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.
Chapter VI. - First Year's Labours 1786 - 1787

"Feed thy people with thy rod, the flock of thino heritage, which dwell solitarily in the wood, in the midst of Carmel; let them feed in Bashan and Gilead as in the days of old.” Mic. vii. 14.

We now enter upon an unpleasant portion of Dr. MacGregor’s history, viz., the controversy in which immediately after his arrival he was involved with the brethren sent out by the Burgher Synod—a controversy which excited a good deal of irritation, and for a time had an injurious effect upon the common cause. We have not been able to obtain full particulars on the subject. The minutes of the Truro Presbytery have been mislaid within a short period, and the most important papers, some of which were in existence a few years ago, have perished, while traditionary information is uncertain. We shall give such a general account of it as we have been able to gather. He thus refers to it himself:

“This week I went to Truro, and preached to the Presbytery and people there, and had a long conversation about union to no effect. They, being better acquainted with the state of the Province, insisted, that as the grounds of difference at home had no existence here, they should not mar our communion; but I being a stranger, thought that the change of place made no material difference, and insisted that they should condemn here what I condemned at home and here. An undue irritation took place, which continued, in some degree, while these two ministers lived. This want of union was no small trial to me, as I was alone, and there were three of them.”

The meeting here referred to took place on the 2nd of August 1786, when the first Presbytery formed in Nova Scotia, was constituted under the name of the Associate Presbytery of Truro. The ministers present were the Rev. Daniel Cock of Truro, the Rev. David Smith of Londonderry, the Rev. Hugh Graham of Cornwallis, the Rev. George Gilmore of Windsor, and Dr. MacGregor. Of these Mr. Gilmore only sat as a correspondent member, and never seems to have taken any part in their proceedings. Dr. MacGregor attended the meeting, took part in the devotional exercises, but afterward refused to unite with them, so that the Presbytery actually consisted of the three ministers first named, all from the Burgher Synod.

This refusal led to several interviews and a large amount of epistolary correspondence. It was remarked that at their meetings he was in bodily presence mild and gentle, but that his letters were not only weighty and powerful, but sometimes very severe. In the course of discussion, which was conducted on the part of the Presbytery principally by Mr. Smith, a good deal of angry feeling was excited, and hard blows were given on both sides. But even if we could describe the matters involving personal irritation, which occurred in the course of the controversy, any farther account would be quite uncalled for at this date. One result of this controversy was that individuals through the congregations of the Truro Presbytery, who had been connected with the Antiburgher Synod in the mother country, took part with the Doctor, and being joined by others, who perhaps had become disaffected to their ministers, but who acted under the profession of zeal for the truth, formed parties in several sections opposed to the Presbytery. On the other hand, we regret to say, that from Mr. Smith’s letters it appears, that he favoured such opposition to the Doctor as that of William MacKay hereafter to be described.

In consequence of this state of things the Presbytery some years later, in accordance with a representation of the congregation of Truro, renewed correspondence with him. lie in consequence gave in a letter, containing a formal statement of his reasons for declining union with them, most of which he had given previously. This document, though in existence a few years ago, we have been unable to obtain, but we have a letter containing remarks upon it, from which we learn something of his grounds for separating from them. They were eight in number. The first was the Burgess Oath. Another was the manner in which the Bev. James Munro was admitted a member of Presbytery, there being at that time some imputations thrown out against his doctrine. A third was the use of Watts’ Psalms, by some of the adherents of the Presbytery, and we believe by some of the ministers. The practice had been introduced by the settlers who had emigrated from the United States. A fourth was the mode of electing elders, but what the matter of complaint on this head was, we have not ascertained. Another was that the Presbytery had not adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith in terms sufficiently explicit. On this point he went the length of saying, that it was no more the Confession of Faith of the Presbytery, than was the Creed of Pope Pius the IV. The reason, however, which in the present day will be regarded as of deepest interest, was the fact that the Rev. Daniel Cock, one of the members of Presbytery, held a coloured girl in slavery. On this point he went so far as to say, that he hoped he would rather burn at the stake than keep communion with one who did so. The other two reasons we have not been able to ascertain.

On looking at these reasons, it will be seen that the first, if not some others, refers to matters of local interest in Scotland. Considering the tenacity with which the minute distinctions between different denominations are held there, and the violence with which the controversies of the time were conducted, we need not be at all surprised, that a person just coming from the heat of conflict, should refuse to unite with ministers of different views on these subjects. The same thing has been happening ever since. Persons coming here naturally transport hither all the questions and issues, that were being tried in the country of their birth, and believe that faithfulness to truth and duty requires that matters only of local interest should be made a ground of separation. It requires some years’ residence to show the folly of retaining such distinctions, and many never learn to abandon them. It appears therefore to us unfortunate that Dr. MacGregor was called on to decide this question so soon after his arrival here. Those who had been longer in the country insisted that these differences had properly no existence here, and should not be made grounds of separation. A few years’ residence here led him to the same conclusion, and in the above extract he acknowledges that they judged more accurately than he did, and he afterward became one of the most ardent friends of union.

