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 XI. - General View of Missionary Journeys


“In journeyings often.” 2 Cor. xi. 26.

As we have now entered upon his missionary journeys, which occupied so large a portion of his attention from this time forward, it may be as well to give some general account of the state of travelling at that time, and of his general mode of procedure on such excursions. The following amusing account of the state of travelling in the early settlement of the country first appeared in the Recorder for 1827.

"Mr. H., the improvement of our roads and bridges is one of the best, if not the very best, which our Legislature has ever effected. The contrast is great indeed between the state of the roads now, and at the beginning of this century, twenty-six years ago. Many a story have I heard from my father, Basil Wisewood, of the disasters which befell travellers in his time, when there was only one road in the Province deserving the name, viz., that from Halifax to Windsor, and Annapolis. And with wonder I have heard him tell, that the road cost as much as would pave it all over with dollars. The people of the best settlements found their way to this road or to one another by a blaze, that is, a mark made on the trunk of a tree here and there, in the proper course, for the purpose of directing travellers; but in the younger settlements, travellers had to provide pocket compasses, and guessing their course, find their way through the forest much in the same way as sailors do along the sea. By the by, Mr. H., pocket compasses formed in those days a considerable article of our infant commerce, though it is now ousted, and almost forgotten.

“In going by the compass the traveller sometimes, widely mistaking bis course, missed entirely the intended settlement, and came in upon another, or missed all settlements, and travelled on, till he lost all hope of seeing a house, in which case he often believed the compass itself went wrong; and discrediting it, he would wander he knew not whither. Sometimes the traveller would be confounded desperately, for the compass needle would obstinately refuse to traverse, and he could not know East from West, North from South. I cannot recollect his description of its wonderful vibrations and whirling, to the no small terror and amazement of the traveller.

“Travelling by a blaze was little better. lie told us strange things of losing the blaze, and the impossibility of finding it again, of striking out a straightforward course, independent of the blaze, and yet, by and by, coming upon their own track again,—of the snow being so driven against the trees as to hide the blaze, and causing frequent stops to rub it off,—of its being so deep as to cover the blaze, and causing frequent stops to dig away the snow in order to discover it—of travellers being benighted by such stops, and lodging in the forest where they bad to kindle large fires on the top of the snow, four or sis feet deep, and there (dismal to be told!) one side next the fire was roasted, and the other frozen. I have heard him tell of experienced travellers, who in such a case would kindle two fires, at a proper distance from one another, and lie down between them, and enjoy themselves luxuriously between two fires. In those days swamps were avoided as intolerable. The steep mountain sides were preferable, and hence there are still many hills on our roads which might now be easily avoided.

“I have heard him tell of great dangers and hairbreadth escapes from drowning in crossing brooks and rivers swollen with unexpected rains; for in those days no journey would be undertaken immediately after a heavy rain. He had himself to wait different times for two or three days nearly fasting until the subsiding of the water rendered the river passable. He told of horses swagging in swamps almost to their ears, and of the great difficulty of their riders. There were few taverns, but every man who had a hut was hospitable.”

As we have given his account of travelling in the early state of the country, we may give his remarks upon the condition of the roads at the time be wrote:

“Such were the difficulties of travelling in this Province within these forty years. How great and how happy is the change now! Hills are levelled and valleys are filled up; the crooked places are made straight, and the rough places plain. A duke in bis coach and six may ride in safety from end to end of the Province. This is saying much, but truth demands it. A busy body, however, can still see many faults, and much need of improvements. The best of our roads need to be made better, and much more the worst, and many new ones are needed. They are in general woefully soft in the spring and full, crying out for gravel or MacAdam. The bridges too are sadly mismanaged, being made of green timber, which cannot last. Were the timber seasoned for a year before it is used, how much firmer and more durable would the bridges be!”

His picture of the courses of the roads will be recognized as true, by many still living.

