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


Contents    Introduction    Maps    Images    Chronology    Bibliography    Archival Resources


I. Religious & political context

  • Initial settlement patterns in Upper Canada

         ◦ Close of Seven Years' War (1763)
         ◦ Quebec Act (1774)
         ◦ Arrival of United Empire Loyalists (1783)

  • Church of England and “established” religion in Upper Canada

         ◦ Constitutional Act (1791)
         ◦ Marriage Act (1793, 1794, 1798, 1831)
         ◦ Religious diversity of the upper province
         ◦ “Late-loyalists”
         ◦ War of 1812

  • Methodism in the United States

         ◦ John Wesley & “dissent”
         ◦ “Christmas Conference” & Methodist Episcopal Church (1784)
         ◦ Structure & polity of American Methodism

  • Arrival of Methodism in Upper Canada

         ◦ Hecks and Emburys in Augusta (1785)
         ◦ Arrival of William Losee (1790)
         ◦ Canada district under Darius Dunham (1794)
         ◦ Canada Conference (1824)
         ◦ Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada (1828)
         ◦ Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada (1833)

II. Nathan Bangs (1778-1862)

  • Biographical sources

         ◦ Primary published sources
         ◦ Scholarly literature
         ◦ Archival resources

  • Early career and the Oswegatchie circuit

         ◦ Conversion (1800)
         ◦ Received on trial (1801)
         ◦ Ordained deacon & elder (1804)
         ◦ Assigned to Oswegatchie (1805)

  • Hay Bay camp meeting September 1805

         ◦ Antecedents
         ◦ Itinerants present
         ◦ Attendance and events

  • Return to United States and later career

         ◦ Presiding elder of Rhinebeck district (1813-1816)
         ◦ Senior Book Agent of Methodist Book Concern (1820-1828)
         ◦ General Conference of 1844 — abolitionism and schism
         ◦ Death and reputation (1862)

III. The Journals (1805-1806, 1817)

  • Location and description of physical documents

         ◦ Location of original documents
         ◦ Physical description of Upper Canadian journal
         ◦ Physical description of American journal and notebook

  • Literary character and problems of dating

         ◦ Introspective quality of Upper Canadian journal
         ◦ Establishing dates of individual entries
         ◦ Influence & historical importance

  • Editorial conventions

         ◦ Principles of documentary editing
         ◦ Language & specialized vocabulary
         ◦ Annotations & published primary sources

I. Religious & political context


Initial settlement patterns in Upper Canada

Before the 1780s all the land across the northern shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie was a “howling wilderness” virtually devoid of any non-military European presence. Not surprisingly, however, the loss of all thirteen “rebelling” colonies at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War in 1783 dramatically increased the value of this land in the eyes of the British Crown. Almost immediately the colonial government began surveying the land for the settlement of some 6,000 British refugees who either could not or would not settle in Nova Scotia (Craig 8). As early as the spring of 1784 these settlers, who would come to be called United Empire Loyalists, began the difficult work of carving out homesteads on between one-hundred and two-hundred acre land grants primarily in and around the north-eastern and south-western shores of Lake Ontario (present-day Kingston and Niagara) as well as up along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence towards the island of Montreal. The British government meanwhile did what it could to provide the settlers with farming implements and other modest forms of assistance. By 1792 Kingston had grown into the largest of the new settlements with some fifty houses (Craig 26).

Before any of the new settlements could truly flourish, however, a major political problem faced the British government. At the time of the initial settlement in the 1780s, Kingston, Niagara, and the northern shore of the St. Lawrence were all administratively considered part of Quebec—the entire colony of which had been surrendered by the French to the British in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years' War. The British, who found themselves in the awkward position of overseeing a “British colony” of French Catholic Canadiens, passed the Quebec Act in 1774 that allowed the Canadiens to continue to use France’s civil (but not criminal) laws and to practice their Catholic religion without undue interference from the government. Unlike the other British colonies (including the only non-rebelling English colony of Nova Scotia), however, Quebec was not provided with an elected assembly. Naturally the refugee loyalists arriving from the United States were not content to live under these conditions. They began to agitate almost immediately for the creation of a separate province where British common law would prevail and where an elected assembly could be established. It was, they argued, the only means by which they could retain the same privileges they had previously enjoyed while residing in the former thirteen colonies.

