BEARDSLEY (Beardslee), JOHN, Church of England clergyman; b. 23 April 1732 in Ripton (Shelton), Conn., son of John Beardsley, a farmer and land surveyor, and Keziah Wheeler; d. 23 Aug. 1809 in Kingston, N.B.
John Beardsley was baptized by the Reverend Samuel Johnson, afterwards president of King’s College (Columbia University), but nothing further is known of his early life until 1758, when he entered Yale College. He left Yale after two years, because of anti-Anglican sentiment there, and then continued his studies at King’s under Johnson. He would have graduated with his classmates in 1761 had he not departed before commencement to seek ordination in England. Sharing both the spring voyage and its purpose was Samuel Andrews, later missionary at St Andrews, N.B. Among those who recommended Beardsley for holy orders was his future father-in-law, the Reverend Ebenezer Punderson, who described him as “a Person of an Unspotted Character & of an Excellent Temper & Disposition, Sound in his Principles of Religion, Firmly Attach’d to our most excellent Ch[urc]h.” Beardsley was ordained deacon on 6 Aug. 1761, and raised to the priesthood by the archbishop of Canterbury 17 days later. The degree of ab honoris causa was conferred by King’s College in 1761 and the degree of am in 1768.
Beardsley began his ministry as missionary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at Groton and Norwich, Conn., where he arrived early in 1762. The inhabitants of Groton were apparently lax in fulfilling their obligations towards him, however, and he eventually asked to be transferred. Late in 1766 he removed to Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County, N.Y., an area he had earlier served from Groton. “I shall . . . take Care that they pay the poor Man his Salary,” Dr Samuel Auchmuty of New York informed the SPG. “He is not very bright, but is honest and industrious in his calling. . . .” Beardsley’s parish was a scattered one, in which he claimed to ride 3,000 miles a year in the performance of his duties. His devotion and physical exertions resulted in the building of Trinity Church at Fishkill and Christ Church in Poughkeepsie.
Beardsley opposed the revolutionary movement and as a result suffered “repeated insults” and many misadventures before finally taking refuge in New York City late in 1777. He and his family were allowed to take away with them only “their wearing apparel and necessary bedding and provisions for their passage, and no other goods or effects whatsoever.” The following year Colonel Beverley Robinson, one of his former parishioners and a prominent freemason, asked him to act as chaplain of the Loyal American Regiment, and his name appears on the muster-rolls of this unit, which saw service in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the south. Some time during 1779 or early 1780 Beardsley himself became a member of the masonic fraternity, and by 1781, when a provincial grand lodge was organized provisionally in New York, he was the unanimous choice for the office of junior grand warden. He remained active until 1783, when he resigned his office on deciding to leave New York. On 8 March of that year, before his departure, Beardsley joined 17 other clergymen in preparing “A Plan of Religious and Literary Institution for the province of Nova Scotia,” which was the origin of King’s College, opened as a grammar school at Windsor, N.S., in 1788 and now situated in Halifax.
In the summer of 1783 Beardsley followed many of his former parishioners to Parrtown (Saint John, N.B.). At his own suggestion he became an itinerant minister, visiting settlers on both sides of the Saint John River as far as St Anne’s Point (Fredericton). He also assisted James Sayre in the new communities at the river’s mouth. When the rector of Maugerville, John Sayre, died in 1784, Beardsley received a unanimous call to remove there. Christ Church in Maugerville stands as a monument to his labours in the settlement. His letters to the SPG reveal that he was active as well in ministering to nearby communities, particularly Burton. While in Parrtown Beardsley had been invited to become master of Hiram Lodge No. 17, the first masonic body in New Brunswick, and in Maugerville he was an active member of St George’s Lodge No. 19, of which Samuel Ryerse was the first master. In 1793 Beardsley was appointed chaplain of the King’s New Brunswick Regiment.
