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Early Canadian Baptists
A Short History of the Baptists
By Henry C. Vedder, 1907

     The capture of Quebec, in 1759, marks the beginning of Protestant conquest in Canada. Baptists were among the first to profit by the new order of things under the Baptist rule. In the following year Shubael Dimock emigrated from Connecticut and settled in Nova Scotia. He had separated from the churches of the Standing Order, and for holding unauthorized religious meetings had suffered both corporal punishment and imprisonment. His son Daniel had gone even further and denied the scripturalness of infant baptism. These new settlers were accompanied by a Baptist minister, the Rev. John Sutton, who remained in the province about a year, baptizing Daniel Dimock and some others. Daniel Dimock baptized his father about 1775, but so far as is known no Baptist church was organized. A visit to the province in 1761 by the Rev. Ebenezer Moulton, of Massachusetts, is said
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to have been followed by conversions and baptisms at Yarmouth and Horton, a church being formed at the latter place about 1763, of both Baptists and Congregationalists. This minister was the ancestor of Mrs McMaster, the founder of Moulton College.

     It was in 1763 that the first real foothold was gained in Canada by the Baptists. Members of the Second Church in Swansea, Mass., and of two or three neighboring churches, to the number of thirteen, constituted a Baptist church, chose the Rev. Nathan Mason as their pastor, and emigrated in a body to Sackville, then in Nova Scotia, but since 1784 in the province of New Brunswick. They remained for eight years, during which time their numbers had increased to sixty; then, for some reason, the original immigrants returned to Massachusetts, and the church became scattered and finally ceased to exist. A new organization was, however, formed in the same place in 1799.

     Up to the year 1775, therefore, the net progress of the Baptists had been small; there was a handful of believers, scattered here and there, but not a single church had been able to maintain an existence. In that year Henry Alline was converted and became an evangelist of the Whitefield type, traveling up and down Nova Scotia and preaching the gospel with great power. He was a Congregationalist, and many of his converts formed churches of that order, but in a number of instances Baptist churches trace their origin to this revival of religion.

     The first of these was constituted of ten members, October 29, 1778, at Horton, and remains to this day not only the oldest but one of the strongest churches in the province. The Rev. Nicholson Pearson was chosen pastor, and in the two following years fifty-two were added to the church. This growth in numbers, however, was in part accomplished by the adoption of open commuon


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and mixed membership. Congregationalists being admitted to full fellowship on equal terms with baptized believers. It was not until 1809 that the Horton church became what we understand by the phrase, a Baptist church. The practice of mixed membership, or at any rate of open communion, was general among the Baptist churches of this province until the early years of the last century, they having gradually felt their way toward their present position. The Horton church is notable for having had but three pastors in the first century of its existence: Rev. Nicholas Pearson, from 1778 to 1791; Rev. Theodore Seth Harding, from 1795 to 1855, when he was succeeded by Rev. Stephen W. De Blois, who was still pastor at the celebration of the centenary. Churches were organized rapidly between 1780 and 1800, including those of Lower Granville, Halifax (1795), Newport (1799), Sackville (1799), as well as Annapolis and Upper Granville, Chester, Cornwallis, Yarmouth, and Digby, the dates of whose organizations are unknown. Of these churches the First Halifax seems to have been the only one that admitted to membership only baptized believers; and it is doubtful whether even that church practised restricted communion during this period. In this respect the early history of the Baptists of Canada differs widely from that of the first Baptist churches in the United States.

     The first Baptists of Lower Canada seem to have arisen among a settlement of American Tories, not far from the Vermont line. Elders John Hebbard and Ariel Kendrick, missionaries of the Woodstock Association, of Vermont, visited them in 1794, and their preaching was followed by an extensive revival. A few years later, Rev. Elisha Andrews, of Fairfax, Vt., visited these people at their request, baptized about thirty converts, and organized the Eaton church. A number of other churches


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were soon afterward formed in this region, several of which were for a time affiliated with the Richmond Association, of Vermont. The Domestic Missionary Society of Massachusetts, and other like New England or ganizations, paid much attention to this field, frequently sending missionaries thither.