Church of England and “established” religion in Upper Canada

At least in part because the British authorities continued to fear that the remaining loyalists might be tempted to join the Americans, the government passed the Constitutional (or Canada) Act in 1791 that divided Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada. In addition to providing both provinces an elected assembly (as well as an appointed legislative council and executive council), it also set aside one-seventh of all Crown lands in Upper Canada for the “maintenance of a Protestant clergy.” These lands, known as the “clergy reserves,” were intended to be rented or sold for the benefit of the church. The ambiguity of the phrasing of this clause, however, caused such intractable wrangling among the various political and religious bodies of the province that they were eventually sold for educational rather than religious purposes. That eventuality, however, was far from the mind of the first governor-general of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, a staunch churchman who conducted his government as though the Church of England was already established (Craig 21). In addition to providing Anglicans with choice land on which to erect churches in various new settlements (Preston xcii), Graves also passed a Marriage Act in 1793 that limited the legal solemnization of marriages to Anglican clergymen alone. In the same year, also at Simcoe's urging, Jacob Mountain was appointed the first Anglican bishop of the diocese of Quebec (embracing Upper and Lower Canada). In view of that fact that there were only three clergymen in the entire province, however, Simcoe was forced to revise the Marriage Act in the following year to allow justices of the peace, when clergymen were too distant, also to solemnize marriages. In 1798, two years after Simcoe left office, the Church of Scotland together with some Lutheran and Calvinist denominations were also authorized to perform marriages. Methodists, however, would have to wait more than three decades before finally being accorded equal privileges in 1831 (Ryerson 162-163, 181).

Indeed, among all the so-called “dissenting” denominations, Church of England clergymen despised the Methodists the most. In 1794, when Methodist activity in the Canadas was still in its infancy, Bishop Mountain derided them them “mendicants” and “ignorant enthusiasts” (Preston 292). As the years passed Methodist itinerants became increasingly troublesome as they proved to be far more successful at attracting members, and even raising money, than their better-educated Anglican counterparts. Indeed, the political privileges accorded to the Church of England did little to help its cause and belied the fact that the religious convictions of settlers in Upper Canada were extraordinarily diverse. In addition to Anglicans who were largely concentrated in Kingston, the province also contained large numbers of Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Quakers, Baptists, and an ever increasing body of Episcopal Methodists (Fahey 12 n41). The Anglican clergyman Joseph Addison reported in 1796, for example, that in the Niagara region most of the settlers were Presbyterians (Fahey 14). To make matters worse Darius Dunham had established a Methodist circuit in Niagara the previous year which, by the time of Addison's writing, was serviced by two full-time itinerants and reporting a membership of 140 people (Cornish 264). East of Kingston around the Bay of Quinte, Anglican clergyman John Langhorn reported to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel that only 300 of the 1,500 settlers in his region were Anglicans. The rest were made up of “Moravians, Quakers, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and the fanatical New Lights” (Fahey 14). Beginning with the arrival of William Losee in 1792 Longhorn had to contend with an ever expanding Methodist presence as well. None of this, however, stopped Simcoe from dreaming of the day when Upper Canada's economic prosperity would be matched only by its peaceful religious uniformity. Envious Americans, he further hoped, would soon wish they had never rebelled against his Britannic Majesty and choose to relocate their families in his utopian province. Ironically, the spectacular success of Simcoe's plan to populate the province with “loyal” Americans only helped to ensure that its religious diversity became further entrenched. Between 1791 and the War of 1812 Simcoe's cheap land-granting policies attracted some 90,000 Americans (or “late-Loyalists”) who brought their eclectic religious faiths with them. And although some of these groups, including the Methodists, lost numbers during the War of 1812, by 1819 most had fully recovered their losses.

Many modern readers will doubtless think Simcoe's dream quaint at best. It should be remembered, however, that the principle of the separation of church and state originated south of the border among the American republicans. Simcoe, on the other hand, despised republicanism and lived in an empire where the monarch was head of both the Church and the State. In Britain the Church stressed loyalty to the Crown while the State shored up the interests of the Church. For Bishop Mountain and Lieutenant-Governor Simcoe nothing could have been more natural than linking their imaginations in a grand imperial strategy that had as much to do with piety as it did with politics.

Methodism in the United States

Although Methodists in Upper Canada were considered “dissenters” by the Church of England and the government, John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of Methodism, was himself never a dissenter. Wesley and his brother Charles (1707-1788) were ordained Church of England clergymen who began a renewal movement that was never intended to grow beyond its ecclesial borders. For this reason many early Methodists, even after they became independent of the Church of England, continued to refer to their churches as “meeting houses” or “preaching houses” and Methodism itself as a connexion rather than a church (Lee 47). Although Wesley had spent some time as a missionary in the newly founded colony of Georgia in the mid-1730s, it wasn’t until the 1760s that Methodist missionaries began to cross the Atlantic in any great number. Their organizational structure, however, proved to be ideal for spreading their faith among a people largely dispersed among the wilderness. American independence, however, forced Wesley to make some hard choices. After the conclusion of the War in 1783 it was no longer seemly for Methodists to remain under the aegis of the Church of England for obvious reasons. Consequently, in 1784 at the famous “Christmas Conference” the Methodist Episcopal Church of America was born with the blessing of John Wesley. Francis Asbury became its first bishop and would serve in that capacity until his death in 1816. It is a testament to the difficulty with which Wesley must have made this decision that Methodism in Britain remained within the Church of England until 1795, four years after his own death in 1791.

