THE REV.WILLIAM BELL
Grandfather, the Rev. William Bell, who came to this country in 1817, kept
an extensive record of his daily life. The original diary comprised of
fifteen volumes which now appropriately repose in the Douglas Library at
Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. The Library was the gift of our
grandfather, on the other side, Dr. James Douglas.
In 1945, Dr.
Isobel Skelton, wife of the Librarian at Queen’s, wrote a fine biography
of William Bell called A Man Austere: Parson and Pioneer.
At the age of
sixty-six William Bell sat down and wrote a digest of his diaries,
condensing them to two small volumes of about 180 pages each. He wrote
much closer than a modern typewriter as we have found to our sorrow. A
sample page is reproduced later in the text.
amazing volumes were salvaged from the fire at 136 Maclaren Street,
Ottawa, by a Group Captain H. Ronald Stewart, RCAF (Ret.).
The two little
volumes are written in such a vigorous and straightforward style and tell
so much of the way of life in Canadian frontier days that I thought it
worthwhile to have them typed and made available to each member of my
immediate family. I wish it could have had wider distribution, but, after
all, a typewriter copy does become finally too illegible to read.
thanks go to Group Captain Stewart for rescuing the volumes and Miss
Margery Cooper and my son Robert Campbell Douglas for retyping the
Laval sur le
volumes were put together for my mother, Mrs. Walter Douglas - "Daisy
is, there is Eden"
- Mark Twain
THE HISTORY the
first 34 years of my life is written entirely from memory, and is
consequently, very defective. In some cases, I could scarcely recollect
even the dates of the circumstances which I have recorded. The neglect of
my diary, after I went to London, and the loss of al1 I had written up to
that time, I have often had cause to regret, But, at the date or my
leaving Scotland for Canada, in the beginning or 1817, I began again to
keep a regular journal. This has enabled me to be more particular in what
I have written in these pages, respecting the later period of my life.
NOTICE OF MY ANCESTORS
When I was
quite a boy I heard my father give some account of our family, the greater
part of which I have forgotten. What I still remember, I now commit to
writing for the information of survivors. He said his grandfather was a
farmer, and a tenant of the Earl of Levon, on the east coast of Fife, in
Scotland. This person, (my great grandfather) had several sons, one of
whom, named Andrew, (my grandfather) not liking to be a farmer, learned
the art of joiner and house carpenter. Soon after he had finished his
apprenticeship, he made an excursion to the west of Scotland in order to
see the country, and make improvements in his business.
In the course
of his journey he happened to find employment at Airdrie, at that time a
small village, ten miles east of Glasgow. There, meeting with
encouragement, he determined to take up his abode; and soon after married
Christian Buchanan, one of the daughters of a respectable farmer, of that
name, in the neighbouring parish or Old Monkland. By her he had four sons,
whom he named Andrew, William, James and Robert, and one daughter, named
Christian. Andrew the eldest of these, was my father. At the age of 13 he
began to work with his father, at his business, which he had just but
learned when his parent, after a protracted illness, died, leaving a widow
and five children, four of whom could do nothing for their own support.
however, having acquired a knowledge of his business, and discovering some
taste for architectural drawing, found plenty of employment among the
gentry in the neighbourhood, by whom he was often engaged, not only doing
their work, but in preparing plans and estimates of the buildings they
were about to erect. By these means he was enabled to support the rest of
the family in a creditable manner; and I have heard him say, that it
afforded him great pleasure to reflect, that he had thus the opportunity
of devoting his first earnings to the support of his mother, and the
younger members of the family. For his mother, indeed, he provided
constantly and perseveringly till her death, which happened within my
remembrance, as she lived to a great age. His brothers and sister he not
only supported, but educated, till the latter was married, and the former
were all able to do for themselves.
William, after learning some mechanical employment, went to the West
Indies, where, in about twenty years, he acquired a considerable fortune;
with which he was on the point of returning, to his native land, when he
was taken ill of yellow fever, and died, in the island of St. Christopher.
As he had never been married, his property, which he had along with him
all in bills and cash, on his demise, fell into the hands of the deeper of
the boarding house in which he lodged; and there it remained; for his
relations could never recover one shilling of it. James, the next brother,
went to one of the colonies in North America, now the United States,
Virginia I believe, and never returned; nor did we ever hear what became
of him. Robert, the youngest son, learned, under his brother’s direction,
the business of carpenter and builder, which he carried on, in Airdrie,
for many years afterwards. About the year 1790, he removed with his family
to Rosehall, as carpenter to Colonel Douglas, and died in his service, or
that of his daughter, at an advanced age. Christian was married to a young
man named Nielson, who, a few years after, left her a widow with one
My father had
been religiously brought up in the faith of the Church of Scotland, both
his parents being decidedly pious, and careful, both by precept and
example, to train up their children in the practice of religion. Their
endeavours and their prayers were not in vain. I have often heard my
father speak of the happiness he enjoyed in communion with God, and in the
performance of religious duties, even when he was very young. This was
particularly the case when he was deprived of the guide of his youth, by
his father’s death, and when he saw that his mother, with her helpless
children, were, under Providence, committed to his care. He also sought
the protection and blessing of his heavenly father, and in his hours of
retirement enjoyed such tokens of His love, as left a sweet relish on his
mind ever after. It afforded him much pleasure, in the after part of his
life, to reflect that, in the days of his youth, he had begun to seek the
God of his fathers. Were all young people to pursue this course, and thus
lay a good foundation for the time to come, how safely might they pass
through life under the protection of divine power: and how happy might
they be at death, in the enjoyment of the favour of God!
When my father
was fairly established in business, and had got the younger members of the
family so that they could shift for themselves, he began to think of
marriage. His choice fell upon Margaret, eldest daughter of Mr. John Shaw,
of Wester Glentore, one of the richest and most respectable farmers in the
parish. He had three sons and five daughters. At that period a showey
education was seldom sought, even among the wealthy; and the whole family,
accordingly, was trained in industrious and frugal habits. What was the
precise date of the marriage I can not now say, but it must have been
about the year 1763; my father being then about 25, and my mother about 24
years of age. Sometime after, the former received, as his wife’s portion
£120 – a sum which, at that period of the world, would go as far as three
times the amount would go now.
The use to
which my father applied this money, was the purchase of six acres of
excellent land, adjoining the village of Airdrie. The £120 did not indeed
complete the payment; but a wealthy neighbour, who had observed the
industry and good management of the purchaser, urged him to buy the land
when he had the opportunity; and offered to lend him what money he might
require for that purpose. On the land thus purchased, my father erected a
convenient dwelling house, a barn, stables, workshops and other buildings,
in which he carried on his business many years; in the course of which he
not only paid back the money he had borrowed, but bought six acres more
land, adjoining his former purchase. This enabled him to keep both horses
and cows, and raise grain enough for the support of the family. Being the
youngest, all these things happened before I was born.
My father and
mother had eight children, five sons and three daughters. The eldest was
named Janet, after her maternal grandmother; and, when about 25, was
married to John Downs, a carpenter in Glasgow. Andrew, the next, was named
after his gather and grandfather. He died of fever at the age of 23. He
was distinguished both for piety of the heart, and prudence of conduct. He
was of an ingenious disposition, and an excellent mechanic. He was regular
in his attendance on public worship, as well as on family and secret
devotion. So retentive was his memory that, on Sabbath evenings, he wrote
out, almost verbatim, the sermons he had heard during the day. When our
father was from home, he always conducted the devotions of the family,
both morning and evening.
third in the family, was so called after her paternal grandmother. At the
age of 22 she was married to Robert Gartshore, a mechanic, at that time,
in my father’s service - The fourth was John, after his grandfather John
Shaw. While yet a child, he was hurt by a fall, which rendered him lame
till his death, which happened in his sixteenth year. Being unable, from a
running sore in his high, to do any work, he spent a great part of his
time in reading, and before his death, gave evidence of decided piety. I
was about two years old at the time of his death, and can just remember to
have seen him sitting with a book in his hand and a crutch at his side.
youngest sister, was the next in order. At the age of 22 she was married
to John Purdie, a mason in Edinburgh. The next was called Robert. He
learned his father’s business, and at the age of 21, was married to the
only daughter of a respectable farmer in the parish. For some years he
carried on business in Airdrie, but being somewhat unsettled in his
disposition, he soon involved himself in difficulties, and lost the
property he had received from his father. He then went to London and
served some years in the King’s First Regiment of Horse Life Guards, for
which he was well fitted from his height, size, and respectable
appearance. Getting tired of military life, he procured his discharge,
came home to Airdrie and resumed his business. But things not going to his
mind, he soon gave it up and procured a commission in the Royal Artillery,
and went to Woolwich; where he remained some years. During this time he
joined the Engineer Department, and was one of the party who made the
Topographical Survey of Great Britain. He afterward afterward served under
the Duke of Wellington in Spain, where he died of fever, in 1810, leaving
a widow and four children in poverty.
William was the name of my youngest brother; but as he died before I was
born, it was bestowed upon me. At the age of 18 months he was carried off
by small pox, which before the discovery of vaccination was a very deadly
disease. It now only remains that I notice myself, lest no one do it for
me. The only reasons I can assign for writing at all on this subject are,
first, I felt a pleasure in doing so, because it carried me back through
scenes rendered interesting both by pleasure and pain. And next, I felt it
my duty to record the goodness of God towards me, both in Providence and
grace. I was led to it thus. One Sabbath evening, as I was reading the
VIII Chapter of Deuteronomy, the address of Moses to the Children of
Israel particularly engaged my attention. "Thou shalt remember all the
which the Lord thy God led thee, these forty years in the wilderness, to
humble thee and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether
thou wouldest keep his commandments or no." This led me to look back upon
my past life, and to admire the goodness of God to one so unworthy of his
care. My heavenly Father, in mercy to my soul, had led me to see the
unsatisfying nature of all earthly enjoyments, and to choose him as my
everlasting portion. I therefore, to prevent my losing these impressions,
determined to commit to writing a history of the principal circumstances
of my life, as far as they could still be remembered.
I was born at
Airdrie, parish of East Monkland, May 20th, 1780. Made a
subject of converting at 14; went to London in 1802; was married 13th
October the same year; went to Hoxton Academy in 1808; returned to
Scotland in 1810; went to Rothesay in November of the same year; attended
college in 1812, 1813, 1814 and 1815; ordained on 4th March
1817; sailed from Leith April 5, and landed at Quebec 1st June,
and reached Perth 24th June, 1817.
LIFE OF REV. WILLIAM BELL
Written by himself
MY FIRST YEAR –
register states that I was born 20th May, 1780. This event took
place, as I have been informed, at Airdrie, then a small village, in
Scotland. Of the first year of my life I have nothing to record. The
powers of my mind were then in a dormant state. I was scarcely conscious
of my own existence, and unable to do anything for my own support, or even
preservation. But at that helpless period I was under the care of a kind
Previdence. By which I was preserved in life, while others were hurried
out of the world before they knew anything of its nature or relations –
its joys or sorrows. He who forms the human heart had planted in the
breast of my parents a car and tenderness, well suited to my helpless
condition: so that I not only lived, but grew in strength and stature, and
became their favourite.
MY SECOND YEAR
Of the second
year of my life I recollect little more than of the first. I should not
indeed have known that I remembered anything, had not the death of my
brother John happened near the end of this year. Of him I still some faint
recollections. Though yet in a helpless state, the unseen hand of God
afforded me protection, so that I still increased in stature.
MY THIRD YEAR –
third year of my life I lost my paternal grandmother, who died at an
advance age, after a few days illness. She had lived many years in our
family before I was born. Her attentions to me, in my infant state, were
no doubt the cause of recollecting her, so distinctly, at this distance of
time. I remember being present when she was put in the coffin, and my
father asking me if I would like to go along with her. As I sat upon the
lap of one of the females present, whose name I still remember, I saw the
whiskey and the cakes handed round according to the absurd custom of these
times. I mention these things merely to show that the memory is capable of
retaining impressions at an earlier period than most people are aware.
conclusion of this year of my life, I began to discover an attachment to
books, which has continued to be a prominent feature of my character to
the present time. Without being set to it by anyone, I began to learn to
read; and I considered it a favour to get anyone to tell me the name of a
letter. At a later period, I have heard my mother say that, often when
solicited by other children to join in play, I declined, saying that I
preferred reading. I even became troublesome to my mother, when she was
busy, by my solicitude about learning to read, and by the number of
questions I put, respecting everything that come under my observation. At
the time little attention was paid to my inquiries, as I was considered
still to young even to learn to read. Since that time much light has been
thrown on the subject of teaching, and, under the training system, things
are better managed. Experience has proved that children not only may, but
ought to learn many other things before then learn to read. Early youth is
the most important period of life, and good impressions then made are
At the age of
three or four years, children have little idea of the nature of that world
of care and toil, upon which they are entering. They foolishly imagine
that the only obstacle to their prefect happiness, is the opposition mad e
to their wishes by their parents or others under whose care they are
placed. Nor is this error confined to childhood. Young people often
imagine, as they advance in life, that they might be happier than they
are, were it not for the restraints imposed by their parents. With warm
desires after happiness and the pleasures of life inviting their attention
they are led to suppose that, when they have arrived at maturity, and are
free to act for themselves, then perfect happiness will be enjoyed. How
applicable to all such are the following lines of Burns!
"Ye tiney elves
that guiltless sport,
Like linnets in the bush,
Ye little know the ills ye court,
When manhood is your wish;
The losses, the crosses,
That active man engage –
The fears of all, the tears of all,
Of dim declining age."
especially in their younger years, are fond of prying into futurity, and
finding out what is to happen to them in after life. But the future, in
personal matters, is wisely concealed from our view. Were we always to
know what is to befall us in our journey through life, hope, the main
spring of action, would be destroyed, and thousands would be driven to
MY FOURTH YEAR
To train up
children in the way they should go, is not only commanded in Scripture,
but sanctioned by the experience of the wise and good of every age. The
beneficial effects of early instruction, and good example, have often been
felt, and thankfully acknowledged in after life. The truth of this remark
is proved by my experience.
After the death
of my grandmother, I was generally under the care of my youngest sister,
who was seven or eight years older than myself. Her affection for me was
great; and she not only supplied my temporal wants, but laboured to instil
religious instruction into my tender mind. By every argument she could
think of, she recommended love to God and a holy life. She told me that
there was a life to come, in which the good would be happy and the bad
miserable. She described, as well as she was able, wherein the happiness
of the righteous in Heaven, and the misery of the wicked in Hell
consisted. Though the ideas I formed on these subjects were very
imperfect, yet the impression was strong that I ought to seek the one and
to avoid the other.
I do not
recollect that anything was said, at that time, about our need of the
righteousness of Christ, as the ground of our justification before God.
The probability is, my teacher herself was not then aware of the prominent
place which this doctrine ought always to have in all religious
instruction. Be this as it may, the impressions made on my mind had no
little influence, afterwards, in restraining me from vice, and leading me
to farther progress in religious knowledge.
I record these
things for the encouragement of all whose duty it is to impart religious
instruction to the young, and especially to children. Let parents and
guardians of youth, as they value the approbation of the Judge of all, and
the eternal interests of their precious charge, be instant in season and
out of season, to lead them to God as the portion of their souls – to
Christ as the only Saviour – and to the Holy Spirit as their only Guide
and comforter. Though no good effect should immediately appear, yet, by
the blessing of God, the good seed sown in the youthful mind may, and
often does, spring up long afterwards, producing abundant fruit to the
praise and glory of God.
persavored in my endeavours to acquire the art of reading; and, at a busy
time, was sent to school a few days with my brother Robert, to have me out
of the way. On entering the school I felt uncomfortable at seeing so many
strange faces, and hearing so much noise; and I absolutely refused to sit
anywhere but along with my brother. The cause of my being sent to school
being removed, I was again permitted to remain at home, which afforded me
the greatest pleasure. Not that I disliked learning, but because of the
noisy and unruly conduct of the scholars was so disagreeable to me, that I
heartily hated the place.
their heedlessness and inexperience are often exposed to the greatest
dangers, and of these I had my share. Before the end of this year I had
two narrow escapes from death – the one from poison – the other from
drowning. My mother had been dying some articles of dress, and happened to
leave a bottle on the table when she went out, containing nitric acid, or
aqua fortis. It looked so very like a bottle from which my father had
given me a very nice cordial, when I was sick, some time before, that I
thought it was the same. Without dreading any danger, I lost no time in
take a mouthful of the liquid. What a horrid sensation it produced! My
mouth, throat and stomach seemed to be all on fire. To allay the pain, I
ran and drank cold water, and thus probably save my life. My thirst soon
became intolerable, and still I drank more water. At this time there was
no one in the house but myself; and fearful of the consequences I was
anxious to conceal what I had done.
It was some
time before my mother came in; and when she did come, though I was in
great pain, I endeavoured to compose myself as much as possible, that she
might not suspect what had happened. She soon observed, however, by my
spitting and frequently drinking water, that there was something wrong,
and asked me what was the matter. I admitted that I was unwell, but did
not tell her from what cause. Probably some suspicion had crossed her
mind, for she did then what she ought to have done before; pointing to the
bottle, she charged me, in strong terms, not to touch or go near it, as
the liquid it contained was deadly poison. After what I had suffered,
there was no danger of my taking another mouthful, for burnt children
dread the fire; but it would have been better if she had not left it
within my reach.
ought to be very careful never to leave poisonous articles accessible to
children, least they lose their lives by this means. From this little
incident instructions may be drawn. My case presents a picture of the
effects of all sinful gratifications. They appear fascinating and
tempting. They promise pleasure, but they produce nothing but pain.
My rescue from
drowning I shall now relate. One Sabbath afternoon my brother Robert and I
had gone to walk in the garden. From this we went to an adjoining field,
where there was a pond of water. Numbers of small black insects, which we
used to call weavers, from their motions, were sporting on the surface.
Reaching too far over the to catch one of these, I fell into the water,
and as it was deep, I no doubt would have been drowned had not my father
also been in the garden, and hearing my brother cry, came to my relief. As
I had been some time in the water, I was not sensible when, or by what
means, I was taken out; but, when I recovered, I found myself in bed.
Being under the care of my brother, at the time the accident happened, he
received some correction for neglecting his charge.
escape from death gave me no concern at the time, but it has since led me
to reflect seriously what would have been my fate had I died at that time.
Till ten years after this, I cannot say that I had ever experienced the
power of converting grace. But, taking a different view of the subject, I
should have escaped my cares, griefs and toils, which I have had to
undergo. But I should no then have had the opportunity of seeing the
wonderous works of the Lord in the land of the living. I should not, in
that case, have known anything of the conflict between the flesh and the
spirit, which every child of God experiences. To die then would have been
in some respects desirable, but we are unfit judges in these matters. My
God, who has made, preserved, and redeemed me, knows best what is for his
glory and my good, and to his will I am resigned. If my spared life can be
in any way the means of promoting his glory, or the best interests of my
fellow creatures, I shall rejoice, whatever I may be called to endure in
MY FIFTH YEAR –
In our journey
through life, dangers attend us on every hand. In the past year I had two
narrow escapes from death, and in this I had one no less remarkable. One
evening being in the kitchen with my brother Robert, it came into his head
to take down and examine an old gun which hung against the ceiling, and
had not been used for some years. It was not supposed to be loaded, and
therefore no danger was apprehended from it. But this was a mistake; for,
upon pulling the trigger, it fired a heavy shot, which lodged in a door
and shattered on of the panels. The barrel of the gun was in my hands at
the time, as it lay across my knees, but the moment before it was against
my side. Here was a remarkable instance of the care of divine Providence;
but, as in the former instances, it was soon forgotten or overlooked.
Though I had
never been more than one week at school, yet, by the occasional lessons I
got from my mother, and my own endeavours, before I had completed my fifth
year, I was able to read the New Testament. At this time, that is in the
spring of 1785, I and the rest of the family removed to Blackburn, a small
village 16 miles south east from Airdrie, and 18 west from Edinburgh. The
circumstances which led to this change were these.
before I was born, George Moncrief Esq., a rich West India planter, came
from Jamaica and purchased the estate of Airdrie, an extensive property
from which the neighbouring village originally took its name. The mansion
house being an old fashioned edifice, he determined to have it rebuilt in
modern style. My father being recommended to him, as a suitable person to
prepare plans and superintend the work, was accordingly engaged. Thus a
connection, or rather a friendship, was formed between them, which lasted
till the old gentleman’s death, which happened many years afterwards. My
father not only rebuilt the mansion house, but most of the farmhouses upon
the estate. Soon after these works were finished, the proprietor sold the
whole estate to a Mr. Aitcheson, and purchased a more extensive on at
Blackburn. In this, as in the former case, both the mansion and the
farmhouses were out of repair. He therefore had them all pulled down and
rebuilt, my father being employed as before.
On the river
Almond, which runs through the Blackburn estate, there are several mills;
and, at a convenient place near one of these, he was tempted to erect a
distillery. This was the effect of his former habits; a distillery, for
the manufacture of rum, being found on all sugar estates in the West
Indies. After the building was finished, he induced my father, though much
against his inclination, to join with him in carrying on the work. At the
end of two years, during which I was born, he had become so disgusted with
the employment that he gave it up, though at a great sacrifice of
property, and returned to Airdrie, where the family had still remained.
Everything here made him made him sensible of the error he had committed.
He found his little farm out of order, the buildings out of repair, and
his business taken up by others, to say nothing of a large sum lost by the
concern at Blackburn. By industry and perseverance all these evils might
have been overcome, but he resisted a temptation which, three years
afterwards, was placed before him by the same person.
change having taken place in the excise laws, Mr. Moncrief, about the
beginning of 1785, wrote my father urging him in strong terms again to
undertake the management of the distillery, which had still remained
unemployed, since he left it three years before. At first he refused to
have anything more to do with it; and would to God he had continued to do
so. But the solicitations of his friend and benefactor, and the tempting
offers he made of advancing all the money necessary, at last prevailed. An
arrangement was made for a partnership of two years and in a short time
our whole family removed to Blackburn.
Here a new
scene opened my view. A new place, new faces and new employments, engaged
my attention. Temperance societies were then unknown, and no one, at that
time, had ever hinted that making or selling ardent spirits was either a
dangerous or a disreputable employment. They were regarded as among the
first necessaries of life, and indispensable articles in every family. The
sight of a person drunk, was considered a matter of course; and had anyone
ventured to predict the temperance reformation of the present day, he
would have been pronounced a fool or an enthusiast.
manufacture of spirits, it is next to impossible to get or keep servants
perfectly sober. As they have them constantly within, reach, the will be
tasting, and if they once drink moderately, they soon drink desperately.
This was one of the worst of places to bring up a family; yet here was I
placed for more than two years, at the very time when better examples were
soon after I went to the place, I accompanied my brother Robert to the
cellar, to fetch some spirits. While there he very imprudently gave me, or
allowed me to drink some strong gin, which soon made me giddy, and
afterwards sick, so that my mother had to put me to bed. This circumstance
had one good effect, though not from good management, for I could not
afterwards, for some weeks, bear the sight of ardent spirits of any kind,
and ever after I regarded them with horror, as something to be dreaded.
MY SIXTH YEAR –
At Blackburn my
education was much neglected. Most of the boys with whom I had the
opportunity of associating were both rude and ignorant. I was not then
aware of the danger to which I was exposed, from their evil example, but I
have often thought of it since, with wonder it the goodness of God, which
led me to hate their wicked ways, rather than follow them. Some of my
associates were guilty of swearing, lying, and Sabbath breaking, and other
vices, practiced by boys whose morals are neglected by their parents. I am
not aware that I ever practiced any of these vices in consequence of being
sometimes in their company, but I undoubtedly received no benefit from
their example. From the unpleasant feelings which I sometimes experienced
in their society, it was evident that the moral precepts I had learned at
an early period had not yet lost their influence. I was guilty of no
crime, and yet I was uneasy in my mind for I felt that my nature was
sinful. My parents wished and endeavoured to bring me up in the nurture
and admonition of the Lord; but, from the circumstances in which they were
at this time placed, I was seldom under their eye.
still my delight, though I had few books besides the Scriptures. In them I
sometimes read from ten to fifteen chapters in a day, though I understood
imperfectly what I did read. The advantages of Sabbath school I did not
then enjoy, either for the instructions they afford, or the books they
furnish. These were reserved for following generations. There was a day
school half a mile distant, and to this it was deemed advisable to send
me. But here I was not happy, for the noise and nonsense, which there
prevailed, were not at all to my taste. Sometimes, when I was alone, I was
ready to cry with vexation that I was not permitted to remain at home, and
pursue my studies without molestation.
conscience is a miserable companion, many have experienced; but few have
had courage to make it known to the world. One day, on going into the
kitchen, I observed a large heap of halfpence on the dresser. Seeing no
one present, and being just then in want of a copper for some purpose, and
thinking that one out of so many would not be missed, I was tempted to
take it. Whether it was missed or not, I never knew; but, conscious of
doing what was wrong, I was very unhappy for some time, and resolved to be
more honest in my future conduct.
MY SEVENTH YEAR
weather, much of my leisure time was employed in fishing, for which I had
here the finest opportunity. A river, well stored with fish, ran close by
my father’s residence, which almost daily drew me to its banks in pursuit
of its finny inhabitants. An amusement innocent in itself may sometimes be
continued too long, or pursued at an improper time. It was so in my case,
as will be seen from the following account.
I had received
from an acquaintance a young hawk, which I usually fed with small fish.
One Sunday, when the greater part of our family were at church, I went to
feed the bird; when I found that all the fish I had provided on the
previous day were gone. To procure a present supply, I went down into the
stream behind the small mill, to catch a few minnows with my hands. While
thus employed, I observed that the water came down too fast, and hindered
my work. On going up to the sluice to ascertain the cause, I found that it
did not fit quite close at the bottom. To remedy this defect I threw in
some ashes that lay near, which stopped the leak, and thus I was enabled,
in a few minutes, to catch as many fish as I wanted for my present
purpose. But I was not then aware of the mischief I had done.
From the place
where I threw in the ashes there went a pipe, which conducted a constant
supply of water to the worm vat, in the still house. Unfortunately for me,
some of the ashes were carried into this pipe and stopped it up. This
being ascertained, on Monday morning, when the men began work, my father
was informed, and he set on foot a strict inquiry who had thrown the ashes
into the sluice. I being questioned among others, after some hesitation,
acknowledged that I was the offender, but in my fright stated the reason
why I had done it, as an excuse for the act. But this, so far from being
admitted as a justification, was considered an aggravation of my crime;
and I not only received a suitable correction from my father, but a
lecture on the guilt of profaning the Sabbath. I was so overwhelmed with
grief and shame, at what I had done, that I never forgot the circumstance,
not the admonition that I had received.
remained at Blackburn, we had no church nearer than Livingstone, which was
three miles off. On this account, those who attended public worship were
absent a great part of the day. Sometimes my brother Robert and I were the
only persons left at home. On some of the occasions, one or two boys of
our acquaintances, whose parents were at church, would call upon us; and,
when this happened, the time was too often spent in unprofitable
conversation, or something worse. One day they had dressed our large watch
dog in a fantastic style, and were marching him about for amusement, when
my brother Andrew came home, quite unexpectedly. The reproof he gave us
was coupled with a sound drubbing, when he found how we had been employed.
