Read CHAPTER I of William Black The Apostle of Methodism in the Maritime Provinces of Canada , free online book, by John Maclean, on

The birth of A movement

Had Longfellow the poet extended his studies a few years later than the time of the event which formed the subject of Evangeline, he would have come in contact with another race of men, of different breed, language and faith, than that of the Acadians, who were as brave as any of those who sailed away from the valley of the Gaspereaux. For almost coincident with the expulsion of these hardy folk from the fertile fields of the Annapolis Valley, there came visitors from the New England colonies, induced by offers of land, but these were deterred from settlement on account of a fear lest freedom of religious worship should not be accorded them.

Brought up under the influence of the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers, they prized too highly their religious liberty to barter it for lands or gold, and not until a second proclamation was issued, granting liberty of conscience and worship to all Protestants, did settlers come in large numbers. Five years after the Acadians were expelled emigrants began to arrive in considerable numbers from New England and from Great Britain and Ireland. This was the beginning of a new era, in which the principles of the Protestant Reformation were to be tested, upon soil consecrated by the faith and piety of the Roman Catholic exiles, and an opportunity was found for the expression of the new faith in the moulding of individual character.

While the province was issuing invitations for new settlers and wishing to grant concessions to sturdy and loyal folks, a great awakening was taking place in England, the influence of which was destined to become a strong factor in making a new race on the Western Continent, and to mould in a great measure the social and religious life of the people of Nova Scotia. A revival of spiritual life was in progress under the preaching of Wesley and Whitefield, which was quickening the consciences of the people, imparting high ideals and renovating the social and political life of the nation.

Methodism was doing greater things for the English speaking race than Luther among the Germans, as it infused a spirit of joy and freedom from ritual, with greater liberty of thought and action. It was an era of great names beyond the pale of the national church. The passion for souls became so intense in the hearts of many of the clergy that they gladly espoused the hated name of “Methodist,” while others no less zealous stood aloof from the special movement because of its Arminian doctrines.

Whitefield, the prince of orators, stalked through the land proclaiming salvation for sinners, and not content with conquests won in the sea-girt isles, he needs must cross the ocean to tell the story of the ages to wondering thousands. John Berridge, the witty yet zealous vicar of Everton, itinerated through the country and in one year saw not less that four thousand awakened. William Grimshaw, the eccentric curate of Haworth, superintended two Methodist circuits while attending to his own parish, and Vincent Perronet, vicar of Shoreham, who was so trusted a counsellor that Charles Wesley called him the Archbishop of Methodism, gave two sons to the Methodist ministry, and besides being the author of the hymn, “All Hail the power of Jesus Name,” Wesley dedicated to him the “Plain Account of the People called Methodists.”

The great revival brought into greater prominence Rowland Hill, the eccentric preacher; Augustus Toplady, the author of the Hymn “Rock of Ages;” Howell Harris, the famous Welsh orator, and the Countess of Huntingdon. These and many others were brought into closer touch with the great spiritual movement, at the period when Nova Scotia was bidding for settlers, by the famous controversy on Calvinism, which was full of spleen, and has shown us how good men may retain their piety, and still say bitter and nasty things, and use gross epithets in their zeal for religious doctrines.

But Methodism, though treated as a sect composed of ignorant and illiterate folks, was not lacking in men of culture and force. It had discovered the secret of picking men from the streets and transforming them into saints and scholars, and it was successful in its efforts. It found Thomas Olivers, a drunken Welsh shoemaker, and led him on, till he became known as a great force in the pulpit, and the author of that majestic lyric, “The God of Abraham praise” and of the tune “Helmsley,” sung to the hymn, “Lo, He comes with clouds descending.” It laid hands upon Samuel Bradburn, the shoemaker, and developed his gifts by the grace of God, until his discourses, rich in sublimity, and pulsating with great thoughts, charmed multitudes, and his eloquence was so irresistible that Adam Clarke, the famous scholar, declared that he had never heard his equal, and could give no idea of his powers as an orator. In its ranks at this period were to be found able scholars as Joseph Benson, the commentator, Fletcher, the saintly and acute theologian of the new movement, and Thomas Walsh, whom Wesley called, “that blessed man,” and of whom he said, that, he was so thoroughly acquainted with the Bible that “if he were questioned concerning any Hebrew word in the Old, or any Greek in the New Testament, he would tell after a brief pause, not only how often the one or the other occurred in the Bible, but what it meant in every place. Such a master of Biblical knowledge he says he never saw before, and never expected to see again.”

There were many others possessed of great gifts and culture, whose hearts were set on fire with a passion for souls, and the revival started spiritual forces which were felt far beyond the shores of Great Britain.

Wesley was drawing near to seventy years of age, and while travelling incessantly, and preaching every day, he was engaged in the publication of a collected edition of his works, in thirty-two duodecimo volumes. The Calvinistic controversy was at its height, the first anniversary of Trevecca College, the pet scheme of the Countess of Huntingdon, had just been held, and Fletcher was writing his famous “Checks to Antinomianism,” yet, the founder of the Methodist movement was looking for other worlds to conquer, by the preaching of the Cross.