It must be observed, in addition, that the Antiburgher body in whose views he had been educated, held, as we have observed in a former chapter, the very closest views regarding communion. Forbearance on matters of religious opinion was held to be a sinful connivance at error or wrong doing. They argued for charity toward those from whom they differed, but to hold communion with those who could not agree with them even on the minutest points, was considered as compromising their own testimony, as holding fellowship with error, and becoming partakers in its guilt. In these views he had been educated, and at this time he fully adopted them, so that when the Truro brethren, admitting the difference in their views, pled for forbearance, he at once took strong ground in opposition, and the general question underwent a thorough discussion. We may mention that, on this point particularly, he had a long epistolary controversy with the late Robert Archibald, Esq., of Musquodobort. We have some letters of the latter in our possession, that, as the production of a layman, not having a classical education, are highly creditable exhibitions both of his theological knowledge and Christian spirit.

It is but just to observe here, that while Dr. MacGregor felt himself precluded conscientiously from fellowship with these brethren, he never introduced among the people of his charge the controversy on the Burgess Oath, or any of the other questions at issue between the Secession and the other Presbyterian bodies in Scotland. He faithfully acted in the spirit of the injunction of Synod, that he was sent not to make Sceeders but Christians. No assent was ever required from any whom he admitted to the privileges of the church, to the peculiarities which distinguished the Secession from other members of the Presbyterian family, and whatever we may think of his views on communion at this time, no man could be more free from a sectarian spirit, than he was through his whole career.

During this separation two points arose of some difficulty. The body from which he had come, held that even u occasional hearing” of preaching from those against whose position they were lifting a protest was wrong. But should he now say that people should not go to hear Mr. Cock? He was not long in coming to the conclusion, that however these views might answer where people had the opportunity of attending upon the ministrations of those holding the same religious profession, it would be wrong to attempt to put them into practice in this country where they had no such opportunity. The other point of difficulty was, whether it was his duty to preach to those in the congregations of the Truro brethren, who adhered to his views? Would not this be exciting strife? He laid the subject before his friends in Scotland. Mr. Buist thus gives his opinion on these points:

“As to supplying-—I am much at a loss. 1 think you can judge much better. We should engage in the Lord’s service when the call is clear, without fear of consequences. This is all that I can say. I may also add, “ Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” As to hearing Mr. C., you are in an infant state and must come to our order by degrees. At the same time you may tell your mind as to such things as persons may be able to bear it.”

We have only to add that he generally discouraged such applications to him for preaching, and only yielded to them in consequence of earnest solicitation.

One of his reasons, however, will be admitted to have possessed great importance, and in the opinion of British readers justified him in adopting high ground. We allude to the fact of slaveholding by a member of Presbytery. This was the subject on which a great portion of their controversy turned, and the one which caused the greatest amount of irritation. This, however, is a matter of such interest, that we reserve a fuller account of it for our next chapter.

Two other subjects of discussion are worthy of notice. The first was the use of Watts’ Psalms. Those who had adopted them urged the common objections against the Psalms of David. They represented them as opposed to the spirit of the New Testament. The imprecations which they contain were particularly held as indicating the inferior morality of the Old Testament, and as unfit for Christian worship. He never adopted the extreme view of denying the lawfulness of using human compositions in the praise of God, but he justly regarded the Psalms as affording the highest models of spiritual song, and such imputations he regarded as reflections upon the word of God. This led him to a thorough examination of the subject, and to the preparation of a complete Treatise on the Imprecations of the Psalms. We do not know at what time it was composed, but we find it referred to in letters written in the early part of 1790 as in existence previously. This treatise was supposed to have perished with many of his other papers. We are happy to say that while the present work was going through the press, it has been discovered,—completely prepared for publication, and we have now great pleasure in including it among his remains.

The view which he takes of the subject is not the usual one. He boldly takes the ground, that these imprecations are prayers—not however against David’s personal enemies, but against the impenitent enemies of God, and on the supposition of their continuing so. The persons against whom David imprecated might be in one point of view his personal enemies; looking at them in this light his disposition was to seek nothing but their good; but viewing them as the irreconcilable enemies of the Most High, his regard for the honour of God led him to pray for their destruction. He shows that the same is our duty, because it is the will of God that his impenitent enemies should be destroyed, and we should concur in his will and pray that it be accomplished, there being however this difference between our circumstances and those of David, that while the latter knew, by revelation, that certain persons were of this character, we are entirely ignorant who are and shall continue to be such; and therefore our prayers must be in the most general terms, and not directed against any particular individuals. We learn also that he endeavoured-to show, that our Saviour’s language and the practice of the apostles taught the same lessons. This is not only a very simple view, but in our opinion unquestionably the correct one; and we think that the Treatise thus happily still preserved affords evidence of original powers of thought, and of a thorough examination of the Scriptures, the more remarkable when we consider that it must have been written before he was thirty years of age, and when he had a very limited access to books.

The other subject of discussion which we deem worthy of notice, was the observance of fasts enjoined by Government authority. The Antiburghers in the old country generaly refused to observe these, as they considered that their doing so would be an acknowledgment of the authority of civil government in matters of religion, and particularly a recognition of the unscriptural constitution of church and state established by law in Britain. The terms in which the proclamation for the observance of such da}Ts, were till a recent period issued, commanding persons to assemble in their respective churches and chapels, as they tendered the favour of Almighty God, and would avert his displeasure, and enjoining the use of a prayer prepared by the Bishop for the occasion, and even with threats of those refusing being punished by law, were exceedingly offensive, and fitted to provoke opposition. One of the Antiburgher party in Colchester writing to him, speaks thus,

“I suppose you have before now received his Excellency’s orders by proclamation to keep a fast upon that Holy day, dedicated to St. Mark, as also a copy of the Right Rev’d Bishop’s prayer, which you are to read upon pain of being punished as law directs, for disobedience to the lawful commands of the best of Governments. Must they not be amazing strong and prevalent prayers, that are sent up by the force of civil law?”

