Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

Memoir of the Rev James MacGregor D.D.
Appendix G. Notices of Doctor MacGregor’s character and labours

(From the Colonial Patriot, March 6th, 1830.)

Dr. MacGregor. It is this week our painful duty to record the death of the Rev. James MacGregor, D. D. Two years ago he was seized with paralysis; and on Monday last experienced a return, which terminated in death on Wednesday. He had completed 70 years. His funeral took place this day, at one o’clock; and was attended by an immense assemblage from all parts of the district. For 44 years this excellent Divine has laboured in Pictou; and there never lived a man more universally esteemed and beloved. He came to this country under the authority of the Associate Synod, in Scotland. We refrain from farther remarks, assured that an extended account of his life will be ere long prepared by abler hands.

The following extract from a speech delivered by Jotham Blanchard, Esq., at Glasgow, at a general meeting of the Society for advancing liberal education in the Colonies, may not, in the meantime, be considered out of place.

“Near half a century ago this father, (Dr. MacGregor,) actuated by ail ardent piety, and a more than ordinary vigor of mind, put his life in his hand, and crossed the Atlantic to preach the gospel to those who literally dwelt solitary in the woods. lie had a field boundless in extent as in Acuities. The Eastern part of Nova Scotia, and the adjacent Islands of Cape Breton and Prince Edward, were all before him. The inhabitants were few and far apart—roads in that region were an invention of a late day—the site of the town of Pictou contained one or two houses—and it was not an easy matter to travel to the next,—marked trees, a pocket compass, or an Indian were the only guides through the wilderness in those early times; and the frail barks which were used on the harbours, and rivers, and seas, afforded a still less desirable mode of travelling. But the people were in need of the gospel; and that to Dr. MacGregor, was sufficient to call forth all that duty required—they were anxious for it, and that called forth more. It would be difficult to justify his constant exposure of person by night and by day; and his almost superhuman exertions from week to week, and year to year. A plank was oft his bed, and a potato his fare. Sleep was not seldom denied him for several nights together. The people were located in little settlements, and when he visited one of these there were they all; and his prayers and preaching and exhortations were often continued with little interruption for a week at a time. Nor were his labours in vain. There are yet many in life of the best of our people, who received all their religious knowledge and religious impressions under his ministry. Many more have gone to their reward, and he will speedily enter upon his, for he is worn out in the service of his Master.”

(From the Halifax Recorder, March 6th, 1830.)


At the East River of Pictou on Wednesday last, at an advanced age, the Rev. James MacGregor, D. D., Minister of the Gospel. In recording the death of this worthy and honoured father of the Church of Nova Scotia, we cannot refrain from expressing our grief at the removal of so kind a relation from the bosom of his family—so pious and benevolent a member from the body of society. He was among the first Presbyterian Clergymen, who, animated by the hope of benefitting mankind, left the comforts of a British home, to seek toil and privation in the forest of Nova Scotia. About the year 1786 lie landed in the district of Pictou, where his exertions for religion cannot soon be forgotten. “Aroused to activity by the vigor of youth, and burning with desire to promote the best interests of men. he traversed the pathless solitudes in every direction—not to collect the hire of the labourer from the people of the wood, but to share their hardships, and soothe their sorrows with the tidings of salvation. When ever a prospect of usefulness opened, he disregarded fatigue and outbraved danger, that the lost sheep of the desert might be restored to the fold.”

He laboured in the true cause of pure Christianity, viewing the human family with the charitablc eye of a brother, he raised no petty objections about form. He was neither the narrow zealot of a particular sect, nor the paltry bigot who wished to create distinctions where no difference existed. It' he met a believer, he joined him as a traveller journeying on the same road to the same country, and was happy that they had been brought together. He found an unfortunate brother, who needed consolation, he remained not to inquire, whether that brother were of Paul or of Apollos, but administered to him the comforts of the gospel. He was a Trustee of the Pictou Academy, who filled the situation with equal honour to himself, and advantage to the institution; and he was an active co-operator in whatever tended to promote the interests of education. To Pictou he has ever been a father and a friend. When in its infancy he guarded the morals of its inhabitants—communicated to them a knowledge of the Saviour, and watched over their best interests. Now that he has been gathered to his fathers, the virtuous and the good of all denominations who knew him will deplore the loss that the Christian religion must sustain in his removal; yet it is a subject of joy to know that his spirit has been wafted to the bosom of the Master, whom he so faithfully served while on earth. Even the individuals who embittered his latter days by their efforts to frustrate his labours, and who endeavoured to sow the seeds of discord where peace had formerly reigned, will now leave him to his rest: and they will probably lament that they inflicted a wound into the heart of one so benevolent as the Rev. Dr. MacGregor, who never wounded any. The friends of Christianity may rejoice to learn that a memoir of this Reverend Gentleman will be presented to the public, from the pen of one who will not fail to make it interesting to every religious mind.