By the time Beardsley was established in Maugerville he had already been married several times. His first marriage, to Sylvia Punderson, likely took place in 1763 or earlier, since on 26 Sept. 1764 he informed the SPG of the existence of a wife and child. Sylvia died some time after February 1771, when twins were born to them, and Beardsley seems then to have married Catharine Brooks, who died in Poughkeepsie on 5 Feb. 1774. Shortly thereafter he took as his wife Gertrude Crannell. Whether Gertrude accompanied him to New Brunswick is not known: by a deed registered on 10 June 1786 Beardsley and “Anna, my wife” transferred a town lot in Saint John, but no other evidence of “Anna” has been found. Around 1792 Beardsley and his then wife separated, and Mrs Beardsley departed for New York. On 28 Oct. 1798 he was married again, to Mrs Mary Quain of Saint John, apparently believing that his former wife had died in the United States. When it became clear that she was in fact still living, “people in general were much scandalized, and . . . his congregation were so much offended as to declare they would no longer adhere to or attend him.” An “astonished and distressed” Bishop Charles Inglis instituted an investigation into the matter, and the inquiring clergymen concluded that Beardsley had not been justified in remarrying. Inglis himself found “no proof of prudence or consideration” in Beardsley’s having trusted to unsubstantiated rumours about his wife’s death or in his having continued to “cohabit” with Mrs Quain once it had become clear that his former wife was still alive: “What must the world think of a man who has two wives alive at the same time, and no divorce from either of them? And what must be thought of a clergyman who is in this predicament?” Though Beardsley seems initially to have complied with the bishop’s instruction to separate from Mrs Quain, this situation apparently did not endure. His resignation was accepted in 1801 on the grounds that “his late, & present conduct utterly disqualifies him for a Missionary.” The incident had caused some anguish to missionaries and to Inglis, who held him in high regard. “His conduct,” the bishop had concluded, “was rather marked by weakness and dotage than depravity.”
How many children Beardsley and his wives had is not known. Though the twins appear to be the only children of his marriage to Sylvia Punderson found in church registers, he was said in 1768 to have had a large family. Ten years later, after his arrival in New York, he noted that his family was 12 in number, five of whom were under the age of seven. One son, John Davis, served for a time as schoolmaster at Maugerville. It was apparently he who in 1798 refused an invitation to take holy orders because no government allowance was attached to his proposed mission at Prince William, a decision which, it was reported, “very much disgusted his worthy Father.” Another son, Bartholomew Crannell*, became a prominent lawyer and judge. The distinguished historian William Odber Raymond* was a great-great-grandson.
In 1807 Lieutenant Governor Thomas Carleton was able to arrange half pay as a military chaplain for “poor Beardsley,” who at some point after his resignation went to live with his daughter Hannah Dibblee in Kingston; there he died on 23 Aug. 1809, the 48th anniversary of his ordination, and was buried under the chancel of Trinity Church. Though he is sometimes referred to as the Reverend Dr Beardsley, no evidence of a doctoral degree has been found. In 1916 the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of New Brunswick erected a brass tablet to his memory in Trinity Church, and in 1967 the same institution, to mark its centennial, established the John Beardsley medal as the highest honour for distinguished service to freemasonry in New Brunswick. By this means the loyalist clergyman and father of freemasonry in New Brunswick is remembered today.
Saint John Registry Office (Saint John, N.B.), Libro A2: 47 (John Beardsley, deed to Thomas [?] Thitlock, registered 10 June 1786). PAC, MG 23, C6, ser.l, 3: 27–38. USPG, B, 2, nos.22, 30; 3, nos.24, 28, 39; 23, nos.54, 152, 292; Journal of SPG, 16: 267; 17: 51–52, 86–87; 21: 297; 23: 350–51, 376–77; 24: 90; 25; 26: 372; 27: 358; 28: 173. Minutes of the committee and of the first commission for detecting and defeating conspiracies in the state of New York, December 11, 1776–September 23, 1778 . . . (2v., New York, 1924–25). The records of Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, New York, ed. H. W. Reynolds (2v., Poughkeepsie, 1911–[?]). New-York Gazette, and Weekly Mercury (New York), 14 Feb. 1774. E. E. Beardsley, A sketch of William Beardsley: one of the original settlers of Stratford, Conn.; and a record of his descendants to the third generation . . . (New Haven, Conn., 1867). I. H. Beardsley, Genealogical history of the Beardsley-lee family in America, 1635–1902 (Denver, Colo., 1902). F. B. Dexter, Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale College, with annals of the college history (6v. , New York and New Haven, 1885–1912). W. F. Bunting, History of St. John’s Lodge, F. & A.M. of Saint John, New Brunswick, together with sketches of all masonic bodies in New Brunswick from A.D. 1784 to A.D. 1894 (Saint John, 1895). R. V. Harris, “Rev. John Beardsley (1732–1809), founder of freemasonry in New Brunswick,” Canadian Masonic Research Assoc., [Papers] (n.p.), nos.32–33 (): 1–11.