The following is an excerpt from Citizens with the Saints, authored by Lyman Harding, © 1994 Diocesan Synod of Fredericton.
The history of Anglicanism in what is now the province of New Brunswick begins with the work of two missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. The Rev. John Eagleson began work in the Cumberland area of Nova Scotia, which included much of what is now New Brunswick's Westmorland county, in 1768, and the Rev. Thomas Wood, missionary at Annapolis, N.S., visited the settlements on the St. John River in July of 1769. Thus began a relationship for which the Diocese of Fredericton owes an incalculable debt to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. As a result of the initiative and enthusiasm of an English cleric, the Rev. Thomas Bray D. D., who had served in Maryland, the Society was granted a Royal Charter by King William Ill on June 16, 1701. The earliest Missionary Society in the Anglican Communion, the S.P.G., as it is commonly known, assumed as its first responsibility the work of the Church in Great Britain's North American colonies, and never from that day on has it ceased to obey Christ's command: "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." S.P.G. support for work in the Diocese of Fredericton was to continue until 1911.
To the Rev. John Eagleson, a former Presbyterian minister, who received Anglican ordination in 1768 in England and, after five months in Prince Edward Island, went to Cumberland, apparently residing close by the site of Fort Beausejour, belongs the credit for the first ongoing ministry by an Anglican priest in what is now the Diocese of Fredericton. His services were attended by the Yorkshire immigrants to the area, "...Methodists by conviction but still in communion with the Church of England". During his eighteen year ministry, interrupted during the American Revolution by sixteen months of imprisonment in Massachusetts for his loyalty to Great Britain, Eagleson visited the Sackville area, and the building of St. Ann's Church at Westcock in 1817 may be regarded a result of his labours.
The Rev. Thomas Wood arrived in Saint John on July 1, 1769. At that time the English speaking population at the mouth of the river, apart from a small garrison at Fort Howe, did not exceed 100. On the Sunday after his arrival Wood:
... performed divine service and preached in English in the forenoon and in Indian in the afternoon to 13 Indian men and women. In the evening many of the Acadians being present, Mr. Wood held service in French, the Indians again attending, many of them being more familiar with this language than with the English.
These services are unique; there is no other record of any clergyman at Saint John holding three services in three different languages on the same day.
New Brunswick was then the County of Sunbury, a part of the colony of Nova Scotia, and it was at the request of the Governor of Nova Scotia that Wood made his extensive missionary tour. Leaving the settlement at the mouth of the river, he visited the scattered communities along its banks. Sunday, July 9, saw him at Maugerville where he read the service to more than 200 persons. He went up the river as far as an Indian Village about 6 miles above St. Anne's, now Fredericton. Unfortunately nothing of a permanent nature came as a result of his efforts; the outbreak of the American Revolution cut short any development.
The arrival of the Loyalist refugees from the American colonies in 1783 marks the real beginning of church life in New Brunswick. Many of the Loyalists were Anglicans; for them, their membership in the established Church of England was a very real part of the principles for which they had been persecuted by their fellow Americans in the old colonies. One of the first acts of the Legislative Assembly of the newly created province of New Brunswick was to provide for "...preserving the Church of England, as by law established...". Provision was made for its support in setting apart glebe lands for the various parishes.
Among the earliest Loyalists to arrive at the mouth of the St. John were a number of S.P.G. missionaries, who had been driven from their parishes in the United States. These included John Beardsley from the banks of the Hudson, John Sayre from Connecticut, Samuel Cooke from New Jersey, George Bissett from Rhode Island and Mather Byles from Boston. John Beardsley, who arrived in Saint John with the initial contingent of Loyalists on May 18, 1783, was the first of them to officiate in New Brunswick. His attempts to build a church in the new settlement were frustrated by a disastrous fire on June 18, 1784; hence, Saint John's first church was a la rge house on Germain Street which was also used for government purposes. Beardsley moved to Maugerville to replace the Rev. John Sayre who had died at the early age of 47. Maugerville, endowed by Royal grant in 1783, can claim to he the first parish established in New Brunswick.
The man who has been dubbed "the father of the English Church in New Brunswick", the Rev. Samuel Cooke, arrived in 1785. During the year he spent in Saint John, improvements were made to the temporary church building, many were baptized and the number of communicants increased. His visits to Campobello, St. Andrews and Digdeguash laid the foundations of work in Charlotte County. When the seat of government was transferred to Fredericton in 1786, Dr. Cooke moved there to become the first rector, and later to serve as Bishop Inglis' first commissary in New Brunswick. When he drowned in 1795, the Rev. George Pidgeon took his place.