James MacGregor was a native of Perthshire: he was born and brought up in the vicinity of Comrie, on the romantic banks of the Loch Earn. He not only spoke the Gaelic with fluency, but wrote it with elegance and precision, which in those days was a rare attainment.

After passing through the necessary Seminaries and Halls of learning, at the early age of about 21, he was licensed to preach by the General Associate Synod. Nearly half a century ago, although his prospects of a charge in this country were very encouraging; upon a requisition being received from Nova Scotia for a minister, actuated by an ardent piety, and more than ordinary vigor of mind, lie crossed the Atlantic to preach the gospel to those who  dwelt solitary in the woods.”

He here entered on a field boundless in extent as in difficulties. The Eastern part of Nova Scotia, and the Islands of Cape Breton and Prince Edward, were all before him. The inhabitants were few and far between. Roads in that region were an invention of a later day. The site of the town of Pictou contained only one or two houses, and it was not an easy matter to travel to the next hamlet,—marked trees, a pocket compass, or an Indian were his only guides through the wilderness in those early times; but the people were in need of the gospel, and that, to Dr. MacGregor, was sufficient to call forth all his exertions.

It would be difficult to justify his constant exposure of person, by night and by day, and his almost superhuman exertions from week to week, and year to year. A plank was often his bed, and a potato his fare. Sleep was frequently a stranger to him for several nights together. Towards the close of his life and ministry, we regret to say that the comfort of this man of God was embittered, and his congregation rent by the intrusion of a stranger into his labours; and still more to add that party spirit supplanted the feelings of gratitude, and not a few who owed much to him, when none other would come over to help them, deserted his ministry for that of another, certainly not more able, or affectionate, or Evangelical.

Nothing, however could divert his benevolence from its predominant bent. Attached to the land of his fathers, and anxious to promote the best interests of his countrymen at home—to edify those by his pen, whom he could no longer reach by his voice, he conceived the design of clothing the doctrines of the gospel in Gaelic versification, that he might unite the best instruction with the sweetest melodies of his native land. The execution of this purpose produced the little volume of hymns which bear his name.

MacGregor may be regarded as the apostle of Nova Seotia, or at least of the District of Pictou. Doubtless, others have laboured in other parts of the Colony with laudable industry, as well as with desirable success, and deserved their need of praise. Nay, one or two had preceded him on the scene of the ministry; but he was best known in this western part of Scotland, therefore most frequently mentioned there, and very highly as well as justly esteemed.

In proof of this last statement, one fact which is honourable to all parties concerned, deserves to be recorded. No sooner were his character and claims testified to the members of the University of Glasgow, than the Senate unanimously agreed to confer upon him the title of D. D-, an honour which he amply merited by his attainments and his services, but which, coming from his native land, and from a literary quarter so highly respectable, would be received by him with peculiar interest, and would contribute, there can be no doubt, unsolicited and unexpected as it was on his part, to shed a gleam of light upon the evening of his life, and to cheer him amid the causes of depression which arose from the failure of nature, and the fickleness of some of his former friends.

Besides, being a man of ardent piety, of determined resolution, of expansive benevolence, and of elevated spirit, he was a Divine of no small reach of thought, and a poet of considerable genius.

His letters which he wrote on behalf of the Church in that distant land, exhibit a charming and touching simplicity.

Some of his essays, published in a religious periodical in his native country, show that he was possessed of an independent turn of thinking; and the small volume of hymns, already noticed, is believed to be the last of his printed works, and demonstrates, as well as the whole tenor of his life, that he loved to conscerate the crowning and the most powerful efforts of his mind, to the glory of God, and the good of his countrymen.

In the Spring of 1828, he was seized with epilepsy, and at Pictou, on the first day of March, 1830, at the age of 70, he experienced a return, which terminated in his death on the 3d. His funeral was attended by an immense assemblage from all parts of the district.

For 46 years this excellent Divine had laboured in Pictou, and there never lived a man more universally esteemed and beloved.


