In November 1803, a ship arrived at Pictou from Scotland.
Among its passengers were Reverend Thomas McCulloch D.D., his wife and their children, all
bound for Prince Edward Island, where McCulloch was to minister a Presbyterian
congregation. Their arrival stirred some excitement; the supply of books in McCulloch's
possession impressed the Pictonians with the fact that he was a learned man. They
convinced him that he and his family should winter in Pictou, since it was already late in
the season and a voyage to Prince Edward Island would be difficult. Their aim was to
secure him permanently as a minister for a Pictou congregation.
A man of Thomas McCulloch's sort was much needed in Pictou in 1803. He was
born in Renfrewshire, Scotland, in 1776, educated at Glasgow University where he took a
course in medicine, as well as in arts, studied theology at Whitburn, was ordained a
minister in Ayrshire, and offered his services as a missionary to the colonies. In an age
of illiteracy and superstition, here was a man of learning in a settlement tied strongly
to Presbyterianism, here was a qualified minister, a man of vision, and yet a tolerant man
who understood the physical trials and demands of the pioneers. At a time when immigrants
were flowing in, many of them sick and diseased, here was a man with medical training. In
those early years he walked many miles making medical calls with no expectation of
On June 6th, 1804 he was inducted as minister of the
"Harbour" congregation of Prince Street Church, thus committing himself to
remaining in Pictou for awhile.
By 1805, McCulloch, depressed by the general lack of
education and religion among his people, had developed a dream of a college which would be
open to students of all creeds. This desire for a non-secretarian Pictou College thrust
him deeply into a religious and political controversy which was to strain the relations
between Pictou and the Provincial Government for years to come.
While this bitter dispute dragged on, McCulloch began to
teach students in a log house which stood near his property. This school was burned down
one night by a person or persons obviously unsympathetic to McCulloch's liberal ideas.
Finally, in 1816, his dream became a reality. Pictou Academy
was incorporated. McCulloch was named principal of the Academy, and the first students met
in 1817, a regular academic curriculum being combined with training for selected divinity
Thomas McCulloch is remembered primarily as the father of a
liberalized education system in Nova Scotia. But the man had much broader interests than
his pedagogical ones alone. His scientific collections were admired by the foremost
naturalists on the continent. The famous J.J. Audubon visited McCulloch at
"Sherbrooke Cottage" in 1833 to study his work, and pronounced his collection
the finest collection of its kind in North America.
McCulloch's contributions to the educational and spiritual
development of the area inspired admiration and respect; his "Letters of Mephibosheth
Stepsure" written about early life in the Pictou area created affection for McCulloch
as a man and revealed his wit, warmth and tolerance.
In 1838 he became the first president of Dalhousie College, a
position which he held until his death in 1843.
McCulloch house was built c. 1806 for Thomas McCulloch.
Constructed of bricks from Scotland, it is commonly referred to as being of "Scottish
McCulloch called his home "Sherbrooke Cottage" as a
tribute to Sir John Sherbrooke, Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia who had been
sympathetic to the development of Pictou Academy.
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