McCULLOCH, THOMAS, Presbyterian minister, educator, office holder, jp, author, and naturalist; b. 1776 in Fereneze, near Paisley, Scotland, second son of six children of Michael McCulloch and Elizabeth Neilson; m. 27 July 1799 Isabella Walker, and they had nine children; d. 9 Sept. 1843 in Halifax.
Thomas McCulloch was a product of 18th-century industrialization and the Scottish Enlightenment. Paisley, a centre of the textile trade, was prosperous, and its prosperity extended to the artisan class of the region, to which Thomas’s father, a master blockmaker for the printing of cloth, belonged. Thomas grew up amid the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment’s scientific and philosophical innovation. He graduated in logic from the University of Glasgow in 1792. With a skill for classical languages, he taught Hebrew as a student and upon graduation pursued the study of languages along with his interests in church history and the British constitution. He also undertook the study of medicine but did not complete the course. Instead, Thomas attended the theological hall of the General Associate Synod in Whitburn (Lothian). Here were trained the ministers of the Secession Church, so called because of its origin in Ebenezer Erskine’s separation from the Church of Scotland in 1733.
Licensed by the Presbytery of Kilmarnock, McCulloch was called in 1799 to Stewarton, southwest of Glasgow, where he was ordained. Six weeks later he married the daughter of the Reverend David Walker, minister of the Old Light burgher congregation of nearby Pollokshaws (Glasgow). He sought demission from Stewarton four years later, a move subsequently attributed by his son to lack of financial support. Shortly thereafter he applied to the General Associate Synod for assignment to North America and was appointed to Prince Edward Island.
McCulloch’s education and early years instilled a committed Calvinism, a philosophical liberalism, and an intellectual appetite which found expression in his subsequent teaching, writing, and political vision. Family piety and filial duty apparently drove him to seek a missionary field. He himself admitted that it took several years before he could persuade himself that his situation was preferable to that of his brethren at home.
McCulloch arrived in Pictou, N.S., with his family in November 1803. Warned against attempting to cross the Northumberland Strait so late in the year, he wintered in Pictou. Tradition has it that two townsmen, seeing the globes depicting the physical and celestial worlds which McCulloch had brought with him, determined to keep him there. In June 1804 he was inducted into the “Harbour” church, later the Prince Street Church. Like his colleagues James Drummond MacGregor* and Duncan Ross*, McCulloch made journeys to communities unsupplied with Presbyterian ministers, including Halifax. He was popular in the capital, and in 1807 he received a call to settle there. The Associate Presbytery of Pictou determined that the church’s interests were better served by his remaining in Pictou. McCulloch returned to the Halifax congregation briefly in 1817 to mediate a dispute with their minister; his address, published as Words of peace . . . , admonished against the evil fruits of contention and the congregation’s neglect of “that progress in godliness” which was their duty as Christians and Presbyterians. In 1824 he resigned his Pictou ministry in order to devote himself exclusively to educational matters.
Within two years of his arrival in Pictou McCulloch had initiated the activity that would become his life’s dedicated, and at times obsessive, goal. In 1803 King’s College at Windsor, the province’s sole institution of higher learning, had effectively excluded dissenters, who formed 80 per cent of the province’s population, from its facilities and honours. Educated in the Scottish universities where students of all denominations were accommodated, McCulloch abhorred this religious exclusiveness. He held, moreover, that a liberal education, which could be obtained only in universities, was essential for the training of preachers. Recognizing the great lack of Presbyterian ministers and the realism of MacGregor’s belief that Nova Scotia would never be adequately served by relying upon ministers formed in Scotland, McCulloch developed a concept for training a Nova Scotian ministry. The first practical step, taken in 1806, was the initiation of a school in his house, where boys were taught the branches of learning beyond those of the common schools; by 1807 a subscription of £1,150 had been pledged towards a college. Unable at the outset to obtain government assistance, McCulloch’s school operated by local subscription until the provincial grammar school act of 1811 gave it official aid. When the log schoolhouse he had built on his property burned in 1814, he had 30–40 students. His appeal to the lieutenant governor for aid in rebuilding garnered £100 from public funds.
In 1809 hostile locals had taken the occasion of Lieutenant Governor Sir George Prevost*’s visit to Pictou to implant suspicions in the official mind about McCulloch’s loyalty. A threatening letter followed, advising him to leave the country. McCulloch’s stalwart defence of his loyalty and the testimonies of well-placed friends disarmed the allegation, and he served in 1810 as district treasurer and from at least 1810 to 1815 as a justice of the peace. One of those upon whom McCulloch had called for defence against the allegation was Bishop Charles Inglis*. In 1803, amid the tensions of the Napoleonic Wars, the bishop’s charge to his clergy had cast aspersions on the loyalty of Roman Catholics in the province. A warm response from Edmund Burke*, the Catholic vicar general, provoked a political and theological controversy in which McCulloch, applying his scholarship, entered the lists as Protestant champion. In Popery condemned . . . (1808), dedicated to Inglis, and Popery again condemned . . . (1810), McCulloch illustrated from the Scriptures and teachings of the Christian church the theological justification of Protestantism and the misrepresentations of the papal church. His focus transformed the controversy from a largely political struggle into a primarily religious one. McCulloch’s efforts were so acceptable to the Anglican leadership that an informal approach was made to him through William Cochran*, vice-president of King’s College, to join the Anglican communion and the college staff. With some surprise its spokesmen learned that McCulloch’s Presbyterianism prevented him from subscribing to the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles, as such an appointment required. The decision bound McCulloch more firmly to his conviction that an institution of higher education open to the dissenting denominations had to be established in Nova Scotia.
The introduction of an interdenominational form of the monitorial school system in Nova Scotia in 1813–14 again called McCulloch’s pen into action. The first school for children of the lower classes to operate in Halifax since the 1780s, Walter Bromley’s Royal Acadian School sparked controversy between Anglican establishmentarians such as Richard John Uniacke* and Alexander Croke, who believed education should teach children to become members of the established church, and nonconformists such as McCulloch, who regarded the churchmen’s proposals for conformity as infringing on the legal right to dissent. McCulloch argued that where each denomination lacked the wealth and influence to maintain its own institution, all communions could reap the benefits of a Christian education for their children by cooperating in an interdenominational Protestant association to support a single institution. A sermon of February 1814, The prosperity of the church in troublous times . . . , lauded the hand of Providence in the emergence of interdenominational cooperation through societies devoted to promoting religious objectives. Though McCulloch did not serve on the boards of such institutions as the Royal Acadian Society and the British and Foreign Bible Society, by his pithy defence of their principles through extensive newspaper correspondence he defined the parameters of Nova Scotia’s practical religious toleration.
In 1815 the Presbyterians, led by McCulloch, initiated the legislative process to establish an interdenominational institution of higher learning at Pictou. Their chief motive was to provide the requisite classical training for theological candidates. The public agenda, however, emphasized the non-sectarianism of the institution because the Presbyterians needed the support of Methodists, Baptists, and liberal Anglicans to achieve success. The low-key approach to the legislature made no mention of granting degrees, teaching theology, or financial assistance but asked only for an academy. In the religiously diverse assembly, the academy bill passed without a division. In the Anglican-dominated Council, Brenton Halliburton* agreed to further an explicitly Presbyterian academy. The act of incorporation as passed in 1816 placed no denominational restrictions on students but required an oath of adherence from trustees and teachers to the established churches of England or Scotland. In the view of the promoters, this imposition of a denominational board of trustees was a temporary expedient. The act reflected assemblyman Edward Mortimer*’s political astuteness and his ability to persuade the mercurial McCulloch of the advantages of responding to political reality.