I HAVE made these remarks with a view to turn your attention to the lamented death of the late Dr. MacGregor, of the Fast River, of Pictou. We are not in the habit of preaching funeral sermons. While we consider it our duty carefully to improve providential dispensations, we conceive that this is better done without referring to the character of the deceased. We do not hesitate to say, however, that from this rule there are some exceptions. There arc persons who are possessed of such superior excellence, or who have been so distinguished lor their zeal and activity, and labours in the cause of Christ, that it would be unwise and unjust to withhold that tribute to their memory which our feeble abilities can afford.

Among these, the venerable minister whose death we have announced to you, holds no inferior place. Nor ought this tribute of respect to be confined to that part of the church in which he more immediately resided. Though connected with a particular congregation, his usefulness was not restrained within such narrow limits. Like an eminent servant of Christ of old, his praise was in all the churches. His name was extensively known, and the respect which it secured was not more limited. Surely then, it cannot be improper in mu to make him the subject of a few remarks. And here I would wish not to be misunderstood. He who is now gone, is removed beyond the reach of the kind offices of humanity. He has, no doubt, mingled with the multitudes who surround the throne. All the respect which we can afford him, will not in the least degree affect his state. But he has left us an example, which each, according to the sphere in which he moves, would do well to follow. While we cherish the memory of his virtues in our hearts, let us imitate them in our life.

Between forty and fifty years ago, this excellent man, influenced by a strong desire to promote the salvation of perishing mortals, left the country of his nativity. All the endearments of home, which to him were neither few nor small, must yield to his ardent benevolence. Born in a country, which, for ages past, had been the seat of science and civilization, enjoying the advantages of a liberal education, he was formed for realizing the pleasures of literary society. Possessing no common degree of sensibility also, he must have keenly felt the pains of separation from relatives and friends. But all these considerations, his desire to promote the honour of his master and the salvation of his fellow men, far out-weighed. Suffice it to remark, that leaving the land of his fathers, he arrived at the shores of Nova Scotia. The district of Pictou was to be the scene of his labours. He who now visits that country can form but a very imperfect idea of what it was at that period. Nothing was to be seen but a continued succession of wood, with here and there a solitary inhabitant, with a little cultivation. The pathless forest, also, presented but a poor means of intercourse between the scattered settlers. In this situation none of you will anticipate that their comforts would be abundant. But I need not pretend to give you information upon this point. There are some in this worshipping assembly who might well be my instructors, and to them I appeal for the truth of these statements.

Such was the state of the country when this faithful minister entered upon his labours. A mind less ardent, appalled by the difficulties of the situation, would have shrunk back from the attempt. Hut his zeal was of no common order. Ardent in youth, vigorous in constitution, and burning with desire to promote the salvation of his fellow-mortals, he commenced his ministrations. Exposed to privations and toil, he laboured long and faithfully in that part of the church. He has been a father to the district of Pictou; he has watched over the best interests of that growing community, and death, only, terminated his exertions on its behalf. His labours have not been in vain. The Master whom he so faithfully served has honoured his ministrations with rich fruit. He lived to see many spiritual children to be a source of comfort to him in his declining years; and he will have many for a crown of rejoicing in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Wide and difficult as was his charge in the district of Pictou, his labours were not confined to It. He could not behold the vast moral wilderness before him without the deepest sympathy. In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Cape Breton, and Prince Edward Island, there was a vast field uncultivated. Thousands were perishing for lack of the bread of life. The prospect was too painful for the benevolent mind of this faithful minister, to contemplate without sympathy. Nor did his sympathy evaporate in mere unavailing desires. He resolved to traverse the pathless forest, and carry the tidings of salvation to those who dwelt solitary in the woods. We arc accustomed even now, to complain of inconveniences of travelling ; but judging from the present, we can form little idea of the difficulties that existed forty years ago. At that period roads were almost entirely unknown. The sea shore often presented the only path, intercepted by numerous rivers, which were crossed frequently with great difficulty, and sometimes with no small danger. The accommodations of the traveller were anything but comfortable. This indeed, in most instances, was not the fault of his benevolent entertainer. Had he possessed the means, no doubt the accommodations of his visitor would have been more ample; but what could be expected from him ? Placed in the middle of the wood, his little cultivation affording him only a scanty means of subsistence; far removed from any quarter where the comforts of life could be procured, lie was but ill-prepared for the entertainment of strangers. A plank was often the bed, and a potato the fare of the weary traveller. Such was the situation of the country, when this faithful servant of Christ traversed a great part of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Cape Breton, and Prince Edward Island, sharing the hardships of the scattered inhabitants, and soothing their sorrows with the tidings of salvation. And no doubt his name is mentioned in many a humble dwelling; no doubt many can trace their best consolations to his prayers and his instructions; and no doubt many will drop the tear of sympathy over this venerable minister.

