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Memoir of the Rev James MacGregor D.D.
Missionary of the General Associate Synod of Scotland to Pictou, Nova Scotia with Notices of the Colonization of the Lower Provinces of British America, and of the Social and Religious condition of the Early Settlers by his Grandson The Rev. George Patterson (1859)


The following work has been undertaken principally from the combined force of the following reasons—first, that such a work was due to the subject of it, and secondly, there appeared to the author no likelihood of its being attempted by another, to which he may add that the time for doing justice to the subject was rapidly passing, and would soon be gone for ever. From the apostolic labours and sufferings of the deceased, the loveliness of his Christian character, and the universal esteem in which he was held, not only in Nova Scotia, but wherever the tale of his early privations and his arduous toils was told, together with the many marked dealings of Providence with him throughout his career, it was universally felt at the time of his decease, that such a memoir was called for; and when it was known that he had left an autobiography, detailing the most important events in his life, public expectation was excited. This autobiography was placed in the hands of the late Dr. MacCulloch, who from his long and intimate friendship for the deceased, as well as his eminent literary gifts, was so well qualified to do justice to the subject. The number of his engagements prevented him from fulfilling a duty, which would have been as grateful to his own mind, as we might have expected it to have been worthy of the deceased. Time has since passed, and there seems no other person likely to do the work, and the author has felt that it were better that he should do it, however imperfectly, than that it should not be done at all.

These reasons were strongly enforced by the additional consideration, that the time is going by, when the work could be done in any thing like a satisfactory manner. Most if not all of Dr. MacGregor’s cotemporaries are gone. There are but one or two persons living, who knew him previous to his arrival in this country, and these arc now in their dotage. Those who had reached years of maturity when he arrived in Nova Scotia, are all gone to the land of deep forgetfulness, and in a few years there will be none living able to speak from personal knowledge of his early toils. The written documents, which throw light on his history are also perishing, and many are irrecoverably gone. “There is a time for every thing" but the time for doing justice to the memory of Dr. MacGregor is nearly past. But in a short time it will have gone for ever, and what is now difficult will be then impossible, and what can now only be done imperfectly can then not be done at all. And during the collecting of the materials for the following memoir, the writer has had many warnings to remember the divine admonition, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” Several individuals, who might have afforded information have passed away, while h& was contemplating an effort to obtain their reminiscences, or he has visited others, only to find their memory a blank, and their intellect quenched by disease or infirmity.

Impelled by these considerations, the author has devoted, he cannot say his leisure time, for leisure time he has not known for ten years, but such intervals as he could snatch from engrossing avocations, to gathering and arranging the materials of the present volume. He is aware that it will disappoint many, and none can be more sensible of its deficiencies than himself. But it is only fair that he state the difficulties in hi3 way. In the first place he cannot speak of the subject of the memoir from personal knowledge. Two scenes exhaust his personal recollections. The one is the remembrance, deeply engraven upon the mind of childhood, of a tall dark-complexioned man entering the room being the signal for a rush to him of us children, and of the thrill of happiness passing through our frames as we sat upon his knee. The other is of being lifted up, a boy of scarce sis years of age, in a room full of disconsolate mourners, to gaze upon his lifeless clay. Then all his cotemporaries are gone. Of the companions of his boyhood none remain, so that we are indebted mostly to tradition for the few incidents, that have been gleaned regarding his early life. Those who were associated with him in the ministry in his early years, all rest from their labours. Those who were of age when he came to this country, are all gone to the land of deep forgetfulness, leaving the author to gather his information regarding those most interesting years of his life, from those who were but children at the time, or from tradition, and he has learned enough in attempting to get at facts handed down only for a single generation, to see how valueless is such a dependence for religious truth. But besides these things, he has been disappointed in his efforts to obtain copies of his letters. For years Dr. MacGregor kept up a correspondence not only with the General Associate Synod, but with a number of private friends in Britain and America. His communications were highly valued by those who had the privilege of receiving them, and from traditionary information, we learn that they contained deeply interesting accounts of his early labours. But the parties who received them are all gone, and in some instances their children after them, and we have made enquiry after their papers only to learn that they had been all ruthlessly committed to the flames, or had otherwise perished.