“It was not practicable at first to lay off the proper courses of these great roads, for they were imperfectly known, and the different settlements being connected together by such blazes and footpaths, as suited themselves. It was best at first to make improvements on these paths, so that travelling might be safe. But it is time now to look to the interests of the whole —especially of the extremes, who will have long journeys to the metropolis, however straight the roads be made. To every alteration of any consequence, opposition will be made. Every village, every man of selfish views, every tavern keeper, every miller, and every blacksmith, will be loth to see it taken farther from them. But the convenience of individuals or villages are not to be compared with the accommodation of the public. There are at present many deviations from this rule; but the greatest I recollect is in the north road to the east, in its course through that famous flourishing place, Pictou. Travelling some time aero towards the east end of the Province, when I reached the brow of Mount Thom, where the North coast, and the Eastern country arc first seen, I stopped to view the scene. Bight before me I saw Pictou Harbour and the ocean, and I think the skirts of the town. To the East and South, the land extended further than my sight could carry. I saw instantly that hereabouts the road to Merigomish and the East should part from the Pictou road, and point toward the head of Mcrigomisli harbour; but I had to follow the Pictou road, eight or ten miles farther to Blanchards. There I parted with it by a great angle, crossed the West Biver, and after some time ascended a mountain long and steep, more so I believe than any other in the Province. When I passed the steep and reached the clear land a little higher, I had a fine prospect to the South and East; and on my right hand, I saw a long level tract through which the road might have come, so as to escape the hill and be much shorter. Then I began a long descent, squinting down the stream till I came to the mill, where I crossed the Middle River on a good bridge; and immediately turned up the river on the road by which the Middle River people go to Halifax by Upper Stewiacke, so that here I was travelling nearly back about a mile. I then turned to the East River and crossed it, but instead of keeping right on to the bead of Merigomish harbour, I had to go two miles down the river to New Glasgow, on the road which leads to Pictou, where, had I kept it eight miles farther, I would have met the road which I left at Blanchards so far behind. I turned off at New Glasgow, and begun to ascend another mountain for about two miles, and when I reached its top, I saw on my right hand another long level tract, where the road would have been much shorter, and escaped the mountain wholly. Descending thence by a long and gradual slope, I found upon enquiry that the course of the road led into Merigomish harbour, two or three miles below its head. Therefore it turned again to the right, and at last gained the desired point, the head of Merigomish harbour.

“Pausing here, I could not but smile at the sagacity of Pictou people as road makers, and pity those who have to travel so many needless miles. Many a shilling must they leave in the Pictou taverns, and many a cold blast must they endure along its mountains, which aright direction of the road would save-.”

Reverting, however, to the state of travelling at the commencement of his career, we observe that as remarked above be often travelled long distances, where there was no road at all, and where he and his fellow-travellers were obliged to shape their course by a pocket compass, and this through the forest. In these cases, of course, the travelling was all on foot. This involved great toil. The forests of Nova Seotia do not present the appearance which we have seen in some other parts of America, where the trees are far apart, and the ground so level that a carriage might be driven between them. But the trees generally are close together, with a considerable undergrowth of small bushes. From the thinness of the soil in many places, they abound in windfalls. The roots of these carry up the soil, which again falls and forms little hillocks known in this country as cradle hills. The difficulty of passing through a forest of this kind was increased by the irregular surface of the country. Almost every part of the Province is traversed by hills, the sides of which are sometimes steep—deep ravines intersect the path of the traveller,—while the valleys present much ground that is low and boggy, and thus wet at all seasons of the year. But from the amount of snow falling, and the slowness with which it melted, even the very driest were scarcely dry even at midsummer. Under these circumstances, the traveller was obliged to brush through a thick undergrowth of bushes, sometimes to climb over or creep under a windfall, and again to spring from one root to another over boggy spots. At one time lie was obliged to toil up a steep ascent, at another to cross a brook by a single fallen tree, on which it required the whole skill of a rope daneer to preserve his equilibrium, and which was not always successful in preventing his having a thorough wetting in it, while again he might be seen clambering up its banks, by laying hold of the bushes with which it was lined. In this work Doctor MacGregor, in the days of his strength, was remarkably active, rivalling those born in the forest. As one of my informants said, he never saw any person from the old country so smart in going through the woods.

