GRAY, JOHN WILLIAM DERING (often known as I. W. D. Gray), Church of England clergyman and editor; b. 23 July 1797 in Preston, N.S., son of the Reverend Benjamin Gerrish Gray*; m. Avis Phillips Easson of Jamaica; d. 1 Feb. 1868 in Halifax, N.S.
John William Dering Gray’s father had been sent to Preston as a Church of England missionary to a group of Maroons, transferred there after the British conquest of Jamaica. In 1818 Gray earned a ba from King’s College in Windsor, N. S. (he received an ma in 1826 and a bd and dd in 1846 from the same institution). He then spent a year in England where he was ordained in 1820.
Upon his return to Nova Scotia a few years later, Gray may have been given the parish of Amherst. In 1826 he was appointed curate in Trinity Church, Saint John, N.B., where his father had become rector. Gray himself became rector in 1840 and served until November 1867 when he retired owing to ill health. He then went to Halifax to live with his son, Benjamin Gerrish Gray, and died there a few months later. He had fulfilled his duties as a minister conscientiously. He was, as his contemporaries testified, an active and inspiring rector.
Gray’s convictions and character also impelled him to participate in the religious controversies of his time and to assume the leadership of the evangelical or low church party in the Church of England in the Maritimes. His theological writings were aimed first at stopping Anglican defection to the Baptist Church [see James Walton Nutting] and later at preserving the Anglican communion from Tractarian or Romanizing tendencies. The consecration of John Medley* as bishop of Fredericton in 1845 and of Bishop Hibbert Binney* of Nova Scotia in 1851, both decidedly high church, precipitated a conflict within the Anglican community over matters of theology and church management. However, the roots of this conflict, the passions it evoked, and the issues at stake reflect as much the social, economic, and political life of Saint John as its religious persuasion. In a number of Anglican parishes of the Maritimes, and especially in Saint John, feelings of autonomy had been nurtured by frontier conditions and not countered by absentee or overworked bishops. Furthermore, although Saint John was growing in population and prosperity, the city’s élite was seeing political power shift to Fredericton. Concerns for faith and social position had also been increased by the influx of Irish immigrants in the 1830s and 1840s and the selection of Saint John in 1845 as the see of the first Roman Catholic bishop of New Brunswick, William Dollard*. Gray was the rector of the wealthiest parish in Saint John and his statements of religious principle in pamphlets and letters to local newspapers, notably the New Brunswick Courier, reflected the struggle of Saint John to further its autonomy and influence. The quarrels reached a peak during the late 1840s and early 1850s, when the advent of free trade and the implementation of responsible government were also severely disrupting the economic and political status quo of the town.
A first flurry had occurred in 1836 when Gray’s parish refused to join the Church Society of the archdeaconry of New Brunswick, ostensibly because it objected to the society’s constitution, although Gray’s opponents contended that it was more likely that the Saint John parish was unwilling to share its wealth with poorer parishes and missions. Some of Gray’s parishioners and other clergymen of the town donated individually to the society and formed a dissenting nucleus within Saint John which became active and venomous in subsequent years. Dr LeBaron Botsford, Judge Robert Parker, and Dr Robert Bayard supported Gray against such men as William Wright, advocate general and a church warden, the Reverend Richard Berrian Wiggins, and the Reverend Frederick Coster.
In the early 1840s Gray was apparently one of several Maritime clergymen who entertained hopes of becoming bishop (his rivals included Archdeacon George Coster* of Fredericton, Archdeacon Robert Willis of Nova Scotia, and the Reverend Edwin Jacob of King’s College, Fredericton). When Medley was installed in 1845, Gray and his supporters unsuccessfully opposed the new bishop’s decision to place his see in Fredericton rather than Saint John. After the Saint John parish joined the Church Society in 1846 and thereby doubled the society’s previous income with its contribution of £1,400, internal rivalries within the society increased and threats of secession were heard. Gray opposed Medley over the questions of church ritual, prayer books, the building of the cathedral and St Anne’s Chapel in Fredericton, the request for funds for these projects, and the bishop’s “abuses of power” in nominating clergy, which undermined the established New Brunswick practice of allowing congregations to choose their own clergy, and in attempting to introduce synods, which would “augment the powers vested in the Colonial Bishops.” The opposition led by Gray, however, appears as more than a theological dispute; it reflects the concerns of a frontier town caught in a centralizing network and losing control over its destiny.
In 1850 Gray decided to publish and edit a newspaper, the Church Witness. He bore the responsibility for six years, when the paper fell into other hands and toward 1860 eventually failed. Gray resuscitated it in 1865 and assisted it with his pen until shortly before his death. An editorial in the first issue indicates how strongly he identified with the ideals of the Reformation period: “We . . . propose to conduct our paper upon what we conscientiously regard as the true principles of the Church . . . as settled by her Reformers of the sixteenth century. . . . New and strange opinions as they may arise from time to time . . . to disturb the faith, we shall watchfully and steadfastly resist. We desire thus simply to speak the truth in love, thus earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.” The weekly’s pages were given over to the fight against the danger of “perversion” to Catholicism inherent in the high church movement, and opposition to the “tyranny” of the bishop. In later years, Gray became concerned about the dangers of rationalism presented by the broad church movement.