It is not our intention, at present, to enter into a detail of his varied labours, in the service of his Master. Any attempts of this kind our limits would not permit; and, indeed it is altogether unnecessary. I am persuaded that many of you are well acquainted \7ith his great exertions. It cannot be improper, however, shortly to advert to some of the most prominent features in his character, which wc ought to make the object of our imitation.

His faith was of no ordinary description. To that revelation which God has given us of his will, he gave his most unqualified assent- His was no speculative faith; it powerfully influenced his life. Not only in the season of prosperity, when the world smiled around, but in the dark hour of adversity lie firmly trusted in God. The consequence of this was, that in the most threatening dangers, his mind was at ease. Firmly relying upon that God who holds the reins of the universe in his hands, he was serene amidst the convulsions by which others are terrified; and we have known few who possessed such a firm and unbroken assurance of a happy immortality. Let us imitate his faith; let us believe the divine testimony; let us acquiesce in the dispensation of heaven.

His charity was expanded. He was not of a censorious temper. He was ever disposed to put the most favourable construction upon the actions of others. Ife could not be induced to attach blame without the most decisive proof; and he was most ready to excuse and forgive. His charity was not confined to the narrow limits of a sect, but readied to all who bore the Christian name. All who bore the image of the Saviour, as far as known to him, shared in his esteem and his friendship. Though firmly attached to the Presbyterian doctrine and modes of worship, he lived in habits of intimacy with clergymen and private Christians of various denominations. His was not indeed that boasted, though false liberality, too prevalent at the present day, which can so easily overlook sin. He was too faithful to his Waster, and too charitable to his brethren, to overlook sin, even in those whom lie most esteemed; and he was remarkable for a happy talent for administering reproof, without giving offence.

Brethren, let us imitate his example; let us cultivate that expanded charity by which he was so honourably characterized ; let us be disposed to extenuate and forgive the faults of our brethren; and let us love all who bear the image of Christ, to whatever sect or party they belong.

His zeal was most ardent. Perhaps this was one of those excellences in his character, which shine with prominent lustre. The cause of Zion ever lay near his heart, and lie earnestly sought its advancement. His zeal did not waste itself in unavailing desires, but incited him to holy activity. Nor was it repressed by trifling, nor even by great difficulties. Those obstacles which would have paralyzed the exertions of others, only excited him to increased activity. His zeal was not blind attachment to a sect or party; it was an enlightened zeal; it was a holy desire to advance the cause of God. Does not this trait in his character furnish us with a forcible reproof? Is it not too evident that zeal among ns is in a languishing condition? Let a reflection on the bright example set before us kindle in our hearts the holy flame.

I need scarcely inform you that his labours were abundant. Which of his brethren could compare with him in these? Who of them has manifested such unwearied exertion, in carrying the glad tidings of salvation to the abodes of the destitute ? Upon his missionary excursions also, he was most industrious. Day after day, and week after week, with little intermission, his prayers, and his preaching, and his exertions were continued. To him it was no drudgery to be employed in the service of his Master. It was the object of his fondest delight, and his most ardent desire ; and when the body was worn down with fatigue the spirit remained unabated. You who have heard him upon these occasions can say that he was truly eloquent. It was not indeed the eloquence which consisted in the tinsel of rhetoric; it was not the eloquence which consisted in high sounding words, or gracefully turned periods; but it was the eloquence of a heart deeply affected with the awful realities of eternity, and earnestly desirous of impressing the same feeling upon the minds of others; it was an eloquence which for a plainness and simplicity which rendered it adapted to the lowest capacity, strikingly resembled that of his great Master. As an evidence of his unabated exertion in the cause of the Redeemer, I need only farther mention, that even after the first attack of that disease which at last terminated his mortal existence, though much weakened, he considered it his duty, instead of diminishing, to increase his public labours on the Sabbath; and on the first day of that very week on which his death occurred, he proclaimed the name of that Saviour into whose blissful presence he was soon to cuter. But he rests from his labours; his toils arc ended; his privations are terminated ; and he enjoys uninterrupted and eternal repose, in the bosom of his Saviour and his God. Brethren, let us imitate his example. We are not all called to be public teachers in the church; but we are called to be diligent in the respective spheres which Providence has allotted us. Let us not be slothful in business, but fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Let us be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord.

