When the Final Steps Were Taken to Establish the Methodist Church in Canada -
The Gathering Met in Switzer's Chapel in the County of Lennox and Addington
I have already given the WHIG readers a number of extracts from the news columns of the Kingston Gazette of 1828, together with some additional notes and comments thereon. As these may be of interest to the young students of Upper Canadian history, I propose giving some additional items.
On the 10th of October, 1828, the Gazette gave an account of the meeting of the Methodist conference, which had been held during the previous week at Switzer's church, Ernesttown. That was a memorable conference in the history of Canadian Methodism. It was at that conference that the final steps were taken to establish the Methodist church in Canada an independent body. Previous to that time its ecclesiastical connection was with the Episcopal Methodist church in the United States. The first preachers, William Lossee, Darius Dunham, Samuel Coate, Hezekiah Wooster, James Coleman, Elijah Woolsey, and their immediate successors were sent to this province by the New York conference. When the war of 1812-14 came on, however, all American subjects were ordered, by official proclamation, to leave the country, and several of the preachers left not to return again. By that time, however, several had become naturalized British subjects and several native-born Canadians had entered the work, as that was over twenty years after Methodism had been established in this country.
Rev. Dr. Egerton Ryerson, in his history of "The Loyalists of America," claims that during that war there were no more loyal people in Canada than the early Methodists and their preachers. There appears at that time to have been twelve ministers and 2,500 members; while it claimed there were yet but four Church of England ministers in the province.
Yet, for years after the war the anti-American feeling ran high all over the country and advantage was taken of it to descry the Methodists in certain quarters. It was the year before that, 1827, that archdeacon Strachan published his "chart" in England, so much commented on and censured by many in Canada, in which he urged the importance of the clergy reserves and the building up of an established church in Canada, intimating that the Methodist ministers, being under United States ecclesiastical control, would lead their flocks to sympathize with republican institutions.
SOME PREVIOUS DIVERSIONS
Elder Ryan, who had been a prominent worker among the Methodists, had become dissatisfied before that time. He was a man of strong British sympathies, and raised the loyalty cry, thus drawing a good many off. The English Wesleyans had sent some missionaries, too, previous to that time, at the request of Methodists who had come out from England, and who were not accustomed to the Episcopal form of government in Methodism, and many of whom objected to any such ecclesiastical connection with the states.
Under all the circumstances it was deemed best to separate from all United States ecclesiastical connection and make the Methodist church in Canada independent outside of such control.
Previous annual conferences had been held in Upper Canada, but these were attended by the ministers of northern New York as well, and were under the general conference of the United States. The first of these was held in the Augusta circuit, township of Elizabethtown, near Prescott, in 1817; the next in 1820 in the town of Niagara, then the oldest and most important town in the province; the third was held in the village of Hallowell, now the town of Picton, in 1820; and now comes the fourth and last at Switzer's, in Lennox and Addington, in 1828.
"Switzer's" was not among the first of the Methodist churches in Upper Canada, but it was among the best known at the time now referred to. It was built in 1825 and was in constant use until 1892, when it was torn down to make way for the present brick church occupying the same site. It was, I think, the fifth one erected in the old Midland district. The first was at Adolphustown, erected in 1792, the remains of which still stand on the south shore of Hay Bay. This was the first of the kind erected in Upper Canada. The second was "Parrotts," in Ernesttown, the frame of which was first erected on the Bay of Quinte shore, about four miles east of Bath, the same year as Adolphustown, but it was taken down and moved to the fourth concession of Ernesttown, on the Kingston and Napanee road, about four miles west of Odessa. It was used for many years and then removed to make way for a more modern one, which now stands on the same site. The third was a t Waterloo village, now Cataraqui, just opposite the Cataraqui cemetery and about on the site of the present Methodist church there, which is the third one in the same place. The exact date of this building I do not know. Playter, in his history of Methodism in Canada intimates it was built nearly as early as the two already referred to, but it was never finished, being "a mere outside, with rough planks for seats." It was also used as a school house in the early days. In the city of Kingston a small Methodist frame chapel was built in 1811. Playter says that bishop Ashbury (the first Methodist bishop in America) preached in it. In the time of the war it was used as a school house, but afterwards for religious services. The first Methodist "watch meeting" held in Kingston was in it, on the last night of the year 1817, and was conducted by a Wesleyan missionary, John Catterick.
On the 3rd of October the Gazette said: "The Canada conference of the Methodist Episcopal church commenced its session yesterday at Switzer's chapel, Ernesttown. Bishop Hedding, of the American conference, (who preached in this town last Sabbath) with a number of preachers from the lower circuits, left here on Wednesday for the conference." On the following week it announced the close, the conference having been in session eight days. It was also stated that "the Rev. William Case is appointed to preside till a bishop shall be elected and ordained. It is said that the Rev. Wilbur Fisk, of the New England conference, is spoken of to fill the distinguished position."
It seems, however, that Mr. Fisk declined to accept and none was appointed. There has never been a bishop in connection with the same branch of the Methodist church in Canada since. A few years later a union was formed with the English Wesleyans, and that form of government was adopted. At that time there were 3,753 members reported in the province, of which 915 were Indians and ten colored. There were forty-seven preachers.
Those admitted "on trial" that year - all young men - were William Smith, John Beatty, Richard Phelps, Ashel Hurlburt, Alzah Adams, Ephraim Evans, Hamilton Biggar, George Ryerson, Charles Wood. Nearly all of them were well known and respected preachers in later days, but all of them are dead now.
The following "remained on trial" having travelled the previous year: Mathew Whiting, J.H. Huston, J.C. Davidson, George Pool, Richard Jones, J.S. Atwood, James Norris, Cyrus Allison and Peter Jones. George Farr and Daniel McMullen were the only ones ordained that year.
John Black, Anson Green, James Richardson and Egerton Ryerson were the deacons then. They all became prominent and well-known in the Methodist church.
Local preachers were then very important men in helping the regular preachers, and they were regularly ordained. Those then ordained were: John Ham (Fredericksburgh), David Perry (Ernesttown), Charles Wood (Kingston township), and James Cameron.
The whole province was then divided into three districts, over each was a presiding elder. Augusta district included Kingston and all the province east of that. "Bay Quinty", from Kingston to Toronto, including the latter town. Niagara included the balance of the province. Philander Smith was the P.E. for Augusta. He afterwards became a bishop in Methodist Episcopal church of Canada. William Ryerson had charge of Bay Quinty and John Ryerson of Niagara.
Kingston circuit then included Frontenac and east as far as the Brockville circuit, and the "circuit riders" were David Wright and John C. Davidson. Brockville had Ezra Healy and Ashel Hurlburt; "Bay Quinty" which included all Lennox and Addington, had Solomon Waldron; Hallowell, George Ferguson, and Belleville, John S. Atwood.
The growth of Methodism in this province, both as regards numbers of ministers and members, churches, intelligence, influence and wealth, has been truly wonderful. It has now become the largest of all the churches in the province, numbering within its pale, it is claimed, about one-third of the entire population. Much of all this success is attributable to the earnest work of these pioneer "circuit riders," who wended their way through the almost unbroken wilderness in many places on horseback, with their small saddlebags behind, often containing their entire library and much of their wardrobe, preaching in the log dwellings and scattered school houses here and there. They went forth sowing precious seed, which has yielded a bountiful harvest.
THOMAS W. CASEY