Methodism to quickly became the most potent religious force in America. A highly organized machine for spreading its unique brand of Christianity, the separation of church and state enshrined in the Bill of Rights allowed it to compete for souls in the United States without government interference and therefore on a level playing field. Because Methodists moved fast and traveled light they were often able to reach far-flung communities spread across the American wilderness years in advance of other denominations. Their unique hierarchy, moreover, ensured that where seeds were planted they were also watered and tended with regular care.

The highest decision-making body of the Methodist Episcopal Church was the quadrennial General Conference at which the bishop (or bishops) presided. The Church was further divided into very large “conferences” that were governed by an annual meeting or “conference” whose decisions were subject to the approval of the General Conference. Before 1784 when American Methodists were part of Wesley's single Methodist movement they were administratively part of an “American conference.” Similarly, Canada was also set aside by the Methodist Episcopal Church in America as a separate conference in 1824 before achieving status as a separate Methodist Church 1828. Conferences were further divided into districts that were overseen by senior members of the Methodist clergy known as “presiding elders.” Each district was then divided into “circuits” or collections of communities and settlements served by one or two “circuit riders” or itinerant preachers who were usually ordained to perform baptisms and officiate at what was variously called the Lord’s Supper, the Ordinance, Communion, or the Sacrament. Itinerant preachers and presiding elders were, at least in these earliest years, appointed for four-year terms (or longer) by the bishops at the General Conferences. All of these individuals were also, at least until 1816, eligible to attend the Quadrennial Conferences as delegates. It has been observed that Methodists moved fast and traveled light. Itinerants were paid very little and required only a horse, a bible, and a hymnal to do their work. Most circuits could be traveled in a period of two weeks, though some of the earliest and largest circuits might take as long as a month to complete. Along they way itinerants would have daily “preaching appointments.” Sermons were typically delivered before crowds in marketplaces, fields, barns, and private homes and for this reason the early Methodists did not necessarily require expensive church buildings or parsonages. At night they would be fed and sheltered by Methodist (or potential Methodist) families along the way. In place of any formal educational requirements, aspiring itinerants would apprentice or serve “on trial” for a period of usually two years (Lee 68). This system allowed Methodists to renew and expand their clergy at a rate no other denomination could dream of matching. The life of an itinerant, however, was hard and lonely. Marriage was all but impossible and many itinerants either died in the course of their duties or “located” in order to start families of their own after a few years of this arduous labour. Some, however, like Bishop Asbury, continued to function as circuit riders throughout long and productive lives riding as many as six-thousand miles across poor roads and trackless wilderness to preach upwards of four-hundred sermons every year.

To aid the itinerant in his work there were also local ministers (often former itinerants) who earned their living within a community by farming or practicing a trade full-time.  In the absence of the circuit rider these local ministers would perform funerals, preach Sunday sermons, and generally oversee any necessary administrative duties. Methodists also met in mandatory small groups called “class meetings” over which a class leader (appointed by the circuit rider) would preside. Anyone interested in joining the Methodist Church would first have to attended such class meetings regularly for a period of at least several months before being accepted as a member. Unlike circuit riders and local preachers, many of the early class leaders were women (often in charge of classes composed entirely of other women). Periodically, in addition to regular preaching and worship services, there were special member-only celebrations called love-feasts at which bread and water were taken and “enthusiastic” public worship offered. Circuit riders often distributed printed tickets for admission to these celebrations. Such celebrations were eventually supplemented by camp meetings as well—large tent revivals preached usually in the wilderness by four or more circuit riders over a period of two, three, or four days. These events were for Methodists and non-Methodists alike and usually resulted in a sharp growth in the number of Methodist adherents and members in the regions where they took place.

By 1791, the year of Wesley's death and the establishment of the first Methodist circuit in Upper Canada, the United States contained 43,000 Methodists along 97 circuits being served by 198 circuit riders (Playter 26).

Arrival of Methodism in Upper Canada

The Hecks and Embury families, credited with holding the first class meetings and building the first Methodist meeting house in New York in the the mid-1760s, are also considered to be the first Methodists to arrive in the regions that were later to embrace Upper and Lower Canada in the mid-1770s. Originally settling east of the Ottawa River, they relocated in 1785 to Augusta which was later to form part of the Oswegatchie circuit—the same circuit that Nathan Bangs rode while keeping his Upper Canadian Journal in 1805-1806 (Carroll 5, 126-128). In January 1790, William Losee became the first Methodist circuit rider to actually cross the border, entering Quebec somewhere east of Matilda and travelling down the St. Lawrence as far as the Bay of Quinte region and Adolphustown, site of the 1805 camp meeting. (Playter 22-23). The following year Losee was appointed by the New York Conference to create a new circuit around the Kingston area where the largest number of loyalists had settled. Although he didn't have much luck in Kingston itself, which contained the largest concentration of Anglican loyalists in the region under the ministry of Rev. John Stuart, he did manage to organize a few societies in the surrounding regions including west of Kingston from Ernestown to the Bay of Quinte. In the absence of official statistics for this first year, it isn't probable that Losee numbered more than several dozen Methodists along his entire circuit.

