In this episode, we discuss the characteristics of the early Anglican Church, and clergy reserves and their reception in Upper Canada. We will also talk about how Colonel Talbot viewed clergy reserves, and how he mitigated their affects in the Talbot Settlement. Lastly, we examine the Anglican Irish settlers of the early Talbot Settlement, the founding and building of St. Peter’s Church, and the early priests in Tyrconnell.
The Early Anglican Church in North America was slow to grow. Until 1784, every Anglican minister practicing in North America had to be ordained in England. Reverend John Stuart was the first Anglican clergyman to come to Upper Canada in 1786. Most early Anglican clergymen in Canada were of an Evangelical disposition (of or denoting a tradition within Protestant Christianity emphasizing the authority of the Bible, personal conversion, and the doctrine of salvation by faith in the Atonement). In remote areas, church services were often held outdoors, in a parlour, and sometimes in a barn. When there was no clergyman around, laypeople (a nonordained member) often read prayers and gave sermons. Because of a lack of Anglican priests, many early colonial wedding ceremonies were officiated by military officers and were technically illegal under the British law. Therefore, an Act was introduced to make these marriages legal. A Justice of the Peace now had the power to perform marriages if there were no Anglican priests within 18 miles. These were referred to as “spliced” marriages.
Holy Communion was typically administered on the first Sunday of the month, and baptisms after the reading of the second lesson at morning or afternoon prayer. Marriages were often solemnized in the church but also frequently took place in the clergyman’s house or that of the bride’s father.
Anglican Churches in Upper Canada were created on the land of Clergy reserves. Clergy reserves were tracts of land in Upper Canada and Lower Canada reserved for the support of a “Protestant clergy” by the Constitutional Act of 1791. One-seventh of all surveyed Crown lands were set aside for this purpose, and provision was made to dedicate some of those reserved lands as glebe land in support of any parsonage or rectory that may be established by the Church of England. The reserves were allotted in two-hundred-acre lots, except in the Talbot Settlement, where they were scattered haphazardly. Many, including John Graves Simcoe and prominent members of the Church, interpreted “Protestant clergy” to mean specifically Anglican clergy, and wished to exclude all other Protestant denominations. Reverend John Strachan was appointed to the Executive Council of Upper Canada in 1815 and began to push for the Church of England’s autonomous control of the clergy reserves. Dr. Strachan was born a Presbyterian in Scotland, but never fully accepted Presbyterianism, and first received communion at an Anglican Church upon his immigration to Kingston, Ontario. Strachan was consecrated the first Anglican bishop of Toronto in 1839. He defended the Church of England from opponents who wanted to reduce its influence in Upper Canada, as he wished for Upper Canada to be under the control of the Church of England to avoid American Methodist influence, and tried to set up annual reviews for grammar school to make sure they were following Anglican doctrine. In 1824 the Church of Scotland was granted a share of the reserves, but the Anglican Church still claimed the majority of clergy reserves.
One man who did not like the clergy reserves was Colonel Thomas Talbot. Rather than honouring the clergy and crown reserves, Talbot claimed that land for himself and for his settlers. Talbot moved the plots allocated to the government and the church to swampland, which allowed him to guarantee good plots of farmland for his settlers.
Some of the first settler families to come to the Talbot Settlement, the Patterson family, and the Pearce family, were staunch supporters of the Church of England, with John Pearce’s mother even being a sister of the first Protestant Bishop in the United States, Bishop Seabury. It is no wonder that these early settlers were anxious to build an Anglican Church in Tyrconnell, and were excited and inspired by a visit from the first travelling missionaries.
Honorable and Reverend Dr. Charles James Stewart, fifth son of the seventh earl of Galloway, who later became second Bishop of Quebec in 1825, first visited Dunwich in 1820 and was one of the first ministers of any church to hold service in the township. Reverend Charles James Stewart had been educated at home by a private tutor and had attended Corpus Christi College Oxford. He had considered going to India as a missionary, but eventually decided to come to Canada. England was experiencing a low ebb in missionary zeal at that time, and many questioned the ability of an English nobleman to inspire the residents of Upper Canada. However, his manners were so charming that many overcame their prejudice. Stewart was also a noted abolitionist and refused to use sugar, as it was the product of slave labour.
The first Bishop of Quebec, Bishop George Mountain writes that Dr. Stewart found himself “buried in the woods, thousands of miles from all his connections, many of whom were of the highest nobility, here this single-hearted man, not strong in bodily health, was labouring to build up the Church of God among a people who were utter strangers to the Church of England, or, it may be said, to religion of any kind”. Dr. Stewart kept records of all those baptized by him in Colonel Talbot’s house in 1820. Among those baptized were Olivia, daughter of Leslie and Lydia Patterson, John, son of John and Frances Pearce, and Thomas and Mary, children of Stephen and Anne Backus. Records of baptisms show that he spent a week in the district in 1822 and that in 1827, the first confirmation service in Elgin County was held in Colonel Patterson’s home before St. Peter’s Church was built. Among those confirmed were Stephen, Anne, and Andrew Backus, William, Richard, Leslie, Catherine, and Mary Anne Pearce, Lydia, Walter, Mary, Hannah, and Joseph Patterson, Anne Moorhouse, and Charles Crane. It appears that Dunwich was something of a religious centre, even before the construction of a church. The Rector of the church in St. Thomas, Reverend A. Mackintosh, wrote “On Sunday, 28th of October, I performed Divine Service in Dunwhich to continue regularly every 6th Sunday till their church is finished then the first Sunday of each month”.
