A Regional History of Reformed Presbyterianism
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia,
1827 - 1905 by Eldon Hay
As we were driving away from the Kirk,
Gram grumbled that Clarence had played all the verses of the hymns. The standing
for such a long time had caused discomfort and pain in her hip.
Gramp listened for a few minutes to her complaining and then remarked,
“Maggie, If you had attended the Covenanter Church, you would sit through
the psalms and there would be no organ music.”
He neglected to add that the congregation had to stand through the long
prayers and that in some areas of Chignecto, the service began at ten o’clock,
adjourned at noon for a half-hour lunch and back in they went until two o’clock.
The Rev. Alexander Clarke, one of the nine children of William and Elizabeth
(Craig) Clarke was born in 1794 in Kilrea, County Londonderry. In Belfast,
in 1821, he married Catherine McMillan, who was born in Ballymena, County
Antrim, the daughter of John McMillan who came to Saint John in 1818 and
founded A. & J. McMillan, booksellers and publishers.
On the 23rd of August, 1827, after a ten-week voyage at sea, the Rev.
Alexander Clarke and his family landed at Reed Point, Saint John. As he made
his way along Prince William Street to Mr. McMillan’s, he carried his daughter
who had been born while crossing the ocean.
Although Covenanters were scarce in Saint John, the Rev. Clarke found
himself in demand in Hampton and Hammond River and other areas outside the
city. By November he had preached for one week at the house of Jeremiah Brownell,
12 miles from Amherst. The following year he took up residence in
Amherst and thus began his ministry in Chignecto.
Covenanters derived their name from the word covenant or covenanting
- the 1638 National Covenant of Scotland. The distinctive Covenanter principles
that Rev. Alexander Clark held included Christ being the head of both church
and state and since Christ was not recognized as the head of state, Covenanters
were not to hold public office, not to swear oaths nor to vote. In church
services, hymns were prohibited, only psalms were sung. All musical instruments
were excluded from worship and all secret societies were forbidden. Their
churches were of a plain design as the place of worship was less significant
to them than the manner of worship.
Eldon Hay spent 10 years tracing the Chignecto movement from its roots
in Irish Reformed Presbyterianism to its assimilation into the Presbyterian
Church of Canada in 1905, and in so doing chronicles the history of a unique
religious community in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in his 214 page book,
“The Chignecto Covenanters” - A Regional History of Reformed Presbyterianism
in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, 1827 - 1905.
The book provides information on the first church built in New Brunswick
and Nova Scotia at Chimoguee [now Shemogue] in 1830 as well as other churches
at Chapmans Corner, Baie Verte, Port Elgin, Goose River, Pugwash, River
Philip, Mount Pleasant, Tidnish, Northport, River Hebert, Minudie, Maccan,
Athol, Amherst, Amherst Point, Amherst Head, Nappan, Sackville, and Rockland.
Drawing on unpublished stories, minutes, and reminiscences of laypersons
and clergy in Chignecto, the author depicts Covenanter life, exploring
its beliefs and traditions, leadership, relations with other Presbyterian
bodies, and the causes of the movement's collapse. He focuses on two key
figures in the movement, Reverend Alexander Clarke, the Irish missionary
who established Reformed Presbyterian congregations in the area, and Reverend
Joseph Howe Brownell, who consolidated the congregations and led them into
the Presbyterian Church of Canada in 1905.
“The Chignecto Covenanters” by Eldon Hay is available for viewing
at several research institutions in New Brunswick. It can be ordered through
By the way, this year’s Loyalist Day ceremonies mark the two hundred
and twenty-first anniversary of the coming, in 1783, of the majority of about
14,500 Loyalist refugees and disbanded troops to Saint John, New Brunswick,
Canada. The arrival of Lieutenant Governor Herménégilde Chiasson,
at the City Hall Plaza at 10:30 a.m. on May 18, 2004 signals the beginning
of the events. After the raising of the Queen Anne flag, which was flown
by the Loyalists, the assembly will proceed to the Loyalist Plaza for the
placing of memorials. The 21 Gun Salute will be fired at noon in honour of
the occasion. Saint John is the only city in Canada where this salute is fired.
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