I cannot say, however, that I ever willingly engaged in these proceedings.
occasion, when the Sabbath was spent, by the others, in a way that I
considered unsuitable, I was so grieved that I slipt out and went too some
distance, there, falling on my knees, I prayed earnestly that God would
preserve me from folly and sin, and be my friend and protector through
On my return,
Robert asked me where I had been, and what I had been doing. At first I
endeavoured to avoid the question, but when he insisted on an answer, I
told him that I had been praying. He appeared to be somewhat affected by
my answer, and commended my conduct.
I would here
remark, that parents ought to be very cautious what company their children
keep, and especially how they spend the Sabbath day. It is not sufficient
that we be properly employed ourselves, we must also see that they are
properly employed ourselves, we must also see that they are properly
employed. They should either be taken to a place of worship along with
their parents, or be left under the care of some person on whom they can
I may here
mention a circumstance which, though trifling in itself, serves to show
the injustice to which children are sometimes exposed form false
accusations. A boy who sat next to me school, much older than I, had spilt
some ink from a small bottle which hung from a button of his coat. I
observed it and told him what had happened; but instead of thanking me for
the information, he charged me with having spilt the ink. I of course
denied the charge, and with some indignation, but the master having come
to inquire that we were disputing about, the boy asserted so positively
that I was the aggressor, that I confounded at this impudent mendacity,
burst into tears. This was at once pronounced as evidence of my guilt, and
though my accuser was well known to be a liar, and though I still declared
my innocence, I was at once condemned to pay for ink enough to fill the
glass, which cost just one farthing.
afternoon I paid the fine without saying one word; but I ever afterwards
heartily despised both my accuser and my judge. Acts of injustice, upon a
much larger scale, are sometimes practiced, leaving a strong impressions
on the minds of these who suffer by them.
Before the end
of this year, I again nearly lost my life by drowning. Being at play with
another boy, near the flume, while the malt mill was going, in reaching to
catch something that was floating on the water, I fell in. As this was
only a few yards from the large wheel, I was carried down by the stream,
and the next minute would have been crushed to death, had not one of the
men, just at that moment, been passing by, who seeing the accident ran to
my assistance, and laid hold of me in time to save my life… The current
was strong, and would soon have carried me beyond the reach of help. But
it was the will of God that my life should be spared, and that was
sufficient to snatch me from the jaws of death.
About the end
of harvest, I was attacked with measles, but my illness, though severe,
was not dangerous. I remember little more of the circumstance, than that I
was confined about a week to bed, and that my food, during that time, had
a very unpleasant taste.
MY EIGHTH YEAR
In the course
of my eighth year, Andrew, my eldest brother, was taken ill with typhus
fever, and died in his 23rd year, in the prime of life, and
vigour of youth, much regretted by all who knew him. He have ever been a
comfort to his parents, and much respected by all his friends. He gave
early indications of a superior mind; but what was infinitely better, he
loved God supremely, and delighted in all duties of religion.
sister and he generally attended the ministry of the Rev. John Brown of
Whitburn, our parish minister being a very dry one. Andrew, on Sabbath
evenings, after he came home, often wrote out the sermons he had heard,
nearly verbatim. These manuscripts my father, with a melancholy pleasure,
sometimes read to the family, on Sabbath evenings, after the writer was in
I was much
affected by my brother’s death at the time; but being too young long to
remember it, the impression soon wore off. On the first Sabbath evening
after the funeral, my father, after family worship, which he always
observed morning and evening, when at home, gave us all a very serious
exhortation to improve time, and to prepare for death. He reminded us that
neither youth nor health was any security against the attacks of disease
and death, as we had seen in the case of our brother who had just left us,
he trusted for a better world. His sober and religious life, and happy and
triumphant death, were both comforts and encouragements to us all.
death-bed he talked much on religious subjects, and was often engaged in
fervent prayer. To all my father said, I listened attentively, and
resolved to devote myself to God, and to seek happiness in his favour and
service. Influenced by these resolutions, and by the example of the other
members of the family, I began to engage daily in secret devotion, which I
never afterwards altogether laid aside.
Soon after my
brother’s death, my father determined to give up the laborious and
troublesome employment in which he was engaged, and again return to the
care and cultivation of his own property at Airdrie. He had quitted it,
contrary to both his inclination and his interest, to oblige a gentleman
to whom he was under many obligations, and for whom he entertained the
highest respect. But he now found, to his cost, that his complaisance in
this instance had been carried too far already, and he resolved to carry
it no further.
residence at Blackburn, which was about two years and a half, I do not
recollect to have been more then twice in a place of public worship. This
no doubt arose from my youth, and our distance from the parish church, the
nearest we had, and that was three miles distant. These, however, were not
insuperable obstacles, and ought not to have prevented my attendance.
Children ought to attend public worship, along with their parents, at an
early period, that they may hear the doctrines of the gospel explained,
and grow up under their influence. Public instruction should be seconded
by private admonition, and the blessing of God earnestly impleted upon all
the means of instruction which they enjoy.
For some time,
after our return to Airdrie, I recollect nothing worthy of notice. The
place, and the society which it afforded, appeared to me to be very
insipid. The more so, no doubt, that I had left Blackburn with some
regret. The field around it were the scene of my youthful amusements, the
river side my daily resort. My first ideas had been there, formed, and
there, free from the cares of more advanced life, I had enjoyed many of
the pleasures of innocent youth.
At Airdrie I
was sent to school, but with little advantage with in pleasure or profit.
Mr. Downie, the teacher, was too quiet and good natured for his office,
and his goodness often abused by his noisy and turbulent pupils. The
discipline of the school was extremely lax; and, like the Israelites of
old, when without a ruler, every one did that which was right in his own
eyes. There, as in many other schools, the highest ambition of many was to
cheat the master, not considering that they were cheating themselves out
of both their time and improvement. My stay, however, at this seat of
learning was not of long continuance. During the following winter my
father employed some of his leisure evenings in learning my brother and me
to write and cipher.
MY NINTH YEAR –
year little happened to me worthy of notice. The only education I received
was from my father, but he had seldom leisure to attend to me. Books were
still my companions, and I read with avidity all that fell in my way. My
father’s library was but small, consisting of a bout a dozen volumes and a
few pamphlets, mostly on religious subjects. But when ever any money fell
to my lot, it was sure to be laid out on books. When that supply failed, I
had recourse to borrowing and a strange set I sometimes obtained by that
means. Take he following as a specimen: Satan’s Invisible World
Discovered; Hocus Pocus, or Legerdemain; the History of the Haveral Wives;
The Exploits of Sir William Wallace, of George Buchanan, of Lotnian Tom,
of the Seven Champions of Christendom with many others of a similar
character. Every well-wisher to the human family must rejoice, that the
trash put into the hands of children in those days by hawkers and
peddlers, are supplanted by the useful tracts and books furnished by
religious tract societies.
church was little more than a mile distant, and there I attended regularly
with my father and mother and the rest of the family; but these public
services afforded me little of either pleasure or profit. I understood
little of what was said, and my mind, with the eyes of the fool, was often
wandering to the ends of the earth. To me it was merely a bodily service,
and I was generally very glad when it was over.
however, occasioned me no little uneasiness. On Sabbath evenings my father
generally asked us, all round, what we remembered of the sermons we had
heard during the day. This, to me, was anything but a pleasant exercise,
and often rendered the Sabbath the most irksome day in the week. The plain
and easy instructions of the Sabbath School are now far better fitted for
children, at my age, than sermons, composed in correct style and classical
language. Most children at first find it very difficult to comprehend
abstract ideas and the doctrines of religion are all more or less of this
nature. Teachers and preachers would be far more useful than they are, if
they would keep in mind that they themselves have been children, and that
such is at least a part of their audience.
To an unrenewed
mind the duties of religion are no less disagreeable than its doctrines.
Several times, when I thought that it would pass unobserved by the rest of
the family, I neglected secret prayer. One time my father observed this,
and asked me what was the reason. Having no excuse to offer, I was much
ashamed, and resolved to be more punctual in future.
MY TENTH YEAR –
Some time in
this year a proposal was made to have a subscription library established
in the village. A meeting was held and arrangements were made. This
library proved a great benefit to many. To it I am indebted for much of
that information, on many important subjects, which I required at that
early period. I shall always feel thankful to God for the opportunities of
improvement thus afforded me.
At this time,
circulating libraries were beginning to be quite common in Scotland, not
only in towns, but in country places. Stimulated by the laudable example
of other, a few of the principal inhabitants, of my village, met for the
purpose of establishing one in Airdrie. At the first meeting forty persons
entered their names as members, and paid half a guinea each as entrance
money. Books were then cheap, so that twenty guineas went a great way; and
the original stock was quickly increased by the accession of new members.
A quarterly payment of sixpence too, from each member, made farther
additions, and was but little felt. My father was at the first meeting;
when he returned, he told me that seeing I was so fond of books, he had
taken a share in the new library expressly for me. This
intelligence was most acceptable, and I felt as happy as if I had been
declared the heir to a large estate.
As soon as I
heard that the Books were come, I hastened to the librarian, and obtained
one; and, so desirous was I of learning its contents, that I read all the
way going home. Nor was this merely a reading fit, that had seized me at
the moment, and soon passed away. From that day to this, all my leisure
hours have been employed in reading or writing; so that, in my younger
years, I was less engaged in the follies of youth than most at my age, and
was at the same time laying in a stock of useful knowledge.
not grudge a few shillings, or even pounds, expended on books, or the
education of their children; for these, if judiciously employed, may be
more real advantage, both to themselves and others, that an estate, when
connected with ignorance.
But, while I
was thus acquiring temporal knowledge, I must confess that the knowledge
of God, and of the way of salvation was much neglected. Though I had a
form of religion, I still knew little of its power. Any serious
impressions made upon my mind, at an early period, had now in a great
measure vanished. My goodness, like that of Ephraim, was the morning cloud
and the early dew, had passed away. The time of my spiritual emancipation,
from the snares of Satan, had not yet arrived.
beginning of harvest I was visited with small pox, at that time raging in
the neighbourhood, and carrying many children to the grave. Doctor
Jenner’s vaccine discovery had not been then made. I had been inoculated,
for the small pox, when only eighteen months old; but though the matter
took effect, not more than three or four postules made their appearance.
Now, however, I had the disorder in good earnest, and few who saw me
expected that I would recover. So great was my sickness and pain, that I
had neither patience nor inclination to think of the state of my soul.
What madness it is, to put off repentance in the time of health; and
expect to make our peace with God upon a sick bed, or on a death-bed! The
mind is then either impatient with pain, distracted with alarm, or sinks
into a state of insensibility. Sickness and death need the support of
religion, but it is that religion which is deliberately chosen, in health
and prosperity, for its own sake, not that to which we are driven from the
fear of punishment.
YEAR – 1790
My father at
this time, as well as some years before and after, carried on his business
in connection with his little farm; and about one or the other of these I
was generally employed. The garden, however, was that in which I took the
greatest pleasure. I delighted in making experiments, and obtained a piece
of ground from my father expressly for that purpose. This I turned to so
good account that the rest of the garden was, in a measure, left to my
evening, when I was reading at the fire side, no other being present
besides my father and mother, the former asked me what trade I wished to
learn. After some hesitation I told him that I wanted to be a carpenter.
He said that was not surprising, as children generally preferred following
their father’s business, but it would be wrong in my case, as there were
other employments far more eligible and he believed far more profitable.
What he said, however, in favour of some other trade made no impression
upon me, as it was evident we viewed the subject in very different lights.
He wished me to follow what was most profitable, while I consulted nothing
but my inclination. At that period of life it appeared to me perfectly
absurd for any one, merely for the sake of gain, to follow employment he
did not prefer. I had the prospect of receiving as much of the patrimonial
inheritance as would set me up in business, and I would have regarded it
next to madness to enter up a trade I did not like, merely because it was
more profitable than some others.
MY TWELFTH YEAR
Still I was
engaged in my father’s business. I was neither stout in person, nor strong
in health; but, being very industrious, I always found plenty of
employment. Perhaps it would have been better for me to have been kept at
school, as I was then losing the fittest season for improving my
education. My own endeavours, however, were not wanting. My evenings, and
all other times I could spare, were devoted to reading, and other means of
improvement. I attended also to the external duties of religion, but they
afforded me little comfort, for I did not love God with all my
heart. I felt that something about my religion was wrong, but I could not
tell what. I had strong desires after a happiness which no earthly
business or amusement could afford, but did not know where to find it. No
wonder. I had yet to learn that nothing but God can be a satisfying
portion for the soul; and that it can never feel truly at home till it
rest in the bosom of redeeming love.
About this time
I felt a strong inclination to be a minister of religion, but did not
mention it to any one for fear of being laughed at for my presumption; for
such I had no doubt it would be considered. Another reason for concealing
my wish was that, in my younger years, on account of my love of reading,
my sisters had often called me the little minister, a name I that I
by no means relished.
But the most
important circumstance in my life, during this year, at least what I
considered so at the time, was my affection for a girl on a visit of some
weeks to our family. She was some years older than myself, but this seemed
to make no difference. She was pretty, at least in my eyes, and appeared
to be the most amiable of the human family, so that I became greatly
attached to her, for her company and conversation afforded me the greatest
delight. It was too great indeed to last. To my great sorrow she soon
returned to her father’s house, in a distant part of the country, and I
saw her no more.
YEAR – 1792
What my views
and thoughts, on religious subjects, were at this time, I can scarcely now
recollect; and, as I kept no written record, they cannot now be recalled.
This I remember, however, that being convinced that neither my thoughts
nor actions were altogether what they ought to be, I often resolved to
watch over both more carefully in future. Being ignorant of the
righteousness of Christ, I went about to establish a righteousness of my
own. But this brought no joy to my soul, and no peace to my conscience. On
looking back on my past life, I found that such resolutions of amendment
had often been made, and as often broken. I was fond of society, but could
find none that afforded me any satisfaction. I was often disgusted with
the trifling conduct, and the vain conversation of the youths with whom I
associated, and longed for society of a more congenial kind.
YEAR – 1793
important period in my life had now arrived, a period never to be
forgotten. I shall ever think of the change I have now to record with the
deepest emotion, not only in time, but, I trust, through the ages of
The sermons I
heard, and the word of God which I read had, for some time, been producing
in my mind serious concern about the salvation of my soul. I had become
deeply sensible of my guilt, both by nature and practice, before God, and
saw my need of pardon of sin, and peace to my conscience.
conduct, before the world, had indeed been correct, but I was conscious
that my heart was not right with God. I knew that his law extends words,
and even thoughts, as well as actions. He had required me to love him with
all my heart, but I felt that, instead of doing so, my carnal mind was
full of enmity against him and opposed to vital goodness. I was convinced
that, if I died in this state, I should be lost for ever; but I knew not
how to obtain deliverance, nor where to look for assistance. Yet I was
aware that something must be done to obtain relief.
course, in all such cases, occurred to my mind as the best I could pursue.
Accordingly, I determined to be very circumspect in my conduct, and
punctual in the performance of bring peace to my mind. Thus I fell into
the too common error of seeking acceptance with God through the deeds of
the law, though plainly told in the word of God that, by the deeds of the
law, shall no flesh be justified in his sight.
comfort from this course, I began to think that there was something
radically defective in my religion. I knew that repentance was necessary
to salvation, and I endeavoured to repent, but found it impossible to turn
my heart unto God. I tried to make my way perfect, but it was like making
clean the outside platter while the inside was unclean as before. I was
ready to say with Paul, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me
from the body of this death?" I wished for some friend to whom I could
freely open my mind, and who could give me good advice. But I knew of none
with whom I could take this liberty. The young of my acquaintance were to
giddy, and the old were too severe.
In this state
of perplexity I resolved to read the Bible through, carefully observing
every duty it recommended, for I felt convinced that there was some
doctrine, or some duty, connected with religion, or a religious life, of
which I was still ignorant. I felt my heart hard, impenitent, and ignorant
of God; and this grieved me so much that I often wept over it when no eye
saw me but that of God. I often though of the happiness of those who
enjoyed communion with God, and I would have given the world, had it been
mine, to share in their felicity. But I felt my heart so hard, and my will
so rebellious, that I feared that true repentance was never to be my lot.
It appeared to me that nothing could soften my heart but some great
affliction, either personal or relative, and I almost wished for some
calamity that it might have this effect.
Such was the
state of mind when I heard a sermon, preached by the Rev. Ebenezer Hislop
of Shotts, which greatly assisted, informed, and relieved me. The preacher
pointed out the inefficiency of all our own endeavours to repent, without
a reliance upon the assistance and the grace of God. He clearly proved to
my mind, that every endeavour to justify ourselves, by our own
righteousness in the sight of God, was only sinking us deeper in the mire.
This information came like music to my ears, for it clearly pointed out
the error into which I had fallen. I listened with great attention and
deep interest, for what I heard seemed quite new to me, though I had often
heard it before. I had heard it, indeed, but now I felt it,
and it came with the demonstration of the Spirit, and with power from on
This sent me
with more earnestness to the throne of God’s grace, that I might obtain
mercy and find grace to help me in the time of need. But still I was not
sufficiently humbled before God. I wanted to share the honour my salvation
with Christ. I still expected to do something, and leave him to do
darkness was now past and the true light began to shine. I was still
driven out of all my refuges of lies, one after another, till I took
refuge in Christ, as the only foundation of a sinner’s hope, as the only
shelter from the storm, and covert from the tempest of God’s wrath.
Near the end of
this year I heard a sermon preached at Hipburn, by the Rev. Fairlie of
Glasgow, from which I received great benefit, in the way of throwing light
upon the plan of salvation. His text led him to speak of the righteousness
of Christ, as the only ground of our justification before God. His
doctrine was exactly suited to my case, and his language was plain and
affecting. He made it quite plain and affecting. He made it quite plain to
me that I had been endeavouring to cover myself with the filthy rags of my
own righteousness, while I neglected the pure and spotless robe of the
Redeemer’s righteousness, the only one that could render me acceptable in
the sight of God.
From this time
I had more correct views of the way of salvation, through the mercy of God
and the merits of Jesus Christ; and I began to taste its happy fruits.
Prayer, which before had been a task, now afforded me mush spiritual
enjoyment. In pouring out the desires of my soul, with many tears, into
the bosom of my heavenly Father, I enjoyed a peach that passeth all
understanding. I now felt myself at liberty to enter into a personal
covenant with God, and solemnly to devote myself to him, to be his only,
wholly, and for ever.
I trust my God
ratified in Heaven what I thus did in his name, and in his fear, upon
earth; for a sweet relish of that transaction remains upon my heart to
this day. I had indeed before this given my heart to God, but it seemed to
be with some kind of reserve, but now I was enabled to give it to him
wholly; and it grieved me that I could not love him more, and serve him
better. This was the day of my espousals to Christ, and I have never once
repented of the choice I then made.
conclude this interesting portion of my history, I may record a
circumstance that happened a few months before, at a time when I was in
great anxiety of mind. One evening when I had been thinking seriously on
the state of my soul, the impression on my mind was strong that I must
either be in Heaven or Hell for ever, and that, judging from my present
feeling, the latter was far more likely to be my portion that the former.
This led me to pray fervently that, if God was pleased to give me eternal
life in Heaven at last, he would now give me some token or foretaste of
it, so that I might be relieved from my present perplexing uncertainty.
That night I had very pleasant dreams, in which I saw the heavenly host,
and I listened to the song of the redeemed; but so obscurely that I am
prevented from giving a particular account of what I saw and heard. The
effect, however, was delightful; and I awoke in the morning in the
happiest state of mind I had ever experienced. Even the remembrance of
that night is, to the present hour, peculiarly pleasing.
YEAR – 1794
greater part of this year I wrought with my father at his business, rather
as a matter of course, than from any previous arrangement.
Near the end of
winter, my only surviving brother, Robert, was married, and went to a
house of his own. This was something in my favour. We had, for some years,
slept in the same room, and our employments had brought us much together;
but our dispositions were not similar and he sometimes treated me in a
harsh and unkind manner. Society is very pleasant when it is to our taste,
but in this case I found it more pleasant to be alone.
At this time
our parish church was the only place of worship we had in the parish. Here
the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was celebrated, every year, on the
third Sabbath of June. Early in the spring my father, when giving me some
advice on religious subjects, said he thought it was my duty now to join
the communion of the church. The proposal was most agreeable to me; yet,
if I had not been so advised, it is probable I might have deferred this
step some time longer.
On a day
appointed by our minister, the Rev. Mr. Freebairn, I went to be examined
by him, as to my fitness to be admitted to this holy ordinance; and the
manner in which this was performed both surprised and vexed me. Two young
women applied at the same time, and were examined along with me. He merely
asked one or two questions, from the Shorter Catechism, at each of us, and
on or two more arising from them; but said nothing about practical and
experimental religion. He then prayed and dismissed us, saying that public
notice would be give when we were to be examined again. This being his
first communion, since he came to the parish, the number of new
communicants was large, probably not less than fifty. On the Saturday
before the sacrament, after public worship was over, we were all admitted,
and our names enrolled, without any farther examination. This both
mortified and disappointed me. I had both wished and expected to be more
fully examined and instructed in the nature of religion, and especially of
personal religion. I had indeed given my whole heart and affections, fully
and freely, to God; but my difficulty still was, that I had not so clear a
view of the method of salvation, and of the doctrines of the
gospel, as I wished to have.
At the Lord’s
table I was much affected with the condescention of God with the grace of
Christ, but I had not the same clear view of a personal interest in the
Saviour I have had since. In my preparation for this ordinance, I received
much comfort and instruction from Willison’s writings on the sacraments.
YEAR – 1795
A short time
before this the London Missionary Society had been organized, and they
were not fitting out their first expedition for the South Sea Islands. I
had always taken the Evangelical Magazine, from its commencement, and when
I read in that excellent publication the amount of the preparations and
departure of the first missionaries to Otaheite, and other islands in that
neighbourhood, my heart warmed with love to the cause in which they were
these men the happiest upon earth, even if they should lose their lives
while executing their mission. One day, when meditating on this subject,
at my daily employment, I began to think how happy I should be were it my
lot to be a minister of Christ. At that time, however, it appeared to be
an object of desire, rather than of exception.
From what has
since taken place, it might have been an advantage to me, had I then been
permitted to pursue my studies for the work in which I have since engaged.
But God does all things well, and I do not regret that He has
ordered it otherwise. Supreme in wisdom as in power – The rock of ages
stands … Though Him thou canst not see nor trace the working of his hands
– Even at that time I committed the care of all my affairs, temporal and
spiritual, to my Heavenly Father; and I trust he has brought me by the way
best fitted to promote his glory and my happiness.
sometimes I enjoyed seasons of communion with God, yet I often had cause
to lament the coldness of my affections, and the wandering of my thoughts.
I had found by experience that my soul could find rest no where but in
God, yet my foolish heart often sought happiness in the trifling
amusements of this world.
On a Sabbath
evening, just before going to bed, and after I had in prayer committed
myself to the care of my heavenly Father, I composed the following lines,
which describe the state of my mind at the time.
purposed to amend,
And wisdom’s ways again to try.
Lord, do thou grace and mercy send,
And in Thy strength may I rely.
I’ve droft a penitential tear,
Mine eyes to Heaven I’ve cast,
To Jesus whom I love so dear,
By Him may I be save at last.
It was often a
cause of grief to me that my heart was so prone to wander away from God.
But in his mercy he always, by some means or other, brought me back to the
chief Shepherd and Bishop of my soul. So that I could say Jesus sought me
when a stranger, - Wand’ring from the fold of God.
About this time
I began to keep a diary, which was continued for some years afterwards;
but, when I went to London, in 1802, it was not only discontinued, but all
I had previously written was lost. Had that been preserved, I would now be
better able to give an account of what then took place. But, having
nothing but memory to assist me, I can only record a few particulars; and
even these will be far less interesting to others than they are to me.
All this time I
continued to pursue my business with persevering industry. I never allowed
myself to be idle. The day was spent in labour, the evening at my books,
or in my garden. Inactivity was a fault with which I could not be justly
charged. With a disposition to be employed, I always found plenty to do.
Idle habits, when indulged, have led thousands to ruin. Someone has called
idleness the Devil’s workshop, and very properly, for, when he finds any
one idle, he generally puts work into his hands. Those who give their
children a good education, and train them to industrious habits, put them
in a fairer way of being happy in themselves and useful to others, than if
they left them large estates without these advantages.
It often caused
me much regret that I had no serious friend, about my own age, to whom I
could freely communicate my thoughts on religious subjects. I delighted in
society, when I could get any to my taste; but the worldly, vain, and
worse than useless conversation, in which most seemed inclined to engage,
disgusted me exceedingly. It surprised me not a little to find that, of
the persons with whom I associated, though most of them made a profession
of religion, they, almost without exception, seemed unwilling to enter
conversations on religious subjects. In going to the church, and returning
from it on the Sabbath, the conversation too frequently turned upon the
news of the day, or some other subject equally unsuitable. If any one
introduced a serious observation, the silence, or cold looks of his fellow
travellers, soon informed him that the subject was not agreeable, or
perhaps he found, on looking up, that his company had left him.
extravagance of my brother having involved my father in pecuniary
difficulties, from which I expected to suffer, the best understanding was
not always maintained between us. This often gave me great uneasiness, but
as I wished to avoid all cause of dispute, I proposed to my father that I
leave him and shift for myself. Young as I was, I had acquired sufficient
knowledge of my business to enable me to make my way in the world. But to
this proposal he would not agree.
Finding that I
could not obtain his consent, and believing that sometimes I was not well
used, both by my brother and him, I resolved to take my departure
secretly. Accordingly, one morning, long before day, I slipt out and took
the road to Glasgow, which I soon reached with nothing but the clothes I
wore, and a few shillings in my pocket. In the course of the day I
obtained work, and tools from my employer, till I could get my own. Though
I felt very comfortable in this place, I remained only a fortnight. Having
written to my father to send my tools, he found out where I was, and, by
the assistance of a mutual friend, he induced me to return, promising to
make my home more comfortable in future.
YEAR – 1796
When a person
in humble life continues long in one place, and at the same employment,
few things occur in his history worthy of record. This is my case. In the
course of this year of my life, I now remember scarcely any thing worthy
of notice. I was indeed visited with a severe fit of sickness, but it did
not continue long. I had been overheated with labour, on a very warm day,
and was attacked with inflammation, so severe that I thought I was dying,
and had made up my mind for that event. I felt a calm and tranquil delight
in the prospect of leaving this sinful and unsatisfying world, and of
joining the society of the hole and happy in Heaven. Above all things, the
thought of being ever in the presence of my Heavenly Father, and of
forever receiving the communications of his love, afforded me the purest
delight. But it pleased him who determines the length of our days, as well
as the bounds of our habitations, to rebuke my disorder, and to spare me a
little longer in the world. A surgeon was called who bled me copiously,
and used some other means which, by the blessing of God, led to my
A danger of a
different kind to which was exposed may also be noticed. With a young
woman, belonging to a respectable family in the neighbourhood, I had been
acquainted for some time; but there was no intimacy, nothing but common
civilities when we met.
handsome, witty and clever, but some years older than myself. By and by I
observed that she paid more attention to me than formerly, and threw
herself more frequently in my way. As I had a good opinion of her I was
for some time at no pains to avoid her; but at last, one day at a fair,
she came up to me so publicly, and addressed me so familiarly, before a
number of friends, that I felt quite affronted, and began to wonder what
could be the reason for her extraordinary conduct.
