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 XV. Other Religious Bodies

THE earliest missions in Acadia were conducted by Jesuits sent out through the influence of Madame la Marquise de Guercheville in 1611. These were entirely unsuccessful, and the later conversion of the Indians to Roman Catholicism seems to have been effected chiefly through the Franciscans, or Recollets, who took their place in 1619, and re-established themselves again in 1633. In 1753, the French had six churches in the peninsula of Nova Scotia, one at Annapolis, with Monsieur des Enclaves as priest, one at Cobequid, two at Pisiquid, one at Minas, and one at River Canard. The most famous priest ever in Nova Scotia, was Monsieur Louis Joseph de la Loutre, a worldly, scheming man and an implacable foe to Britain, who was in the province from 1741 until the expulsion of the Acadians in 175 5, and to whose influence was in great measure due the continued refusal of these people to take the oath of allegiance to the English king. Besides him, at the time of the founding of Halifax, was Monsieur Antoine Simon Maillard, who, under the auspices of the Society of Foreign Missions in Paris, was sent out to Canada about the year 1734, and later was removed to Nova Scotia and Cape Breton, where he became Vicar-General of Louisburg, at its fall retiring to the woods and ministering to the people of the few Acadian and Indian villages between that and Miramichi. For a long time this priest, like de la Loutre, was an avowed enemy of the English, but in 1759 he made his peace with them, and on the invitation of the governor took up his residence at Halifax, and used his influence to conciliate the Micmacs, for which the government gave him a salary of two hundred pounds a year. He seems, likewise, practically to have renounced his Church, for when he died in 1762, the Reverend Thomas Wood attended his bedside and at his own request read the prayers from the Church of England Prayer Book, afterwards conducting his funeral, which was attended by all the chief inhabitants of Halifax, and by many French and Indians. By an act of the first legislature, Roman Catholics were ordered at once to leave the province, but notwithstanding this oppressive act, in great measure justified by the long-continued opposition of Acadian priests to British rule, the Roman Catholic Church did not lose its hold in Nova Scotia, and in 1784 a church was built in Halifax itself. In 1881, the adherents of this Church in Nova Scotia numbered one hundred and seventeen thousand four hundred and eighty-seven; in New Brunswick one hundred and nine thousand and ninety-one; and in Prince Edward Island, forty-seven thousand one hundred and fifteen.

The first Protestant Dissenters in Nova Scotia, were probably either New England Congregationalists, or Scotch or Irish Presbyterians. Of both classes there were some in Annapolis long before the coming of the Cornwallis fleet. When Halifax was settled, enough New England people joined the colony to make a Congregational Church at once necessary; and in a letter to the Boston Weekly News Letter, of the date of June 14, 1750, a correspondent writes: "We shall soon have a large Church erected, and for the encouragement of Protestant Dissenters, a handsome lot is laid out for a Meeting-House and another for a Minister, in a very pleasant Situation." In a letter to the same newspaper, June 14, 1750, probably the same correspondent says: "Yesterday the Gov-ernour laid the Corner Stone of the Church which is now building, and which I believe will be the handsomest in America. And as soon as we can get a Dissenting Minister settled here, we shall have a handsome Meeting-House with a good Dwelling-House for the Minister, built at the Public Expense. I have subscribed to the support of Mr. Cleveland for two months, as have the Governour and most gentlemen here: and I believe we have Dissenters enough here at Present for four ministers." This "Mr. Cleveland "was the Reverend Aaron Cleveland, great-great-grandfather of Grover Cleveland, ex-President of the United States. He was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, October 29, 1715, and graduated at Harvard College in 1735. His wife was Miss Susannah Porter, daughter of the Reverend Aaron Porter, of Medford, Massachusetts. December 15, 1750, a gentleman living in Halifax writes; "The Reverend Mr. Cleveland is arrived here, and is well received by the Governour and other Gentlemen of the Place; he preaches every Lord's Day in the Afternoon in the Church, to good acceptance, and will continue to do so till a Meetinghouse can be built."

