JEFFERS, WELLINGTON, teacher, Methodist minister, and editor; b. 22 June 1814 in Cork (Republic of Ireland), son of Robert Jeffers and Nancy Maurice; m. first 6 July 1841 Jane Frith, and they had two sons and a daughter; m. secondly 21 June 1854 Jane Eleanor Dougall in Belleville, Upper Canada, and they had one daughter; d. there 10 Feb. 1896.
Wellington Jeffers’s father brought his family to Upper Canada from Ireland shortly after the War of 1812, settling first in Kingston and later in Fredericksburgh Township. Well educated and opinionated, Robert Jeffers taught school and contributed letters and editorials to the Kingston press. In 1818 he became a travelling preacher for the Methodist Episcopal Church, but left it in a huff four years later and preached independently.
Wellington, the seventh and youngest child, received his early education from his father. In 1837, after several years of teaching, he turned down a tempting offer of employment from a Kingston bank in order to enter the itinerant ministry of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. He was ordained in 1841. Jeffers served circuits in Upper Canada, including some of the largest churches, but never for more than three years, as was the custom at that time. In the mid 1850s he served effectively at St James Street Methodist Church in Montreal, a pulpit filled 50 years later by his equally ubiquitous grandson John Wellington Graham.
In Montreal Jeffers’s health broke down, and he was transferred to quieter work with the Ojibwas on the north shore of Rice Lake, Upper Canada. With recovery he was called to Toronto as editor of the influential Christian Guardian, succeeding James Spencer*. From June 1860 to June 1869 he gave what he considered “judicious interpretations of passing events” in his editorials while indulging his penchant for “controversy, . . . conducted in a spirit of kindness.” Jeffers was supportive of the abolition of slavery and took a special interest in educational issues and new theological movements. His administrative skills put the newspaper on a firm financial footing; as he proudly noted in his last editorial, the Guardian had “the highest subscription circulation ever, now all paid in advance.” Jeffers also served in many offices in the church, including district chairman, secretary, and co-delegate (vice-president) of conference; in 1876 he was president of Toronto conference. Victoria College conferred an honorary dd on him in 1863.
Jeffers’s mental prowess and lucid tongue made him a formidable debater. When he spoke, all became alert. The words “Jeffers is up” at Methodist conference meetings brought a rush of members from the lobbies to their seats. The general conference of 1854 dealt with the controversial question of whether attendance at the weekly class meeting was crucial to church membership. Insisting that it was, Jeffers locked horns with Egerton Ryerson* and won the day. Ryerson thereupon offered his resignation from the conference, although he later withdrew it.
Whether in the pulpit, at the camp meeting, or in the lecture hall, Jeffers was memorable and persuasive. He could excite young students with his breadth of thought and stretch the minds of careful listeners. Yet he obviously spoke over the heads of some. One kindly critic said that, after his discourses, “the fat sheep have been gloriously fed, but the poor lambs have gone empty away.” Mentally alert to the end, Jeffers made his last public appearance in 1894 to give the eulogy at the funeral of his old friend Senator Billa Flint.
His last 15 years were spent in Belleville, where he served two congregations before his retirement in 1884. He then did supply preaching in the area, even filling the pulpit of John Street Presbyterian Church for several months between ministers, a mark of his ecumenicity as well as the congregation’s.
J. S. Carroll, Past and present, or a description of persons and events connected with Canadian Methodism for the last forty years; by a spectator of the scenes (Toronto, 1860). Methodist Church (Canada, Newfoundland, Bermuda), Bay of Quinte Conference, Minutes (Toronto), 1896. Methodist Magazine and Rev. (Toronto and Halifax), 43 (January–June 1896): 268–70. Christian Guardian, June 1860–June 1869. Daily Intelligencer (Belleville, Ont.), 13 Feb. 1896. Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism. Carroll, Case and his cotemporaries. The chronicle of a century, 1829–1929: the record of one hundred years of progress in the publishing concerns of the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches in Canada, ed. L. [A.] Pierce (Toronto, 1929). Emma Jeffers Graham, “Three years among the Ojibways, 1857–1860,” Women’s Canadian Hist. Soc. of Toronto, Trans., no.16 (1916–17): 35–40, and portrait of subject facing p.35.
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