With McCulloch as principal, Pictou Academy began classes in May 1818. His address at the opening of its building later that year, published as The nature and uses of a liberal education illustrated . . . , expounded his convictions. A liberal education included both the traditional classical education and the sciences (philosophy, mathematics, and the physical sciences) in order that men could know and understand the world in which they lived. It taught them not only facts but also a system of principles for classifying them, as well as the skills and inclination to continue acquiring knowledge. “A liberal education is valuable,” McCulloch argued, “not so much on account of the information which a young man picks up in college as for the habits of abstraction and generalization which he imperceptibly contracts in the course of his studies.” He pressed in the Acadian Recorder of Halifax early in 1818 for “an open and general seminary for the higher branches of learning,” and he warned of the dangers of a system which forced many inhabitants to seek their education in foreign places, especially the United States, because of the denominationally exclusive nature of higher education at home. McCulloch believed as strongly as any Anglican establishmentarian that education must imbue Christian principles in its students. The object of education was “the improvement of man in intelligence and moral principle, as the subsequent basis of his happiness.” To this end education should also set before youth models of good and useful precepts. McCulloch was insistent, however, that all should be educated without regard to distinctive religious beliefs.
As an instructor of young men preparing to enter the professions and the Presbyterian ministry, McCulloch was driven by the scope and depth of his own intelligence. He epitomized the fusion of education and religion which characterized Scottish social philosophy of his age. Scientific technique was the handmaid of religious enquiry: “a public instructor in the church . . . must be a man of knowledge and also possess a facility of communicating knowledge” so that the order of the church would be upheld. In a country where educational facilities were minimal, McCulloch recognized, education might come from private study as well as from seminary instruction, but he saw his role as dedicated to eliminating such necessity as the sole option for dissenting clergymen. Through correspondence with the Reverend Edward Manning*, McCulloch sought common ground on education between Presbyterians and Baptists in an attempt to attract Baptist support for his seminary.
In addition to McCulloch’s philosophy of education and his personal dedication, what distinguished his institution was his incorporation of scientific instruction into the curriculum. He instilled in his students a scientific curiosity and a sense of the moral worth of science. As early as 1820 he had acquired from Scotland used chemical apparatus and, beginning in 1827, had also given public lectures on the fundamental principles of chemistry. Accompanied by experiments, these lectures significantly enhanced his personal popularity and renown. They reached a climax in 1830 when, according to McCulloch, public lectures in Halifax did “more good to the Academy and its interests than anything that had previously happened.” His collecting of regional insects and birds also strengthened the scientific image of the academy. In 1822, partly in recognition of a collection of Nova Scotian insects donated to the University of Glasgow, he was awarded a dd from that institution. At the same time, assisted by his lifelong friend the Reverend James Mitchell of Glasgow, he negotiated llds for the academy’s two staunchest political friends, Samuel George William Archibald and Simon Bradstreet Robie*, and James MacGregor was also awarded a dd. The following year, when forwarding a collection of insects to the University of Edinburgh, he sought degrees for Halliburton, judge James Stewart, and Chief Justice Sampson Salter Blowers. Contrasting at that time his institution with the government-favoured college at Windsor, McCulloch was careful to draw attention to his courses in mathematics, natural philosophy, and the physical sciences, which were absent at King’s College.
The initial opponents of Pictou Academy were members of the Halifax tory establishment, dominated by the Church of England. Their spokesmen in Council, Uniacke and his son-in-law Thomas Nickleson Jeffery, made an intransigent stand against the academy. Convinced that higher education in the hands of the established church alone could implant in society’s future leadership principles of social order and of the British constitution, they rejected McCulloch’s conviction that a liberal education on a non-sectarian basis would provide for the most reliable development of responsible citizens. The Reverend John Inglis, the staunchest defender of the Anglican monopoly on higher education, was the most persistent advocate of their perception that Pictou Academy was “likely to rise or decay as the college at Windsor [was] depressed or advanced.” Equally antagonistic was the provincial treasurer, Michael Wallace*, whose animosity towards the district of Pictou dated from his political defeat there in 1799. Moreover, certain councillors had financial reasons for wishing to contain the ambitions of commercial Pictou.
In 1818 a controversy over the dissenters’ claim to the use of marriage licences gave McCulloch an issue around which to rally dissenting interests. When Inglis, as Anglican commissary, refused to issue licences to dissenters, McCulloch engineered a petition to the legislature, signed by various dissenting ministers, which sought recognition of their right to marry by licence. McCulloch was also an active protagonist of the issue in the local press. In a pungent letter to the Acadian Recorder bearing his familiar pseudonym Investigator, he laid out the bases of the dissenting argument. For him, however, the marriage licence dispute was “a trial of strength” designed “for the purpose of attaching the methodist and baptist clergy to our seminary” and an opportunity to embarrass the Anglican church and challenge Inglis. In 1821, after the Colonial Office had disallowed a bill permitting dissenting ministers to marry by licence, McCulloch’s interest in the question waned, for he had by then discovered that “[Methodist and Baptist] good will would not extend beyond professions.” He was content that the issue “is hanging over the head of the church and can be renewed at any time.” His interest revived in 1825 when the licence question became one of four issues upon which he led the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia in seeking formation of an interdenominational board which would coordinate dissenting action. In the late 1820s the licence question again became an issue around which McCulloch worked to rally common action on behalf of dissenters in the legislature as a way of gaining support for his academy.
Under Mortimer’s guidance, the academy had obtained a £400 grant from the legislature in 1819, but its supporters failed again to procure a non-denominational board of trustees. Nevertheless, both Baptists and Methodists gave McCulloch warm testimonials when he made a tour to Boston, New York, and the Canadas that year. Moreover, Mortimer and Robie sought an American dd for McCulloch in recognition of his theological accomplishments and his articulate defence of dissenting interests. Their efforts failed but the following year McCulloch was awarded a dd by Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. Mortimer’s death late in 1819 had left effective leadership of the academy in McCulloch’s hands. It was he, for example, who suggested in 1821 that the bill to grant the academy’s charter be linked with that for Dalhousie College to achieve acceptance in the Council and the Colonial Office. Political leadership on the academy question passed to the skilful Archibald, who, with the assistance of George Smith of Pictou and Charles Rufus Fairbanks in the assembly and Robie and Halliburton in the Council, shepherded the academy’s interests annually through the legislature. McCulloch was actively involved in the applications. He appeared as a witness before the assembly and Council, and his prolific promotional correspondence on education was supported by the timely production of diverse petitions. By 1821 he was complaining that he had come to Halifax so often to further the academy “that I am ashamed to show my nose in town when the House is sitting.” As well, his anonymous and increasingly popular letters in the Acadian Recorder at this time satirizing the follies of Nova Scotian society might well have made him shy of too much publicity in Halifax. In their own way, they reinforced the social and religious principles underlying McCulloch’s vision of the academy. Its supporters failed to obtain a non-denominational board of trustees, degree-granting status, or a permanent operating grant, but an annual subvention demonstrated the academy’s political success for almost a decade. By 1825 it was widely recognized for the quality of its instruction, the commitment of its principal, and its acceptance among dissenters in meeting their needs for higher education.
In seeking degree-granting status for the academy, McCulloch and his colleagues had been stymied in 1817 when Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay] had initiated a third institution of higher learning, to be situated in Halifax. Although he approved of the academy, Dalhousie was insistent that it was equivalent to a Scottish academy and that it would never obtain his support in aspiring to a higher status, which he foresaw as belonging to his own college. McCulloch’s efforts to persuade him to place his college under the control of the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, rather than pursue an alliance with King’s College, faltered on Dalhousie’s committed establishmentarianism and his ambitions to rise in the imperial administration. The failure in 1823–25 of his successor, Sir James Kempt*, to unite King’s and Dalhousie colleges in Halifax in an interdenominational university reduced the threat to McCulloch’s aspirations for degree-granting status for his academy. Unable, however, to obtain the power of accreditation in Nova Scotia, in 1825 he sent the first three graduates of his divinity program to Scotland, where they passed the qualifying examinations for the University of Glasgow with praise.