Besides, the deceased kept no journal or diary. A few memoranda were found of events written after they occurred, but they want that vividness imparted to a scene, by its being described under the feelings and impressions of the moment. Biographers in most cases derive their most interesting materials from such a source, and in this ease the want can never be supplied. His life exhibited so many remarkable incidents, and his intercourse with individuals so many instances of interesting spiritual dealings with men, that if full records had been taken of them at the time, we believe that they would have formed a biography unsurpassed in the English language. As it is, the author has received accounts of such incidents from the children or the children’s children of those connected with them, yet in so imperfect a manner that he could make no use of them. It is true that the deceased in his later years, at the urgent solicitations of some of his friends, who had often listened with delight to his narratives of what the Lord had done for him, commenced to record his reminiscences; but this was done after the lapse of forty years, when the impression of these scenes must have become dim, and the review of only seven or eight years was accomplished, when he was struck with paralysis, which impaired all his faculties, and especially his memory, so as to leave the remaining portion of his narrative meagre and imperfect. Even of this, a large portion has been lost, together with many of his other papers.

Under these circumstances, the author has done the best that he could, and what he has done, has involved an amount of labour of which but few are aware. He has travelled long distances to see persons likely to afford him information, in some instances only to find with them "the sun and the moon and the stars darkened.” he has conducted a correspondence with persons not only in Nova Scotia and the other British American colonies, but in Britain and the United States, which even in these days of cheap postage involved considerable outlay. He has strained his eyes and exhausted his energies in poring over dingy MSS., in a very cramped system of short-hand, never intended to be read by any but the original writer. He has spent considerable labour in illustrating the subjects incidentally connected with his life. He has consulted authorities very difficult to procure in this country, and has even obtained works from abroad.

To him, however, it has been a labour of love, and could he see his object realized, of setting before the present generation a just view of the labours and character of the departed, he would feel himself amply rewarded. To those still living who were familiar with Dr. MacGregor, be is aware how imperfect his work will appear. Yet it would be taking an undue liberty with the public to appear before them, did he not believe that he had so far succeeded in sketching Dr. MacGregor’s life as to afford some idea of “what manner of man he was." It would be affectation in the author to express any other conviction, than that, with all the disappointments he has met with and all the deficiencies in his performance, his labour has not been altogether in vain. He rejoices to believe, that he has been enabled to some extent to present before the rising generation of the church, such a record of his labours as will give them a better view of them than they have hitherto had, and such as is fitted by the divine blessing to be profitable both among his brethren in the ministry and in the private circles of the church. Nor is he without hopes, that what he has done may be the means of making his name more widely known abroad.

Some of the facts and incidents recorded in the following pages may appear trifling. The purpose for which these have been introduced, has been to illustrate the character of the subject of this memoir, or to exhibit the state of the country at the time. And if they are examined in this light, the author believes that the most trifling will appear to serve that purpose.

It will be seen that much of the information is traditionary. He is aware of the uncertainty of such authority. But the necessity of resorting to it was in his case unavoidable. He has, however, been at pains to verify facts, both by comparing information from different quarters, and by securing where practicable the testimony of two or three witnesses, and though it would be too much to expect, that his work would be absolutely free from errors, yet he believes, that though farther information might more fully illustrate the subject treated of, it would not materially alter his statement of facts.

Some of the remarks made in explanation of subjects as they occur may be deemed unnecessary. In reference to these the author would remark, that his work is written for two classes of readers, viz., Scottish and American. The account of the rise of the Secession may be unnecessary to the former, but it is one of those portions which the latter would be least willing to spare. On the other hand the explanations regarding customs in America, though unnecessary there, will we believe be valued by those in Scotland who feel sufficient interest in the subject to peruse his work.

He would also embrace the opportunity of acknowledging the aids received in various ways from different individuals. These are so numerous that he cannot particularize them. But he cannot forbear mentioning two, viz., Mr. John Douglass, Middle Biver, Pictou, and Mrs. Hugh Stevenson, of London, C. W. The former was for many years on the most intimate terms with Dr. MacGregor, and has now for the long period of fifty-five years filled the office of the eldership. From him he has received a large portion of his information regarding the early condition of Pictou, and many of the incidents recorded in the first part of the memoir. The latter is a niece of Dr. MacGregor, and from her recollection of conversations with her mother, Dr. MacGregor’s younger sister, he has derived the greater part of the information regarding his father and his own early life recorded in the first two Chapters.

It is not unlikely that the present volume will elicit fuller information on some portions of his life which the author has been able to treat very imperfectly. Should this be the case, and the present work meet with a favourable reception, any additional facts that he may be able to collect, will be embodied in a companion volume to the present, to be entitled “Memorials of our Fathers,” in which he designs to exhibit the life and labours of those brethren in the ministry, who were associated with Dr. MacGregor in his labours. For such a work the author has been already collecting materials, and should Providence spare his life and bless his undertaking, it will be issued in the course of two or three years.

The work will be found to contain information which may be regarded as not having any direct reference to Dr. MacGregor. This has been inserted with no desire to increase the size of the volume, but by the advice of friends, who have strongly urged that nothing should be withheld, which would help to exhibit the state of the country at the time.

