Bishop James Richardson, Jr.

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Bishop James Richardson, Jr.

Birthplace: Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Death: March 09, 1875 (84)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Place of Burial: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Immediate Family:

Son of James Richardson, I and Sarah Ashmore
Husband of Rebecca Dennis
Father of Margaret Isabella Richardson
Brother of Robert Richardson

Occupation: First Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada
Managed by: Dr Dermot James Roaf
Last Updated:

About Bishop James Richardson, Jr.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography: Volume X, 1871-1880 Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976 James Richardson, pp. 615-7

RICHARDSON, JAMES, naval officer, office holder, Methodist minister, and bishop; b. 29 Jan. 1791 at Kingston, province of Quebec, son of James Richardson, a naval officer, and Sarah Ashmore, both from England; d. 9 March 1875 in Toronto, Ont.

James Richardson, who became a leading Methodist and a staunch Canadian, was born, appropriately, in the year of John Wesley's death and of Upper Canada's formation. He was educated in Kingston schools, and in 1809 entered the Provincial Marine, receiving a lieutenant's commission in 1812. He served with distinction during the War of 1812-14, losing his left arm in 1814 at the battle of Oswego. In 1813 he had married Rebecca, daughter of John Dennis, a York (Toronto) loyalist; two children survived him. A veteran and an Anglican, Richardson was appointed after the war as a magistrate and collector of customs at Presqu'ile. He might well have remained there, an honoured citizen and a useful functionary, but along with many others he was swept up in the post-war resurgence of Upper Canadian Methodism. He was converted at a quarterly meeting held in Haldimand Township in 1818: "God shone into my heart and I saw light in his light, 'My chains fell off, my heart was free.'" He concluded at once: "This people shall be my people, and their God my God," a conviction from which he never wavered through his life, and one which led him quickly into a new and difficult career.

The Methodist leaders, always alert to recruit men of character and education for lay and ministerial office, pressed Richardson to become a local preacher in the conference year of 1822-23 and in 1825 he was taken on trial for the itinerant ministry. Without hesitation he gave up his appointments and his comfortable life to minister in company with Egerton Ryerson to his first circuit, that of Yonge Street and York (Toronto), stretching from Lake Ontario to Lake Simcoe. But he was not destined to continue long in this humble role. Well before his ordination in 1830 he had emerged as an important figure in a religious community that had reached a critical stage in its development.

In the late 1820s and early 1830s Canadian Methodists, who began as a part of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, were obliged to reshape their relationship with their British and American brethren, and to play an active part in the political controversies besetting Upper Canada. Although Richardson believed, and evidently continued to believe, that the Episcopal polity of American Methodism was the nearest to Wesley's design, he agitated vigorously for the establishment of an autonomous Canadian conference in 1824. He also seems to have supported the move to independence in 1828 when the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada was formed. Conversely, he was reluctant, along with many of his colleagues, to accept the union with the British conference in 1833 because it would break the continuity between American and Canadian Methodism, and, more significantly, because he anticipated that the Tory proclivities of the Wesleyans would undermine the Canadian conference's political credibility. Richardson's attitude toward the position of his church in society was probably not untypical among native Canadian Methodists. A fervent patriot - ready to enlist against the Fenians in 1866 - who did not wish to weaken the British connection, he was nevertheless convinced that Canadians should settle their own problems in their own ways. An evangelical Christian, his primary concern was not the pursuit of ecclesiastical or political goals but the salvation of souls, an end which he believed could best be achieved through the complete separation of church and state and the full acceptance of the voluntarist position.

