Hard Times in Yarmouth’s Pulpits


In the early nineteenth century it seems to have been difficult, not only for parish members to keep a church’s pulpit filled, but also for presiding ministers to keep a church’s pews filled with faithful, supportive parishioners. In support of this assertion I offer a story, which begins at Chebogue Congregational Meeting House after its pulpit became vacant in 1834.

  1. “Being unable, for some reason, to get a Congregational minister, it was decided to try for a Presbyterian and in 1836 the Rev. John Ross came to Chebogue. Mr. Ross was frankly a Presbyterian and did not try to conceal it. He did what he could during his tenure of office to make the Church Presbyterian, but the older part of the members would not follow him entirely. During his pastorate the Church prospered and increased greatly and so great was his influence with the young people that many of them considered themselves Presbyterians. In 1841 St. John’s [Presbyterian] Church in Yarmouth was opened for public worship. Mr. Ross apparently preached in both Churches for the remainder of his stay. He left in 1846. His advice to the Chebogue Church when he left was to apply ... for a Congregational minister. After considerable negotiations the Rev. Frederick Tomkins of London was induced to come out and he became pastor of the Chebogue Church. He found the Church much divided in its denominational allegiance and after much discussion it was decided to renew the original Covenant and the Church be given an opportunity to either accept or reject it. A period of three months was allowed for those who wished to sign it. At the expiration of that time over 100 had signed while the remainder withdrew and formed a Presbyterian Church at Chebogue. Thus it came about that the small village of Chebogue with a dwindling population was to have four churches functioning, whereas it was barely able to support one.” [1, Sec. I]

The story continues at St. John’s Presbyterian Church, in Yarmouth.

  1. “The congregation of St. John’s was first established when a group of Presbyterians of Yarmouth met on March 4th, 1840, at the home of William Robertson. The Rev. John Ross of the Presbyterian Church in Shelburne and Yarmouth presided and a fund to build the Church was started. Mr. Ross became the minister of the Church when it was organized and continued until 1846. ... The building was solemnly opened for worship August 8th, 1841. ... After Mr. Ross moved from Yarmouth the Church was without a minister until 1849. [1, Sec. III]

  2. “From the records it appears that [Rev. Mr. Tomkins] held many services in St. John’s Presbyterian church during the vacancy in the pastorate, ..., there then being no Congregational church in Yarmouth. [2, p. 11]

  3. Meeting held June 10th, 1848: On the 8th instant a notice appeared in the press respectfully requesting a meeting of the proprietors of the building, signed by the Rev. F. Tomkins, styling himself the minister of the church. Accordingly the proprietors met and ... Mr. Tomkins ... read two letters, from which he endeavoured to maintain the position assumed in the notice. ... After much discussion the following resolution was submitted ... : Resolved, that the proprietors of Saint John’s Kirk do not recognize the Rev. F. Tomkins as the presiding minister of Saint John’s Kirk, but that he occupies the pulpit by sufferance.’ ... The resolution was carried 13 to 5. [2, pp. 9–10]

  4. “When the troubles arose a number of the Presbyterian congregation, including some of those who were instrumental in forming it, as well as others who had signed the subscription list and had contributed to the building fund, separated from Saint John’s church and became members and adherents of a new congregation, organized by Rev. Mr. Tomkins; and largely through his efforts a handsome new Congregational church, called the Tabernacle, was built, and was opened for worship in July, 1851.” [2, p. 11]

This album features these Yarmouth churches, and their successors:

  1. St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Kirk Street (11 images),

  2. Tabernacle Congregational Church, Main Street (5 images), and

  3. Tabernacle Congregational Church, Collins Street (9 images).

References and Notes

    [1] Brief History of Central United Church, Yarmouth, NS. 1950. 5 pp. Section I: Congregationalism, by A. W. Hilton. Section II: Methodism, by R. F. Guest. Section III: Presbyterianism, by John Robbins. (See YMS 2 4, YCMA)

    [2] Sandford H. Pelton, Historical Sketch of Saint John’s Presbyterian Church, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, 1840–1915. Press of the Herald, Yarmouth, NS, 1915. 43 pp. (See YMS 2 8 L1, YCMA)

    [3] J. Murray Lawson, Yarmouth Past and Present: A Book of Reminiscences. Yarmouth Herald, Yarmouth NS, 1902. 681 pp.

    [4] I thank Jamie Serran, former Archivist at the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, for providing access to most of these photographs.

William Day (1 April 2013)