The following year Losee was returned to Upper Canada to form another new circuit, the Oswegatchie, east along the St. Lawrence between Kingston and the Ottawa River. The old Kingston circuit was renamed Cataraqui and assigned to Darius Dunham (Playter 34). That year the first Methodist meeting house was also erected in Adolphustown because “the Congregation on the Hay Bay increased so much that the house of Paul Huff was too small” (Playter 30). At the end of the year Losee and Dunham reported a combined membership along their circuits of 165 Methodists (Cornish 31).

In 1794 Upper Canada became a separate district under Darius Dunham as presiding elder. The following year two more circuits were established, one in Niagara by Darius Dunham (much to the irritation of clergyman Joseph Addison) and another in the Bay of Quinte by Sylvanus Keeler and Elijah Woolsey. Between 1795 and 1805 Methodism grew at an extraordinary rate in Upper Canada with membership swelling to almost 1,800 and Methodist circuit riders, at ten, outnumbering Anglican clergymen 3 to 1. Membership would climb by another 1,500, served by twenty (mostly American) circuit riders, before the outbreak of the War of 1812. The war was a major setback for Methodists (as well as Baptists and other denominations) in Upper Canada. By the time hostilities had ended in 1815 membership had fallen to 1805 levels though sixteen circuit riders continued to work in the region. To compound difficulties, British Wesleyans arrived from Nova Scotia with the impression that they would be able to make use of the Methodist meeting houses in the province for their own purposes. This caused a great deal of consternation until it was finally agreed, in 1820, that the British Wesleyans would occupy Lower Canada exclusively (where the Methodist Episcopal Church had been active since Joseph Sawyer formed a Montreal circuit in 1802) while leaving the upper province to the American Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the General Conference 1824, with 5,215 Methodist in Upper Canada served by twenty-nine circuit riders (many more of whom where now Canadian-born), Upper Canada was set aside as its own Conference (which since 1810 had been a part of the American Genesee Conference). By this time many Canadian Methodists were agitating for separation from the Americans—especially Henry Ryan (a presiding elder since 1810) who was becoming increasingly disaffected by proposed changes in church polity (Playter 234-237). The newly created Canada Conference held its first conference in Hallowell under bishops Enoch George and Elijah Hedding. Hedding continued to preside at the Canadian Conferences until 1828 when the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada was granted complete independence with forty-nine active circuit riders and nearly 10,000 members (Cornish 31). After Nathan Bangs declined an offer by Canadian Methodists to become their first bishop, William Case took up episcopal duties on a temporary basis until, in 1833, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada merged with the British Wesleyans to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada (Stevens 269, Cornish 29-30).   


II. Nathan Bangs (1778-1862)


Biographical sources

The importance of Nathan Bangs to the development of early Methodism in both Canada and the United States is belied by the scant attention he has received from modern scholars. Earlier historical documents, however, are disproportionately plentiful. These include John Carroll’s Case and His Cotemporaries (1867-1877), George F. Playter’s History of Methodism in Canada (1862), William Strickland’s History of the Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1850), as well as Bang’s own four-volume History of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1838-1841). The richest published primary source for information about Bangs’s life, however, is Abel Stevens’s Life and Times of Nathan Bangs issued by the New York Methodist Book Concern in 1863. Stevens enlivens his narrative appreciably by quoting liberally from Bangs's own manuscripts, especially his autobiography written in the 1850s. Stevens heaps superlatives on Bangs, accounting his importance within American Methodism as second only to Bishop Francis Asbury’s and arguing that his literary and publishing achievements set him apart as “the principal founder of the American literature of Methodism” (13). All this would make the fact that Stevens’s biography didn’t see a second printing seem strange were it not for the fact that Bangs’s reputation suffered an all but fatal blow some twenty years earlier when he failed to support the position of Methodist abolitionists at the General Conference of 1844 (Tuttle 106-9; Herrmann 160ff.). In fact, Bangs received no further dedicated biographical treatment until the appearance of Alexander Tuttle’s much smaller, self-conscious “miniature” of Stevens’s earlier biography, in 1909. Though equally hagiographical in tone, the small volume seems to have fallen largely on deaf ears.