As editor of the Christian Guardian he upheld this view; he would later also welcome the secularisation of the clergy reserves and oppose the commutation clause in the act of 1854 by which the Wesleyan Methodist Church, along with others, was paid a lump sum in return for surrendering its claims on the reserves fund. Richardson became the editor of the Methodists' Christian Guardian for 1832-33, but declined re-election as editor in 1834. He continued to hold other important offices in the conference between 1833 and his resignation from the conference in 1836, and he was a member of the committee which drafted plans for and initiated the building of the Upper Canada Academy (later Victoria University). In the interval, however, the conference had restricted the privileges of the local preachers, a group for whom Richardson felt much concern and sympathy. Moreover, at the behest of their Wesleyan associates, it had begun, in sharp contrast to its previous course, to curry favour with the local government and to equivocate on the vexed question of public grants to religious bodies. This change of front, coupled with the realization that the parent Wesleyan conference had accepted such assistance, exposed the Canadian conference to much abuse from the Reform press and politicians. Richardson and others who were convinced that their church should adhere to the voluntarist position and at least maintain political neutrality were humiliated by this course of action. His determination to put integrity above denominational unity produced increasingly strained relations between him and such senior colleagues as John and Egerton Ryerson and Ephraim Evans. Hence by 1836 he no longer felt at home in the conference and decided to leave quietly. He was already so alienated by 1835 that he refused to contribute to the funds of the Upper Canada Academy.

In the year following his resignation Richardson apparently considered a career in American Methodism and to that end he held a temporary pastorate in Auburn, N.Y. Upon his return to Upper Canada he became a minister in the newly Methodist Episcopal Church (the earlier church of this name having become the Wesleyan Methodist Church), the haven of those who for various reasons refused to accept the 1833 union.

From 1840 to 1852, however, he was chiefly employed as agent of the Upper Canada Bible Society. It was not until 1858 that he was ordained a bishop to assist his aged friend, Bishop Phliander Smith. Despite growing infirmity he retained this office until his death; one of his last acts was to ordain Albert Carman as his assistant and eventual successor. Bishop Richardson presided over an important branch of Canadian Methodism at a significant point in its evolution, and thus helped to determine the shape of such influence as Methodism had on the broader growth of his country. In 1867 the Methodist Episcopal Church was the second largest Methodist body, but it was essentially confined to Ontario. It was if anything more evangelical than the larger Wesleyan denomination, strongly anti-liturgical, and possibly less sophisticated generally. It continued to oppose state support for religious enterprises and in particular separate schools. Despite its episcopal polity, the line between Methodist Episcopal laymen and clergy was drawn as imprecisely as in the earlier days of Methodism. Above all, the Episcopal Methodists considered themselves the Canadian Methodists as indeed they were in background and outlook in so far as Ontario was concerned.

Richardson's principal contribution was to maintain the distinctive features of Methodist Episcopal organization and teaching, and at the same time to encourage those in his church whose interest was the constructive dissemination of their views rather than destructive opposition to the dominant Wesleyan Conference. Thus, by 1875, the two churches were growing together, as was symbolized by the holding of a memorial service for the bishop in the Wesleyans' Metropolitan Church in Toronto.

Bishop Carman, whose orientation was akin to his predecessor's, would bring about formal union in 1884 and in so doing would infuse the new Methodist Church with many of the values cherished by his brethren. In this church and in the community, James Richardson was held in high esteem as a humble, kindly, and saintly individual whose life was "manly and devoid of display." He impressed on his countrymen that distinctive mixture of religious, moral, and patriotic values cherished by so many native Canadian Methodists.

Neither a great scholar nor a great preacher, he had nonetheless the gift of "plain yet forcible and majestic speech." He detested "sham everywhere" and "could not for a moment bear it in religion." To Carman, "If James Richardson was a man of God, he was also a man for the world," an "advocate and defender of the rights of man." "Liberty of conscience and liberty of worship were cardinal doctrines of his religious and political faith," as was concern for the moral character of society. Hence he promoted the work of the Bible Society, and vigorously supported the Temperance Reformation Society.

As president of the York Pioneer Society he helped to arouse interest in the historical development of that Upper Canada whose life was almost coterminous with his own.


