Rev. Robert Addison in Niagara


On Rev. Robert Addison's arrival, in May 1792, he had the mortification to find that there was but little probability of his receiving the allowance of £100 a year, which the people had undertaken to pay towards his support.   "Everything," he says "is very dear in the settlement, but by great frugality, and some little private possession, I am free from actual want.   The humble settler who labours on his land is kind to me; the rich trader endeavours to be polite; but I am sorry to say that their subscription is likely to end in words."   There was no definite boundary to his Mission, but the population was considerable, and he was required to visit stations at twenty and thirty miles' distance, to preach and baptize.   The congregation, however, which he appears to have visited from time to time with the greatest satisfaction, was that of the Mohawks, who were settled on the Grand River, at about seventy miles' distance from him.   The number of them that belonged to the Church of England he computed at about 550.   At every visit he used to baptize several of them, children or adults. Captain Brant acted as his interpreter, and the deportment of the Indians is described as most serious and devout.   On the division of Canada into two provinces, Rev. Robert Addison had been appointed chaplain to the Legislative Assembly at York, with a small allowance, and the Society added £20 a year to his salary, in consequence of the expense which he incurred in going to the Indian village; but with all this, his services, it must be confessed, were miserably requited.   From the people he obtained a mere trifle, and from all the other sources together not so much as £100 a year, while his duties were of a most severe and exhausting kind.   "My Mission," he says, "is very laborious; I must either neglect my duty, or make a circuit several times in the year of more than 150 miles through a wild country;" and he adds, that he had performed his duty "with humble and conscientious assiduity, and had struggled with very narrow circumstances."

His periodical visits among the Indians were attended with very gratifying success; he commonly baptized about twenty. Among the number in 1806 was a chief of the Cayuga nation, and his wife.   The next year the congregation of the Six Nations that assembled to hear him was uncommonly large; several from the other tribes, besides the Mohawks, had become Christians, and many of them had overcome the fatal habit of spirit-drinking. Many, however, there can be no doubt, fell victims to this vice, and among the rest it is painful to number, on Mr. Addison's authority, the celebrated chief Brant, whom he describes as "a man of uncommon intellect;" he died towards the close of the year 1807.   After his death Mr. Addison adopted as his interpreter a very extraordinary young man, named Norton; and he says, writing in 1809, that the Indian candidates for baptism "seemed to offer themselves from a persuasion of the truth and value of our holy faith, without which he had no wish to baptize any of them."   At the Mohawk church he had generally twenty communicants.

In 1810 the church at Niagara, at that time "the best in the province," was completed; and it may convey some notion of the wealth of the congregation to say that the pews were sold for £300.   Two small chapels also were erected at distances of ten and twelve miles from Niagara.

In 1812 a war broke out between Great Britain and the United States, the chief theatre of which was, of course, Upper Canada.   In the course of the operations Niagara was taken, and most of the principal inhabitants were sent some hundreds of miles into the interior of the States as prisoners of war: Mr. Addison was allowed to remain on parole in his own house, about three miles from the town; and when the English forces advanced so far, his house became for a time their head quarters.

His duty at that time consisted in performing Divine Service for the several divisions of the army in turn, and visiting the sick, who were very numerous.   The ordinary labour of his Mission was of course interrupted, and the whole district thrown into a state of alarm and confusion.   In the following; year the town with the church was burnt down, and Mr. Addison says that it is impossible for him to describe the horrid scenes he witnessed; he had himself been plundered, made prisoner of war, and harassed till he became dangerously ill; but he was thankful that his own house escaped destruction, and afforded an asylum to several sufferers who fled from the flames of their own.   At the close of 1814, when the Americans had been driven beyond the frontier, the church, of which the stone walls remained standing, was covered in, and used as a commissary's store, while Divine Service was performed in the General Hospital.   When the Bishop of Quebec visited Niagara, in August 1816, he confirmed fifty-four candidates, a number which would have been nearly doubled had it not been for the long interruption to the Missionary's visits, occasioned by the enemy's occupation of the country.

The interesting but very arduous duty which Mr. Addison had so long discharged, of visiting the Mohawk settlement on the Grand River, was in 1818 shared by the Rev. Ralph Leeming, who was stationed at Ancaster, which was only eighteen miles distant.   Mr. Addison, however, still promised to visit them occasionally, as long as his health would permit, and rightly felt that his attention to the Indians was of some importance, as the yearly baptisms amounted to 100, and he thought it probable that other tribes might be induced by the example of the Mohawks to profess Christianity.

During an illness, happily unaccompanied by pain, in 1826, Mr. Addison performed Divine Service in his own house.   At this time, which was near the end of his long ministerial career, he computed the population of Niagara at 1100, and that of the other townships at about 3,000.   His health and strength failing, he was now assisted by the Rev. T. Creen, who, having recommended himself by his conduct while schoolmaster, was admitted to Holy Orders, and on Mr. Addison's death, which occurred in 1829, was appointed to succeed him.

The Bishop of Quebec, (Stewart,) in communicating the loss of the faithful Missionary of Niagara, speaks of him as "one whose age was greater, and the period of his service longer, than that of any other clergyman in the province at the time of his decease."   He goes on to say "that Mr. Addison had ministered to the congregation of Niagara nearly forty years, and died in his seventy-fifth year, beloved and regretted by all."

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This account is from The Colonial Church Chronicle and Missionary Journal No. IX, March, 1848, pages 333-338.
 
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