A few months
after this it began to be whispered about that she was with child, which
turned out to be actually the case. It belonged to a young profligate in
the neighbourhood, whom she had no hopes of marrying her, and who would
have done her no good if he had.
encounter at the fair, I avoided her entirely; and it was well I did, or I
might have shared the scandal. I felt that I stood on the brink of a
precipice, and resolved to be very cautious, in future, with whom I
YEAR – 1797
diligently followed my ordinary employment during the day, books were
always a source of both amusement and instruction to me in the evening.
The more common amusements of the young no doubt at times engaged my
attention; but in these I could seldom indulge, from the disgust I felt
for the idle, and often corrupting, conversation of the youth in my
however, one happy exception. I had some years before this become
acquainted with a young man, about my own age, whose taste and
dispositions were very similar to my own. But, as he lived at some
distance, we had for a while few opportunities of being together. At
length he removed to a place about a mile from my residence. Our age,
circumstances in life, religious experience, and many other things being
nearly equal, our mutual attachment was drawn closer and closer, and we
spent many happy hours together.
is the balm of life. Besides the pleasure and improvement it afforded at
the time, it has left a sweet relish on my mind to the present day. How
happily and profitably might young people spend their life, did they only
begin with religion in the morning of their days, and follow its dictates
all through life. Their duty and their interest are the same.
But, so foolish
are we that we neglect the happiness within our reach, and seek it where
it is not to be found. This not unfrequently arises from the fault of
parents, in not directing the attention of their children to cheap and
innocent pleasures in their early years. The youthful mind is fertile,
and, if properly cultivated, will yield a rich and plentiful crop; but, if
neglected, will soon be overrun with noxious weeds.
YEAR – 1798
I had a female
cousin, several years younger than myself, an only daughter, and very rich
– at least in expectation. Her father owned land and money to the amount
of from five to ten thousand pounds; but, from his saving habits, he had
neglected her education; so that she was likely to become the prey of some
adventurer, as actually turned out to be the case.
My father it
seems had long had his eye upon this young lady as a fit match for me. He
frequently recommended, in strong terms, that I should cultivate an
acquaintance with my uncle’s family, and with his daughter in particular.
But, in these days, mercenary motives had no weight with my affections. As
this young girl had few attractions, besides her fortune, I could not
thing of a matrimonial connection from sordid motives. Besides, I could
not stoop to use the means necessary to gain the object. While yet a mere
child, she was beset with fortune hunters; one of whom, not worth a
shilling, eventually carried her off, and married her in a clandestine
YEAR – 1799
I had long been
sensible that marriage is the most important change of circumstances that
any person can make in the world; and one that is generally attended with
a great share of happiness or misery, according to the nature of the
connection formed. I knew that many enter into this state from vase
motives, and are consequently unhappy through life. I had however
endeavoured to divest myself of all sinister views, and was determined to
marry from no motive but the purest affection.
A similarity of
tastes and dispositions, but above all an agreement on religious subjects,
I considered essential to conjugal happiness.
My father had
told me that, whenever I saw a favourable opportunity of taking a wife, it
should meet with no opposition from him. Till now my affections, since I
came to years of understanding, had never been really engaged. But
becoming acquainted with a young woman, named Rodger, who lived about
eight miles from my father’s residence, her company and conversation
afforded me so much pleasure that I determined to cultivate farther
intercourse with her. Being deeply sensible of the over ruling Providence
of God, I had, from my earliest years, been accustomed to acknowledge Him
in all my ways, and to ask his direction in all my affairs, temporal and
spiritual. In this case I considered the direction of heavenly wisdom more
than ever necessary; the transaction being in which my happiness was so
views then were, I trust that God has led me by the way best fitted to
promote his glory and my happiness, although my hopes and expectations, at
that time, were not realized.
My visits to
Miss Rodger were favourable received, both by herself and her mother, who
was a widow; and I began to entertain the hope that Providence intended
her to be my companion through life.
had continued about six months, with apparent satisfaction on bot sides,
when I one day informed my father how matters stood, and requested that he
now afford me the pecuniary assistance which he had all along led me to
expect from him whenever I should require it. To this he made not
objection, but said I must wait a little, as it was not convenient just at
that time. As this went to derange all my plans, I submitted rather than
agreed to it; and, being ashamed to explain the cause of the delay to my
friend, she began to suspect that it arose a change in my regard for her.
Though I assured her that this was not the case, yet I found that I was
not received with the same cordiality as before. At this I felt hurt, and
my visits became less and less frequent, till they were, for some months,
MY TWENTY FIRST
YEAR – 1800
months of non-intercourse, I called upon Miss Rodger once more, and found
that there would be no great objection to a renewal of our intercourse.
This led me to make another application to my father on the subject, in
which I reminded him of the promises of assistance he had formerly made.
He listened to what I had to say, but seemed much inclined to start
objections. He said that I ought not to be rash in a matter so much
importance, but to inquire into the characters and circumstances of
the woman I was proposing to marry. He even hinted that, if I had followed
his advice in choosing a wife, I might have been more comfortably provided
Till now I had
not expressed any impatience at the obstacles he had thrown in the way,
but as I plainly saw that he wished to prolong the delay, or perhaps to
break off the match altogether, I spoke with some warmth. I told him that
the young woman’s character was good; but I would not make the
inquiry into her circumstances which he had proposed, as it would
be regarded as an insult to the family which I was not disposed to offer.
It was commonly reported in the neighbourhood that she and her sister
would have from three to five hundred pounds each; but whether it was so
or not, I did not know, and I did not care. The proposed union, I said,
was founded on mutual affection; and that, as I had depended on his
promise to assist, whenever it became necessary, and made no other
provision for myself, it was not treating me well to start such objections
in this stage of the business. And moreover that I had never entertained
mercenary views of marriage, and could not agree to any thing that
betrayed such a disposition.
To this he
replied, that it was my youth and inexperience that caused me to talk so;
but a little more knowledge of the world would teach me the necessity of
paying attention to pecuniary matters.
colloquy ended; for, though my feelings were hurt, I determined to urge
the matter no farther but to leave it in the hand of God to bring to pass
what He saw best. In the end it appeared that, though my affections had
been much engaged, Providence did not favour my wishes.
As soon as I
could make it convenient I called upon Miss Rodger, and had some
conversation, in the course of which she related the following dream which
she had a few nights before. She saw me come on a black horse to take her
away; but on her attempting to mount, he discovered a hostile disposition
and offered to bite, so that she could not get upon his back. There was
perhaps more in this then she was aware of. I let her know that there was
a difficulty in the way or our union for the present, but I did not tell
her what it was. I believe she suspected that I was insincere, though this
was by no means the case. Be this it may, about three months after our
last interview, she was married to a Mr. Farlane, who had long courted
her. I heard this with deep regret. I had intended to renew our
intercourse, as soon as I could find the means of setting up house
keeping; but, as I had never made her acquainted with the cause of the
delay, she could not know my intention, and her marriage put an end to all
doubt. Though she was tow or three years older than myself, I had never
met with a young woman whose views and feelings were so congenial to my
own, and with whom there appeared so great a probability of being happy.
But it is not all gold that glitters, and things might have turned out
very differently from what I expected.
I am now
satisfied that all, in the wise Providence of God, has been ordered for
SECOND YEAR – 1801
I had often
wished to visit North America, but now more than ever. The circumstances
mentioned in the last chapter of my history had weakened m attachment to
my native place, which indeed was not strong before. Believing that my
father had caused my late disappointment, I was not very careful to please
him; and some misunderstandings in consequence took place.
A new house
too, we were building, on my land, and in my name, my father managed
according to his own pleasure, which frequently happened to be at variance
But the chief
thing that made things disagreeable between us was, my refusing to become
surety for the payments of my brother’s debts. My father had always shown
a great partiality to him. He had set him up in business, given him hald
his property, and provided for him handsomely. But his extravagance, and
inattention to business, soon brought him into difficulties. At this time
some of his creditors were threatening to proceed against him, but offered
to wait if he could get me to become surety for the payment of their
several demands. This my father pressed me to do, but I absolutely
refused, foreseeing what would be the consequence if I did.
On account of
this refusal, between my father and brother, I found my situation anything
but pleasant. I determined, therefore, to lose no time in effecting a
change in my circumstances. In the meantime, I applied myself with great
diligence to the finishing of the buildings we had in hand, before I left
home. This by great and wearied exertions, was accomplished in a few
meantime, I had providentially been introduced to the acquaintance of her
whom I afterwards married. Her person, manners, conversation and views,
especially on religious subjects, were so agreeable to me, that she gained
my affections before I was aware. When I compared her good conduct, and
improving conversation, with the silly conduct, and foolish gossip of many
young women, I began to think that, surely now I had found the person whom
Heaven intended to be my partner through life.
I had sought
her company for some time, for the sake of her conversation, before I had
any thought of proposing marriage. But she had made a deep impression on
my heart before I had any suspicion of what had taken place. When I found
how matters stood, there was some conflict between my pride and my
affection. Her situation was humble, but her character was excellent. I
had never been acquainted with any one before that I thought so likely to
make me happy.
after serious consideration, and prayer for divine direction, I proposed
marriage and was accepted. We had explained to each other our views of
that state upon which we proposed to enter, and finding them to
correspond, after fervent prayer to God for his blessing us on our
proposed union, the matter was settled.
The time fixed
for our marriage was at some distance, but our intercourse meanwhile was
sweetened by the purest affection. At all times we met with pleasure and
parted with reluctance; but comforted ourselves with the near prospect of
being always together. Two months more and he time or our marriage would
I had not yet
mentioned this alliance to my father, but I understood that he had got a
hint of what was going on. From the little he said on the subject, I was
apprehensive that he would endeavour to delay, if not prevent the match
altogether. To save him this trouble I resolved, if necessary, to go to
some other part of the world, and shift for myself by my own labour.
MY TWENTY THIRD
YEAR – 1802
Just at this
time two young men of my acquaintance, both carpenters, informed me that
they intended to set out for London in a few days, and proposed that I
should go along with them. I had long wished to see the capital, and as I
resolved to go somewhere from home, I thought I might as well go there as
any where else. I had no encouragement to remain where I was, but though I
had several times proposed to leave home and provide for myself by my own
labour, my father would no means agree to it. On this account I knew it
was in vain to speak to him on the subject of going to London. So, to
prevent any altercation with him on the one hand, and disappointment to my
design on the other, I conveyed away a chest with clothes and tools from
the house, and next night sent it off to Leith by the carrier. I had
carefully saved all the money I could spare for sometime past, and now it
amounted to something more than three pounds. With this slender stock I
set out on my travels.
Early on the
morning of 16th June, 1802, I left home on foot, along with the
other two young men, for Edinburgh. My intended wife was then at her
father’s house, and as that was not much out of our way, I resolved to
call and let her know where I was going; for till then she was ignorant of
my intention of travel. Our visit being early in the morning, though we
had already walked nine miles, she was somewhat surprised at seeing us,
and still more on hearing that we were on our way to the metropolis. She
immediately suspected that I had changed my mind, and that I was going to
travel as an excuse for deserting her. This I assured her was by no means
the case, and as an evidence of my unshaken attachment, I offered, if she
would go with me to Edinburgh, to remain there till we were married, and
then to take her with me to London.
she declined, and told me that I was doing wrong in leaving the country so
abruptly. Moreover, she strongly advised me to return home, as my parents,
she was sure, would by quite vexed at my leaving them in this manner.
Though this was sound advice, yet I had gone too far to back out, so after
mutual assurances of fidelity we parted, and I pursued my journey along
with my companions. In the evening we reached Edinburgh, having walked 33
miles in the course of the day.
Next day we
went to Leith, expecting to sail by the packet in the afternoon. But the
carrier, with our chests, did not arrive till an hour after the vessel had
sailed; so that we were detained three days longer, till the next packet
was ready to start. This was to be regretted, as our finances were
slender, and we did not wish to spend our time in idleness.
interval I had leisure to reflect on the step I was taking. I was aware
that, in ordinary circumstances, it could not be justified; but, situated
as I was, there was no alternative but to do this or be miserable at home.
every thing worth seeing both at Leith and Edinburgh; the castle, holyrood
house, the new college, etc. etc. We were offered employment in the new
town, but we declined it, adhering to our original plan of going to
London. At a leisure hour, too. I wrote a letter and sent it by post to my
intended wife, assuring her of my lasting affection, and that we should
not be long separated.
have well doing children, see that ye make their home comfortable. Oppose
not their reasonable wishes, nor treat them as if they had no feelings.
They love you, and in most cases, would remain attached to you, if
unkindness did not drive them away. It must be confessed that instances of
ingratitude of children to kind parents are so numerous that the
capricious or unkind conduct of parents is little heeded. From what I
suffered myself, I can readily sympathize with others, many of whom endure
much worse treatment than I did.
pleasant passage of three days, we landed at Wapping, the port of London.
As we passed through the narrow and crowded streets near the wharf, we
were incessantly assailed by Jews, asking us in to their shops to buy
clothes. One of my companions being annoyed by their perpetual
interference, brandished his stick in a threatening manner over the head
of one of them, which caused him to make a hasty retreat, in order to save
was spent in a visit to the tower, St. Paul’s, the Monument, and other
public buildings. In the Tower, I had the luck to be taken for a
foreigner, and I was stopped as such by one of the sentinels; but on
hearing me speak he perceived his mistake and allowed me to pass.
Before we left
the packet, being entire strangers in the place, we asked the Captain
where he would recommend us to look for lodging. He directed us to a house
in Rosemary Lane, where he said we would find comfortable accommodations.
After strolling about all day, being very tired, we proceeded according to
his directions in the dusk of the evening. On arriving at the house we
found that its appearance did not say much in its favour. But, as it was
now late, and we tired, we walked in, mentioned our business and were
shown in to the parlour.
three or four persons sitting there, but it was too dark to discover who,
and what they were. In a few minutes candles were brought in, which
enabled us to see what kind of company we had. The first thing that I
observed was an organ on a table, at one end of the room, and near it a
tambourine. Next I discovered a monkey seated on a chest of drawers. We
now found that the persons in the room were the owners of these articles,
and had come there, like ourselves, to obtain lodging. By and by the
mistress of the house walked in and requested us to pay for our quarters
in advance; which having done, 6 pence each, we were shown to our bedroom
At this moment
all the accounts I had read or heard, of robbery and murder in London,
rushed in to my mind. I did not like my situation, but as the street door
was now locked, and three of us together, we determined to wait the
result. We had all heard of houses, in the city, where unwary strangers
were robbed and murdered, and we were not without fears that this might be
one of them. However, after carefully examining the room, and finding no
trap door, nor any thing else to create suspicion, we ventured to bed,
after placing all the furniture in the room against the door, and our
money and watches under our pillows.
when we awoke, after a sound sleep, we found that it was eight o’clock,
and a clear sun shining into the room. After congratulating each other
that we were all alive, and our property safe, we dressed, got breakfast,
and went to look for employment. This was easily obtained, for hands at
that time were scarce.
Mr. Briggs, in
the Minories, near Tower Hill, the first we applied to, engaged us all. He
sent his own cart to Wapping for our chests and without loss of time we
began work. He also procured lodging for us at the house of Evan Jones, an
honest Welchman, and one of his tenants. This was a quiet, sober, and
industrious man, who endeavoured to make us as comfortable as possible.
Having come to London a few years before, where, like ourselves, he was a
perfect stranger, he could eater into all our views and feelings better
than a native. In short, we obtained from him much useful information on
At the workshop
we did not find our company quite so agreeable. We had always from ten to
twelve men, many of whom, and their master as bad as any, swore dreadfully
on the most trifling occasions. The profane, and not selfdom filthy
conversation, common among them disgusted me exceedingly, and I began to
think that at the end of a few weeks I must return home. The following may
serve as a sample of the conversation in which some of them indulged; for
they were not all alike bad. On of the sawyers one day, while scoffing at
religion, swore that he had never been in a church but twice in his life.
The first time, he said, they threw water in his face, and the next they
tied a whore to his tail. In the first case he referred to his baptism, in
the second to his marriage.
One young man,
wishing to give me a proof of his confidence, related some part of the
licentious life that he led, and concluded by saying, that he and another,
whom he named, had got half the servant girls in the parish with child. I
told him he ought to be ashamed to say so, even if it had been true, which
was not at all likely to be case. He said I was but a new hand in London,
but I would soon be as bad as the rest. I said I hoped never to follow
such disgusting examples. I soon came to be called a Methodist, a name
they applied to all persons who had any reverence for religion. Even
ministers of the Established Church they called Methodists, if they were
serious men, and preached the doctrines of grace.
profanation of the Sabbath, in and about the metropolis, both surprised
and grieved me, never having seen any thing like it in my native land.
Crowds, on a fine morning, on that sacred day, might be seen in all
directions repairing to the country for amusement, and of those who
remained at home some were following their ordinary employments and others
something worse. On the first Sabbath after I arrived, as I was passing
along the street, towards the Scotch church, looking over a small gate
into a yard, I saw a copper, deliberately at work, with apron on and
sleeves tucked at his ordinary employment. This surprised me, as it was
the first instance I had ever seen of such open desecration of the
Sabbath, but I soon found that cases of this kind were not rare.
Soon after I
came to London, I wrote to my father, and let him know where I was, and
how I was employed. In a few days I received a letter from him,
reproaching me in sever terms, for leaving him without his knowledge or
consent. This was only what I expected, as he was apt to look merely at
one side of the question. He, however, at my request, applied to the
minister and session, and obtained a certificate of my regular standing as
a member of the church in Miles’ Lane, connected with the Secession Church
in Scotland, and was received into communion with that body. Not that I
had any wish to dissent from the church of my fathers, but here where
neither was an established church, the principles of both being the same,
it made little difference to which of them I belonged. Besides, as my
intended wife belonged to the Secession Church, it appeared to be most
suitable and proper, as well conducive to our involvement and comfort,
that we should go together.
about two months with Mr. Briggs, I began to think of making a change.
From my fellow workmen I met, in general, with nothing but civility, but
their profane swearing, and other vicious practices were very offensive. I
therefore resolved to look out for employment elsewhere; and, if possible,
where some religious society could be obtained, for here there was none.
Even my fellow travellers had disappointed me in this respect. One of
them, not being a good workman, was dismissed, and returned home at the
end of the first week. The other lodged in the same room with me, till I
left that party of the town. But though he had made a profession of
religion, and went to church regularly, before he left his native place,
he had now become so profane and loose in his conversation that I could
not endure his company. One Sabbath day, on coming home from church, I
found him at work, making a box to hold some of his clothes. I
remonstrated with him on the wickedness of such conduct, which put him in
a rage, and he offered to strike me. This was not to be endured, and I
determined to quit his society.
place I proceeded nearer to the west end of the town, and engaged with Mr.
Barber, a cabinet maker and upholsterer from Yorkshire. He being one of
the elders of the church, I expected to receive both pleasure and
improvement from his conversation, but in vain. His workmen were few in
number, and very civil, but he was so peevish and discontented that he
made all about him uncomfortable. I lodged at first in his house, but his
wife had such a furious temper that I was glad to seek other quarters,
which I found much to my satisfaction with one of my fellow workmen, a
widower, without any children.
AND MARY BLACK’S MARRIAGE LICENSE
Bell, Carpenter, and Mary Black both of the Parish of East Monkland,
having produced regular proclamation of Banns, were married by me at Leith
13 Oct. 1802
After I had
been a few days in this place, I was sent, along with a very pleasant and
intelligent young man, a native of Bridgeport, to make alterations in a
large house in Upper Brook Street, within a hundred yards of Hyde Park.
Here we were employed, very comfortably, for the next half year.
One day, soon
after we came to this house, my companion told me that the King, (George
third), was expected from Windsor at one o’clock, and proposed that we
should go down to Hyde Park Corner and see him pass. To this I very
readily agreed, having long had a wish, but no opportunity, to see his
Majesty. But when I did see him, like the old woman in a similar case, I
felt somewhat disappointed to at seeing "just a man", though in
reality I had expected nothing more. He rode very fast, but bowed to the
crowd on all hands who uncovered as he passed.
As I had now
resolved to remain in London, at least during the winter, I wrote to
Mary, with whom I had kept up a constant correspondence, requesting
her to come to London that we might be married there. This, however, she
declined to do, stating as the reason that scandal, since my departure,
had been taking liberties that were painful to her, and that, were she to
comply with my wish, she would countenance what was not true. On receiving
this information I was grieved that a person I loved so affectionately,
should suffer undeservedly. I, therefore, resolved to proceed to Scotland
without delay, that our union might be no longer deferred. I had then been
fifteen weeks in London; and, my wages being good, I had saved a few
pounds to assist us in commencing house keeping.
determination being formed, I left London, on the 3rd, and
after a stormy and unpleasant passage of four days, landed at Leith on the
7th October. Next morning I set out for Linlithgow, where I had
to leave some money from a friend in London, to his brother in that place.
Here I was detained longer than I wished, but as I expected to find the
object of my affections at Mannel, only two miles off, I did not mind the
lateness of the hour.
disappointments poor mortals have to endure! On arriving with highly
raised expectations, at the house where I expected a happy meeting with my
dearest Mary, I was informed that she had left that place a few days
before, for her father’s house; but that it was uncertain whether she was
now there, or at her sister’s, near Whitburn.
As these places
lay in different directions, it puzzled me not a little to determine which
road to take. But there was no time to spare for deliberation. It was now
growing dark, and it was eight miles to either place. I at once set out
for Whitburn, resolved not to sleep till I had found the object of my
search, having the advantage of moonlight. Love added wings to my feet,
and before nine o’clock I reached Croftmalloch, the residence of her
sister. I knocked at the door, with a warm heart, and in less than a
minute she was in my arms. As my appearance at that time and place was
quite unexpected, she nearly fainted away, and was some moments unable to
speak. The happiness we that evening enjoyed may be more easily conceived
than described. To obtain this interview I had travelled five hundred
miles, and did not think it too dearly purchased.
Next morning I
accompanied Mary to her father’s house, and from that I went to Airdrie,
where I remained a few days with my parents. While I was there my father
made no mention of my intended marriage till near the time of my
departure, when he desired to know the particulars. I told him that I
expected to be married at Edinburgh, on the following Wednesday, but that
my intended wife was to be in Airdrie that evening, and if he wished to
see her I should introduce her. He said he certainly wished to see her,
and so did the rest of the family, for it was vain to oppose that which
could not be prevented.
called our friends together to tea and supper, in the evening, when I
introduced my intended to all present, and we spent the evening very
comfortably in conversation. Next morning she went home to her father’s
house, where I had appointed to meet her in the evening. On my arrival
there, I found her friends and relatives assembled, to make merry with us
before our departure. As before, we had a joyful meeting, and parted at a
following day, 13th October, 1802, we set out for Leith, where,
in the evening, we were joined in marriage by the Rev. Dr. Johnston of
North Leith. That night we remained there, and next day sailed for London
in the Queen Charlotte, Captain Ramsay, who a short time before fought a
battle with a French privateer, and with the assistance of two other
smacks, in company, took and carried her to Leith. The owners rewarded
this brave action with £20 to each of the men.
We had a rough
and disagreeable passage, of ten days; the wind ahead nearly all the time,
which cause much sickness. The only amusement we had, was the company of
two French gentlemen, who had been travelling in Scotland. One of them was
somewhat demure, and could speak but little English. The other was
sufficiently loquacious, and so complete a merry Andrew, that he furnished
sport to all on board, when the weather was so that it could be enjoyed.
But the storm increased, so that every thing like fun was banished from
among us. One night, in particular, we expected nothing but a watery
grave. But God was merciful to us and preserved us, while may around us
perished. In the morning we found ourselves at anchor off Lowestoff, with
tow or three hundred vessels around us, while the shore, for miles, was
covered with the wrecks of those that had been less fortunate that
We landed in
London on the 23rd October, and on the following day took a
ready furnished room in Upper Mary le bone Street, where our time passed
in the happiest manner. We were far from all our former friends; but,
united by the purest affection, we never were so happy as when alone. In
the morning, before I went to work, we presented our prayers before our
heavenly Father; and in the evening, before we retired to rest, our
gratitude to our best Friend expressed with the liveliest joy. In our
neighbourhood were many stately mansions, but I doubt whether any of their
noble owners, with all their splendid apartments, and numerous retinue,
enjoyed a greater, or even an equal degree of happiness with our humble
selves, though we had only one small room, and not a single attendant.
As each of us
had a few pounds in money, we resolved to lay it out in furnishing a room
for ourselves. The rent would be less by half in that case. Accordingly,
on the 24th January, 1803, we removed to a room we had rented
and furnished in Kingsgate Street, near Holborn. Here Mrs. Bell was soon
after visited with severe illness (typhus fever) which confined her to her
bed six days, and to her room as many weeks. But in the spring, when the
weather began to be fine, I every day assisted her to take a walk in one
of the nearest squares, by which she gradually gathered strength. Her
complete recovery, in May, afforded me the liveliest joy.
The history of
this year is somewhat long, but it includes several events which, to me at
least, were important. In them all I acknowledged God, and fervently
implored his direction and blessing. I trust that them may all, in one way
or another, tend to promote his glory. What appears dark and mysterious
now, I shall clearly see and understand hereafter; and I shall eternally
praise my God and Saviour for bringing me by a way that I knew not, and
for making darkness light before me and crooked things straight. Bless the
Lord O my soul.
FOURTH YEAR – 1803
About the end
of May I left Mr. Barber, and went to work for Mr. Crook in Little Queen
Street, Holborn, for whom I received an advance of four shillings a week
in wages. War with France had again broken our, and Bonaparte had
collected an army on the opposite coast, professedly for the purpose of
invading England. The British Government ordered barracks to be built on
all the sea coasts, but especially in the south. No delay was made, nor
expense spared. As a great number of mechanics were required, wages
suddenly rose. By some of those going to barrack building, I was solicited
to go also; and perhaps I should have gone, for the sake of being in the
country during the summer, had I not heard that many of the men employed
worked on the Sabbath, as well as on other days. Not that they were
obligated to do so, but as the work required haste, they were offered
double wages for working on that day, and thus a strong temptation was
held out for profaning the Sabbath. It is to be regretted that this is a
practice too often pursued in government works. No wonder if, as a nation,
we suffer under the displeasure of God, when those, whose duty it is to
punish every transgression of his law, so far from doing so, are foremost
in breaking them.
the young man who made me acquainted with Mr. Crook, also introduced me to
a prayer meeting, held in the house of a bookbinder in Sloan Street,
Chelsea. I had never been in a meeting of this kind before, but I can
truly say it offered me both pleasure and instruction. The word of God
tells us that, He that walketh with wise men is wise, but a companion of
fools shall be destroyed. Several of the young men, belonging to this
society, afterwards went as missionaries to the heathen; among whom were
tow brothers named Gordon, who went to the East Indies. To me this summer
was one of the pleasantest periods of my life. When in religious society,
or in the house of God, my gratitude, for both temporal and spiritual
blessings, was a never failing source of enjoyment. When at home with my
dear Mary, the tenderest affection sweetened all our intercourse, so that
time passed away unperceived.