[There is no collection, unfortunately, of James Richardson papers. For his letters and statements one must look to the Christian Guardian (York) in the year of his editorship, 1832-33, and to the Canada Christian Advocate (Hamilton, Ont.) in the period of his episcopate, 1858-75. Thomas Webster, Life of Rev. James Richardson, a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada (Toronto, 1876), is naturally highly partisan, as it is its introduction by Richardson's successor, Albert Carman. As a corrective, one should consult John Carroll's lengthy review in the Canadian Methodist Magazine (Toronto), IV (1876), 513-23. G.S.F.] James Richardson, Incidents in the early history of the settlements in the vicinity of Lake Ontario (n.p., n.d.). Canada Christian Advocate (Hamilton, Ont.), 17 March 1875. Globe (Toronto), 13 March 1875. The minutes of the annual conferences of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada, from 1824 to 1857 (2v., Toronto, 1846-63). I. Dent, Canadian portrait gallery, III, 60-65. Carroll, Case and his cotemporaries. Anson Green, The life and times of the Rev. Anson Green, D.D. … (Toronto, 1877). Sissons, Ryerson.

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The Rev. James Richardson, D.D., Late Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada

The late Bishop Richardson was born in the same year which witnessed the death of the great founder of Methodism, John Wesley; the same year also which witnessed the passing of the Constitutional Act whereby Upper Canada was ushered into existence as a separate Province. He came of English stock on both sides. His father, James Richards [sic], after whom he was called, was a brave seaman; one of that old-world band of gallant tars who fought under Lord Rodney against the French, when, "Rochambeau their armies commanded, Their ships they were led by De Grasse." He was present at the famous sea-fight off Dominica, in the West Indies, on the 12th of April, 1782, when the naval forces of France and Spain were almost entirely destroyed. He was soon afterwards taken prisoner, and sent to France, where he was detained until the cessation of hostilities. Having been set at liberty in 1785, he repaired to Quebec, and was subsequently appointed to an office in connection with the Canadian Marine. His duties lay chiefly on the upper lakes and rivers, and he took up his abode at Kingston, on Lake Ontario. He married a lady whose maiden name was Sarah Ashmore, but who, at the time of her marriage with him had been for some years a widow. The subject of this sketch was one of the fruits of that union.

He was born at Kingston, on the 29th of January, 1791. His parents were members of the Church of England, and he was brought up in that faith as taught and professed by that Body. He attended various schools in Kingston until he was about thirteen years of age, when he began his career as a sailor on board a vessel commanded by his father. During his five years' apprenticeship he acquired a thorough familiarity with the topography and navigation of the lakes and rivers of Upper Canada. In 1809, when he was eighteen years old, he entered the Provincial Marine. Upon the breaking out of the war of 1812 he received a Lieutenant's commission, and was forthwith employed in active service. He became sailing master of the Moira, under Captain Sampson, and afterwards of the Montreal, under Captain Popham. Upon the arrival of Sir James Yeo in Upper Canada, in May, 1813, the naval armament on the lakes entered a new phase of existence. The local marine ceased to exist as such, and became a part of the Royal Navy. The Provincial commissions previously granted were no longer of any effect, and that of Lieutenant Richardson shared the same fate as the rest. The Provincial officers resented this mode of dealing with their commissions, and all but two of them retired from the marine and took service in the militia, where in the language of Colonel Coffin, they were permitted to risk their lives without offence to their feelings. The two exceptions were Lieutenant George Smith and the subject of this sketch. The latter shared the sentiments of his brother officers, but he recognized the importance to the country of working harmoniously with his superiors at such a juncture, and cast every personal consideration aside. He informed the Commodore that he was willing to give his country the benefit of his local knowledge and services, but declined to take any rank below that which had previously been conferred upon him. The Commodore availed himself of the young man's services as a master and pilot, and in those capacities he did good service until the close of the war. He shared the gun-room with the regular commissioned officers, with whom he was very popular.

He was with the fleet during the unsuccessful attempt on Sackett's Harbour, towards the close of May, 1813. A year later, at the taking of Oswego, he was pilot of the Montreal, under Captain Popham, already mentioned; and he took his vessel so close in to the fort that the Commodore feared lest he should run aground. Soon after bringing the Montreal to anchor a shot from the fort carried off his left arm just below the shoulder. He sank down upon the deck of the vessel, and was carried below. The remnant of his shattered arm was secured so as to prevent him from bleeding to death, "and there," says his biographer*, "he lay suffering while the battle raged, his ears filled with its horrid din, and his mind oppressed with anxiety as to its result, till the cheers of the victors informed him that his gallant comrades had triumphed. He had been wounded in the morning, and it was nearly evening before the surgeon could attend to him, when it was found necessary to remove the shattered stump from the socket at the shoulder joint. During the severe operation the young lieutenant evinced the utmost fortitude. In the evening he was exceedingly weak from loss of blood, the pain of his wound, and the severity of the operation. Next day the fever was high, and for some days his life apparently hung in the balance; but at length he commenced to rally, and by the blessing of God upon the skilful attention and great care that he received, he was finally fully restored."