We may remark here, that while the forest added to his toils, his natural sense of beauty was often charmed, and his admiration for the glories of nature excited by its magnificence and grandeur. Woods still cover a great part of Nova Scotia, but along any of the lines of travel, there is now to be seen only comparatively small trees, and these commonly second growth. All the woods fit for timber, except in remote districts, has been taken to market; but then the forest was the undisturbed growth of ages. Trees then met his view, which must have been standing when Columbus embarked on his first voyage for the Western world. These appeared in the most promiscuous style. “Many varieties,” says MacGregor, “of the pine, intermingled with birch, maple, beech, oak, and numerous other tribes, branch luxuriantly over the banks of lakes and rivers, extend in stately grandeur along the plains, and stretch proudly up to the very summits of the mountain. It is impossible to exaggerate the autumnal beauty of these forests; nothing under heaven can be compared to its effulgent grandeur. Two or three frosty nights, in the decline of autumn, transform the boundless verdure of a whole empire into every possible tint of brilliant scarlet, rich violet, every shade of blue and brown, vivid crimson, and glittering yellow. The stern, inexorable fir tribes alone maintain their eternal sombre green. All others in mountains or in valleys burst into the most glorious vegetable beauty, and exhibit the most splendid and most enchanting panorama on earth.”

As he passed through the forest in its original grandeur he often felt awed as if passing amid the stately pillars of the temple of nature.

“This is the forest primeval.
The murmuring pines and the hillocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments indistinct in the twilight,
Stand little Druids of old, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosom.
Loud from its rocky caverns the deep voiced neighbouring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate, answers the wail of the forest.”

When emerging into some open space he beheld the forest stretching before him over hill and valley, in the various shades of green and summer luxuriance, or in the richer glories of autumn, he would stop to gaze and call the attention of his companions to the scene, who, however, saw in the forest only an impediment to their industry, and a hindrance to the progress of the country, and knew no duty with regard to it, but to remove it from the surface of the earth as speedily as possible.

The danger of losing the course, while traversing the forest, is more common than most persons would imagine; and what is singular, a person losing his way is most likely to come back upon his own track, or to the very spot from which he set out. To obviate this danger the first step in the march of improvement was to blaze, as it was termed, the course between different places. This consisted merely in taking a chip off each side of trees at short distances apart along the line of travel. By taking a chip off each side the person going in either direction has something to guide him. Looking forward he sees before him the tree from which a chip has been taken, and making his way to it, by a glance ahead sees the next tree that is blazed, and so onward. By habit a quickness is acquired in discovering the course, which in ordinary circumstances enables a person to proceed with considerable ease and rapidity. But in other cases, there are considerable difficulties, which he has amusingly sketched in the extract given above.

The next step was to make a road, as it was called. This, however, consisted merely in cutting out the trees on the line of travel, sufficiently to form a sort of bridle path. The stumps wore not removed, nor was the ground levelled or thrown up. This, however, enabled the traveller to proceed on horseback. This was so much gained, but if any modern thinks, that this scoured more rapid locomotion, he only betrays his ignorance of the subject. A good walker would not only keep up with a traveller on horseback, but often get ahead of him. The ground was generally soft, and sometimes so deep, that the horse could scarcely carry his rider; and from a peculiar instinct of the species, one horse would always place his foot in the track made by his predecessor, so that the road, so called, got into deep holes, in regular order where each stepped. In the course of a year or two the young trees began to grow up— the stumps that had been left in the ground began to send up sprouts, and the branches of the trees alongside the road, began, in utter disregard of all laws regarding His Majesty’s Highway, to extend across the path prepared for his lieges. So that the traveller was in danger, either of being brushed from his saddle, or, at all events, of being rudely scratched by the branches, unless he was expert enough to parry them off as he advanced, which if there had been any rain just previous, would be sure to afford him the benefits of a shower bath. So thick would they grow, that travellers approaching from opposite directions, would sometimes not perceive one another until they were just in contact.

In winter, travelling became attended with some additional difficulties. The snow fell in the forests to the depth of three or four feet, and we have beard well authenticated instances, where towards spring it was measured and found to be actually over six and even seven feet deep. Of course travelling with horses was then out of the question. And the only mode of travelling was by snow shoes. As remarked by Mr. Clarke, of Amherst, “the untrodden snow bank was his railroad—the snow shoe the only car upon which he was mounted,—while of his earthly house, the collar beam bore along his entire baggage.”