Those who adhered to these views strenuously refused to observe such days, and were in the habit of attending to ordinary business upon them in the most public manner, to show their resistance to what they regarded as an intrusion on the part of civil rulers into the province of the church.

After all, when we consider the spirit of the body in Scotland, at that time, perhaps it is as well that the union did not take place then. We may judge how such a step on his part would have been received by them, from the manner in which they acted regarding a similar step, adopted by the brethren who had gone to the United States. In the year 1767 the ministers who had gone from the Antiburgher Synod, having coalesced with the Burgher brethren, the Synod in Scotland refused to sanction the union, declaring the terms of it to be “inconsistent with the maintenance of the testimony among their hands against the course of the separating brethren,” and when in the following year, they received a letter from the Rev. D. Telfar, offering to give information regarding the course of the Presbytery, he was informed in a reply sent to him by the Moderator, that “ his communication had been received, but that the Synod could not hold any communication with him, except in the way of receiving satisfaction from him, with a view to the removal of the censure, under which he is at present lying, and that as to the terms of agreement referred to, in his letter, they could not take them into consideration.”

And again, when the Seceding ministers in the United Stales united with the brethren of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, under the name of the Associate Reformed Church, the Synod, just the year previous to Dr. MacGregor’s arrival here, passed an act expressing their disapprobation of the conduct of those brethren, who had “coalesced with ministers of other denominations, on terms so loose and general as to open the door for the grossest latitudinarianism.'' They disclaimed all connection with, and acknowledgment of “the body so constituted/' and they declared the brethren who had joined it, to be in a state of “apostasy from their Reformation testimony and their witnessing profession."

In fact the counsels of the Antiburgher Synod were at this time swayed by Adam Gib, a man of clear mind, strong intellect, and determined spirit, but a man of high temper, who held the most rigid sentiments regarding communion, and the highest views of Ecclesiastical authority. Had Dr. MacGregor at this time united with the Burgher brethren, he would undoubtedly have been immediately separated from the fellowship of his brethren, and all ministerial assistance would have been refused him. But by taking up a separate position, he was led to send home those importunate supplications, whieh brought to this country those excellent men, who were his coadjutors in establishing Presbyterianism iu the Province, and thus the separation, like that of Paul and Barnabas, tended to the furtherance of the gospel.

Having thus given as full a view of this controversy as the facts in our possession enable us, and as fairly as we are able, we return to his narrative:

“There were so few houses in Pictou with any accommodations, that I could get no convenient place for lodging. On the East River there was one house, within two-and-a-half miles of the place fixed upon for a meeting-house, which had two fire-places; and here I had to fix, for there was none equal to it within four miles of the other place of public worship. Still it was very inconvenient, for the heads of the family had to sit and sleep in the same room; but I could not better myself. This circumstance fixed my lot on the East River to this day. After two years I got a house where I had a room to myself.

“During the whole of the harvest and the fall I saw no preparation for building any of the meeting-houses. This discouragement, with the rest, affected me so, that, if I could have left Pictou, I would have done it, even lute in the foil I saw little fruit of my labours; still Providence was, in many respects, favourable. Though public worship had been conducted in the open air, till we were compelled by the cold to go into a fire house, yet we were never disturbed by a shower.

“Toward the end of September the session agreed that there was need of an increase of elders—two for each river, and one for the harbour. This was intimated to the congregation, who soon after chose the following persons':—Donald MacKay, Peter Grant, Robert Marshall, Kenneth Fraser, John MacLean, Hugh Fraser, and John Patterson. I name them because they were my companions, my support and comfort, when Pictou was destitute and poor, and I was without the assistance of a copresbyter. They have all given in their account, as also the three ordained in Scotland, and I trust they have done it with joy, and not with grief. They were not ordained till the next May.

“The upper settlement of the East River being farther off from the place of public worship than any other part of the congregation, it was agreed to let them have sermon in their own settlement three Sabbaths annually, and I agreed to give them three week days besides. This arrangement continued till a second minister came to Pictou, when they got more. I saw them the first time early in October, and on Sabbath they came all to hear with great joy and wonder; for they had not indulged the hope of ever seeing a minister in their settlement. They had very poor accommodations. I had to sleep on a little straw on the floor.”

As already mentioned, all the settlers on the upper settlement "were Highlanders, most of whom had served in the American war. Part of them were from the parish of Urquhart. Having settled but a short time previous to the Doctor’s arrival, they were of course in poorer circumstances than the other settlers. At some distance np, the river forms two branches, commonly called the East and West Branches. Most of the settlers were Protestants and Presbyterians, but some of them were Roman Catholics. Among these were the Chisholms on the East Branch, who were from Strathglass. The father attended the Doctor’s preaching, but never became a decided Protestant. One son, Archibald, joined the church and lived and died a consistent Christian life, and so did a sister, Mrs. John MacKenzie of West River, mother-in-law to William Matheson, Esq. They have left a large number of descendants, many of whom are most useful and respectable members of the church. There were also some of that persuasion about the West Branch, and one or two became Protestants, when the priest, seeing that they were likely to be lost to the Romish Church altogether, if they remained there, induced them all to leave. The rest of the settlers were generally a pious people. Even those who had served in the army were very different from the common run of disbanded soldiers. They were decent emigrants, who had been induced to serve while the war lasted, and from the traditionary information I have received, it appears that even while in the army they were not neglectful of their religious duties. At that time as now the army had its praying centurions and “devout soldiers,” and some of them used to speak in grateful recollection of the efforts of a Lieut. MacDonald for their spiritual welfare. Peter Grant, afterward an elder, kept “a reading,” I believe before Dr. MacGregor came, at all events afterward, when there was no preaching in the settlement.