The arrival of further clergy in 1786 led to the appointment of the first rectors to a number of Loyalist settlements. George Bissett was appointed to the parish of Saint John, to be succeeded on his death three years later by Mather Byles. The Rev. Samuel Andrews was (quite appropriately) appointed to St. Andrews and the Rev. Richard Clarke, to Gagetown. The Rev. James Scovil went to Kingston, which had elected the first parish corporation in the province in 1784, and where he was to establish a unique clerical dynasty of three generations which lasted some ninety years.
Another arrival was the Hon. and Rev. Jonathan Odell, the Loyalist poet, who was to become a member of the Legislative Council and first Secretary of the Province of New Brunswick.
A highly significant date in Canadian Church history is August 12, 1787, when the Archbishop of Canterbury, assisted by the Bishops of Rochester and Chester, consecrated the Rev. Charles Inglis, formerly rector of Trinity Church, New York, as Bishop of Nova Scotia—the first overseas bishop in the British Empire. He was also given ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Bermuda and Newfoundland. He arrived in Halifax on October 16, 1787, and at once took up his arduous duties with zeal and energy.
Bishop Inglis first set foot on New Brunswick soil at 10 p.m. on July 31, 1788, and preached to a large congregation in Saint John on the Sunday following. Surprisingly, Inglis was not the first bishop to visit that city; the Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury, first bishop of the American Episcopal Church had stopped in Saint John to visit his daughter and preached there on his way back to Connecticut after his consecration by bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1784. Inglis went on to Fredericton, where he officiated at a service in the King's Provision Store. Before his departure from the capital, the Bishop was able to preach in the nearly completed church and confirm 55 persons. Returning to Saint John, Bishop Inglis on August 20 laid the corner stone of Trinity Church, confirmed 94 persons and conducted a Visitation with his clergy.
The first New Brunswick men ordained by Bishop Inglis were Oliver Arnold and Frederick Dibblee. It appears that Arnold was made deacon in 1790 and raised to the priesthood in 1791, both in Halifax. Dibblee was ordained deacon in Halifax in 1791 and priest in Trinity Church, Saint John, in 1792, the first ordination to occur in the province of New Brunswick. He was given charge of all the settlements on the Saint John River above St. Mary's and Kingsclear, with headquarters at Woodstock. Arnold became the first rector of the parish of Sussex.
In the summer of 1792 Bishop Inglis made his second visit to New Brunswick. He found the congregations flourishing, communicants increasing and several churches in the course of erection. He confirmed 777 persons and consecrated four new churches—Christ Church, Maugerville, August 1; St. John's Church, Gagetown, August 5; Trinity Church, Kingston, August 8; and Trinity Church, Saint John, August 18. Of these, only Trinity, Kingston, remains to claim the distinction of being the oldest church building in the diocese.
Bishop Inglis came again in 1795 and on August 16 consecrated Christ Church, Fredericton. He paid four subsequent visits to New Brunswick before his death on February 24, 1816 in his 82nd year.
With the Loyalists came not only their clergy but also their school-masters. Fully aware of the value of education and supported by the S.P.G., the settlers erected the first log school-houses where a rudimentary education was provided. An early report states:
In 1817 the Church through the S.P.G. introduced the National System of Education into New Brunswick. As early as 1786 it had commenced the formation of mission schools, but now a Central Training Institution was founded in Saint John. The movement received much local support and National System soon spread throughout the Province, many Dissenters eagerly embracing these means of education and expressing no objection to learning the Church Catechism.
These were commonly called Madras Schools.
Higher education was not neglected; the Church was instrumental in the establishment of King's College, Fredericton, which was to become the University of New Brunswick, as well as King's in Windsor N.S., now located in Halifax. Here the leaders of the infant colony were to be trained.
Mention must be made of the efforts of the New England Company, a subsidiary of the S.P.G., to provide education for the native Indians. It is not known widely that considerable sums of money were spent in New Brunswick to provide a Christian education for the aboriginal people. Schools for this purpose were opened at Sussex, Woodstock and Sheffield, and functioned for many years. As a result of a report by the Rev. John West of Red River fame, the grants were withdrawn and the schools closed. This interesting venture cannot be deemed a success.
Bishop Charles Inglis was succeeded by the Rev. Robert Stanser, rector of St. Paul's Church, Halifax. Stanser's delicate health led to his resignation in 1824. Dr. John Inglis, son of the first bishop and also rector of St. Paul's, Halifax, became the third Bishop of Nova Scotia in 1825. The new bishop divided his diocese into four archdeaconries, and the Rev. George Best, rector of Fredericton, was appointed Archdeacon of New Brunswick. Bishop Inglis paid his first visit to this province in 1826; because it was the first episcopal visit since his father's time, the bishop was kept extremely busy. He confirmed 1720 persons and consecrated 19 churches, among them St. John's (Stone) Church in Saint John and St. Paul's, Chatham (Bushville).