The use of snow shoes was adopted by the early settlers from the Indians. They consisted of a wooden frame of an oval shape, but with the ends elongated to a point, about two feet long and about one wide. Across this leathern thongs were stretched at equal distances, and others again crossed at right angles, interlacing them so as to form a network. In this way such a broad surface is presented under the feet, that a traveller can easily pass over snow of ordinary firmness without sinking. But this mode of travelling was at times very laborious. When the snow was very soft, the snow shoes sank in it and became clogged, or when it was very hard, they were apt to slide. But the chief difficulty was for strangers to become accustomed to their use. Such persons are sure to trip themselves every few steps, and to roll helplessly in the snow. To travel with ease upon them requires a peculiar tact, which is only acquired by practice, and some never become expert at this mode of travelling. It is necessary to walk with the feet wide apart, otherwise the snow shoes strike one another, and trip the unfortunate pedestrian; and each foot must be lifted up in a peculiar manner, with the toes as high as the heel, or the whole foot together, otherwise the forward point will catch in the snow, with the same result. But when expertness is acquired, it becomes an easy mode of communication. Old persons have assured me that in their youth they would travel a long distance in that way, with greater ease to themselves, if the snow were suitable, than they could the same distance on the best road they ever saw.

Doctor MacGregor, of course, had his difficulty in acquiring expertness in a mode of conveyance so entirely new to him, but being active on his feet he after a time became quite expert at it. The Indians to whom he had been very kind, and of whose skill in guiding their way through the intricacies of the forest he sometimes gladly availed himself, made him a present of a pair, nicely ornamented, which he retained all his days. As the hard leathern soles of his boots cut the thongs of the snow shoes, it was necessary to use moccasins. These were made of green hide taken from the lower legs of the os, or more commonly of the moose. These last they purchased from the Indians, who had a way of making them soft and pliable by rubbing them between their hands. Let not my lady readers be shocked at the idea of our writing the biography of a man, whose nether extremities were encased in “shanks,” as they were termed, or moccasins of untanned hide. We are describing not a modern, refined, kid-gloved man-milliner of a preacher. We are describing a veritable man of labour, and one who bent himself to his work in the true spirit of endurance. Behold him then equipped for his journey. His boots are taken off and deposited in his knapsack, which was generally carried by one of his companions, his feet are encased in the afore described moccasins, over his legs are drawn what were called “Indian leggins,” a sort of overall made of blue cloth, with a red stripe down each side, and fitting closely about the feet and strapped down, while the faithful racket (snow shoes) that is to bear him safely onward, is fastened to his feet by leathern thongs round the ancles; and whether you count him fit for your drawing-rooms or not, he is fully equipped to go on his errand of mercy to seek out the solitary dweller in the wood, and to gather the lost sheep of the desert into the Redeemer’s fold.

These journeys were not without danger, as he experienced. Travellers often became benighted, and though they might be provided for encamping in the woods, yet at other times they lost their way and, becoming exhausted, were unable to kindle a fire in those days when lucifer matches were among the undiscovered wonders of the Nineteenth Century, or running short of food were unable to reach their intended destination, and perished. That this was no imaginary danger will appear from the subsequent history, but especially from the following entry in Halliburton’s history, for the year 1795: “The Rev. Mr. Lloyd, Missionary at Chester, loses his way in a snow storm, while on his route through the woods to Windsor, and is frozen to death.”

In summer the easiest way of travelling was along shore, or along the edges of rivers. But this had its difficulties. The shore was often encumbered with drift wood, or piled up with stones, which, however interesting to a geologist, were very awkward for the pedestrian. In some places the tide rose so high that it was necessary to clamber up steep banks to get along. At other places the ground was soft and boggy, particularly at small creeks, which often rendered it necessary to make a long circuit to go round the head of them, and greatly increased the distance travelled.

But oftentimes these waters must be crossed, which was frequently a work of considerable difficulty. His narrative affords examples of the principal modes by which it was accomplished. The smaller rivers could commonly be forded on horseback, but pedestrians sometimes adopted the somewhat school-boy mode of walking on stilts, which were kindly provided, pro bono publico, by good Samaritans, and left at the banks of the stream for the convenience of travellers. But soon bridges were constructed of rough logs, on which travellers were sometimes in as great danger as when there were none. The broader and deeper streams required to be crossed in canoes, sometimes the birch bark canoe of the Micmac Indian being employed, at other times the kind more commonly used by the whites, which consisted of a single tree hollowed out.