The Congregational meeting-house in Hali-fax,to which reference is made in these extracts, was first named "Mather's Church," after the great New England Puritan divine; in after years it passed to Presbyterians of the Established Church of Scotland, and became known as St. Matthew's, the name it still bears. Of this church, Mr. Cleveland remained pastor only until the summer of 1754; then he resigned his charge and went to England for Holy Orders. Having been ordained, he returned to America and visited Halifax, but soon went to the United States, and died in Philadelphia, at the house of his friend, Benjamin Franklin, in August, 1757. After he left Halifax, Mather's Church was without a settled pastor for several years, but the Reverend William Moore was at last installed, some time before 1769. In the latter year, a German Presbyterian church was built in Lunenburg; and in 1770-71, a Lutheran church in the same place. [DesBrisay's "History of Lunenberg."] To the pastorate of the German Presbyterian church--"Dutch Calvinistic Presbyterian," it is called--Mr. Bruin Romcas Comingo was ordained in Halifax, July 3, 1770. This gentleman, who was born in Leewarden, Holland, in 1723, came to Nova Scotia with the German settlers in 1752, and died at Lunenburg, January 6, 1820. His ordination was the first Presbyterian ordination in the province. In 1785, besides the minister of the Lunenburg church, there were three Presbyterian clergymen in the province, Reverend James Murdoch settled at Horton, but preaching in many other places, Reverend Daniel Cock at Truro, and Reverend David Smith at Londonderry. In that year, a fourth minister, Reverend Hugh Graham, was sent from Scotland to the Cornwallis church, which had been started as a Congregational church; and in 1786, the first presbytery in Nova Scotia was formed at Truro, with the name of the "Associate Presbytery of Truro," its standards being those of the Presbyterian churches of Scotland, and its ministers declaring themselves to be subordinate to the "Burgher Associate Synod in North Britain."

The New England people who came to the province in greater numbers than before, between 1760 and '62, and settled on the lands of the exiled Acadians, were, of course, as a rule, Congregationalists. In 1769, as we learn by a memorial from the Cornwallis Congregational church to the Congregational churches of Boston and the neighboring towns, there were, in all, in Nova Scotia, six churches of this order, located at Barrington, Liverpool, Chester, Halifax, Cornwallis, and Cumberland, each with a pastor. Of the ministers of these churches, all but one were from New England, the Reverend Israel Cheever, of Liverpool, the Reverend John Secombe, of Chester, and the Reverend Caleb Gannett, of Cumberland, being graduates of Harvard, and the Reverend Benaiah Phelps, of Cornwallis, a graduate of Yale. [Rev. Israel Cheever was graduated at Harvard in 1749, Rev. John Secombe in 1728, and Rev. Caleb Gannett in 1763. Rev. Benaiah Phelps was graduated at Yale in 1761.] The remaining two were the Reverend Mr. Wood, of Barrington, and the Reverend William Moore, of Halifax, the former also a New England man, the latter a native of Ireland.

With two Presbyterian clergymen, already mentioned, Mr. Murdoch at Horton, and Mr. Lyon at Truro, and possibly another Congregationalist in New Brunswick, these were all the Dissenting ministers at this time in the province.

In her early history in Nova Scotia, the Church, then, came into contact chiefly, among the various Christian denominations, with the Congregational body. The New England Con-gregationalists, as a rule, were deeply attached to their polity, which they then believed to be exclusively the New Testament plan, and were out of sympathy with the Church's worship; and, notwithstanding the moderate and conciliatory tone of feeling on the part of the government towards Dissenters, it is very clear that Churchmen never lost an opportunity of impressing upon the latter that they were in dissent. In their old home these people had had virtually an established church, but it was the one to which they still belonged, and in this new colony, with its formal adherence to the Church of England, in religious matters they no doubt often felt strangely out of place. How many of them soon came into the Church it is hard to say, but in every place where Church missions were established, there were no doubt some who felt the superiority of the Church's order and the beauty of her worship, and before long gave up their allegiance to Congregationalism, and knelt at her altars. [The Cornwallis memorialists, in 1769, state that their people number a hundred and thirty-three families, not ten of which belong to the Established Church. They say that several of the "more loose and unstable" of their people have gone over to the Church, and unless they can get help in supporting their ministers, in a few years they will all be "Churchmen or nothing, in point of religion."] The greater part of them, however, were more or less influenced by the remarkable "revival," under the preaching of Mr. Henry Alline, the great Nova Scotia "New Light" preacher, which began in 1776 and lasted until his death in 1784. Henry Alline, the Whitefield of Nova Scotia, was born in Newport, Rhode Island, June 14, 1748, his parents, William and Rebecca Alline, having gone to that place from Boston, and later emigrated to Falmouth, Nova Scotia. He was a man stirred with the deepest emotions, and a preacher of the most fervid eloquence, which, as in the case of Whitefield, few that came much under his influence were able to resist. It is probable that in Nova Scotia, owing to the scarcity of preachers and the necessary absorption of the people in their various callings, religious earnestness had much declined, and that the time was especially ripe for Alline's fervid preaching. Certain it is, that he stirred non-conformist Nova Scotia to its core, his work, as was natural in the eyes of the soberer Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Church people, seeming to be attended with wild fanaticism and extravagance. [See the S. P. G. report for 1790, where the principles and practices of the New Lights are said to be "subversive of all sober and rational religion."] Under his influence, in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, several important New Light Churches were formed, their principles, according to a later Presbyterian minister, being "a mixture of Calvinism, Antinomianism, and enthusiasm." After Mr. Alline's death, the societies he had founded, as a rule, gradually became Baptist churches, and settled into sober, conservative ways, the half-dozen old Congre gational churches, with depicted memberships, keeping, as some of them are still doing, a trembling hold on life, or else changing into Presbyterianism and drawing into themselves whatever Scotchmen happened to be in their vicinity. The Baptist denomination, thus started, contained many of the most intelligent and influential New England families in Nova Scotia, and its history has been far from obscure. The towns and villages where Baptist churches were formed were desirably located, and were among the' most progressive in the province; and when in 1826, or shortly after, the trouble in St. Paul's Church, Halifax, drove many of the most aristocratic families in the capital into independency, the principles of tin's body, evangelical, simple, and from Calvinistic Puritan premises, logical, the influence it had already acquired, and the promise of greater success it seemed to contain, led the former Churchmen of St. Paul's into the shelter of its fold. Henceforth, the Baptist body became one of the most important denominations in the province of Nova Scotia, occupying relatively a higher position there, it is probable, than any where else in the world. In 1881, this denomination was the third in point of numbers in the province, the Roman Catholics having the first place, the Presbyterians the second, and the Church of England the fourth.

