Fort Wellington Days

Our History: Growth in the Early 19th Century (1800 to ~1830)

The region experienced another spurt of growth in the early 19th century, leading to new settlements being established. The region also played an important role in the War of 1812 (1812-1815) with many battles being fought along the riverfront.

While John Bethune may well be the "Father of Presbyterian in Upper Canada" and was, for a number of years, the only Presbyterian minister in the area who lived in the area, he was not the only Presbyterian minister to come to the region.

In 1811, the Rev. William Smart sailed from London, England for Canada. According to First Presbyterian Church: Brockville Historical Sketch 1811-2011:

One of his first acts, in the very month in which he reached this field of labour, October 1811, was the organization of the first Sabbath School in Canada.

Mr. Smart made Brockville the special sphere of his Sunday labours, and on week days visited and preached in regular order at the various settlements form Gananoque to Matilda, and from the front to Bathhurst, and eventually to Perth.
(p. 2)

Life in Upper Canada during this era was harsh and ministry was a challenge given travel distances, parish duties, and lack of support from the home church. William Gregg describes some of the conditions faced by these early missionaries in his book, History of the Presbyterian Church in the Dominion of Canada:

In the autumn of 1817, [the Rev. William Bell, minister in Perth], undertook a journey to Kingston ... he went by way of Brockville and the St. Lawrence, preaching in Brockville, Yonge, Gananoque, and other places [about 90 km]. His journey was made mostly on foot, partly on a borrowed horse, and partly in a small boat."

[The Rev. William Taylor] accepted the charge of the congregations of Osnabruck and Williamsburgh ... His position in Osnabruck proved to be exceedingly uncomfortable. He and his large family were 'cooped up in a log hut of one apartment, sixteen feet square.'
(pp. 199, 201)

In 1820, the Rev. Robert Boyd came from Ballymena, Ireland to Prescott. He became known as "The Apostle of Grenville County." Along with the Rev. William Smart, he established Presbyterian preaching stations throughout the area that would later become the Presbytery of Brockville.

The Presbyterian Church at this time was split into many different groups (e.g., Burghers and anti-Burghers; Old Light and New Light to name a few). Clergy from the different branches of Presbyterianism in Scotland came to Upper Canada where they also established churches, presbyteries and synods, reporting to different groups in the home country or being autonomous in themselves.

The different factions created their own organizational structures. The more prominent ones include:

  • 1818, the Presbytery of the Canadas was created (Gregg, 206);
  • 1820, the Synod of the Canadas was created (dissolved 1825) (Gregg, 370);
  • 1825, the United Presbytery of Upper Canada was created (dissolved 1831) (Gregg, 370);
  • 1831, the United Synod of Upper Canada was created (Gregg, 370).
  • 1831, the Presbytery of Glengarry was established as a distinct body, and covered the eastern region of Upper Canada; it was one of the four presbyteries in the United Synod of Upper Canada (Gregg, 456).

As time went on, the different Presbyterian groups disappeared or joined with others, leading to the dissolution or amalgamation of the various organizational structures that had existed. This does create some difficulty in knowing when congregations, presbyteries and synods were actually established.

For example, no records exist stating when the Presbytery of Brockville was established, yet Gregg refers an 1832 letter from the Clerk of York Presbytery to the Clerk of the Presbytery of Brockville (Gregg, 468). The history of Spencerville congregations refers to Rev. Boyd's congregations becoming part of the "Free" Presbytery of Brockville in 1835.

However, a record from 1834 showing ministers and congregations connected with the Church of Scotland identifies only the Presbyteries of Quebec, Glengarry, Bathurst, Kingston and Toronto (Gregg, 490-491). The Presbytery Formula Book shows that the Presbytery of Brockville was indeed around in March 1840.

The confusion surrounding the creation (and dissolution) of presbyteries reflects the struggle within Presbyterianism at the time, and the challenge of knowing who/which group spoke for the "Presbyterian" church.

Churches built during this period include:

  • First Church in Brockville (1811);
  • St. Andrew's in Martintown (1811);
  • St. Columba in Kirk Hill (1820);
  • St. Andrew's in Prescott (1820);
  • Knox in Vankleek Hill (1824);
  • St. Andrew's in Maxville (1826); and
  • St. Paul's in Hawkesbury (1829).

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