GORDON, JAMES DOUGLAS, Presbyterian clergyman, author, and missionary; b. 1832 at Cascumpeque (Alberton), P.E.I., son of John Gordon and Mary Ramsey; d. 25 Feb. 1872 at Eromanga, New Hebrides.
James Douglas Gordon was born into a large family; they were tenants on the estate of Samuel Cunard* in Prince Edward Island. In 1850, after years of battle against Cunard’s “unrighteous” high rents, his father was forced to give up his land. James Gordon’s education included some years of study in arts at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Truro, Nova Scotia, where one of his classmates was David Laird*; Gordon and the future P.E.I. editor and politician became lifelong friends. For several years Gordon worked as a journalist on the Island, and, at one time, was legislative reporter for the P.E.I. assembly. In 1861, his brother, George N. Gordon*, and his sister-in-law, Ellen, were martyred at the Presbyterian mission which had been established by John Geddie in 1848 in the New Hebrides. James Gordon was studying theology at the Presbyterian College in Halifax, N.S., at the time of his brother’s death. He completed his studies, and in 1863 published a eulogistic volume, The last martyrs of Eromanga; being a memoir of the Rev. George N. Gordon and Ellen Catherine Powell, his wife.
In 1864 James Gordon followed in his martyred brother’s footsteps and became a missionary in Eromanga. During his first four years in Eromanga Gordon represented the Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces of British North America; for the next two, he represented the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. He resigned the latter tie in 1870, and henceforth served on his own authority although he made frequent trips to New South Wales. During his eight years at the mission, Gordon became an accomplished linguist, translating the Book of Genesis, the Gospel of St Matthew, hymns, and primers into the local language. He also helped to establish a mission station on the larger island of Espiritu Santo.
On 25 Feb. 1872 a native arrived at the mission sub-station at Portina Bay requesting urgent medical help for his ailing sons. Gordon accompanied the man to his hut only to find the two children dead. The distraught father accused the missionary of witchcraft and immediately killed him with his hatchet. James Gordon’s body was buried at Dillon’s Bay, the main mission on the island; the Martyr’s Church there was opened in 1879 and restored in 1968.
James Gordon had remained unmarried and had insisted on working and living alone, a tendency which friendly critics thought “greatly impaired his happiness and his usefulness.” He was described as a man of “singular piety, somewhat eccentric in his way, self-denying to an extreme.”
J. D. Gordon, The last martyrs of Eromanga; being a memoir of the Rev. George N. Gordon and Ellen Catherine Powell, his wife (Halifax, 1863). Patriot (Charlottetown), 3, 8 Aug. 1872. “Sad report confirmed: death of Rev. James D. Gordon,” Home and Foreign Record of the Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces of British North America (Halifax), XII (1872).