Modern treatments of Bangs's life and career are limited to brief notices in histories of a more general nature, such as Neil Semple's The Lord's Dominion: The History of Canadian Methodism (40, 75, 129, 150) and George Rawlyk's The Canada Fire: Radical Evangelicalism in British North America, 1775-1812 (112-120, 147-155). Three doctoral dissertations from 1973 and 2004 have also been written about Bangs's life and career. It is significant that all three dissertations marvel at the discrepancy between Bangs’s achievements and his modern reputation. All of these items are listed in this site's Bibliography.

For information concerning the location and extent of Bangs's manuscripts please see this site's Archival Resources page.

Early career and the Oswegatchie circuit

Bangs was born in Stratford, Connecticut in 1778 and received a comparatively good New England common school education though not a “classical education” (Carroll 26). In 1799 at the age of 21 Bangs emigrated from New York State to the Niagara region and took up the position of tutor for a family living about sixteen kilometers (ten miles) from Newark (present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake). Although Bangs always evidenced an interest in organized religion, the local Anglican clergyman Joseph Addison left him uninspired. He wrote “Though in holy orders, he was a card-player and a drunkard, and performed the liturgical service with indecent haste, following it with a brief, rapid, and vapid prelection” (Stevens 39).

Almost against his will Bangs found himself moved by the fervor and sincerity of the Methodist circuit rider James Coleman. Coleman, however, was not an educated man and Bangs continued to carry the prejudices of his father against such men. He resisted. Joseph Sawyer and Joseph Jewell combined forces, however, and it wasn't long until Bangs's defenses crumbled. Bangs's sister, already an ardent Methodist living in the Niagara region, was delighted at his conversion (Stevens 44-47). After experiencing Methodist “sanctification” in February 1801 he was received on trial and given a license to preach in August. There being no formal educational requirements for Methodist circuit riders of the period, those on trial were obliged to apprentice with existing circuit riders for a period of two years and so Bangs began riding the Niagara circuit with Joseph Sawyer and Seth Crowell. With the exception of Kingston and Newark, few settlements in Upper Canada at the beginning of the nineteenth century were larger than a hundred people. Sawmills weren't common and many buildings were constructed from hand-squared logs. Where roads existed they were often poor. Bridges, even when constructed, were frequently in disrepair (as Bangs's description of York in 1800 demonstrates). Things in the United States weren't much better, though, and the following year he continued to work with Sawyer in the Bay of Quinte and Home District (York/Toronto) regions. Bang's itinerating came to a sudden halt, however, when he contracted a case of Typhus in December 1803 that was so severe his attendants all but gave him up as dead. Though Bangs did eventually recover, the after-effects of the illness, combined with the fact that he resumed preaching too soon, left him with a strange “double-voice” that lasted the rest of his life (Stevens 120-123).

In 1804 Bishop Asbury ordained Bangs a deacon and then an elder so that he could administer the sacraments along his circuit. One year later Bangs was assigned, with Sylvanus Keeler, to ride the Oswegatchie circuit along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence between Kingston and Montreal. The content of the Upper Canadian journal covers almost the whole period of Bangs's itinerancy on Oswegatchie. In addition to being one of the oldest and largest Methodist circuits in Upper Canada, accounting for 25% of the church's membership at that time, it was also geographically diffuse. It included the settlements of Elizabethtown, Augusta, Edwardsburg, Matilda, Williamsburg, Oznabruck, and Cornwall (Cornish 272). Although this appointment was a sign of Asbury's confidence in the young Bangs, Keeler was by far the more experienced of the two. Having been received on trial in 1795, even before Bangs's conversion, Keeler had also ridden the Oswegatchie circuit in 1802 and had even located his family in Elizabethtown (Carroll 21-22). The fact that Bangs does not mention Keeler in his journal, however, suggests that the two worked largely independently of one another. Bangs, moreover, probably didn't want for a helping hand wherever he went: Oswegatchie embraced the regions where the Hecks and Embury families had settled in the 1780s. In addition to the descendants of these families who were active as class leaders and local preachers, at least three additional local preachers were also working in the circuit at that time (Carroll 126-128). Finally, although Bangs's journal is curiously silent on the matter, it is almost certain that he became engaged to his future wife, Mary Bolton of Edwardsburgh, sometime during the course of this year. They married on April 27th 1806 just before Bangs was assigned to Lower Canada. Bangs was appointed to the Quebec circuit in 1806, the Niagara circuit again in 1807, and returned to the United States to the Delaware circuit in 1808.

