BEST, GEORGE, Church of England clergyman; b. 1793 or 1794 in England; m. 21 Aug. 1820, in Halifax, Elizabeth Stanser, second daughter of Robert Stanser, bishop of Nova Scotia, and they had three children; d. 2 May 1829 in Bath, England.
Little is known of George Best’s early life. He was educated at Westminster School, London, and he also studied architecture, although he may not have received any formal training in the field. In June 1817, as a catechist or perhaps a deacon of the Church of England, he applied to work overseas as a missionary with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and by 30 Oct. 1818 had arrived in the parish of Granville in the Annapolis valley of Nova Scotia, where he served until 1823. He loved Granville and took a particular interest in the schools for black children.
In April 1823, on the death of the Reverend James Milne, the Anglican congregation of Fredericton recommended Best’s appointment as rector there. He began his duties in July, and also acted as his father-in-law’s ecclesiastical commissary in New Brunswick. In September he was ordained priest in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity at Quebec by Bishop Jacob Mountain. His positions in Fredericton were not confirmed until after the arrival of Sir Howard Douglas* as lieutenant governor of the province in 1824.
Early in 1825 the diocese of Nova Scotia was divided into four archdeaconries and George Best was appointed the first archdeacon of New Brunswick. Thus he became responsible for the province’s ecclesiastical affairs under the direction of John Inglis*, who had replaced Robert Stanser as bishop of Nova Scotia. Best’s energy and enthusiasm in the performance of his duties are illustrated by a long report on the state of religion in the province which he prepared for Sir Howard Douglas in 1825. This study gives figures on population generally and on the number of souls and church buildings in each county. Using late returns which came in after the 1824 census had been published, Best estimated the population of New Brunswick at 79,176. There were 16 resident Anglican clergymen serving 26 churches. Only two of the clergymen, however, served in the eastern half of the province. Best was enthusiastic about the potential for “the Established Church,” and his report points out areas where the condition of religion demanded improvements. More missionaries were required, and they should be “men of mild and humble dispositions, who will assimilate themselves with the people, amongst whom they may be sent and endeavour to unite themselves with their interests, and their hopes.” Best’s study shows a tolerant attitude towards most of the ministers of other denominations, with the exception of the Baptists. It also displays a marked respect for the people among whom he ministered. “The people of this Country who gain a livelihood by their manual labour, for of the lower order there are none,” he wrote, “are in intellect and sagacity superior far to those of the same stamp in the Mother Country – they are, for the most part, shrewd and intelligent, and, generally speaking, well versed in the Scriptures.”
As archdeacon, Best travelled through the province supervising the clergy and schoolmasters. His “active and valuable superintendence” was appreciated by a great many people. Bishop Inglis, who in 1826 made the first Anglican episcopal visitation to New Brunswick in decades, was impressed by the schools for which Best was responsible and found them to be “generally well attended and well appointed.” In describing the need for additional clergymen as “even greater than I had supposed,” Inglis underlined one of his archdeacon’s constant concerns. In February 1827 Best hired the Reverend George McCawley* as his curate and encouraged him to undertake missionary journeys to isolated areas of the province. He also promoted the building of “small temporary churches in remote districts.”
George Best played a significant part in the construction of a new building to house the College of New Brunswick. In 1825 he was one of three people to submit architectural designs to the college council, which decided in October that John Elliott Woolford*’s plan was the most appealing. That December Sir Howard Douglas chose as the site of the new structure a lot owned by Best, who insisted on being paid £500 for his property. Best became a member of the board of the college in January 1826, and the following month he was appointed to determine “what ornamental parts” of Woolford’s plan might “be dispensed without injury to the convenience and comfort of the interior.” In March he formed a committee with William Franklin Odell* to choose “Stone or Brick as they may judge best,” yet not to spend more than £12,000. The committee chose stone but cut costs by replacing the planned dome with a pediment.
In 1828 the College of New Brunswick was reconstituted as King’s College, Fredericton. The royal charter issued at that time designated the archdeacon of the province as titular president of the institution. Best was not happy with the new honour. He protested that he was not a university man and was disturbed that he was being assigned significant responsibilities without being provided with an additional income; Fredericton, he complained, was an expensive place in which to live. Nevertheless, he prepared to assume his new duties, and asked the SPG to make some provision for scholarships.
George Best’s dedication to his ministry made him an able leader of the Church of England in New Brunswick in the 1820s. Described by a contemporary as “full of genuine gentleness and unaffected piety,” he seems to have had the ability to avoid confrontation, and his broadmindedness helped to ease tensions both within his own communion and between denominations. The Reverend Benjamin Gerrish Gray*, for example – a restless, temperamental exponent of broad-church principles – looked upon Best as a fellow spirit who also desired to bring evangelical Christians into the Anglican communion. Best’s bishop was impressed by his activities. “The Archdeacon,” Inglis wrote, “is sometimes a little hurried by his zeal, but he is notwithstanding a very worthy officer, and I have a very warm regard for him.” Best was also on good terms with the administration and was friendly with Sir Howard and Lady Douglas from the time of their arrival in New Brunswick. Although it had already been arranged at the Colonial Office in England that the Reverend Frederick Coster should be transferred from Saint John to Fredericton, the lieutenant governor soon found Best to be “in every way so fit for the situation” that he insisted that he continue as rector of Fredericton. The clergyman was a great favourite with Lady Douglas and her younger children and may have shared their enthusiasm for drawing and gardening.
In April 1828 Best’s request for a leave of absence to visit England was granted. He died at Bath in May 1829 and was buried in Claverton Down churchyard. The Reverend George Coster* succeeded him as archdeacon of New Brunswick.
PAC, MG 24, A3, 3; C43 (mfm.). PANB, MC 211, MS4/5/1; RG 7, RS75, A, 1828, George Best. PRO, CO 188/32, 188/39 (mfm. at PANB). UNBL, Dennis Harvey to [John Anderson], president of the Univ. of N.B., 11 Dec. 1976; C. McN. Steeves to secretary, SPG, 15 May 1945; UA, “Minute-book of the governors and trustees of the College of New Brunswick,” 1800–28. USPG, C/CAN/NB, 4, folder 181; C/CAN/NS., 3, folder 16 (mfm. at PAC). New-Brunswick Royal Gazette, 21 Oct. 1823. G. H. 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). J. D. Purdy, “The Church of England in New Brunswick during the colonial era, 1783–1860” (MA thesis, Univ. of N.B., Fredericton, 1954).
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