The only mode of travelling to this part of his congregation, was walking along the edge of the river, and, where they came to a brook, ascending it till they reached a part where they were able to cross it. In winter, of course, the travelling was on snow shoes. Sometimes the young men would at that season of the year go down at the end of the week to beat a track for him. Toward spring when the snow began to get soft in the middle of the day, by beating it down, it would be frozen sufficiently hard the next morning to bear him. On one occasion having arrived at the house of James MacDonald, the elder, without their having done so, the latter began exclaiming against them for their neglect. “Oh," said the Doctor, “you look like an angry man.” Seeing him so contented, the good elder had to forego his ire.

His first sermon at the upper settlement was preached at James MacDonald’s intervale under the shade of a large oak tree, the largest in that whole region. This was his ordinary place of preaching in summer for some time, though occasionally he preached at Mr. Charles Macintosh’s, about six miles farther up, under the shade of some trees, particularly a large elm, which had been left standing on his farm; and at the West Branch, either at Mr. Donald Chisholm’s, or James Cameron’s. In winter the preaching was in private houses. On one occasion when near the conclusion of his first sermon, the whole floor gave way, and precipitated most of the audience into the cellar. He himself was standing by the chimney, and escaped. The whole floor except the spot where he was standing fell in one body, so that no person was hurt. The only articles of any value in the cellar were under the part where he stood, so that no loss was sustained. It was a fine day toward the close of winter, and he preached the second sermon in the barn.

After a few years a church was built. It was of logs and situated at Grant’s Lake, to accommodate the residents on both branches of the river. This continued to be the usual place of meeting till about the year 1815, when two new churches were built, the one on the East Branch and the other on the West.

“On November the 15th winter set in. We had a few showers of snow before, which melted away; but the snow of that day continued until the middle of April, and some of it till May. I was tired of winter before New Year’s Day, but before March was over, I forgot that it should go away at all. The snow became gradually deeper, till it was between two and three feet deep; when women could travel only where a path was made, and men betook themselves to snow-shoes. We had now to alter the plan of preaching entirely. People could not sit in a house without fire, and they could not travel far. I.t was therefore agreed that I should preach two Sabbaths at the East River, two upon the Harbour, two upon the West River, and two upon the Middle River, and then renew the circle, till the warm weather should return. The upper settlement of the East River, being unprovided with snow shoes, were excluded through the whole winter from all communication with the rest of the people, as effectually as if they had belonged to another world, excepting one visit by two young men, who made a sort of snow-shoes of small tough withes, plaited and interwoven in snow-shoe frames. This circulating plan of preaching was no little inconvenience to me. For six weeks in eight I was from home, almost totally deprived of my books and of all accommodation for study, often changing my lodging, and exposed to frequent and excessive cold. But it had this advantage, that it gave me an easier opportunity of examining the congregation than I could otherwise have had; for I got these duties performed in each portion between the two Sabbaths on which I was there.

“I resolved not to confine my visitations to Presbyterians, but to include all, of every denomination, who would make me welcome; for I viewed them as sheep without a shepherd. The purport of my visitations was, to awaken them to a sight of their sinful and dangerous state, to direct them to Christ, to exhort them to be diligent to grow in religious knowledge, and to set up and maintain the worship of God in the family and closet morning and evening. I did not pass a house, and though I was not cordially welcome by all, my visits were productive of more good than I expected; and I trust they were the means of bringing to Christ several who were not Presbyterians. In the course of this visitation, I met with a number who had maintained family and closet prayers almost regularly. Every one, however, except Robert Marshall alone, acknowledged occasional neglects. Numbers readily expressed their purpose henceforth punctually to comply with the directions they received, and expressed great thankfulness for them: numbers more did the same, but with fear; and only in consequence of being strongly urged. Others positively refused: —some, because they did not esteem it a duty; others, because, though it was a duty, they were not capable of doing it. This course of visitation was of great advantage to many of the settlers. It made them resolve on serving the Lord; and they never drew back. I hope many of them are now glorified. It was also of no little advantage to myself. I began to see that my labours were not altogether in vain. I found more friends to the gospel than I expected. I found some under much concern about their eternal happiness, lamenting their sinful and miserable condition, particularly their ignorance and negligence, and misimprovement of time; anxious to find the narrow way, and very thankful for direction. They informed me of notes of the sermons which affected them, and of the various workings which they occasioned in their minds. I found, also, that they were not inattentive to the Scriptures. Many passages were recited to me, with a view to ascertain whether they had understood them correctly. These things cheered my heart; and even with respect to such as were not at all affected by my instructions, I began to be less discouraged, because time might bring a blessing to them also.

“But there were a set of profligates, at the head of whom were the gentlemen of the army above mentioned, whose enmity to the gospel grew fast, and in a short time became outrageous.

