One of the First Anglican Churches in Ontario
Will Be Celebrated Early Next Week
The Erection of the Building Began in 1793 and Frequent Rebuilding And Improving
Has Made it a Comfortable Edifice - Early Pioneer Clergymen -
Historic Papers Connected With the Church - Some of the Wardens -
The Marriage Record
In view of the centennial celebration in connection with St. John's church, Bath, on Sunday and Wednesday - 12th and 15th inst., - some facts in the history of that venerable old church may be generally interesting. It was one of the first Anglican churches built in Upper Canada and is now the oldest standing and in use in the province, if not in the dominion. It was started in 1793 and was completed and used as a place of worship in 1794. It has been in continuous use since, having from time to time been repaired and improved, and being now in excellent repair, presents a neat and comfortable appearance, thought it has passed the first century mile stone. All those who had to do with its erection or early membership have long ago passed over to the great majority and grandchildren have taken their place.
The Rev. John Langhorn, through whose instrumentality St. John's was built and who pioneered the laying of foundations of the Church of England in Upper Canada, west of Kingston, was the first of its missionaries sent to this province. For years he was the only minister of that church west of Kingston. The Rev. John Stuart, one of the U.E. loyalist refugees from New York state, after having been driven out of that country for unswerving loyalty to the British flag during the American revolution, had previously settled in Kingston and ministered to a small congregation. He established a school in the then small village and had been appointed chaplain of the few British soldiers at Fort Frontenac; his hands were consequently tied from attempting any outside mission work, save an occasional trip to the Mohawk Indians at the Tyendinaga reserve, who had been his parishioners in the Mohawk valley, near Albany. It was, no doubt, at his earnest request that the society for the propagation of the gospel in England sent out a missionary and appropriated £50 a year towards his maintenance. Rev. John Langhorn was selected. He was a native of Wales, educated at St. Bess college in Cumberland, and was curate of Hartwell, Cheshire, at the time of his appointment. A trip to the wilds of Quebec at that time - for Upper Canada had not yet been formed into a province - was a formidable undertaking, requiring months and representing many serious hardships and privations. The trip over was made in an ocean sailing vessel - there were no steamers then - and from that up partly by sailing or open boats and partly on foot through the wilderness in which he found it necessary to spend more than one night without shelter over his head. There was no royal road to Canada in those days, and consequently not many excuses were made for trips across the Atlantic. Reaching Kingston in 1786 he proceeded to his future mission field on the Bay of Quinte, and made his home in Ernesttown, where Bath now stands. He was never married, and was seldom many days at a time at his boarding place; his mission duties required constant activity and travel. His journeys, many and long, were made on foot in all kinds of weather. This pioneer missionary, though not a man of much learning, was full of zeal in the cause of his church and his God.
Among the historic papers in connection with his work at Bath is the church warden's register, containing a complete report of every vestry meeting held in connection with St. John's church from 1800 to 1898. We doubt if a similar full record, covering all that time, can be found anywhere else in Canada. It is well preserved and contains a list of all the ministers, the church wardens, those who attended the vestry meetings, the pew holders, and the record of business transacted during this entire century. Little wonder that the present rector, Rev. E.T. Evans (also a native of Wales) guards it so jealously that he puts it under his pillow every night. The first meeting recorded was on Easter Monday, 1800, when it was arranged to have the church pewed. The original subscribers, giving up to five pounds, were to have each a pew, and those under five pounds were to join and draw a pew. The space then remaining was to be filled with seats or movable benches. A neatly drawn plan of the building shows pews and occupants. They were mostly heads of large and respectable families now in the county.
Each had to build his own pew within twelve months, otherwise it would revert to the church as her right. Every person who drew a pew and built thereon would forfeit his right and title if he did not attend service therein four set times a year at least. It was afterwards carried ten to one, that no pew belonging to any private person shall be considered as private property, nor conveyed or transferred by any ways.
