BY JOHN DECOSTE
Kings County Advertiser/Register
As the Parish of Cornwallis- with its many New England Planter connections-celebrates its 250th anniversary this year, a group of parishioners have teamed up to produce a two-volume history.
“We started to prepare three years ago, but it’s been more intensive the last year or so,” says author Elinor Murray of the research for the book, “On the Shoulders of Giants.”
Murray and Joanne Peill did most of the research, which took the better part of the first two years.
“I’ve read every minute of church business from 1760 to 2010,” Murray says.
Colleen Mansfield looked after the design and production. Rev. David Garrett, the fourth member of the team, “was our advisor on religious matters, and a tremendous support, along with our parish council.”
T&S Office Essentials in Kingston did the printing, and the book is self-published by the group, with all proceeds going to the church.
“When I first joined this congregation, I was fascinated by the (St. John’s) church building.” Murray points out, “this is a parish that knew a little about its history, but was mainly concerned with the present and what needed doing right now.” At the same time, the history of the parish “is a story worth telling.” That project has turned out to be a real labour of love.
Digging deeper, Murray found “we had the original minute book from 1760, and church registers from 1783 on.” This made it easier to compile the history, though it took a lot of poring through old registers.
The history centers around a group of committed early parishioners, including Col. John Burbidge, Benjamin Belcher, William Best and Samuel Starr; all instrumental in the building of St. John’s.
The first church building was constructed in 1760 at Fox Hill on what is now Lower Church Street. It is still standing, in use as a summer home on the Nickerson property, just west of the present church. Services were held for several years in the original building, but it was never consecrated.
Once it became too small, plans were made to build a new church, the construction of which started in 1804. The new church was framed up and closed in that year, but it took six years to finish the job. The first service was held Christmas Day, 1810.
“They built the steeple inside the church,” Murray says, “then had sailors (off visiting ships) help lift it into place.”
One of the churchwardens at the time, William Campbell, “mortgaged his home to cover the final 500 pounds of the total cost of 10,000 pounds.
The mortgage was eventually paid off, allowing Campbell to keep his property, “but it shows you how much they wanted to finish the church.”
Along with the history books, a number of special events will mark the anniversary of the parish, which now also includes churches in Canning (St. Michael’s) and Kingsport (St. Thomas). A special Founders Day service was held July 4 at the old Fox Hill Cemetery, followed by a garden party at Prescott House, whose original owner, Charles Prescott, was also a member of the parish.
The Primate of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, is coming in November, at which time memorial stones will be laid in memory of George Price, the last Canadian soldier killed in World War I; and Mary Clerk Peake, the first Canadian women to die as the result of World War II. Both Price and Peake were former members of St. John’s Church.
The year will conclude with a special service Christmas Day to commemorate the actual anniversary of the first service.
Murray says there is a lot of history in the books, and “a lot of stories.
“It’s really a story about people – events, too, but mostly the people that have sustained the parish over the years and made it what it is today.”