Wesley’s early associations with America as a missionary to Georgia, naturally gave him an interest in the affairs of the western continent, and Whitefield’s frequent visits helped to deepen Wesley’s love for the people among whom he had spent the early years of his ministry. Whitefield had crossed the ocean and visited America seven times, and his visits were seasons of great power, when thousands were converted, and when he suddenly died at Newburyport, there passed from earth one of the greatest pulpit orators and evangelists in the history of the Christian Church. His death was an invitation to renewed efforts for the evangelization of America. The Countess of Huntingdon and her ministers organized a missionary band, which labored with much success in Savannah and the surrounding country, especially among the African population.

Methodism was neither silent nor powerless in sharing in the progress of the Gospel, and striving to evangelize the new world. While the great revival was stirring the heart of England, a small band of German “Palatines” which Methodism had redeemed from demoralization in Ireland, emigrated to New York, among whom was Philip Embury, and these were followed by Barbara Heck and her friends, through whose efforts Methodism found a secure place in America. The new movement received an impetus from the preaching of Captain Webb, and a call for preachers was sent to Wesley, with the result that Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmoor were sent. Later Francis Asbury, the faithful preacher and administrator, followed, and Methodism became a church. Meanwhile Lawrence Coughlan had found his way to Newfoundland, and laid foundations upon which others built.

Bermuda had been visited by Whitefield, and in the general awakening it could not be expected that Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island would be forgotten. It was a period of emigration and revival, and in the great commotion, the present Maritime Provinces of Canada shared in the blessings of the new movement.

During the period of emigration to Nova Scotia, four different parties came from Yorkshire, England, the first arriving in 1772. It was natural to expect, that coming from a district, memorable as the scene of many visits from the Wesleys, a bit of land consecrated with the tears and labors of John Nelson, the stalwart hero, and kept fresh with the hallowed memories of the saintly Hester Ann Rogers, there should be among the emigrants many who were loyal and devoted Methodists. Yorkshire Methodism was of that strenuous type which must give expression to its faith in hearty song, and lively preaching, and these sturdy settlers were an acquisition to the province, which the politicians were sufficiently alert to see, could not fail to supply the elements of stability and growth.

The majority of these people settled in the county of Cumberland, and began life anew, with intense loyalty to the institutions, and high ideals. The province had not fully recovered from the effect of the spirit of disloyalty which culminated in the expulsion of the Acadians, although there followed a period of peace, but despite the efforts of the Government in making roads, and instituting public works, the settlements were sparse, and the Indian was still in the land. There was only one minister in the county, the Rev. John Eagleson, who had been sent out in 1769 by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, while in the province there were a few Anglican, Congregational, Presbyterian and one Baptist church, but places for holding religious worship were few and far between, and the first Methodists consequently began prayer meetings in their homes, and through them souls were led to Christ. Whatever religious services were held they attended, and thus kept alive the glowing embers of their faith and zeal.

An incipient rebellion, induced by the Revolutionary war, and maintained by the sympathy of the colonists who had revolted in New England, unsettled the minds of the people, and made it dangerous for them to attend religious worship, and consequently the cause of religion suffered, and many forsook the faith of their fathers. A few still remained true, and amid many discouragements prayed for the dawn of a new day.

Without any propagandist effort, Methodism was spreading. Spontaneously it had gone out over Great Britain and Ireland, and into what is now the United States, to the West Indies, and Nova Scotia, but the time was ripe for complete organization as a missionary church. The time had come and with it the man in the person of Thomas Coke. While Nova Scotia and the American colonies were suffering from the Revolution, Wesley and Coke had met for the first time, and thus began a union which made Methodism a great missionary organization. The man for America had not yet come to the fullness of his power, but Francis Asbury was reaching out and getting ready to become essentially the founder of Methodism in the United States. The man for Nova Scotia had not yet arrived, as he was only a stripling at his father’s home in Amherst, and was still a stranger to the grace of God.

The introduction of Methodism into Nova Scotia was not the establishment of a sect or a party in dogmatic theology, but it was the revival of spiritual Christianity, exempt from the trammels of ecclesiasticism and the exclusiveness of dogmatism. As such it became a strong and elevating factor in the social life of the people, imparting lofty ideals, which were wrought out in moral strength, making loyal citizens and men and women of power and gentleness.

There was something lacking to secure unity and strength in the scattered forces of the new movement. Prayer meetings and preaching services were held, and souls were won to the faith, still there was no organization and there could not be until a leader should come forth, who would command by his genius and concentrated effort unity of administration.

Though not the original founder of Methodism in Eastern British America, the man who in the providence of God was destined to unite the scattered forces and to give birth to the new movement, and who, by his intrepid spirit and enthusiastic and incessant labours as a great evangelist, was to spread the doctrines which were so full of power in the revival in England, throughout that portion of territory now known as the Maritime Provinces, was William Black, a man of faith and power, whose memory is revered by thousands, and whose descendants still abide with us.