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 VI. The Coming of the Loyalists

OUR rapid survey of the five earliest missions of the Church in Nova Scotia has brought us to the period of the war of the Revolution in the older American colonies. We have seen the missionaries of the S. P. G. at work among the English and New England people of Halifax, the Germans and Swiss of Lunenburg, the New England settlers in Hants, Kings, and Annapolis counties, the Indians about the old Port Royal garrison, and the Scotch-Irish and New England inhabitants of Cumberland county, the most northerly district in Nova Scotia then reached by the Church. With the war of the Revolution an entirely new element came into Nova Scotia. There were many in the revolting colonies who could not sympathize with the prevailing bitterness against the mother country, and who either absolutely refused to take any part in the disturbance, or else speedily joined the British side. Among these United Empire Loyalists were many of the foremost men of the leading colonies, especially New York and Massachusetts, who, as the strife grew fiercer, and the fury of the violent Whigs increased, found themselves proscribed and banished, their property confiscated, and in some cases even their lives endangered. In this state of things a movement toward settlement in Nova Scotia was begun, and by 1784, between thirty-five and forty thousand Loyalists, it is estimated, had found refuge in the province of Nova Scotia, which then had its boundary at the river St. Croix. [Hannay puts the number as high as this; it has commonly been put at not more than thirty thousand. Hannay thinks that a hundred thousand, in all, went to Nova Scotia, Upper and Lower Canada, England, and the West India Islands.]

The emigration of Loyalists to Nova Scotia began at the evacuation of Boston in 1776, when more than fourteen hundred of the inhabitants of Massachusetts went with the British troops to Halifax. In September, 1782, three hundred from New York, landed at Annapolis, the next being five hundred unfortunate Carolinians, who fled from Charleston at its evacuation. In January, 1783, the governor notified Sir Thomas Johnston, the minister in England, of future arrivals, but it was not until April of that year that the chief emigration began. Then, a fleet of twenty vessels left New York for the river St. John, having on board three thousand Loyalists, men, women, and children. June 6, 1783, Governor Parr informs Lord North, the secretary of state, that since January 15th, upwards of seven thousand refugees have arrived in Nova Scotia, these, he says, to be followed by three thousand of the provincial forces, and others besides. July 6th, he writes that a considerable number of Loyalists at New York desire to make a settlement in Cape Breton Island, and September 30th, he writes that from November last to the end of July, upwards of thirteen thousand persons have arrived at Annapolis, Halifax, Port Rose-way (Shelburne), St. John River, and Cumberland, and that numbers have since landed, so that there are now probably eighteen thousand in the province. At Shelburne, he says, there are about five thousand, and many others are expected. He does not know how many may still come to the province, but he is informed by Sir Guy Carleton that eight or ten thousand will probably "be forced by the violent temper of the American committees to seek an asylum here." About this time two thousand more Loyalists did come, in addition to the eight thousand Shelburne settlers, who sailed from New York, Long Island, and Staten Island in the famous September fleet. In the next two months several ship loads more came, so that in November the governor estimated the whole number in the province as over twenty-five thousand.

With the coming of the Loyalists, Halifax developed into a prosperous and busy city with signs of wealth and culture everywhere. To accommodate the thousands that came to the western and southern shores, new settlements were made--Shelburne, Digby, Weymouth; and in other parts of the province, Wilmot, and Guysborough, besides the numerous settlements in the newly-constituted province of New Brunswick. While most of the older communities had their populations thus reinforced, the inhabitants of Nova Scotia were at this time still further increased by many negroes from the plantations in the South who had escaped to freedom. To settle all these new people in homes, properly to apportion lands for their use, and at the same time to keep in check the rebellious spirit of the inhabitants of Cumberland, required the most vigilant care of the provincial authorities.

