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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER XIV

LETTERS FROM PERTH,
UPPER CANADA.
BY THE
REV. WILLIAM BELL


LETTER  XIV


11  BROCKVILLE IS 144 miles above Montreal, and 56 below Kingston. Besides its public buildings, which are the jail, court-house, and Presbyterian church, it contains a number of handsome private houses, many belonging to lawyers and merchants. It is the capital of the county of Leeds, and the various courts for administering law and justice are held there. The Presbyterian congregation existed many years ago, but they never had a regular supply of preaching, nor was the church organised till Mr. Smart, their present minister, came among them. Having been unsuccessful in their applications in other quarters, they, in 1808 or 1809, applied to the London Missionary Society for religious instruction. Mr. Smart was at the time studying in the Missionary Seminary at Gosport, with a view to his proceeding to the East Indies; "but the counsel of the Lord shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure." India was not to be the scene of his future labours. This petition was the means of changing his destination, and he was soon after ordained in London to the work of the ministry in Elizabeth Town, in Upper Canada. On his arrival, he did not confine his labours to one particular place, but travelled and preached in all the settlements between Cornwall and Kingston, an extent of more than 100 miles. The roads were bad, and the farmers' houses at which he lodged were often uncomfortable. His health sensibly declined, and he was forced to travel less. During the war he preached frequently to the garrison at Fort Wellington, and it was on one of these occasions that a ball from one of the American guns on the opposite side of the river, passed over his horse's neck and struck the ground a little beyond him, covering him and two gentlemen who walked near him with dust. It was during this war that Brockville began to rise into a village. It took its name from General Brock, who nobly fell in the act of defending the country from the invasion of the enemy. There being no church hitherto erected, Mr. Smart determined to set about one. His congregation contributed liberally, and he raised further supplies in Quebec, Montreal, Kingston and other places. The building was begun in 1816, and was completed the very day I reached Brockville, in June, 1817, and was dedicated the following day, in presence of a large congregation. Mr. Easton of Montreal preached in the forenoon, and I in the afternoon. A Christian church was regularly organised some years ago, and the sacrament of the Lord's supper is administered every three months. The place of worship cost about £1400, and is a substantial stone building, affording accommodation for a large congregation; but except on particular occasions it is never filled, and for some time past the congregation has been rather upon the decrease. No blame however, can be attached to Mr. Smart, whose character is unblemished and whose pious labours are unremitting.
           Though Mr. Smart's residence is nearly fifty miles from mine, he was almost the only Presbyterian minister with whom I could have any intercourse, for five years after I came to this country. This was regarded as a very providential circumstance by us both. Though both born in Scotland, we became acquainted in London: we were both members of Dr. Waugh's church in Wells Street, and used to attend a prayer meeting in the vestry every Thursday evening, consisting of young men belonging to the congregation. Here, with emotions you can better conceive than I can describe, we first, in the presence of others, presented our supplications at the throne of grace, and spoke on some passage of Scripture which had been proposed for the occasion. And though we had both before felt a desire to preach the gospel yet it was assuredly here that we finally resolved to devote ourselves to the work of the ministry. A short time after, Mr. Smart went to Gosport, and I went to Glasgow to pursue my studies. For several years after he went to Canada, we were separated by a vast ocean, and never expected to,meet again in this world. But how wonderful are the ways of Providence! Here we are settled over neighbouring congregations, and are members of the same Presbytery. But it is time to proceed to the history of Perth congregation.
           12  As you have already been informed, Perth and the country around it, were first settled by discharged soldiers and emigrants from Scotland. To the latter, previously to their leaving home, Government had offered assistance for the support of a minister, without respect to religious denomination. Of this offer, about forty heads of families availed themselves; and while they remained at Brockville before they came to the settlement, they signed a petition, and transmitted it to the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh, requesting that a minister might be sent to them. Drs. Hall and Peddie were appointed their commissioners, with power to do every thing necessary in the affair. I happened to be present when this petition, along with two others from America, was laid before the Presbytery. Being requested to fill one of these situations, I, after due consideration, determined to prefer Perth. Having gone through the usual parts of trial, I was, on the 4th of March, 1817, ordained as the minister of the petitioners and others who might afterwards place themselves under my direction. On the 5th of April I embarked at Leith, and, on the 1st of June, landed at Quebec. On the 21st I reached Brockville, when Mr. Smart informed me that be had preached at Perth once a-month since the settlers went there, which was in the month of April. On reaching Perth, I met with the kindest reception from the agents of Government, and the half-pay officers settled in the village; but I was sorry to find that very little unanimity existed with regard to the most proper place for my residence. Some of the Scotch settlers were so unreasonable as to insist that I should confine services entirely to them, while others agreed with me in thinking they should be extended to the whole settlement, which at this time consisted of five townships, each ten miles square.