Hay Bay camp meeting September 1805

Camp meetings were an innovation of American Baptist and Presbyterian revivalists in the 1790s. Major events at which mass conversions were common, the first camp meetings were held in Kentucky and Tennessee and spread north and east from there. Ideally suited for frontier evangelism, they could be held outdoors to accommodate large crowds at whatever times of the year best suited the work-rhythms of rural and agricultural societies. Methodists in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia adopted the practice first, but it was in New York State that some of the most heady camp meeting revivals would take place throughout the nineteenth century (Semple 128-129).  Hundreds of families would travel by foot, horse, and boat to prearranged sites, erect tents around makeshift stages, and spend several days engaged in enthusiastic or experimental religious worship. Hymns would be sung, sermons preached, prayer meetings held, healings performed, demons exorcised. These large and loud meetings would attract both the converted and the unconverted who would watch the spectacle from the periphery and and sometimes find themselves irresistibly drawn in. As an effective tool for mass evangelism, these meetings arguably helped to prepare the ground for the Second Great Awakening of the 1820s and 1830s.

The Hay Bay camp meeting held in Adolphustown in the Bay of Quinte region from Friday September 27th until Monday September 30th was the first such meeting to be held in Upper Canada. Its importance in the history of Canadian religion cannot be doubted. The success of the Hay Bay camp meeting led Methodists to hold many more such meetings throughout the province resulting in a significant increase in the number of Canadians who maintained sustained levels of participation in organized religion throughout the nineteenth century and beyond. Bangs's manuscript journal is the only surviving eye-witness account.

On Friday September 27th Henry Ryan and William Case (of the Bay of Quinte circuit), Daniel Pickett (of the Yonge Street circuit), Thomas Madden (of Smith's Creek circuit), Sylvanus Keeler and Nathan Bangs (both of the Oswegatchie circuit) arrived in Adolphustown, site of the oldest Methodist meeting house in Upper Canada. They began to erect a platform and at least a hundred other participants began to erect makeshift tents about 180 feet (or 55 meters) from the stage. Case, the most junior of the itinerants, preached the first sermon. That was followed by a sermon by Bangs, and then, sometime before midnight, a sermon by Thomas Madden. After midnight most returned to their tents and Bangs records that already four conversions had taken place.

Saturday was much of the same. Sunday, however, drew a much larger crowd. Bangs reports that some 2,500 people gathered around—believers close to the stage and the unconverted forming a giant ring around the proceedings. That figure, if correct, represents a striking 5% of the total population in Upper Canada in 1805 (Rawlyk 120). It is clear from Bangs's account that he viewed the day's events as spiritual warfare at its most fierce, referring to the unconverted variously as the “wicked,” “children of the devil,” and “wolves.” Three events stand out among the rest as quintessential elements of early camp meetings of the period. The first is the dramatic conversion of a young woman “of high rank” whose sister physically wrenches her away from the meeting presumably to prevent embarrassment to her family. By some means (discrepancies between Bangs's journal account of 1805, his autobiography of the 1850s, and Abel Stevens's published account of 1863 are discussed in the entry's annotation) the young woman is returned to the meeting and both she and her sister are dramatically converted. The second striking episode comes in the form of a young demoniac exorcised by a number of itinerants who must not only pray for the young man's deliverance, but also keep off the unconverted who attempt to liberate him from the Methodists by force. Finally, Bangs himself is struck down by “a Shock of Divine Power” and left paralyzed for several hours in a tent before being able to return to the meeting. Worship and prayer continued “like fire in a dry stable” throughout the rest of the night and into Monday morning when the itinerants reluctantly took leave of the place.

The fullest published scholarly account of the Hay Bay camp meeting of 1805 can be found in Rawlyk's The Canada Fire (144-161). See also Semple's The Lord's Dominion (128-130).

Return to United States and later career

In 1808 bangs returned to the United States and went on for a time to an illustrious career. In 1812 he again volunteered to return to Lower Canada as a circuit rider though the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and Britain prevented him from doing so. That may have been a fortuitous since the following year he was appointed the presiding elder of the Rhinebeck district in New York State. While occupying this position he published his popular Errors of Hopkinsianism Detected and Refuted (1815) which sold 3,000 copies in six months (Flores 234), The Reformer Reformed, and first proposed a course of study of ministerial candidates. In 1819 he was made the presiding elder of the New York district and founded the Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. From 1820 to 1828 he served as a highly competent and innovative Senior Book Steward of the Methodist Book Concern in New York. During these years he expanded the Concern considerably, founding the weekly Christian Advocate, purchasing the Concern's first press, and establishing a bindery. He also served as the editor of the monthly Methodist Magazine for the entire eight year period of his tenure during which he also edited, added commentary, and published half-a-dozen books. In 1828, when the Methodists in Canada gained their independence from the United State Bangs was offered (but declined) the bishopric. Between 1838 and 1840 his definitive four-volume History of the Methodist Episcopal Church appeared and went to to wide audiences in both Canada and the United States. Bangs took a fatal step at the General Conference of 1844, however, when he failed to support the abolitionists in order to avoid what he believed was a greater evil than slavery: church schism. He failed to reconcile the two camps, however, the church split, and his career went into a steep decline. Although he continued to publish and serve as a presiding elder, he was never elected a bishop. One can only speculate whether Bangs ever regretted that he had not taken up the Canadians on their offer in 1828. He died in May 1862 and was buried in New York City. Abel Stevens's definitive biography appeared the following year but failed to reach a wide audience. Although Bangs's work in Upper Canada and his tenure as Senior Book Agent of the Methodist Book Concern were truly remarkable, he is largely forgotten even by historians of religion today.