Nor did the Loyalists start for Nova Scotia without sufficient guaranty on the part of the British Government itself. Sir Guy Carleton seems to have been empowered to make any arrangement for their welfare that seemed best to him, and near the close of the Revolution, being waited on at New York by the Reverend Dr. Seabury, then of Westchester, and Colonel Benjamin Thompson, of the King's American Dragoons, gave distinct assurance that the Loyalists intending to go to Nova Scotia should be provided with vessels to carry them and their belongings, with provisions for the voyage; and for those who needed such assistance food and clothing for a year after landing, or else money to purchase, besides building materials and fire-arms. More important than all, it was promised that convenient tracts of from three to six hundred acres of land should be set off for each family, and in every township, land should be granted for a church and a school. Notwithstanding these liberal provisions for their welfare, the Loyalists, wrenched from homes of comfort, and in many cases of luxury, with life-long, tender, human ties rudely snapped, compelled to begin life anew under strange, hard conditions, must have suffered deeply.

The relation borne by this story of the Loyalist emigration to the history of the Church in Nova Scotia, is of course clear. The Loyalists were, almost without exception, Church people, who in the new communities where they now found themselves, aimed to establish the ancient worship according to the Book of Common Prayer.

No class fared more hardly in the Revolution than the Episcopal clergy. That they were the upholders on this continent of an institution that in England was part and parcel of the state, was of itself sufficient to make them the objects of suspicion, but it was also true that in the beginning of the conflict they almost without exception openly espoused the British side. It would be surprising indeed if they had done otherwise, since not only were they all the agents of an English society, from which they drew their pay, but in ordination had vowed to be loyal to the English sovereign. There were some few clergymen in the revolting colonies who were able to interpret this promise as a Vow of loyalty to whoever might be in authority--a general promise to do what lay in their power to uphold good government--but the majority were not able thus to settle the matter with their consciences, and there is no doubt that in most instances their sympathies as well as their convictions were all in favor of yielding to whatever laws the mother country might see fit to make. In most cases they held on to their parishes as long as they were permitted, or found it at all safe to do so; then many of them fled within the British lines or secretly took themselves off to England or to some of the still loyal colonies. In the brief biographies of Loyalist clergymen, in a later chapter, it will be seen how large a number were driven from their old homes to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick; [At the beginning of the War of Independence there were in all the American colonies, from Maine to Georgia, less than three hundred parishes, and not far from two hundred and fifty clergymen.] while the new missions started in these provinces under their auspices will attest their continued zeal for the Church, of which they were ministers, and the Church's worship. Their sufferings were in many cases most severe. They were mobbed, whipped, shot at, imprisoned, fined, and banished; their property was confiscated or wantonly destroyed, their services were disturbed, their altars defiled, their churches wrecked, and their writings burned. Some of them died of poverty and exposure. Reverend Dr. Caner writes the Society from Halifax that he and several other clergymen had been obliged to leave Boston at a moment's warning, with the loss of all their property. Reverend Dr. Byles came to Halifax with five motherless children, and for a time was deprived of all means of support. Reverend Jacob Bailey reports that for three years past he has undergone the most severe and cruel treatment. In May, 1776, he was seized by the committee and after being treated with the utmost abuse, was laid under heavy bonds for refusing to read a proclamation for a general fast, and a few months after was summoned before the same committee for not publishing the Declaration of Independence, after which he was declared an enemy to his country and ordered to appear before the general court, at a distance of a hundred and eighty miles, in the midst of winter. Visiting a settlement, about fifty miles from his home, to preach and baptize, he was assaulted by a violent armed mob, who stripped him naked in search of papers, pretending that he had formed a design of escaping to Quebec. Being afterwards cleared on a trial of transportation, in a full town meeting, the magistrates were so incensed that they issued a warrant to apprehend him, which induced him to remain a close prisoner in his house for many weeks, to the great detriment of his health. At length he fled in the night, through fear of an armed mob ready to seize him, and wandered about the provinces of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, till the act expired, after which for three months he was violently persecuted by the high sheriff for not taking the oath of abjuration. Then he obtained leave to depart from Maine, but was prevented by the severity of the weather and other circumstances, for six months, during which time he was violently persecuted by the sheriff who declared that he should either abjure.the king or be sent to prison, both of which, however, through his constant vigilance and the kindness of his parishioners, he was able to avoid. In short, he was twice mobbed, four times sentenced to heavy bonds and hurried from one tribunal to another, three times driven from his family and obliged to roam about the country disguised, his family meanwhile suffering and he himself sometimes going without food for twenty-four hours at a time. He was twice fired at, his servant was imprisoned in his absence, and when at last he and his family were able to escape to Halifax, they were destitute of money, had nothing left of their property but two old feather beds, and had hardly enough clothing to cover them. Reverend John Sayre writes that he had lost his all--that he had not even a change of clothing for himself or his family, and that he had been obliged to borrow money to enable him to remove to Nova Scotia. Reverend Isaac Browne, an old clergyman, between forty and fifty years a missionary in New Jersey, is reported as having reached Annapolis, penniless, after a month's "tedious and tempestuous "voyage, which had so affected his wife as to bring on delirium from which there was little hope of her recovering. These were a few of the many cases of suffering among its missionaries, reported at this time to the S. P. G., which in conjunction with the governments of Nova Scotia, and the newly-formed province of New Brunswick, and with the kindly aid of the rector of St. Paul's in Halifax, did all it could to alleviate their distress.