It may seem an attempt to impose upon the credulity of our readers, but we have heard of persons crossing creeks of some width on cakes of ice. A minister of our church, still living, can tell of such an adventure. Travelling early in the spring, he and his companions came to a creek, which he saw no means of crossing. The ice having been broken up, several cakes were lying along the shore. His companions launched one of these cakes, and got upon it, having first cut two poles as means of propulsion. They called upon him to join them, which he did, only after a good deal of persuasion, when they commenced “poling,” as it is termed, their frail bark across the watery element, and safely reached the other side. We have not heard an instance in which Dr. MacGregor crossed a stream in this manner, but it is more than likely that he did so, and at all events the incident shows the sort of shifts to which it was then necessary to resort.

Besides the crossing of rivers and creeks, a work of still more danger was the crossing the sea in his voyages to Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, and New Brunswick. There was then no steamer to carry the traveller with regularity and despatch. In his later years, sailing packets plied between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, but in his early career, it was only occasionally that he could obtain even a sailing vessel to transport him across; while very commonly he made these voyages of forty, sixty, or it might be a hundred miles in open boats, some of them being large half-decked boats built expressly for such voyages. Like his Master crossing the sea of Galilee, his only accommodation was the humble fishing boat, in which darkness and peril must alike be encountered.

On one occasion coming either from Prince Edward Island, or Miramichi in a schooner, he was overtaken by a violent storm, so that even the crew felt a little alarmed. They were at sea over Sabbath, and the storm having somewhat abated, he read to them the 107th Psalm, and preached on our Saviour stilling the storm.

The only other circumstance regarding the physical state of travelling which we deem it necessary to notice, is the poor accommodation to which he was obliged to submit. A hearty welcome he was almost certain to receive, but his fare was often of the humblest kind, while a hard couch, the scanty covering of which ill-protected him from the cold, was his only bed. In fact such privations as we have already described as endured in Pictou, he suffered when travelling abroad, with this difference however, that at home his visiting was principally iu winter, while his travelling abroad was generally in summer. But whatever privations were in his way he cheerfully endured. Not only so, but we have heard of his purposely staying with poor people, when he might have had better accommodation elsewhere. On one occasion a man having travelled with him from Bedceue to Lot Sixteen, Prince Edward Island, the Doctor lodged in his house, although the man had to borrow a loaf and candle from one of his neighbours. This he did, though the man scarcely asked it, and though he might have been comfortably provided for elsewhere; because he knew it would be a gratification to the poor man.

On these journeys he acted almost literally on the divine injunction, certainly in the spirit of it, “Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass, in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves, for the workman is worthy of his meat.” He used to say that he had gone from home with a supply of money in his pockets, and had come back with them empty, but that at other times he had left with them empty or but scantily supplied, and he had returned with them full. Generally he took just a little to provide against emergencies, but otherwise he set forth trusting that his Master would provide for him. In this he was not disappointed. The people were everywhere hospitable, they provided fur his wants, and brought him on his journey, and even made collections, which they gave to him. In this way his expenses were moderate. He used to say that he had travelled all the way up above Fredericton, in New Brunswick, a distance of about 300 miles and back, at an expense of only twenty shillings.

Feeling the importance of his work, he was accustomed on leaving to solicit the prayers of the pious among his flock. On his way leaving he has frequently called at the hut of Robert Marshall, and said, “I have just called in to ask you to pray for me when I am away.”

In these journeys he generally had companions—and so much was his company valued, that men who did not show much regard for religion, who accompanied him on some of his journeys often declared, that they were more than repaid by the pleasure of his conversation, both for their time and trouble. He kept up an incessant stream of edifying conversation. Much of this was directly on religious subjects, and whatever subject came up he would give it a religious turn. Reflections of a pious nature were finely interspersed with conversation on ordinary topics, and this so naturally as showed them to be the spontaneous effusion of a heart occupied with sacred things, and whose religion mingled with the whole current of its thoughts and emotions. But much of his conversation, particularly on long journeys, was of a more general character, embracing a very wide range of topics. At one time he might be found instructing them in the mysteries of nature—at another, relating anecdotes of a light and cheerful character, and again when conversation flagged, renewing its interest by singing songs, either in English or Gaelic.

In the places which he visited, his stay was necessarily short; sometimes a week, or, at most a fortnight, being all the time he could spend in a single settlement. But he made the most of his time, being employed night and day, with scarcely relaxation enough for sleep. He, of course, preached on the Sabbath day, and from the destitute condition in which he found the people as to the gospel, his preaching was generally upon the great central truths of the Christian system. To show this it is only necessary to refer to the general character of his texts. They were such as the following: “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord.” “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth, for I am God, and beside me there is none else.” “Be ye reconciled to God,” &c.