The creation of the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia in 1817 had been the result of action by the Presbyterian ministers outside Halifax, mainly Secessionists. McCulloch helped to develop the terms of union, and he was the author of the synod’s first report. He was active in synod committees, and in 1821 he served as moderator. Appointed the synod’s professor of divinity that year, he led the church in petitioning for government funding of a theological chair at the academy. Despite rejection of this request, McCulloch for the rest of his life taught the theological courses usual for degrees in divinity in Scotland, the synod paying him a nominal annual sum. He might complain of personal jealousies and lack of ardour within the synod, but by 1825 the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia looked upon the province, particularly the eastern portion, as its domain, and McCulloch was its undisputed leader.
While McCulloch and other preachers of the Secession Church were dedicating their substantial energies to the development of Presbyterianism in Nova Scotia over more than 20 years, the Church of Scotland had remained unorganized and its ministers isolated. Until the arrival of the Reverend Donald Allan Fraser at Pictou in 1817, there were no Church of Scotland ministers in eastern Nova Scotia. By 1824 Fraser was joined at Pictou by the Reverend Kenneth John MacKenzie, who came as the representative of the church’s missionary wing, the Glasgow Colonial Society. Had the promise of society missionaries not seemed to McCulloch to threaten the field to which he intended to send divinity graduates of Pictou Academy, the number of Scottish settlers in eastern Nova Scotia might have absorbed all the ministers that both churches could provide. Likewise, had the Secessionists and Kirkmen not found themselves competing for the same region in the presence of two such ambitious, stubborn, and volatile personalities as MacKenzie and McCulloch, they might have complemented each other rather than conflicted.
Initiation of Glasgow Colonial Society activities in Nova Scotia coincided with McCulloch’s long anticipated tour to Scotland, by which he hoped to solidify the position of his church and to advance the interests of the academy. Armed with testimonials from the Methodists, the Baptists, the province’s barristers and attorneys, and leading members of the assembly, he set off in July 1825. Soon after his arrival, his stormy meeting with the secretary of the Glasgow Colonial Society, the Reverend Robert Burns*, alienated the Church of Scotland from McCulloch’s cause. McCulloch argued vehemently that, rather than funding Scottish ministers to settle in Nova Scotia, the society would better fulfil its aims by aiding locally trained clergymen, familiar with the country, in their first years with a congregation. His strongly worded Memorial, published in July 1826, charged the society with a deliberate intent to counteract the work of the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia.
The Memorial provoked a vituperative press controversy in Scotland over the objectives and operations of the society that continued until 1828 through Burns’s Supplement, McCulloch’s Review of the “Supplement”, and Burns’s reply. The formation by McCulloch’s Scottish Secessionist friends late in 1826 of the Glasgow Society for Promoting the Interests of Religion and Liberal Education among the Settlers of the North American Provinces in order to aid the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia and Pictou Academy heightened the denominational animosity in Scotland. Moreover, McCulloch was severely frustrated by the meagre results of his fund-raising efforts on behalf of the academy. As he complained to MacGregor, “I have tried many a trade but begging is the worst.” A severe financial depression in Scotland and his rancorous relations with the Glasgow Colonial Society deprived him of the success Inglis had achieved in England for King’s College a year earlier.
The controversy over the Glasgow Colonial Society did not remain a solely Scottish struggle. Both MacKenzie and the Kirk spokesman in Halifax, the Reverend John Martin, forwarded their comments on McCulloch’s Memorial to Burns. As early as September 1826, letters in the Acadian Recorder extended the controversy to Nova Scotia. By the end of the year, the newspaper polemics had fixed its centre firmly in Pictou. Although McCulloch did not return to Nova Scotia until December 1826, he and MacKenzie were seen throughout as the dispute’s principals in the province. Their debate began the next spring when McCulloch published in the Halifax newspapers an extended response to Burns’s Supplement. Maintaining the separation between Kirkmen and Secessionists that existed in Scotland but which was much less noticeable in Nova Scotia, the Church of Scotland ministers found themselves and their fledgling missionary society under McCulloch’s virulent attack. Fulfilment of his aspirations, they saw, would deny them not only their assumed role as the representatives of Presbyterianism in a British colony but also any place in the missionary field in Nova Scotia. In Michael Wallace the Kirkmen found a sympathetic respondent who linked their discontent with opposition to the academy in the Council.
MacKenzie and Fraser, the Kirk spokesmen, based their opposition to the academy on three points. First, although authorized as a Scottish-style academy serving Presbyterian needs, the academy was clearly operated as an interdenominational college. Claiming to represent the majority of Scottish settlers in eastern Nova Scotia, who had had a Kirk affiliation when they emigrated, the Kirkmen argued that the region needed the elementary branches of learning which had been excluded from the academy. Secondly, by fulfilling in practice the principal purpose for which Dalhousie College, with its Kirk affiliation, had been founded, Pictou Academy conferred upon the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia a status which the Church of Scotland both lacked and assumed to be its right. Thirdly, Kirk hostility was directed against the theological instruction provided to candidates for ministry in the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia. The trustees of the academy always insisted that any denomination wishing to have its divinity candidates instructed there could make arrangements similar to McCulloch’s, but so long as the Kirk refused to accept the validity of a native ministry there could be no common ground on this point. Unwilling to submit to McCulloch’s iron dictatorship among the trustees, MacKenzie and his colleagues found themselves unable to alter management of the academy except by public confrontation.
It has been argued by Dr William B. Hamilton that between 1820 and 1825 McCulloch and Pictou Academy were becoming “synonymous with the battle for political and educational reform” and that by the end of this period “narrow denominational questions had been transformed into a constitutional issue of wide significance.” During these years Pictou Academy did emerge as a significant issue of contention between the assembly, dominated by dissenting interests and rural members, and the Council, representing establishmentarian and Haligonian interests. By 1825, despite persistent opposition from Wallace, Uniacke, and Jeffery, the legislative bounty to the academy, in nearly annual grants of £400, totalled £2,600. McCulloch was satisfied that his institution would eventually “creep into the civil list” with a permanent annual grant like that given King’s College. A strong push in 1825 by the assembly nevertheless failed to obtain implementation of the academy’s three persistent requests – college status, a non-sectarian board of trustees, and a permanent annual grant. Moreover, that year a change of membership in Council altered the balance in favour of the academy’s opponents. The changes included the appointment of John Inglis, recently named bishop of Nova Scotia. McCulloch blamed Inglis and his “spiderweb tactics” for the shift of balance, but in fact Inglis did not possess the influence in Council attributed to him. His persevering defence of church interests, however, melded comfortably with the defence of the church establishment by other councillors, and McCulloch was unable to recognize the crucial distinction between Inglis’s influence and the opposition to Pictou and its economic aspirations by councillors such as Enos Collins* and Charles Ramage Prescott*. As a result, dissenting promoters of Pictou Academy often focused simplistically upon Inglis’s vote in explaining their rejection.
Attempts to reach a compromise between the Kirkmen and the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia and between the assembly and the Council continued to characterize the Pictou Academy question between 1826 and 1831. McCulloch became increasingly convinced that compromise would destroy the institution. A decade of promoting and protecting the academy had led him to a practical social liberalism which embraced tenets of civil and religious liberty incompatible with the strongly conservative philosophy dominant in Council. Pictou Academy became not an educational institution responsive to the needs of the province but McCulloch’s divine mission in the service of ecumenical Christianity. His total commitment to the institution’s promotion and defence lay at the root of the inflexibility that dominated the dispute in the late 1820s. By the end of 1826 McCulloch saw himself in the martyr’s role, “marked out as a scapegoat to bear the sins of the people.” Embittered by the animosity of the Glasgow Colonial Society and disillusioned by what he perceived to be lukewarm brethren in Scotland, McCulloch attacked the proposed bill which would have given the academy a permanent annual grant because it attached government officials to the institution’s board of trustees.