During the following October he joined the St. Lawrence - said to have been the largest sailing vessel that ever navigated the waters of Lake Ontario - and in this service he remained until the close of the war. Soon after the proclamation of peace he retired from the naval service, and settled at Presque Isle Harbour, near the present site of the village of Brighton, in the county of Northumberland. He was appointed Collector of Customs of the port, and soon afterwards became a Justice of the Peace. The Loyal and Patriotic Society requested his acceptance of £100, and a yearly pension of a like amount was awarded to him by Government in recognition of his services during the late war. This well-earned pension he continued to receive during the remainder of his life, embracing a period of more than fifty years.

In the year 1813, while the war was still in progress, he had married; the lady of his choice being Miss Rebecca Dennis, daughter of Mr. John Dennis, who was for many years a master-builder in the royal dockyard at Kingston. This lady shared his joys and sorrows for forty-five years. During the last decade of her life she suffered great bodily affliction, which she endured with Christian resignation and serenity. She died at her home, Clover Hill, Toronto, on the 29th of March, 1858. During the early months of their residence at Presque Isle Harbour, both Mr. Richardson and his wife became impressed by serious thoughts on the subject of religion. In August, 1818, they united with the Methodist Episcopal Church. That Church was then in its infancy in this country, and was struggling hard to obtain a permanent foothold. With its subsequent history Mr. Richardson was closely identified. He was very much in earnest, and felt it to be his duty to do his utmost for the salvation of souls. His piety was not spasmodic or fitful, but steady and enduring. His education at that time, though it was necessarily imperfect, and far from being up to the standard of the present day, was better than was that of most of his fellow-labourers. He at once became a man of mark in the denomination, and was appointed to the offices of steward and local preacher on the Smith's Creek circuit. His labours were crowned with much success. His pulpit oratory is described as being "full of vitality - adapted to bring souls to Christ, and build up in holiness."†

In 1824 he was called to active work, and placed on the Yonge Street circuit, which included the town of York, and extended through eight of the neighbouring townships. This rendered necessary his removal from Presque Isle, and his resignation of his office as Collector of Customs. His field of labour extended from York northwardly to Lake Simcoe - a distance of forty-five miles - with lateral excursions to right and left for indeterminate distances. The state of the roads was such that wheeled vehicles were frequently unavailable, and the greater part of the travelling had to be done on horseback, the preacher carrying his books, clothing, writing materials, and other accessories in his saddle-bags. His life was necessarily a toilsome one, and his financial remuneration was little more than nominal.

During his second year on circuit he had for a colleague the Rev. Egerton Ryerson, with whom he worked in the utmost harmony, and with very gratifying pastoral results. Dr. Richardson has left on record his appreciation of his colleague's services at this time. He says: "A more agreeable and useful colleague I could not have desired. We laboured together with one heart and mind, and God was graciously pleased to crown our united efforts with success - we doubled the members in society, both in town and country, and all was harmony and love. Political questions were not rife - indeed were scarcely known among us. The church was an asylum for any who feared God and wrought righteousness, irrespective of any party whatever. We so planned our work as to be able to devote one week out of four exclusively to pastoral labour in the town, and to preach there twice every Sabbath, besides meeting all the former appointments in the townships east and west bordering on Yonge Street for forty-five or fifty miles northward to Reach's Point, Lake Simcoe. This prosperous and agreeable state of things served to reconcile both my dear wife and myself to the itinerant life, with all the attendant privations and hardships incident to those times."

In 1826 Mr. Richardson was sent to labour at Fort George and Queenston. Next year he was admitted into full connection, and ordained a deacon, along with the late Dr. Anson Green and Egerton Ryerson. Mr. Richardson was transferred to the River Credit, where he laboured for a year as a missionary among the Indians. An important crisis in the history of the Methodist Church in Canada was then at hand. The memorable Conference of 1828 was held at Ernesttown, in the Bay of Quinté district. It was presided over by Bishop Hedding, and Mr. Richardson was chosen secretary. It was at this Conference that the decisive step of separation from the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States was taken. Thenceforward the Church in Canada became an independent Body, with a Bishop and Conference of its own. "This step," says Mr. Richardson, "was fraught with results, for good or ill, according as it is viewed by different parties, from their several standpoints. It was deemed necessary then, by the majority, because of the political relations of the two countries, and the difficulty attendant on obtaining our legal right to hold church property, and solemnize matrimony. Others, viewing the church as catholic, or universal in her design and character, judged it wrong to limit her jurisdiction by national or municipal boundaries." Mr. Richardson subsequently regretted that the scheme of separation had been carried out. Meanwhile he was appointed, along with the Rev. Joseph Gatchell, to the Niagara Circuit, a very extensive field of labour, and took up his abode at what was then the insignificant village of St. Catharines. There he remained two years, and in 1830 was ordained as an elder by Bishop Hedding, of the United States - no Bishop having as yet been selected for the Canadian Church, which, since its separation, had been presided over by a General Superintendent in the person of the Rev. William Case.

It is unnecessary that we should follow him in his labours from circuit to circuit. His life was spent in the service of his Church, and wherever he went he left behind him the impress of a sincere and zealous man. At the Conference held at York in 1831 he was appointed presiding elder of the Niagara District. In September, 1832, he became editor of the Christian Guardian, and while holding that position he opposed the reception of Government support to the churches with great vigour and determination. He continued to direct the policy of the Guardian until the Conference of 1833. During this Conference, which marks another important epoch in the history of Canadian Methodism, the Articles of Union between the English and Canadian Connexions were adopted. To this union Mr. Richardson was a consenting party, believing that the step would be productive of good, though he subsequently had reason to modify his views on the subject. In 1836 he severed his connection with the Wesleyans, owing to the reception by that Body of State grants.

He soon afterwards removed to Auburn, in the State of New York, where he won the respect of his congregation; but he was not adapted to such a circle as that in which he found himself, and did not feel himself at home there. "His quiet, unpretentious manners," says Mr. Carroll, "were not of the kind to carry much sway with our impressionable American cousins; and the constant exhibition of an empty sleeve, ever reminding them of an arm lost in resisting their immaculate Republic, was likely to be an eye-sore to a people so hostile to Britain as the citizens of the United States." He was moreover an uncompromising abolitionist, and was fearless in his denunciations of the national curse of slavery. The prevailing sentiment in the State of New York in those days was not such as to conduce to the popularity of any man who took the side of humanity. He remained at Auburn only a year, when he returned to his native land, and took up residence at Toronto.

Immediately upon his arrival he encountered his old friend and fellow-labourer the Rev. Philander Smith. A long and serious conversation followed, during which they both decided to reunite themselves with the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Conference of that Body was then in session a short distance from Toronto, and their resolution was at once carried out. They were received with open arms, and continued in the ministry of the Church during the remainder of their respective lives.

In 1837 Mr. Richardson was stationed at Toronto. The following year he travelled as a general missionary. The British and Foreign Bible Society having established a branch in Canada, Mr. Richardson was, in 1840, appointed it agent, he having received permission of the Conference to act in that capacity. This office he filled, with advantage to the Society and credit to himself, for eleven years. While acting in that capacity he often filled Wesleyan pulpits, and preserved the most cordial relations with his old friends belonging to that Body. In 1842 he became Vice-President, and in 1851 President, of the Upper Canada Religious Tract and Book Society. He retained the latter position down to the time of his death. In 1852 he was again appointed Presiding Elder of his Church. After occupying that position for two years his health was so much impaired that he was granted a superannuation, which he held for four years.

