KNIGHT, RICHARD, Methodist minister; b. 1788 in Devon, England; m. between 1818 and 1820 Mary Hosier in Bonavista, Nfld, and they had 11 children; d. 23 May 1860 in Sackville, N.B.
Raised as a devout member of the Church of England, Richard Knight converted to Methodism as a young man after an alarming dream and the death of a friend. Shortly thereafter he became a local preacher, serving for some time in England. He was accepted as a candidate for missionary work and was ordained by the British Wesleyan Conference in 1816. With five other carefully chosen men, including John Bell and George Cubit*, Knight was sent to Newfoundland in August of that same year. He was to have been stationed with Cubit at Carbonear but the colonial church, demonstrating its newly gained independence [see William Ellis*], posted both men to St John’s where Knight served as Cubit’s assistant for a few months. Knight was the first Wesleyan attached to the Fortune Bay circuit and, although his time of arrival is uncertain, he conducted his first wedding there in February 1817. For two years he served this vast area on the southwest coast, covering it three and four times a year to perform his duties. He became known to his parishioners as the “light bringer.”
During his 17 years in Newfoundland, Knight worked on all 11 circuits. While he was stationed at Brigus in the summer of 1825 he went to Labrador with a merchant friend Charles Cozens to determine if a mission could be established there; the Wesleyans’ first such attempt had been made the previous summer by Thomas Hickson. Knight spent the entire summer travelling some 300 miles along the coast, using Baie des Esquimaux (Hamilton Inlet) as his headquarters. He had a series of male and female interpreters who helped him in his preaching. Although he reported that he had difficulty in locating the main tribe and in interpreting their language, he concluded that the Indians of Labrador were of a superior class because of the Moravian influence [see Jens Haven*]. He praised their singing as the sweetest he had ever heard and concluded that a permanent Labrador mission should be established immediately. His vision became a reality the following year and he was instrumental in founding an institute to oversee the extension of this work.
Fortunately Knight was a man of great physical prowess and almost a stranger to sickness. He was thus able to endure the perilous winter travel overland and the equivalent hardships at sea. He also had to defend himself from both verbal and physical attacks: once, on the Grand Bank circuit, he was chastised for condemning dancing and drunkenness on Sundays and twice he was assaulted by Roman Catholics who had been encouraged by their priests. There is a popular story about Knight’s attempt to stop a man from smoking during one of his services. After appeals to the local magistrate who was present failed, Knight personally threw the man out of the church. One version of the story says that the man became a Methodist shortly afterwards; the other, that he became one on the spot.
Knight was a man of commanding spiritual power, and extraordinary revivals accompanied his ministry. Indeed, during his stay on the island, Methodist membership quadrupled. He has been described as “the greatest man that God gave the church in Newfoundland,” and his transfer from the district in 1833 was a heavy and permanent loss. He had already proved himself to be an excellent administrator with a fine business sense. This ability was demonstrated initially through his service as district secretary, probably in 1822, and in 1827 as secretary of the Newfoundland Methodist Missionary Society (its name was changed in 1840 to the Newfoundland Wesleyan Auxiliary Missionary Society).
Knight was transferred by the British conference to Nova Scotia, where he was immediately elected chairman of the east district. Exercising strong and judicious leadership, he opposed the immersionist theories and Universalist views which were prominent among Methodists in Halifax. Extensive revivals occurred shortly thereafter under his ministry and that of his colleague, Dr Matthew Richey*. During this period Knight curiously opposed the “assistant missionary” system, aimed at developing local preachers, in favour of the prevailing practice of sending them out from England. He feared that the new system was simply an expedient of the British Wesleyan Methodist committee to lessen their financial burden without contracting their sphere of influence. At Yarmouth in 1845 he unmasked and refuted the authors of an anonymous pamphlet signed Scrutator which charged Methodist preachers with misappropriation of public funds and dishonest collection policies. Later in the decade he was involved in establishing pensions for supernumeraries and ministers’ widows patterned after the English model. Again demonstrating his administrative skills, Knight served as chairman of the Nova Scotia west district (including Prince Edward Island) as well as the New Brunswick district from 1849 to 1853 and he was general superintendent of missions for New Brunswick.
In July 1847 Dr Robert Alder*, who had succeeded in reuniting the conference in Upper Canada and the British Wesleyans, visited Sackville, N.B., to confer with the leading ministers of the maritime districts regarding union. Any action was postponed, but by the early 1850s the time appeared ripe to unite the Upper and Lower Canada districts and to draw the maritime areas together in a separate conference. Knight played a key role in bringing the latter plan to fruition. In an attempt to secure the support of the reluctant Newfoundland district, Knight and Richey were sent to St John’s in 1855: they met with marked success. The new conference was constituted in Halifax on 17 July of that year as the Conference of Eastern British America.
In 1857 Knight was sent by the conference to the Canada Wesleyan conference in Toronto as a fraternal delegate, and from 1857 until 1860 he served, with the full support of the British conference and of his own colleagues, as co-delegate of the Conference of Eastern British America. Although he possessed a fair education, Knight made no pretensions to extensive literary attainment but he did receive an honorary degree from Mount Allison Wesleyan Academy, Sackville, probably in 1857.
On Saturday, 12 May 1860, Knight travelled to Sackville to attend the meetings of the Mount Allison Academic Board. He preached there the next day and on Monday and Tuesday attended the institution’s examination exercises. He became ill on Tuesday, however, and died peacefully on 23 May. In the 45 years of his ministry, Knight had never requested even a temporary retirement. It was predicted that, had he lived another year, he would certainly have been elected president of the conference.
Wesleyan Methodist Church of Eastern British America, Minutes (Halifax), 1860: 6–8. Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine (London), 48 (1825); 49 (1826): 131–34, 205–9; 83 (1860): 668. Newfoundland Mercantile Journal, 4 April 1822. Public Ledger, 28 Nov. 1828. Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism, 1: 389. When was that? (Mosdell), 71. Who’s who in and from Newfoundland . . . (St John’s, 1927), 38. A century of Methodism in St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1815–1915, ed. J. W. Nichols (n.p., ), 32. G. G. Findlay and W. W. Holdsworth, The history of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (5v., London, 1921–24), 1: 277, 330–38, 342–49, 480. G. O. Huestis, Memorials of Wesleyan missionaries & ministers, who have died within the bounds of the conference of Eastern British America, since the introduction of Methodism into these colonies (Halifax, 1872), 56–61. D. W. Johnson, History of Methodism in eastern British America, including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Bermuda . . . ([Sackville, N.B.], n.d.), 336–37. Charles Lench, An account of the rise and progress of Methodism on the Grand Bank and Fortune circuits from 1816 to 1916 . . . (n.p., ), 10–13, 22, 41–42; The story of Methodism in Bonavista and of the settlements visited by the early preachers . . . (2nd ed., St John’s, 1919), 78–79. Jacob Parsons, “The origin and growth of Newfoundland Methodism, 1765–1855” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Nfld., St John’s, 1964), 66. D. G. Pitt, Windows of agates; a short history of the founding and early years of Gower Street Methodist (now United) Church in St. John’s, Newfoundland (St John’s, 1966), 30. T. W. Smith, Hist. of Methodist Church, 2: 31–37. Philip Tocque, Newfoundland: as it was, and as it is in 1877 (Toronto, 1878), 198, 271–76. William Wilson, Newfoundland and its missionaries . . . to which is added a chronological table of all the important events that have occurred on the island (Cambridge, Mass., and Halifax, 1866), 227, 240–42, 298, 319, 343. Daily News (St John’s), 6 Feb. 1960.