From the carelessness and indifference prevalent among the people, be found it necessary to labour, especially, to bring them to a sense of their guilt, and need of pardoning mercy. This he endeavoured to do, not by general declamation about human guilt and depravity, not by references to mankind at large, but by references to themselves, and the enumeration of particulars in their own conduct. He described in the plainest terms their evil passions, anger, wrath, envy, &c.; their evil speaking, lying, Sabbath breaking, drunkenness, &c., but from these rose to a higher exhibition of their sinfulness by pointing out their relation to God, and showing their alienation from his character, and total disregard of his claims. But this was only probing the wound, that he might apply the balm which is in Gilead. His exhibitions of man’s sinfulness were only the dark ground, on which to exhibit in brighter colours the glories of Christ as a Saviour.

From the ignorance of the people too, he was led to seek the greatest simplicity of speech. His language was the very plainest; and where he was preaching a single sermon, not knowing whether his hearers would ever hear another, he aimed, not at preaching a systematic discourse, but in saying what was most impressive. For the purpose of rousing the careless he scrupled not to employ a strong epithet, even though to some it might give offence.

Doctor MacCulIoch, in a little work called “William and Melville,” thus describes him as he appeared on one of these excursions: “In the course of the evening the clergyman arrived. Few of the older Presbyterians of these Provinces are strangers to the apostolic enterprise and exertions of Doctor MacGregor. At a period when Nova Scotia presented to a clergyman only toil and privation, he resigned the endearments of the land of his fathers, and cast in his lot with the benighted and solitary inhabitants of the forest. Aroused to activity by the vigour of youth, and burning with desire to promote the best interests of man, be 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 to soothe their sorrows by the tidings of salvation. Wherever a prospect of usefulness opened, he disregarded fatigue and outbraved danger, that the lost sheep of the desert might be restored to the fold. In one of these excursions of mercy he had now arrived at the cottage.

“In the opinion of Melville the appearance and manner of the clergyman were little calculated to produce an impression in his favour. With the homely garb of the country, he combined a plain simplicity of language which indicated neither literary nor scientific acquirements. In the course of the evening, however, Melville was agreeably disappointed, by discovering, under this unassuming exterior, an extent of information and good sense which he had not anticipated. The clergyman’s capacities of directing the conversation particularly attracted his attention. Whatever topic was mentioned, he appeared constantly to keep in view that he was the minister of Christ, and by the well timed introduction of some striking and affectionate remark, he imperceptibly turned the thoughts of the company to the grave ends of human existence. Though Melville had no desire for religious instruction, he found it impossible to listen without being pleased.

“In theceottage, the succeeding day was1 a Sabbath to the Lord. Mercy and truth had met together; and there was joy in the wilderness and solitary place. The clergyman’s discourse was rather a general exhibition of divine truth, than the regular discussion of a particular topic. He viewed his hearers as the servants of God, and the subjects of his law. Adverting to the precepts of religion as a transcript of rectitude, lie showed them the immutable nature of this standard of righteousness. Bringing them to its test, he subjoined an impressive exhibition of the great misery and utter helplessness of man ; and then turned them to the Saviour as their sole relief. In simple but glowing language, he delineated the love and grace of the Redeemer; and affectionately soliciting from them the submission of faith at the footstool of money, he pressed upon their minds the value of a religious life, and cheered them with the gospel, in its blessed consolations and glorious results.

“As the clergyman proceeded, the elevation of his feelings reached the hearts of his hearers; his sentiments, combined with the mellowed tones of his voice, were like showers that water the earth. It was a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.”

There was something very solemn in such work. He sometimes went to people, among whom would be found persons twenty years of age, who had never heard a sermon. He had only the opportunity of addressing them once or twice, and then a year or perhaps two or three must elapse before he could again visit them. Need we wonder that his whole soul was roused to the deepest earnestness of appeal, and that he sought, in the simplest language he could command, to explain the way of life, and that he besieged the throne of grace for their salvation?

There was also much that was pleasant. In every settlement there were persons, who remembered with interest the privileges they had enjoyed in the more favoured lands from which they had come, who “wept when they remembered Zion.” To such his visits were green spots in their earthly pilgrimage, the remembrance of which they cherished as among the purest of their earthly joys. And to others, his preaching had all the attraction of novelty,—and drawn by curiosity, his impressive manner at once riveted attention, and they listened with eagerness to the marvellous story of the cross as something entirely new.