Leslie Patterson’s widowed sister Mary Storey gifted 10 acres of land for the construction of St. Peter’s Church, along with a burial ground and rectory glebe lands. This plot of land was the best part of the farm Mary Storey had purchased from Colonel Talbot for two barley corns. Mary’s son Walter had toiled hard to clear and improve this land. The land was likely given in 1825, as that is the year in which the cemetery was first used, and the land was officially deeded to the Diocese of Quebec in 1828. The Patterson, Pearce, Storey, and Backus families each pledged 70 pounds to the project, as well as much of the labour that went into building it. St. Peter’s Church was built in the Autumn of 1827. George Crane and Leslie Patterson worked as the framers. There was no scarcity of timber in those days, and only the best of white or blue oak was used. Initially a carpenter’s workbench was used as a pulpit. The outside of the church was finished in rough cast, and the shingles and lath were made from pine split by hand. A scow and road were built to haul limestone up from Lake Erie for the plaster. Colonel Patterson went by boat to Buffalo to purchase glass for the windows and lead and oil for the paint and putty. To make the paint, the lead had to be ground in oil by hand. They used a large iron kettle as the mortar, and an old cannon ball as the pestle. The first service held in St. Peter’s likely took place towards the end of 1828, though still unfinished.
The second missionary or rector was Reverend Edward I. Boswell, whose incumbency lasted only three months, but who performed a baptism in Dunwich in 1829. Boswell was followed by Rev. Mark Burnham who stayed for two years, and who resided at Tyrconnell in part of John Pearce’s house until 1831. By this time St. Peter’s needed some repairs. The present siding was put on by Stephen Backus, and John Pearce finished the inside by lathing and plastering the walls and ceiling, making seats, reading desk, and pulpit. St. Peter’s was consecrated in 1840 by Bishop John Strachan of Toronto. While on his visit to Dunwich, Bishop Strachen visited the home of Colonel Thomas Talbot, where he observed that Talbot “superintended the settlement of this section of the province and now beholds fifty or sixty thousand inhabitants in the space, which, when committed to his charge was one dense forest without a single inhabitant”. The bishop was clearly impressed by Talbot’s growing settlement. He was also taken by the inhabitants themselves. He commented that “although there was no resident clergyman, the settlers, who had already given proof of their zeal and devotion by building a small church, were preparing to erect a parsonage”.
When Mary Storey, the woman who had graciously donated her land to the founding of St. Peter’s, died in 1842, her devotion to the Church was expressed in her obituary, which called her “a sincere and devoted member of the Church of England, the knowledge of whose principles she took every pains during a long life to extend. It was chiefly owing to her exertions that a church was built in Dunwich. Besides giving ten acres of land on which to build it, she contributed much of her means to complete it, and after her death left a liberal sum of money towards building a parsonage, which is soon to be commenced”. The obituary also says that Mary Storey “rejoiced that she had lived to see established in this diocese “The Church Society” as the means by which the hitherto misguided liberality of churchmen would be directed into the right channel”.
Reverend Burnham’s successor was a Reverend James Stewert, who became the first official resident minister of the parish. James Stewart had been on Charles James Stewart’s travelling missions years before. As the first resident minister, Reverend Stewart opened the first parish register, which contains the names of nearly five-hundred people which he baptized between 1842 and 1849. The parish grew rapidly under Reverend Stewart. Records show that Col. Talbot contributed $40 towards the erection of the parsonage, the only time his name is mentioned as contributing to the support of St. Peter’s in any way. In 1844 a bell was given in memory of Bishop Charles James Stewart, and the present belfry and spire were constructed a year later in 1845 by architect, Edward Mathews.
Stewart’s records show that the parish donated money to several worthy causes, including collecting a sum of 2 pounds 10 shillings for the widows and orphans of the clergy of the diocese in 1846, and in 1847 a collection 50 pounds which was sent to Ireland during the Great Famine, which included 12 pounds 10 shillings given by Col. Talbot.
In our collection we have a rather special book. Titled, LECTURES ON THE CHURCH CATECHISM; WRITTEN FOR THE USE OF PARISHIONERS OF BAINTON, IN THE EAST-RIDING OF THE COUNTY OF YORK. This book is written by Rev. John Bell, D.D. and printed by Geo. Peacock, Coney-Street in 1805. Now what makes this particular artifact very special is that it was originally owned by Rev. James Stewart and was given as a gift to Robert Backus. Robert was born to Stephen Backus and Anne Storey Backus in the year 1827 and died at the age of 71, in 1898.
On the inside it reads…
“‘The late Bishop of Quebec’s Upper Canadian Travelling Mission Fund.’
To Robert Backus from the Rev. James Stewart
Dunwich Oct 6th, 1851”
Rev. James Stewart returned to Scotland in 1849 and in his place, Henry Holland became rector. Although Colonel Talbot had promised to give one hundred acres of land as a glebe to St. Peter’s, he had failed to do so by his death in 1853. Talbot’s heir, George MacBeth, gave the south half of lot 12 concession 9 as a glebe for the church in 1855, and also promised $200 towards clearing and improving it. In 1858 St. Peters became part of Diocese of Huron, having been passed from Quebec, to Montreal, to Toronto, and finally to Huron in the space of only 30 years. You can still visit St. Peter’s Church in Tyrconnell! It has a fascinating history and is one of only two churches west of Niagara to conduct Divine Services continuously since it was built in 1827.
We hope you learned something new from this episode written by Becky Van Harn, and the many reverends by the surname Stewart did not confuse you! If you have any requests for future episode ideas, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org!