BILL, INGRAHAM EBENEZER, Baptist minister, journalist, and author; b. 19 Feb. 1805 in Billtown, N.S., son of Asahel Bill and Mary Rand; m. first 20 April 1826 Isabella Lyons in Cornwallis Township, N.S., and they had at least five children including one daughter; m. secondly 14 May 1873 Mrs Susan L. Dove in Boston; d. 4 Aug. 1891 in St Martins, N.B.
Because his father died when he was about nine years old, the major influences on Ingraham Ebenezer Bill’s early life were his older brother Caleb Rand Bill and his minister, Edward Manning*. By both men he was directed along the path of Christian commitment and public duty. On 8 Aug. 1824 he was baptized by Manning and joined the Cornwallis Baptist Church.
After a long and intense struggle with his own fears and doubts, Bill began preaching in Cornwallis Township in 1827. The following year he moved to Nictaux, N.S., to assist the elderly Thomas Handley Chipman. Of Bill’s ordination on 2 March 1829 Manning recorded in his diary, “I never saw a more solemn and joyful lad ordained.” On Chipman’s death the following year, Bill became minister of the large and sprawling pastorate of Wilmot-Nictaux. He quickly established himself as one of the most effective and popular young ministers in the Maritimes. In a series of dramatic revivals he increased the size of his church until by 1837 it was the largest Baptist church in the Maritime colonies. Except for some 18 months as pastor of the Fredericton Baptist Church in 1840–42, he would remain at Nictaux until 1852. In that year he returned to New Brunswick to serve as pastor of the Germain Street Baptist Church in Saint John. In later years he ministered to churches in Carleton (Saint John) and St Martins.
Given his effectiveness as a preacher, it is not surprising that Bill should be looked to for leadership in other areas of denominational affairs. Although he lacked much formal schooling himself, he developed an early and deep respect for education. His known sympathies for Baptist involvement in education made him a natural ally of the aggressive Halifax Baptists who by the fall of 1838 were determined to establish a denominational college. At a meeting with Edmund Albern Crawley* and John Pryor, held at Bill’s house in Nictaux in October, the decision was made to found Queen’s College (renamed Acadia in 1841). When the decision was formally approved by the Nova Scotia Baptist Education Society on 15 November, Bill was named to the society’s managing committee and appointed financial agent for the new college.
For the next 50 years Acadia would have few more dedicated or hard-working supporters. Between 1838 and 1884 Bill served first on the managing committee and then on the college’s board of governors. He repeatedly canvassed the Maritime colonies seeking financial support and students for the institution. In 1844–45 he travelled as far south as Georgia in his efforts to secure funding. The governor of South Carolina gave him $50, but most other Southerners would not contribute because Maritime Baptists supported the abolition of slavery. In 1849 and again in 1874 he travelled to Great Britain to raise funds. In recognition of his years of dedication to education, Acadia conferred on him an honorary doctorate in divinity in 1881.
Bill’s visit to the United States had made him strongly aware of the need for “female education.” He had provided a good education for his only daughter, Mary, and in the fall of 1845, with his help, she opened a boarding-school for young ladies in her father’s home in Nictaux, the first such school run by Nova Scotia Baptists. Bill would campaign long and hard for greater educational opportunities for females and would live to see women graduating from Acadia College in the 1880s.
Bill was clearly unafraid of change in society or in his church. He was one of the leaders of the temperance cause in the Nictaux area, and by 1834 he could proudly report that all dispensers of alcohol in the district had been forced to close their doors. During his brief ministry in Fredericton, he presided over a church that introduced organ music into the service. Several scandalized members transferred to other, more conservative churches.
Bill was an enthusiastic advocate of Maritime Baptist involvement in foreign missions. He tried unsuccessfully in the 1850s to organize a Baptist mission to Australia, perhaps because two of his sons had gone there to settle. In 1870 he was one of the first to call for the establishment of a separate Maritime Baptist mission field in Asia; for 25 years the church had supported American Baptist work in Burma.
Virtually every aspect of denominational life saw Bill’s energetic leadership. For ten years (1846–56) he served as secretary of the newly formed Baptist Convention of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, and later he was president of that organization. In 1852 he became editor of the Christian Visitor, a Baptist newspaper in New Brunswick, and he tirelessly filled this office until 1872.
His long experience with the Baptist church, his central role in its development, and his intimate acquaintance with the founding fathers of the denomination led him as “a sacred duty” to compile a history of the Regular Baptists of the Maritime provinces. Aside from John Mockett Cramp*’s series of articles in the Christian Messenger in the 1860s, Bill’s Fifty years with the Baptist ministers and churches of the Maritime provinces of Canada (Saint John, 1880) was the first attempt at such a compilation. Although the work is largely narrative rather than analytical, its publication was none the less an important event in the development of Maritime Baptists’ awareness of their past.
An effective evangelist, pastor, and denominational organizer, Ingraham Ebenezer Bill was foremost among what might be termed the second generation of Maritime Baptist leaders.
Acadia Univ. Arch. (Wolfville, N.S.), Board of Governors, minutes, 1850–83. Atlantic Baptist Hist. Coll., Acadia Univ., Fredericton, Brunswick Street United Baptist Church, records of the Baptist Church, Fredericton, 1814–71; Edward Manning, corr. and journals; Nova Scotia Baptist Education Soc., minutes. Germain Street Baptist Church (Saint John), Records, 1853–83 (mfm. at PANB). Baptist Convention of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Minutes (Fredericton, etc.), 184655. Baptist Convention of the Maritime Provinces of Canada, Baptist yearbook (Halifax), 1870–71, 1891. Nova Scotia Baptist Assoc., Minutes (Halifax), 1829–37. Christian Messenger (Halifax), 1837–72. Christian Visitor (Saint John), 1852–72. R. G. Baxter, A history of the Nictaux United Baptist Church, 1779–1978 ([Nictaux, N. S., 1978]). Eaton, Hist. of Kings County. The history of Germain Street Baptist Church, St. John, N.B., for its first one hundred years, 1810–1910 (Saint John, 1910).