The trustees’ “New Year’s Resolutions” of 1827, vaunting the institution and restating its objectives unflinchingly, were their response to McCulloch’s sense of crisis. Although the principal admitted that the resolutions were “all flummery,” their strident citing of natural rights and the academy’s right to equal legislative treatment with King’s College elicited “much raging of enemies” and “too great falling off of friends,” among them Brenton Halliburton. The failure of the trustees’ heavy-handed approach was evident in the absence of a Pictou Academy bill in 1827. Despite such warnings of the danger of their course, the trustees, led by McCulloch, pursued it unrelentingly. That year, in the Colonial Patriot of Pictou [see Jotham Blanchard], the academy’s supporters established a radical voice informed of and responsive to reform currents in the Canadas. Although McCulloch publicly denied any direct involvement in the journal, he was widely assumed to be the master-mind behind it, and by 1829 he was openly a contributor. In providing a voice of civil and religious liberty in Nova Scotia, the Colonial Patriot reflected and strongly advocated the philosophical position of which Pictou Academy was more and more a symbol.
Increased politicization of the trustees’ demands from 1827 exacerbated the religious tensions that the Glasgow Colonial Society controversy and the “New Year’s Resolutions” had provoked. The Church of Scotland’s objections to the academy were annually laid before the legislature in petitions from 1828 to 1832. Their convenient arguments, numerous signatures, and regional origin gave substance to the academy’s opponents in Council. By the spring of 1828, when addressing the constitutional issues which the conflict over the academy had raised, Halliburton noted correctly that the controversy “had been inflamed into a religious struggle for political domination . . . : Are the Dissenters, or the Kirk of Scotland, to have the religious and political sway throughout the Eastern section of Nova Scotia?” Nevertheless, the conflict had also become linked to an issue which dominated the province: had the Council the constitutional right to reject money bills initiated, and repeatedly sustained, by the assembly? Between 1825 and 1830 the Council rejected no fewer than seven bills for the financial support of the institution.
In McCulloch’s eyes, “The Academy is the only thing in the British provinces which prevents the [bishop] from having the education of the whole under his and the church’s management and they are employing every means within doors and out of doors fair or foul to put us down.” With the legislative grant withdrawn after 1828, McCulloch was forced to direct additional energy towards encouraging donations from Scotland and greater efforts among supporters in Nova Scotia, by whom societies were formed in 1829. The annual organization of legislative petitions from diverse congregations and denominations was also essential to offset the activities of the Kirkmen. By the spring of 1829, McCulloch, disillusioned and despairing, concluded that “there is no safety for our Academy but getting the province into a flame.” A “summer’s roasting” of Council in the Patriot led him to believe that the journal would “either obtain for [the academy] a permanence directly or by revolutionizing the Council terminate in the same end.” As these activities focused on the government, they were perceived by the institution’s opponents less as a defence of the institution than as a deliberate disturbance of the orderliness and peaceful harmony of the province.
Encouraged by the opposition to the academy in Council, the Church of Scotland clergy held adamantly to the claim that they represented order and loyalty to government and that their position concerning the academy expressed local needs. As a denomination, the Kirk was considerably strengthened in the late 1820s, and in 1831 the founding of the Pictou Observer and Eastern Advertiser with MacKenzie as editor gave Kirkmen a voice through which to express and consolidate their position. In the election of 1830 they were initiated into electoral politics. Although the candidates they supported were defeated, the strength of their showing in the district of Pictou gave credence to their claims of popular support. Moreover, by adhering in 1831 to the position that the conflict was a religious one between Presbyterians, they undermined the Secessionist argument that the academy’s cause represented the flourishing of legitimate reformist sentiments and the championing of religious liberty similar to challenges in Britain and Upper Canada.
The continuous stalemate over the academy issue in the province encouraged lobbyists of the opposing parties to present their positions to the Colonial Office in 1831. McCulloch wrote the trustees’ petition, which Blanchard presented. The political skills of Archibald, the trustees’ president, and of Halliburton, who wrote a lengthy critique of the trustees’ petition, led Colonial Secretary Lord Goderich to accept from Blanchard’s and Halliburton’s exposition a familiar analysis that assigned a political reason to colonial woes. In July 1831 Goderich instructed Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland* that “a Bill should be passed which might give to the Academical Institution at Pictou . . . permanent pecuniary assistance from the Public Revenues.” In response Maitland advised that it was “between the members of the Kirk of Scotland and . . . Seceders from the Kirk, that the contention really exist[ed],” rather than solely “between the Council, or the Established Church, or both, and the supporters of the Institution.” Goderich acknowledged that in such a religious confrontation between two parties reported nearly equal in numbers, a grant to one would settle nothing. He therefore instructed Maitland to take no initiative other than “endeavouring to reunite the contending parties and of encouraging both branches of the Legislature . . . to settle the question by some amicable adjustment of the Law.”
Unable to settle the academy dispute in an amicable manner, government effectively stepped aside. Late in 1831 Maitland made efforts to conciliate McCulloch and MacKenzie, but they foundered on the former’s adamancy. However, fear of imperial displeasure and the more conciliatory attitude of moderate members appointed in the early 1830s gave Council renewed incentive to seek a settlement of the question of which all parties were weary. The resulting act of 1832 was a compromise on all sides. The lower branches were to be taught at the academy, and the higher branches were to continue. An annual grant of £400 for ten years was to be allocated primarily to salaries for McCulloch (£250) and the master of the lower branches (£100). Of the thirteen trustees, seven were to remain. Maitland, adhering to his conviction that both parties must be accommodated, appointed representatives of the Church of Scotland to four of the six seats to be filled. By internalizing the dispute within the board of trustees, Maitland undoubtedly hoped to see it resolved in the operation of the institution. The antagonism between McCulloch and MacKenzie made this expectation unrealistic.
The restructuring of Pictou Academy by the legislation of 1832 marked the beginning of a critical stage in McCulloch’s career. Up to that point he could claim effective control of the institution. With four of his opponents named to the board of trustees, however, he realized that his personal power had been markedly diminished. As early as 1833 wrangling and insult characterized the board’s meetings, and McCulloch, though legislated to it, had ceased to participate. Amid growing economic recession, pecuniary and public support for the academy fell away. McCulloch repeatedly complained of the failure of the Kirk representatives to deliver the financial aid they had promised upon appointment to the board of trustees, and he remained subject to their virulent personal attacks. Moreover, in 1831 A Presbyterian, writing in the Acadian Recorder, had accused McCulloch of redirecting to the academy funds raised in Scotland to relieve the sufferers of the devastating Miramichi fire of 1825. Although the charges had been refuted, they were republished in pamphlet form in 1833, denied in Scottish attestations published in the Acadian Recorder in 1834, and renewed in the Pictou Observer in 1835.
In January 1835, advising Lieutenant Governor Sir Colin Campbell that Pictou Academy could no longer be kept in useful operation, McCulloch applied for “some other way beneficial to the Province” in which he might “derive a subsistence from the education of youth”; a year later he repeated his request to the assembly. His despondency derived not only from the adversarial environment of the academy but also from the deaths of two of his children in 1834 and 1835. Surrounded at various times by his mother, sister, brothers, nephew, wife, and nine children, McCulloch had always depended upon his close-knit and like-minded family for support.
Renewed negotiations for uniting King’s and Dalhousie colleges were taking place in 1835–36, and McCulloch’s friends were eager to see him appointed to Dalhousie. McCulloch reluctantly agreed, but cited to Mitchell only the negative factors of Halifax, specifically its corrupt urban environment and its predominant Anglicanism. In 1836 McCulloch submitted his resignation as the synod’s professor of divinity. He later claimed that he did so because he perceived dissatisfaction with his continuance and not because the synod had failed to endow the appointment as undertaken in 1832. He was persuaded to resume the position a year later and continued in it until his death. By the fall of 1837, after legislation to restore Pictou Academy to its original intent had failed to pass, McCulloch was so distressed by its condition that he seriously contemplated retiring to Britain.