     The beginnings in Upper Canada seem to have been practically simultaneous, but quite without concert, with those in the lower province. In 1794 Reuben Crandall, at that time a licentiate, settled on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, in what is now Prince Edward County, and the following year he had gained converts enough to organize the Hallowell church. Of this body there now remains no authentic record, but another church formed at Haldimund in 1798 proved more permanent, and is now in its second century of vigorous life. Other ministers from "the States" followed, and other churches were gathered in like manner. About the year 1800, Titus Fitch, another licentiate, located in Charlotteville township, where his labors resulted in the formation of a church of thirty members in 18o4. It appears to have been the fashion in those days when a young licentiate was not called by a church, for him to go out in the region beyond and call a church - a fashion that may be commended to the rising ministry of our day for their imitation.

     It will therefore be seen that the first Baptist churches of Canada, in all its provinces alike, for the most part owe their origin either to colonies from the United States or to the labors of missionaries from this country. The most marked exception is found in the group of churches that compose the Ottawa Association that, together with their pastors, were largely composed of Scotch immigrants, and trace their line of descent as Baptists to the labors in Edinburgh of the brothers Haldane. Baptist


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growth was slow up to 1830, and has never been rapid in Quebec, whose population is so largely French and Catholic. It was likewise retarded unduly by various internal disagreements, chief of which was the question of close or open communion. The great majority of Canadian Baptists have, for a generation, belonged to the Regular or strict-communion wing of the denomination.

     Alexander Crawford, a Scotchman, and one of the Haldane missionaries, was the first (1814) to preach and baptize according to the New Testament order in Prince Edward’s Island, and the first churches adhered rigidly to the practice of the Scotch Baptists. In 1826 the first church was formed at Bedeque that was from the beginning associated with the churches of the Maritime Provinces, though most of the others fell into line eventually. The differences between the churches of Scotch origin and the other Baptists of the provinces were numerous; the former insisted strenuously on a plural eldership, on the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and especially that members of the church should not marry those who belonged to other denominations. A domestic and foreign missionary society was formed in 1845, and the Island Baptist Association in i868. The latter organization was especially useful in promoting denominational advance. From thirteen churches and six hundred members it has grown to twenty-five churches and over two thousand members.

     The first union of these Baptist churches was formed in 1800, at Granville, by ten churches, under the title of the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Baptist Association. In one respect it differed from other bodies of this kind, though in the main it pretended to "no other powers than those of an advisory council"; for more than a quarter of a century it assumed the function of examining and ordaining catididates for the ministry —


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the sole instance of the kind, it is believed, in the history of Baptists. In 1809 the practice of open communion was discontinued by the associated churches. Four churches withdrew from fellowship with the others for a time, but afterwards returned. By 1821 the growth of this body led to its division, for greater convenience, into two Associations, one for each province. The Nova Scotia Association, in turn, was divided, in 1850, into the Eastern, Central, and Western Associations. The New Brunswick Association, in 1847, divided into Eastern and Western Associations; a Southern Association was organized in 1850; and in 1868 the Prince Edward’s Island Association assumed an independent existence. These successive developments of organization are landmarks of denominational growth, indicating, better than statistics, the progress of the churches in numbers and spiritual efficiency. At present these Associations represent three hundred and ninety-nine churches, with forty-four thousand eight hundred and forty-one members.

     In Ontario and Quebec the growth has been equally marked. The first organization of the churches of Upper Canada was the Thurlow Association (afterward the Haldimand), formed in 1803; the Eastern and Grand River Associations followed, in 1819; and others at frequent intervals thereafter. In Quebec the progress was slower; the earliest churches, as we have seen, remained affiliated with Vermont Associations. It was not until 1830 that a Baptist church was established in Montreal, and not till 1835 that the Ottawa Association was formed. In 1845, the Montreal was formed from the Ottawa. The Baptist churches of these provinces now number four hundred and thirty, with forty thousand two hundred and seventy members, and report three thousand five hundred and eight baptisms for 1900. In the last decade these churches have increased in membership


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twenty-eight per cent., while those of the Maritime Provinces in the same period have gained less than ten per cent. If these rates are maintained another decade, the churches of Ontario and Quebec will be considerably stronger, numerically, at least, than their elder sisters.