On the 29th of March, 1858, he sustained a serious bereavement in the loss of his wife. At the Conference held in that year he reported himself able to resume his labours, and was once more appointed to the charge of a district, but before the close of the session he was elected to the Episcopal office. He was consecrated by Bishop Smith, on Sunday, the 22nd of August. He forthwith entered upon his duties. During the next two years he was in an infirm state of health, but a brief respite from work restored him, and he resumed his Episcopal and other duties with even more than his wonted vigour.

In 1865 he visited England on behalf of Albert College, Belleville. The College Board was hampered by a heavy debt, and it was found impossible to relieve the pressure by Canadian subscriptions alone. Bishop Richardson accordingly, at the request of the College authorities, crossed the Atlantic to solicit aid there. He was accompanied by his daughter, Mrs. Brett, wife of Mr. R. H. Brett, banker, of Toronto. They were absent about six months, during which they visited many of the principal cities and towns of England and Scotland. The Bishop was indefatigable in his exertions, but the Reformed Methodist Church in England is not a wealthy Body, and it had enough to do to support its institutions at home. For these reasons the subscriptions obtained were neither so large nor so numerous as had been hoped, though the expedition was by no means a fruitless one.

The next five years were comparatively uneventful ones in the life of Bishop Richardson. His time was spent in the discharge of his official duties. His coadjutor, Bishop Smith, had become old and feeble, and Bishop Richardson willingly took upon himself a portion of the invalid's work. His time, therefore, was fully occupied. In 1870 Bishop Smith died, and during the next four years the entire duties pertaining to the Episcopal office devolved upon his survivor. He seemed almost to renew his youth in order to meet the extra demands made upon him. He was more than fourscore years of age, yet he contrived to get creditably through an amount of mental and bodily labour which would have prostrated many men not past their prime. He frequently conducted his pulpit services and the sessions of the Conference without the aid of spectacles; and he was persistent in his determination to do his own work without the assistance of a secretary. This state of things, however, in a man of his age, could not be expected to last. His vital forces began perceptibly to give way. In the month of August, 1874, at the General Conference of the Church held at Napanee, he consecrated the Rev. Dr. Carman to the Episcopal office. The ceremonial taxed his energies very severely, and he was compelled by physical suffering to leave the Conference room as soon as he had placed his associate in the chair. At the close of the Conference he returned to his home at Clover Hill - now known as St. Joseph Street - where a few days' rest enabled him to regain as great a measure of health as could be expected in a man who had entered upon his eighty-fourth year.

During the autumn and winter he was actively at work as earnestly as ever, watching over every department of the Church, and giving especial attention to the questions submitted by the General Conference for the action of the Quarterly Meeting Conference. During the following winter, while visiting the Ancaster Circuit, he was prostrated by dizziness, and after his return home it was evident that his end was near. He sank quietly to his rest on the 9th of March, 1875. His death was like his life - manly, and devoid of display. "I have no ecstasy," he remarked to a clerical visitor, "but I know in whom I have believed." To another visitor he remarked, "My work is done; I have nothing to do now but to die."

He retained his mental faculties in their full vigour almost up to the moment when he ceased to breathe. He was buried in the family vault at the Necropolis, Toronto, on the 12th of the month. The funeral was unusually large. The funeral sermon was preached by Bishop Carman in the Metropolitan Methodist Church, on the morning of Sunday, March 21st, from the text 1st Corinthians, xv. 55: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"

Bishop Richardson, while possessing few or none of the superlatively salient characteristics by which some of his contemporaries were distinguished, was one of those men who, almost imperceptibly, exert a wide and lasting influence for good. There was nothing showy or flashy about him; nothing theatrical or unreal. He made no pretence to brilliant oratory, or indeed to specially brilliant gifts of any kind. He was simply a man of good intellect and sound judgment, with a highly developed moral nature, who strove earnestly to benefit his fellow-men, and to leave the world better than he found it. He believed in Episcopacy, and was in full sympathy with the form of government adopted by his Church; but his zeal for Episcopacy was altogether subordinated to his zeal for Christianity. His life was conscientiously devoted to the service of his Master, and he has left behind him many hallowed memories.