The negotiations for one provincial university having collapsed, in the 1838 legislative session Archibald and his son Charles Dickson* coordinated a successful effort to release McCulloch from Pictou and open the doors of Dalhousie College. Apparently focused on Pictou Academy, the bill translated McCulloch, with £200 of the government grant, to the Halifax college. Debate on the bill replayed the struggle of a decade earlier. Vocal Kirk opposition included Fraser’s testimony before the legislature and personal attacks on McCulloch, especially the reprinting of A Presbyterian’s pamphlet. Others of the academy’s old opponents, the Halifax merchants and the Anglicans, also opposed the bill, for they saw higher education thereby slipping from their hands. Dissenters of various denominations and Roman Catholics supported it for its potential in leading to an institution of higher learning without denominational restrictions.
McCulloch was appointed president of Dalhousie College at a meeting of its board of governors on 6 Aug. 1838 and was its first president to assume office. Also appointed professor of logic, rhetoric, and moral philosophy, he resigned from Pictou Academy in September and moved to the capital. In addition to the regular program, McCulloch taught an evening session in logic and composition for “young gentlemen.” Recognizing the irony of his appointment after 30 years of struggle against the Halifax-based establishment, he summed up: “God has given me to possess the gate of my enemies.” He saw himself at last as “head of the education of the province.”
The same meeting of the governors determined that Dalhousie’s intention in founding a college was to create a Church of Scotland-affiliated centre and that its professors, excluding McCulloch, must be adherents to the Kirk. As a result the Reverend Alexander Romans, Kirk minister at Dartmouth, was appointed professor of classics in place of Edmund Albern Crawley*, pastor of the Granville Street Baptist Church and a recognized scholar to whom appointment had been informally promised to obtain Baptist support for the legislation appointing McCulloch. Incensed by his rejection, Crawley persuaded the Nova Scotia Baptist Education Society in November to establish a college in association with Horton Academy. As McCulloch was not seen to be involved in or supportive of the governors’ decision, his good relationship with the Baptist clergy was not seriously impaired. The following year, when the pulpit of the Granville Street Baptist Church was vacant on account of Crawley’s move to the new college at Wolfville, McCulloch provided supply preaching to the congregation, from which they derived “comfort and satisfaction.”
McCulloch’s Halifax years were not prosperous ones. It was understood as a term of his nomination that he would refrain from involvement in political or related matters outside his office. Although Kirkmen continued to attack his appointment after it had taken effect, McCulloch reported to Mitchell in May 1839: “I meddle with nobody and nobody now ventures to meddle with me.” In spite of the recognition accorded to his intellect, his scholarship, and his skills as a teacher, he did not enjoy the confidence of the college’s board of governors in the institution’s direction, financial management, or aspirations. Efforts were made to reverse the imposed sectarian affiliation. One proposal, which McCulloch advocated, was to return the college to its founder’s non-denominational intent and another, which he opposed, was to introduce a Roman Catholic to the faculty. Neither effort succeeded.
In other spheres, McCulloch was active in re-establishing a congregation in Halifax in affiliation with the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia. He was horrified by an embryonic rapprochement between Kirk and Secession interests in both Scotland and the province, which he blamed on British-educated ministers who did not understand the needs or the deep-seated animosities in the local situation. McCulloch also saw in the proposals a disregard of “scriptural purity,” and he looked to his former students in the synod to support his adamant opposition to the gestures of such clergy as the Reverend John Sprott* and the Reverend Thomas Trotter* in exploring a possible union of Presbyterians in Nova Scotia.
During the years of religious and educational controversy leading to McCulloch’s appointment to Dalhousie College, one of the advantages he had maintained over his adversaries had been his considerable skill as a writer of sermons, theological arguments, political observations, and satire. Halifax was to afford him more time for such endeavours, but without the catalyst of battle, McCulloch seems to have turned to the pen less frequently in the years after 1838. None the less, his image was firmly fixed in the popular imagination because of his authorship of a series of 16 satirical letters which he had begun to publish anonymously in the Acadian Recorder on 22 Dec. 1821. Purportedly the chronicles of an unidentified Nova Scotian township, the letters not only satirized the indolence, restlessness, and get-rich-quick mentality of rural dwellers and townsfolk but also revealed the limitations of McCulloch’s self-righteous and pawky narrator, Mephibosheth Stepsure. Obviously intended as a satiric norm at the beginning of the sketches, the lame Stepsure had become as covetous of social recognition as his neighbours by the end of the first series of letters on 11 May 1822. Thus, his signature “Gent.” at the end of the last letter signified not only a climax to the double-edged satire but also a process of character revelation in the letters that carried them beyond the merely episodic form of most belletristic newspaper epistles to the beginnings of more unified fiction. In this sense, the first series of Stepsure letters remains more structurally satisfying than do the original Sam Slick sketches by Thomas Chandler Haliburton* in 1835 or Sunshine sketches of a little town by Stephen Butler Leacock* in 1912, although all three works effectively utilize the conventions of newspaper sketch writing for comic effect.
From the beginning, the Stepsure letters were enormously popular, evoking laughter, as one correspondent described them, until “the rafters o’ the house fairly shook wi’ the clamer and the din.” Under the guise of Stepsure’s busybodyish, concerned letters to “you Halifax gentry,” McCulloch created a collection of typecast ne’er-do-wells who forsook the values of the land for the riches and social mobility associated with merchandising, shipbuilding, timbering, and trade. With names like Mr Tipple, Jack Scorem, Shadrach Howl, and Miss Sippit, they assumed comic proportions, their characters revealed in passages of lively slapstick or by Mephibosheth’s dry wit. Thus, Mr Gypsum was not “by any means a professed drunkard,” the stranger in town “died, because he could not live any longer,” and Stepsure’s neighbours “are never in a hurry, except when they are farming, going from home, or getting out of church.” The passages on the Whinges’ hostelry are typical in revealing the wasted opportunities of the townsfolk, for not only were mice, frogs, and hair ingredients of the soup, but guests also found that “they were not without bedfellows.” Such humour has been cited by Northrop Frye as “quiet, observant,” and “deeply conservative in a human sense,” based not on “wisecracks” but on “a vision of society.” For this reason, Frye sees McCulloch as “the founder of genuine Canadian humour,” a humour based on an understanding of cultural context and on the distinction between what is past and what is permanent. Stepsure’s concern with gadding about, the insubstantiality of charismatic religions, and the destruction wrought by an over-abundance of alcohol in his society illustrates the social and moral sensibility underlying the comedy: “I was neither a great man nor a great man’s son: I was Mephibosheth Stepsure, whose highest ambition was to be a plain, decent farmer.”
The message in the letters could not have been more timely. During his tenure as lieutenant governor from 1816 to 1820, Dalhousie had expressed concern about the wasted farming opportunities in the province and had supported John Young’s polished letters in the Acadian Recorder advocating improved agricultural practices. Between 1828 and 1831 Joseph Howe* was to explore the same theme in his “Western rambles” and “Eastern rambles” in the Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, but neither he nor the other advocates of an agricultural economy gave life to their message as forcibly and as colourfully as did McCulloch’s Stepsure. With a hoe in one hand and a Bible in the other, Stepsure preached the virtues of living frugally, educating the mind, serving the community, and honouring the family. His endorsement of hard work and his conviction that “time is money” sounded a note not dissimiliar to that of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard, but the Christian morality underlying Stepsure’s social vision made McCulloch’s narrator appear more community-oriented than Franklin’s. Both authors were masters of dry understatement and both had a keen eye for human idiosyncracy, but the punctuation of Stepsure’s deliberate and prosy style with slapstick, archly worded earthiness, throw-away lines, and mock literalness created a tone quite different from the laconic philosophizing of Franklin’s better known persona. Moreover, while McCulloch could frame an axiom as adeptly as could Franklin or Haliburton (“He who spends his wages before they are due, is always behind with his payments”), he went beyond them in exploring the psychology leading to his neighbours’ downfall. Whereas the effect of the Sam Slick sketches was to dazzle the reader by their exuberance of language and audacity of characterization, the effect of the Stepsure letters was to provide thoughtful, if predictable, reasons for Nova Scotians’ decline and fall. That they struck some chord is illustrated not only in McCulloch’s inability to find unthumbed copies to send home to friends in Scotland, but also in the comment of the Acadian Recorder on the day the first series concluded: “They have painted with such inimitable truth the thoughtless, luxurious, and extravagant habits of our population; that we see ourselves as in a mirror, reflected back in them. . . . The correction of these follies must be the first step in the augmentation of the provincial capital; and the severe satires, which are directed against them in the letters of our correspondent, cannot fail to produce a certain effect.” As McCulloch explained in a letter to James Mitchell of Glasgow in November 1822, “No writing [in] these provinces ever occasioned so much talk. Almost every one who read them was angry in his turn and by and by laughed at his neighbour. One of the Judges told me that he believed our Governor had them by heart.”
