New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Thomas Wood, and His Visit to the Saint John River in 1769

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Thomas Wood, and His Visit to the Saint John River in 1769

Thomas Wood

Thomas Wood, from Wikipedia

He was certainly not dressed like this when on the St. John River in 1769

Disclosure: I am not related to this Thomas Wood, as far as I know.

The first settlers at Maugerville and Sheffield built a community in a wilderness from scratch, but their location was so remote that their Congregationalist services were conducted without a clergyman. Marriages and other ceremonies were cobbled together as best they could. They eventually managed to attract settled ministers but, for a long time, an occasional travelling minister was all that they had. An Anglican priest, Thomas Wood, was one of these visiting clergymen, which raises the topic of this blog posting. Who, then, was Thomas Wood, and what did he experience on the Saint John River?

Thomas Wood lived a fairly ordinary life. He was an intelligent man and well educated for his time, and he also had a successful career but not unusually so. However, he had something in common with a lot of other people that made a difference, and that was that he was present in interesting places at interesting times. He arrived in Halifax early in the English period, even before the first House of Assembly. He is also of interest to Anglican Church historians because he was one of their earliest priests there. He worked with the Mi’kmaq people in Nova Scotia and is therefore part of their history. Finally, he made a short tour of the Saint John River in 1769. This was a time and place that is well chronicled, but every bit of information about what was going on in that wilderness remains important. And so all of Thomas’ yesterdays remain of interest to us today, more than 200 years after his death.

Thomas Wood was born in 1711 in New Jersey. He practiced as a surgeon in New York and Philadelphia and was also as a military surgeon at Louisbourg between 1746 and 1748. Following that, he relocated to England and was ordained a Priest of the Church of England in 1749. The people of New Brunswick, New Jersey then requested that the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel appoint him a Missionary to them, which was done.

In 1752, Wood went to Halifax with the permission of Governor Cornwallis. It was his intention to become the Missionary there, but he was not appointed to that post. He instead become an assistant at Saint Paul’s Church in Halifax and Chaplin to the first House of Assembly. He served as a Missionary throughout Nova Scotia, as far west as Annapolis.

Wood spoke English, French and German and, while in Nova Scotia, also mastered the Mi’kmaq language. This placed him on a par, as far as ministering to the Indians was concerned, with his Catholic counterpart, Abbé Pierre Maillard. Wood and Maillard were close associates and their friendship has been the subject of much debate. Maillard had accepted that Nova Scotia was then under British control and was also friendly to the Anglican faith to a degree that made later generations wonder about his personal ambitions under the British administration, and even his fidelity to Catholicism. Wood is also suspected by some of attempting to convert Maillard or to undercut his ministry. There may be truth to some of this, but it appears overly speculative.

Another aspect of Thomas Wood’s work in Nova Scotia is the attention that he paid to the Mi’kmaq. It has already been noted that he spoke their language, and a church service in July of 1767 is often cited as an example of this. That service was attended by many notable citizens of Halifax, all English, in addition to many native people. It was conducted in Mi’kmaq. Later that year he performed a marriage between two Mi’kmaq, the bride being the daughter of Thoma. Thoma called himself “king of the Micmacs,” and I have some sympathy for his assertion. After all, if the British could have a hereditary king, then why could the Mi’kmaq not also have one? In addition, if Thoma was the king of the Mi’kmaq, then, by implication, the Mi’kmaq were not subservient to the King of England. It all made perfect sense. This ‘Thoma’ was not the chief of that name from the Saint John River, but was another man.

For me, the most interesting part of Thomas Wood’s story is his trip to the Saint John River in 1769, accompanied by Capt. William Spry of the Engineers. He arrived at Saint John and, on July 2nd, conducted a service in English and baptized four English children. He then conducted another service in Mi’kmaq but only baptized one child since most of the others had already been baptized by a Catholic missionary. In the evening he conducted a third service, this time in French, which the Indians again attended. An anthem was sung, which “they performed very harmoniously.” This was quite an accomplishment, to have “perform’d Divine Service and preach’d there in English in the forenoon and in Indian in the afternoon to thirteen Indian men and women who happen’d to arrive there in their way to Passamaquoddy,” and then again in the evening to the French.

A week later, Wood arrived in Maugerville where most of the people were Dissenting Protestants – Congregationalists. These people were very devout, but were so remote and few in number that they had had difficulty attracting a minister. Wood’s arrival was a special event and his service was attended by more than 200 people. Wood thought that the settlers of Maugerville, Gagetown and Burton, as well as the Maliseets could be easily converted to Anglicanism if a good missionary was placed among them and if Catholic priests were not allowed. The visit to Gagetown was notable, as he baptized “twins … born in an open canoe on the River, 2 leagues from any house.” The twins were Joseph and Mary Kendrick, children of John and Dorothy Kendrick. The reference to keeping out Catholic priests is noted, but his statement was not nearly as doctrinaire as other commentators of the era.

Thomas Wood later reported to the S.P.G. that, at Aukpaque, above Fredericton, …

“the Chief of the Indians came down to the Landing place and Handed us out of our Boat, and immediately, several of the Indians, who were drawn out on the occasion, discharg’d a volley of Musketry turned from us, as a signal of receiving their Friends; the Chief then welcomed us and Introduced us to the other Chiefs, after Inviting us to their Council Chamber, as they called it, viz.: their largest wigwam, conducted us thither, the rest of the Indians following: just before we arrived … we were again Saluted with their Musketry drawn up as before, where after some discourse relative to Monsieur Bailie, the French Priest, who the Government have at present thought proper to allow them and finding them uneasy that they had no Priest among them for some time past I told them that the Governor had employed him to go to the Indians to the Eastward of Halifax and therefore had sent me to officiate with them in his absence: They then seem’d well enough satisfied; and at their desire I begun prayers with them in Mickmack, they all kneeling down and behaving very devotely; the Service concluded with an Anthem and the Blessing, and altho’ there were several among them of the three different Tribes they almost all of them understood the Mickmack language and I am fully convinced had I been sent among them two years ago … and no Popish Priest had been allowed to have been with them, that the greatest part, if not all of them, by this time, had become in a great measure if not altogether Protestant and the English Inhabitants on St. John’s River are of the same opinion.”

The various references excerpt this quote differently, and this is an attempt to assemble it to greater completeness.

That ends Thomas Wood’s tour of the settlements on the Saint John River and, with it, this blog posting. All I can say is that we are lucky that his shadow can still be seen, more than 200 years later.


  1. Herbert Lee, An historical sketch of the first fifty years of the Church of England in the province of New Brunswick (1783-1833), Saint John, N.B., 1880
  2. F. Pascoe, Two Hundred Years of the S.P.G., an Historical Account of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701-1900, London, 1901
  3. O. Raymond, History of the St John River, AD 1604-1784, Saint John, N.B., 1905
  4. Christmas Edward Thomas, Wood, Thomas, Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Written by johnwood1946

May 25, 2016 at 8:23 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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