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d. at London, Ont., 21 Sept. 1871


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JENKINS, WILLIAM, Presbyterian clergyman; b. 26 Sept. 1779 in Kirriemuir, Scotland; m. Jane Forrest in Scotland; m. secondly Mary Hatfield Stockton in the United States, and they likely had nine children; d. 25 Sept. 1843 in Richmond Hill, Upper Canada.

As a young man William Jenkins intended to enter the ministry of the Associate Synod of the Secession Church in Scotland, and he attended the University of Edinburgh, though without graduating. He emigrated to the United States about 1800 and continued his theological studies, proving himself an outstanding Greek and Hebrew scholar. He also studied several local Indian languages. In 1807 the Associate Reformed Presbytery of Saratoga licensed him to preach and, presumably soon after, ordained him when he was called as a missionary to a group of Oneidas at Oneida Castle, N.Y. He had apparently served the group previously as a student missionary with the help of an interpreter.

Owing to some difficulty with the Northern Missionary Society, Jenkins moved to Upper Canada in 1817, and he bought a farm in Markham Township. In 1819 he joined the Presbytery of the Canadas, an independent Canadian body organized the year before by Robert Easton* and others. Raised in the Secession Church, Jenkins was a committed voluntarist who felt that taking government money was “in some measure a silent approbation of” the union of church and state that was “the cause of many wars, persecutions and unjust measures” throughout Christendom. In 1834 he withdrew from the United Synod of Upper Canada (the successor in the province to the Presbytery of the Canadas) because it accepted such funds. He was admitted in 1837 to the Missionary Presbytery of the Canadas in connection with the United Associate Synod of the Secession Church in Scotland, which had been organized three years before by William Proudfoot* and other Secession Church missionaries and was thoroughly voluntarist.

On arriving in Upper Canada, Jenkins had started a congregation in Mount Pleasant (Richmond Hill), the site of his home church, and others in neighbouring townships. Moreover, in the course of his ministry he visited as far afield as Peterborough, the Bay of Quinte, and the Grand River. His marriage register records 852 weddings performed by him in various places. Despite his strenuous efforts, a report on his congregations by Proudfoot and the Reverend Thomas Christie in 1835 observed that “all the churches under Mr. Jenkins are in a languid state, owing, in part, to the scantiness and desultory nature of the supply he can give them.”

Jenkins was noted for his honesty, charity, moral rigidity, and radical politics. A friend and admirer of William Lyon Mackenzie*, Jenkins along with William Warren Baldwin, Robert Baldwin*, Egerton Ryerson*, Jesse Ketchum*, and others founded a committee in December 1830 to promote religious equality in Upper Canada. Their petition, forwarded to the imperial government in 1831 on behalf of the “Friends of Religious Liberty,” demanded the removal of clergymen from political positions, the institution of equal rights for clergy of all denominations, the modification of the King’s College charter, and the secularization of the clergy reserves. Jenkins was subjected to both verbal and physical attacks by supporters of the “family compact” and in 1832 his horse died after being brutally mutilated by persons unknown. “Do they think to intimidate me from duty by such treatment?” he wrote to the Christian Guardian. “I would even rather die myself, doing my duty, than live by neglecting it.” Jenkins’s son, James Mairs Jenkins, was charged with participating in the rebellion of 1837 but escaped to the United States. William’s letters to his exiled son are a commentary on events in Upper Canada after the uprising. “This is a wretched country,” he exclaimed in 1839. “When shall justice among men be attended to?”

During the last three years of his life Jenkins suffered from an illness that gradually restricted his travelling and lost him some of his congregations, but he continued preaching until two weeks before his death on 25 Sept. 1843. During his lifetime his colourful personality had made him the object of several perhaps apocryphal stories. He reportedly woke a man snoring during church service by hitting him on the head with a Bible and announcing, “If you’ll not hear the word of God, then feel it!” When teased about his shabby coat by Archdeacon John Strachan*, he supposedly retorted, “Ah, weel, Jock, I hae na turned it yet.”

John S. Moir

Some of William Jenkins’s correspondence has survived in private hands and is the basis of Mariel Jenkins, “Grace seasoned with salt: a profile of Reverend William Jenkins, 17791843,” OH, 51 (1959): 95104. Short biographies are available in “Memoir of the late Rev. Wm. Jenkins, minister of the United Secession Congregation, Richmond Hill,” Presbyterian Magazine (London, [Ont.]), 1 (1843): 27779; in “Sketches from the life of the Rev. William Jenkins, late of Richmond Hill,” Canadian United Presbyterian Magazine (Toronto), 4 (1857): 32124; 5 (1858): 13638; and in “Rev. William Jenkins of Richmond Hill,” ed. A. J. Clark, OH, 27 (1931): 1576, which also reproduces Jenkins’s marriage register. The UCC-C and the Presbyterian Church in Canada Arch. (Toronto) contain some scattered information, including copies of Jenkins’s letters to his son James.

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Cite This Article

John S. Moir, “JENKINS, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jenkins_william_7E.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:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/jenkins_william_7E.html
Author of Article:   John S. Moir
Title of Article:   JENKINS, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   September 21, 2023