Before the end of winter some of them threatened to shoot me, and burn the house in which I lodged. I may here say all that I have to say of them, and be quit of them. Two things exasperated them against me—-first, Some of them who had their wives in Scotland lived with other women here; and some of them lived with other men’s wives, whose husbands were in Scotland. I spoke to them concerning the irregularity of their conduct, and prevailed upon one of them to reform; but the rest were hardened. It was not, however, anything that I said that exasperated them. Before I came, scarcely any person but Robert Marshall condemned them; but now, when people began to receive the gospel, many reprobated their conduct in the plainest language, as utterly inconsistent with the law of God and Christianity. I had to bear the blame of all these reproofs, and the uneasiness which they caused. Secondly, The half-pay officers intended and expected to exercise nearly the same authority over the men after they were disbanded which they had done before, and for a time succeeded wonderfully. But time, intercourse with the other settlers, and doubtless also an increase of Christian knowledge, induced the men to withdraw their subjection. Of this also I had to bear the blame. Indeed, they counted me the cause of almost all evil, and thought that the place could not be right till I was banished out of it. Next winter they held a meeting with a view to send me bound to the governor, expecting their influence with him to be such, that their mere accusations would procure my banishment. But one of the gentlemen present, after a good deal of consultation, gave them Gamaliel’s advice to the council of the Jews, with which they thought proper to comply, and so dispersed. They continued, however, for seven years pests and plagues to the congregation, particularly circulating the most mischievous lies they could devise. But they ran fast to poverty and destruction, so that scarcely one of them remained at the end of that period. Two of them were drowned ; one died in the poor-house in Halifax, of a disease not the most honourable; another was found dead iu a stable, hung by the belly to one of the horse tackle hooks. It was supposed that he had gone up to sleep on the hay drunk, and that, having fallen down, the hook caught him.

“Another cut his throat; but I trust he was a brand plucked out of the burning. Divine Providence would have it, that his cue. which was large, should lie alongside of his throat, and prevent the desperate cut from being fatal. In a moment he became penitent. He was himself a physician, and his seduced companion being at hand, he speedily gave her his best directions for a cure, and sent for me to come and see him.

O the power of conscience! I was before the most hated of men, but now the most desired. I went immediately, and soon found that he had great need of instruction. Though he had great anxiety and perplexity of mind about his future state, he was wofully ignorant of the odiousness of sin in the sight of God, and of the enmity of the carnal mind against him; and equally so of the spiritual beauty and purity of Christ’s salvation, and of the gracious manner in which it is conferred. I had to instruct him like a child. I set before him as well as I could the evil of sin, and the love, grace, and power of Christ as a Saviour, and prayed several times for the Saviour’s compassion to his soul, and for God’s blessing upon the means of grace he granted him lo enjoy. I left him with a mixture of hope and fear; for though he was very thankful for instruction, and for his being spared to bear it, yet he seemed slower in understanding it than I expected one in his situation would be. As he recovered, I had frequent opportunities of seeing him, but still thought him slow in his progress. As his former extravagance had brought him to great poverty, one of the elders, in pure compassion, took him to his own house, where he lived about a year, and where he enjoyed the privilege of Christian instruction in a special manner. The elder’s opinion of him coincided with mine. He grew but slowly. As there were too few people, and too few diseases in Pictou then to provide a living for a physician, he left it and went home to his friends, who were able to provide for him. I had afterwards a letter (and but one) from him, containing an affectionate remembrance of the kindness of the Pictou people toward him, especially the elder’s and mine, and expressing his earnest desire and hope that thenceforward he might be enabled to walk humbly with his God. I had also a letter from a brother of his, a pious minister, I believe, in New England, expressing great gratitude for my kindness and attention to his brother in his extremity, and confident hopes of his growth and perseverance in grace. On the whole, I trust he was a brand plucked out of the burning, and if he was, he will be for ever a remarkable trophy of divine grace. I am sorry that I have no evidence of the penitence of the unhappy victim of his seduction, who, in her turn, by her extravagance, reduced him to that poverty and want which drove him to the desperate act related above. She too left Pictou, but left it for the purlieu of one of the haunts of vice in Halifax, which ‘are the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.

“A number of the profligates who had belonged to the army remained with us till the beginning of the war in 1793. Then the governor raised a regiment to help on the war. A recruiting party came to Pictou, and our drunken vagabonds, almost to a man, readily embraced the opportunity to re-enlist, that they might again enjoy the miserable life they had before led in the army. In a few months we got clear of them, and I believe not one individual of those who were sober and industrious enlisted. I looked upon Pictou as purged, and hoped I would never see it polluted again. Little did I expect to see some of those I baptized as polluted as these. By-and-by we met with sources of corruption which we did not foresee.

“The want of mills proved a great impediment in my course of visitation, for it obliged every family to have a hand-mill for its own use. As soon as I sat down the mill was set agoing and though it was but a hand-mill, it made such a noise as to mar conversation, and most commonly kept either the male or the female head of the family from all share in it. But for this circumstance I could often have visited two families for one that I did visit. Grinding on the hand-mill was so laborious that it was let alone till necessity impelled to it. This was the occasion of saving much wheat, for many a meal was made without bread, on account of the trouble of grinding. Ten years afterwards proper mills were erected, and the flour which used to be spared and sent to market, was sent to the mill and eaten. The women in general learned to make good bread, and people lived better; but they wanted wheat for the market.

