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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER XV

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


LETTER  XV


FOR MORE THAN a year. I preached in the large room at the inn, there being no other suitable place in the settlement. The people had neither money nor time to build a place of worship, the accommodations for their families requiring their first attention. Yet it was necessary that something should be done, as the rent we paid for the room took the whole of the ordinary collection. In April, 1819, I obtained possession of the new schoolhouse, and occupied it till the church was ready for our reception, which was in August of the same year. The settlers were not able to do much, but seeing the necessity of having a place of worship erected early in 1818, a subscription was set on foot for that purpose, and, as soon as £20 was collected, the building was commenced, and the frame of the church erected on a lot I had obtained from government for the purpose. Some of our neighbours warmly opposed building so early, for no other reason, so far as I could see, but that they might have a pretence for withholding their assistance; while others pronounced it madness to think of finishing the house we had begun, and prophesied that it would stand uncompleted as a monument of our folly. We, however, went on, and in the course of the summer I visited Brockville, Montreal, and other places, and collected about £150 in cash. The news of this gave courage to the desponding, and made our enemies almost ashamed of their opposition. Taking advantage of this favourable moment, I called upon those who had hitherto contributed nothing, and procured in the settlement new subscriptions to the amount of £60 more. Considering the extreme poverty of most part of the settlers, this was more than we could reasonably expect. The work was set forward without delay and the church was soon in a condition to be occupied. In a few months it was all finished except the galleries, which we did not immediately want. We have still a trifle of debt, which I hope in the course of two or three years will be paid off. The church is capable of accommodating about 200 people, and has at the east end a steeple covered with tin, according to the fashion of this country. For the last twelve month it has proved far too small on sacramental occasions; but, when I have the assistance of another minister, he preaches in a different place to a part of the congregation. Besides the lot on which the church is built, I have since obtained a grant of an acre on the opposite side of the street for a manse or parsonage house, besides two acres more for a burying ground.
           I shall now give you an outline of the attempt lately made to deprive us of this property. Two of our half-pay officers having been refused the privileges of the church for immoral conduct, a plan was laid to remove me from my situation, and seize upon the property of the church, the deeds of the land not having been issued. With this view a letter was addressed to the governor, signed by six persons complaining that my management of the church was not at all to their liking. This, by the by, was a testimony in my favour, and it is well they can charge me with nothing worse. They then go on to state farther, that I am connected with the Secession Church, "whose political principles" say they, "your Lordship well knows are very different from those of the church of Scotland." This, however, ruins the whole attempt, though it was intended to insure its success; for such an assertion can proceed from nothing but malice or ignorance. They then assume it as indisputable, that the land on which the church is built was granted to the church of Scotland, and therefore recommend to his Lordship to put it under trustees belonging to that communion.
           His Lordship's answer, it is said, agreed to this proposal, but. directs that I shall not be disturbed in the possession of the church during my life-time. This was a serious disappointment, as expectations had been entertained that their representation would have procured my removal from office. Nor were the attempts to create division in the congregation either feeble or of short duration. Their labour, however, was entirely lost; for instead of creating disunion, it produced a greater degree of unanimity and zeal in the congregation than ever had been witnessed before. A meeting was held in the church, at which it was unanimously resolved that I should be requested to explain the business to the Governor. I accordingly wrote a letter, of which the following is a copy, and addressed it to Colonel Cockburn.
"SIR, Perth, Sept. 7, 1822.
           "Having heard that certain persons here have made an application to the Governor, materially affecting the property of the Presbyterian church under my care, I take the liberty of making the following statement, which I beg you will have the goodness to lay before his Lordship.