But his usefulness was not confined to his public labours. Sensible that he could but ill serve his Master by limiting his ministrations to the pulpit, he was the advocate of religion wherever he went. Every suitable opportunity was embraced for recommending the interests of piety; and to him few, very few indeed, were unsuitable. He possessed a happy faculty of turning the conversation, whatever it might be, into the channel of religion, without giving offence. As the love of Christ was his ruling principle, so he often dwelt upon the wonders of redemption. As the great tidings of God’s law occupied the meditations of his heart, so they were often upon his lips. Remembering this trait in his character, have we not much cause to blush deeply? How seldom is religion the subject of our conversation ! How often does a criminal shame prevent us from avowing the cause of that Master whom we profess to serve! Let us learn wisdom from the bright example before us; let our conversation be always with grace, seasoned with salt; let us be always ready to give an answer to every one that asketh us a reason of the hope that is within us, with meekness and fear.

The benevolence of this servant of Christ also claims our attention. It was tender and affectionate. None told him the tale of woe, and told it in vain. Possessing deep sensibility himself, he knew how to feel for others. His benevolence did not terminate in mere unavailing sympathy. None was more ready to extend the hand of relief; nor was his benevolence limited to bodily distress,—he was too sensible of the value of the immortal soul to overlook its interests. In the house of mourning, and at the sick bed, he was no stranger, and few were better qualified to administer the healing balm of gospel consolation. He felt mueh for the situation of the benighted Heathen; he greatly rejoiced in those benevolent exertions by which the present times arc so honourably characterized, for relieving them from their destitute situation. He dwelt fondly upon the prospect of millennial glory, and every means for effecting it had his patronage and support. He was ever ready, upon all occasions, to contribute of his labour and of his property to the interests of benevolence: and so liberal was his expenditure for this purpose, as often materially to diminish the comforts of himself and family. Let us imitate his benevolence; let us pity, and, according to „ur ability, relieve the distressed; let us soothe the sorrows of the afflicted; let us not withhold our support from the institutions of benevolence.

His interest in the cause of education ought not to be overlooked. lie was a Trustee of the Pictou Academy, who filled the situation with equal honour to himself and advantage to the Institution. Educated in that Seminary, I would count it alike ungenerous and unjust, not to mention the interest which this excellent man took in its prosperity. Little did he expect ever to see such an institution there when he arrived at the district of Pictou. Covered with wood, inhabited by a few settlers, possessing none of the wealth, and few of the comforts of life, hardly, if at all, enjoying the advantage of the commonest education; he little anticipated that such an institution would so soon he established in it. He had seen vast tracts of land rescued from the forest; he had seen extensive settlements formed, where formerly there were few, if any, inhabitants; he had seen a town erected where there only one or two solitary dwellings; he had seen places of worship reared where formerly no temple of God was to be found; he had seen numerous faithful pastors around him, where lie was long only a solitary labourer; he had seen a seminary for liberal education established where there was hardly a common school; he had seen Zion in her desolation, and in her prosperity; he had seen a vast moral wilderness, and lie had seen the excellency of Carmel and Sharon; and who could behold such a prospect without emotion ? It was too much for a mind of far less sensibility than that of Dr. MacGregor.

Here my mind naturally recurs to those occasions, when with others assembled in that Institution, I shared in his advices and in his prayers. Many of these seasons I well remember. 1 shall not soon forget my own feelings, when I heard that excellent man expressing his thankfulness for those prospects which so far exceeded his most sanguine expectations, while the rolling tears disclosed the emotions of his heart.

Thus we have given you, though very imperfectly, a short sketch of the most prominent features in the character of this faithful servant of Christ. That lie was without his faults we do not presume to affirm. To be free from imperfections, while here below, is more than falls to the lot of humanity. Even the most eminent saints and servants of God have not attained to perfection. Even the great Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are. But we may safely affirm, that he whose life we have now briefly sketched was a burning and shining light. For unaffected piety—for ardent zeal—for laborious exertion—for disinterested benevolence, he has not left his equal in these parts. Well, indeed, may the church lament her loss. Truly, a great man is fallen in Israel. But shall we mourn for him? No! He is gone to that God whom he so faithfully served; he is gone to that Saviour whose cause he so zealously and successfully promoted; he is gone to join the assembled throng of holy angels; he is gone to mingle in the blissful company of glorified saints, and no doubt he has met with many happy spirits, the fruits of his ministerial toil. Let us then be followers of them, who, through faith and patience, are now inheriting the promise.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus