PANTON, GEORGE, Church of England clergyman; b. in Scotland, possibly at Kelso, one of eight children; d. 8 Aug. 1810 in the British Isles.
George Panton received his ba and ma from Marischal College (University of Aberdeen). In 1771, shortly after his ordination as a Church of England clergyman, he emigrated to New York where he became a “Tutor to a Young Gentleman.” Two years later, in November 1773, he entered the employ of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as rector of St Michael’s Church in Trenton, N.J., a charge he supplemented with missionary duty in the neighbouring communities of Allentown, Princeton, and Maidenhead (Lawrenceville). Just prior to the revolution he moved to Maryland to assume a post that combined the duties of schoolmaster and clergyman, but with the outbreak of hostilities in 1775 he abandoned these plans and returned to Trenton.
Panton never made a secret of his loyalist sympathies. In the early 1770s, as part of his campaign to “quiet the Minds of the People,” he joined three prominent loyalists, Charles Inglis, Myles Cooper, and Thomas Bradbury Chandler, in publishing essays supporting the British cause, and at his own expense he travelled throughout New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland attempting to counteract “the popular system” and maintain “Civil Government.” Following the skirmish at Lexington, Mass., on 19 April 1775, he drew up a petition from the freeholders of Nottingham (near Allentown) expressing their attachment to the crown and urging the New Jersey House of Assembly to use its influence to effect a speedy reconciliation with Britain. The evidence is contradictory, but it seems he left Trenton after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In October 1776 he joined the British army in the field at White Plains, N.Y. For the next couple of months, as the army marched through New York and New Jersey, Panton played an important role in furnishing his officers, including Captain John Montresor*, with valuable military intelligence. His services were rewarded in 1778, when he was appointed chaplain of the Prince of Wales’s American Regiment. Further appreciation of his efforts in this campaign – efforts which he claimed were “known to almost every General Officer in the Middle Colonies” – was shown in the testimonials that accompanied his petition for a government pension in 1786. Among the individuals who then praised Panton’s military record were Lord Charles Cornwallis, Sir William Howe, and former governors William Tryon and William Franklin of New York and New Jersey.
Panton probably spent the last years of the war in New York, performing his duties as chaplain and, in 1783, operating a military academy. With the evacuation of the city in late 1783, Panton joined those loyalist refugees who made their way to Shelburne, N.S. There he immediately became involved in a bitter struggle with a rival Anglican clergyman, a struggle that exposed a conflict between New World and Old World methods of clerical appointment. When he had been invited by some of the leaders of the settlement to be their minister, Panton, indicating his interest, had received both salary and blessing from the SPG. Because of confusion over his intentions and his health, some loyalists had assumed he was not going to take the position and therefore extended an invitation to William Walter, the former rector of Trinity Church in Boston, Mass. The ministers arrived in the community within a few days of each other, both claiming to represent the Church of England in Shelburne and each seeking support from parishioners, Governor John Parr*, and the SPG. Panton based his claim upon the invitation of the leading loyalists and the SPG’s approval of him as missionary. Walter displayed petitions to show that he was the people’s choice and, when neither Parr nor the SPG showed any enthusiasm for his claim, placed greater and greater emphasis upon the necessity of popular support. To Panton such appeals flouted “public authority” and encouraged principles dangerous equally to church and to government.
With fiery letters to the editors of the Shelburne papers, with petitions and meetings, accusations and counter-accusations, the dispute between Panton and Walter was acrimonious and divisive. The two parties created separate vestries – Walter’s supporters were known as the “Vestry of Trinity Church,” while Panton’s styled themselves the “Parish of St Patrick” – and applied for SPG grants. In 1784 Parr, on Panton’s recommendation, divided Shelburne into the parishes of St Patrick, St George, and St Andrew, appointing Panton to St Patrick’s, Walter to St George’s, and leaving St Andrew’s vacant. Walter protested against this action, however, and continued arguing that he alone had the right to act as the Anglican clergyman in Shelburne. Finally, in 1785, a worn-out and dispirited Panton gave up the fight and retired from the settlement, hoping that Walter would also resign and a new minister be appointed to heal the community’s wounds. His successor at St Patrick’s, John Hamilton Rowland, remained at odds with Walter until 1788, when the rival parishes of St Patrick and St George merged. Together the two congregations, under the joint care of Rowland and Walter, hired the services of local builders Isaac Hildrith and Aaron White to begin the construction of Christ Church. In 1791, two years after the completion of the church, Walter returned to Boston, leaving Rowland as the sole rector of the United Parishes of St Patrick and St George.
With Shelburne behind him, Panton was commissioned, apparently by Parr, to solicit funds in Great Britain for “erecting Places of Worship in the several New Settlements in Nova Scotia.” He arrived in England in February 1786, and the following month was successful in obtaining an annual pension of £40 from the British government. Soon afterwards the SPG appointed him to Yarmouth, N.S. By now, however, Panton seems to have given up the idea of returning to the colony, hoping instead for a suitable “provision” in Britain. On 14 March 1787 he wrote from London asking the SPG for permission to postpone his trip to Halifax because his mother was dying and wanted him to stay with her to the end. One month later he claimed that the illness of his two sisters prevented him from going to his mission.
In September 1788 Panton was at Kelso, Scotland, probably on family business. Thereafter his name disappears from view until 1811, when the British Treasury, noting his death on 8 August of the previous year, discontinued both his half pay and his pension. Although little is known of his personal life, it appears he was something of a scholar. In his petition to the loyalist claims commission in 1783, he stated that his losses during the revolution included approximately 200 books and more than 40 manuscript volumes of his own “Essays, Sermons, Belles Lettres, Criticism, Philosophical Investigations etc, the labour of many years, on which a value cannot be affixed.”
PANS, RG 5, A, 1a. PRO, AO 12/15: f.8; 12/63: f.2; 12/101: f.320; 12/109: f.252; AO 13, bundles 19, 62, 83, 93, 111 (mfm. at PAC); PMG 4/85: f.65; T 50/11, 50/22 (mfm. at PAC). USPG, B, 6, no.25; 25 (transcripts at PAC); C/CAN/NS 1 (transcripts at PAC). “United Empire Loyalists: enquiry into losses and services,” AO Report, 1904: 53–54. Nova-Scotia Packet: and General Advertiser (Shelburne, N.S.), 1785. Port-Roseway Gazetteer; and, the Shelburne Advertiser (Shelburne), 1784–85. Royal American Gazette (Shelburne), 1784–85. Fasti Academiæ, Mariscallanæ Aberdonensis: selections from the records of the Marischal College and University, [1593–1860], ed. P. J. Anderson and J. F. K. Johnstone (3v., Aberdeen, Scot., 1879–98), 2: 329, 331. Lorenzo Sabine, The American loyalists, or biographical sketches of adherents to the British crown in the war of the revolution . . . (Boston, 1847). A. W. [H.] Eaton, The Church of England in Nova Scotia and the tory clergy of the revolution (New York, 1891). Fingard, Anglican design in loyalist N.S. E. A. Jones, The loyalists of New Jersey: their memorials, petitions, claims, etc., from English records (Newark, N.J., 1927; repr. Boston, 1972). C. F. Pascoe, Two hundred years of the S.P.G. . . . (2v., London, 1901). J. M. Bumsted, “Church and state in Maritime Canada, 1749–1807,” CHA Hist. papers, 1967: 41–58. Neil MacKinnon, “Nova Scotia loyalists, 1783–1785,” SH, no.4 (Nov. 1969): 17–48. W. O. Raymond, “The founding of Shelburne: Benjamin Marston at Halifax, Shelburne and Miramichi” and “The founding of the Church of England in Shelburne” in N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 3 (1907–14), no.8, pages 204–77 and 278–93 respectively.