Bishop Inglis visited New Brunswick, as a rule, every three years. All that could be done by a non-resident bishop he did, despite the difficulties involved in visiting this part of his large diocese. In 1835 he was welcomed in the wilderness with torches and bonfires at Stanley, when a congregation of 60 gathered in a wooden shed for Divine Service. Bishop Inglis died in London on October 27, 1850, having lived to see his vast jurisdiction divided by the erection of the dioceses of Newfoundland and Fredericton.
Just as the Loyalists placed their stamp on the province of New Brunswick, established, according to Edward Winslow, to be "..the most gentlemanlike on earth", so the Church in the colony was formed by their attitudes and principles. They had brought with them a fierce independence of ecclesiastical authority, the result of Britain's failure to appoint bishops in the Thirteen Colonies. Many of the prerogatives of the bishop had, of necessity, been taken over either by the governor or by the parish vestries, which often refused to permit the induction of a clergyman so that he could be removed at will.
As one historian has written, American Anglicans "...enjoyed through their vestries a virtually congregational form of Church polity". This attitude was compounded by the Loyalist tendency to an Erastian view of Church, which saw it as "by law established" or, in other words, as "the British Empire at prayer". The fact that from the outset New Brunswick had been accustomed to a necessarily loose episcopal supervision From Halifax, with only occasional visits by the bishop, did nut help.
Anglicans in New Brunswick, as elsewhere, manifested a contrasting dislike of paying the price of their independent views. In 1829, the parish of St. Andrews protested its inability to raise £30 sterling towards the rector's stipend. The gradual withdrawal of the British government's subsidies to the S.P.G. during the 1820's brought the whole question of financing the Church in the colonies to a critical point, and forced local action which would lead to eventual self-support. New Brunswick can claim the distinction of leadership in this area. At the instigation of Bishop Inglis, the Church Society of the Archdeaconry of New Brunswick was formed at a meeting held in Fredericton on September 8, 1836. Its purposes were to embrace the objects of the S.P.G. and S.P.C.K. in financing missionary and educational work within the province; its annual reports contain lists of contributions made in virtually every parish. Archdeacon Coster expressed the need in these words: "Our altar cannot be served if those who are to minister at it, have not their substance provided for." The Church Society of the Archdeaconry of New Brunswick was the first of many established in various colonies and dioceses to provide local financing, and to provide a forum in which common concerns could be discussed prior to the establishment of diocesan synods. Parishes in Saint John remained aloof, and did not enter the Church Society until after the arrival of Bishop Medley. The Church Society in New Brunswick was merged with the Diocesan Synod of Fredericton in 1897, but societies formed later in Quebec and Prince Edward Island still exist.
The founding of the Church Society clearly indicated the growing desire for the establishment of a separate diocese in New Brunswick. The clergy of the province had petitioned for a bishop as early as 1791, and again in 1819; correspondence and editorial comment urging such a step appeared in The Courier, a Saint John newspaper, in 1824. In 1837, the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, Sir John Harvey, suggested that George Jehosophat Mountain, then suffragan to the Bishop of Quebec, and a former rector of Fredericton, should be named bishop of the proposed diocese. A plan by which the office of bishop would be combined with the presidency of King's College, Fredericton (now the University of New Brunswick) was also put forward. It was not, however, until the establishment in England of the Colonial Bishoprics Fund in 1840, with New Brunswick high on its list of priorities, that the proposed new diocese became a real possibility. In May, 1843, the Colonial Bishoprics Committee set aside the sum of £20,000 for New Brunswick, stipulating that the remainder of the endowment should be raised in the province. Contributions in New Brunswick, raised through the efforts of the Lieutenant Governor, Sir William Colebrooke, the Chief Justice, the Hon. Ward Chipman, the Solicitor General, the Hon George Frederick Street and "other leading persons", amounted to £3,294 and the balance of the £30,000 endowment was raised in England. It is interesting to note that the Diocese of Fredericton benefitted from this endowment until 1986, when arrangements were made for the proceeds to be applied to more needy areas of the Anglican Communion. It was on December 27, 1844 that Lord Stanley, the Colonial Secretary, wrote to the Lieutenant Governor, Sir William Colebrook, informing him that the Reverend John Medley had been appointed as bishop of the new diocese.
Thus ended the Loyalist era of Anglican history in New Brunswick, a time of slow but steady growth, generously supported by the S.P.G. Where there had been six clergy in 1786, there were now 32 in active service. The lack of episcopal supervision and the shortage of clergy meant that, in many areas, significant numbers of Anglicans had been lost to other denominations. Nevertheless, the first steps had been Idiom towards self-support, and firm foundations laid for what Queen Victoria was to designate the Diocese of Fredericton, and for the forty-seven year episcopate of John Medley.