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HINTS TO EMIGRANTS: LETTER XVI

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


LETTER  XVI


HAVING IN MY former letters obeyed the principal injunctions you laid upon me, I shall now, without order or arrangement, set down a few pieces of miscellaneous information which may assist you in forming a just idea of the state of this country, and particularly of this settlement. You are aware, that at the time of my coming here, a great proportion of the Population was discharged soldiers and others, who knew little or nothing of the nature and discipline of a presbyterian church. I had expressed my determination to offer my services to the whole settlement, and religious instruction to all descriptions of persons who were willing to receive it. From this the ignorant entertained the belief that I was come to be a kind of chaplain to the settlement, and that I would not only give instruction, but administer the Sacrament to all sorts of persons without distinction. I was in consequence subjected to many visits of a very unpleasant nature. Ignorant or immoral persons would sometimes call at my house with children and request me to baptize them; and it was of no use to tell the former they must be instructed, or the latter that they must reform their conduct, before I could recognise them as church members or baptize their children. Some indeed, were civil and attended to the instructions I gave them, but others were quite enraged, and threatened to lodge a complaint with the magistrates or even to tell the governor himself. As a specimen of what I had to encounter take the following.
           On the Saturday evening before I administered the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper for the first time, a foreigner who was a discharged soldier, called and requested me to baptize his child. I asked him a few questions to ascertain whether he understood the nature of that ordinance and whether he performed the duties of religion or not. Finding by his answers that he was very ignorant, I instructed him in the nature and design of baptism, and told him that I would baptize his child when he made a profession of religion, and proved his sincerity by performing its duties as became a Christian. To all this he agreed, and left me well pleased with what I had told him. In half an hour however, he returned, attended by his father-in-law who was one of the most forward and insolent men I ever met with - a man who, as I afterwards learned, made no profession of religion, and had distinguished himself by his quarrels, both with his neighbours and his own family. At first he was somewhat civil, and argued a good deal to persuade me to baptize the child. It was in vain that I told him it was contrary to the rules of our church to baptize in private, and that never having seen any of the parties before, I could not interfere till the parents brought a certificate of their moral character. Still he insisted, but finding it of no use, he altered his tone, and in a most insolent manner told me that I must do it, and that I had no right to refuse. I replied that he was mistaken and that I should be glad if he would leave the house, as he was behaving very improperly and troubling me at a very unseasonable time. After a little more conversation to the same effect, they left the house in a rage, the young man saying he would baptize it himself, but the old man said, "No, we'll take it to the Catholic priest." In about ten minutes they returned, bringing the child and its mother along with them. The old man pretended to apologise for his former rash conduct, and said if he had offended me he would ask pardon, but still insisted that I should baptize the child as it was present. I again told him that it was contrary to the practice of our church, and that the mode of his application was altogether irregular and improper; that I knew nothing of him; and that from what I had seen of his conduct, I had formed a very unfavourable opinion of him. This was followed by a torrent of abuse from the whole party. The old man in particular talked quite in a raving manner. He said he would make a protest against me; that he had been educated for a clergyman, though he was now a wood-cutter; and that he could read Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French, as well as John Brown of Haddington could; and a great deal more to the same purpose. Had you baptized the child, said he, I would have done you all the good in my power; but as you have not, I will do you all the mischief I can. I told him that though, as appeared from his conversation, he was a very important personage, yet neither a desire of enjoying his favour, nor a fear of incurring his displeasure, should induce me to depart from the line of conduct which my duty marked out. They then left the house, uttering imprecations and threatening revenge. I afterwards learned that, upon leaving me, the mother ran to the river side, and lifting a little water, threw it in the child's face; but the whole party having consulted together, concluded that this was not sufficient, and that to make sure work, it would be better to take the child to the Catholic priest, which they did accordingly, by whom the service was performed in French. You will no doubt be surprised, as I was, when the circumstance happened, that any person living in a Christian country could be guilty of such extraordinary conduct; but upon inquiry, I found that the old man's conduct was not more extraordinary in this than in other particulars.