“The ice was a great convenience during winter in all my travels, especially in my visitations, as it removed all obstructions from water, and enabled me to go straight from one house to another, whatever brook, creek, or other water might intervene. Strangers cannot easily conceive what an advantage this is in a new settlement, placed wholly along the sides of the waters, without roads or bridges. It is extremely troublesome to travel along shore, round every point and bay, and up the side of every brook to the head of the tide and back again, while even the shore is often encumbered with rocks, bogs, and fallen trees.”

While the ice was no doubt a convenience, travelling upon it was sometimes attended with considerable danger. Among his memoranda we find the words “ fright on the ice,” and we have heard of several occasions of his being in peril of his life in this way. The danger may arise in various ways. One source is from snow-storms, suddenly rising when persons are at some distance from the shore. The track is soon covered up, the shore cannot be seen—the sun is concealed—and the person gets blinded with drift, and losing his course, wanders hither and thither, and sometimes perishes. At present, it is customary to place a row of bushes a few rods apart, along the principal lines of travelling, to guide the traveller, but in those times this expedient was unknown. We have heard of his being in danger, in this way, especially on one occasion while on Merigomish Harbour in company with Thomas Fraser, the Elder. It came on a snow-storm, in which they lost their way, and when they reached the shore they were nearly exhausted.

Another source of danger is from the ice being: weak, as it will be in spring or fall, or as it sometimes is, even in winter, in particular spots from local causes, such as mussel-beds, &c. We have heard also of his being in danger in this way. On one occasion, crossing, we believe, Pictou Harbour in the fall of the year, the ice at mid-channel began to bend with the weight of himself and his companions. They separated and got down on their hands and knees so as to cover as large a surface as possible, and moved forward as rapidly as they could. The new ice formed in the fall has considerable elasticity, unlike the ice in spring, which has begun to decay by the action of the sun. And this circumstance saved them, for before they got across, the ice had so far yielded that considerable water was upon it. On one occasion, perhaps the same, having arrived in Pictou to preach, the people beheld his arrival with actual amazement They could scarcely believe it possible that he had crossed on the ice in the state it was. On being assured that he had actually done so, the reply was, “Well it must have been your faith that brought you across.”

It must not be supposed that he manifested anything like fool-hardiness in rushing into danger unnecessarily. But when he had an appointment to preach or perform other ministerial duty, he considered it as forming a call in Providence, and he would undergo some risk in order to fulfil such an engagement, trusting iu the protection of his heavenly Father. He has passed through dangers in order to preach, that he would not venture into to return home. On one occasion having crossed Pictou Harbour on the ice, his companions asked him after preaching, if he wished to return home. His reply was, “No, the ice is not fit.” “It is as fit as when we came across.” “Yes, but we had then a call to come; but it is not necessary for us to go back just now, we can stay where we are in the meantime.” He reasoned in the same way in other circumstances. We have heard of his being in danger in crossing Pictou Harbour in a canoe. It was on a Sabbath morning, and so rough that those who were with him were unwilling to attempt crossing, but he encouraged them, saying that it was in a good cause, and their Master would take care of them. They got over safely after being exposed to considerable danger. After preaching, on their asking him if he wished to return, he replied, “ No, we have no call to go.” The people came to regard him as under the care of a special Providence, and to consider themselves as safe where he felt called to go. On one occasion many years after, he came on a stormy day to Donald MacDougall, who established the first ferry across the Harbour and asked him to ferry him across. MacDougall replied that it was very stormy, but he would try. He immediately got ready his boat and ferried him across safely. But he said afterward, that there was not another person living, with whom he would have ventured to attempt crossing on that day. The Doctor, however, did not understand from MacDougall’s reply that he considered it so dangerous, or he would not have asked him.

“By the time I got through the visitation, I was much encouraged, compared with my former deep despondence. I found most of the people affectionate and friendly, some of them exceedingly so, being persuaded that they obtained saving benefit by the very first sermon I preached. I found many of them willing to receive instruction and advice, and greatly regretting their ignorance and their past negligence. Besides, I met with more piety and knowledge than I expected, so that I began to hope that my labour would not be in vain in the Lord.

“When April came the sun began to show his power in dissolving the snow and the ice, whose dominion had continued so long that I had almost forgotten that summer would come. Before April was ended, the harbour was completely clear of the ice; and on the 6th of May, the day on which the elders were ordained, I saw the last patch of snow for that season. The boats and canoes were then launched and prepared for summer employment; for they were our horses, which carried most of us to sermon, and every other business. Now came on the spring work, and every hand that could help the farmer had plenty of employment. From the beginning of May till the middle of June was the time for ploughing, and sowing the various kinds of grain, and planting the potatoes. But there were few ploughs in Pictou. All the later settlers had to prepare the ground for the seed with hand-hoes; for the roots and stumps prevent the use of the plough till they are rotten. All the potato land was cleared from the wood, and planted with hoes. The trees were cut down in winter, and cross-cut, so as to be fit to be rolled in heaps for being burned. Rolling is heavy work, and often requires four or five men with handovers; on which account the neighbours gather to it in parties. The Americans are amazingly dexterous at this work, rolling huge logs along, launching them to the right or left, turning them round a stump in the way, or raising one end over it, and heaving it up on the pile. The ashes of the great quantity of timber which grows upon the land make good manure for the first crops—a most merciful arrangement of Providence for the poor settler, who has to sow and plant among stumps and spreading roots, which often occupy one-third of the ground. The first two crops are generally good. No wheat was sown till the second week in May, nor potatoes planted till the first of June. Heaping was from the middle of August to that of November. The potatoes were raised in October. Spring comes now somewhat earlier, and harvest generally comes all at once. Grain sown at eight days’ distance will often ripen simultaneously. I have known good wheat reaped in Pictou on the same day in August that it was sown in May; but this is very seldom.

