EAGLESON, JOHN, clergyman; b. in Ulster; m. 16 Aug. 1781 Sophia Augusta Pernette, and they had at least two daughters; fl. 1765–90.
John Eagleson came to Cumberland Township, Nova Scotia, about 1765 to serve as a Presbyterian missionary. His abilities soon brought him to the attention of influential men in the province, and in 1767 Lieutenant Governor Michael Francklin, Chief Justice Jonathan Belcher, Provincial Secretary Richard Bulkeley, and Reverend John Breynton, the rector of St Paul’s in Halifax, recommended him to the authorities in London for reordination within the Church of England. Eagleson’s motives in seeking the change may only be surmised. His later life shows him capable of acting from conviction, but there were definite financial, political, and social advantages in belonging to the established church, and it probably appealed in any case to a man of Eagleson’s personality and convivial tastes. Whatever his reasons he was ordained in England by the bishop of London in 1768 and returned to Nova Scotia under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel late in June of that year.
Instead of proceeding directly to Cumberland as he had expected, Eagleson was sent first to St John’s (Prince Edward) Island and then to Cornwallis Township, Nova Scotia. He was back in Cumberland in 1770, the first permanent Church of England clergyman in the area and the first chaplain at Fort Cumberland (near Sackville, N.B.) since the conquest. He seems to have taken over the glebe lands previously held by a dissenting clergyman, Caleb Gannett, although not without a lawsuit; as garrison chaplain he probably had access to quarters within the fort as well. For two decades he served the area near the fort, procuring the services of a schoolmaster there and establishing congregations in several outlying districts. He also made a few excursions up the Petitcodiac River and travelled occasionally to the Annapolis valley and Halifax. In 1773 he led a mission to St John’s Island, the first Protestant clergyman to visit the colony since it had become a separate jurisdiction in 1769. He discouraged the work of dissenting missionaries in Cumberland and on one occasion instigated a military raid on a meeting led by William Black*. He seems to have been popular with both his parishioners and the garrison, but apparently he began to drink to excess.
In 1776, during the local rebellion led by Jonathan Eddy*, Eagleson was captured and carried prisoner to Boston. After 16 months he escaped and returned to Cumberland, where he found his property almost destroyed. Throughout the period of the American revolution he considered himself a target for rebels in the Cumberland area and, fearing recapture, he fled to Halifax in 1781. He married that year in the Windsor area, and in 1782, after his return to Cumberland, he purchased a farm near the fort and seems to have settled down to a more routine way of life. By 1788, however, complaints about his drinking and its effect on his ministerial activities had reached Bishop Charles Inglis*. After an inquiry lasting several months, Inglis dismissed Eagleson from his priestly functions in June 1790 on the grounds of drunkenness and incompetence.
Eagleson, mentally disturbed for at least part of the time, seems to have spent his last years estranged from his family. He made his home with a Siddall family near present-day Oxford, N.S. In July 1811 his widow married Hallet Collins of Liverpool.
Cumberland County Registry of Deeds (Amherst, N.S.), Book D, p.49 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 4, no.100, folder 12 (Canon E. A. Harris’ notes on Pernette family). Private archives, Seth Bartling (Liverpool, N.S.), R. J. Long, “The annals of Liverpool and Queen’s County, 1760–1867” (1926) (typescript at Dalhousie University Library, Halifax; mfm. at PANS). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Halifax), Registers for Windsor-Falmouth-Newport, 1774–95, 16 Aug. 1781 (mfm. at PANS). University of King’s College Library (Halifax), P. S. Hamilton, “History of the county of Cumberland” (typescript, 1880) (copy at PANS). USPG, 13, 25, nos. 118, 119, 121, 123, 126, 127, 135, 146, 147, 152, 158, 182, 186, 231; C/CAN/NS, 2, nos. 110, 111 (mfm. at PANS). PAC Report, 1913, app.I. M. W. Armstrong, The Great Awakening in Nova Scotia, 1776–1809 (Hartford, Conn., 1948). A. W. [H. ] Eaton, The Church of England in Nova Scotia and the Tory clergy of the revolution (New York, 1891). I. F. Mackinnon, Settlements and churches in Nova Scotia, 1749–1776 ([Montreal, 1930]). C. F. Pascoe, Two hundred years of the S.P.G. . . . (2v., London, 1901). C. W. Vernon, Bicentenary sketches and early days of the church in Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1910). W. B. Kerr, “The American invasion of Nova Scotia, 1776–7,” Canadian Defence Quarterly (Ottawa), XIII (1935–36), 433–55. Saint John Globe (Saint John, N.B.), 17 Nov. 1923. E. M. Saunders, “The life and times of the Rev. John Wiswall, M.A., a loyalist clergyman in New England and Nova Scotia, 1731–1821,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XIII (1908), 1–73.