III. The Journals (1805-1806, 1817)


Location and description of physical documents

Nathan Bangs's original journals and notebook are housed in the Methodist collections of Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. They are described in the electronic finding aid of the General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church. Copies of Bangs's Canadian journals from 1 July 1805 to 28 April 1806 and the American journal and notebook covering events between the autumn of 1800 and 1 August 1817 are also available at the United Church Archives at Victoria College, University of Toronto. In addition to these documents Drew University also houses thirty-two letters written by Bangs to his daughter Mary as well as a six-hundred and sixteen page autobiography probably composed in the 1850s.

The Upper Canadian journal is written on rectos and versos of a single gathering of fourteen leaves with individual pages measuring 22.5 x 18.5 centimeters (height by width). The twenty-eight handwritten pages are completely filled with the exception of page nineteen where Bangs concludes his description of the Hay Bay camp meeting and leaves the last half of the page blank. There is some chipping with minor loss of text from page twenty-five to page twenty-eight (leaves thirteen and fourteen). There also appears to be a loose leaf missing from between pages sixteen and seventeen since the text on page sixteen concludes with a period and the text on page seventeen begins in mid-sentence.

The American journal and notebook is written on rectos and versos of a single gathering of twenty-two leaves measuring 20 X 16 centimeters (height by width). There is also an additional loose leaf of the same size written on recto and verso. The forty-four pages as well as the additional two pages of the loose leaf are completely filled. Unlike the Upper Canadian journal, this gathering seems to have been detached from a larger notebook and begins in mid-sentence. Individual pages are also inconsistently numbered from 112 to [156]. The loose leaf, numbered 49 on the recto side and 50 on the verso, records events that took place in October 1802. The lower right-hand corner of the first leaf (fore-edge) is torn off resulting in a substantial loss of text on both the recto and verso sides. Apart from this, however, this surviving portion of what was presumably a larger manuscript is intact.

Literary character and problems of dating

The Upper Canadian journal and the American journal and notebook are very different in their literary character indicating that Bangs probably created them for different purposes. The extremely introspective nature of the Upper Canadian journal suggests in particular that it was never intended for publication. Wesley kept such a journal and Bangs encouraged young ministers, in his Letters to Young Ministers of the Gospel (1826) to “write down your own thoughts, not, indeed, with a view to publish them, but for your own improvement in biblical knowledge” (19). Throughout 1805 and 1806 Bangs wrote continually about his private temptations and spiritual  “besetments,” often ending his entries with short prayers to God for help and consolation. Internal evidence suggests that Bangs usually made his entries on the same day (or the day after) the events they record took place. The entry for 20 August 1805, in fact, seems to have been made in several installments throughout the course of a single day. The only exception to this practice took place when Bangs set down the events of the Hay Bay camp meeting retrospectively on 5 October 1805 using an implied (and no longer extant) set of notes. In the entry for 5 October he writes that “The minutes I took down myself and they are here corrected and enlarged upon.” What follows are four individual entries for 27 September to 30 September 1805 detailing his extraordinary experiences over the four-day period. As Bangs traveled more routinely throughout the Oswegatchie circuit during 1805 and 1806, however, he seems often to have lost track of the day of the month. Nonetheless, to preserve the historical integrity of the journal, entries are listed under Bangs's original (and often incorrect) date, with corrected dates appended in square brackets. The editor has proceeded on the assumption that, since itinerants usually traveled their whole circuits in a period of two weeks, and since Sundays would have been of special importance, Bangs was more likely to have known the day of the week than the day of the month. If, therefore, Bangs recorded an entry under Thursday 9 August 1805, but Thursday in fact fell on 8 August, it has been assumed that the entry was made on Thursday 8 August 1805 rather than Friday 9 August 1805. The entries in Bangs's journal are here presented in the same order they are given in the physical journal —an order that, with the exception of the Hay Bay camp meeting entries, is completely chronological. Finally, existing archival finding aids suggest that the last entry of the Upper Canadian journal, marked simply “Monday 28,” belongs (as do the previous three entries) to March 1806. Although Bangs often miscalculated the day of the month by one or two, March 28th 1806 fell on a Friday (as far from a Monday as it could possibly fall) while April 28th 1806 in fact fell on a Monday. In view of this it seems more likely that this final entry was made in April (the day after Bangs's wedding) rather than in March.

