Grand River Branch
United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada
Selected Reprints from the
Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches
"The Role of Early Presbyterian Ministers In Upper and Lower Canada"
Rev. John Cruickshank, May 2000, Vol.12 No.1, Page 7
The Church of Scotland had very little interest in British Canada until the rise
of the evangelical movement. The evangelicals emerged in the late 18th
century and gained control of the General Assembly of the church in 1834.
The sad truth is that they neglected the spiritual needs of those in remote areas; e.g. the highlands and overseas colonies. It was out of the evangelical movement (which became the Free Church in 1834) that most of the missionaries came, but not in the Loyalist areas nor times. (The American Constitution with its checks and balances is a Presbyterian document! The first signer was a Presbyterian.)
"Mother Church" was suspicious of the educational standards in the colonies and had this 'thing' about ordaining only Scottish-educated clergy. By the 1770's the complexion of U.S. Presbyterians was very much affected by the arrival of Ulster Presbyterians. Between 1717 and 1767, the estimate is that 200,000 emigrated to Pennsylvania, Virginia, Carolina and Georgia. (New England received few.) The motives were both economic and religious; oppressive rents by absentee English landlords and trade policies to favour England, plus the legal exclusion of Presbyterians from public office, and the illegality of Presbyterian marriages. By the time of the Revolution, the Presbyterian church was the second largest in the colonies (16%) but it was stamped with this Scottish-Irish character which added to the deteriorating relations with Britain.
In America, those who fled the attempt to Anglicize them in Ireland were concerned over the perceived policy of the Church of England to have colonial bishops who, it was widely feared, would have political power as in Britain. By 1770, most Presbyterians believed that the preservation of their religious liberty was directly connected with the struggle for self-government in the colonies. As armed conflict drew near, royalists and revolutionaries emerged out of the same womb. Fourteen Presbyterians, including one minister, John Witherspoon of New Jersey, were among the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence. The British Colonial Secretary in 1779 charged, "Presbyterianism is really at the bottom of the whole conspiracy."
Among the Loyalists the stigma of treason clung to the American Presbyterian church. The U.S. Presbyterian Church, as a result, has had almost no influence on and no serious relations with the Presbyterian Church of Canada.
By 1784, of the 40,000 Loyalists in all of the northern colonies, ten to twelve thousand were Presbyterians. In Upper Canada in 1791, with a population of 20,000, mostly Loyalists, Rev. John Bethune was the only Presbyterian minister. Rev. Jabez Collver came to this area in 1793 at the invitation of Governor Simcoe. With little formal education, ordained in New Jersey several years earlier, he organized a Presbyterian-type congregation which he served for 25 years until his death. Because of his remote situation, he never belonged to a Presbytery and probably never saw another Presbyterian minister in the course of his life in Upper Canada. In 1796, Governor Simcoe, on the eve of his departure, did grant Collver 1,000 acres.