Even before he had experienced the success of the Stepsure letters, McCulloch had the intention of reaching “at least the twentieth letter” and of “then adding notes and illustrations and sending the whole home as a sample of the way in which we get on in the western world.” At the conclusion of the first 16 letters in 1822, he recopied and polished them, framed them with a comic dialect letter to Scotland from Stepsure’s Covenanting friend, Alexander Scantocreesh, and entitled them “The chronicles of our town, or, a peep at America.” In November 1822 he sent the manuscript to Mitchell with instructions to take the anonymous letters to a bookseller who “might sometime or other consent to publish them as a sketch of American manners.” In the mean time, on 4 Jan. 1823, McCulloch began to publish a new series of Stepsure letters in the Acadian Recorder, in which he developed a sustained moral tale of a young Scots immigrant to Nova Scotia named William. This series differed from the first in a number of ways, for it included another letter writer (Scantocreesh), it elaborated one long tale instead of a number of short ones, and it presented a central narrator of known character (Stepsure). The result was essentially non-dramatic, although the appearance of certain letters by Censor in the Acadian Recorder between 21 Dec. 1822 and 25 Jan. 1823 acted as a catalyst for the continuation of the series. The mysterious Censor charged that “Stepsure is constantly wading in a dung-pit, bespattered with dirt and all the marks of vulgarity.” The mock pain of Stepsure’s response in the fourth letter and his mock-heroic parody in the sixth illustrate the stylistic strengths of which McCulloch was capable. By the end of the sixth letter on 29 March 1823, McCulloch seems to have realized that he had diffused the focus of his original plan and had in fact created a novella. At this point he contemplated sending “William” to the editor of the Edinburgh Christian Instructor and Colonial Religious Register. However, it did not appear in the journal, and McCulloch yoked it to “Melville,” a second immigrant story, and took them both with him to Scotland when he went there in 1825.
Neither his abortive attempts at fund raising nor his controversy with the Glasgow Colonial Society allowed McCulloch much time for literary pursuits while in Scotland, but he was none the less able to shepherd two publications through the press. In January 1826 Oliphant’s brought out “William” and “Melville” under the general title Colonial gleanings, and in June McCulloch supervised the publication of his Memorial, the rebuttal to Robert Burns and the Glasgow Colonial Society. Each of these works was reminiscent of the Stepsure letters in its observations on the quality of frontier life and the flexibility of social distinctions in Nova Scotia, but “William” and “Melville” offered a far more sombre treatment of McCulloch’s themes than had the Stepsure letters. The two tales were favourably reviewed in the Edinburgh Theological Magazine of February 1826, and extracts from “Melville” were reprinted in the Novascotian later than year. “William” was now integrated thematically and stylistically with “Melville.” Both young men grow up in the same area outside Glasgow, seek their fortunes in Nova Scotia, and lose everything they covet when they ignore examples of Christian lives. As contemporary in their own way as the Stepsure series in exposing the temptations facing young immigrants in Halifax and the countryside, the tales showed a new dimension of McCulloch’s literary sensibility. References to the history of the Covenanters in the west of Scotland and to the persecution of William’s great-grandfather by Melville’s tend to unify the novellas, but they also reveal the historical avenue that McCulloch was beginning to explore in his fiction. The product of a Covenanting area of Scotland, McCulloch also had an anti-burgher’s identification with the Covenanting tradition. His introduction of this theme into “Melville” was therefore a natural development of his personal and theological background, but it was given a particularly Nova Scotian cast by his inclusion of the Reverend James MacGregor as a character. MacGregor appeared in “Melville” as a sterling exemplar of the Christian piety and service that also inform McCulloch’s historical Covenanting characters. MacGregor’s presence also helped to consolidate the increasingly religious tone of McCulloch’s fiction, for in his lengthy sermon to Melville there was an elaboration of the Calvinist vision which formed the moral underpinnings of such earlier characters as Scantocreesh and the biblically named Mephibosheth Stepsure.
By 16 Jan. 1828, when he had been back in Nova Scotia for little more than a year, McCulloch told Mitchell that he was engrossed in writing another novel, three volumes in length and concerned with “popery and the progress of Lollardism in the west of Scotland not forgetting a due quantity of witches kelpies and other gods whom our fathers worshipped.” Set in McCulloch’s boyhood haunts during the reign of James III, “Auld Eppie’s tales” was framed by a modern narrator returning home after years of wandering to discover: “Where many a generation with few wants and as few comforts, dozed away life in tranquil indolence, cotton mills, and bleachfields, and printfields, cover the face of the earth; and that ancient and contented race, who knew no toil nor travail beyond sacraments and fairs, have wasted away before an intruding horde of eager faced, bustling beings, whose cravings for wealth, nothing but the philosopher’s stone can appease.” The note of rapid social change sounded in this passage was one already introduced into Scottish writing by Sir Walter Scott and John Galt. Like them, McCulloch attempted to counterpoint against these modern intrusions a Scotland of oral tales, unsullied beauty, and traditional folkways. There was nothing nostalgic about McCulloch’s novel, however, for in the corrupted relationships of the pre-Reformation church with the common people he revealed the roots which had led to the Reformation and, in a sense, to the rise of the Covenanters in Scotland. While “Auld Eppie’s tales” was not a Covenanting novel in the true sense, it none the less revealed in the indomitability and enduring humour of everyday folk such as Jock of Killoch and Clunk the spirit of the Scottish people that would later infuse a movement like the Covenanters’. With its use of Scots for everyday speech, its theme of local witchcraft, its integration of a traditional Lowlands tower into the story, its folk image of Auld Eppie, and its tales of early Scotland, “Auld Eppie’s tales” contained many of the local elements that had made Scott and Galt popular novelists in Scotland. Although McCulloch was anxious that the novel “amuse,” he saw it as a serious contribution to the historical and religious sensibility of Scottish readers.
Between 29 June and 29 Dec. 1828 McCulloch sent sections of “Auld Eppie” to Mitchell with strict instructions that his identity be kept a secret. Explaining that he had written the novel partly in reaction to Scott’s interpretation of “our ancestors” in Tales of my landlord, McCulloch also revealed that he needed money if he were not “to turn my hand to planting potatoes or something else that will keep the teeth of my family apart.” Thus he was particularly anxious about the publisher to whom the novel was to be submitted, suggesting that it might be given to William Blackwood, who had bestowed a gift of books on Pictou Academy in 1826 and who had been “kind” to him when he had been in Scotland. McCulloch was therefore doubly devastated when Blackwood rejected not only “Auld Eppie’s tales” but also “The chronicles of our town,” which had lain dormant in Scotland since 1822. Praising the “Chronicles” for their “picturesque sketches of life and manners” and for their “rich humour,” Blackwood argued that the refined taste of the time would reject any contemporary writing that had “the pungency and originality of Swift.” Declaring that he himself was not one of “those squeamish folks of the present generation,” Blackwood none the less felt he had to reject both works for the broadness of their humour, claiming that “penetrating as it were into Scott’s field, a work of this kind requires to be done with exquisite skill, and to be as free as possible from anything which ordinary readers would be apt to object to as coarse.” To palliate McCulloch, whose talents he professed to admire very highly, Blackwood offered him the opportunity of rewriting some of the Stepsure letters for his magazine. He was to address them specifically to a Scottish audience and to make no reference to their having been published previously in “any of the Canadian Papers.” Blackwood also invited McCulloch to submit other contributions to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, offering him 8 to 10 guineas a page for anything accepted.