The only remaining denomination of much size in Nova Scotia, is the Wesleyan Methodist, which stands fifth in point of numbers and has among its adherents, especially in Halifax, many persons of wealth and influence. The pioneer missionary of the Wesleyan body was the Reverend William Black, who preached, like his contemporary, Henry Alline, in most of the hamlets in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and made many converts, one of his chief strongholds being Sackville, New Brunswick, where there was then a settlement of Yorkshire Methodists.

Between the New Light Congregationalists and the Methodists in these years, there was as little love as there was between the more conservative Presbyterians and Congregationalists and the disciples of Alline, but as was natural, the Church seemed to have less prejudice against the Wesleyans than against any other body. In 1785, a zealous Methodist minister named Garretson came to Halifax from New York, and soon after his arrival called on good Dr. Breynton, whose reception of him perfectly accords with the noble character of the first rector of St. Paul's. "You are on a blessed errand," said he, "I will do what I can to assist you, I desire to see the gospel spread." Nor was Governor Parr less kindly in his treatment of the minister. He spoke in commendation of Wesley, assured Mr. Garretson of his interest in the work the latter had come to Nova Scotia to do, and said: "Whenever you call for my assistance, if I can help you I will." In Newport, the Reverend William Twining had most cordial relations with the Methodists living near him, often preaching and administering the Communion in their church. The early growth of the Wesleyan body, however, was so slow that in 1800, there were only five ministers of this denomination in the Maritime Provinces. Among the converts to Methodism in Nova Scotia, were many New England people, but as a rule, the Methodists were chiefly English people who had settled here.

The early population of Nova Scotia, being of so high an order, the subject of education has always, necessarily, been foremost among the concerns of the province, and next to the propagation of their various religious views, has interested the leading Christian bodies. From the beginning, higher education here has been almost exclusively under denominational control, the Church having her schools at Windsor, the Roman Catholics theirs at An-tigonishe and Halifax, the Presbyterian body its academy at Pictou and its college and divinity school at Halifax, the Baptists their college and preparatory schools at Wolfville, and the Methodists theirs at Sackville, just across the border of New Brunswick. The only one of the half-dozen colleges of the Maritime Prov-inc, s that can fairly be regarded as undenominational, is the University of New Brunswick, at Fredericton, which is mainly under government control. Of the colleges in the present province of Nova Scotia, besides King's, there are but two that deserve especial mention--"Dalhousie," at Halifax, which, from its origin and with the present aims of those who control its fortunes, should in time be so far removed from denominational influence as to become pre-eminently the college of Nova Scotia; and "Acadia," at Wolfville, the respectable college of the Baptist denomination of the Lower Provinces.