On the 5th
September, 1803, an event of some importance, to us at least, happened in
the birth of our first child, whom we named Andrew, after his two
grandfathers. We had often commended one another to the love and
protection of our heavenly Father, and now it was our first care to pray
that he might be His in time and through eternity.
apartment too small, we removed, October 16th, into a larger
one in Holborn, where we remained about eight months. During the winter,
the workshop in which I was employed being very open, I took a severe
cold, which lasted some months. This, together with my too close
application at piece work, reduced me so much that I was not as well till
some years afterward.
About this time
I felt a strong desire reviving in my mind to be a preacher of the gospel.
This might be occasioned, in some degree at least, by repeated
conversations, with an old experienced Christian on what ought to be the
leading motives of those who engaged in the work of the ministry. But
probably still more, by a regular attendance at a prayer meeting held
every Thursday evening in the vestry of our own church, and my there
becoming acquainted with other young men preparing to preach the gospel.
It was here I was first introduced to Mr. Smart, now at Brockville, Upper
Canada; but who was at first intended as a missionary to the East Indies.
have been the cause of my impressions at that time, one thing is certain
that they were preceded, for several months, by happy seasons of communion
feared that my desire to preach the gospel might be prompted by Satan,
rather than the Spirit of God. This caused me to be frequent and fervent
at the throws of his grace, that God would not suffer me to deceive
myself, or to do any thing contrary to is will. This tended only to
strengthen my desire to glorify God by preaching the gospel to perishing
sinners. Still I regretted much that I had not been permitted to pursue a
course of study in my younger years, when there were fewer obstacles in
MY TWENTY FIFTH
YEAR – 1804
On the 13th
June, 1804, in order to be near my work, we removed to a house in New
Turastyle, where we lived very comfortably, till the time of our leaving
London, in the following year. This summer I was again solicited to go to
the country to barrack building, but did not comply. My employer had been
very kind to me, and placing confidence in my fidelity, he left me almost
entirely to my own management. Gratitude therefore required that I should
not leave him at this time when hands were scarce. This was no loss to me
at the end; for in the fall when barrack builders were all discharged, and
many of them went about for weeks without employment, I had plenty.
summer, the desire of my heart to preach the gospel seemed constantly to
increase. Mrs. Bell indeed opposed the project, not from any dislike to
the thing itself, but because she thought it too late to think of it; and
that, if I made an unsuccessful attempt, I would only expose myself to
ridicule, and the family to want.
I was sensible
that great difficulties lay in my way, but something within still impelled
me forward with irresistible energy. After the closest self examination, I
could find nothing in my motives to be condemned. I had hitherto declined
my father’s invitations to come home and settle at Airdrie, but now it
appeared advisable to do so, till I had made some preparation for going to
college. After much consideration, and fervent prayer to God for light and
direction, we resolved to sell what little property we had, and return to
left London on the 17th October; and, after a somewhat stormy
passage, landed in Leith on the 22nd. On all other occasions I
have experienced civility from the masters of the packets; but on this it
was otherwise. The poor creature, who commanded, was so taken up with two
travellers from India, calling themselves gentlemen, but who had no claim,
from their manners and conduct, to that honourable title, that he treated
the other passengers, not with neglect, but with rudeness. They treated
him with plenty of wine, and he allowed them to treat the other passengers
as they pleased. As a Sabbath occurred in the voyage, it was passed in
rioting and drunkenness. In the evening they began to play at cards, and
invited me to join with them. This I of course declined, which exposed me
to their ridicule and profane jokes. At Leith the Captain charged me half
a guinea for the infant at the breast. This being an imposition I have
since been sorry that I did not complain of it to his owners.
On the 24th
we reached Airdrie, where we were joyfully received by our friends. Here a
plan was formed for supporting the family while devoted myself to study;
but, for want of the assistance and co-operation I expected from my
father, it did not succeed. I soon found that I was spending time and
money to no purpose, and after many perplexing thoughts, I came to the
resolution of returning to London in the spring. As Providence at this
time did not seem to favour my design, I determined to sell my property at
Airdrie, and go into business in London.
On the 5th
May, 1805, I set out for the capital, now heartily sorry I had left it,
along with my brother in law, John Black. Mrs. Bell and the infant I left
with my father and mother till I should get a suitable place provided for
them. We sailed from Leith on the 6th, and landed in London the
11th May. The fare for each passenger, at that time, was two
guineas in the cabin, and twenty five shillings in the steerage. On our
way we encountered a severe storm, that lasted twenty four hours. About
one hundred soldiers, who were passengers, were all the time confined to
the hold, with hatches nailed down, half of them sick. Some of them
afterwards told me, that their situation during that time, was shocking
beyond description. Though not quite so hot, it was, in some respects, no
better than the black hole at Calcutta. To avoid the sickness I always
suffered when below, I remained on deck, at one time nearly twelve hours,
with a rope round me to prevent being washed overboard; the rain pouring
down all the time, the sea running mountains high, and often sweeping the
deck of every thing moveable.
On the night
after the storm abated, we were exposed to a danger of a different kind.
Another packet in company with us was hailed by a vessel coming in the
opposite direction which in passing, gave on nave to them and another to
us. This, together with the person who hailed us speaking bad English,
raised suspicion that he was a French privateer. This suspicion was soon
confirmed by his putting about and coming after us.
At this time
all the Leith and London packets carried six guns each, furnished by
government, for their defence; and each had 24 pikes, for the passengers
to us, in case they were attacked. The Captain instantly gave orders to
load the guns and clear the deck. All this was done without delay, which
informed every passenger on board what was to be expected. The alarm
created by all this bustle was increased by the darkness of the night; for
the moon, though up, was concealed by dark clouds. But in a short time
they cleared away and the moon shone out, so that we had a clear view of
our enemy, crowding all sail, and making every effort to come up with us;
but the packets being swift sailors, he was not gaining any ground. In the
mean time the drummer, belonging to the soldiers on board, had, by the
Captain’s orders, got his drum in order and was beating to arms most
furiously. This I verily believe saved us from farther trouble; for,
seeing our guns and hearing the drum, our enemy no doubt concluded that he
had made a mistake, and encountered a government vessel. Be this as it
may, he put about, went off, and we saw no more of him.
scene, the following circumstance engaged my attention. One of our
passengers, a blustering swearing fellow, who had boasted much of his
exploits while there was no danger, now made it evident that he was the
greatest coward on board. He skulked into the most retired corner he could
find below, and sat trembling as if going into fits. Some of the ladies
made more noise, but I believe none of them was more frightened.
On our arrival
in London we took lodgings at the house of Mr. Eaton, a bookseller, in
Lamb’s Conduit Passage. Next day I called upon my old employer, Mr. Crook,
who was glad to see me back, and at once set me to work. The people with
whom I lodged, I soon discovered, were Sociniaas; Mr. Eaton indeed
sometimes acted as a preacher among that sect. As soon as he understood
that I made a profession of religion, he assailed me with his tenets, and
tried to bring me over to his way of thinking. This produced some long
arguments between us, which only showed me clearly the absurdity of his
MY TWENTY SIXTH
YEAR – 1805
Having a desire
to engage in some business of my own, I employed occasionally a leisure
hour in looking out a proper situation to begin. One evening, in passing
through Chelsea Street, Tottenham Court Road, I observed a vacant piece of
building ground, on which a Mr. Sturch offered to advance money to a
builder. I liked the situation, and went next day to Mr. Sturch to make
further inquiries, and we soon agreed upon the terms. He engaged to
advance half the money expended on the buildings for two years; half when
they were covered in, and half when they were finished. The advance to me
was to be in 3½ percent stocks, and to be replaced in the same when the
buildings were sold. Of this mode of borrowing money I know nothing, but
Mr. Sturch assured me that it was the same thing as getting money in my
hand. He said there was even a probability of profiting by it, but said
nothing about an equal, if not greater probability of losing.
after, the draft of an agreement being prepared, I found that a Mr.
Sutton, was also concerned in the transaction, who, Mr. Sturch assured me,
was a good man, and would use me well. I objected to some things on the
agreement, but they told me they were necessary for the sake of form; but,
I would trust to their honour, they would make every thing easy and
agreeable to me. Thus coaxed and assured, I signed the agreement. The
other parties were men of property, and I expected nothing but fair
dealing. In this, however, I was greatly mistaken, as I found in the end
to my cost.
The cause of
these men’s advancing money was this. They had taken the land from the
corporation of the city of London on a building lease, on condition of
erecting buildings thereon within a limited time. They did not want to
build themselves, but they doubled the ground rent for their own benefit,
and then offered to advance money for two years, on interest, to the
actual builders. Had they noted fairly and honourably, the speculation
might have turned out well for all parties. But, in the end, I found them
to be the greatest sharks I had ever fallen in with. But, as I had not yet
found that out, I lost no time in preparing for building.
In the meantime
I wrote to Mrs. Bell to join me with her son without delay. On the 13th
July, John and I left Mr. Crook, and took up our abode at No. 60,
Tottenham Court Road, where I had rented rooms and a workshop, till we
could go to our own. This to me was a lonely time, but it did not last
long. On the 24th July we were cheered by the arrival of Mrs.
Bell and our little boy, and our usual state of society was again resumed.
In a short time
the two houses I had begun to build were covered in, and I called upon Mr.
Sturch to advance money according to agreement. But he appeared to have
undergone a wonderful change. Instead of the civil and polite gentleman he
was, when were making the bargain, he now behaved more like a savage, and
told me to go to Mr. Sutton, as he had nothing to do with advancing money.
When I went to Mr. Sutton he pretended to know nothing at all about the
matter, and wondered why I should come to him for money, seeing it was
with Mr. Sturch I had made the agreement.
referred in this manner from one to the other for some time, Mr. Sutton
told me that I had yet no claim for money, as I had not yet produced a
certificate form a surveyor that the houses were covered in. Surprised at
his impudence, I replied that he could see with his own eyes that they
were covered in, and I knew not the use of farther evidence, unless it was
to put me to needless trouble and expense. But it was of no use to reason
with them; I found, when too late, that neither the one not the other had
any conscience. Having laid out all my own money, about £200, besides
labour, and contracted debts to a larger amount, I felt anything but
upon this unprincipled man about a dozen times, without obtaining any
money, I told him I would call no more, but put the business in the hands
of a lawyer. This brought him a little to reason, and after abusing me for
holding out threats to a gentleman, (?) he gave me a bill, for £50,
on a person in Westminster; it had still a month to run, and when it
became due, it was not paid. By such treatment, both my patience and my
credit were severely tried. When, at last, I did receive a little money
from him, it was not one third of what was due. Before the end of this
year our own house in Chenies Street was so far finished that we moved
into it, and this saved us paying any more rent.
On the first
day of May, 1806, a day rendered memorable by the passing of an act by the
British Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade, Mrs. Bell gave
birth to two boys, whom we named William and John; the former after myself
and the other after his uncles. This increase of our family necessarily
increased our expenses, and seemed to cut off all hope of my ever becoming
a preacher. When the doctor announced to me the birth of the second child,
he said I received the news in a very different manner from that of a
master butcher in Clare market, whose wife he had delivered of twins a few
days before. When he received the intelligence, the doctor said, he
ran out into the street tearing his hair and crying he was ruined.
SEVENTH YEAR – 1806
To detail all
the troublesome and vexatious proceedings I had with Mr. Sutton would be
useless, even if it were possible. Suffice it to say that, after every
other means had failed, I put the business into the hands of an eminent
lawyer, the heir to Airdrie estate, and an early acquaintance of my
father, Sir William Alexander, afterwards King’s counsel, who thereupon
wrote him a letter. This brought him to better terms. He sent for me
offered to advance all the money I required, if I would take ground for
two more houses. But this I declined to do, which so enraged him that he
said he would advance me the money and then sue me for it, as the two
years had now nearly expired. As I was aware that he had this in his
power, I thought it might be just as well in the end to comply with his
terms. I therefore promised to sign the new agreement, upon his advancing
the money upon the old one. When Sir William came to know this he was
displeased, and declined doing any thing more for me. Your connection with
that man said he will ruin you. You are labouring hard to put money in the
pocket of a villain.
For some time
after this Mr. Sutton seemed to have undergone a great improvement. He
sometimes called upon me, pretending to admire my plans, house, children,
etc. He told me that he always liked Scotch people, they were so sober and
industrious. In one of these visits he told me he had a young gentleman
under his care whom he had been educating for the church; but, on account
of his dislike to the clerical profession, he was going to make him a
lawyer. Being aware that I had a friend in Glasgow in that line, he
requested me to write to him and inquire if he would take his young friend
as a clerk, upon the usual terms. I did so and in a few days received a
favourable answer. But by this time Mr. Sutton had started some objection
which made it necessary to write a second, and even a third time, till at
last he told me that he had changed his mind and did not intend to send
the young man to Scotland at all.
gentleman, as I afterwards discovered, was one of his own children, though
he was not married; and it is doubtful whether he ever intended to send
him to Glasgow. But he was liable to a penalty if all the building ground,
he had leased from the city, was not built upon by a certain time, now at
hand; and he found it necessary to deceive me, by assuming an appearance
of candour and friendship, in order that I might take it off his hands.
but too well. I had never supposed that any man could be so consummate a
hypocrite. The remaining ground, for two houses, I had agreed to take; but
no sooner was the agreement signed, and I placed between him and all
danger, than he began to discover the cloven foot.
To enter into a
particular account of all the deceptions and impositions, practiced by
this man, would fill volumes. To boundless avarice he joined the deepest
cunning, and no art, however vile, was neglected to gain his object. He
never kept a promise but when he found it for his own interest to do so.
Even his written engagements were disregarded, till enforced by law. From
every advance of money he had something to deduct, on some pretence or
other. He did not know how to be secure enough, nor care what expense he
put me to. He first took receipts for the money advanced; then that would
not do, he must have a bond; then he determined to have a mortgage. Thus I
was teased from day to day, and put to unnecessary expenses, to gratify
his whims or his avarice. But I turn from a man whose character I must
ever hole in contempt and detestation, to notice what is infinitely more
In a short time
after my return to London, last year, my desire to preach the gospel
returned with increased strength; and I felt deeply grieved that I had
been turned from my purpose. I was convinced that I had done wrong in
going into business, and that God, in order to punish me for deserting his
work, had sent me, in Mr. Sutton, a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from
Satan, to buffet me. And yet, when I looked at may increasing family, it
seemed next to madness to go through a long and expensive course of study,
to prepare me for the pulpit. But the more I endeavoured to get rid of the
idea of preaching, the stronger it became.
At last I
thought it my duty to make my case known to the Rev. Dr. Waugh under whose
ministry I was then placed. After hearing what I had to say, he observed
that my object was a matter of great importance, and required much
consideration and prayer; and that to one having a family it would be
attended with both difficulty and danger. I told him that I was well aware
of the difficulties in my way; and that, for years past, I had made the
subject a matter of serious consideration and prayer to God for light and
direction. I said moreover that the circumstance from having a family
alone had prevented me from, ere now, laying aside my business and
devoting my time to study. He advised me to think of it a little longer,
which I accordingly promised to do.
EIGHTH YEAR – 1807
delay only increased my anxiety, I called upon Dr. Waugh again, and
informed him what had been the result of following his advice. He asked me
what Mrs. Bell thought of my proposal. I told him that she did not much
favour it, because she thought it would be difficult, if not impossible,
to accomplish my object. After a long conversation, he told me that a
still longer delay would be advisable; but he did not wish me to give up
altogether my design. He said he had seen so many instances of young
persons, in a fit of zeal, determine to become preachers, and yet become
cold or discouraged whenever difficulty or danger appeared, that he would
not advise me rashly to enter upon that course.
He then asked
me how I would like to go as a missionary to the Heathen. I told him that
was originally my intention, and even now, I would have no objection, if
my family was not obstacle in the way. Indeed I had no choice but was
willing, if I became a preacher at all, to be employed at the time, and in
the manner of Providence should direct. Upon the whole he thought it best
to be employed as a missionary, if I could obtain Mrs. Bell’s consent. He
said he would mention my case to Mr. Hardcastle, Treasurer of the London
Missionary Society, and ask what he thought of it. Whether he did so or
not I never inquired; for, Mrs. Bell being adverse to this course, no
further step was taken.
being strongly impressed with the belief that sooner or later I was to be
a minister, I applied myself diligently to my business in order, as soon
as possible, to bring it to a close. Any leisure time I had was devoted to
On the 16th
March, this year, our son Robert was born. This event seemed to throw a
new obstacle in my way. At times I was in great perplexity how to act. If
I went forward I saw numberless difficulties in my way, and that ridicule
and reproach would fall upon me, if I failed in my attempt. On the other
hand, should I delay any longer, my time of life, and other circumstances,
would render my plans impracticable. For these and other reasons, I saw it
was necessary to come to a determination without delay.
With this view
I seriously considered all consequences, and daily made earnest
application at the throne of grace, that God would mark out the bounds of
my habitation, and determine my choice. After the most serious and strict
self-examination, I could discover no motive influencing my conduct, but
such as I believed God himself would approve. On the contrary, I felt that
I should do violence to my conscience, if I refrained any longer from
doing what appeared to be my duty. For myself I felt no concern, and was
not afraid of any hardship I might have to endure; but for the children
and Mrs. Bell I felt much, especially as she did not quite approve of my
MY TWENTY NINTH
YEAR – 1808
determination was now taken, yet my mind was not easy, because years must
yet lapse, and many obstacles surmounted before my design could be carried
into effect. Probably no human being ever felt a stronger desire to preach
the gospel; yet, when I took a view of difficulties in my way, despondency
would sometimes take possession of my mind. But even then, so much did I
feel on the subject that, if any one had assured me that I would never
preach the gospel, the information would have been more dreadful to me
than the sentence of death. What I felt, in moments of suspense, was past
description. To use the language of the prophet, the word of the lord was
a s a fire within my bones. Though comfortable in other circumstances, and
having the prospect of succeeding in business, if I persevered, yet I was
willing to give up all these for the honour and the happiness of teaching
the glad tidings of salvation to perishing sinners. I waited on Dr. Waugh
once more, and informed him how matters stood with me. He said my case was
a peculiar one, but he could not dissuade me from entering on the Lord’s
work after what I had told him.
Though my mind
was not in a great measure made up to lay aside business and devote my
time and study, yet one thing more I thought of doing, in order finally to
determine the question. I had both read and heard of some of God’s people,
deciding cases of great difficulty by lot; and ordinance that ought never
to be applied to profane purposes. This course I determined to take; and,
after fervent prayer, made a solemn appeal in this manner to God himself
for direction. The result was favourable to my wishes; and, from that
time, I banished all doubt from my mind. I renewed my covenant with God,
and devoted myself to his service in the gospel of his Son.
I now made no
delay in bringing my business to a close. By tow scoundrels, named Cooper
and Foulis, for whom I had done some work, I lost £16; and by another
named Worth, but who proved in the end not worth much, I
lost upwards of £50. As the settlement of my affairs would require me to
remain in London some time, Dr. Waugh proposed that I should pursue my
studies, in the mean time, in one of the academies in the neighbourhood.
He mentioned Hoxton Academy as a suitable place, but did not know whether
I, as a Presbyterian, could be admitted there, it being Congregational. He
even said he would not blame me for joining it permanently, though it was
not his wish that I should do so.
A few days
after this, in order to get information, I took a walk to Hoxton, which
was about three miles from my residence. It was vacation time, and Dr.
Simpson, the head tutor, was not at home. Mrs. Simpson however told me to
call upon the Secretary, the Rev. Charles Buck, who would give me the
information I required. I went then to his house, and mentioned the object
of my call. He said it was doubtful whether I could be admitted at Hoxton,
having never preached, as they never admitted any students till they had
given some evidence of their ability at public speaking. Besides, being
married, I could not be supported by the institution, which was intended
solely for the benefit of unmarried men, devoting themselves to the
ministry of the gospel. I told him that I expected no benefit but liberty
to attend the classes, and even for that I was willing to pay.
He then said,
if I would write an account of my religious experience and belief, and
bring it to him, with a letter of recommendation from Dr. Waugh, he would
lay them before the Committee of Managers, at their next meeting, and take
their opinion of my case. Without delay I prepared the former, and
procured the latter, and handed them to Mr. Buck, to be laid before the
Committee. On the day after their next meeting I received a letter from
him, informing me that, for the reasons he had before stated, I could not
be received into the Academy. He concluded by requesting me to call
next day and talk over the matter. I called accordingly, when he told me
that my best course was to call upon Mr. Wilson, the Treasurer, and by the
reception I met with from him, I would soon find out whether I would be
allowed to attend the classes or not. At the same time he returned the
account of my experience and belief.
Two or three
days afterwards I called upon Mr. Wilson at his own house, in Islington,
and had a long conversation with him, at the conclusion of which he asked
me to remain to supper with him, it being near that time. On my assenting,
he rung the bell and, the family having assembled for prayers, he
requested me to conduct the worship, which I did. After supper he
requested me to send him the account of my experience again; and to go
next Tuesday evening and deliver a discourse in Hoxton, at the house of a
Mr. Kemp, where he said the students in the Academy usually preached every
week. He promised, if possible, to be there; and if my address was
approved, he had no doubt that ways and means would be found for admitting
me to attend the classes.
I waited with
some anxiety for the important evening, on which I was to address an
audience, for the first time in m life, on a religious subject. When it
arrived, (Sept. 6), I repaired to the place appointed, three miles from my
house, the rain pouring down all the way. The congregation assembled,
consisting chiefly of females, Mr. Kemp acting as clerk or presenter. By
the time that worship began both the front and back parlour were pretty
well filled, about half the students from the Academy being present. I
took for my text Psalm 111, 10, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of
wisdom, and a good understanding have all they that do his commandments.
What kind of a discourse I gave them I pretend not to say. It could be no
great things, that’s certain.
however, I received a letter from Mr. Buck, requesting me to attend the
first meeting of the Committee, at the Academy, and deliver another
discourse before them. Be short, said he, but energetic. At
the time appointed I attended accordingly, and was introduced to the
Committee, consisting of ministers and others. Being again requested to be
short, I spoke only ten or fifteen minutes, from 2 Cor. 5, 17, If any man
be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature. Several of the gentlemen put
questions to me, after which I retired till they consulted.
On being called
in again, the president informed me that my discourse did not possess much
of method (this I have no doubt was quite true, being altogether
extempore), but that the Christian experience it discovered made amends
for its other defects. He father informed me that the Committee had agreed
that I should attend the lectures one month, and if, at the end of that
time, the report of the tutors was favourable, I might then continue as
long as I pleased. I thanked them and retired to prepare for my studies.
Next Monday I
attended at the Academy, and was introduced to the Rev. Mr. Hooper; who, I
understood, was to be my first teacher. He received me with much kindness,
which prepossessed me much in his favour. English composition and the
Latin language were to be my first studies. He said he hoped I would be
able to overtake the class that began at Midsummer; which, by a little
exertion, I did. For the first three months I walked from my own house, in
the North Crescent, in the morning, and back in the evening, a distance of
three miles. But this I felt no hardship, for my heart was in the work.
I shall now for
a little return to my friend Mr. Sutton, and then dismiss him for
ever. Of all the evils of life, to which I have been exposed, dealing with
a faithless and overreaching villain I have found to be the most
disagreeable and perplexing. I never thing of this man, even after the
lapse of many years, without a feeling of horror and disgust. No one, who
has not had business to transact with such a scoundrel, can understand how
vexatious it is. Some time before this, he houses on my first contract had
been sold, for £1760, and Mr. Sutton received the money he had advanced.
Now the last two were finished, and he offered to take them off my hand at
£1200. This offer I declined as it was little more than half their value;
but I told him that I would bring the property to the hammer, without
delay, that his advances might be repaid; that my connection with him had
been a serious misfortune, and the sooner I got rid of it the better. This
enraged him, so that he told me, that the lease being in his own hand, he
could prevent a sale till the money was paid; and that, if I did not let
him have the holdings at the price he had offered, he would bring suit
against me in chancery, by which I would be ruined.
Such was the
sate of my affairs, when a neighbour called and offered £1600 for the
buildings, to pay down the money at once. Though this was far less than
their value, yet some of my friends advised me to let them go, and get out
of the hands of this rapacious and unprincipled man, which I did
My property in
London being now all disposed of, a troublesome concern got rid of, and my
studies at the Academy commenced, I rented a small house in Savannah
Place, not far from the Academy, and removed my family to it, late in the
fall of 1808. Here, for a while, all went well. The tutors were attentive,
and my fellow students kind. I enjoyed a degree of peace and tranquillity
in my own mind to which I had long been a stranger. I looked forward with
pleasure to the accomplishment of that object which had long been dear to
my heart. I had expected that, at my time of life, classical studies would
prove dry and tiresome. But this was by no means the case. Every new
exercise brought pleasure, every means of improvement was a source of
delight. But when we find ourselves so happy, we may suspect that trouble
After I had
been at Hoxton about four months I went to Mr. Kemp’s one evening to hear
a fellow student preach. As he was somewhat averse to the service, he
thought proper not to make his appearance. The congregation being
assembles and the preacher not appearing, Mr. Kemp came to me and said
that I must preach. I endeavoured to excuse myself, having made no
preparation. But he told me I must do it, there being no other
student present. Finding there was no alternative, I took the chair, and
with no very comfortable feelings, mad an extempore address as well as I
could. Unfortunately, forgetting that my audience consisted chiefly of
females, I insisted perhaps too freely on the evil effects of idleness and
evil speaking. There was something cold and sullen in the looks of some of
the ladies present; but, as they were sour looking dames at the best, I
took little notice but went home as usual.
A day or two
after wards, I and another student went to call upon Mr. Wilson, on some
business, at his office in the City Road. We had but just entered the
room, when he at once attacked me, in the presence of tow or three
stranger gentlemen, in what I considered a rude and indecorous manner. He
asked me how I came to bring forward such discourse as that I made
at Mr. Kemp’s the other night. I was quite unprepared for such an attack,
but told him that the discourse, I believed, was not great things; but, as
it was not my turn to speak, I was totally unprepared, and came forward at
the pressing request of Mr. Kemp, much against my inclination.