Stung to the quick by Blackwood’s assessment, McCulloch angrily instructed Mitchell to retrieve his manuscripts, writing that “dirty as Bl. thinks my novels I judge them purity itself compared with his magazine and it would be a subject of serious consideration with me whether I ought to write for a publication whose tendency is so irreligious.” That the “Chronicles” did make reference to breaking wind and emptying chamber-pots was undeniable, but such features enlivened the slapstick which a satirical Club sketch recalled so nostalgically when it discussed the Stepsure letters in the Novascotian on 15 May 1828: “Did you ever read his Mephiboschetch, that set the hale kintra laughin’ for months at his odd stories about gable ends and cabbage?” However, McCulloch’s submissions to Blackwood’s had come at a time when there was an increasing shift toward gentility in the British press. Galt had already encountered similar difficulties with the serialization of “The last of the lairds” in Blackwood’s in 1826, and his novel was subsequently considerably bowdlerized by the publisher while he was in Upper Canada. McCulloch would never afford Blackwood this opportunity, reiterating to Mitchell between 1829 and 1833 his desire to retrieve his manuscripts from Blackwood and indicating that any new novels would be submitted elsewhere.
In a letter to Mitchell in December 1833, McCulloch asked him to obtain Oliphant’s rate for a novel of approximately 400 pages on the “Days of the Covenant.” As with an unpublished story on James MacGregor, a major portion of this manuscript survives in the McCulloch papers at the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. Set in 1669 in the decade before the murder of Archbishop James Sharp, the manuscript confirms how preoccupied McCulloch was with celebrating the religious courage of the Covenanters. Filled with many of the same supernatural, folkloric, and romantic elements as “Auld Eppie’s tales,” the “Days of the Covenant” is like “Auld Eppie” and the Stepsure letters in revealing that McCulloch’s strengths lay in the characterization of ordinary folk rather than in the portrayal of lairds, abbots, and other figures of public consequence.
In July 1834 McCulloch indicated to Mitchell that his improved financial situation and his failure to please the public had decided him against trying to publish any more manuscripts in Scotland. He occasionally submitted light passages to Nova Scotian newspapers, however, and there is evidence that he was the Timothy Ticklemup who wrote on Parson Drone for the Acadian Recorder on 6 April 1833 and the Mr C. Currycomber who wrote for the Morning Herald, and Commercial Advertiser (Halifax) in 1841. In 1839 Mitchell had unsuccessfully sought a publisher for a theological manuscript, possibly “Calvinism: the doctrine of the scriptures,” and he concluded it was better suited to the American situation and market than to the Scottish. It was eventually published in Glasgow in 1846. In 1841 McCulloch was working on another manuscript on the divinity of Christ, which appears never to have been published. He made no effort to publish any of his fiction locally even after he had directed Mitchell to retrieve the manuscripts. It was not until 1862 that a book-length edition of the first 16 Stepsure letters, based on those in the Acadian Recorder, was to appear.
McCulloch’s other interests remained strong in his final years. Not least of these was his preoccupation with natural history. Beginning after the opening of Pictou Academy with an interest in insects and, after his 1825–26 visit to Britain, extending it to birds, McCulloch made the study of natural history both an avocation and a teaching tool throughout his Pictou years. His gifts of insects to the universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, his acceptance into the Wernerian Society of Edinburgh in 1823, his contributions to private collectors, and his plant exchanges with the Scottish naturalist Patrick Neill also brought recognition to his work. By 1828 he had opened a natural history museum in the west room of the academy, filling it with “birds, four footed beasts, and creeping things.” John James Audubon was much impressed by the collection when he visited Pictou in 1833, taking away gifts of birds, shells, and minerals. Audubon’s visit initiated years of collaboration with Thomas McCulloch Jr, later professor of natural philosophy at Dalhousie, and resulted in the younger McCulloch’s sending samples of Nova Scotian bird life to Audubon in New York. Lack of provincial support for his endeavours led to the senior McCulloch’s sounding out the British Museum’s interest in the collection in 1834. When it decided against buying the Pictou Museum, Thomas McCulloch Jr transported the collection to Britain and sold sections to individual collectors such as the Earl of Derby. Its equal had never before left North America, McCulloch ruefully wrote to Mitchell, but, undaunted by the loss, he and his son began a second major collection when McCulloch moved to Halifax. His last years were spent scouring the province for specimens and included a collecting trip to Sable Island in company with one of his former students, Adams George Archibald*. In the 1820s McCulloch had written to Mitchell about returning from his insect collecting “stung in every accessible part and as itchy as any poor Scotchman can be.” His letters to Mitchell in 1841 reveal that he was as dedicated as ever in his pursuit of specimens, some of which survive in a small collection at Dalhousie University. These two faithful correspondents were reunited once more before McCulloch’s death when he returned to Scotland in 1842. Here he again met old colleagues, one of whom was to recall McCulloch’s weeping profusely in his pew as memories were stirred, coming up to the pulpit, and giving “my people a most interesting and animated address, descriptive of Nova Scotia.”
McCulloch was driven by his intellect, his Calvinist faith, his philosophical liberalism, and his enormous energy. His early theological works acquired for him an intellectual standing in the province, and his newspaper and pamphlet polemics subsequently kept him in the public eye. The powerful logic and clarity of his arguments lent strength to his consistent exposition of the necessity for fair treatment of dissenters in a province which gave legal recognition to dissent. As the Stepsure letters demonstrate, he could use satire, as well as scholarship and logical argument, to show his vision of Nova Scotian society. His Scottish education and his commitment to the Secession branch of Presbyterianism shaped his perspective of that society. From his strong Calvinist faith came a determination to “fill these provinces with a race of evangelical preachers.” His fundamental secular belief lay in the capacity of a liberal education to build a Christian nation of informed, responsible citizens. When his idealism was thwarted by political reality, he turned his powers to the emerging reform cause in Nova Scotia, linking it to similar movements in Britain and the Canadas. Nevertheless, although an intellectual framework was being defined, no political party was established to implement reform in Nova Scotia until Joseph Howe took up the cause. McCulloch’s intellect and his energy made him impatient with those whose dedication did not equal his own and with the adherence of those not his intellectual equals to positions he had shown to be illogical. His confidence in the justice of his own positions made him confrontational rather than cooperative, and his sense of his own integrity kept him from compromise. He thus attracted ardent admirers and intense friendships, but also passionate enemies. When his path crossed those of other ambitious, aggressive men such as Inglis and MacKenzie, there was no common ground. McCulloch’s ultimate impact was made through his students – lawyers, businessmen, scholars, clergymen, missionaries, educators, and scientists – whose abilities and visions he shaped, and through his contribution to Canadian literature.
[The single most important collection of material written by Thomas McCulloch is that of his papers in PANS, MG 1, 550–58. It includes his lengthy and detailed correspondence with James Mitchell and Mitchell’s son James, drafts of documents and local correspondence, notes of his scientific lectures, and his theological and literary papers. The last include manuscripts of the first 16 of the Stepsure letters, incomplete manuscripts of “William,” “Auld Eppie’s tales,” and “Days of the Covenant,” stories on “Morton” and James MacGregor, and assorted fragments. s.b. and g.d.]