“In June I received a long letter from the Rev. John Buist in Greenock, being the first word I heard from Scotland since I left it. It contained much news, both ecclesiastical and political, and was to me like life from the dead. Looking on myself as an exile from the world, and especially from Scotland, the reading of this letter revived all my tender feelings for my native country, my relations and friends, especially the ministers whom I left behind. At the same time I had a letter from my father, with the news of my mother’s death. Thus I was taught to rejoice with trembling; yet, it helped to reconcile me to my lot. Reluctance to part with my mother was one of my objections against coming to Nova Scotia; and now I saw that staying at home would not have secured me from parting with her. For this event I was partly prepared by a dream, which I had at the time of her death. The dream is not worth relating to others; but it was such a warning to me, that I really expected to hear by the first letter of the death of a near relation. This expectation reconciled me more readily to the bereavement.”

The dream to which he here refers was that he had seen his father’s house on fire, and the remarkable circumstance about it is, that he had it on the. very night his mother died. In writing about it to his friends in Scotland he said, that he believed that God sometimes spoke to men in a dream of the night. It may perhaps by some be regarded as superstition, but it is a fact that he sometimes regarded dreams, those of them at all events which appeared as any way remarkable. Among his u memorabilia” the following occurs in short-hand, “Dreamed that I was busily engaged in quenching my father’s little house on fire.” We have heard of more than one instance, where he mentioned dreams which he had, as leading him to expect good or evil tidings, and of his connecting his dreams with events that followed.

The above paragraph exhibits one of the privations of his lot, which a heart like his, alive to the tenderest feelings toward kindred and country, must have felt very severely,—the little intercourse he was permitted to enjoy even by letter with his native land, and his friends there. He had left Scotland in June of the previous year, so that a whole year had now elapsed before he had received any word from his friends. The missionary on the most remote and solitary isle of the sea is scarcely so shut out from intercourse with the world as this. Of his friends and acquaintances whom he left in Scotland, scarcely ever did he see the face of any in the flesh. He never returned to visit them, none of them visited him, and we know of none who removed hither. He was probably, however, never as long again without some communication with his friends. Usually he received packages, at least twice a year. There was mail communication from Falmouth to Halifax oftener, but such was the class of vessels employed, so badly constructed, so liable to shipwreck, and so fatal to human life, that they went in the Navy by the name of coffins; and the mode of communication usually adopted, was by the vessels which came out spring and fall for timber. In fact, these were the two special seasons of writing and receiving letters. Then a few years after the war broke out, and continued with slight interruption for more than twenty years, rendering all communication with the mother country difficult and dangerous.

But the more rare such communications were, the more were they valued. There was scarcely such a thing at that time as a religious periodical, to inform him of what was doing in the church abroad, and he was indebted almost entirely to his correspondents for ecclesiastical intelligence from Scotland. In Mr. Buist he had a faithful friend and valuable correspondent. "We have before us several letters, which form a complete record of the events which had occurred affecting both church and state during the months previous, together with the personal and family history of ministers of his acquaintance. Such letters to him in his solitude were as “cold waters to a thirsty soul.” He had other correspondents such as the Bev. James Robertson, of Kilmarnock, the Rev. Alexander Pringle, of Perth, the Rev. James Barlas, of Crieff, and some years later, the Rev. Samuel Gilfillan, of Comrie, but Mr. Buist was the most valued. This correspondence on both sides was a delightful exhibition of brotherly love and Christian sympathy. His letters to them were highly valued. Some years afterward portions of them were published in the religious periodicals of the day, and have thus been preserved; but we are not aware that there was any such periodical at that time in Scotland. And thus all his letters written during the first few years of his ministry have perished. But from the letters received in reply, we learn something of the nature of their contents. We learn that he poured into the ear of friendship the tale of his trials, his labours, and his success—that he sought the opinion and counsel of fathers and brethren on subjects of difficulty. We find him requesting their views on difficult passages of Scripture, or on perplexing questions of theology, but especially pleading for ministerial help, and sometimes for a helpmeet for him; while we notice his love for the flowers of his native land in a request to send him some daisy seed. On the other hand, in their letters they cheer and encourage him in his labours and privations, rejoicing in his joys and weeping over his trials, and sometimes accompanied them with substantial expressions of their sympathy in books or pamphlets recently published.

“The session appointed that July the 11th should be observed by all under their inspection, as a day of humiliation for sin, and prayer for the favour and grace of God to the congregation, specifying a number of plain causes and reasons for the appointment. As the preaching could only accommodate one side of the congregation, the other complained for want of it; to remedy which the session agreed that there should be another humiliation day in the fall, and the preaching on the other side of the congregation. This example has been almost invariably followed ever since. The same custom is observed, I believe, through all the New England States.

“This humiliation day, the first ever observed publicly in Pictou, was kept very differently by different people. Some observed it with due attention and solemnity, sincerely seeking, I believe, to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God; and they received from him the favour and grace which they supplicated. But many others, especially those who were not within reach of hearing sermon (I allude not to the profligate), did not keep it, and did not know how to keep it. Some of them had never seen such a thing, and had no idea of it. Before the next humiliation day came round, occasion was taken to explain to them its nature and end, and that it should be observed with the solemnity and sanctity of a Sabbath; and ever after, so far as I know, they did so keep it.