           "At the request of certain Persons now located in this settlement, I was, in 1817, ordained, by the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh, as the minister of those who did then, or who afterwards should place themselves under my ministry. I was then recommended to Earl Bathurst, not only by the Presbytery, but by the Lord Advocate of Scotland, and Lord Viscount Melville, and received from his Lordship a letter to the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, with orders for the payment of the salary that had been promised. Immediately on my arrival here, I entered on the discharge of my duties; and, at the end of three months, organised a regular Christian church, on the principles, and according to the standards of the church of Scotland. On examining the members, I had observed that there were among them some from all the Presbyterian bodies in that church. Therefore, to unite them for the present, and prevent any dispute in future, I proposed that the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church of Scotland should be recognised is the basis of our union; and that it should be held, as a fundamental and unalterable principle, in all time coming, that the members of the church who were in regular standing and full communion, should have the privilege of choosing their ministers, elders, trustees, &c. and that no person besides these should have any right to interfere in their affairs, or vote at their meetings. This proposal was agreed to without a dissenting voice, and has been acted upon ever since, with the happiest effect and without interruption, till lately, that certain persons not qualified as above, have attempted to interfere in our affairs. One of the conditions offered to us before we left Scotland (as you will see by looking at the printed papers) was that we should have land allotted to us on which to build a church; and this, be it observed, "without distinction of religious sects." Accordingly, a few months after I came to the settlement, I and two of my elders waited upon the Superintendent, with a copy of these conditions, and requested that he would put us in possession of the land alluded to. He immediately gave us the lot on which the church is now built, and wrote the name of one of my elders upon the diagram as the person to whom the deed was to be issued.
           "The next step was to get a church built. With this view I went about personally and solicited subscriptions, not only in the settlement, but in various parts of both provinces. In this service I travelled more than a thousand miles at my own expense, and collected the greater part of the money expended on the building. I afterwards superintended the erection, laying out the money to the best advantage; and when it was nearly finished, committed it to the care of trustees, under certain regulations, enacted at a general meeting of the congregation. All this time we acted under the most implicit confidence that a deed would be granted us whenever we should apply for it. The burying ground, and lot, the parsonage house, I obtained from yourself at a subsequent period.
           "At the time the congregation was organised three months after I came to the settlement, the communicants amounted to forty, and the other members to about one hundred and fifty. Since that time they have gradually increased, till, at the last enumeration, there were 244 communicants, and of other members upwards of 1200. The harmony that has always prevailed, and still does prevail, notwithstanding the many attempts of our enemies, both to slander and to stir division, calls for our astonishment and gratitude. Our offence, so far as I can learn, is the strictness of our discipline, particularly in refusing to profane the sacraments by administering them to improper persons. But why should this be an offence I know not, as we never exercise authority over any but those who, of their own accord, become members of our church. With regard to the persons who have made the application, at least five of them, they never were in communion with our church, nor indeed with any other that we have heard of. Their assertion that the political principles of the Associate Synod are very different from those of the Church of Scotland, is no less extraordinary and unfounded than the statement that it was not known in the settlement that I was ordained and sent here by that body. It was known by His Majesty's government; for it is noticed in Earl Bathurst's letter to the Lieutenant Governor; it was known to my congregation, for their petition for a minister was addressed to the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh; and it was known to the public, for a letter from the Presbytery and the certificate of my ordination were read in presence of the congregation (of which Mr. Daverne, Captain Fowler, and the magistrates formed a part) the first Sabbath I preached in Perth; and how these gentlemen could be ignorant of it is more than I can comprehend.
           "His Lordship's order, that I should not be disturbed in the possession of the church, &c. during incumbency deserves my warmest thanks, and shall be remembered, because it seems to have been given under the idea that I had not, properly speaking, a right to it. But from the pains I have already taken it will be evident that I am no less concerned for the interest of the congregation than for my own. And, as the measure is not only hostile to them, but tends to destroy my peace of mind, embarrass me in the discharge of my duty, I hope his Lordship will discharge persons who are not of our communion from interrupting us in the peaceable possession of our property.
           "It only remains that I should apologise for the length of this communication, which I am sorry the nature of the case has rendered necessary. - I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient Servant,
WILLIAM BELL.
To Lieut.- Col. Cockburn,
Quebec.
           To this letter I received no answer; but we have not since been troubled in the possession of the property.