In the chapter on King's College we have seen the fatal mistakes that were made in the early management of that institution, mistakes that large-minded people in all the subsequent history of the province have deplored, as tending to alienate people of other denominations from the Church, and to fix more firmly those narrow sectarian prejudices that are the bane of American Protestantism. Except for those early mistakes, King's College might, and probably would have become a university for the province, with an efficient staff of professors and with advantages for study greater than any Nova Scotia college can now possibly give. From 1816 until 1819, the governor of Nova Scotia was Lieutenant-General George Ramsay, ninth Earl of Dalhousie. An intelligent, broad-minded man, and evidently anxious to do something for the province during his short term of office; and seeing, as many Churchmen and others saw, the evil of the legislation which shut King's College against Dissenters, in 1817, as ex-officio president of the board of governors of the college, he made a strong effort to have the obnoxious statutes repealed. To this end, with the Nova Scotia government at their back, he and Chief-Justice Blowers united in a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, as patron of the college, begging his sanction to the proposed change. The Archbishop's answer was a prompt refusal: "To this proposition"--the proposition to confer degrees without requiring subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles--said he, "I cannot consent. The college was founded for the purpose of educating the youth of Nova Scotia in the principles of the Established Church; and the degrees conferred by it must be conferred in support of such principles." Failing in his purpose, Lord Dalhousie, who still saw clearly that one college was all that Nova Scotia could properly support, but who saw likewise the absolute need of an institution to which all young men, irrespective of denomination, might be freely admitted, obtained the sanction of the Imperial Government to the establishment of another seminary in Halifax, to which his lordship is said to have desired to give rather the character of a superior high school than of a university.

The corner-stone of the building for the new school of learning was laid on the parade ground in Halifax, May 22, 1820, but the college, although largely endowed by government, was not opened until 1838 or '39, before its opening, however, every effort being made to unite it with King's on the proposed broader basis. [The first fruitless attempt to unite the two colleges was made in 1823 and '24. This was followed by another, equally unsuccessful, in 1836, and this by a final attempt in 1885. In any broad view of education, the struggle to maintain three colleges in a province large enough for only one, is a vast mistake.]

It would seem that, with the history of the mistakes of King's College, Nova Scotians should have had their eyes open to the necessity for a large, generous provision for the educational needs of the province. But the end of mistaken college management had not yet come. Horton Academy was founded by the Baptists at Wolfville, in the beautiful "Land of Evangeline," in 1829, and went prosperously on for nine years, during which period, Dalhousie not yet having been opened, the need of a college where young men not Churchmen could obtain degrees became more and more felt. When at last, in 1838, it was proposed to commence classes at Dalhousie, the Baptists, long since reinforced by the influential seceders from St. Paul's, with strong hopes of success, petitioned that a Baptist professor might be appointed to this college, which had been so liberally endowed from the public funds. No request could possibly have been more reasonable, but it was stupidly ignored, and the Baptists, having not only intelligence and wealth, but keen sense of justice, and indomitable energy and perseverance, now thoroughly aroused, determined to found a college of their own. This they did in 1839, of the ten members of the first governing body, at least five being men who had formerly been influential Churchmen. The staff of instruction at first comprised but two persons, the Reverend John Pryor and the Reverend Edmund Albern Crawley, both reared in the Church and graduated at King's College, but lately ordained as Baptist ministers.

The name of this college, whose first building, a fine classical-looking structure with Ionic or Doric pillars, stood on a commanding hill overlooking the wide "Grand Pré" and the blue basin of Minas, in 1841, was appropriately changed to "Acadia." [Many Nova Scotians have studied at Edinburgh University, and at McGill, Montreal, while a considerable number of the graduates of Acadia have also taken degrees at Harvard, where they have ranked high as students of the college, or of the professional schools.]

It is probably true that in late years the leading Dissenting bodies in Nova Scotia have often had ministers of greater ability, and sometimes of more thorough education, than the Church of England. This may especially be said of the Presbyterian Church, many of whose ministers are Scotchmen, or of sturdy Scottish ancestry, and with the advantage of having studied at the Scottish universities. The chief defect of the Churchmanship of Nova Scotia, is a lack of intellectual breadth, the result of the isolation of the diocese from great centres of thought and action, and there have consequently been many places where the attitude of the Church towards other religious bodies has been narrow and intolerant. In the United States, any pre-eminence the Episcopal Church may have attained, has been the result of an intelligent recognition by her members, of the great issues of thought on which religious men have become divided, the broader intellectual movements back of present denominational differences. In Nova Scotia, the clergymen of the Church have too often made prescriptive authority and tradition do duty for clear thought and fair-minded appreciation of the positions of other Christian men. For this the complete cure can be found only in a broader university training, in which men of widely different opinions, and yet bound to respect each other's intellectual powers, shall come together in the freest social intercourse. It is, in great part, to this unrestrained mingling of able young men of all denominations in the various colleges and other institutions of learning, that the Churchmanship of the United States owes its well-recognized comprehensiveness and breadth. In Nova Scotia the Church may hold her own, but she can never gain greatly until her clergy come to understand that she is not simply the ancient Church of England, or the Church of the Tory people of the American Revolution, but that she is also a Church with infinite powers of adaptation to the intellects and hearts of nineteenth century men and women.

Project Canterbury