The Journals & Notebook of
 Nathan Bangs 1805-1806, 1817


Contents    Introduction    Maps    Images    Chronology    Bibliography    Archival Resources

Editorial Annotations

In 1802 Bangs was received on trial by the New York Conference and appointed to ride the Bay of Quinte circuit. At the time this included the Home District and Little York (present-day Toronto). Although York had served as the capital of Upper Canada since 1796, it was originally chosen not for its population but for its strategic location on Lake Ontario. By January 1802 it had not grown much beyond the size of a village with a total population of only 320 (Firth lxxvii). In 1805 York became part of the newly formed Young  Street circuit under Daniel Pickett. York became its own separate circuit in 1818 under David Culp.

In light of this entry's final sentence it is worth noting that in 1819 Bangs founded the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York. The events must have been memorable because Bangs expanded on them considerably in his subsequent auto-biography as Stevens's text shows. See right-hand pane for the 1863 published account. In spite of being lengthier, it is interesting to note that, notwithstanding a few minor variations, it is more faithful to the earliest written account than Stevens's and Bangs's subsequent accounts of the conversion of the two sisters at the Hay Bay camp meeting - see Sunday 29 September 1805. Among the relatively minor variations, however, it is interesting to note that while the aboriginal creation narrative centers on a single man according to Bangs's earliest account, the published 1863 account describes a man and a woman as joint aboriginal progenitors. This change may have been made to render the account more similar to the narrative in Genesis or simply to make present the biological preconditions for procreation.


[Retrospective entry:] January 1802


While travelling from Little York down the Lake, on the first day of January, a little before sun set, I came to the house of an Indian Trader, where were a number of People, men and women, assembled, to celebrate the New-year. Going about two miles from thence, I came to a small creek, partly frozen, the bridge so broken, I could not cross it; and neither could I, by any means in my power, get my horse over the creek. Being in the woods, the weather very cold, and in the night, after considerable labour to no purpose, I was obliged to return to the above-mentioned house, it being the only one to which I could go. Wishing to reach my appointments, I offered them money if any of them would go, and help me over the creek. This they refused; adding, however, that if I would stay with them they would use me well. I accepted their offer, more from necessity than choice. They were quite merry, singing and dancing. Although I refused the offer of their whisky, I accepted of some supper having eaten nothing all day. They continued their singing and dancing; and I commenced a conversation, with one of the women, who, had been a Baptist professor, on the subject of religion. A group soon collected around us to whom I talked very freely on the necessity of salvation. So many were listening to me, that they could not so well carry on their dancing. Wherefore, a robust looking man accosted me, in the following manner "Friend, if you will be here you must be civil, you must not preach." I replied, That I was not preaching; but, as providence had cast my lot among them, they could not blame me for discharging my duty. He said, "no; but we must dance." He then, partly by force, and partly by persuasion, led them on the floor, and continued their childish frolic. They however, seemed to move heavy, and with apparent reluctance. It being Saturday night, and about 12 o'C, I asked liberty of the the trader, who manifested much friendship, to address the company. Liberty being granted, I informed them that the Sabbath was drawing nigh, so that they were exposing themselves, not only to the laws of God, but also to the law of the Land; and therefore I advised them to desist, to which they consented. The trader then informed me, that the Indians, who were encamped near by, had expected a dance, and he wished my liberty to call them in for that purpose. I told him that I was not master of the house; but advised him, if consistent, to dispense with it. He, however, fearing to offend them, gave an indian [sic] whop, and forth they came from their encampment, rushing into the house, commenced their indian dance; which was performed, by knocking an old pan with a stick, singing and dancing in a circle. An hideous noise! This ended, I had an opportunity, by the aid of the trader, who interpreted my words to them, of conversing with them, on the subject of religion. I asked their chief, if he knew from whom they had descended. He replied, "That the Good Spirit, made one man and placed him on an island, (according to his description about the size of an acre) that this man offended the good Spirit; for which offence the man was driven off from the island, to this continent; from him they had descended." I then gave him an account of the creation of the world, of man, his first sin, his expulsion from paradise, and the peopling of the world, according to the Mosaic account; to which he listened with great attention. I then enquired if he had ever heard of Jesus Christ. He said no. I then gave a narrative of his birth, life, miracles, suffering death and resurrection; and the end for which these things were suffered and done. While describing the sufferings of Christ, the chief, seemed struck with awful solemnity and astonishment. Ending my discourse, he clasped me around the neck, hugged and kissed me, calling me father, and asked if I would not come and live with them and be their instructor. Their native simplicity and apparent affection, quite affected me. This pleasing interview with the natives of the forests more than compensated for the disagreeableness arising from the rudeness of my company. But the most disagreeable part of the tragedy remains untold. The indians dispersed peacibly to their encampment; and most of the white people, had gone to their habitations some distance from there, when a quarrel began between the trader, and one of his company. The former, by this time, was so far intoxicated, as to loose [sic] the government of himself, but demanded more whiskey, which the later refused him. Twice they drew their fists, to fight, and twice I placed myself between them; which prevented their coming to blows. The trader then swore, that unless whiskey was given him, he would call the indians, and fall upon them with deathly vengeance. "Go, said the other, as soon as you please." He went; and at his command down came the indians at the door. There were three men, and one woman in the house, besides myself. They armed themselves with cudgels, stood at the door, determining, if possible to knock them down, as they attempted to enter. I shuddered for the consequences. Blood, human blood, the blood of fellow creatures, I feared would be shed to satisfy a revengeful disposition. Persuasions, however, were now fruitless. The Trader now opened the door, came in, and, in an authoritative manner demanded whiskey, threatening in case of refusal to bring his guards, (as he called them) who were at the door, to fall upon them. "Will you," said the other, drawing his fist to strike, which I prevented again, by stepping between them. Taping him on the shoulder, with a few soft words I persuaded him to go in bed with me. He soon fell asleep, and thus, by the mercy of God, ended the quarrel, without shedding blood. Day light appearing, I made my way on my journey; thankful to God who preserved me, and gave me favour among the barbarians. I felt a great desire for those poor heathens, and I hoped the time would soon arrive, when they also should be given to Christ for his inheritance.

May 1816

October 1802

Primary Sources

Abel Stevens Life and Times of Nathan Bangs Stevens and Bangs "At the New Year's Dance"

John Carroll Case and His Cotemporaries Carroll on Bangs's refusal to say with the "Indians"

David Smyth "Map of the Province of Upper Canada 1813" Detail showing Home District and region around York (Toronto)



professor: A believer or adherent of a particular faith


Edited by Scott McLaren
Book History Practicum
University of Toronto