The paper’s uncompromising low church stand earned Gray adherents in the whole Maritime region as well as fierce enmity from the established Anglican circles in Fredericton and Halifax. Nova Scotia’s Bishop Binney was as much the butt of Gray’s attacks as Medley. For instance, through active involvement in the affairs of King’s College, Windsor, Gray tried to prevent Binney’s gaining absolute control over the teaching of theology at that institution; Gray served for many years on the board of governors, founded the New Brunswick branch of the Alumni Society, and spent time in England in 1838–39, in 1846, and in 1860 soliciting funds for its support.
Gray had the loyalty and respect of many and after his death the Church Witness (quoting the Halifax Morning Chronicle), praised him as “the ripest scholar and most thoroughly finished Theologian of the Church in these Colonies. . . .” Even Medley once described him as “a zealous clever useful man.” But because his views ran counter to the initiatives of Medley and his collaborators and pupils, he has tended to be regarded by some local historians as a troublemaker or, at best, a sincere but misguided leader. His own admiration for the plainness and independence of the 16th century divines is perhaps a more useful indication of the tradition he represents.
J. W. D. Gray’s publications include: A brief view of the scriptural authority and historical evidence of infant baptism; and a reply to objections urged in the treatise of E. A. Crawley, A.M. (Halifax, 1837); A letter to members of the Church of England, in reply to a letter from Edmund Maturin, M.A., late curate St. Paul’s, Halifax, N.S. (Saint John, N.B., 1859); A reply to the Rev. F. Coster’s defence of the “Companion to the Prayer Book” (Saint John, N.B., 1849); A reply to the statement of the Rev. Mr. Wiggins, A.M., showing the causes which have led to his retirement from the curacy of Saint John (Saint John, N.B., 1851); A sermon, preached at Trinity Church, in the parish of St. John, N.B., on the 8th December, 1857, and designed to recommend the principles of the loyalists of 1783 (Saint John, N.B., 1857); A sermon, preached at Trinity Church, Saint John, N.B., on Sunday, 24th November, 1839, upon resuming his duties in the parish, after an absence of twelve months in England (Saint John, 1839); A sermon, preached at Trinity Church, Saint John, New-Brunswick, on Sunday, January 22, 1837 (Saint John, 1837); “Sermon, preached in Christ’s Church, Fredericton, on Sunday, 8th February, 1846, being the day before the anniversary meeting of the society,” Diocesan Church Soc. of N.B., Report of proc. (Saint John), 1846; A sermon preached in Trinity Church, Saint John, March 4, 1849, on the providential rescue of that church from fire, on the night of the 26th February, 1849 (Saint John, N.B., 1849); A sermon, upon the death of . . . William IV . . . (Saint John, N.B., 1837); Sermons upon the second Advent of our Lord, preached at Trinity Church, St. John, in December, 1864 (Saint John, N.B., 1865); Trinity Church and its founders: a sermon preached on New Year’s Day, 1854 . . . (Saint John, N. B., 1854).
N. B. Museum, Jarvis family papers, William Jarvis, “The Church of England in New Brunswick in its relations with the state” (11 March 1863); Trinity Anglican Church (Saint John, N.B.), baptismal records, 1835–67. Robert Bayard, A statement of facts, as they occurred at the late annual meeting of the Diocesan Church Society; with a reply to some misstatements and expositions in the Rev’d F. Coster’s defence of the “Companion to the Prayer Book” (Saint John, N. B., 1849; 1875). Church Witness (Saint John, N.B.), February 1850–March 1868. Fenety, Political notes and observations. Morning News (Saint John, N.B.), November 1867, February 1868. R. B. Wiggins, A review of the Rev. Dr. Gray’s “Reply” to the “Statement of some of the causes which have led to the late dissention in the Episcopal Church” in this city (Saint John, N.B., 1851); Statement of some of the causes which have led to the late dissention in the Episcopal Church, in the city of Saint John (Saint John, N.B., 1851). William Wright, Observations on Dr. Bayard’s mis-called “Statement of facts, as they occurred at the late annual meeting of the Diocesan Church Society” (Saint John, N.B., 1849). F. G. H. Brigstocke, History of Trinity Church, Saint John, New Brunswick, 1791–1891 (Saint John, N.B., 1892). Philip Carrington, The Anglican Church in Canada, a history (Toronto, 1963). S. D. Clark, The developing Canadian community (2nd ed., Toronto, 1968); The social development of Canada, an introductory study with select documents (Toronto, 1942). V. G. Kent, “The Right Reverend Hibbert Binney, colonial Tractarian bishop of Nova Scotia, 1851–1887” (unpublished ma thesis, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, 1969). W. Q. Ketchum, The life and work of the Most Reverend John Medley, D.D., first bishop of Fredericton and metropolitan of Canada (Saint John, N.B., 1893). Leaders of the Canadian church, ed. W. B. Heeney (3 ser., Toronto, 1918–43), 1st ser. MacNutt, New Brunswick. L. N. Harding, “John, by divine permission: John Medley and the church in New Brunswick,” Canadian Church Hist. Soc., Journal, VIII (1966), 76–87.
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Cite This Article
Geneviève Laloux Jain, “GRAY, JOHN WILLIAM DERING,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 3, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gray_john_william_dering_9E.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:||Geneviève Laloux Jain|
|Title of Article:||GRAY, JOHN WILLIAM DERING|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1976|
|Year of revision:||1976|
|Access Date:||June 3, 2023|