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YOUNG, JOHN, Presbyterian clergyman and schoolmaster; b. c. 1759 in Beith, Scotland, only son of James Young, schoolmaster; d. 10 March 1825 in Sheet Harbour, N.S.

John Young was educated at the University of Glasgow, and on 29 Nov. 1785 he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Irvine. Vacancies being rare in Scotland, he chose to emigrate with his wife, Mary Kerr, and an infant daughter, and in 1787 he was accepted as probationer by the Presbytery of New York, which sent him to visit vacancies north and west of Albany. He quickly received a call, and the following year he was ordained and installed as pastor of the United Congregations of Schenectady and Currie’s Bush. In October 1790 the Presbytery of New York divided its membership; Young and his congregation fell within the newly formed Presbytery of Albany. Almost immediately Young asked that his pastoral relations with his congregation be dissolved. A serious charge, probably of drunkenness, had been levelled against him. At this critical juncture, and without the knowledge of his congregation, he visited Montreal, where the Presbyterians were without a minister. In December 1790 a presbyterial inquiry into Young’s conduct took place, and although he was readmitted to his charge, it was only as “stated supply,” that is, on probation until presbytery met again the following March.

In Montreal the Presbyterians had been worshipping with the Anglicans until March 1786, when the Reverend John Bethune* had established a small, separate congregation. Following Bethune’s departure in 1787 the Presbyterians seem to have returned to the Protestant Congregation, an Anglican body that later became Christ Church, under David Chabrand* Delisle. Since they were looking for another minister, and Young for another congregation, when the Presbytery of Albany met in March 1791 Young declined a call from two churches under its jurisdiction in order to be available for Montreal, where Duncan Fisher* and others were organizing a congregation for him. In September Young reported to the Presbytery of Albany that he was preaching in Montreal and requested an appointment there as stated supply, a request supported by the congregation, which also asked that it be taken under presbytery’s wing. Albany merchants had been in contact for years with the mercantile community in Montreal, and it was no doubt because of this tie that the request was granted.

Young’s was probably the only official connection to exist between an American presbytery and a Lower Canadian church until the American Presbyterian Church was formed in Montreal in 1822. However, the union was sterile and short-lived. In 1792 presbytery received no account of Young or his congregation, even though they had built, and on 7 October opened, a new church on Rue Saint-Philippe, later Saint-Gabriel. The following year the new Scotch Presbyterian Church, subsequently known as the St Gabriel Street Church, obtained dismissal from the Presbytery of Albany in order to join the Presbytery of Montreal, formed by Young, Bethune, and Alexander Spark* of Quebec. The new body quickly dissolved, however, apparently as a result of an altercation between Young and Spark.

Besides ministering to his own congregation, Young made occasional missionary trips as far away as the seigneuries of Saint-Armand and Caldwell’s Manor, or Foucault, on Missisquoi Bay. In Montreal he sometimes took services for the Anglicans, whose clergyman, James Marmaduke Tunstall, was subject to fits of derangement, and he entertained excellent relations with Tunstall’s successor, Jehosaphat Mountain*, whom he assisted on occasion. As well he was chaplain to the Presbyterian soldiers in garrison, for which function he received a government salary of £50 per annum. The salary must have been welcome, since Young’s stipend from the congregation was small and, having no manse, he was obliged to rent lodgings. His meagre income, barely equal to the support of his family, had also to finance his alcoholism and possibly a penchant for gambling; the load appears to have been too heavy, and he was continually in financial difficulty.

Despite his personal problems, Young gave general satisfaction to his congregation until at least 1800, when his position was challenged during a struggle for power between the temporal committee, until then dormant, and session, which had filled the void and was managing all aspects of the congregation’s life. Young was necessarily identified with session and its perennial clerk, Duncan Fisher, was his close collaborator. In the elections to session of 1800 a clean sweep was made, Fisher himself being among the defeated. In November some members of the church, including the prominent merchants Isaac Todd* and Alexander Henry, proposed Young’s dismissal, but their motion was soundly defeated by the congregation. The following year the temporal committee began lodging formal complaints with session about Young’s personal conduct, and session barred him from administering the sacraments until he had cleared himself. Young refused to accept the ban, and in August 1802 session, of which Fisher had again become clerk, locked him out of the church. This time the congregation overwhelmingly voted for his dismissal; Fisher abstained. Young was replaced temporarily by Robert Forrest, and then definitively by James Somerville*, but the call to Somerville revealed a profound division of the congregation along socio-ethnic lines [see Robert Easton], which may earlier have played a role in Young’s downfall.

After his dismissal Young went to Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Upper Canada, but he soon resigned his ministry there because of alcoholism. He then moved to Stamford (Niagara Falls), where until about 1804 he preached on Sundays and taught during the week. About 1813 he ministered for a short time to a congregation near Lake Champlain, and then, possibly the following year, moved to Lunenburg, N.S. He settled finally in Sheet Harbour in 1821, again taking up his round of preaching and teaching; the schoolhouse was also the church and his home. His alcoholism notwithstanding, he was universally esteemed in the infant village. This rotund giant of 6 feet 6 inches (his wife was of corresponding proportions), with “an eye in his head like a hawk,” was, according to the Presbyterian minister John Sprott*, “a searching and close preacher.” However, within five years of his arrival, Young was dead. His grave was made, Sprott observed, “on the sea beaten shore within a few yards of the water, and within a few yards of the forest.” The Acadian Recorder, which noted in Young “the infirmities of human nature,” also commented that “few persons have experienced greater vicissitudes of fortune in their passage through life.” Four of his eight children had died in infancy; two others had been left in Montreal in 1802 and a third possibly somewhere else; and at his death, the Acadian Recorder remarked, Young left in Sheet Harbour,” an aged widow and one daughter both deaf and dumb.”

Elizabeth Ann Kerr McDougall

ANQ-M, CE1-126, 1791–1802. Acadian Recorder, 19 March 1825. R. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church. William Gregg, History of the Presbterian Church in the dominion of Canada (Toronto, 1885). H .S. M’Collum, “Canadian Presbyterian history no.ii,” Canada Presbyterian (Toronto), new ser., 1 (1877–78): 434–35. E. A. [Kerr] McDougall, “The American element in the early Presbyterian Church in Montreal (1786–1824)” (ma thesis, McGill Univ., Montreal, 1965), 37–38, 59–73, 170. J. S. Moir, Enduring witness; a history of the Presbtyerian Church in Canada ([Hamilton, Ont., 1974]). J. E. Rutledge, Sheet Harbour, a local history (Halifax, 1954), 80.

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Cite This Article

Elizabeth Ann Kerr McDougall, “YOUNG, JOHN (d. 1825),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 4, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/young_john_1825_6E.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/young_john_1825_6E.html
Author of Article:   Elizabeth Ann Kerr McDougall
Title of Article:   YOUNG, JOHN (d. 1825)
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   October 4, 2023