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Archived Articles
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Published June 25, 1999

Churches Played Vital Roles In Maritimes - Part 2 of 3
By Sandra Devlin

Part 1 of this series closed off with reference to the rampant wave of Gospel proselytizing in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia at the close of the 18th Century and in the early 19th.

The scattered, lonely settlements were prime fodder for the intinerant preachers. A fever of "New Light" evangelism spread like an epidemic.

At Shediac Bridge, N.B. in 1805, the evangelical fervour took a turn beyond fanatical to criminal, when Amasa Babcock, convinced that the end of the world was at hand, stabbed his sister to death in a frenzied preparation ritual.

In Albert County, N.B. today, the predominance of Baptist churches - an offshot of New Light theology - continue to attest to the command claimed by the frequent revival meetings featuring hell fire and brimstone, Elder Joseph Crandall style, upwards of 200 years before. So sparse were Anglicans (Church of England) in Albert County earlier this century that a comical story is told of a bishop visiting the farms around Hillsborough. "Are there any Episcopalians here?" he purportedly inquired of a busy farm wife. Her innocent reply: "Well, I am not sure. Our farm hand shot something strange out behind the barn last week."

As pervasive as Albert County is Baptist; the Acadian Peninsula in northern New Brunswick is as predominately Roman Catholic and pockets of early Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia were heavily influenced by Scots Presbyterianism.

Religion coloured every aspect of Maritime life from the blessing of the fishing fleet to political patronage; from opinions against tavern keeping and rum running to support of Temperance societies.

One branch of my family invented a ginger beer as a wholesome alternative beverage to beers with alcoholic content and "demon rum."

There are unlimited examples of how the church superimposed itself on Maritime politics, heritage and acceptable or unacceptable social norms.

One Sunday morning at the Union Protestant Church in Harrisville, N.B (now a part of the city of Moncton, but then a rural community on the outskirts), the minister stopped preaching until after "the devil goes by" when the sounds of the first automobile on the road was heard approaching.

In Northumberland County, N.B., a village named Burnt Church attests to the 1755 deportation of the French Acadians by the ruthless, ruling British who burned homes and churches in relentless pursuits of fleeing families.

In Maritime regions where Protestant and Catholic families lived in close proximity (Williamstown, N.B. Irish Protestant and Roman Catholics settling, for example, on separate sides of a small brook), mixed marriages could often cause the defector to be disowned and disinherited by their all or part of their relatives, including and more often than not, even their mother and father. So complete was the abandonment of children who married outside their family's religion, that subsequent generations were often shocked to learn of the death of an "uncle" or "aunt" they never knew existed or were told were long since dead.

Even mixed marriages between Protestant faiths could cause a furore, a Methodist mother claiming all daughters for her side -- while Baptist father and sons setting off to "their" church every Sunday.

Church picnics, socials and conventions were also an ideal "first meeting" place for rural young people who would otherwise know very few other young people their own age who were not their near cousins. With this in mind, making a new Sunday-go-to-meeting outfit for the summer picnic could be just as important as deciding what delicious pastry made from a carefully guarded secret family recipe to take along to the basket social, where young men would bid on the basket and the successful bidder would share the lunch with the young woman who brought it.

Next time: Part III - The conclusion of church influence in the Maritimes, and some helpful references.

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