Rev. John Langhorn continued his work there until 1813, and the minutes appear in his handwriting, neat and systematic. In 1815 Rev. Richard Pollard's name comes in as curate and missionary. In 1816 Rev. John Wilson's name appears signed as curate. In 1819 Rev. John Stoughton appears as curate and missionary and in 1823 as rector. He continued till 1836, and his name was long familiarly mentioned by old residents. In 1836 Rev. A.T. Atkinson appears as rector, and occupied that position till 1841, when Rev. W.F.S. Harper comes in as rector, spending the remainder of his life in Bath. Old residents of the county well remember him. Revs. T. Bouefield, T.A. Parnell and H. E. Plees were curates during his time, escalating when M. Harper became feeble. In 1875 canon Tane appeared as rector, but does not appear to have resided at Bath long, the duties having been performed by curates, among whom were Revs. J. Nimmo, A.F. Echlin and T.F. Porter. In 1886 he returned to England, where he is still living. In 1887 Rev. E.H.M. Baker, so well remembered, became rector, until last year, in consequence of ill health, he had to relinquish the charge and live with a son near Guelph. At the vestry meeting in March, 1898, the Rev. E.T. Evans, the present rector, first appears in this memorable history. All join heartily in the wish that he may continue long and happily.
The church wardens for the century have been men well known because of social, business and religious standing. The first were William Cottier and John Davy; the former lived and died a few miles below Bath, on what is now the Forward homestead. The Davy family have always appeared in connection with church work at Bath; the third and fourth generations of the descendants of John Davy, first warden, are actively connected with old St. John's. In 1806 Jeptha Hawley took the place of John Davy. The Hawleys were also numerous and active and always represented in that church. Colin McKenzie, a prominent resident, was long one of the wardens. So was Peter Davy, a son of John; James Donnelly, a leading merchant, who afterwards moved to Montreal, where he died and where his sons are yet in business; Dr. Thomas Aishtan, whose name appears regularly in some capacity from 1836 till 1877, when he died; the late Henry Boyle, so well remembered as a church worker and active business man, both at Bath and Napanee; late T.E. Howard, elected warden in 1867. R.R. Finkle, now an active member, is of the third generation of one of the first pewholders and one of the most prominent families in the early history of Bath and of the province. In 1851 the now venerable Dr. Roderick Kennedy's name first appeared, and has always appeared regularly as member of vestry, clerk, warden, committeeman or delegate to synod. The present wardens are Dr. Northmore and Mr. Morgan; the vestry clerk, Harry Johnson; treasurer D.T. Rowse.
Mr. Langhorn went regularly into Prince Edward and Hastings. Several churches were built through his efforts. One in Fredericksburgh, where the Sandhurst church now stands, was built before Upper Canada became a province, in 1791. It was small and crude, and of logs, but it was a church, with a log tower in one corner, and named "St. Paul's" on the early marriage certificates signed there. The present St. Paul's at Sandhurst is the third church erected on the same grounds. The first, burned in the twenties, was succeeded by a frame building, which was torn away for the present brick structure.
In the vestry minutes of St. John's in 1806, on Easter Monday "before the hour of twelve o'clock," - as always specified then, the appointments of churchwardens took place: St. John's Ernesttown (Bath was not mentioned for years later, till 1830), William Cottier, Jeptha Hawley; St. Paul's Fredericksburgh, Hazelton Spencer, Peter Lampman Young; for Mohawk Bay congregation, Nicholas Woodcock, Hans Cornelius; for Big Brook congregation, Asahel Bradshaw, Gerard Tyler. In 1809 the name of Napanee first appears, with the statement that "no wardens seem to be wanting for the Napanee congregation." There is mention made of a congregation at Hay bay, but none at Adolphustown, though it is evident he preached early in that township. Possibly "Hay Bay" included Adolphustown as it did with the early Methodists.
For years Mr. Langhorn was the only minister west of Kingston who had legal authority to perform the marriage ceremony. He would only do so in one of the churches and before eleven o'clock in the morning. Whoever came after that time would find the church locked. One old lady in Fredericksburgh used to tell of getting there a little too late and added: "You may depend we were on time next day." An old friend of the writer's once told him of driving with a sleigh load from the boundaries of Tyendinaga, in Richmond, on a very stormy winter's day to Bath church, for his sister's wedding. They started before daylight and did not get back until after dark. Many others had a similar experience. The first record in the old marriage register, on the 22nd of November, 1787, about the commencement of the ministerial labors, was of John Davy and Sophy Koffman (or Huffman, possibly) Andrew Briscoe and Betsy Horton were the only others recorded that year. There were twenty in 1800 and 206 up to 1810.