     Early in their history the Baptists of the Maritime Provinces acknowledged the obligations of the Great Commission, and to the best of their power fulfilled them. A missionary society was formed as early as 1815 in Nova Scotia, and a similar organization followed in New Brunswick in 1820. Both of these societies vigorously prosecuted work at home and abroad for many years. In 1846 these societies were consolidated into one, known as "The Baptist Convention of the Maritime Provinces." Each Association in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward's Island is entitled to send two delegates to each meeting of this body, and each contributing church may send one member. Two Boards for Home and Foreign Missions direct the Convention's aggressive work, in addition to which there are Boards for Ministerial Education and Ministerial Relief; while close relations are maintained with Acadia College by nominating every three years six new members of its Board of governors.

     The Canada Baptist Missionary Society was organized in June, 1837, through the agency of the Ottawa Association, and its headquarters were in Montreal. After some years of checkered existence, it finally succumbed to the stress of the communion controversies. In spite of its disclaimers, it was suspected of being too friendly to open communion, and lost the support of the strict communionists. The latter finally formed the organizations in which they could have more confidence: the Western Canada Baptist Home Mission Society, in 1854, and the Foreign Mission Society of Ontario and Quebec,


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in 1866. The latter was for the first seven years of its life an auxiliary of the American Baptist Missionary Union, but since 1873 has been independent, and maintains a flourishing mission among the Telugus. Home mission work among the Indians has been a special feature of the Canadian Baptist missionary enterprises. The Grand Ligne Mission among the French Catholics, founded in 1835, was for a time undenominational and independent, but for more than fifty years has been carried on under Baptist auspices, though Pedobaptists have also, to some extent, promoted the work. It is said that more than five thousand have been brought to the knowledge of the truth through this mission, many of whom are unofficial missionaries among their own people in Canada and New England.

     In 1888 a bill was passed by the Dominion Parliament consolidating all the previously existing societies (except the Grand Ligne Mission), including some not named above, into "The Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec." Five Boards - Home Mission, Foreign Mission, Ministerial Superannuation and Widows' and Orphans', Publication, Church Edifice - conduct the work formerly done by these various societies, and the churches thus have direct relations with a single delegated body, which is their agent in all general denominational work. This seems to be almost an ideal method of organization, and must be a powerful promotive of denominational unity and efficiency. Since 1881 Manitoba and the Northwest has had a separate Convention.

     In 1828, when the Baptists of Nova Scotia had but twenty-nine churches and one thousand seven hundred and seventy-two members, they established an academy at Horton; in 1838 they established Acadia College; and in 1861 a seminary for young women. The three institutions are still prosperous, and have together about three


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hundred and thirty students. The institutions fire governed by a Board of trustees appointed by the Convention of the Maritime Provinces. The New Brunswick Baptists established an academy at Frederickton, which ceased to exist some years ago; it had a successor at St. Martins, with better prospects of permanence for a time, but that has also succumbed. The Baptists of Quebec were unfortunate in their sole educational venture, that of establishing a college at Montreal. It was founded in 1838, and after a few years erected a fine stone building, which proved too costly an enterprise. After struggling vainly with debts for some years, in 1849 it was found necessary to sell the property, liquidate the debts, and let the college perish. Many causes contributed to its downfall, its location being perhaps the chief.

     The Baptists of Ontario have been more fortunate, in part perhaps by reason of greater prudence. They established a college at Woodstock about 1860, with both an arts and a theological department. Many of the most useful ministers of the Dominion, and some in the United States, received their training there. In 1880, the liberality of the late William McMaster founded the Toronto Baptist College, a theological seminary at first, to which the theological department of Woodstock was transferred. The new institution was enlarged later into McMaster University, an arts department being established in connection with the theological, and Woodstock being voluntarily reduced to the grade of an academy and feeder of the university. A college for women, known as Moulton College, has since been established by Mrs. McMaster (née Moulton), and is affiliated with the university. The result of these new enterprises has been a great stimulus of interest in education among Canadian Baptists. The new century opened with an enrolment of over four hundred students in the three institutions. The


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gross assets amount to about nine hundred thousand dollars, making available for the three schools an income of about forty thousand dollars.
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[From Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists, 1907. The title has been added to this essay. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]



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