But this did
not pacify him, and he lectured me severely, accusing me of imprudence and
presumption. All this appeared to me very extraordinary, but being quite
unexpected, I made little reply, but left him and went home, while my
fellow student who was young Spenser, afterwards settled at Liverpool,
returned to the Academy and related to the rest what he had seen and
Mr. Wilson, it
may be proper to state, was a rich man, and a liberal supporter of the
Academy; where from thirty to forty young men boarded and educated for the
ministry. He was a trustee, the Treasurer, and in short, the chief manager
of the institution. He was liberal to some of the poorer students,
especially if they kept the fair side of him, but he often took great
liberties with those who were dependent on his bounty, and expected humble
submission from all.
A day or two
after this interview with Mr. Wilson, one of the young men came into my
study at the Academy, and informed me that the students held a meeting,
and entered into a unanimous resolution that hey would preach no more at
Mr. Kemp’s house, after what had happened to me. He said it had long been
a subject of complaint among the students, that they had to preach there
every week, where he and a number of old women sat as judges of their
respective abilities, and next day their good or evil report was carried
to Mr. Wilson, who treated them accordingly. He farther said that, at the
meeting they had held, it was the unanimous opinion of the students, that
it was their duty at this time both to testify their disapprobation of the
treatment I had received, and to secure themselves from similar insults.
They had therefore written a letter to Mr. Kemp informing him that they
would not preach in his house.
This letter bot
surprised and alarmed the old man. He carried it at once to Mr. Wilson and
made his complaint. He, without delay, sent those students whom he
supposed to be leaders in this affair, rebuked them severely, and hinted
something about turning out those who should adhere to this resolution.
When this was
made known to the rest, so far from intimidating, it had a contrary
effect. The utmost indignation was expressed at this attempt to coerce
them. All study was at once suspended, a general meeting was held, and I
was sent for to give an account of the whole affair, especially of what
Mr. Wilson said to me when he gave the rebuke. I repeated his words as
near as I could remember them. A general burst of indignation followed.
They declared that I had been grossly insulted, which was in effect to
insult the whole body, and that their duty, both to me and to themselves,
required that they should testify their sense of it in such a way as would
prevent such occurrences in future.
In order the
better to secure the object they had in view, a bond was prepared and
signed by the whole, binding themselves to stand or fall together; and
that, if any one was expelled, or threatened to be expelled, the rest
would vindicate his cause, or share his fate. By these proceedings all
other business in the house was suspended for two days. The tutors, of
which we had three, did not interfere in any way; but, from their silence,
we were led to believe they did not disapprove of what was going on.
A meeting of
the directors of the institution was immediately called; at least by Mr.
Wilson. At first they seems inclined to adopt severe measures, and
threatened expulsion to all those who should adhere to their resolution;
but finding the students firm and united, they yielded the point; and the
next day the young men returned to their studies and things went on as
It gave me pain
to thing that any difficulty should arise on my account, though I could
not avoid it. The step taken by the young men, to vindicate me, was
entirely voluntary on their part. As I did not lodge in the house, I did
not even know of their proceedings till they were nearly matured. They
viewed it as their own affair, as well as mine. I, however, expressed my
gratitude to them at the time, and can never forget the prompt and
effectual manner in which they vindicated my conduct.
of my time spent at Hoxton, (I was there nearly two years), passed very
comfortably. The Christian and brotherly kindness which I experienced from
all the students without exception, while I was with them, produced a warm
regard for them which I shall ever cherish. They lodged and boarded in the
house. It was their home during four years. I was there only part of the
day, the hours of teaching. There was a large garden attached to the house
in which we walked when at leisure.
not admitted till they gave evidence of Christian experience, and some
ability to conduct public worship with prudence and propriety; but the
want of literary acquirements was no obstacle in the way of their
admission. If not previously instructed, they were first taught the
English Grammar and Latin Rudiments, and prepared the outline of a sermon
once a week. They afterwards read part of the classics, both Latin and
English, prepared and read a sermon in rotation every week, and began to
study the Greek language. Mathematics, Philosophy, Hebrew, Sacred History,
and Divinity occupy the rest of the course, which is four years. During
the first year’s attendance, we all went, on the Sabbath evening, to the
parish workhouses in and about the metropolis, and preached to the inmates
by whom we were generally well received.
Here all the
students after they had been a year in the house, preached in rotation, on
Thursday evenings. They also supplied vacant congregations, in and around
London, on the Sabbath. They went to the distance of ten, twenty or more
miles, on Saturday afternoon, by the evening coaches, and returned on
Monday morning. For this service they received from half a guinea, to a
guinea and a half, according to the ability of the congregation to which
they preached. With what they could save out of this, which was but
little, they purchased books, clothes, etc. They did not indeed require
many books, there being an excellent library in the house, to which all
exercises, thus arranged, the students soon acquired the practise as well
as the theory of preaching; and, before the four years of study expired,
they were generally called by some congregations, to which they went on
leaving the house.
YEAR – 1809
As preaching on
the Sabbath was considered an advantage, so they that were Mr. Wilson’s
favourites generally got the best places; for the appointments, though
nominally made by a Committee, wherein reality made by him. Those who
preached in or near London were put to little trouble or expense, and were
better paid; but those who had to travel twenty or thirty miles, had their
bodies wearied, their clothes injured; and, after coach hire was paid,
very little cash remaining.
Soon after I
entered the Academy, I took my turn with the rest of the junior students,
in preaching at the parish workhouses, on Sabbath evenings. The inmates,
consisting chiefly of old or infirm people and children, were assembled in
a large hall, where we addressed them. I have seen one or two instances of
disorderly conduct, but in generally they behaved with great propriety. We
found at these places some decidedly pious persons, who waited and talked
with us after the services were over. After the first year I had
appointments, on the Sabbath, along with the rest, when they reached down
to my name, which seldom happened, I being last received in 1808.
Academy, usually called the Old College, because established in old times
by the Non Conformists, we had two vacations in the year, at Midsummer and
Christmas. The former lasted six weeks, the latter two. These are spent in
the country, and afford a kind of jubilee to all concerned; for all who
have acquired any facility in preaching, are sent to places from 50 to 200
miles distant. Young Spencer, for instance, at Midsummer, was sent to
Liverpool, where he got a call, and afterwards settled. He was called
young Spencer from his beginning to speak in public when a mere boy.
He preached when he was only 16, and was little more than 20 at the time
of his death. My Midsummer vacation was spent at Ingatestone, in Essex,
where I supplied two small congregations, a few miles apart. Here I had an
invitation to settle, and open a boarding school, but declined, being
determined to my complete my education at a university.
Christmas vacation, at the end of 1809, I was stationed at Godalming, in
Surrey, with a country squire named Sharpe who had a family of grown up
sons and daughters. In this amiable family I spent some weeks very
agreeably, preaching not only in the town, but in several surrounding
villages. I preached six or seven times a week and travelled from 70 to 80
miles, Mr. Sharpe providing me a horse. The days being short, it was
generally dark before I got home, but the kind and Christian society which
I here enjoyed made amends for all my toils.
Mr. Sharpe was
a man of great humour, and had many anecdotes to relate. Among others, he
related to me the following. The clergyman of the parish was a great enemy
of dissenters; and, on a certain occasion, publicly called them the
bastards of the church. One day, soon after, a great drunken fellow met
him at the side of a ditch, full of water, and pushed him in saying, Get
out of my way you son of a whore! The clergyman being greatly enraged had
him brought before the spiritual court without delay. But the aggressor
defended himself on the ground that, if dissenters were bastards of the
church, then was she a whore, so that he had said nothing of his reverence
but what could be proved from his own testimony.
scene, which I witnessed myself, shows the simple manners of a country
congregation. On a Sabbath morning, after I was in the pulpit, and the
clerk on his feet to begin the singing, a girl of about 15 entered the
church with pattens on, and went up stairs, making more noise than he
thought proper. He waited till she made her appearance in the gallery,
when he addressed her thus; Molly, mind you, another time, to take off
your pattens at the bottom of the stairs. The blush on her face showed
what reproof was felt.
Soon after I
returned to Hoxton, Mr. Wilson sent for me one day, and told me that he
had procured a situation for me in the west of England, which he thought I
had better accept. The Rev. Mr. Rooker, of Tavistock, had been successful
in raising a congregation in a neighbouring village, and had written to
him to procure a pastor to take charge of them. There was a good
opportunity for opening a boarding school at the place, and he thought
that, between the two, I might be usefully employed, and decently
supported. This would be better than remaining longer at Hoxton, spending
money for the support of my family, while I was earning nothing. I thanked
him for his good intentions, but said I meant to spend some time more in
February, 1810, our son James was born. Being now in a condition to attend
a university, I began to think seriously of returning to my native
country. My affairs in London being all settled, and the expense of
supporting my family there, being much greater than it would be in
Scotland, I thought it would be my best plan to proceed thither next
Midsummer. The students at Hoxton had always behaved well to me, but as I
still adhered to my Presbyterian connection, some of the managers, I began
to think, viewed me with a jealous eye.
MY THIRTY FIRST
YEAR – 1810
having arrived, I took leave of all my friends at Hoxton, with some
regret, not expecting to see them again in this world. To part with Mr.
Sanderson in particular, one of my classmates, with whom I had lived in
the closest friendship, was no easy matter. The last time I preached in
England was at Missenden, in Buckinghamshire, on the 17th June,
1810, and I did so with peculiar feelings, knowing that, after my return
to Scotland, it would be some years before I would have an opportunity of
of our household furniture to a broker, at a great sacrifice, we left
London on the 21st day of June, the day that Sir Francis
Burdett was committed to the Tower. The streets were full of people, and
it was with much difficulty that we made our way to the wharf. After a
passage of six days, rather slow than stormy, we landed at Leith on the 27th.
Next day we reached Blackridge where Mrs. Bell’s father lived, and where
he had, at our request, provided a house for us. It was homely, compared
with the one we occupied in London, but a few repairs, and a thorough
cleaning, greatly improved its appearance.
After a few
days I went to Airdrie and had an interview with Rev. Mr. Duncanson.
Although he had encouraged me to come to Scotland, and promised me all the
assistance in his power, yet, from his cool behaviour on this occasion, I
saw little favour was to be expected from him. He however furnished me
letters of introduction to two ministers, and with these I proceeded to
Glasgow. I shall never forget the contrast which the cold and forbidding
looks of these gentlemen formed, with the warm, affectionate, and
hospitable treatment of the kind friends I had left in England. But I
found that my case was not a singular one, and that students in general,
in my native county, were treated with little consideration by ministers.
When once they were in possession of a good fat living, and mad
comfortable themselves, they visited others with the treatment they had
themselves experienced. From the inquiries I made, I found that my best
plan would be to attend the next meeting of Presbytery in Glasgow, and be
examined; and if I passed muster, I could then be admitted to the Divinity
Hall. To this examination I looked forward with some anxiety, because I
knew nothing of the manner in which it would be conducted, nor what books
I ought to read in order to prepare for it.
On the 7th
of August, the day appointed for this examination, I repaired to Glasgow,
and at Dr. Dick’s session house, the place of meeting, I found four young
gentlemen, who had been students at the university, also waiting to be
examined. At 12 the Presbytery met; but it was occupied the whole day with
other business, so that it was nine at night before our examination began.
All this time we were anything but comfortable. But the delay was
something in our favour, for, on account of the lateness of the hour, the
examination was gone through with considerable dispatch, and turned out
easier than I expected. Latin, Greek, Logic, and Moral Philosophy were the
subjects on which we were examined. The result was, we were all admitted
to the study of divinity.
examination was over, the Rev. Mr. Wilson of Greenock asked me if I had
any engagement for the following winter; I said I had not. He then told me
that he had been employed to provide a teacher for a respectable Grammar
School at Rothesay, in the island of Bute, and he thought it would be a
good situation for me, if I thought it proper to undertake it. I told him
that me present intention was to go to college during the winter.
following week I set out for Selkirk, to attend the theological class
under Dr. Lawson. I took the coach to Edinburgh, 24 miles, sent my trunk
to the carrier’s and set out for my destination, 35 miles, on foot, there
being no stage on that road. I had got to the inn at Herriot House before
dark. Here I had intended to take up my abode for the night, but found it
a miserable road side tavern, frequented by carters and drovers. But as it
was now dark I could proceed no further, and so was forced to put up with
the company I found there.
difficulty, however, I was soon relieved. Just when I was going to bed, a
return post chaise came to the door, going to Selkirk. In this I took
passage, travelled all night, and reached my destination by day light in
the morning. Being a stranger here, I did not wish to disturb the slumbers
of the good folk, so I took a walk round the town till they were up and
Dr. Lawson was an early riser, about 7, I called at his house, was
introduced to him, and delivered my credentials. The venerable simplicity
and Christian kindness of the good old man prepossessed me much in his
favour. He soon procured lodging for me, in a respectable family, almost
next door; so that I had not far to travel to attend his lectures.
At 11, when the
class met, I was introduced to my fellow students, 36 in number. Compared
with those I had left at Hoxton, they sunk sadly in my estimation. In
literary and scientific attainments they were equal, if not superior, but
in civility and Christian kindness they were quite inferior. The conceited
arrogance of a few, when contrasted with the prudent conduct, and sensible
Christian conversation of my English friends, brought up a powerful
recollection of past enjoyments. There were others, however, of a very
different character, and with them I associated. To the study of divinity,
we joined reading the Greek Testament, and Hebrew Bible. In the forenoon
we had a lecture from the Dr., and in the afternoon an examination. Each
student had to prepare and deliver a discourse in the class, in rotation,
and we had an excellent library to employ our leisure hours.
conclusion of the usual term of six weeks, I returned home, disappointed
rather than please with much of the society in which I had mixed. With the
simple manners, and kind attentions of the inhabitants of Selkirk and
neighbourhood, however, I had been delighted. While we remained, the
weather was fine, and the walks above the town, and along the river side,
After my return
to Blackridge, several of my friends having expressed a desire to hear me
preach, I agreed to gratify them. This place, though well peopled, was far
from any church, so that the old and infirm seldom heard a sermon. Notice
being given I, on the following Sabbath, in the barn of a farmer in the
neighbourhood, preached to a large congregation. None were better pleased
on the occasion than my father and mother, who, infirm as they were, had
come ten miles to hear me. My mother had never been averse to my plan
though my father had, but he now acknowledged his error, and expressed the
greatest satisfaction at having an opportunity of hearing me preach in
A few days
after this, being on a visit to a friend in Paisley, I there met with the
Rev. Mr. Wilson of Greenock, who again proposed to engage me for the New
Grammar School at Rothesay. He said the encouragement was good, and, if I
went, he had no doubt of my finding my situation comfortable. I told him
that I would think of it till the following week, and if he had then
engaged no one he might let me know.
Next week I had
a letter from him, stating the terms he had been authorised to offer, and
requesting to see me at Greenock of Saturday, to spend the Sabbath with
him, and he would go with me to Rothesay on Monday. This appointment I
punctually observed; and, on Monday morning, we started on our expedition
to Bute, to reach which was at that time no easy matter. The steamers, now
affording a quick and easy passage were not then in existence – not even
dreamt of. We took the stage to Largs; were, being joined by the Rev. Mr.
Leech of that place, we hired a boat and sailed for Rothesay. The distance
being 12 miles, and the wind against us, we did not reach that place till
On reaching the
town, we were received, and hospitably entertained by Mr. William Gillies,
a respectable merchant, and one of the magistrates of the burgh. Here we
learned the reason why a teacher was required. Mr. Currie, the teacher of
the parish school, who was a good classical scholar, and, when he came to
the place, a respectable man, had for some time past become so dissipated
that his school had fallen into disrepute. The merchants, ship owners, and
others, petitioned the Presbytery to have him removed, but meeting with no
attention they resolved to establish a school, and have a teacher of their
own. With this view a Committee had been appointed, and Mr. Wilson had
been employed to engage a teacher as already stated.
after our arrival the Committee met, and I was engaged for two years, at
£90 for the first, and £100 for the second, to teach six hours a day in
summer, and five in the winter, a number of scholars not exceeding 50. I
was also to have the benefit of an evening class, if I chose to have one,
besides a vacation of six weeks to pursue my studies at the Divinity Hall.
This agreement being ratified, I rented a house, and returned home to
remove my family.
In the first
week of November, 1810, we proceeded to Glasgow, and put our furniture and
baggage on board a vessel bound for Rothesay. Next day we took the family
to Greenock by the coach. We reached the harbour just in time to see the
packet leaving it, with a fair wind, for Rothesay. Had we been a quarter
of an hour sooner, we could have got on board. This was provoking, as we
would now have to wait three days before we could have another
opportunity. There was no remedy but patience. We had to lodge at a tavern
which was expensive, as besides Mrs. Bell and I, we had five children and
a servant. But the delay was not the only evil we had to endure; we had
also to submit to the exactions of a rapacious tavern keeper. This was
what Mr. Boston would call a crook in our lot, but it was no use fretting
for we could make it no better.
however, the packet returned, we got on board, and reached our destination
in safety. Here new difficulties awaited us. We found the people generally
very conceited, and stiff in their manners. One reason for this was, that
most of the teachers that had been among them for some time past, had not
turned out well, and they did not know but I might be as bad as the rest.
They a great aversion to strangers, even to deal with them, and though we
paid for every article, yet we found it difficult, for some time, to
obtain even provisions for our family.
whose children I was teaching behaved in a shy and suspicious manner. I
found that an open frankness formed no part of their character. The
children, as might be expected in a sea port, were rude, both in language
and manners. The strict discipline I established seemed at first to
displease both parents and children; but, when the good effects became
apparent, it raised me in their estimation.
As the parish
school was now nearly emptied of scholars, the careless clergy, of the
established church, began to view me with an evil eye. That being under
their control, the reputation which mine was acquiring cast a reflection
on them. This excited their displeasure, and they began to persecute me by
every means in their power, in order to drive me from the place. First of
all they complained that my school was not registered according to law;
and that, since I came to the place, I had not taken the oath of
allegiance. These were difficulties easily removed.
this, they fell upon another plan. The Presbytery of Dunoon, in whose
bounds Rothesay is, claimed an unlimited control over all teachers within
these limits. They also examined these schools once a year, and judged of
the qualifications of the teachers. Noon called in question their doing so
in the parish schools; but, as mine was a private institution, I believed
they had no right to interfere with it, especially as I did not belong to
their communion. Urged on by the minister of the parish, who was my enemy,
on account of drawing away most of the youth from the parish school, but
chiefly for introducing that daring novelty, a Sunday School, into the
place, they resolved to call me to an account for presuming to teach
without their permission. They accordingly summoned me, with all due
formalities, to attend the Presbytery, to answer form my conduct.
I wrote a
letter to the clerk of Presbytery respectfully declining to attend, and
stating my reasons for so doing. This not satisfying them, they summoned
me again, and a third time; but, as I took no farther notice of them, they
gave up the point. The good folks of Rothesay were perfectly astonished at
my hardihood in disobeying the orders of the Presbyter; a thing no one had
before dared to do and they trembled for the consequence for both to me
and themselves. They were only beginning to emerge from the mental
darkness and bondage in which they had been held for ages past.
But, though I
declined to appear at the bar of Presbytery, to be examined by them, I did
not oppose their examining my school, along with the other, at the usual
time. This tended to allay their hostile feelings; for the strict
discipline observed, and the rapid improvement of the scholars, soon
convinced them that their opposition was misplaced. Of this the following
is an evidence. A young man appeared before them as a candidate for a
parish school, in a distant part of the Highlands. Upon examination he was
accepted; but they told him that he wanted experience in the actual
management of a school, and a more correct knowledge of the English
language; but, if he would attend my school for three months, they would
give him the appointment. He agreed to this, and applied with me
accordingly. With permission of the trustees, he was admitted as a
scholar, spent three months with us, made great improvement, and, in the
end, with the consent of the Presbytery, obtained the situation he sought.
school too, which I had established, and which at first gave great offence
to these gentlemen, from this time met with no further opposition. No
attempt of the kind had ever been made in the island before, and to this,
as to all the other means of improvement, they were hostile; although they
now found it vein to attempt putting it down.
SECOND YEAR – 1811
summer of 1811 our school acquired a high character, both for discipline
and mental improvement; so that my prospects of usefulness was
encouraging. My employers were so well pleased with the management of the
school, that many others applied to have their children admitted. The
trustees had resolved, that the time the school was opened, to admit only
fifty scholars; but now, in order to oblige two respectable families, we
agreed to receive six more which, with four of my own, made 60.
On August 16th
I set out for Selkirk, to attend my second session at the Divinity Hall.
The distance I had to travel, from Rothesay, was about 120 miles. About a
hundred French officers, prisoners, upon their parole, were at that time
residing in Selkirk, so that lodgings were both scarce and dear. The
number of students attending this session was 51.
lodging with Mrs. Symington, in Kirk Street, along with Mr. Haxton, a
young man from Dunfermline, whose character and habits I found very
congenial, and we spent our time very comfortably together. While others
were spending their precious hours in visiting, idleness, or something
worse, we gave close attention to study, and mutual improvement. Mr.
Haxton was teacher of the Grammar School at Dunfermline, and his time was
limited, the same as my own. After spending the session at our usual
studies, we parted, and returned to our respective homes, to resume our
commenced the Sabbath School, already mentioned, I was aware it would meet
with opposition from some, as nothing of the sort had ever before been
attempted in the place. But I was grieved to observe the ignorance that
prevailed, on religious subjects, among the young and resolved to do what
I could to remove it. At first few attended, for the people, as I
expected, were prevented by the novelty of the thing, and afraid of the
vengeance of the clergy. But I steadily persevered, and in a few weeks
both old and young came forward in so great numbers that the schoolhouse,
though large, could not contain them all.
me to labour diligently for their spiritual improvement. Besides the
instructions given to the children, I explained a portion of Scripture,
every Sabbath afternoon, for the benefit of those of more advanced years.
I felt both happy and encouraged, in the discharge of this duty at the
time, but would have been more so had I known the blessed effects it would
afterwards produce. From several of those who attended these exercises, I
have since received the pleasing information, that their first religious
impressions were there received.
On the 6th
January, 1812, our only daughter Isabella Margaret, was born. This
addition to our family increased our expenses; but as my salary was now
£100, and the people were, in other respects, very kind, we had no reason
to complain of wanting any thing. When the vessels returned from the
herring fishing, at the end of the year, our friends did not forget to
send us a large basketful of the largest fish they could select. The fees
of my evening class amounted to about £20 a year; so that our wants were
tolerably well supplied. But fuel, house rent, and provisions, were then
dear, so that nothing could be saved. The nearest place of worship we had,
in our own connection, was at Largs, on the mainland; but, as that was 12
miles distant, the across was a stormy sea, we could seldom go there. We,
for the most part, heard preaching either in the chapel of ease, or in the
Antiburgher meeting house.
MY THIRTY THIRD
YEAR – 1812
As I expected
to leave Rothesay at the end of my first engagement, I gave up the house
we were in. But I had no sooner done so than the managers of the school
called upon me, and said they were sorry to hear that I was proposing to
leave them. As the school was prospering, and all were well pleased, they
entreated me to remain with them at least another year. Being now more
reconciled to the place, and to the people, I agreed to continue, on
condition of their taking a substitute, and allowing me to go to college
in the winter. To these conditions they readily agreed, and every thing
was arranged to our mutual satisfaction.
My duty, though
fatiguing, for I had many branches to teach, was pleasant, and time passed
on insensibly. I laboured diligently to improve the young people under my
care, both in temporal and spiritual knowledge. I adopted various modes of
exciting emulation, and of rewarding diligence, which greatly advanced
their improvement. I distributed tracts, and established a juvenile
library, in which were books for all classes down to the youngest child
that could read. All this however only tended to increase the dislike of
my clerical opponents, and it was whispered about that I would soon be
called before a civil tribunal, to answer for my disregard of
ecclesiastical authority. This however never took place.
Though all my
employers were pleased to see the prosperity of the Sabbath school, I
could get none of them to give me assistance. Some of them, however, were
so far aroused to exertion as to propose getting a larger and more
convenient place, so that there might be room for assistance. One of them
even spoke to the trustees of the Antiburgher meeting house, and obtained
use of it, on Sabbath afternoons, for this purpose. But it hinted to him
that the displeasure of Dr. McLae, the minister of the parish, might fall
upon him, for what he was doing, he shamefully drew back, and would do
nothing more in the business. So true it is that the fear of man brings a
As long as I
remained in the place I persevered in this work, without receiving
assistance from any one, excepting from a Mr. McFee, who conducted the
singing occasionally. The work however did not stand still when I left the
place, for others were raised up to carry it on, so that Sabbath schools
there are no numerous, and well attended. Indeed a great change for the
better has taken place, even among the ministers in that neighbourhood. At
that time there was not supposed to be more than two of them that preached
evangelical doctrines; now there are far more.
The time of
attending the Hall again approached, and on the 13th of August,
1812, I set out for Selkirk, for the third time. There, according to
previous agreement, I met my old friend Mr. Haxton. We lodged on this
occasion with Mrs. Mebon, and passed our time both usefully and agreeably.
There were two
young French officers, lodged in the same house, whose acquaintance we
cultivated, for the sake of becoming better acquainted with the French
language. One of them was quiet and reserved. He seemed to have not great
taste for conversation, and spent most of his time in hunting, fishing,
and music. He had several musical instruments, and was quite a proficient
at using them. The other, Captain Doisy, was a Frenchman all over, full of
talk, life and activity. He was social, and spent much of his time in our
company, for he was no less desirous of learning English than we were of
The number of
students attending the Hall, this session was 49. Before I left Selkirk I
engaged Mr. Sommerville, one of their number to take my place in the
school next winter, while I attended the university. Mr. Moodie, a fellow
student from Large, and I, then set out on foot, by the muir road, for
home. On our way we visited Melrose Abby, the falls of Clyde, New Lanark
and every thing else in our way worth seeing.
home I resumed my employment, and pursued it with diligence, till the end
of October, when Mr. Sommerville came to take my place for the winter. We
had taken part of a new house in Logie’s Part, and expected to get into it
before winter; but in this we were disappointed, for it was not ready in
time. When we did get in to it, the weather was so wet, and the plaster so
new, that our hearth, our clothes, and our furniture were all injured by
it. But we had the honour of living in a palace, if that was any
consolation. Most of the people in Rothesay had nicknames. That of our
landlord was "the Duke", for what reason I do not know. His residence was
usually called the Palace, a name now transferred to this new
building, on which he had spared neither labour nor expense.
relieved for the duties of the school, I lost no time in proceeding to
Glasgow to attend college. On the 8 Nov. I joined both the public and the
private Greek classes; and the same day, those of Anatomy and Surgery. I
did not know where Providence might, in future, order my lot. It might be
where medical and surgical skill would be of service. I therefore thought
it right to avail myself of the present opportunity. I lodged at Mrs.
Wilson’s along with Mr. Thomas Main, who was in many respects a very
suitable and agreeable companion; but a poor one in respect of literary
acquirements. I had often to assist him, while he could assist me none.