Next to his piety, perhaps the most conspicuous thing about him was his love for his country. His patriotism was as zealous in his declining years as it had been in those remote times when he lost his left arm before the batteries of Oswego. At the time of the Fenian invasion of Canada, in 1866 - when he was in his seventy-sixth year - his loyal sympathies were roused to such a degree that he expressed his willingness to risk his one remaining arm in his country's defence. He would have taken the field, had his doing so been necessary, with as clear a conscience as he would have discharged any other day of his life.

In the words of his biographer: "Loyalty to God and his country, uprightness and integrity in his dealings with his fellow-men, and civil and religious liberty for all, were leading articles in his creed.

  • See "Life of Rev. James Richardson," by Thomas Webster, D.D. Toronto, 1876.

†See "Case and his Cotemporaries," by John Carroll; Vol. III., p. 17.

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“[Rev W. H. Williams’] assistant was the Rev. James Richardson, who took charge of the Circuit the year following. He had been better educated than the most of that day; he had moved in good society and was of genteel manners, and he had been ostracised by Bishop Strachan for joining the Methodist. His father, Captain Richardson, had placed the first vessels on Lake Ontario, and was a seaman of no mean ability. When the war broke out, James, who had been given a nautical training, accepted a commission in the navy, and lost his left arm in the attack upon Oswego. Since the war, he had been in His Majesty’s commission of the peace; and his prospects in politics seemingly were short of no mean realization; but in a barn owned by Aaron Hinman, where the town of Colborne now is situated, he had given God his heart in a sacramental service, and straightaway commenced to preach the Gospel.

“He has left interesting reminiscences of that time, which are still in manuscript, and which mementos the lapse of years has made of an invaluable nature as a pen picture of the time:

