondence in this case has been published and forms part of the admirable and painstaking history of the parish prepared for the reports of the Nova Scotia Historical Society by the Reverend Dr. Hill, the fourth rector, himself a representative of one of the best-known Halifax families.

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