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SMART, WILLIAM, Presbyterian minister; b. 14 Sept. 1788 at Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland, son of Alexander and Margaret Smart; m. first, Phylina Foote, 7 Nov. 1816, by whom he had a son, William (judge of Hastings County, Canada West, from 1850 to 1865), and secondly, Sarah Mallory, in 1862; d. 9 Sept. 1876 at Gananoque, Ont.

William Smart’s parents moved to London, England, when he was an infant. They attended Wells Street secession church whose minister, the Reverend Alexander Waugh, became William’s mentor. As a boy, William was delicate and precociously religious. He “gave himself to the Church” at 17, taught in Sabbath school, and preached at mission stations before enrolling in the London Missionary Society Seminary at Gosport, Hampshire, England. He was ordained in the Scots Church, Swallow Street, London, in April 1811.

Smart had “thought of Calcutta or some part of the East Indies” for his ministry but when a request for a missionary came from the Presbyterians of Elizabethtown, Yonge, and Augusta (three townships along the St Lawrence in Upper Canada), the interdenominational London Missionary Society recommended him.

William was welcomed in Montreal by the Reverend Robert Easton and proceeded to Elizabethtown (Brockville) in October 1811. Within a week he organized a Sunday school, the first in Upper Canada. Until the Reverend Robert Boyd came to Prescott in 1820, Smart preached for congregations scattered from Gananoque on the west to near Cornwall on the east, and north to the Rideau River and Lakes. He preached at military posts during the War of 1812, and afterwards at the new settlement of Perth until the Reverend William Bell* arrived in 1817. Because of Smart’s efforts, the First Presbyterian Church in Brockville was built in 1817; when the church burned in 1847, Smart raised funds for rebuilding.

In 1818, William Smart helped to found the Presbytery of the Canadas, a union of secessionist churches free of Scottish control. This became the United Presbytery of Upper Canada in 1829, with Smart as first moderator, and the United Synod of Upper Canada in 1831. To strengthen its claim for financial support from the government, which endowed only the Church of England and the Church of Scotland in Canada, Smart promoted the union of 1840 between the United Synod and the Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland. However Smart (along with Boyd) withdrew in 1844 saying “the Union was one rather of form than of affection.” His action displeased his congregation and he resigned from the Brockville church in 1849. For many years he did supply preaching for congregations in Leeds and Grenville counties and in Kingston.

Smart opposed the monopoly of the Church of England in clergy reserves and its control over the district schools. He believed that education should be equally available and he worked through his presbytery and synod toward these ends. Similarly, he promoted the establishment of a theological seminary to train Presbyterian ministers, but when this project failed he supported Queen’s College at Kingston.

As a secessionist Presbyterian, Smart could not legally (until 1831) perform marriages. He persisted in doing so and in 1824 a charge was brought against him, but the jury returned “No bill.” Smart joined the freemasons in 1820, a step which threatened to disrupt his congregation. He was grand chaplain, Provincial Grand Lodge, in 1822, 1823, and 1825. He was an early advocate of temperance and helped organize the Brockville Temperance Society in 1832.

William Smart expressed his views on the church, education, and other matters in contributions to the Brockville Recorder in the 1820s and 1830s, writing as “The Wanderer,” “The Traveller, or Pickings by the Wayside,” and “Presbuteros.” He also wrote in the Canadian Watchman, a religious weekly, and he and the Reverend Robert McDowall* founded the Evangelical Herald, a short-lived periodical published in Kingston. Towards the end of his life, Smart wrote an autobiography in the third person but it was never published. He was a man of independent mind, courageous, compassionate, and visionary.

Ruth McKenzie

The most important source is William Smart’s autobiography at UCA: “Biography of Rev. Wm. Smart, Presbyterian Church, Brockville, 1811–49.” Knox College Archives, William Morris to Smart, 24 June 1840; William Rintoul to Smart, 4 Aug. 1831, 17 Nov. 1832. Methodist Missionary Society (London), correspondence, continent of America, letters written by Smart, 1811–20. UCA, William Smart, presbytery correspondence, 1819–56. Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland, Synod, Acts and Proceedings (Montreal, Toronto), 1831–44. United Presbytery of Upper Canada, Minutes, 1829–31. United Synod of Upper Canada, Minutes, 1832–38. William Bell, Hints to emigrants, in a series of letters from Upper Canada (Edinburgh, 1824), 90–93, 99–101, 117–18. Brockville Recorder, 1821–55, especially 1821–32. Canadian Watchman (Kingston), 1831–32. Gregg, History of the Presbyterian Church. Ruth McKenzie, Leeds and Grenville, their first two hundred years (Toronto, Montreal, 1967), 72, 82–84, 89. J. R. Robertson, The history of freemasonry in Canada from its introduction in 1749 . . . (2v., Toronto, 1899). Isabel Skelton, A man austere, William Bell, parson and pioneer (Toronto, 1947), 19–21, 104–10, 169, 178–228, 314–15. N. G. Smith et al., A short history of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (Toronto, [1967]). H. S. Seaman, “The Rev. William Smart, Presbyterian minister of Elizabethtown, 1811–1876,” Ont. Hist., V (1904), 178–86.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Ruth McKenzie, “SMART, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 30, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smart_william_10E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/smart_william_10E.html
Author of Article:   Ruth McKenzie
Title of Article:   SMART, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 10
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1972
Year of revision:   1972
Access Date:   May 30, 2023