           13.  Lanark congregation is the next in order. Some of the settlers, who are mostly from the west of Scotland, having resided the first winter in Perth, were members of the church here before they settled on their lands. After they went to Lanark, I visited them as often as possible, preached among them and baptised their children. On the 24th of June, 1821, after preaching and baptising a number of children, I proceeded to organise the church. Upwards of forty members were admitted, and a committee of managers appointed. On the 17th of March, 1822, the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was administered, for the first time, to the church, and a number of new members were admitted. It was a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord and many rejoiced to see a communion table spread for them in the wilderness. I continued to visit and preach among them as formerly, but they were chiefly supplied by the Rev. Mr. Gemmill, formerly of Ayrshire, who had come to Lanark as a settler. In March, 1823, assisted by Mr. Gemmill, I again administered the Sacrament to upwards of ninety communicants, a good many new members having been admitted. They are looking for a minister from Scotland, having petitioned for one, and Mr. Gemmill in the mean time supplies them with preaching. A stone church is now building in the village, with the money collected in Scotland for that purpose. The village of Lanark stands in a very romantic situation, on the banks of the Clyde, fourteen miles northwest from Perth.
           14  Beckwith congregation for two years had no supply of preaching but what I could afford them. They came from Perthshire in Scotland, and settled in Beckwith in 1818. I occasionally visited them, preached among them and baptised their children, but having more preaching stations than I could possibly supply, I recommended that they should petition for a minister of their own. To this they agreed, and a petition was forwarded to the Associate Presbytery of Edinburgh. It was long before they had any answer, and the they concluded that it had been unsuccessful. In the meantime, that they might enjoy all the ordinances of the Gospel, I spent some days among them, examined many applicants, and, on the 24th of February, 1822, administered the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper to ninety communicants. Six of them were young persons, but all the rest had been members of other churches, either in this country or in Scotland. I continued to preach among them occasionally as before, till the Rev. Mr. Buchanan, who was in the same year sent as their pastor, arrived. They received him and his numerous family with joy; built them a house, and did all in their power to render them comfortable. Mr. Buchanan is settled in the middle of the township, about twenty miles from Perth, and preaches in both Gaelic and English. His coming is a great comfort to me, as I can now have the assistance of a minister, as well as his company and conversation on every sacramental occasion.
           15.  Richmond is in the township of Goulburn, and thirty-one miles from Perth. The Presbyterians settled there are not numerous, but they are evidently increasing. When I first preached in the village, early in 1822, the congregation was very small, but they soon after increased. After Mr. Buchanan settled in Beckwith, he sometimes preached among them, and last winter they engaged Mr. Glen to preach and teach the school, but, as he has only lately settled there, I can give no account of his success.
           16.  In Kingston there are two Presbyterian congregations, and neither of them of long standing. The first was formed in 1817, and they sent to Scotland for a minister soon after. They had, in the mean time, occasional supplies of preaching, but none permanent till the Rev. Mr. Barclay, their present minister, arrived in 1822. They had in the preceding year commenced building a handsome stone church, which is now finished in a very elegant manner. The congregation, which consists chiefly of Scotch emigrants, is numerous and respectable and seems to be in a prosperous condition.
           17.  The second congregation of Presbyterians in Kingston, consists chiefly of persons from the United States. In no part of Canada is party spirit discovered more than in this place. Although there was only one society at the commencement of the church building, it soon became evident that they were united neither in sentiment nor affection. A division took place soon after Mr. Barclay's arrival, and the party separating have erected another church but have not yet obtained a minister.
           18, 19, and 20.  Namely, Ernest Town, Fredericksburg, and another new congregation, a few miles from the latter, on the Bay of Quinte, and about thirty miles above Kingston, are all under the pastoral care of Mr. McDowall, who settled in that part of the province about thirty years ago. He was educated in the United States, and ordained there as minister of the congregation at Ernest Town, which is the place of his residence. The other two congregations have been raised by his labours since that time, and he preaches to them alternately. The surrounding country being fertile and well settled, the congregations are numerous, and likely to become more so.
           21.  At Haldemand, about half way between Kingston and York, there is a small presbyterian congregation, but they have not yet obtained a settled minister.
           22.  Markham congregation, near York, was formed some years before I came to the country, and is now under the pastoral care of the Rev. Mr. Jenkins. Like all ministers settled in new congregations, be has had many difficulties to encounter, but they are every year growing less.
           23.  York though the capital of the province, contained no Presbyterian congregation till 1821, when Mr. Harris, a young preacher from Ireland, arrived. By his labours, a congregation has been collected, and a church built. He intends to remain there, but he has not yet been ordained to the pastoral office.
