The Chignecto Covenanters
A Regional History of Reformed Presbyterianism in
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 most bookstores

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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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