In addition to
my other studies I attended Mr. Carleton’s Elocution class, and Mr. Adie’s
French class; so that all my time was busily employed. Yet I managed to
keep up a regular correspondence with Mrs. Bell, though my letters were
mostly written in the dead of night, after days of hard study, and while
my companion was sleeping beside me.
difficulties many poor students have to go through, in order to obtain a
liberal education! Mine were of a peculiar nature, arising chiefly from my
having a numerous family. My feelings, from a variety of considerations,
this winter at college may be more easily conceived than I can describe
them. Some of my letters have been preserved, and may be found in the
larger account of my life. During the Christmas recess I went home, and
spent a few happy days with my family. The distance was only 40 miles, and
yet the journey, at that time, was difficult.
In addition to
my studies at college, I had to deliver a discourse before the Presbytery,
and I must say I was glad when it was over. The remarks of those who act
as judges on these occasions are usually not of a flattering nature. The
greatest dunce among them is generally the most severe.
On the 20th
March, I received a letter from the trustees of my school informing me
that, though the school had been faithfully taught by Mr. S. in my
absence, yet both parents and children were anxious for my return. They
also requested me to continue my engagement with them as long as my
present arrangement would permit. I had previously informed them that I
meant to be employed in preaching the gospel, as soon as my preparatory
studies were finished; and therefore they proposed a new engagement only
till that time. On my return home, after my session at college was over, I
with great pleasure resumed my task of teaching. Never did a teacher love
his scholars more, nor scholars put more confidence in their teacher.
Let me now
state what became of Mr. Currie, the teacher of the parish school, which
had now no scholars. The Presbytery finding that then could not drive
me out, resolved to drive him out. Had they done so, some years
before, they would have got more credit by it. But better late than never,
may be said of every good work. In the summer of 1812, they proceeded
against him according to the laws of the church. The libel contained a
variety of charges; but the chief were drunkenness, and neglect of duty.
When the trial
took place, it resulted, as might be expected, in the conviction of the
poor Domine, and his removal from his charge. Candidates for the
place came forward in abundance, and a selection being made, it was soon
filled up with a very sober and diligent teacher. This I expected would
have the effect of drawing away some from my school, especially as the
fees with us were more than double what they were in the parish school.
Only one, however, was withdrawn, namely, a granddaughter of Mr. Blain,
the Deputy Sheriff; and his reason is stated in the following note, which
he sent me. Rothesay, 8th May, 1813.
"Mr. Blain, in
consequence of his situation, as a public functionary, is under the
necessity of removing his little Granddaughter to the Public School, of
which he thinks it a duty incumbent on him to acquaint Mr. Bell, and to
return him thanks for the care bestowed on her Education in his Seminary.
He at the same time requests to be informed whether there be any arrears
of wages due for, so as the same may be immediately paid."
with this gentleman, I may here observe, afforded me an opportunity of
seeing a number of documents in his possession, throwing much light upon
the early history of the island, both in civil and religious matters. This
induced me, in my leisure hours, this summer, to compose a history of the
island, which is among my other writings.
While this was
in progress, I made several excursions to distant parts of the island,
collecting information. Among other things, I obtained many legends,
believed by the inhabitants to be historical facts, of which I give the
following as a sample.
The laird of
Kilcattan, a farm on the south east side of the island, whose name was
Stuart, at some remote period, had a daughter no less distinguished for
the virtues of her mind, than for the beauty of her person. She however,
in the course of time, was observed to be pregnant, which caused her
neighbours to alter their opinion of her good qualities.
hearing of this, being greatly enraged, ordered her to be brought before
him, and demanded of her who was the father of the child. The young lady
did not deny her pregnancy, but asserted that it arose solely from
drinking water from a certain spring in the neighbourhood. The father
however, was not inclined to believe this; and, thinking the honour of his
family was at stake, came to the dreadful resolution of sending her to sea
in a small open boat, with nothing but a few clothes, and a small stock of
provisions, telling her that, if her story was true, her preservation
would be as miraculous as her conception had been.
She begged with
tears some mitigation of this hard sentence, but in vain. The old
gentleman was inexorable; and, as he had previously determined, sent her
adrift the same night. After being tossed about, in stormy weather, for
some days and nights, she was cast upon the coast of Ireland. Her story
was soon made known to Saint Patrick, who directed that she should be
properly taken care of.
In a short time
she was delivered of a son, who was afterwards placed under the tuition of
his saintship. This son of the well at Kilcattan, soon became under the
direction f St. Patrick, a very eminent man in the church; and was known
in after times by the name of St. Blain. The well in the garden, and the
neighbouring hill, still retain his name. But the well seems to have lost
its wonderful powers.
In this story
there is a little inconsistency, which seems to have escaped the notice of
its author. St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, lived in the fifth
century; but St. Blain, who was abbot of Dunblain, did not make his
appearance till the ninth.
FOURTH YEAR – 1813
passed as usual, and the time of attending the Hall again arrived. On or
about the 10th of August, I set out for Selkirk, for the fourth
time. At Glasgow I fell in with Mr. Moodie, with whom I travelled all the
rest of the way on foot. We reached Selkirk on the third day, very tired,
and our feet sore. We lodged at Mrs. Mebon’s, with two others, Messrs.
Crawford, and Haxton. The French officers were still there, and from
Captain Doisy we took lessons in his language as before. But there were
too many of us in one house to make much progress in study, especially as
there was one of our number who was a kind of merry Andrew to the rest.
session I delivered two discourses, with other exercises; and, after a
stay of five weeks, returned home to resume my labours in the school.
Labours pleasant in themselves, but I had no wish that they should be
permanent, having a higher object in view. My ardour to preach the gospel
was still unabated, and I had cherished the hope that this was the last
season I would be required to attend the Hall. Had preachers been scarce
at this time, this might have been the case; but, as they were not, I had
the uncomfortable prospect of remaining another year in status quo.
At this time I
would have made my case known to some of our own ministers, and asked
their advice, had I met with any encouragement from them; or felt any
confidence in them. But, when I attempted to do so, I met so much
coldness, and stiff formality, that I thought it better to keep my mind to
myself, or make it known to God only.
Before this I
had been summoned four times to the Presbytery of Dunoon; once verbally,
and three times in writing. They had exposed both their hostility and
their weakness. They had done all they could do, and so concluded to leave
me alone. But not so with my employers, who were more in their
power. As a last remedy they summoned Mr. Sharp, Chairman of the
Committee, to their bar, and extorted from him a promise that he would not
again employ me as a teacher. As this promise was not given willingly so
neither was kept, for it was after this that my last engagement was made.
being a member of their church, was not likely to escape with impunity as
I had done. They therefore wrote to them, requiring him to appear before
them, and explain why had not kept his word. But he, having some
experience with their brow beating propensities, was not inclined to face
them again. So he sent a letter, excusing himself, and laying the blame
upon the other managers. This apology was anything but satisfactory to
these ministers of peace, and they ordered him to be formally summoned
forthwith. So positive was the order, and so eager was the officer to
execute his commission, that, though Mr. Sharp was confined at the time by
severe sickness, he rushed into his bedroom, and served the summons upon
him in bed.
About the same
time hints were thrown out that Dr. McLea, the minister of the parish,
intended to suspend from the communion of the church, all who had been
parties to my last engagement. All this gave me little concern, as I had
made up my mind to leave the place at the end of my last engagement. The
Presbytery never pretended to have any other objection to me, that that I
did not belong to the established church, and did not attend to their
Near the end of
the summer I engaged Mr. Alexander McLean, now Dr. McLean of Edinburgh, to
teach the school during the winter; and in November, 1813, I went to
Glasgow to attend college. The Moral Philosophy, Mathematic, Anatomy and
Surgery classes were those I attended this winter. I lodged again with Mr.
Main, at Mr. McLean’s, No. 15 Dean Street.
On my way up, I
had a very unpleasant journey. I landed at Greenock at three in the
afternoon. There being no conveyance but shanks, the coach having left, I
walked on, being determined to reach Glasgow that evening, in order to
join the classes on the following day. The days being at the shortest, I
had to walk in the dark all the way, 24 miles. The public roads at this
time were greatly infested with robbers, and the fear of falling in with
some of them was as unpleasant as the darkness of the night. But, being
resolved to defend myself in case I was attacked, I carried a knife in my
hand all the way, being the only weapon I had about me. However I met with
no obstacle but from the dark night and the muddy road, and reached my
lodgings just as the city clocks struck ten. I had been warm with my walk,
thought the evening was cold, and now, while I sat talking to Mr. Main,
there being no fire in the room, I began to shiver, and was glad when I
got to bed.
Next day I
joined the classed, though somewhat unwell; but, in the evening, I was
attacked with inflammation of the bowels and vomiting. At first, mistaking
the nature of my disorder, I treated it improperly, or I might have got
over it sooner. As it was, my sufferings, for the first twenty four hours
were severe; but after that, by the use of proper remedies, they began to
abate. I was confined to my room two days afterwards before I could attend
the classes, from debility and weakness.
following Monday, I underwent the "Black Stone" examination, and
was happy to find that I came off more creditably than I expected. The
chair in which each student is placed in turn, at this examination is an
antiquated but highly ornamented structure of mahogany, with a seat of
black marble, from which the ceremony takes its name. In this char we all,
one by one, were examined, in the common hall of the college, every year,
on our previous studies, before passing to the higher classes. Many a poor
fellow has taken his place here with a palpitating hear, and afterwards,
with pleasure, exchanged it for one less splendid.
winter I had another attack of inflammation, but less severe than the
former. In both cases the people with whom I lodged were very kind and
attentive, and did everything in their power to alleviate my affliction.
Such conduct, especially from strangers, deserves to be recorded and may
be set off against conduct of a very different kind which we sometimes
meet with in our journey through life.
middle of January I had a letter from my son Andrew, informing me that his
mother had added another son to the family. In order to mark our sense of
the goodness of God to us, in times past, we resolved to call him
Ebenezer, for we might truly say, Hitherto the lord hath helped us. Our
family was now large and their wants were numerous, but we put our trust
in the care and protection of our heavenly Father, whose Providence could
supply the wants of nine as easily as one.
Near the end of
the month I received a letter from Mr. Bannatyne, one of the managers of
my school society, informing me that the school was in a state of
disorder, and that the trustees insisted on my coming home to save it from
ruin. This I feared might be the case from Mr. McLean’s easy temper, and
the stirring chaps he had to deal with. To remain much longer at college I
found impossible. The state of the school, and the urgent request of my
employers, who had ever behaved well to me, imperatively demanded that I
should comply with their wishes.
early in February, I returned home, and relieved Mr. McLean from his task,
which he had not found an easy one; not for want of scholarship, for he
was well qualified in that respect, but from the turbulence of those who
were under his authority. He was a native of the town; they all knew him,
and some of the older boys had been at school with him. On these accounts
they took greater liberties with him than they would have done with a
stranger. He soon lost their respect, they disobeyed his orders, and in
the end insulted him with impunity. When things come to this pass in a
school, all improvement is at an end. But it was not easy for anyone
to keep my boys in order, for there were among them six or eight grown up
lads that required some looking after.
As my last
engagement with the school committee was now drawing to a close, I urged
upon them the importance of supporting, in a spirited manner, the
undertaking they had commenced so beneficially. I even drew up for them an
improved plan for the better conducting of the institution. This was
highly approved, but the clergy, being allowed to interfere and give their
opinion, prevented any steps being taken. They indeed would allow no
school there, if they could prevent it, but the parish school, over which
they exercised unlimited control.
On the 10th
day of May, 1814, my engagements with my friends at Rothesay terminated;
and, on the following day, the family and furniture left it, in a vessel
for Glasgow. I remained two days longer myself, in order to get all our
affairs settled, and to take leave of those who had shown us kindness. The
former was easy, but the latter proved a more difficult task that I had
part of the time I spent with my worthy friend Mr. John McIntosh, a
merchant, with whom I had been on terms of intimacy all the time I lived
in the town. He had no children of his own, but he took a deep interest in
the improvement of those of others. To Mr. Ninian Bannatyne and his family
too, I was much indebted for their uniform support and warm friendship.
On the 13th,
after taking leave of many whom I was to see no more in this world, I
sailed for Greenook in the packet. On our way up the river, we passed the
Comet steam boat, lying at anchor, waiting for some repairs to its
machinery. This vessel was built by Mr. Henry Bell of Helensburg, an
ingenious mechanic, who was the first in this quarter to apply steam to
naval purposes. The first attempts, as might be expected, were rude and
imperfect, but the principle being once adopted, experience suggested one
improvement after another, till the present state of perfection was
I made no stay
at either Greenock or Glasgow, but pushed to Airdrie, where we took
possession of a house that had been rented for our accommodation. As I had
some reason to repent leaving Rothesay and going to Airdrie before being
licensed to preach, it may be proper to state my reasons for taking this
Airdrie was my
native town. I had long been absent from it, and wished to spend a few
months in town before a final separation took place. I had still some
property there, in houses, which in my absence produced very little rent,
but a great deal of trouble. My parents were now both old and infirm, and
I wished to be near them while it was possible. I had still another
session to attend, both at Divinity Hall and at College; and, while I was
absent, I expected Mrs. Bell and the children would be more comfortable
among our friends at Airdrie, than among strangers. Besides, living was
cheaper there, in most articles especially in fuel and house rent, but in
a few weeks we expected to be in a house of our own. And lastly, I felt a
strong desire to introduce a better mode of instruction among the youth of
the place, than that which they now enjoyed. This however I found not to
be so easy as I imagined. When any thing is once established, even if it
is an abuse, a change even for the better is not easily affected.
However I was
determined to make the attempt and, with this view, I opened a school as
soon as I could get furniture and other arrangements made. Experience had
suggested to me many of those improvements which have since been adopted
in training schools, and I intended to introduce them here. But as I gave
notice of those innovations, I verily believe this deterred many from
giving me countenance. Some of the other teachers too spread a report
that, as I was to be licensed to preach in a short time, parents who
placed their children under my care would soon have to seek for another
teacher. Even the religious body with which I was connected gave me no
assistance, so that during the summer I had little more than twenty
MY THIRTY FIFTH
YEAR – 1814
The state of
the schools in Airdrie at this time was very low; not from ignorance or
incapacity of the teachers, but from the low rate of fees which obliged
them to take far more scholars than they could properly manage. English
reading, in the highest school, was only three shillings a quarter, and in
the lowest it was only two. Consequently the schools were crowded with
noisy, turbulent, and ill governed children, and any discipline employed
was of the roughest description. If the children were noisy at school, the
parents were noisy at home, complaining that they learned nothing at
school but mischief, and of course all the blame was laid upon the
While I lived
at Rothesay I observed that most of the emigrants, leaving Scotland, went
to the United States of America, rather than to the British provinces.
Understanding that their objection to the latter arose chiefly from the
want of ministers and teachers there, after I came to Airdrie I wrote to
Earl Bathurst, then colonial Secretary, on the subject. I recommended that
government, in order to encourage emigration to Canada, should give free
passage to settlers, and provide them with ministers and teachers. In a
few days I received an answer, with this Lordship’s thanks for the plan I
had suggested, and saying it was now under the consideration of
In teaching at
Airdrie I spent about six months earning at an average little more than
five shillings a week. I had fitted up a neat school room, in the hope of
obtaining a respectable number of scholars. But in this I was
disappointed, and still more to find that the improvements I wished to
introduce were the greatest obstacles in the way of my success. I now saw
that it would have been better if I had remained half a year longer in
Rothesay. But I quite this subject for one more painful.
Midsummer, when the weather was very warm, measles made their appearance
in the town, and raged among the children with great violence. Three of
ours were taken ill, but for a while they discovered no dangerous
symptoms, and we had great hopes of their recovery. But when James, a fine
boy of 4½ years, seemed past the worst, a new set of measles come out, as
thick as the first. From this time he grew gradually worse till the 6th
of July, when he died about mid day. Rather more than a day before his
death, a swelling was observed on his lips, which gradually extended over
his face, and by and by closed his eyes. He was sensible to the last, and
spoke to us a few minutes before his death.
We had some
hope of his recovery till the morning of the day on which he died, and
many prayers were presented to our heavenly Father that his life might be
spared; but, when the disease assumed a fatal aspect, we bowed in humble
submission, and resigned him to the hands of Him from whom we received
him, in the hope of a happy meeting in Heaven, where disease and death
never come. He was a boy of a lively and engaging disposition, and as
might be expected, was tenderly beloved by his parents.
Having till now
witnessed the death of no near relative, for many years, this event
greatly affected us both; especially his mother, whose darling he was, yet
we endeavoured to bear the loss with fortitude, and resignation to the
will of God. It is true we had still six remaining, but this made no
difference. His hold on our affections was as strong as if he had been an
only child. But the loss was ours, not his; we were grieved, but he was
Margaret, the youngest of the three, was recovering, though slowly, but
Robert, the oldest, was far gone, and seemed to by dying. He was reduced
to a skeleton; yet, after lingering some time in that state, to the
surprise of every one, he began to recover, and in a short time was out of
danger. The time of attending the Hall being now arrived, about the middle
of August I set out for Selkirk, for the fifth and last time. But I did
not remain as long as usual, on account of the afflicted state of the
family at home.
On my return,
after an absence of three weeks, I began to teach my little school, which
now greatly increased, and had I continued, I have no doubt I should soon
have had as many scholars as I wished. But nothing could divert my mind
from preaching the gospel. In the mean time it was a severe trial of my
patience to be year after year restrained from a work in which I wished so
ardently to engage.
summer my leisure hours were chiefly employed in writing over the account
of Bute, the first volume of my own life, an abridgement of Willison’s
Sacramental Directory, and some smaller pieces. The hope of engaging in
the work of the ministry had been so long delayed that it made my heart
sick; and, at times, I almost repented that I had left England, where I
might have been all this time preaching the gospel. My family being so
large, and my income very small, my mind was at times greatly embarrassed,
and filled with doubts and fears as to the result of all this. The evil
was still farther increased by the unfeeling manner in which ministers
seemed to treat my case. The delay of the last twelve months so far from
fitting me for the discharge of my duty had, by depressing my spirits,
just the contrary effect.
approached, however, I received an invitation from the Presbytery of
Glasgow that I was soon to be put upon trial for licence. This to me was
joyful news, and without delay I gave up my school to another teacher, and
devoted my time entirely to study. I could have delivered all my trials in
a mouth, had the Presbytery been disposed to take them. But this would
have been too much condescension on their part. They would take only one
discourse at each meeting, so that a delay of about six months would still
take place. This afforded me an opportunity of attending college another
session, which I accordingly embraced.
winter, a Mr. McFarlane and I delivered some part of our trial pieces, at
each meeting of Presbytery. At length the important day arrived on which
we were to be licensed to preach the gospel, or as Dr. Waugh once
expressed it, "to have our mouths opened in the regular way". This was a
day to which I had looked forward with much anxiety, preparation and
prayers, for years past. We had already given a homily, an exercise with
additions, a lecture, and a exegesis; and now we delivered each a popular
sermon, read portions of the Hebrew Bible, and of the Greek Testament, and
explained them in English, and were examined in Church History. The
members of Presbytery having severally expressed their satisfaction, the
Moderator, Rev. Dr. Dick, proceeded to license us to God in prayer, and
exhorted us, with fidelity and perseverance, to discharge the important
duties we had undertaken. This took place on 28th of March,
A letter to a
friend, written the same evening, concludes with the following
expressions. "my stock of money is now nearly expended, but the earth is
the Lord’s and fullness thereof, and upon his care I cast myself and my
family. He has fed me all my days, and I hope he will do so still.
If he has called me to the ministry of the gospel, I pray that he may
direct me to preach in that manner, and in those places, which shall be
most for his glory, and the salvation of precious souls."
Sabbath I preached publicly was at Paisley, for the Rev. Mr. Smart. I
preached in the forenoon and evening, he in the afternoon. It was
gratuitous service on my part, but the Session insisted on my receiving a
guinea from them, as an acknowledgement. On my return to Glasgow, on
Monday, I called on Dr. Meikleham, Professor of Natural Philosophy, got my
certificates signed, and took my final leave of the University.
On the second
Sabbath, I preached at Airdrie, my native place, for Rev. Mr. Duncanson.
The congregation, as might be expected, was larger, and I never had a more
attentive audience. I was enabled to preach with some degree of freedom,
and even acceptance. On the third Sabbath, I preached at Pollock Shaws,
for Rev. Mr. Pringle.
appointments from the Presbytery now began, and I was sent two Sabbaths to
Lochwinnock. The church there, I found to be an octagon building; and, on
account of an echo from the roof, very difficult to speak in. Few are
aware that the form of a church most convenient for both speaking and
hearing must be as follows. The breadth should be two thirds the length,
and the height two thirds the width. A church, or any other apartment,
built for public speaking, according to these proportions, will be easy to
speak in, whether large of small, if the pulpit is not too high.
On the 2nd
May I returned to Airdrie, expecting there to find my appointments from
the Presbytery for that month. But to my surprise I learned that Rev. Mr.
Marshall, Clerk of the Presbytery, had neglected to put both Mr.
McFarlane’s name and mine upon the list of preachers, so that we were left
unemployed. This was the more provoking, that all the other students, of
the same standing in other Presbyteries, had been licensed three months
before us, and were now fully employed. This showed interest the
Presbytery of Glasgow took in the preachers licensed by them. If men would
in all cases do as they would have done by, a wonderful improvement would
soon take place in the affairs of the world.
MY THIRTY SIXTH
YEAR – 1815
month of May, 1815, I remained within the bounds of the Glasgow
Presbytery; but in June I received the Synod’s appointments, and began to
travel distance. In succession I preached in the bounds of the Perth,
Glasgow, and Kilmarnock Presbyteries. To describe all the difficulties I
encountered, the journeys I made, and the kindness I experienced, would
fill a volume. These I pass over; for, though sufficiently interesting to
me, they would not be so to others.
The kindness of
most of the people among whom I preached, the variety of their manners,
language, and opinions, afforded me abundant scope for observation. In one
instance I experienced bas ingratitude from one of our own ministers whom
I made a long journey to assist at his sacrament; and in tow others a
degrees of hypocrisy which, in persons making a profession of religion,
greatly surprised me. But in most instances I experienced kindness that
left a deep impression on my heart.
In the places
where I preached I had reason to believe that my services were acceptable,
though I never enjoyed that degree of popularity which some have obtained.
In three different places a disposition to give me a call to settle among
them was manifested; but in each case it was prevented by the circumstance
of my having a family. Had preachers been scarce, this would have had less
influence, but they were at this time so plenty that all could not be
employed; so that vacant congregations became very particular and
difficult to please. In the course of the summer, I still felt some
inclination to go abroad as a missionary, and actually made some inquiries
with that view. But from the infirm state of my father’s health, and other
considerations, I was induced to give up this for the present. Thoughts of
Canada however, or some other place in America, still, at times, engaged
For a few weeks
after I began preaching I travelled on foot; but the long journeys I had
to make made it necessary that I should have a horse. Accordingly, in
October, I purchased one, which enabled me to travel with more facility.
Even this had its inconveniences. The expense was considerable, and the
crossing of ferries often perplexing. But the useless journeys I had to
perform was the greatest evil of which I had to complain. I was seldom
permitted to remain more than a week in one place, and several times I had
to travel more than a hundred miles within the week. Once when I was under
the direction of the Perth Presbytery for two months, I had to travel from
30 to 50 miles every week, to supply three places.
The want of a
better arrangement had long been a just cause of complaint among the
preachers of the Secession Church; but, since that time, I understand a
great improvement has been introduced. To this improvement I hope I
contributed something. I knew it was useless for any individual preacher
to advise the Synod on the subject. His advice would have been treated
with scorn. It was impossible for the whole to join in a petition, of they
were dispersed all over the country, and could not be got together, even
to consult on the subject. I thought however that if the subject could
only be brought under the consideration of the Synod, there was good sense
enough among them to see the necessity for reformation.
In order to do
this I wrote a letter, in which I proposed a simple and easy plan
beneficial to all parties, and got my son, whose hand they could not know,
to make three copies and send them to the three ministers who usually made
out the Synod’s appointments. At the next meeting of that body, the
subject was brought before them. The letter was read, and as expected
produced some ill natured remarks about "anonymous scribblers etc.". But
they never, so far as I could learn, suspected from whom the hint came.
Few of my
letters, written while I was travelling as a preacher, are preserved. One,
written to Mrs. Bell in September, concludes as follows; "My dear Mary, I
have the prospect of paying you a visit soon, and if all is well you may
expect to se me before you hear from me again. It is painful to be thus
separated, but it makes our meeting the more pleasant, and our happiness
is not lessened by any painful recollections. Who knows but that God, even
our God, may be now providing for us some snug place where we may spend
the remainder of our days in peace and comfort. His kindness to us
hitherto has been such as to call for our warmest gratitude and love; and
why should we distrust him for the future? He is infinite in wisdom as
well as in power, and will doubtless make all things work together for our
good. If we get not every thing to our mind, we may rest assured that it
is better for us to be so. With more of the good things of this life, it
is doubtful whether we would be more grateful and happy than we are now.
We have but a small share of temporal wealth, but our possessions in
Heaven will not be less ample, nor our enjoyments less exquisite, than the
most favoured of fortune’s children. I have drawn out this letter to a
greater length than I intended, for there is not a thought that passes
through my mind but I would communicate it, nor a comfort I enjoy but I
would share it with my dearest Mary."
SEVENTH YEAR – 1816
this year of my life commenced, when I received a letter from home
informing me that my father was dangerously ill; and, if I wished to see
him alive, I ought not to lose a moment. This letter reached me at
Arbroath. It had been three days on the way, and in three days more I was
home at Airdrie. I travelled night and day, and had not off my clothes
till I reached home. When I got there however I found that my father was
both dead and buried.
placed me in very unpleasant circumstances with the family of my brother
in law, John Downs. So far back as the year 1796, my father had made a
settlement of his affairs. His property, in houses in Airdrie, was
considerable; but it was not free from debt. He found that he could give
each of his sons to the amount £250, and each of his daughters £100, if he
sold his property and paid his debts. But he preferred dividing it among
them as it stood, and also the debts. This might have answered well enough
if it had been carried into effect without involving the parties with one
another. But this he unfortunately he did.
My father had
built three two story houses, on each of which he had expended £135; one
of which with, a large garden, he gave to each of my sisters, taking a
note from their husbands for £35 each. Two of these notes were paid soon
after, but the third never was paid. The acceptor, John Downs, was of an
indolent disposition, and put off a settlement from year to year, and
never paid even the interest. Indeed he made it evident, in the end, that
he never meant to pay the note itself, if he could avoid it.
As I was still
a minor, my father kept my share of the property in his own hands, and
managed it as he thought proper. In the mean time he had made himself
liable for some of my brother’s debts, which eventually fell upon me. My
refusing to assume these debts, led to my leaving my father’s house, as
already stated in my twenty second year.
brother’s death, which happened in 1810, my father made over his remaining
property, no greatly reduced, to me, burdened me with all his debts, and
made that of John Downs payable to me. This was an arrangement I disliked
exceedingly, and I remonstrated against it, but could obtain no
alteration. By this settlement I became liable, at my father’s death, for
all his debts.
To enable me to
discharge these, I called for the payment of all debts due to him, and
among the rest of this note for £35, with the interest for some years
past. Instead of payment, however, I met with nothing but abuse from the
whole family, and not one farthing of the debt was ever obtained.