The American journal and notebook is far less introspective and therefore less personal in nature. Although Bangs continues to offer his own reflections on various events, he seems less concerned about his personal spiritual welfare, nor does he continue his earlier practice of appending to the end of his entries prayers for divine assistance. With the exception of the 1817 entries, moreover, all entries seem to have been written retrospectively suggesting that Bangs began this text as an autobiography in 1816 or 1817 only to set it aside until the 1850s when he began the task afresh. As mentioned, the entries concern events which took place between the autumn of 1800 and 1 August 1817. With the exception of the events of October 1802, which are recorded on a single loose leaf, entries are presented on the website in the order in which they appear in the notebook. That order, it should be pointed out, is not a chronological or even thematic one. The notebook begins with Bangs’s frustrated efforts to reach Montreal at the outbreak of the War of 1812, then records the events at annual and general conferences of 1813 and 1816. Then, under the heading “A” he records events while passing through York (Toronto) in January 1802. It is here that the text of the loose leaf is inserted since it concerns events that took place in October of that year. Next, under the heading “B,” Bangs describes events that took place while he was on trial in 1800. After this there is an entry for 7 January 1816, followed by entries for 3 June, 4 July, and 1 August of 1817. Given the structure of the notebook, the fact that Bangs seems to have begun using it as a journal rather than a notebook sometime in 1817 (giving exact dates rather than simple months), and that the entry for May 1816 occurs sixteen pages before his entry of 7 January 1816, it seems likely that the entry for 7 January 1816 was probably made on 7 January 1817. There is nothing in the contents of the entry, however, to prove this definitively.

Both Bangs’s Upper Canadian journal and his American notebook and journal have been used directly and indirectly by nineteenth and twentieth century historians of religion. Bangs himself drew extensively on both documents in the process of composing his widely-read and influential four-volume History of the Methodist Episcopal Church (1838-1840). In the 1850s Bangs returned to this material again when composing his more than six-hundred page manuscript autobiography. When Bangs died in 1862 he left his autobiography to Abel Stevens who published, in the following year, a biography of Bangs that drew heavily on passages from that text. The interplay of these three texts—Bangs’s early journals, his later autobiography, and Stevens’s published text—can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the events of Sunday 29 September 1805 as they are variously conveyed by these three sources. Later nineteenth-century historians of Canadian Methodism, including John Carroll, George Playter, and Egerton Ryerson, also drew on Stevens’s published account of these events (that in turn drew on Bang’s autobiography based on this early journal). The Upper Canadian journal received its fullest treatment by a modern scholar when George Rawlyk transcribed selected sections that dealt directly with the Hay Bay camp meeting for publication in The Canada Fire in 1994. An unpublished transcription by Lawrence Kline (c.1965) of Bangs's American journal and notebook (excluding the single loose leaf numbered 49 and 50) is also housed at Drew University.

Editorial conventions

The approach taken to editing Bangs's journals and notebook has been documentary and not critical in nature (see Williams and Abbott 55-57). That is, entries have been transcribed as faithfully as possible to preserve the integrity of these documents as historical artifacts. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation have not been corrected. There are times when, for this reason, entries may appear unclear. Whenever interpolations have been made they are always enclosed in square brackets. Words that Bangs crossed out, where legible, have also been included. Having said that, Bangs’s handwriting is difficult and there are doubtless places where unconscious and unintentional alterations to spelling and punctuation have occurred. In contrast, Rawlyk seems to have taken a more critical approach to the portions of the Upper Canadian journal he transcribed. Instances where the present transcription disagrees with Rawlyk’s selections are marked for comparison. To facilitate such comparisons, and to safeguard against errors in transcription, facsimile reproductions (at 600 dpi) of the original pages of the Upper Canadian journal are also linked to directly from each entry. It should be noted that a previous researcher has placed incorrect dates in the margins of the manuscript that carry the suggestion that the camp meeting took place in early October 1805. Published primary sources (see Stevens 151ff.) and modern scholars agree, however, that this revival took place over the last weekend in September 1805. The early-October dates seem to have arisen from a failure to notice that Bangs was recording events retrospectively on October 5th. Finally, although Kline's transcription of the American journal and notebook was also consulted during the course of this project, variant readings have not been noted since Kline's work exists only in one copy and is therefore not easily accessible for purposes of comparison.

Editorial and explanatory annotations appear in a separate pane to the left of Bangs’s transcribed entries. Definitions of antiquated words or terms that acquired special meaning within early Methodism appear in a separate pane to the right. Such words are not marked in the original text. Finally, links to relevant published and unpublished primary sources (including maps) are similarly provided in the right-hand pane. Biblical references and allusions, however, are imbedded within the text in square brackets. Both biblical texts and primary source materials open in a separate window for purposes of textual comparison and reader convenience.

Edited by Scott McLaren
Book History Practicum
University of Toronto