DUFFY, JAMES W., Roman Catholic priest, farmer, and office holder; b. c. 1798 in County Monaghan (Republic of Ireland); d. 1 Dec. 1860 in Charlottetown.
A curate in Ireland, James W. Duffy was brought to Newfoundland by Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming*. He arrived in St John’s on 21 Sept. 1833 and remained there until early the next year when the bishop named him to Ferryland. As assistant to Timothy Browne, with whom he did not get along, Duffy apparently served only that part of the parish from Fermeuse, where he resided, through Trepassey to St Mary’s Bay. Actually, so bad was the relationship between the two that Browne thought Duffy “detestable and immoral.” Nevertheless, Fleming, who disliked Browne, found Duffy “a zealous and indefatigable teacher” and especially praised his efforts in building churches.
At St Mary’s two earlier churches had been toppled by wind, and in December 1834 Duffy decided to build anew on low ground near the beach. There was opposition from John Wills Martin*, the local agent for Slade, Elson and Company, which had extensive premises near by, but Duffy found Martin’s alternative site unsuitable and proceeded with his plans. Martin, one of four non-Catholics in St Mary’s, had recently erected a large fish flake which impeded access to the new church and he refused to remove it despite protests that tradition had made the beach a public right of way. However, although he considered that the building of the church warranted civil action for trespass, he merely instructed his clerk, William Lush, not to do business with Duffy. Lush refused to fill the priest’s order for brandy, and, Martin claimed, on 13 Jan. 1835 Duffy led some 80 persons from the church to dismantle and burn as a public nuisance that part of the flake extending beyond the property of Slade, Elson. The remainder was similarly destroyed soon afterwards. Charges were laid against Duffy and nine others.
Although the circuit court sat at St Mary’s that summer, no action was taken until November, and then in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland at St John’s. Duffy was arrested in Fermeuse on criminal charges and two constables brought him to Ferryland, where he posted bail. He understood that his case would be heard in the winter session of the court but when he and another man, who had voluntarily gone to St John’s, appeared on 30 December he found the attorney general, James Simms*, and the chief justice, Henry John Boulton*, unready to proceed. Meanwhile at St Mary’s a government brig attempted to arrest the eight remaining men charged with Duffy but the authority of the constables was questioned and, fearing violence, they withdrew. Governor Henry Prescott* was outraged. In May 1836 he readied a warship and by proclamation demanded the surrender of the accused. However, an appeal from Bishop Fleming reached St Mary’s first, whereupon the men journeyed to St John’s and gave themselves up. The absence of prosecution witnesses meant further delay. By December 1836, when Duffy appeared for a third time, the case already had obliged him to travel more than 1,300 miles. Only in May 1837 did the crown abandon its prosecution; Duffy and his co-defendants finally were freed of the charge. Father Duffy’s Well, a Newfoundland provincial park, now marks his resting place on his many journeys between St Mary’s and St John’s.
The contest between officialdom and a Catholic priest ensured Duffy becoming a hero to many and Boulton an arch-villain. Indeed, the liberal Newfoundland Patriot of St John’s charged that Boulton himself had instigated the prosecution to discredit his Catholic opposition. The chief justice’s personal direction of a misdemeanour case, his seemingly prejudiced statements, and the undue prolongation of the proceedings in the Duffy case all lent substance to this charge. Undoubtedly the case had some influence in Boulton’s eventual dismissal in 1838.
Duffy became the first parish priest of St Mary’s in 1837, a parish which had been formed from part of Browne’s district. At St Mary’s he became a pioneer of Newfoundland agriculture, and his premises there – 25 acres cultivated, a large number of livestock, and even two fishing rooms – were an example of self-sufficiency to his parishioners.
By 1841, however, Duffy was again embroiled in controversy, this time as commissioner of roads for St Mary’s, an office he had held since 1837. The cause was the replacement of his former co-commissioners by new appointees, one of whom was Lush. Duffy announced that he would never sit with the new board and effectively halted road work in the area. At the time, agitation for his removal from the parish was resisted by Fleming, but it may have contributed to his replacement by Kyran Walsh* in 1843. The following year Duffy auctioned his farm and on 4 September left St John’s for Cork (Republic of Ireland). For the next six years his whereabouts are unknown.