At the time of
my father’s death I had travelled, as a preacher, about a year, but had
not met with any situation where I could settle, with any prospect of
comfort or usefulness. The preachers at that time were abundant, and the
distressed state of the country, occasioned by the long and expensive war,
just then terminate, was such that few vacant dissenting congregations
could venture to call ministers to settle among them. My large family was
a serious obstacle in the way of my getting a place at home, and I still
felt a strong desire to go to another country. All circumstances
considered, this appeared to be my duty.
after much consideration, and prayer to God for light and direction, I
wrote a letter to the Moderator of the Synod expressing my desire of going
to Canada as a missionary, and requesting that, if what I had proposed met
the approbation of the Synod, they would take what steps appeared to them
most proper for carrying it into effect.
My proposal met
with the approbation of the Synod. They voted £50 to assist in carrying it
into effect, and directed the Presbytery of Edinburgh to take me upon
trials for ordination. It may seem no less strange to others, than it did
to me at the time, that several months elapsed before the least hint of
this was given to me. The Synod met in Glasgow, and I at the time was in
the South of Scotland, where I had no opportunity of obtaining
intelligence. After waiting, in a state of painful suspense, more than two
months, I wrote to Dr. Peddie for information. In a few days I received an
answer from him, requesting me to attend the next meeting of the
Presbytery of Edinburgh to be examined, in order to my entering upon
trials for ordination.
This was good
news to me, for I was tired of having no home. In the month of September I
had travelled 258 miles, and had appointments for only three Sabbaths, so
that at the end of the month, after all my labour, I was out of pocket. In
the following month I was no better off, having to provide for myself and
hose, two weeks out of the four. Even when employed, a guinea a week was
all we received, in addition to board and lodging for ourselves and horse.
I may here
state that the plan I had proposed to Government, some time before this,
for promoting emigration to Canada, had in the following summer been
carried into effect, and about 600 settlers, young and old, embarked for
that country in a body in the summer of 1815. I had some desire to go
along with them, but not having my affairs arranged, I thought it better
to wait, and submit to the direction of divine Providence.
My mind had
long been directed to Canada, as the scene of my future labours, and
though I had no particular place in view, yet God was providing one for
me. The Presbytery of Edinburgh had but just examined and taken me on
trials for ordination, when they received a petition from the Scotch
settlers at Perth, in Upper Canada, for a minister to be sent out to them.
Rev. Drs. Hall and Peddie were their Commissioners, with full authority to
make the selection. This call was offered to me, and cheerfully accepted,
for I regarded it as a call in Providence, in answer to my prayers, for
many years past.
My trials being
all given in and sustained, I was, on the 4th of March, 1817,
by the Presbytery of Edinburgh, ordained to the office of holy ministry,
and as a pastor of the Scotch settlers at Perth, Upper Canada. Without
delay I proceeded to arrange all my affairs, with a view to leave my
native country forever. A few of the letters, both received and sent at
this time, will be found in the larger account of my life.
had already give assurance that, upon being certified that a Minister, in
whom the Presbytery had confidence, was actually ordained for the people
of the Rideau Settlement, he would give orders for the payment to him of a
salary of £100 per annum. This was accordingly done, and Dr. Hall, who was
in London at the time, got the matter arranged at the colonial office.
On the first
Sabbath after I was ordained I preached to Dr. Peddie’s congregation, and
baptised three children. When I got into the pulpit and looked over the
vast assembly, and remembered that only a few days before I had there been
solemnly ordained as a minister of Christ, my feeling almost overpowered
me. The fear of not being heard, in the distant parts of such an immense
house, kept me uncomfortable all the forenoon.
afternoon I felt more at ease, and preached with greater freedom. The
baptism of the children, however, was the most serious matter, this being
the first time of my performing that service. The first was a son of Mr.
David Brown, son of the celebrated Dr. John Brown of Haddington. The
child’s name also was John. To be called a administer the sacred
rite to a grandson of this great and good man, was an honour I had never
I had, while at
Leith, in the winter go acquainted with Mr. Watson, and old merchant and
shipowner belonging to that port. His son was captain of a ship which was
to sail for Quebec early spring, and the respectability of the father led
me to expect good conduct from the son. In this I was sadly mistaken, and
besides, had reason to repent taking a voyage round the north of Scotland.
The time of our
departure being come many expressed their regret at our leaving them, and
many more requested letters from us after we had reached our new home.
After taking an affectionate leave of many kind friends, we went on board
the Rothimuchus, of 500 tons, Captain Watson, on the 5th April,
1817. We had six children alive, the oldest 14 and the youngest little
more than 3 years of age. The crew amounted to 15, and the passengers to
105, including the family of the Rev. William Taylor, who went out with
a severe storm on the east coast, of Scotland, and two others on the broad
Atlantic, but in other respects the passage, though long, was as pleasant
as could be expected. At first the greater part of the crew and a few of
the passengers, swore profanely; but, by talking to them, and exposing the
folly and wickedness of swearing, most of them were prevailed upon to lay
it aside, and to behave with proper decorum during the voyage. One part of
the passengers were very respectable, and even religious people. We had
social worship morning and evening, and preaching every Sabbath, both
forenoon and afternoon, when the weather would permit.
character of our captain we were grievously disappointed. At the time we
engaged our passage, he made many fair promises that never were fulfilled.
No sooner were we at sea than he appeared in his true colours, and these
not the fairest. Mrs. Bell and some of the children were sick all the way,
but instead of paying attention to them, and supplying their wants, he
even refused them those accommodations he had engaged to provide. This was
no pleasant situation to occupy for a period of eight weeks, which was the
time we were at sea, the captain drunk every day, and nearly all the day.
Had it not been for the sobriety and good conduct of Mr. Richmond, the
first mate, I should have been often alarmed for our safety.
MY THIRY EIGHT
YEAR – 1817
narrow escapes from mountains of ice, which are as dangerous as rocks, we
reached Quebec on the evening of 1st June. Next day I waited on
the Governor General, Sir John C. Sherbrooke, and presented my letters.
His Excellency treated me with great civility, and after perusing my
letters, ordered us a free passage to Perth, 100 acres of land, a building
lot in the village, a stove, and the usual supply of implements from the
At the time we
landed Mrs. Bell and three of the children were reduced to skeletons, by
long continued sickness and the barbarous treatment they had met with from
the Captain. Most of the provisions were not fit for dogs, far less for
sick human beings. The bread was full of vermin, and the beef several
years old and almost rotten. Both were said to have been purchased, at a
Government sale of condemned stores, for almost nothing. A particular
account of what we suffered may be found in my published "Letters from
Perth". We remained six days at Quebec, getting our affairs arranged, and
our strength in some degree recruited. During this time I had the
pleasure, on the 4th June, then kept as the King’s birthday, of
preaching my first sermon in Canada, St. John’s chapel.
On the 7th
June we went on board the stem boat Malsham, and proceeded to Montreal.
There we found new friends. From the Rev. Robert Easton and family, we
received much hospitality and kindness. The commissary too, Mr. Clarke,
paid us great attention, providing carriages to convey us to Lachine, and
a batteau to carry us up the river. Our passage upward was slow, on
account of the many rapids we had to surmount, but the weather was so fine
that we had not a single shower all the way.
On the 16th
June, after eight days voyage from Montreal we landed at Prescott. Here we
were detained some days, and put to some inconvenience, from the
carelessness of Mr. Clarke, the Commissary from Fort Wellington, who
behaved to us very differently from his namesake at Montreal. The latter
showed himself a gentleman, the former a brute.
This man, while
our Canadians were unloading our goods from the bateau at the Government
wharf, put himself in a passion, and without any cause that I could see,
swore most abominably. As I was standing by, he turned to me saying, "I
beg your pardon Mr. Bell, for swearing in your presence, but these
Canadians are such brutes, they would make a saint swear." I replied that
he ought rather to ask pardon of God, for he had sworn in His presence,
which was worse. But mark the inconsistency of the man. He turned from me
and began to swear as profanely as before.
Hearing that my
old friend, the Rev. Mr. Smart, whom I had not seen for seven or eight
years, was waiting for me at Brockville, I left my family on charge of a
fellow traveller, who was also going to Perth, and went to Brockville.
There, I had not only the pleasure of seeing Mr. Smart and his family but,
on the following Sabbath, of preaching at the opening of his new church,
which was just finished.
On the evening
of that day, a Mr. Kilborne took me with him to his house, 12 miles on the
road to Perth. Next morning he furnished me with a horse to carry me
forward on my journey. I still had 30 miles to travel, mostly through
forest, but there was not much danger of losing the road, for there was
only one way. After being bitten almost to death by myriads of mosquitoes,
I reached Perth on the 24th June 1817. Here I learned that, in
consequence of a dispute between the town and country people, about where
I was to reside, no house had been provided for us anywhere. New comers
had generally to sleep under the branches of a tree till one could be
inquiry I obtained a log house, 20 by 30, without partitions, and having
only a few split bass wood planks for a floor, at £20 for a year. Two days
later Mrs. Bell and the children arrived, and we took possession of our
new abode. We had poor accommodation, but we had the comfort of
reflecting, if it was any comfort, that we were better off than most of
our neighbours who were living in huts covered with bark.
On the first
Sabbath, after my arrival, I preached in the upper story of the inn. The
day being wet, my congregation was not large. The magistrates, and
officers of Government, however attended.
In a few days,
on becoming better acquainted with the state of parties, I found that the
Scotch settlers, who had called me out, asserted an exclusive right to my
services, and therefore insisted that I should live among them; while the
people of the village, and others, considered my services intended for the
benefit of all, and therefore I should reside in Perth, that being the
centre of the settlement. This last appearing to be the most rational
idea, I determined to remain in the village for the present.
better acquainted with my congregation, I found that they were mostly
poor, some of them even factious and troublesome. Various plans for
building a manse and church were proposed, but they all failed from these
causes. It is doubtful if I should have had a church at all, had I not
taken the management of it on myself. Even then it was attended with
difficulty; for those who did nothing were most industrious in finding
fault with those who all in their power. During the first year I preached
in the upper story of the inn. It was unfinished, and no partitions in the
way, so that we had plenty of room. But not being plastered, it was
dreadfully cold in winter, though we had a stove.
In a few weeks
after my arrival I began to visit and examine my congregation, and to take
steps to have a church organised. On the second Sabbath of September we
had our first communion, and a most interesting sermon it was to many. We
were far distant from our native land, that we were forming a Christian
church where there never was one before, and that we had all till lately
been strangers to one another, but were now united by the bond of
Christian affection, were well fitted to produce serious reflections.
there was no school in the settlement, I resolved to have one established.
The proposal met with every encouragement, both from the agents of
Government, and the settlers. Indeed I found it necessary, for the sake of
my own children, who had here no other opportunity of obtaining education.
The Governor General, on hearing what I had done, directed a salary of £50
to be paid to me as the teacher.
the Secretary of the settling department, being a person of a very envious
and wicked disposition, was quite vexed at these marks of favour shown me
by the Governor, and did what he could to render them inefficient. Among
the articles ordered us by His Excellency, on the approach of winter, was
a stove. For this I had repeatedly applied to Mr. Daverne without success.
One time he could not find the order, another he must first write to
Captain Fowler, another I might have the stove if I sent for it to Fort
As the cold
weather was setting in and we began to suffer, I resolved no longer to
brook these delays. So I wrote to the Governor at once, and explained how
matters stood. This had the desired effect, and I not only received my own
stove forthwith, but another for the school. I have no doubt Mr. Daverne
received an admonition on the subject, which he deemed it his duty to
remember. Though he was very civil to me, when the stoves were delivered,
I could see he was any thing but well pleased at my success.
who had visited my school when he was in Perth, was kind enough, after his
return to Quebec, to make a subscription among his friends, and raised
enough money to build a schoolhouse. This was sent to Mr. Daverne to get
the building erected, and he being in no hurry, put it off till the
following summer. Even when the house was built, he endeavoured to deprive
me of it, and to give it to a Roman Catholic teacher, lately come to the
was prevented by an order from Col. Cockburn, the head of the Settling
department, to whom I complained. When the malignant creature could no
longer keep it from me, he sent me the key and told me to take possession,
which I did without delay. Here I taught the school during the week, and
preached on Sabbath, for about a year, till the church was ready for our
settlers came to Perth on the 16th April, 1816, after cutting
their way, 20 miles, into the forest. The whole population, at the time I
reached it, in 1817, amounted to 1890; consisting of emigrants, and
discharged soldiers and their families, but others were constantly coming
In October, at
the request of certain persons there, I made a journey to a settlement on
the Rideau River, 20m miles from Perth, and preached in a school house on
a Sabbath, to a good congregation. There being no road, I had to procure a
guide to conduct me through the forest, and to wade through all rivers and
swamps that came in our way.
Soon after my
return to Perth, being informed that a Presbyterian Church was proposed at
Kingston, I determined to visit that place, to preach one or two Sabbaths,
and encourage the people to go on with the undertaking. All this was done,
but I found the people divided into opposite parties; the Scotch and the
American. The former insisted on having a minister exclusively from the
Church of Scotland; the latter preferred having one from the United
one Sabbath, I visited the leaders of both parties, and endeavoured to
promote a good understanding between them, but found it impossible. They
were too much under the influence of party spirit. My journey, both to
Kingston, 70 miles, and home again, was made on foot, by roads almost
impassable. I had not then obtained a horse, nor was there yet any thing
in the settlement to feed one. Both grain and potatoes were growing upon
the newly cleared land, but no grass. There were only two or three horses
in the settlement, and hay for them had to be brought from a distance of
twenty or thirty miles.
On my way home
I spent two days at Brockville with Mr. Smart, and assisted at his
communion on the Sabbath. During my stay, I proposed a plan for uniting
all the Presbyterians in the province, under the name of the "United
Presbyterian Church of Canada". Mr. Smart highly approved of this plan,
and we agreed that he should write to all the Presbyterian ministers in
the province, and request their co-operation. My journey home was attended
with much difficulty, from the dreadful state of the roads.
The papers from
the colonial office to enable me to draw my salary were sent from London
by Dr. Hall, but by what conveyance I know not, for they never reached me.
This kept me in long in suspense. I wrote to the Governor General, but he
had received no orders, and could give me no information on the subject. I
began to be quite uneasy about our means of support. None of our children
were yet able to do anything for themselves. Provisions of all kinds were
excessively dear, flour from 14 to 20 dollars a barrel. Our stock of money
was now low, and there was no prospect of the settlers being able to do
anything for us, for years to come.
In this dilemma
I thought of writing to the Lt. Governor of the Upper province, but he had
gone to Britain. However, I wrote to the Administrator, Col. Smith, and in
a few days received an answer, from the provincial Secretary, informing me
that Earl Bathurst had authorised me to receive a salary of £100 per
annum, to be paid half yearly, by the Receiver General, and what was not
due, from 18th March, would be paid to me, or my agent, if
furnished, with a power of attorney.
This set my
mind at ease, and filled me with gratitude to the sovereign Disposer of
all events. I could still say, Hitherto the Lord hath helped me.
On the 11th
of November, while doing some repairs to our house to fit it for the
winter, I had the misfortune to cut my right foot very badly with an adze.
The corner of it went nearly through my foot. The would confined me to bed
one fortnight, and to the fireside another; yet I taught the school all
the time in my house, and preached on Sabbath from a chair, till I was
well enough to walk about.
The law in
Canada at this time required that ministers, before they could celebrate
marriages, should appear at the General Quarter Sessions, after giving
three months previous notice, produce seven of the respectable members of
their congregation, present the certificate of their ordination and a take
the oath of allegiance. On this business I had to make three journeys to
Brockville, 42 miles, and very bad roads, through the carelessness or
design of the Clerk of the peace, in not exhibiting my notice in his
office as the law required. This might have been overlooked, had not the
Church of England party, in the Sessions, at that time ruled everything
with despotic sway, and they were happy to disappoint my first
however, all obstacles being surmounted, my certificate was granted. On my
way home I fell in with a farmer, Mr. Kilborne, who invited me to his
house, about half way to Perth. Having collected his family and
neighbours, I preached to them in the evening, the house being quite full.
Next day Mr. Kilborne conveyed me part of the way home in his sleigh. The
cold was intense, the thermometer being below zero. Another sleigh, I fell
in with, on the road brought me the rest of the way. On reaching Perth I
was almost frozen, and in stepping out of the sleigh, the street being
covered with ice, I fell on my right hand, and dislocated my forefinger. I
had to walk half a mile to my own house with it in this state, and it was
half an hour before it was warm enough to get it set, which I did myself,
with the help of a young man who happened to be in the house at the time.
At our first
communion, 14th September, 48 members were received. At the
second, 14th December, for we had resolved to celebrate this
ordinance four times in the year, we had an addition of two more. Nearly
the whole of the following Saturday was spent in settling a family dispute
about the property of a deceased relative. The parties were Highlanders,
named Campbell, and I had great difficulty in preventing them from going
to law with one another. They at last left it to arbitration; and Dr. Thom
and I being chose, settled all matters between them. What bursts of
Gaelic, and violent conduct: it was difficult to keep them from fighting.
The great and
sudden change of temperature in Canada, on some occasions, astonished us.
Though on our Communion Sabbath, 14th December, it was so mild
as to rain all day, yet the following Sabbath was one of the coldest days
I ever felt. So intense was the frost that all our bottles, containing
liquids, were burst, and every loaf was as hard as a block of wood.
afternoon of that day a man and a woman, whom I had never seen before,
came to our door with a child, which they had brough three or for miles,
and said they wished to have it Christened. They came in, sat down
by the fire, and warmed themselves and the child. I learned from their
conversation that the child was not their own, and that they were ignorant
of the nature and design of baptism. I asked how they could think of
bringing out an infant in such a dreadful day? They said the child, as
well as the parents, was sick, and they were afraid it would die. I told
them that was the very reason why they should not have brought it out. I
was sorry they had exposed the child to no purpose, as I could not baptise
it unless one or both parents were present, and I found them to be
The man on
hearing this became insolent, got up and said he did not care whether I
christened the child or not, as he could take it to the Roman priest, who
would make no objection if he paid him for the job, which he was
quite willing to do. They then left the house, went to the priest, paid
half a dollar, had the child christened, and went home well
pleased. The service was performed in French, of which they did not know a
following Sabbath, 28th December, Mrs. Bell was delivered a
seventh son. She had attended public worship during the day, but just
before the congregation was dismissed, feeling herself unwell she went
home, and in two hours made this addition to the family. We called him
James after his deceased uncle and brother.
Easton, Taylor and I had before formed ourselves into a Presbytery, called
"The Presbytery of the Canadas". It was the first ever held in the
province. The admission of Mr. Johnston, a preacher from Ireland, nearly
ruined its character. He was admitted at a meeting when I was not present,
and though at first he had a promising appearance, he turned out anything
but a credit to us.
On the first
Sabbath of the new year we proceeded to the choice of elders, in order to
have a Session organised. At the conclusion of this service Dr. Thom made
a violent and abusive attack upon me, in the place of worship, for not
baptising the child referred to in a former paragraph. It seems the child
belonged to a discharged soldier, named Wilson. He was angry because they
had taken it to the priest, and came to me to re-baptise it, which I
declined to do. He then went to Dr. Thom as a magistrate, and complained
that I had refused to baptise his child because he belonged to the Church
of England, which was not true. This was the cause of the doctor’s attack
following Tuesday Wilson was in Perth all day, drinking a blustering about
having me punished for refusing to baptise his child. In the evening he
left the village drunk, but never reached home. The next morning he was
found on the road frozen, half a mile from Perth. When the body was
brought in, before the coroner’s inquest, it presented a shocking
spectacle; the limbs stiff and bent up, the hair erect and full of snow,
and the eyes staring and wide open. The infant died the same night, and
the next day they were both buried in the same grave.
At the first of
the settlement, the Sabbath had been very much profaned. Even buildings,
in some instances, had been erected on that sacred day. After I came to
the place, there was a reformation among those who attended public
worship, for I spoke to them on the subject. But those who were most
guilty were not present. To remedy the evil most effectually I fell upon
the following plan. Taking one of my elders with me, I called at every
house, shanty, and tent, in the village and neighbourhood, spoke of the
evil of profaning the Sabbath, and requested the aid of all to prevent it.
This had the desired effect, and from that time forward there was a
visible reformation in regard to this evil.
Near the end of
January I paid a visit to Beverly, and the surrounding country, preached
in various places, and baptised a number of children. At one place I
baptised thirteen, after preaching to a large congregation. I was at much
pains instructing parents in their duty, and explaining to all the nature
and design of baptism. The people expressed great satisfaction, and
requested me to come and preach to them frequently, which accordingly I
did as often as possible.
Some part of
the way out, on this occasion, I travelled with a Methodist farmer named
Tupper. He was the first I ever met with who professed to have attained
perfection. Till then I did not believe in the existence of such persons;
but he removed all doubt on the subject, for he actually asserted that he
had lived without sin for the last ten years.
I had obtained
a town lot of one, acre, and early in the spring had a frame house
erected, which soon after had a narrow escape from destruction by fire.
One day when the ground was very dry, one of my neighbours was burning
brush on an adjoining lot, on the windward side. The ground being covered
with dry brush and leaves, the fire ran over the ground and got hold of
the chips and shingles lying round the house. The boys and I made every
exertion in our power to save the new building. They carried water from
the swamp, while I threw it on the fire and raked away the burning matter
from the frame. The day was hot, and the fire raging around us, made it
still hotter. Though blinded, and almost suffocated with smoke, I made
desperate exertions and at last succeeded in getting the fire under, even
after it had got hold of the frame. Had I been less determined, it would
have been all in flames in a few minutes. When the fire was subdued, I was
so exhausted with the heat and my exertions that I was unable to sit up
during the rest of the day, but very thankful that the house had been
saved from destruction.
MY THIRTY NINTH
YEAR – 1818
Fowler granted me a 25 acre lot, close by the village, immediately upon my
arrival, it was too late in the season to be of any service for that year.
But I got part of it cleared and prepared for crop next summer. The first
fruits were very acceptable, more ways than one. When we first came
provisions were extravagantly dear. Flower was fourteen dollars a barrel,
bread 5 d. a pound, sugar from 15 d. to 20 d., potatoes two dollars a
bushel, other things in proportion. The first potatoes we raised were most
acceptable, after being kept so long on salt provisions.
The frame of
our church was now erected, but nothing more was done to it, nor could be
done for want of money. A few had done what they could, but most of our
settlers had nothing to spare, being in a starving condition themselves.
As a meeting of Presbytery was to be held in Montreal, in July, I
determined to attend and avail myself of the opportunity of raising, at
the time, subscription to assist us in finishing the church. At Brockville
and Prescott I raised a few pounds, but the assistance I received from Mr.
Smart was not as cordial as I expected. At the former place I preached on
Sabbath, and on Monday went on to Cornwall, where I met some of our
Next morning we
took passage in a Durham boat loaded with flour, and had the pleasure, as
well as danger, of descending the rapids of the St. Lawrence. The barge
shot forward like an arrow, while the waves dashed around us like those of
the ocean. We could see the shelving rocks was we passed over them, but
the vessel being flat bottomed, we passed ins safety, and next day reached
Here we learned
that Mr. Easton had been taking all the business of the Presbytery into
his own hands, and acting with all the authority of a bishop. As this
conduct was directly opposed to the spirit of Presbytery I determined to
resist it. In the evening we met in Mr. Easton’s church. When the minutes
of the former meeting were read I found that some very irregular steps had
been taken. Among the rest that the Presbytery had been organised without
any principle or standard being adopted as the basis of our union. I
proposed that the doctrines, discipline, government, and worship of the
Church of Scotland, should be acknowledged by us. This being unanimously
agreed to, we proceeded to business.
object in going to Montreal being to obtain assistance to finish our
church, I kept this steadily in view. Mr. Easton, in consequence of the
opposition I made to his arbitrary proceedings, having declined to assist
me, I procured Mr. Hunter, a merchant in the city, to go along with me. We
were so far successful that, in a few days, we raised upwards of £100. The
fatigue I underwent, during the time, both in body and mind was excessive.
The weather was very warm, and the hours of business required that we
should be employed during the hottest part of the day.
Taking leave of
my kind friends in Montreal I returned home. Before I reached Perth the
news of my success had arrived, and all, with joy, welcomed me back. The
finishing of the church was now pushed forward as fast as the materials
could be procured.
Some of our
poor settlers who had large families, still suffering the want of both
food and clothing, I wrote to the Governor on their behalf. He at once
ordered an additional supply of fifty daily rations, and a supply of
clothes for their use, besides a letter of thanks to me for the interest I
took in their welfare. This greatly mortified some of the officers of the
settling department, who wished it to be understood that all such things
depended on them.
On the 26th
August, we moved into our new house. It was not quite finished; but, as I
did some parts of the work with my own hands, it was more convenient to be
on the spot. After the information already mentioned, which I received
from Mr. Cameron, civil secretary, I had no further trouble with my
salary. By an arrangement with the Receiver General, the Honourable John
McGill, whom I found to be honourable in the best sense of the word, he
sent my money as it became due, without giving me the trouble of going to
York, 300 miles distant.
Finding that we
were still short of means to finish our church, in a letter to Col.
Cockburn, to be laid before the Governor, I wrote as follows; "Before I
conclude permit me to make another request, the granting of which will
confer essential benefit on this settlement. Since I came here the want of
a place of worship has occasioned us great inconvenience. To think of
raising money here for this purpose would in present circumstances be
idle. I have therefore applied for assistance in other quarters and have
been so far successful as to induce us to proceed with the building of a
church. My request to you is that you will endeavour to procure for us the
glass, putty, nails and sheet iron necessary to complete the building."
All these were granted us by the Col. on his next visit to Perth.
destitution of the country gave me great pain. In the journeys I made, in
different directions, I found whole townships destitute of religious
instruction. Yet no minister could have got a living among them, but by
the labour of his hands. All applications to government on this subject
were now unsuccessful, except in favour of Episcopal ministers, to whom
they gave a decided preference. The people would have preferred
Presbyterian ministers, but they were partly unable and partly unwilling
to support them, and government would give them no assistance.
Mr. Daverne and
Dr. Thom were the only persons in the place who appeared to be my enemies.
But unfortunately they had much power, the one being the Secretary, and
the other surgeon of the settling department. My endeavours to put a stop
to swearing and Sabbath profanation, vices for which they were both noted,
had given them great offence. They had not indeed been successful in
depriving me of the schoolhouse in the first instance, but they fell upon
a plan which ultimately had that effect.
Though the one
was a Roman Catholic, and the other a renegade Presbyterian, they united
in a petition to the Governor to send them a minister of the Church of
England, who should also take charge of the school. This was cunningly
devised. They knew that a petition of this kind would be granted at once.
In a few months they were gratified by the appearance of Rev. Mr. Harris
among them. The Governor however directed my grant of land to be increased
to 800 acres. But this favour was in great measure defeated by Mr.