“During this month the men were chiefly engaged in building the two new meeting-houses; but, instead of employing contractors to build them, they agreed to divide the work into a number of lots, and appointed a party of themselves to every lot. One party cut the logs and hauled them to the site; another hewed them and laid them in their place; a third provided boards for the roofs and floors; a fourth provided the shingles; those who were joiners were appointed to make the doors and windows; and those who did not choose to work provided the glass and the nails. Moss (fag) was stuffed between the logs, to keep out the wind and rain; but neither of the houses was lined with boards or ceiled, neither was one of them seated, otherwise than by logs laid where seats should be. Public worship was conducted in the open air all this summer and part of harvest, till the churches were finished; and we had the same kind Providence preserving us from rain and tempest as we had last year; but no sooner were the houses built than great rain came on the Sabbath.

“Such were the first two churches of Pictou, and for a while they had no pulpits, purely because they could make a shift without them; and when they were made, they were not of mahogany, but of the white pine of Pictou. However, this mean exterior did not prevent the gospel from being preached and heard with profit and comfort.

“During summer the session had several conversations about dispensing the sacrament of the Supper, but I got it delayed for this year. I had dispensed the ordinance of baptism often, sometimes indeed with fear and trembling, but I could not prevail upon myself to dispense the Lord’s Supper; partly because I believed that not many of the people were prepared, but chiefly because I thought it too heavy a burden first to converse with the candidates one by one, and then to go through all the customary services in both languages; so it was put off.

“Preaching in two languages, and in two places so far distant from one another, created me many difficulties, for everything I wished the whole people to know needed to be told them four different times, viz., in the two languages and the two places. Though I preached two sermons every Sabbath, yet the people heard but one sermon in two weeks, except those who understood both languages. Even this circumstance was sometimes productive of trouble; for some who were backward to support the gospel, insisted that they who understood both languages should pay a double share of the stipend. Sometimes the Highlanders complained that I did not give them their due of the public services, but the rest complained that they got too much; and it was impossible to carry always with such an even baud as to please both parties. Sometimes they contended for precedence. The Gaelic was most prevalent on the East River, and the English on the West River and Harbour. This decided that at the former public worship should begin in the Gaelic, and in the English at the latter. At other meetings, however, little bickerings continued for some time but they learned to yield to one another, as they saw that no partiality was intended. At examinations and marriages I made it a rule to speak to those who knew both languages in that which they preferred. In one instance only of marriage had I to speak in both languages, telling the man his duties and engagements in English, and the woman hers in Gaelic. How they managed to court or to converse afterwards I know not; but they declared to me, and the neighbours confirmed it, that they could hardly speak a single word of one another’s language.”

This jealousy between English and Gaelic people is very apt to arise wherever they are united in the same society. Hugh Miller, in his “ Schools and Schoolmasters,” has given a graphic description of the working of it in his native town, and something similar has been exhibited in the county of Pictou. The Doctor had at times some difficulty in repressing such feelings. But he dealt out even-handed justice to them, and he was equally beloved by both. Two or three anecdotes illustrative of this may be interesting. Having preached on one occasion in English at the Middle River, the people requested him to preach the second sermon in the same language, as most, if not all present, understood it. He told those who made the request to go round among those assembled and see if there were any there who had no English, and if there were none he would comply with their request. They did so, and returned to say that there was just one old woman, who had no English. “Oh then,” said the Doctor, “We must have the other sermon in Gaelic.” He added that he would act in the same way with the English under similar circumstances, and of this an example occurred on another occasion. Being at the upper settlement of the East River, he was asked to preach both sermons in Gaelic. lie said that if all present understood it, he would. He was told that there was just one person, a stranger, who did not understand Gaelic, and he did not seem to care about preaching. he replied, “Oh, he has a soul to be saved,—and who knows but this sermon might be the means of saving that soul and making it happy to all eternity?” On another occasion having preached two sermons in Gaelic, he found some persons who did not understand that language, and preached a third sermon for them in English.

Still his feelings were very warm toward his Highland countrymen, which he exhibited in so simple a way as putting his contribution at a sacramental collection into the plate with the Gaelic, saying in private to some of the Highlanders, that he did not like to see their collection far behind the English.

“This summer many of the Highlanders wrote, or rather caused to be written, letters to their relations in Scotland, informing them that now they had the gospel here in purity, inviting them to come over, and telling them that a few years would free them from their difficulties. Accordingly, next summer a number of them found their way hither. Next year letters were sent home with the same information, and brought more. This circumstance turned the current of emigration toward Pictou, so that almost all the emigrants to Nova Scotia settled in Pictou, till it was full.

"As to the success of my ministrations this summer, I had more reason to be content than to complain. People in general attended public ordinances diligently and attentively. There was much outward reformation; and, I doubt not, some believers were added to the Lord. On considering, as maturely as I could, the circumstances of the people, I thought it my duty to sound the alarm of the law in their ears. Accordingly I preached a course of sermons on the Ten Commandments, with the view of showing them the holiness of God, their duty. and their fearful condition under the curse for breaking it; the impossibility of justification before God by their own works, and, of course, the necessity of fleeing to Christ, the hope set before them; and, finally, the faith, love, gratitude, and obedience they owed to Christ for his obedience and suffering under the curse. I afterwards found that these sermons were not in vain.”

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