McCulloch’s religious publications include Popery condemned by Scripture and the fathers: being a refutation of the principal popish doctrines and assertions . . . (Edinburgh, 1808); Popery again condemned . . . : being a reply to a part of the popish doctrines and assertions contained in the remarks on the refutation, and in the review of Dr. Cochran’s letters, by the Rev. Edmund Burke . . . (Edinburgh, 1810); The prosperity of the church in troublous times . . . (Halifax, 1814), republished with introductory remarks by Rev. Robert Grant (New Glasgow, N.S., 1882); Words of peace: being an address, delivered to the congregation of Halifax . . . in consequence of some congregational disputes . . . (Halifax, 1817); The report of a committee, appointed by the synod of the Presbyterian Church of Nova-Scotia, to prepare a statement of means for promoting religion in the church . . . (Halifax, 1818); A lecture, delivered at the opening of the first theological class in the Pictou academical institution . . . (Glasgow, 1821); A memorial from the committee of missions of the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, to the Glasgow Society for Promoting the Religious Interests of the Scottish Settlers in British North America . . . (Edinburgh, 1826); A review of the “Supplement to the first annual report of the Society . . .”; in a series of letters to the Rev. Robert Burns . . . (Glasgow, 1828); and Calvinism, the doctrine of the Scriptures . . . , which was issued posthumously (Glasgow, ). In addition McCulloch is identified in a manuscript dedication as a member of the committee responsible for a pamphlet entitled The subjects and mode of baptism ascertained from Scripture, being a conversation between a private Christian and a minister . . . ; by a committee of the Associate Presbytery of Pictou (Edinburgh, 1810), a copy of which is in the Univ. of Edinburgh Library. His 1818 lecture on education appeared as The nature and uses of a liberal education illustrated; being a lecture, delivered at the opening of the building, erected for the accommodation of the classes of the Pictou academical institution (Halifax, 1819).
McCulloch’s published literary works are Colonial gleanings: William and Melville (Edinburgh, 1826) and the Stepsure letters. The latter did not appear in novel form until 1862, when Hugh William Blackadar* printed an anonymous Halifax edition entitled The letters of Mephibosheth Stepsure (the imprint date of 1860 on the title page is an error). A modern edition, with an introduction by Northrop Frye and notes by John Allan Irving and Douglas G. Lochhead, has been published under McCulloch’s name as The Stepsure letters ([Toronto], 1960), and a new edition with an introduction by Gwendolyn Davies is currently being prepared by the Centre for Editing Early Canadian Texts at Carleton Univ. (Ottawa).
Atlantic Baptist Hist. Coll., Acadia Univ. (Wolfville, N.S.), Edward Manning, corr, vol.1; Thomas McCulloch letters, 1821–25. Dalhousie Univ. Arch. (Halifax), DAL, MS 2-40 (Thomas McCulloch papers); MS 2-41 (J. J. Audubon letters). NLS, Dept. of mss, ms 7638: 83–84. PANS, MG 1, 165; 793, nos.27, 39, 44–45, 68–69; 1845, folder 2, no.23; MG 100, 181, nos.22–23; Places, Pictou, Pictou Academy papers, including minute-books, 1806–46 (mfm.); RG 1, 225, docs.58–60; 227, doc.89; 248, doc.181; 282, docs.129–45; 439, no.89. PRO, CO 217/152–54; CO 218/29–30. UCC, Maritime Conference Arch. (Halifax), Family and individual papers, box 22, envelopes 82–82g (Thomas McCulloch papers), esp. envelopes 82 (Pictou Academy and other institutions, 1823–74), 82f (corr., 1807–43); Presbyterian Church of N.S. (United Secession), minutes of the synod, 1 (1817–42)–2 (1842–60). UCC-C, Glasgow Colonial Soc., corr., I (1821–28)–VI (1836–38), corr. for 1824–36 (mfm. at PAC). [Robert Burns], Supplement to the first annual report of the Society in Glasgow for Promoting the Religious Interests of Scottish Settlers in North America . . . (Glasgow, 1826). Acadian Recorder, 1813–30. Colonial Patriot, 1827–30. Free Press (Halifax), 1817–28. Novascotian, or Colonial Herald, September–November 1838. The Oxford companion to Canadian literature, ed. William Toye (Toronto, 1983), 480–81. Wallace, Macmillan dict.
Susan Buggey, “Churchmen and dissenters: religious toleration in Nova Scotia, 1758–1835” (ma thesis, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, 1981). V. L. O. Chittick, Thomas Chandler Haliburton (“Sam Slick”): a study in provincial toryism (New York, 1924; repr. 1966), 378–79. Gwendolyn Davies, “‘A Past of Orchards’: rural changes in Maritime literature before confederation,” The red jeep and other landscapes: a collection in honour of Douglas Lochhead, ed. Peter Thomas (Fredericton, 1987). W. B. Hamilton, “Education, politics and reform in Nova Scotia, 1800–1848” (phd thesis, Univ. of Western Ont., London, 1970); “Thomas McCulloch, advocate of non-sectarian education,” Profiles of Canadian educators, ed. R. S. Patterson et al. ([Toronto], 1974), 21–37. D. C. Harvey, An introduction to the history of Dalhousie University (Halifax, 1938). Literary history of Canada: Canadian literature in English, ed. C. F. Klinck et al. (2nd ed., 3v., Toronto and Buffalo, N.Y., 1976), I: 107–8. William McCulloch, The life of Thomas McCulloch, by his son, [ed. I. W. and J. W. McCulloch] ([Truro, N.S., 1920]). B. F. MacDonald, “Intellectual forces in Pictou, 1803–1843” (ma thesis, Univ. of N.B., Fredericton, 1977). S. G. McMullin, “Thomas McCulloch: the evolution of a liberal mind” (phd thesis, Dalhousie Univ., 1975). J. S. Martell, “Origins of self-government in Nova Scotia, 1815–1836” (phd thesis, Univ. of London, 1935). George Patterson, A history of the county of Pictou, Nova Scotia (Montreal, 1877; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). J. [E.] Tulloch, “Conservative opinion in Nova Scotia during an age of revolution, 1789–1815” (ma thesis, Dalhousie Univ., 1972). Marjory Whitelaw, Thomas McCulloch: his life and times (Halifax, 1985). D. C. Harvey, “Dr. Thomas McCulloch and liberal education,” Dalhousie Rev., 23 (1943–44): 352–62. Robin Mathews, “The Stepsure letters: puritanism and the novel of the land,” Studies in Canadian Literature (Fredericton), 7 (1982): 128–38. Gene Morison, “The brandy election of 1830,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 30 (1954): 151–83. Beverly Rasporich, “The New Eden dream: the source of Canadian humour: McCulloch, Haliburton, and Leacock,” Studies in Canadian Literature, 7: 227–40. H. L. Scammell, “Why did Thomas McCulloch come to Dalhousie?” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., 31 (1957): 64–72. Vincent Sharman, “Thomas McCulloch’s Stepsure: the relentless Presbyterian,” Dalhousie Rev., 52 (1972–73): 618–25. Donald Stephens, “Past or permanent,” Canadian Literature (Vancouver), no.10 (autumn 1961): 83–84. Marjory Whitelaw, “Thomas McCulloch,” Canadian Literature, nos.68–69 (spring–summer 1976): 138–47. B. A. Wood, “The significance of Calvinism in the educational vision of Thomas McCulloch,” Vitæ Scholasticæ ([Ames, Iowa]), 4 (1985), nos.1–2: 15–30; “Thomas McCulloch’s use of science in promoting a liberal education,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 17 (1987–88), no.1: 56–73.
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Cite This Article
Susan Buggey and Gwendolyn Davies, “McCULLOCH, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mcculloch_thomas_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:
|Author of Article:||Susan Buggey and Gwendolyn Davies|
|Title of Article:||McCULLOCH, THOMAS|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1988|
|Year of revision:||1988|
|Access Date:||June 4, 2023|