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River John Congregation Organized
River John was organized into a congregation in
1808, with Rev. John Mitchell as its first settled minister. There
were about fifty families at this time in the community.
Mr. Mitchell, who came from England, was in early life a rope maker,
but being anxious to preach the Gospel, he prepared himself for the
work when about thirty years of age.
He made several missionary tours in Canada before settling in River
John. Though originally a Congregationalist, he united with the
Presbytery of Pictou. His labors extended over a district now served
by five or six ministers. Here he labored with great diligence and
faithfulness, giving special attention to the training of the young
and the superintendence of prayer meetings. He died in 1841, in the
seventy-sixth year of his age. He is described as a man of great
Rev. William Patrick was the first minister at Merigomish, and the
fifth in the county. He came to Merigomish in 1815 and was inducted
pastor. In early life he was brought up in the Reformed Presbyterian
Church, but connected himself with the Anti Burgher Church. Mr.
Patrick labored with great fidelity, preaching on week days as well
as Sabbaths, and faithfully attending to family visitation, prayer
services and catechizing. On May 7, 1844, the Rev. A. P. Miller was
ordained as his colleague. On the 25th of Nov., 1844, he died,
greatly beloved by his people, aged 73 years.
An event of much importance to the Presbyterian Church took place on
the third of May, 1817, when a union between the Burgher and Anti
Burgher Churches was consummated. The united body assumed the name
of The Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, and a Synod was formed
and divided into three Presbyteries. Rev. James McGregor was chosen
as first Moderator. Of the nineteen ministers of the Synod of Nova
Scotia, fourteen had been connected with the Anti Burgher Church,
three with the Church of Scotland and two were Congregationalists.
This union was productive of much good. The hearts of ministers and
people were greatly encouraged. Now they were one body, ready to
establish and build up the Kingdom.
Hitherto the Church had been dependent upon Scotland for its
ministers; but it had long been evident that they must look
elsewhere for their supply. Accordingly, in 1820, the Synod
established a Theological Hall in Pictou for the training and
education of a native ministry.
Pictou claims the honor of being the birthplace of the first
Presbyterian Theological School in Canada. The moving spirit in the
enterprise was the Rev. Thomas McCulloch, D. D., an enthusiastic
educationist and a man of wonderful foresight. As early as 1805, two
years after his arrival from Scotland, we find him planning a school
for the education of young men which resulted in 1816 in the
establishment of Pictou Academy, where several young men who had the
ministry in view were prepared for entering upon a theological
In the autumn of 1820 the Divinity Hall was opened with Dr.
McCulloch as the first Professor of Theology. The classes were
taught in one of the rooms at Pictou Academy.
Twelve students entered upon the study of theology the first term.
The young men supported themselves by teaching and met the professor
at intervals of a fortnight to receive instruction in their
theological studies. In 1824, the first fruits of the church's
educational efforts were realized in the licensing, ordaining and
settlement of six of the students. These were Messrs. R. S.
Patterson, John L. Murdoch, John McLean, Angus McGillivray, Hugh
Ross and Hugh Dunbar. The first four were licensed on June 8, 1824
by the Presbytery of Pictou. Three of these, Messrs. Patterson,
Murdoch and McLean before accepting calls, proceeded to Scotland,
where after passing a creditable examination they received the
degree of Master of Arts from the University of Glasgow.
One of the first of the graduates to be settled was Angus
McGillivray. He became the worthy successor of Dr. McGregor in the
Upper Settlement of the East River. He was inducted Sept. 1, 1824.
For the long period of 40 years he continued to labor, amidst great
discouragements, but with great fidelity. In 1864 he tendered his
resignation and on the 20th of July, 1869 he died in the 77th year
of his age and the 45th of his ministry. His congregation included
both the East and West Branch, a district now supporting five
Presbyterian ministers. The first meeting house on the East River
was at Grant's Lake, on the farm now occupied by Joseph H. Grant. It
was a log house, built in 1790, and served the East and West
Having visited London and Edinburgh, Messrs. McLean, Murdoch and
Patterson returned to Nova Scotia reaching Pictou after a passage of
forty five days. They were soon settled in pastoral charges. Mr.
McLean was ordained in 1825 and in 1826 accepted a call to
Richibucto, N. B. In a short time he was compelled to resign his
charge on account of ill health. For two years he conducted a
private academy in Halifax with success. He died in 1837, in the
37th year of age. During his brief ministry he was distinguished as
an able preacher, and a zealous missionary; he took a deep interest
in Sunday school work and was one of the first advocates of the
cause of temperance.
Mr. Murdoch was settled at Windsor and died there in 1873, in the
74th year of his age. His congregation extended all over western
Hants and for nearly fifty years he preached there with ability and
success. He was greatly beloved by his people and was the spiritual
father of many children. He was a valuable member of the courts of
the church. One of the ecclesiastical measures which he brought
before the Synod in 1840 was, that this Synod do form itself into a
society to be called "The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel
in the Lower Provinces." Dr. Keir and Mr. Murdoch drafted the rules
which were adopted. The successor of that domestic Missionary
Society is the Board of Home Missions of the church of today of
which Mr. Murdoch was a member as long as he lived.
Bedeque, in Prince Edward Island was the scene of Mr. Patterson's
ministry. At the time of his settlement in 1825 it is said there was
not a wagon in the parish or a mile of road in which to run one. The
country was almost an unbroken forest. The congregation at first was
small and during the greater part of his ministry he did not receive
more than $300 per year and only half in money. He labored without
interruption till a few years before his death in 1882, having been
56 years and a half in the ministry. Mr. Patterson was a
distinguished student and a true friend of popular education. His
zeal for missions is well known and second only in fervor to Dr.
In 1827 Mr. Ross accepted a call to Tatamagouche and New Annan. Here
he continued until 1840 when he accepted a charge in Prince Edward
Island, where he died suddenly in 1858.
Mr. Dunbar was an English and Gaelic preacher. He settled at
Cavendish, Prince Edward Island in 1827. Resigning in 1840 he
engaged in teaching but also preached regularly where he resided. He
died in 1857. These six men have this prominence and honor in common
that they were the pioneer native ministers of British North
America, at all events of the Presbyterian Church.
Pictonians at Home and Abroad, 1914