Where the people were sufficiently organized, he sometimes dispensed the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. On these occasions the ordinance was accompanied with all the services then usual in Scotland, and the scene presented was such as we have described as exhibited ou similar occasions in Pictou. There were the same “solemn assemblies” from Thursday till Monday, the .same crowds gathering from surrounding settlements, the outward circumstances of meeting, under the blue vault of heaven, by the murmuring stream, or under the shadow of the green wood, were the same, but to all this was added the novelty of the scene. In many instances the young had never seen the ordinance dispensed, and wonder mingled with their other feelings as they instinctively enquired, “ What mean ye by this service?’’ while to the old it was deeply affecting, as recalling similar scenes in their native land. Involuntarily their minds reverted to the stern mountains, or the peaceful valleys of Scotland or Ireland, in which they had spent their youth. Tender recollections crowded upon them of the lonely glen in the Highlands, the sunny dale of the Lowlands, or the green fields of Ulster, where they and their fathers had met to keep the feast, of the gathering of the various groups from mountain and glen, of the minister from whose lips they first heard the words of eternal truth, and of the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, which they had there enjoyed. Long had they been ready to say as David, “When we remember these things we pour out our souls in us, for we had gone with the multitude; we went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holy day.” But now that God had visited them in a distant land, and these hallowed scenes were renewed to them in the wilderness, they wept for joy, and their feelings found expression in the language of David, when bringing the ark to Jerusalem: “Lowe heard of it at Ephrata; we found it in the fields of the wood. We will go into his tabernacles; we will worship at his footstool. Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou and the ark of thy strength. Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness, and let thy saints shout for joy.”

We are not certain but the very spots selected for preaching added to the interest of these solemnities. In some places there were churches, but in others his preaching was in barns or private dwellings, but just as frequently in the open air, sometimes on the hill side under the shelter of the forest, whose long shadows stretched across the multitude; or by some brook whose soft murmur mingled with the psalm of the worshipper, as if man and inanimate nature were combining their voices in one anthem to their Creator; or in the intervales, where the overhanging banks shaded them from the noonday sun. We have never preached in such circumstances, nor sat in an assembly of this kind, without feelings such as we never had in worshipping in any temples made by human hands. With him, too, such were more impressive from his drawing many of his illustrations, like the great Teacher, from the objects of nature around, and he reached the height of impressiveness as he closed his labours, by appealing to the rocks, the trees, the hills, or where within sight, to the burying ground, the green graves, as witnesses against his hearers in the day of judgment.

As he left his stand, not pulpit, for such a thing he commonly possessed not, it was only to enter upon an unceasing round of travelling, preaching, and religious conversation. Where the people had been originally Presbyterians, and retained the habits of their forefathers in Scotland or Ulster, one of the modes of instruction found most effectual, was by diets of examination. The whole inhabitants of a settlement would gather on such an occasion, and in the course of catechizing, opportunities were afforded to explain more particularly what was not clearly understood, and of taking a wider view of the system of divine truth.

From his narrative it will be seen that he was often called upon to administer the ordinance of Baptism, particularly to children, sometimes twenty or thirty being presented at one service. He however never dispensed it as mere form, but only after thoroughly examining the parents, carefully instructing them in the nature of the ordinance, and earnestly pressing upon them the important obligations resting on them. But he was often called to baptize adults, and his ministry afforded not a few examples of the apostolic practice of baptizing households. Thus we have heard of his baptizing the husband and wife and seven children at the same time. And the following case recorded by himself, shows how the similarity of his circumstances with those of the apostles produced an example of ‘‘going down into [or to] the water.” “Being once,” he says, “on a missionary excursion, I agreed with several parents to baptize their children next day at public worship, but neither I nor they took thought to provide a vessel for the water. The preaching was in the open air, by the side of a brook, and when I desired the parents to present their children for baptism, there was no vessel. This, however, was no serious difficulty. Anyone in the congregation might say, 1 See here is water in the brook, what doth hinder the children to be baptized there V As far as the brook was in view of the congregation, no part of it was deep enough for immersing the children and no part too shallow for sprinkling them. They were sprinkled.”