“’Elder Thomas Madden, then in charge of the Niagara District, sought an interview with me and proposed to employ me as an assistant to William H. Williams, the preacher in charge of the Yonge Street Circuit, including the town of York, the capital of the Province. I consented, so in the month of September, after arranging my affairs, disposing of stock and household goods other than what I took with me, putting a tenant in my house, and a deputy in the collector’s office, preparatory to resigning it, and taking leave of the endearments of my home and my dear father and other relations and friends, I embarked with my dear wife and the three lovely children with which the Lord had blessed me during my sojourn at Bresque Isle [sic: Presqu’isle], and a few things for housekeeping, on board a small schooner of about thirty tons, and in about two days anchored in York harbor, now Toronto. Landed in the night, dark and rainy, plenty of mud, no carriage, I went ahead to my wife’s father’s residence, corner of King and Yonge. Mr. Dennis (my father-in-law) immediately went forth with me, and a lantern, to meet wife and children trudging through the mud and rain, with James in her arms and the little girls following, Sarah minus a shoe, which came off in the mud crossing Wellington Street. No sidewalks or macadamizing in those days. However, here we were, through the mercy of God, snugly quartered at last, but no parsonage nor other house available for my residence. Entering, indeed, in the field of my future labor, but homeless except as sheltered for the time being by my wife’s parents, Mr. Dennis having a small, dilapidated house that had once been a dwelling, but was now used as a joiner’s shop, generously offered the use of it free of rent while I served in the circuit, if I could so fit it up as to live in it. Seeing no alternative I went to work, and after hard work of self and wife for two or three weeks, and the outlay of about $20, succeeded in rendering the old house tolerably comfortable during the two years of my labor on Yonge Street Circuit. I found the brethren and the sisters in the town very kind and ready to show all Christian courtesies, but too few in number and sufficiently burdened with their own necessities to render much aid. We found, however, their hearts open, and the more so the longer we sojourned amongst them, and this went far to console my dear wife and reconcile her to the change of circumstances a sense of duty had imposed on us. I cannot but contrast those times in relation to Methodist preachers and their accommodations at present, at least of those laboring in the older settlements of our country, but I am reminded here of what the first pioneers of Methodism in Canada had to encounter, and my comparisons must cease. My field of labor, besides embracing the then capital of the Province, extended up Yonge Street to Lake Simcoe about forty-five miles, then easterly through the Townships of Markham, Scarboro, Pickering, Whitby and Darlington, to the edge of Clark, with lateral excursions to the right and left of some eight or ten miles more or less in various places. This had to be traversed on horseback with saddlebags, wheel carriages being out of the question. The first winter of 1824-5 was such as the like I have never seen either before or since, not a day of real sleighing the whole winter, but mud holes and frozen hubs in plenty during December and January, and during those months it was scarcely possible to reach the town with any kind of carriage, so that the citizens got scarcely any supplies from the country. The ordinary price of good firewood was but $1.50 per cord, yet a cartload of offal wood picked up on the commons would sell for $1.00, such was the difficulty of getting it to market. But the most disheartening feature of my labor this year was the demoralized condition of the circuit, class papers neglected, and in several places not forthcoming at all. Complaints of immoral character abounded. Indifference to the means of grace prevalent in most places, especially so in the eastern section, the Townships of Pickering, Whitby and Darlington. The whole sum raised for the support of the preachers in the whole range of these three townships during the year did not exceed eleven shillings currency, or $2.20, and here our rides were longer and labors more trying than in the western part. The whole amount of my dividend for the year’s service was about one hundred dollars, including everything to feed and clothe my family, pay for house, horse and travelling expenses; nevertheless, the Lord favored us with health and strength and a resigned will. The Superintendent, William H. Williams, was a thorough working man, unburdened with a family, bland and generous, at home whenever night overtook him, and an excellent colleague. He vigorously applied himself to the trimming of the circuit, and by a judicious administration of discipline presented it much improved – the Societies much advanced in piety and Christian life, though not in numbers. At the ensuing Conference, 1825, I was admitted on trial, and put in charge of the same Yonge Street Circuit, reduced, however, by the separation of the eastern section thereof. This enabled me to devote more time and labor to the town of York, having for my assistant Rev. Egerton Ryerseon, who, like myself, had this year been admitted on trial. A more agreeable and useful colleague I could not desire. We labored together with one heart and mind, and God was graciously pleased to crown our united efforts with success. We doubled the numbers in the Society, both in town and country, and all was harmony and love. Political questions were not rife – indeed, scarcely known among us. The church was an asylum for anyone who feared God and wrought righteousness, irrespective of any party whatever. We so planned our work as to be able, beside meeting all the former appointments in the townships east and west, bordering on Yonge Street for 45 or 50 miles northward to Rouch’s Point, Lake Simcoe, to devote one week out of four exclusively to pastoral labor in the town and preach there twice every Sabbath.

“This prosperous and agreeable state of things served to reconcile my dear wife and myself to the itinerant life with all its attendance predilections and hardships incidence to those times.”

His present residence with his family in the town of York gave the Society a social status, and an amount of pastoral attention which it had never possessed or enjoyed before. The character of his preaching won him an envied eminence and a general respect. At this time he was about thirty-four years old; his manners were easy, and he himself was open and approachable. There was an air of the most unmistakable piety about him – not asceticism or grievance, but simple goodness. He was an upright man, and his preaching was sound, simple, clear, unctuous and truly Wesleyan. It stood not in the wisdom or device of men, but in the power of God. If it had not been for his unction, his preaching would have been sometimes dry; but, as it was, it was full of vitality and adapted to bring souls to Christ and build up holiness.

Ten years afterwards he became editor of the Guardian, and ably performed his duties there.

In 1836 he resigned from the Conference, chiefly through a disagreement with Egerton Ryerson, whom he criticised for indulging too freely in matters political, and went to Auburn, N.Y., where he preached for twelve months. His quiet, unpretentious manners, and the constant exhibition of an empty sleeve, ever reminding them of an arm lost in resisting their immaculate republic, was likely to be an eyesore to a people so hostile to Britain as the citizens of the United States.

He returned again to Canada and united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, and subsequently filled the office of Presiding Elder, and ultimately was elevated by them to the Episcopacy. For many years, up to the time of his death, he was their sole Bishop, highly respected both in and out of his own communion.

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Bishop James Richardson, Jr.'s Timeline

January 29, 1791
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
March 9, 1875
Age 84
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
March 12, 1875
Age 84
Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada