GILLMORE, GEORGE, Church of Scotland clergyman; b. probably 1720 in County Antrim (Northern Ireland); m. Ann Allen, and they had at least seven children, six of whom survived infancy; d. 20 Sept. 1811 in Horton Township, N.S.
In 1762 George Gillmore was a student in logic, metaphysics, and natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, and he appears to have studied there the following year as well; no record has been found of his graduation. In 1769 he decided to emigrate to the American colonies, and after a voyage of 11 weeks – a voyage marked, he said, by the blasphemous behaviour of crew and passengers – he landed at Philadelphia (Pa) on 9 September. He preached and taught school for a time in Massachusetts and Connecticut before moving in October 1770 to Voluntown, Conn., to take up a post as a supply preacher. There is some doubt about the date of his ordination: Gillmore once claimed it took place in 1769, but the records of the Presbytery of Boston, the body responsible for the ordination, indicate that the ceremony took place on 2 July 1773. Whatever the case, Gillmore remained in Voluntown, serving his congregation and at the same time paying ministerial visits to several communities in New Hampshire, until the outbreak of the revolution. Because he refused to “pipe the popular Tune of Tumult Faction Sedition and Rebellion,” his fortunes took a turn for the worse. Denounced as a tory by the governor of the colony and deserted by his own flock, Gillmore was forced to stop preaching in 1775, and for the next year or so he devoted himself entirely to farming. Still harassed by local rebels, he and his family moved to Nobletown (near Albany, N.Y.) in the winter of 1776–77. There he farmed, preached, and taught school until the surrender at Saratoga (Schuylerville, N.Y.) in October 1777 of the force led by John Burgoyne*. Ejected again from his parish because of his loyalist views, Gillmore then taught school in Spencertown, N.Y., until late 1782, when the triumph of the rebel cause compelled him to leave his family and flee to the province of Quebec.
After a winter spent at St Johns (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu), Gillmore went to the town of Quebec in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain financial assistance. Within a few months he had moved on to Sorel, where he was later joined by his family. Financially, Gillmore was now extremely hard-pressed, for the only employment he was able to find in Sorel was as deputy chaplain to the garrison and the salary for performing this duty was in the form of rations. By November 1784 he was back in Quebec, where he was soon complaining that “hearers are few, circumstances low, minds shut up and purses closed. . . .” However, he did obtain from Governor Haldimand “a certificate and recommendation as a minister and Loyalist for the Province of Nova Scotia,” and the following spring Henry Hope*, the commandant at Quebec, secured a passage to Halifax for the entire Gillmore family.
The Gillmores reached Halifax in July 1785 and spent the summer there. Desperate for assistance of some kind, Gillmore submitted a petition to Governor John Parr* in which he stressed that he and his family had been reduced to “cold, hunger, and nakedness” as a result of their decision to remain loyal to the crown. This appeal evidently had an effect, for soon afterwards Gillmore moved to Windsor to begin serving Presbyterian congregations that had been organized at that place and at Newport by the Reverend James Murdoch. In February 1786, moreover, he obtained a grant of land at Ardoise Hill, which became the family’s home for the next five years.
Gillmore’s problems, however, were not yet at an end. Shortly after his arrival in the Windsor area he noted that “there be some members of our church here by profession but few in reality. Persons are loath to appear in the profession of our holy religion, lest they should bring on themselves the odious names of oddity and singularity.” To compound his anxieties about the state of religion in his mission, Gillmore received no support from his impoverished flock and consequently he and his family still lived on the bare edge of subsistence. In a 1786 petition to the loyalist claims commission – an earlier one had been drawn up at Sorel – he emphasized the seriousness of his plight and pleaded for assistance to compensate him for the £700 he had lost because of the “wasting and Consuming Fire” of the American revolution. For some reason, consideration of this petition was deferred. Eventually, with the help of concerned friends, he was able to buy a passage overseas, where he intended to press his claims upon the government. Arriving at Greenock, Scotland, in January 1788, he spent a month in Glasgow before travelling to London. In the capital he presented two petitions to the Treasury, supported by recommendations from the Reverend Samuel Andrew Peters, a prominent Anglican loyalist, and Henry Hamilton*, formerly lieutenant governor of Quebec. In the second petition, dated 5 May, Gillmore stated: “I have been in peril oft by sea, by land, and false Brethren . . . I have wandered about without cloathing as good as sheep; or Goatskins – I have lodged in caves and Dens – I have suffered hunger – and am now destitute.” The government responded to this appeal by awarding him an annual pension of £20, an amount Gillmore considered inadequate. By the fall he was back in Nova Scotia and had resumed his ministry at Windsor and Newport.
Evidently a conscientious clergyman, Gillmore took an interest in the state of Presbyterianism outside his own mission: in 1786 he assisted three other Presbyterian clergymen, Hugh Graham* of Cornwallis, Daniel Cock of Truro, and David Smith of Londonderry, in organizing the Associate Presbytery of Truro, the first such body in the colony. As for his relations with other denominations, Gillmore, being of “Covenanter” stock, had no use for episcopacy, and in the 1780s he was a strong defender of the interests of his church and dissenting sects in their contest with the established Church of England. After the appointment in 1787 of Charles Inglis as the Anglican bishop of Nova Scotia, Gillmore referred contemptuously to “the pomps and vanities of a Bishop, whose greatest strength of argument consists in £1,000 per annum and a coach with two white horses.” His anger mounted later that year when Inglis cast aspersions on dissenting denominations in a sermon preached before the legislature. Responding to this sermon in a series of letters to an unnamed correspondent, Gillmore defended his dissenting brethren and violently attacked the Church of England. He announced his determination to guard against “all usurpations of episcopacy, tithes, and spiritual courts, taking place in this colony under the sanction of the civil magistrate.” He also emphasized that Protestant dissenters should join forces in this “time of common danger.”
In 1791 Gillmore moved to Horton and assumed responsibility for the church at Grand Pré, where he continued to preach “till prevented by the infirmities of age,” probably some time in the early 1800s. He was instrumental in having the church (known today as the Presbyterian-Covenanter Church) rebuilt on a different site, a task begun in 1804 and completed, except for the tower and spire, by 1811. Although Presbyterianism was “at a low ebb” in Horton, Gillmore was a “sound evangelical preacher of gospel truth” who strengthened the Presbyterian tradition in the area to the point where it was able to survive the 22-year ministerial vacancy that followed his death. It was during Gillmore’s ministry that the Presbyterians of Horton severed their formal association with the American Congregational Church, although some aspects of Congregational doctrine did remain.
Gillmore was a pious man who retained to the end a fervent belief in the eternal happiness that awaited the righteous. Writing to a daughter a few years before his death, he noted: “Were we not to meet with discouragements in our pilgrimage journey through life, we should not vehemently long to arrive at the land of rest and light to the wearied traveller. ‘But there remaineth a rest for the people of God’ – a rest of perpetual activity, singing and praising evermore. . . .” He died on 20 Sept. 1811, at the age of 91, and was buried in the Grand Pré churchyard. His gravestone, which was later removed and placed inside the church, bears a Latin inscription which notes, in part, that “unholy contact with the irreligious crowd did not turn him from the right path.” Many of Gillmore’s descendants entered the ministry, and Charles D. Hunter, his grandson, established the Hunter Building Fund that assists church building in Nova Scotia.
George Gillmore is the author of A sermon preached before a lodge of free and accepted masons, at Sorrel in Canada, on the day of St. John the Evangelist, 1783 (London, 1788), a copy of which is preserved in the library of the Mass. Hist. Soc.
PANS, MG 1, 328 (typescript); 742, no.ix. PRO, AO 12/23: 56; 12/102: 226; 12/109: 158; AO 13, bundles 13; 41; 70, pt.i; 83; 96, pt.i; 137. United Church of Canada, Maritime Conference Arch. (Halifax), George Gillmore, diary, 1769 (mfm. at PANS). A. W. H. Eaton, The history of Kings County, Nova Scotia . . . (Salem, Mass., 1910; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). William Gregg, History of the Presbyterian Church in the dominion of Canada . . . (Toronto, 1885). “Historical statement, 1754–1968,” Grand Pre Presbyterian-Covenanter Church, 1804–1970: 166th anniversary service . . . ([Grand Pre, N.S.], 1970; copy in PANS, MG 100, no.28). I. F. Mackinnon, Settlements and churches in Nova Scotia, 1749–1776 ([Montreal, 1930]). Alexander Maclean, The story of the kirk in Nova Scotia (Pictou, N.S., 1911). J. S. Moir, The church in the British era: from the British conquest to confederation (Toronto, 1972); Enduring witness; a history of the Presbyterian Church in Canada ([Hamilton, Ont., 1974?]). “The late Rev. George Gilmore,” Christian Instructor (Pictou), 5 (1860): 161–65, 225–29, 257–63, 289–94, 321–23. S. F. Tucker, “The vicissitudes of a loyalist clergyman,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., 7 (1913), sect.ii: 107–16.
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Cite This Article
In collaboration with Elizabeth A. Chard, “GILLMORE, GEORGE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gillmore_george_5E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||In collaboration with Elizabeth A. Chard|
|Title of Article:||GILLMORE, GEORGE|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||June 1, 2023|