John Holliday-Rev. Bell’s Nemesis

Posted by on December 22, 2021 in Blog Posts, Community & Family History, Featured Flag | 0 comments

The Reputation of John Holliday

The following insights were gleaned from Rev. William Bell’s Journals and from John Holliday: A Forthright Man, Clarence Halliday, Cobourg, November, 1962.

John Holliday was officially recognized as the schoolmaster promised to the settlers before leaving Scotland and was officially granted an annual salary of L50. He sailed with the settlers.

Rev. William Bell and John Holliday had many disagreements with Rev. William Bell penning the following comment:

“Some of (the Scotch Settlers) were of a very factious and troublesome disposition”. Prominent among them, in Rev. Bell’s mind was John Halliday.

Andrew Haydon, in Pioneer Sketches in the District of Bathurst, 1925 reflecting on the Perth settlement wrote, “John Halliday, like most of his companions, doubtless thought that saying good-bye to the old land meant a farewell also to a time and a country overwhelmed with military demands, and certainly sick of everything that savoured of war. Coming as a civilian settler, little wonder that he became restive under the military discipline”.

Perth was under the authority of commissioned or warrant officers of the discharged military. They assumed roles as government officials with authority coming from the crown. They were joined by settlers who had enjoyed a level of prosperity and status in the old country and expected to assume an elevated social status, and thus voice in the future of the community. As such they tended to live within the town itself. As leaders in business and religious circles within the community, they expected a measure of deference. John Holliday was one of the more vocal of the Edinburgh settlers to settle along the Scotch Line. Through the years he is said to have retained the confidence of the ‘settlers’ and often was their spokesman.

However, Rev. Bell was also supportive of John Holliday’s role as the appointed schoolmaster for the settlers. In later years Rev. Bell recorded that Francis Allan has volunteered to be the teacher but was rejected, “his handwriting being the principal, if not the only thing, to recommend him as a teacher”. John Holliday’s appointment received full governmental approval and he was to receive the annual salary of L50.

The first bump in the road occurred in Brockville when John Holliday taught the children of the settlers. There was a disagreement with the colonial administrator that was to haunt John Holliday for many years.

Problems in the Settlement

In the new settlement four parties were involved in the dispute; John Holliday, the government officials, Rev. William Bell, and the settlers who had chosen John Holliday as their school master.

In 1817 William Bell arrived in the community and did not establish his church among the settlers. He chose to establish his church in Perth and soon after established a school, as none had been established for the residents of the village. He expected that his payment would be from pupil’s fees, paid by the parents who were mostly government officials. The officials decided to add a salary of L50 in recognition of his role as schoolmaster. It was not until later that he discovered that this money was diverted from John Holliday, the schoolmaster chosen by the settlers.

William Bell had many differences with John Holliday but, he and the settlers, supported John in his quest for the promised government salary. John Holliday’s school, on the Scotch Line, lot A of Burgess township, was several miles from the village and was too far removed for use by the village children. In correspondence it was pointed out that the schoolmaster serving members of the Catholic church was receiving double this amount. It took numerous letters written by Rev. William Bell and by the settlers before this wrong could be put to rights. John’s reputation as a dissident, stemming from involvement in the early petition penned in Brockville, continued to haunt him. And of course, the government officials attempted to shift the blame to William Bell. Senior officials tried to stay out of the issue.

John Holliday the School Master

John Holliday is often identified as a “severe, even cruel, teacher”, a strict disciplinarian. In this, he shared the traits that are frequently assigned to the early schoolmasters in the new settlement and may not have differed much from schoolmasters in the Old Country. My thought on this is that parents were focused on ‘survival’ during the settlement period and that children were often left to raise themselves. Older children cared for the younger at an early age and discipline was only administered when misdeeds came to the attention of their parents. Children often arrived for their schooling with little training in social skills. When the behaviour of children did not meet the expectations of adults in the community, it was often the schoolmaster who was blamed. One day, Rev. Bell saw Mr. Adams, a resident of the Scotch Line, lecturing some of the boys on their conduct.