In conclusion, the writer would only say in the words of an Apocryphal writer, “If I have done well, and as is fitting the story, it is that which I desired, but if slenderly and meanly, it is that which I could attain to.”

George Patterson.
Green Hill, Pictou, Nova Scotia,
July 1859.


Chapter I. - Introductory
Connection of events in Providence—Highland foray—Ecclesiastical state of Scotland in the last century—Father of Doctor MacGregor — His conversion—Character and family.

Chapter II. - From his Birth to his Licensure 1759 - 1784
Doctor MacGregor’s birth—Native place—Its inhabitants—His dedication to God—Boyhood—Education at school—At college—Ecclesiastical affairs in Scotland at that time—His theological studies—Inquiries on Baptism—Character in youth—Studying Gaelic—Letter to a MacGregor—Notices of him at this time.

Chapter III. - From his Licensure till his arrival in Nova Scotia 1784 - 1786
His licensure—Preaching as a probationer—Petition from Pictou—His views of it—Appointment by Synod—Farewell to friends—Ordination —Early Missions of the Secession—His departure—Voyage—Arrival at Halifax—State of Society there.

Chapter IV. - State of Nova Scotia, before and at the time of his arrival
Nova Scotia, its extent, appearance, soil, and resources—Early settlement by the French—and English—Character of the settlers—Religious opinions—New Lights—County of Pictou—Early settlers from Philadelphia— Hector passengers — Emigrants from Dumfriesshire — Disbanded soldiers—Their moral, social, and religious condition—First supplies of preaching—Application for a minister.

Chapter V. - Journey to Pictou and first Preaching there 1786
Journey to Pictou—Road—Crossing River—Lodging—Ash cakes—Arrival in Truro—Messrs. Cook and Smith—Travelling from Truro to Pictou—Arrival there—Its appearance—First Sabbath services—Second Sabbath—Administration of Baptism—Elders from Scotland— Third Sabbath—Robert Marshall—Kenneth Fraser—State of education.

Chapter VI. - First Year's Labours 1786 - 1787
Meeting with Truro brethren—Controversy—Lodging—Election of elders —Upper Settlement, East River—Winter labours—Visitations—Disbanded soldiers—“Brand plucked from the burning”—Hand mills— Travelling on the ice—Spring—Letters from home—Humiliation Day —First churches—English and Gaelic—Summer labours.

Chapter VII. - Second Year's Labours 1787 - 1788
Merigomish—Stipends—Redemption of slaves — Slavery controversy— Roads to churches—Visiting—Sacrament of the Supper dispensed.

Chapter VIII. - Third and Fourth Years' Labour 1788 - 1790
Visit to Amherst—Interesting ease—Course of visiting—Wm. MacKay’s prosecution—His lodgings—Mrs. A. admitted—Grant of glebe—Proposal for another minister — Elders ordained at Merigomish—First house in Pietou town—Cases of spiritual distress—Visit to Onslow— Answer to prayer.

Chapter IX. - General view of his early Ministrations in Pictou
General view of his early labours—Discouragement on arrival—Early preaching — Visitations — Cateebizing—Travelling — Hardships—Accommodations—Conversational powers—Affections gained—Indians— Dispensation of the Supper—Gathering of people—Plaee—Services— Interest excited—His discouragements removed—Growth in grace— Success.

Chapter X. - First Journey to Prince Edward Island with an Account of that Colony 1791
Prince Edward Island, its extent—Appearance—Soil—Early settlement—His first visit—Charlotte Town—Cove Head and St. Peter’s—Mr. Desbrisay—Princetown.

Chapter XI. - General View of Missionary Journeys
General view of his Missionary labours—State of travelling—Forests— Winter—Snow shoes—Dangers—Crossing streams and bays—Accommodation—Conversation — Preaching— Examinations—Visiting—Results.

Chapter XII. - Continued Labours at Home and Abroad, 1791 - 1793
Settlement of Stewiacke—Visits thereto—Suffering from hunger—Umbrage at Elder—Communion—Answer to prayer—Elders at Upper Settlement—Visit to Amherst—Dissapointment as to MacBean and Creo—Arrival of Romanists—Converts among them—Visits to River Jbun, Tatamagouche, and Wallace.

Chapter XIII. - Continued Labours at Home and Abroad, 1793 - 1795
Social progress of Pictou—Statistics of congregation—Books imported— David Dale—Elder’s offence—Visit to Noel, &c.—“Perils of waters”— Sickness—Visit to Prince Edward Island—Conversion and freedom of slave—Remarkable conversion—Winter of 1795.