           While I am on this subject, I shall mention one other instance which had a more tragical termination. Though I had given public notice that in ordinary cases I would baptize no children but in presence of the congregation, and after the parents had received the necessary instructions, or had satisfied me that they had a right understanding of that ordinance, yet ignorant applicants continued to bring children to my house and insist that I should baptize them there. On the evening of one of the coldest days I have ever felt even in Canada, a man and a woman came with a child nearly frozen to death, and requested me to baptize it. I asked if they were the parents of the child. They said they were not the parents, but had merely come as godfather and godmother. I told them they were much to blame for bringing out the child in such inclement weather, and thereby endangering its life; and asked them if they were so ignorant of the nature of the duty I had to perform as to suppose that I would baptize a child while the parents were not present, and yet in the neighbourhood. They excused themselves by saying that the child was sick, and the parents were afraid it would die without baptism, which would be a shocking thing; and being rather unwell themselves, had requested them to carry the child to the parson, and, as they intended to stand godfather and godmother, they did not see any need for the parents being present. Seeing they were ignorant, I proceeded to give them instructions, and to show them that infants ought not to be baptized unless they were the children of believing parents; but the man, who was a very forward fellow, interrupted me by asking whether I would baptize the child or not? I replied that I would not till I had seen and conversed with the parents, or at least with the father of the child. "0 well", said he, "It's no use waiting; I'll take it to the Catholic priest. I dare, say, he'll do it. It is no matter to us who does it, if it is done;" and with this they left the house. About half an hour after the man came in again for his stick, which he had forgotten in his hurry, and mentioned, with some degree of exultation, that, upon paying half a dollar to the priest, he had christened the child without asking any questions. The service was performed in French, of which they understood not one word. This relation will give you some idea of the people with whom I had sometimes to deal.
           About a month after this circumstance took place, the father of the child himself called, and wished me to baptize it again, as, he said, he did not like Catholic baptism. This of course I declined. He then said, if I would not do it he meant to lodge a complaint against me with a magistrate; for all I could say did not convince him that I was not an army chaplain. I smiled at the man's ignorance, and told him he was welcome either to do that or follow my instructions as he thought best. Whether he went to a magistrate or not I have not learned; but he spent the remainder of the day at a tavern, and in attempting to go home in a very cold night, lost his way and perished in the snow. Next morning his body was found, and brought to Perth. It was frozen as hard as stone and presented a shocking spectacle. The child in question died the same evening, and on the following day they were both buried in one grave.
           He that would remove ignorance, and promote general reformation, must turn his attention to the rising generation. The old are obstinate, and so much attached to their vices from habit, that their reformation is next to impossible; but the young are more easily bent. Being convinced of this, I, amongst other means of improvement, determined to attempt the establishment of a Sunday school, and accordingly gave public notice of my intention. Though I began with five scholars, they soon increased to twenty; but, when the novelty of the thing was over, and the roads became bad in the rainy season which followed, their number was reduced to about one half. Sometimes it has been given up and resumed again, and in this way it has been continued till lately, and I trust not without some good effect, though it was not so numerously attended as might be expected. It has been taught most part of the time by a member of the church, who was a very suitable person, having been employed in the same way at home. Four or five other Sunday schools have, at my request, been attempted in other parts of the settlement, and with similar success.
           Up to the time of my arrival in the settlement, no school of any kind had ever been attempted. At the request of the inhabitants, I determined to open one for the common branches of education. It was accordingly begun on the 7th of July, 1817, with eighteen scholars. The governor in chief being informed of the circumstance, not only expressed his approbation, but ordered a salary of £50 a-year to be paid me as the teacher. The number of scholars increasing, the want of a school-house was very much felt; for I had still to teach in my own dwelling-house, which was both small and inconvenient. At last, however, a convenient school-house was erected, and I took possession, using it for the school during the week, and for the church on Sunday. Things continued in this state till the end of 1819, when an episcopal clergyman came here to settle, who kindly agreed to take the school off my hands without my consent. Against this measure the inhabitants unanimously petitioned, but without effect. This was the more to be regretted, that the school was proceeding in the most satisfactory manner, and never was more prosperous than at the time it was given up. It is but right to observe, however, that the Deputy Quarter-Master-General did me the justice unequivocally to state that he had no fault to find with my management of the school, but that he thought it right that a clergyman of the church of England ought to have a situation under government in preference to any one else. On this transaction I shall not at present make any other observation than merely to say, that the school, under the direction of my reverend successor, soon after died of a consumption, and the schoolhouse has been for some time empty.
           While I am on the subject of schools, I shall just inform you what the legislature has done to encourage education in Upper Canada. In the province there are nine districts, in each of which the sum of about £400 annually is allowed for the support of schools, namely, £100 for the district schools, in which the classics, mathematics, &c. are taught, and the rest for the support of common schools, in which the ordinary branches of education are taught. Of the former, there is only one allowed in each district; of the latter, as as many as the inhabitants think proper, provided they furnish at least twenty scholars for each, the salary being divided among all the schools, in proportion to the number of scholars taught in each. The rest of the teachers support is raised from the school fees, which are from two to three dollars a quarter.
END OF LETTER XVI.          BACK TO START OF LETTER

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