“He explained to Mr. Bell that ‘they are wicked’ and went on to describe how they had even thrown snowballs at his horse. Though to the modern mind this schoolboy behaviour wouldn’t be considered very heinous, to Mr. Adams it was ‘wicked’ and directly attributable to the lax discipline exercised by John Holliday in the school. ‘Twenty such schoolmasters as we have here’, he concluded, ‘would ruin the country’.

The first schoolhouse did not continue to occupy John Holliday’s house for long. Though the year is unknown, a log schoolhouse was built at an early date. Its site was in the township of Bathurst on the west half of Lot 2 Concession 1. This was at the corner of the Glen Tay side-road about one and a quarter miles west of John Holliday’s homestead, and on the other side of the Scotch Line. Later a frame school was built nearer his house, but probably he never taught in other than the log building.

John Holliday and his Religious Beliefs

John Holliday was a supporter of Cameronian doctrines. The Scottish settlers were followers of four different branches of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the Established, the Associate, and the Reformed, and this was their hurdle when initially charged with selecting a minister to accompany them to Canada and again, during their first winter in Canada. Rev. Smart, a minister of the Associate Church of Brockville, made monthly visits to the settlers that first winter. He may have helped to modify the dissention and as a result a petition was sent to the Presbytery of Edinburgh of the Associate Synod requesting the selection of a minister without delay. Rev. William Bell was ordained and arrived in the community on the 24th of June 1817.

Rev. Bell chose to establish his home and church in Perth, not ‘on the Line’ among the settlers through whom his salary was allocated. He considered himself the minister of the ‘area’, not only to the settlers who had ‘called him’. This set him at odds with the settlers from the beginning. In July 1817 John Holliday was chosen as Clerk of the Committee of Managers for Bell’s proposed church. He was elected as an Elder soon after. Before long, John Holliday, holding Calvinist beliefs, objected to the use of ‘manmade’ hymns. William Elliott supported John Holliday. An appeal to the Presbytery supported Rev. Bell and his followers. John Holliday and William Elliott were censured by the session and withdrew from participation for a time. In 1828 Rev. Bell proposed the formation of an Auxiliary Home Missionary Society for the benefit of the back townships. John Holliday opposed this as he thought those who wished to have the gospel “ought to provide it at their own expense”. He was successful in swaying other members of session. In 1829 efforts were made to secure a minister from the “Auld Kirk” in Scotland to form another church. In 1830 Rev. Bell organized a congregation on his own initiative at the home of Mr. Balderson, and John Holliday argued was this was the prerogative of the Presbytery and therefore not valid.

In December 1830, the Church of Scotland began services and the Holliday family were among the fifty members of his church, the First Presbyterian Church, whom Mr. Bell reported had left his church to attend St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland. Although John Holliday did not assume an office in the new church, he objected to the fact that the Minister read manuscripts of his sermon rather than “preaching”.

By 1835 those of the Cameronian beliefs (strict Calvinistic) took an opportunity to obtain church services in Perth from a minister of their own branch of Presbyterianism. They petitioned the congregation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church at Ramsay (Almonte) for a part of their minister’s time. The congregation was established, and John Holliday was one of the first elders. By now his sons were of age and the families of George, James, Francis, David, Thomas Dobie (Jane Holliday’s husband) and Adam Elliott (Janet Holliday’s husband) formed part of the congregation. By 1837 the Perth congregation became a self-supporting charge. All was well until in 1851 the congregation disputed some of the policies of Rev. McLachlane and a second, independent congregation was formed. Those that supported Rev. McLachlane formed the First Cameronian congregation in Almonte and John Holliday and his son Francis were ordained elders of the new Second Church. In 1854 Rev. John Middleton was called to be its minister in Perth and a large church was erected. However, the debt associated with this church was too heavy and the property was sold. The Perth congregation never again enjoyed a settle pastor.

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