Chapter XIV. - From the arrival of Messrs Brown and Ross till his Marriage, 1795 - 1796
Appointment of Messrs. Brown and Ross—Their arrival—Reception— Dispensation of the Supper—Formation of the Presbytery—Settlement of these brethren—Division of Pictou congregation—Doctor MacGregor’s marriage.

Chapter XV. - From his Marriage till the Ordination of Mr Dick 1796 - 1803
Supplying vacancies—Journey to Cape Breton—Visit to Miramichi— Applications to Scotland—Indications of degeneracy in Pictou—Election of 1799—His farming—Studies—Presents of books—Essay on Millennium—Death of his father—Letter to William Young—Arrival of Mr. Dick—His ordination.

Chapter XVI. - From the Arrival of Mr Dick, to the Arrival of Mr Gordon, 1803 - 1806
Arrival of Doctor MacCulloch—His settlement at Pictou—Doctor MacGregor’s visits to Prince Edward Island and Douglass—Remarkable conversion—Letters—Province of New Brunswick—Journey through It—Letter—Journey through Prince Edward Island.

Chapter XVII. - From the Arrival of Mr Gordon, to the Settlement of Mr Pidgeon 1806 - 1812
Visit to Miramichi—Halifax—Doctor Keir’s arrival—Mr. Gordon’s death —Accession of Mr. Mitchell—Doctor Keir’s ordination—Death of Mrs. MacGregor—Doctor MacGrcgors second marriage—Death of Mr. Dick —Settlement of Mr. Pidgeon—Degeneracy in Pictou.

Chapter XVIII. - Christian and Benevolent Enterprises - 1808 - 1815
Homo labours—His charities—Bible Society—Circulation of the Scriptures—Correcting Gaelic Bible—Contributions to British and Foreign Bible Society—Formation of auxiliary—Sermon on the occasion—Addresses on its behalf—Interest in its operations—Collections for bringing out preachers—Academy projected—Collections on behalf of young men preparing for the ministry—Circulation of Tracts—Correspondence on that subject—Collections for Gaelic School Society, for Jewish Missions, for Baptist Missions in Burmah—General Remarks.

Chapter XIX. - Union and Disunion, 1815 - 1818
Arrival of Messrs. Patrick and Crow—Mr. Patrick’s settlement at Merigomish—Mission to Scoodic, &c.—Growth of harmonious feeling among the Presbyterian ministers—Opening of negotiations for union—Their progress and success—First meeting of Synod—Results of union—Second meeting—Arrival of ministers—Doctor MacGregor’s correspondence with ministers in North of Scotland—Efforts to obtain ministers from the Established Church of Scotland—Extract of letters—Commencement of divisions on the East River—Holmes—Fletcher—Defection of people of Upper Settlement—His address to them—Their repentance—Arrival of Rev. D. A. Fraser—Division through the county—His feelings.

Chapter XX. - Later Missionary Journeys - Publication of Gaelic Poems - 1816 - 1821
Later missionary journeys to Prince Edward Island, St. Mary’s, and Cape Breton—Publication of Gaelic Poems—Estimate of the work—Their success—Other Gaelic writings—Letter to Rev. Samuel MacNab.

Chapter XXI. - Later Public Labours - 1818 - 1826
Letter to Mr. Andrew Bruce—Degree of D.D.—Zeal for Pictou Academy —Bible Society—Domestic Missionary Society—Formation of local societies—Sabbath-school society—Letter to Rev. R. Douglass—Synod sermon—Ordination of Rev. Angus MacGillivray.

Chapter XXII. - Close of Life - 1825 - 1830
Congregational affairs—Old age—Civil disabilities of Dissenters—Operations of Glasgow Colonial Society—Letter to its members—Gas experiments—General Mining Association’s operations—Selling his farm— First stroke of paralysis—State after that time—Death—View of his mental powers—Domestic life—Widow—and family.


Appendix A. Petition from Pictou.

Appendix B. Petition to the Presbytery of Perth.

Appendix C. Extract of ordination of the Rev. J. D. MacGregor.

Appendix D. Copy of Slave sale.

Appendix E. Letter of Associate Presbytery of Pictou to General Associate Synod.

Appendix F. History of Parish of St. James, N. B.

Appendix G. Notices of Doctor MacGregor’s character and labours.

A book of his Songs and Hymns
Note that the Preface is in English but all the rest in the Gaelic Language. Mr M'Gregor's Poems are smooth in versification, pleasant in style, and evangelical in doctrine. He mostly follows his countryman Duncan M'Intyre, from whom he borrows not only distiches or couplets, but even a stanza, slightly altered. His Songs are for the most part mere imitations, but as such are entitled to favourable considerations. [Fifth edition] [pdf]

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