           I arrived on Tuesday the 24th of June, and on the following Sabbath preached at the inn, that being the only place in the village where there was a room large enough for the purpose; for most of the settlers were still living in small huts. The morning had been very rainy, the roads were bad, and the congregation was small - at least I thought so then, for I had not adverted to the circumstance, that in a thinly peopled country, in which few make a profession of religion, every congregation must of necessity be small. The agents of Government, the magistrates, and a number of the half-pay officers, attended. At the conclusion of the service I gave notice of a meeting of the congregation on the following Wednesday, to choose trustees, and provide a place of worship, no arrangements having hitherto been made by the people themselves.
           The result of this meeting was not very satisfactory, one party pertinaciously asserting an exclusive right to my services, while another maintained the propriety of my residing in the village, which was near the centre of the settlement, and extending them to the whole. It was in vain I assured them that it was of little consequence in what place I should reside, as I would preach in different parts of the settlement as frequently as possible. Nothing would please either the one side or the other, but to have things entirely their own way; and I saw that the cautions I had received from Mr. Smart were not unnecessary. It was evident a spirit of opposition had more influence than the wisdom which cometh from above, which is first pure and then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated. A committee, however, was chosen, and some necessary arrangements made, and I took up my residence in the village. One result of the meeting was of a satisfactory nature, for I had observed that there were at least a few among them who spoke and acted like Christians. How much better, thought I, is my situation than that of the missionary to the heathen, who has not the countenance of even one real Christian to strengthen his hands and encourage his heart. On looking round me, however, I saw a moral as well as a natural wilderness, requiring cultivation with regard to a great majority of the settlers, religion seemed to occupy no part of their attention. The Sabbath was awfully profaned; and drunkenness, swearing, and other vices were thought matters of course. The number of those inclined to attend public worship was small, and of those possessing real piety still smaller. As soon as I could obtain a little leisure, I paid a pastoral visit to the families in the Scotch settlement, from whom I received a welcome reception. But the task I had undertaken was attended with more difficulty than I was aware. No person who has never been in a new settlement can conceive how fatiguing and unpleasant it is to wade through swamp and bushes, and climb over rocks and fallen timber under a burning sun and surrounded with clouds of mosquitoes. Every night when I reached home I was ready to drop down both with corporeal and mental fatigue.
           The second Sabbath being a fine day, my congregation was considerably larger than on the first, but still it was small, compared with those to which I had been accustomed. In going to and returning from the place of worship, I could not help making comparisons between my native country and this. Many were at work at their ordinary employments, and I began to see that religious instruction, by a great part of the population, so far from being considered a privilege, would be considered a great hindrance to the prosecution of their plans. After visiting a good part of the settlements and preaching every Sabbath for two months, I resolved on organising the church. With this view, I explained to the congregation the nature and constitution of a Christian church, and showed the obligations Christians were under to join in communion and to observe all the ordinances of the Gospel. I then gave notice that on the following Sabbath, when public worship was over, I should receive applications, and examine the certificates of those who wished to join in the communion of the church. On the two following Sabbaths applications were made by forty-seven persons, thirty-eight of whom were admitted; and, on the second Sabbath of September, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was administered for the first time. There were two young communicants; all the rest had been members of churches in Scotland. All the communicants were seated at one table, and the season was comfortable and refreshing to us all. To me in particular, many circumstances concurred to render it particularly interesting. Two elders who had been ordained at home, assisted in administering the sacrament.
           At the next communion, which was on the second Sabbath of December, a few new members were admitted, and on every occasion since that time there have been some either more or less. The total number of church members admitted, up to June, 1823, is 270, but perhaps one-third of these now belong to the two other churches which have been formed in the neighbourhood. Up to the same date, I have baptised 350 children, and celebrated 115 marriages. Besides preaching in various places, I have visited and examined the congregation every year since I came to the settlement. When you consider the immense surface over which they are scattered, you will have some idea of the labour with which these services is attended. Early in 1818, five members who had been elected by the congregation, were ordained to the office of elders. Two of these, who were old men, have since died; but three new ones have been ordained, so that the number of elders is now six.
           Though the members of the church have formerly belonged to different religious denominations, nothing has happened among them materially to disturb that peace and good understanding which should ever prevail in a Christian community. Those without, however, have not been wanting in their attempts to introduce controversy and create dissension, but hitherto with little effect; and I trust the blessing of God, and the good sense of the people, will ever secure them against the designs the turbulent and malicious, who delight in disunion. An instance of this kind I shall have occasion to notice, in speaking of the building of our place of worship.
END OF LETTER XIV.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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