The unsettled period of the Revolution was thus the real beginning of the Church in Nova Scotia. During the whole of it the few older missionaries in the province were most active in their missions, but in succeeding chapters it will be shown how many new churches, under these exiled Loyalist clergymen, were now actively started. Notwithstanding the number of clergymen who came from the older colonies, the needs of the greatly-increased population were not soon met, and the constant appeals for more missionaries, especially in the peninsula of Nova Scotia, are truly pathetic. From Cornwallis, Mr. Wiswell, and from Annapolis, Mr. Bailey, annually report themselves as having made long and tedious journeys to minister to people in the new settlements, who have neither church nor minister, and who greatly desire both. In 1784, Mr. Bailey writes that he has visited Digby, a newly-settled town, about twenty miles from Annapolis, where he has held service. He speaks with approbation of Mr. Forman, "a refugee and half-pay officer, who was the principal schoolmaster there, and who, observing the growing evils in that populous settlement, arising from the want of public worship and from the abuse and profanation of the Lord's day, had accustomed himself to assemble his pupils in particular on that day, and to read the Church service and a sermon to them; "the result of which was soon crowded audiences, and a visible alteration in the manners of the people. Other large settlements and towns, he writes, are daily forming, "where scarcely a vestige of human cultivation and resort existed before the late calamitous emigration." "These unfortunate exiles," he says, "wish the Society to know how anxious they are for the ministrations of religion, and since, deprived of their property as they have been, and obliged to begin the world anew, it will be some years before they are able to support ministers, they implore the assistance of their charitable brethren in Europe." Digby, especially, Mr. Bailey recommends to the notice of the Society. The town is compact and contains five hundred families of loyal refugees, and he thinks there is no part of the province where a minister could be of more service.

In the peninsula of Nova Scotia, between 1784, and 1790, we find the following appointments made by the S. P. G. To Digby, Reverend Roger Viets, to Shelburne, Reverend William Walter and Reverend John Rowland, to Parrsborough, Reverend Thomas Shreve, to Wilmot, Reverend John Wiswell, to Guysborough, Reverend Peter de la Roche, to Yarmouth, Reverend George Panton, and to Granville, Reverend Archibald Peane Inglis, who is said to have been a nephew of Bishop Charles Inglis. The reports from these new missions at the close of the century, show activity and growth. Granville has been set off from Annapolis Royal, because "the rapid river "that runs between these two places, makes frequent services there impossible, and because there is a numerous population who desire a settled clergyman, the Dissenters being willing to turn their meeting house over to the Church. Aylesford and Wilmot are too far removed from Cornwallis and Horton to be longer joined with them, and so the bishop and Mr. James Morden together have given four hundred acres of land in Aylesford for a glebe, and a church has been begun at Wilmot, and a clergyman settled there. The missionary at Annapolis Royal has added part of the new Loyalist settlement of Clements, containing sixty families, to his already large field, the Reverend Mr. Viets of Digby having taken the other part. The Digby mission has somewhat suffered by the return to the United States of sixty families, but a church is building and the mission has, on the whole, so prospered that Mr. Viets has now twenty-seven white, and seventeen black communicants. At Parrsborough a church is nearly done, and its missionary, the Reverend Mr. Shreve, reports thirteen communicants.

Project Canterbury