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

By Arthur Wentworth Eaton

New York: Thomas Whittaker, 1891.

Chapter VIII. The Church at Shelburne

IN any review of Loyalist times in Nova Scotia, the history of the town and church of Shelburne demands more than a passing notice. Early in the Revolution, Captain Gideon White, of New York, visited Shelburne, then called Port Roseway, and advised his fellow Loyalists to settle there. So favorably was his advice looked upon, that before long a considerable number of New York men got together and formed a plan for a new city at Port Roseway, which should be a Loyalist stronghold, and should quickly rival Halifax, the Nova Scotia capital. April 27, 1783, there set sail from New York a fleet of sixteen square-rigged ships and several sloops and schooners, protected by two ships of war, containing four hundred and seventy-one families, with Beverly Robinson at their head. On the 4th of May these people reached Port Roseway, where they were met by three surveyors from Halifax, with whose aid they at once began to plan their town. The plan made provision for five parallel streets, sixty feet wide, to be intersected by others at right angles, each square to contain sixteen lots, sixty feet in width, and one hundred and twenty feet in depth. At each end of the town a large space was left for a common, and these reservations the engineers, with the assistance of fatigue parties, rapidly cleared so that tents could be erected for the temporary shelter of the people. July 11th, the town was divided into north and south, the streets were named and the lots numbered, every settler being given fifty acres on each side the harbor, and a town and water lot. From 1784, Shelburne occupied a position as a naval and military station, next to Halifax; ships of war were always anchored in its harbor, and a regiment was quartered in the town. In 1786, says Murdoch, the new city "was a gay and lively place. Every holiday or anniversary of any description was loyally kept and mirthfully enjoyed. On St. Andrews Day, December 11, 1786, the St. Andrews Society gave an elegant ball, at the merchants' coffee house.

The ball-room was crowded on the occasion and the hours of the night passed away in the most pleasing manner." As soon as the people were well established, Governor Parr paid them a visit, arriving off Point Carleton, on Sunday, the 20th of July, in His Majesty's sloop, "La Sophie." The 14th of May, 1784, Sir Charles Douglas, Bart., Commander-in-Chief of the Navy on the North American station, also came, and the 25th of May, Sir John Wentworth, Governor Parr repeating his visit the same summer. [Murdoch, vol. 3, chapter III.] Four years later, Shelburne was visited by no less illustrious a person than Prince William Henry, afterwards King William IV., who arrived in the war ship "Andromeda," and stayed four days. During his short visit a ball was given in his honor, which the Prince opened with Mrs. Bruce, wife of the collector of the port. In July, 1790, Bishop Inglis visited the town, consecrated Christ Church, and confirmed two hundred and seventy-six persons, "besides eight negroes." This first visit of Bishop Inglis to Shelburne must have had more than common interest, for the newly consecrated prelate, of course, found there not a few of his old New York parishioners, from whom he had been separated for fourteen eventful years.

The ultimate fate of the Shelburne settlement is told by Bishop John Inglis, in a letter written by him in 1844. "I have lately been at Shelburne," he writes, "where nearly ten thousand loyalists, chiefly from New York, and comprising many of my father's parishioners, attracted by the beauty and security of a most noble harbor, were tempted to plant themselves, regardless of the important want of any country in the neighborhood fit for cultivation. Their means were soon exhausted in building a spacious town, at great expense, and vainly contending against indomitable rocks; and in a few years the place was reduced to a few hundred families. Many of these returned to their native country, and a large portion of them were reduced to poverty. . . . Some few of the first emigrants are still living. I visited these aged members of the Church. They told me that on their first arrival, lines of women could be seen sitting on the rocks of the shore, and weeping at their altered condition."

Soon after the arrival of the Loyalists at Shelburne, a temporary building was put up for worship, and subscriptions were begun towards the erection of a permanent church. The first clergyman known to have officiated in the new town was Dr. William Walter, formerly rector of Trinity Church, Boston, who in 1776 left that city for England, but afterwards returned to New York, and in 1783, possibly with the April fleet, with his family of six persons, accompanied by three servants, went to Shelburne. The preserved record of his ministry in the Loyalist town begins in August, 1783. In July of that year, the Reverend George Panton, a New Jersey clergyman, and the Reverend John Sayre, formerly of Fairfield, Connecticut, were among the fifty-nine petitioners for lands in Nova Scotia, and soon after, Mr. Panton also went to Shelburne. Dr. Walter was in Boston, it is said, from December, 1783, to November, 1784, and it is possible that this clergyman may have officiated in his absence. Before August, 1786, the Reverend John Hamilton Rowland, of Pennsylvania, arrived in Shelburne, and soon two parishes were made, Dr. Walter being appointed rector of St. George's, and Mr. Rowland of St. Patrick's. Unhappily, at first, there was not perfect good feeling between these two parishes, but in May, 1788, at the first parish meeting in Shelburne of which we have any record, the rectors and vestries of both parishes being present, a vote of thanks to the Venerable Society was passed, for its "munificence and condescension in granting to the town a mission for each of the gentlemen settled there as rectors of the two parishes, by means of which those differences which formerly did exist among the members of the Church are happily done away, and union and harmony restored." The next Sunday, Mr. Rowland preached "an admirable sermon "from the text: "We took sweet counsel together, and walked in the house of God as friends."