Sometimes, also, he preached on week-days in settlements around, so that there were journeys on which he preached every day of the week. But his time on week-days was chiefly occupied in teaching from house to house. The advantage of this was that it gave him an opportunity of more direct dealing with individuals. He especially addressed himself to heads of families, because he was commonly asked to baptize their children, which he sometimes did to the number of seven or eight, and he wished to impress upon them a sense of their responsibility, and to lead them to the faithful discharge of the duties of family religion, not only for their own sake, but as the means which God commonly employs for the salvation of the young. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” And his discourse being conversational, an opportunity was afforded for them to state their perplexities, and for him to remove them.

In the houses in which he lodged, the neighbours would gather to listen to him, so that his conversation was often prolonged far into the night, while breakfast would not be over the next morning, till some would again be round him. And as he travelled to another settlement, many parted from him with tears, while the young and the vigorous sometimes accompanied him either on foot or on horse-hack, to the next place of labour, to listen to his conversation by the way,—or to hear his discourse there. So incessant were his labours that it was amazing how he could go through them with so little rest. But at any interruption he would fall asleep, and he had learned to sleep in any position, or in any circumstances, so that sometimes he was found sleeping on horse-back, while his horse leisurely pursued his journey—sometimes lying like his Master, in the hinder part of a boat, with the hard stones of the ballast for his couch, and the rail for his pillow, while again he would snatch a few minutes’ repose on his chair, while those around him imagined him studying. Yet even with the slight refreshment obtained in such ways, he started up to resume his work with new vigour.

The effect of such a visit even for a few days, among a people in a condition so destitute, was much greater than at first sight would be supposed. It has been said that he never visited a place, on such a mission, where saving results did not follow. Believers, whose souls had long languished in the spiritual drought reigning around them, were refreshed, and the things that were ready to die were aroused into new life; souls not altogether regardless, but who had been, as it were, feeling after God, and with some degree of anxiety looking to their immortal interests, were guided in the way of peace, and were filled with joy in believing; while many careless were aroused to seek the Lord. On such occasions there was a real revival of religion—not what is often understood in America by that term— the getting up a mere animal excitement by means fitted to excite weak nerves,—but solemn impressions of the truth, the mind, eager inquiries after the way of life, and personal acceptance of the Saviour. The number of individual cases of this kind resulting from his labours, the great day alone can disclose.

But the most known result was commonly the inducing an anxiety to have the ordinances of the gospel regularly dispensed, and for that purpose, leading them to make efforts to obtain the services of a minister of the gospel. Where this was obtained within a reasonable time, the result was the formation of a congregation. He planted, and by visits for some years would water, and where a faithful labourer followed him, he reaped an abundant increase; but with his own sphere of labour requiring more of his attention, and new spheres claiming his sympathy, he was unable to build where he had laid the foundation; and when, as was too often the case, no faithful minister was obtained, the movement died out, or, at least it became the scene of the labours of other denominations. “Herein is that saying true, one soweth and another reapeth.” “That both he that soweth, and he that reapeth may rejoice together.”

In this work he came to take great delight. He saw the settlers every where as sheep scattered upon the mountains with none to care for their souls—he met among them the most cordial reception—every one who had any respect for religion, and others feeling their ignorance and their need of instruction, alike feeling the sentiments, if not adopting the language of the Prophet, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisbeth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation !” He saw men listening with eagerness to the word of life, and saw that word having free course and glorified among them. This, his “joy therefore was fulfilled.” And we believe that it had a good effect upon himself and his preaching. From early life he had been pious, and in his first preaching he preached the truth, preached it clearly, and with some degree of earnestness. But it was the sight of the destitute condition of the settlers, as “sheep wanting a shepherd,” and perishing, with none to care for their souls, that stirred his spirit within him, kindled all the ardor of his nature, and filled him with consuming: zeal for their salvation, and made his preaching of that earnest and rousing character, by which it was afterwards characterized.

In this way his labours extended over the then settled parts of Eastern Nova Scotia, and of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The most of the older Presbyterian congregations throughout this extent either originated with him or were cherished by him in their infancy. From the year 1788 till the year 1820, a period of over thirty years, scarce a year elapsed without one or more missionary journey, such as we have described, so that he might adopt the language of the apostle, which we have adopted, as descriptive of his life: “In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren j in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.”


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