Duffy arrived in the diocese of Arichat, N.S., in 1850, seeking a parish from Bishop William Fraser, who was initially reluctant. By Easter 1851, however, he had given Duffy temporary charge of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Arichat, and before the bishop’s death later that year Duffy was assigned to the parish of St Ann’s in the town of Guysborough. A dispute with the pastor, James D. Drummond, soon resulted in his assuming sole charge and Drummond’s appointment elsewhere. Duffy’s administration of Guysborough was a stormy one throughout, culminating in the exclusion of Bishop Colin Francis MacKinnon* from the church. Duffy had left the parish by July 1857.
In November 1858 Duffy migrated to Prince Edward Island, becoming assistant at St Dunstan’s Cathedral in Charlottetown. In February 1859 he went as parish priest to Kelly’s Cross. Duffy was noted here again for instructing the people and constructing churches, and now, additionally, for his advocacy of temperance. Unfortunately, he suffered from a severe cold throughout the spring and summer of 1860 and by September, in Charlottetown on business, he was too ill to return to his parish. He died at the house of Bishop Peter MacIntyre* and was buried on 3 December in the cemetery at Kelly’s Cross.
Fleming wrote of Duffy at St Mary’s that, whatever his foibles, it was usually admitted “his instruction and example made the people of that District the most virtuous and industrious in the island.” Duffy typified, almost to caricature, the traits requisite of a rural Canadian clergyman of his day: an endurance of hardship, a dauntless spirit, a concern for the political and economic (as well as the religious) needs of his people, and a sturdy independence. The last, no doubt, he had to excess.
AAH, William Walsh papers (mfm. at PANS). AASJ, Fleming papers; Mullock papers. Archivio della Propaganda Fide (Rome), Scritture riferite nei Congressi, America Settentrionale, 5 (1842–48). Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Roman Catholic church) (St Mary’s, Nfld.), Reg. of baptisms, 1843 (mfm. at PANL). Basilica of St John the Baptist (Roman Catholic) (St John’s), St John’s parish, reg. of baptisms, 1833–34 (mfm. at PANL). PANL, GN 2/1, 40; GN 2/2, 1835–36. PRO, CO 194/94–95; CO 195/18. M. A. Fleming, Relazione della missione cattolica in Terranuova nell’America settentrionale . . . (Rome, 1837). J. B. Jukes, Excursions in and about Newfoundland during the years 1839 and 1840 (2v., London, 1842), 2. Nfld., House of Assembly, Journal, 1837. Examiner (Charlottetown), 10 Dec. 1860. Newfoundlander, 26 Sept., 27 Oct., 7 Nov. 1833; 14 Aug. 1834. Patriot (St John’s), 12 Jan., 2 Feb., 5 April, 14, 21, 28 May, 11 June, 26 Nov., 10, 17, 24 Dec. 1836; 8 April, 20, 27 May, 10 June, 15 July, 10, 21, 28 Oct., 25 Nov., 16 Dec. 1837; 20 Dec. 1843; 3 Jan. 1844. Public Ledger, 1, 12 Jan., 16 Feb., 25 March, 12 April, 17, 27 May, 4 Nov., 13, 16 Dec. 1836; 6 Jan. 1837; 9 Nov. 1841. Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser, 22 Dec. 1835, 20 Dec. 1836. Times and General Commercial Gazette (St John’s), 6, 13, 20 Jan., 11 May 1836; 11 Sept. 1844. Gunn, Political hist. of Nfld. Howley, Ecclesiastical hist. of Nfld. A. A. Johnston, Hist. of Catholic Church in eastern N.S., vol.2. Michael McCarthy, “History of St Mary’s Bay, 1597–1949,” Winning entries in the Newfoundland government sponsored competition for the encouragement of arts and letters, etc., 1971 (St John’s, [1972?]), 63–116. J. C. Macmillan, The history of the Catholic Church in Prince Edward Island from 1835 till 1891 (Quebec, 1913). T. J. Gough, “Rev. James Duffy’s well: R.I.P.,” Newfoundland Quarterly (St John’s), 26 (1926–27), no.3: 23–24.