At the meeting referred to, steps were also taken for a more permanent and church-like building for worship, the British Government having offered a generous sum for that purpose. Tenders being soon called for, at an adjourned meeting, June 6, 1788, the tender of Messrs. Hildreth and White for the sum of six hundred and twenty pounds was accepted, four hundred pounds of this sum to be given by the Home Government. The contract was executed in June, 1788, and the building was handed over to the wardens, completed "in a handsome and workman-like manner, and of excellent materials," in December, 1789. In the mean time, however, the Marquis of Lansdowne and Earl of Shelburne, from whom the place received its name, had been appealed to for aid in completing the building, and Sir Charles Douglas had been asked for the bell of the "Ville de Paris," the French admiral, Count de Grasse's flag ship, captured April 12, 1782, when the great victory over the French, under Lord Rodney, was won. The bell had been otherwise disposed of, but the Marquis of Lansdowne gave the church twenty guineas, and Sir William Pepperell ten, the people themselves contributing at least two hundred pounds. At the completion of the church, the church-wardens report, that "agreeable to the order of the committee, at last meeting, they had taken seizure and possession of the said church, from the said contract builders in the name and behalf, and to the use of the two parishes, In due form of law, by receiving at the hands of the said Hildreth and White, the key of the great west door of the church, turning out the said builders, and locking the door upon them, and then immediately opening the door again." This was on the 22d of December, 1789, and the first service was held the following Christmas day. The church under the name of Christ Church, and the churchyard, were consecrated by Bishop Inglis, as we have seen, on Friday, July 30, 1790, the sermon, by direction of the bishop, since Dr. Walter was in Boston, being preached by Mr. Rowland. Dr. Walter finally left the parish at Easter, 1791, and Mr. Rowland became sole rector of the two parishes, which on the loth of May, 1793, were joined under the name of "The United Parishes of St. George and St. Patrick." Early in 1795, Mr. Rowland becoming very ill, he earnestly asked Bishop Inglis to ordain his son, Thomas Bolby Rowland, then a student at King's College. The bishop at once complied, and February n, 1795, Mr. Rowland, Junior, was introduced to the wardens and vestry by his father, then on his death bed. The father died shortly after, in his forty-fourth year, and on the 26th of February the son officiated at his funeral. In due time Thomas Rowland was admitted to the priesthood, and October 9, 1795, was appointed rector of the united parishes. He married (the Reverend Benjamin Gerrish Gray of Preston, Halifax County, officiating) Miss Braine, eldest daughter of Mr. Thomas Braine. Like his father, he was a good, intelligent, faithful pastor, but in 1835, feeling the infirmities of age upon him, he asked for an assistant and, January ist, 1836, the present aged rector, Rev. Thomas Howland White, ordained in 1829, a grandson of the Loyalist, Gideon White, was appointed missionary in charge. Dr. Rowland left for the United States in 1846, and died a few years afterward in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, having been for fifty-one years rector of the parish. July 30, 1890, the centennial of the consecration of Christ Church, Shelburne, was observed, the venerable Dr. White, in the eighty-fifth year, of his age, the sixty-second of his ministry, and the fifty-fifth of his incumbency at Shelburne, preaching an able historical memorial sermon. In this sermon, Dr. White says of the first Shelburne clergyman: "Dr. William Walter has been described to me by those who knew him as a 'good preacher, a diligent pastor, and a pious man, much beloved by his people.' In his farewell address he speaks of the ' painfulness of leaving a people among whom he had long (nine years) and happily labored. He alludes also to the handsome set of books, and valuable silver communion plate, obtained from a gentleman in London.' "Of Reverend John Hamilton Rowland, Dr. White says: He was "a learned man and a good preacher. In writing to the bishop recommending the Reverend Thomas Bolby Rowland as his father's successor, the wardens and vestry speak of their mournful loss in the death of their much-regretted, benevolent, and truly pious rector. It is but justice to say that he performed every duty with the truest sincerity and zeal, at once being an ornament and example of the Christian character."

At the close of the eighteenth century, the population of Shelburne was only about seven hundred, but later, it became a town of rather more importance. It has always been known as a place of intelligence and refinement, many of the best of its people, like their Tory ancestors, being devout members of the Church.

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