           24, 25, and 26.  In Yonge Street, a few miles to the north of York, in Dundas Street, between York and London, and Ecquessing, congregations have been formed, but no churches have been built, nor ministers settled.
           27.  Niagara congregation was formed some years before the last war with the United States, and was many years under the care of the Rev. Mr. Burns. Being in a well-settled country, it is one of the best congregations in the province. The church was burnt by the enemy during the late contest, but the congregation expect to receive some compensation from government. When Mr. Burns died, early in 1822, the congregation applied to our Presbytery for a supply of sermon, and Mr. Creen, a young man from Ireland, being the only licentiate at that time under our direction, he was sent forward. His conversation and preaching being agreeable to the people, they requested he might be ordained over them, and the Presbytery had made arrangements for that purpose, when it was discovered that Mr. Creen was making arrangements of a very different kind, namely, to receive Episcopal ordination from the Bishop of Quebec. Being indignant at his duplicity, the congregation dismissed him from their employment, and the presbyters withdrew his licence. Early in 1823, Mr. Johnstone, another preacher, who had lately arrived from Ireland, was sent to supply the congregation. I have just heard that they are well pleased with his preaching and have requested that he may be ordained as their pastor.
           28.  At Stamford, a few miles higher up the Niagara River, a congregation was formed a few years ago, of which Mr. Wright is now pastor. He also preaches at some other places in the neighbourhood.
           29.  At St. Catherine's on the road to the Talbot Settlement, there is a congregation and a church, of which Mr. Eastman, from the United States, is minister. He travels a good deal, and has a number of other preaching stations.
           30.  The Talbot Settlement contains a great number of Presbyterians, but no congregation was formed till a few years ago, when Mr. Schemelhorne, formerly of the Dutch Reformed church, settled there. He is both diligent and successful in his labours, and has three or four places at which he preaches in rotation.
           The first Presbytery ever held in this province met in 1816 and was named the Presbytery of the Canadas, as there were some of the members from both provinces. The standards of the Church of Scotland were recognised as the basis of their union, and have been acted upon ever since. At the first meeting of this Presbytery, there were only four ministers present, but they soon after received so great an accession to their number, that it was deemed advisable to divide themselves into two or more presbyteries, not on account of their number, but on account of their distance, that all the members might have it in their power to attend the meetings, which had hitherto been impossible, on account of the great distance they had to travel. It was accordingly resolved, at a meeting held in Glengary, about the end of 1819, that those in the lower province should be left to form a Presbytery by themselves, and that those in the upper province should form three presbyteries. The first to meet at Cornwall, the second at Brockville or Perth, and the third at York or Niagara; and that the whole should form a general synod to meet once a year. These meetings have not been so regularly attended as could be wished, but this is not at all wonderful, when the immense distance of the members from one another, and the badness of the roads, are taken into the account. The Presbytery of Cornwall, I think, has had two meetings, that of York and Niagara only one. The Presbytery of Brockville and Perth have had a meeting once every three months, and to them applications for supply of sermon, &c. from the upper part of the province, have generally been made. The synod, up to June, 1823, has had only three meetings. Four ministers in this, and three in the lower province, have not yet connected themselves with the synod, and have taken no part in these proceedings.
           There are a few Methodist circuit preachers in each of the provinces, but what is their number, or the amount of their congregations, I have not been informed. They are mostly from the American Conference, and on that account are preferred by their countrymen settled in the Canadas. For some years past they have had much disputing with the missionaries from the British Conference, but this probably arises more from the opposition of their political creeds, than from any difference in their religious sentiments.
           The Baptists have a few preachers settled in different parts of the province, but their congregations being too small to support them, they live chiefly by agriculture.
           Catholics are nothing like so numerous in this as in the lower province; yet even here there is a considerable number, the greater part of them from Ireland. I know of at least six priests officiating in different stations, but it is probable there are more in the province.
           The country being extensive, is still far from being fully supplied with religious instruction; but a great proportion of the people, so far from being sensible of their wants, have a great aversion to those who do not think them every thing that is clever and excellent. The last war had very injurious effect upon the morals of the people - an effect which will be felt for many years to come. But the number of their instructors has been of late years greatly increased, and though there is still much to be effected, it is pleasing to observe that the wilderness and the solitary places are beginning to be glad, and the desert to blossom like the rose.
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