Daverne’s refusing me every lot he knew to be good.
school I wrote to the Duke of Richmond, and expressed a hope that I should
not be deprived of it as it was a principal means of my support. By return
of post I received an answer from Col. Cockburn, informing me "that it had
been decided on that a Clergy man of the established Church should be sent
to Perth, when the charge of the school as a matter of course must
be placed under his direction". This appeared to me something like a
dream. Is it possible, I said to myself, that as a matter of course
I must resign a school I have collected and established by my own
exertions? It seemed to be so absurd that no reasonable person could
expect it. But I had forgotten that I was in a military settlement, and
that its rulers were always despotic and often tyrannical. In the end the
school was taken from me, though the parents and other petitioned against
the arbitrary proceeding.
having never yet been introduced into the settlement, I tried some matter
sent me from Edinburgh; but it did not succeed, having been too long kept.
I than wrote to a friend in Montreal who procured me some, with which
inoculated my own youngest child, and a number of others. They all did
well, but malice or selfishness is sure to stand in the way or every good
work. Dr. Reade, a half-pay officer, who had been an apothecary in the
army, had set up in Perth as a doctor; and as all such people are fond of
arbitrary measures, he circulated a report that he was going to prosecute
me for practising surgery without a license. This however he never
attempt, and it was well for him he did not, as I charged no fees, and had
paid more attention to surgery than he had.
the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was administered for the fifth time.
The congregation was large, and we had a much greater numbers of
communicants than we ever had before. I felt happy in setting the bread of
life before the church, though suffering from headache at the time. This
always appears to me a family feast, where love is increased, faith
strengthened, and all members are drawn closer to one another, as well as
Daverne was going round, procuring signatures to his petition for an
Episcopal clergyman, he very unexpectedly called upon me, and requested me
to sign it. I told him that would be somewhat absurd. Besides it contained
a gross falsehood which I should not fail to expose.
the following Sabbath, after public worship, I noticed this petition, and
stated that I had no wish to throw any obstacle in the way of those who
wished to have a minister of the Church of England; but that I would
certainly expose the deliberate falsehood in the petition, namely that the
petitioners could not obtain baptism for their children, nor admission to
the Lord’s table. It might be true on the part of the ignorant and the
immoral, because the former required to be instructed, and the latter
reformed, for we are not to cast pearls before swine, nor to take the
children’s bread and cast it to dogs. But all pious, and properly
instructed persons, of whatever denomination, were admitted to the
ordinances of religion, the same as our own people. This exercise of
discipline in the church gave offence to many, especially to those who had
been in the army. They expected me to administer the sacraments to
all who applied, good, bad, and indifferent, without respect to their
conduct or character.
I shall here
give some account of an expedition which had nearly cost me my life. My
grant of land was not yet located. About three miles from the village was
some low swampy land which I wished to examine, to see if it could be
drained. A small creek ran through it, quite level, like a canal.
On the 23rd
December, after the school went out, I set out for this purpose. I had
three miles to walk before I got to the creek. When I got upon the ice, I
found the snow deeper than I expected, which greatly impeded my progress.
The ice too, in some places, was so bad that I twice broke in, and got wet
up to my knees. This alarmed me, as it was one of the coldest evenings I
I had got about
two miles on the creek when the setting sun reminded me it was time to
return home. If I went back the way I came, it was five miles to Perth,
but in a straight line, through the wood, it was only three. As I was on
the point of freezing, I determined to take the shortest course, though
there was no track. So striking into the bush I made off at the speed the
nature of the ground would allow, for I had to penetrate the thickest and
scramble over fallen timber that lay in my way, sometimes up to the middle
in snow. The setting sun still gilded the tops of the trees which enabled
me to keep the right course for the first half mile. But after that,
having got into a thick cedar swamp, I had no guide to go by, and soon
deviated from the right course.
When a person
once goes astray in the forest all ideas of direction are immediately
lost; and some in this situation have wandered for hours, or even days
sometimes in circles. The pain in my freezing extremities, and the
alarming situation in which I was now placed, induced me to make the
greatest exertions, which soon covered my body with perspiration, though
the cold was so intense that the sweat which ran from my head formed
icicles on the ends of my hair. How long I struggled on in this state I
cannot tell, but it was now dark, and I was aware, as my strength was
beginning to fail, that if I stood still, or lay down, as I felt much
inclined to do, I would soon fall asleep, and of course die. I again
exerted myself to the utmost, but my sight was becoming dim, and I sank
down on a fallen tree quite exhausted.
I was about to
resign myself to my fate, for I had now no hope of getting home, when
looking round once more, I though I could perceive, through the dark
forest, rising ground at no great distance. This inspired hope, and new
strength. I started up and proceeded in that direction, and soon reached
an opening among the trees, where I could see the clear sky. I entered the
clearing, and approached what appeared to be some kind of erection. It was
a mere hut, but never had I drawn near the habitation of man with so much
pleasure. Here a new disappointment awaited me. The hut was deserted, and
I knew not where I was, for I had wandered far from the right course.
however had been at the hut after the snow fell, and by following the
track half a mile I came to a beaten path, which I knew would lead me to
Perth; from which, as it turned out, I was now little more than two miles
distant. This I soon travelled, for I was now more concerned for Mrs. Bell
than myself, knowing that she would be alarmed at my stay.
The state I was
in, when I got home, it would be difficult to describe. My body was
drenched in perspiration, while my extremities were freezing. My boots and
trousers, as far as they had been wet when I broke through the ice, were
hard as wood, and had to be thawed before they could be take off. After
bathing my hands and feet in water, I got on dry clothing, and was soon as
well as ever. Never was in greater danger, and never did I more heartily
give thanks to God for deliverance.
At the end of
1818, besides the above, I had many causes of gratitude to God, my best
friend. My family was all in life, in health, and in some degree of
comfort. Living in our own house, and for the most part, on the produce of
our own labour. But the following, from my journal of that date, will best
explain our situation.
is gone, in which I have suffered some afflictions, but still have enjoyed
many mercies. Upon a review of the past, I have, like Paul, much reason to
thank, God and take courage. Bless the Lord, O my soul, at the remembrance
of his goodness, both in temporal and in spiritual things. During the year
we have enjoyed health, obtained more land than we are able to cultivate,
have built a house, and are now at our own fire side. Our prospects, if
not bright, are at least encouraging."
"We have also
great cause for gratitude in regard to the state of the church. The
designs of our enemies have been defeated, our numbers have increased, and
our union has been drawn closer. In the midst of poverty, and many
privations, a church has been erected, and we hope will soon be finished.
Our walls, like those of Jerusalem, have been built up in troublesome
times, yet we can still say, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us. I have
preached at least twice each Sabbath, and taught the school during the
week, besides being constantly employed, morning and evening in the house
or in the field, and yet I feel as active, both in body and wind, as id I
had done nothing. God grant that, in the coming year, if I am spared I may
be more zealous for His glory, more diligent and faithful in His service.
And O may the church prosper, may vital religion prevail, and the love of
many to the Saviour increase. And to the Father, to the Son, and to the
Holy Ghost, one God, and my God, be glory, and honour, for ever and ever,
In the fall of
the last year the exterior of the church was finished, all but the glazing
of the window; but as the glass and other articles, we were to receive
from Government, had not yet come, we were forced to let it remain in that
state all the winter. Early in the spring however, being determined to
have it finished, I prepared to have a subscription paper, and putting
down £10 myself, I went round to all the inhabitants of the village, and
obtained subscriptions to the amount of £63. Two of my elders afterwards
went into the country and got a little more.
Early in the
summer, the work inside the church was set forward; and, before harvest,
it was finished, all but the gallery and the painting. The spire of the
steeple was covered with tin, and the bell began to call the people to
assemble on Sabbath mornings. At midsummer the seats were let for the
first time, at a dollar each sitting. The congregation were to provide me
a house, and it was all I expected from them. But they were too poor at
this time to do even that. It was therefore agreed that, out of the seat
rents, I should receive £20 in lieu of a house, and the rest should go to
finish the church.
YEAR – 1819
In a letter
from a friend in Scotland, this summer, I learnt the fate of Captain
Watson, of the Rothiemurchus, who brought us out of this country. He had
by, long intemperance, become a poor degraded being, a very slave to his
beastly appetite. Thus he went from evil to worse, till at last he lost
his reason. He brought out the ship again, in the spring of 1818, but this
was his last voyage. On the way home he became quite deranged, so that his
friends were forced to send him to a mad house in Edinburgh, where he died
some time after. In the fall of the same year the ship made a voyage to
the Baltic, but, on its return, was wrecked on the north east coast of
Scotland. Both ship and cargo were lost, but the crew were saved.
By the same
conveyance I had a letter from my mother, informing me that she had had a
fall, by which she had been laid up for some time, and probably lamed for
life. But her greatest grief was that we were so far from her, and that
she was not likely ever to see us again in this world.
The account of
my ordination, and voyage to Canada, having appeared in various newspapers
and magazines, I had abundance of letters, most of them from persons I had
never seen, making inquiries about the nature of the country and twenty
other things, which any of the numerous publications, describing the
country, could have answered as well as I could. Some of the more
interesting I have preserved as literary curiosities.
In the fall of
1818, about 300 Highlanders, from Perthshire, in Scotland, came out to
Canada under direction of the Government. They were sent up the Ottawa,
and landed at the place where By Town is now built. While they were
detained there, till a road was cut to Beckwith, where they were to be
located, a great part of their baggage was destroyed by an accidental
fire. Winter now approaching, they now suffered many hardships, and a few
of them died by sickness. They had poor accommodations in the cold
weather, and some repented leaving their native land.
My first visit
to them was on the 4th April, 1819, just before the sleighing
broke up. A road had been opened from Perth, but it was a very rough one.
I had then no horse, nor was there at that time more than two or three in
the settlement. One of these belonged to Mr. Adamson, and he engaged to
take me out. We started early in the morning, for we had twenty miles to
travel to the place where I was to preach, and the road was very bad.
We had just set
out when a light drizzling rain came on, which increased as the day
advanced, so that we were soon wet through. We took our horse 15 miles,
and walked the other 5, where no sleigh road was opened. The shantie in
which I preached was completely crammed, being only 12 by 18 feet. After
preaching, I baptised a few children, born since the parents left
Scotland. Returning back on foot 5 miles, to the government store, I
preached again in a very inconvenient place, and baptised more children.
rained, but as it was evident the roads were breaking up, we lost no time
in returning home. This was no easy task. The snow was become so soft,
with the warm rain, that the horse sunk to the knees at every step. Though
bout wet and wary, we had to walk most of the way, so that our progress
was slow. But having moon light we kept on, and reached Perth a little
after midnight. The next day the low grounds were all flooded with the
melting snow, so that travelling was at an end for a time. This may serve
as a sample of the services I had to perform in the infant state of the
week the snow melted so fast that the river Tay rose to a great height. In
the morning of Sunday following the only bridge then built in the village
was carried away by the flood. Our place of worship being on the opposite
side, we had all to cross in a boat, which Captain Adams fortunately had
at hand. This was the only means of communication for some weeks, till a
foot bridge could be erected, as a temporary expedient till the water
fell, so that a more substantial structure could be erected.
I was at this
time in possession of the new school house where I preached every Sabbath.
On the 13th June the sacrament of the Lord’s supper was
administered there. The day was fine, and more people came than could get
into the house. But the windows were opened and seats set on the outside
where they could hear. The members now greatly increased. This was the 8th
occasion, and we had admitted some new members each time.
treatment of the poor settlers, by Mr. Daverne, had often excited my
indignation. I had never met with a person of so malignant a disposition.
He seemed to delight as much in spreading misery as a good man does in
diffusing happiness. Never was discretionary power, under the British
government, more grossly abused.
But the end of
his tyrannical course was now approaching. The cup of his iniquity was
full. Numerous complaints had gone to head quarters against him, from
settlers whom he had grievously wronged or oppressed. But they either met
with no attention, or only brought vengeance on the heads of those who
complained. It is not always safe to complain against a servant of
government, even when the complaint is well founded. Impunity had rendered
this man more tyrannical and overbearing the longer he remained in office;
and as no redress could be obtained by those who had been wronged by him,
discontent and disgust became general.
Such was the
sate of matters when, in July, Col. Cockburn, the head to the settling
department, came from Quebec to visit the settlement. Coming by way of
Richmond, he had an opportunity of seeing a number of the settlers on his
road, all of whom complained of Mr. Daverne’s conduct. The day after his
arrival most of the respectable inhabitants waited upon him, when he took
me and a few more aside, and told us that as various complaints had been
made against Mr. Daverne, the Secretary of the settlement, he found it
necessary to have them investigated. He assured us that, if these
complaints were well founded, he should lose his situation; but if they
were not, he hoped we would countenance and support him, in the discharge
of his duty. He then appointed Commissary General Adams, Dr. Thom,
Captains McMillan and Marshall, and me, a Board of Inquiry to examine
these complaints. I requested to be excused both on account of my
profession and also my having complaints to make. He said that these were
not serious objections to my acting. From my situation in the settlement,
I must be as well, if not better acquainted with Mr. Daverne’s conduct
than any other, and therefore he begged that I would not decline the
being obviated, the court was organised at once, and the investigation
commenced, in the government office. The Col. directed the clerks to
attend and give evidence if required, and to produce any books or papers
we might call for.
We had not
proceeded far when discoveries were made that astonished us all, and far
exceeding any thing we even suspected. His conduct towards the settlers
was the chief thing against him, in the first instance; but, in the course
of the investigation, more serious crimes were discovered. It was clearly
proved by his own clerks that he had embezzled government stores to a
large amount, besides the sums of money he had obtained by false returns.
The correctness of these returns was sworn to, before a magistrate, at the
end of every quarter; but it was also proved that the oath was sworn on a
French Dictionary, and not on the Bible.
eight hours, and making many astonishing discoveries, it being Saturday
evening, and getting late, the Col. proposed that we should adjourn till
next morning. To this I objected, reminding him that tomorrow was the
Sabbath, and should be devoted to religious purposes; that I could not
attend, and I hoped that none of them would, as it was not only a sin
against God, but would be setting a bad example before the settlers. He
acknowledged that I was right, and said all should go to church, and meet
again on Monday.
After we left
the office I hinted to him that probably Mr. Daverne would be missing on
Monday; and that, if he wished to secure him, he ought to obtain a
warrant, and have him arrested without delay. He made very light of this,
and observed that Mr. Daverne had too much property in the settlement, to
run away and leave it. He then offered to bet any one present a dozen of
wine that Mr. Daverne would not attempt to escape, but I have not doubt
that his object was to afford him the opportunity.
Next day was
the first Sabbath of my preaching in our new church. Col. Cockburn and
most of the officers in the settlement, together with a large number of
settlers, attended public worship. But old habits are not easily got over.
I heard that the Col. transacted business in the government office till
eleven o’clock, the hour at which public worship began.
morning as I expected, Mr. Daverne was not to be found. He had made his
escape during the night, taking with him all the money he could lay his
hands on. Having reached Brockville, before his disgrace was known there,
he borrowed money from sundry persons with which he got safe across the
river. One person, however, followed him to Utica, and having arrested
him, made him pay back the money of which he had defrauded him.
The fate of
this man shows how true it is that honesty is the best policy, and that
the triumphing of the wicked is short. This was among the first instances,
but sooner or later I have seen almost all my enemies come to ruin. For
verily up one and putteth down another as he sees fit. The curse of the
Lord is in the house of the wicked, but he blesseth the habitation of the
The Col., on
Monday morning, said he did not see any need for our pursuing our inquires
any farther, so that we had no opportunity of making any report, but this
he did not want. The truth is, more had been discovered than he either
expected or wished; and had our inquires been pursued, there was some
danger of persons, higher in rank than Mr. Daverne, being incriminated. He
apologised for his absence by saying that he had ordered him to Kingston,
to wait the pleasure of the Governor General, but in reality to afford him
an opportunity make his escape. In the mean time Major Powell, being the
senior officer present, was put in charge, as Superintendent of the
Before I leave
the subject, let me finish the history of Mr. Daverne. After he was
released from his arrest at Utica, he went to live with a cousin he had in
the State of New York. He had not been long there when he, like a viper in
the fable, stung the bosom of his benefactor by seducing and carrying off
having fallen in with some of those whom he had ill treated here, they
insulted and, it is said, even thrashed him. After wandering about like a
vagabond till all his money was gone, thinking the danger was now over, he
returned to Canada. In the days of his prosperity he had purchased a farm
a few miles from Kingston, on which his father, an Irishman, was now
living. To this he retired, and after some time set up a whiskey
distillery. How long he continued this I do not know; but two years
afterwards I heard that he had died dome time before, detested by all who
Cockburn left us at this time, I obtained from him a grant of four acres,
in the village, for a burying ground. Being a deep bed of dry sand, if
formed the best burial place I ver met with. The Col. told me to take
charge of the whole till a clergy man of the Church of England came, when
we could divide it between us. From Perth he went to meet the Duke of
Richmond, at that time Governor General, and Commander of the Forces, who
was on his way from Quebec, to inspect the Upper Province.
afterwards, the Duke and the Col. returned to Perth. The visit of a Duke,
to a village in the woods, was an event not likely to occur very often;
so, in order to give it due celebrity, the principal inhabitants met and
make suitable arrangements for his reception.
When he arrived
we presented an address, and invited him to a public dinner. The dinner
though a splendid one turned out I thought rather too expensive -- 28/for
each person. Yet the idea of dining with a Duke overcame all scruples, and
induced me to join in it. His Grace certainly discovered much civility and
good nature, but I saw nothing in his conduct to call forth all that
fulsome panegyric which was bestowed on him on that occasion. Though he
remained in Perth over the Sabbath, he did not attend public worship,
which gave me no favourable idea of his piety. Yet if we are to believe
the newspapers of the day, he was a pattern of every virtue. His landlady
at the inn stated that, on the evening of his arrival in Perth, he drank
six glassed of brandy and water, which proved that he had been very
His end was now
approaching, and little did he think it was so near. Some time before this
he had been bitten by a tame fox that was kept chained at his residence in
Sorel. As he passed he patted the animal on the head, when it made a snap
at his hand. The weather at the time was very hot, but no one supposed the
fox to be rabid. The slight would was soon healed, and nothing more was
thought of the matter. More than a month had lapsed before any danger was
symptoms of hydrophobia appeared during the Duke’s stay at Perth. But as
they were only slight, he proceeded on his journey, which lay through the
woods to Ottawa, distance more than fifty miles. All this way he and his
attendants had to travel on foot, in hot weather, while their baggage was
carried on men’s shoulders. The only road they had was a foot path in the
forest and that cold not be travelled by a horse, on account of the swamps
and creeks in the way.
The hot weather
and the swarms of mosquitoes made the journey very fatiguing. The party
had got to the village of Richmond, so named in honour of the Duke, when
the symptoms of hydrophobia became quite alarming. Anxious however to
reach the Ottawa, where a vessel was waiting to carry him to Montreal, he
pushed forward. He had got about four miles beyond the village when he
could proceed no further, and stopped at a miserable log hut, where, in a
few hours, he expired in great agony. The body was conveyed to Montreal.
of this summer passed over in peace and comfort. But perfect happiness is
not to be found in this world. We may have sunshine for a while, but
storms will come. In the month of October, Rev. Mr. Harris, a Missionary
from the Church of England, came to Perth.
a word to me on the subject, he gave notice that he would perform divine
service in my school house next Sunday, and open school on Monday. This I
considered a most extraordinary proceeding and when he sent for the key I
declined to give it up. I soon found, however, that he acted under the
directions of Col. Cockburn, who, ever since the exposure of Mr. Daverne’s
villainy, had shown no good will to me. The ruin of his protigee was that
he neither expected nor wished, and the exposure of so many abuses in that
department of which he was the head I believe afforded him any thing but
In the meantime
Mr. Harris made it known at head quarters that I had declined to give up
the school to him. By return of post an order was sent to me from Col.
Cockburn to deliver up the school to Mr. Harris, and an intimation that my
salary, as teacher was stopped. On making this known to the parents of my
scholars, feeling indignant at such treatment, they called a public
meeting, at which it was resolved to prepare and transmit to Col. Cockburn
a respectful petition, claiming the privilege of choosing their own
teacher, and requesting that he would not take any steps for removing me
from a situation where I had given much satisfaction, by the faithful
discharge of my duty. This petition was prepared by Col. Tayler, and
numerously signed by the inhabitants. But the only answer we received was
a repetition of the order to give up the school to Mr. Harris, which was
Maitland was at this time Lt. Governor of the Upper Province; and, on the
death of his father-in-law, the Duke of Richmond, he became Administrator
of the Lower Province. To him I made my case known not much in the hope of
obtaining redress, but that he might know to what arbitrary and unjust
treatment I had been subjected. The following is the concluding paragraph
of my letter.
"I shall only
add that the attempt to throw the odium of this very unpopular measure
upon our late lamented, and much respected, Governor in Chief, is in my
opinion very unjust. I have too much respect for his memory to believe for
a moment that his Grace would, with a knowledge of all circumstances, have
deprived me of an institution which I had formed, and conducted, for more
than two years, to the entire satisfaction of the inhabitants of this
in order to remove from himself the blame of taking the school from me and
giving it to Mr. Harris, stated that he had orders to this effect from the
Duke of Richmond before his death. But as dead men tell no tales, he could
do this without fear of contradiction.
At this time
the Church of England party was dominant in these provinces, and its
ministers claimed entire control of education, as well as the religion of
the people. The officers of government, from the Governor General down to
the lowest underling of office, were ever ready to give them anything they
choose to ask. It was considered the greatest presumption, or little short
of treason, in any one belonging to another denomination, to stand in the
way of their ambitious projects, or to interfere with their assumed
privileges. Under these circumstances, it will be easily perceived that I
was in the hands of the Philistines; and that I had no favour expect when
my case was to be judged by them.
application to Sir Peregrine procured me no redress. Indeed Col. Tayler
told me this would be this case, and that the Governor would support what
was done by his subordinates, right or wrong. My bringing the whole case,
however, before the highest authority in the province, Col. Cockburn was
not disposed to forgive. So he wrote me a somewhat insolent letter,
requiring me to apologise for the statements I had sent the Governor
General respecting his conduct, and threatening me with punishment if I
declined. In my answer I requested to know what was the nature of
punishment he proposed to inflict, at the same time informing him that no
threat of his should compel me to apologise for complaining of his
arbitrary and oppressive conduct.
By and by I
received from the Col. another letter, dated 30th May,
informing me that he found it necessary to transmit, for the consideration
of His Majesty’s ministers, copies of the correspondences concerning me.
This, he said, his duty compelled him to do, in consequence of the line of
conduct I had chosen to adopt. "If however, you see the impropriety of
that conduct, and think fit to atone for it, I shall be well satisfied to
receive your acknowledgements and let the matter drop." Of this I had no
reason to doubt, but he was not likely to be speedily gratified in that
particular. Along with this letter I had a visit from Major Powell, who
employed all his eloquence to me to apologise. Finding all his efforts of
no avail he left me.
Next day the
Major called again, attended by two officers, Captain McMillian and Mr.
Mathieson, said he had come by Col. Cockburn’s orders, was very sorry
indeed that it had come to this, but he mush do his duty; said the Col.
had directed him in, case I still declined to apologise, to take two
officers with him, and in their presence to tell me not to proceed with my
improvements, till the result of an application which he was about to make
to His Majesty’s Ministers on the subject known. All three men joined in
entreating me to save myself and family, by a timely submission, from the
certain ruin which awaited me. Hints at the same time were thrown out that
I might lose my salary as well as my land, if I still held out.
I told them
that their labour and pains were all thrown away; for, till I was made
sensible that I had injured Col. Cockburn, I would make no apology. He me
might have power on his side, but I had right on mine. If they thought to
frighten me into submission to what they proposed, they had
altogether mistaken their man. To his bringing the matter under the
consideration of His Majesty’s ministers I had no objection, as it would
afford me an opportunity of bringing under their notice the abuses
committed in the settlement under his management.
The next letter
I had from the Col. was the last he ever sent me. It was written in a very
conciliatory style, and stated that he never wished to injure me, but had
cause to complain of the language I had used to the Governor respecting
him. I replied that I had no wish to injure him, more than he had to
injure me, but that I should always claim the right to complain when I was
ill used. Some weeks after this Major Powell one day informed me that he
was directed by Col. Cockburn to inform me that, though I had not made the
acknowledgement which he had a right to expect, yet he was now satisfied
and that I might go on with my improvements.
Thus ended an
affair which made me fully sensible of the tyrannical and arbitrary nature
of the system under which we were placed. It probably, at the same time,
convinced Col. Cockburn that, when he had to deal with civilians,
unlimited submission was not always to be expected. His order to stop my
improvements was given verbally, and was never even alluded to in any of
his letters, which convinced me that it was a desperate remedy, resorted
to for the purpose of intimidation, but which he dared not avow
officially, lest it might be brought against him at a future period. The
end of all wars is peace we are told and so I found it.
On the 8th
September, 1819, Mrs. Bell was delivered of her eighth and last son. We
determined to call him after the King, from a feeling of gratitude for the
many blessings we had enjoyed under his government. On Sabbath, 3 October,
he was baptised and recognised as a member of Christ’s visible church. Our
language than was, O God we have dedicated this our son to thee, and to
thy service. Accept the living sacrifice we have thus in thy service, and
at last bring him and us to thy glory."
1819, I made a journey to Glengary, to attend a meeting of Presbytery, and
assist at the ordination of Mr. Fletcher. The weather was cold and stormy,
and the road bad; but the warm and affectionate reception we met with,
from our friends at Martintown, made us forget the hardships of the
journey. It was at this meeting I first proposed the formation of a Synod,
which was unanimously agreed to. On my way home, I preached a Brockville,
Wilsey town, Bastard, and other places. The last day of my journey was
very unpleasant as it rained all the time. A strange report had been
circulated during my absence, in Brockville and other places, namely, that
I had been found murdered in the woods. I heard it first at Prescott, and
from that up. When I got home I was happy to find that it had not reached
my family. God has ever been my Preserver.
On the 10th
November 1819, about midday, our servant came to the school out of breath
to inform me that our house was on fire. What I felt at that moment may be
more easily conceived than I can describe it. Being a frame house, I was
ware that, if once on fire, nothing could save it, and if contained all I
possessed in worldly goods. I ran home as fast as possible, followed by
most of my scholars. The distance was half a mile, and though I saw smoke,
no flame appeared, which induced a hope that the home might be saved.
home I found Mrs. Bell and Mr. Willock, who had seen the smoke and give
the alarm, actively employed throwing water on the part on fire. A beam of
the frame, just behind the kitchen fire place had caught on fire from the
great heat of the bricks, but being concealed by the clapboard outside, it
made some progress before it was discovered. Mr. Willock, seeing the
danger, tore off the boards and threw water on the fire before it got
beyond control, and thus under God saved us from a frightful calamity.
Ten days after
it burst out again, in a similar manner, and we had a second narrow
escape. The beam had fire concealed in it all that time, though we though
it completely extinguished. Our hearts were overflowed with gratitude to
God for this second deliverance.