NOBLE, SETH, Congregational preacher and rebel leader; b. 15 April 1743 in Westfield, Mass., son of Thomas Noble; d. 1807, likely on 15 September, in Franklinton (Columbus, Ohio).
Like most Puritan ministers in early Nova Scotia, Seth Noble had experienced a call to preach but lacked the formal education to obtain a settled position in the established New England colonies. Having joined the church at Westfield in 1770 and expressed a desire to become a clergyman, he drifted toward New England’s northern frontier, where settlers desperate for religious instruction had to be less particular.
Noble eventually ended up in Maugerville on the Saint John River (N.B.) in 1774. The community had been settled by families mainly from Essex County, Mass., in 1763 [see Israel Perley]. A covenanted church had been quickly organized, committed to the Westminster Shorter Catechism and to the Cambridge Platform of church discipline, but until Noble’s arrival it had been unable to attract a permanent minister. Noble was called by the community as minister on 15 June 1774 and was initially offered £120 currency as an inducement to settle among them and an annual salary of £65 “in Cash or furs or grain at cash price.” Setting a precedent which he would have to pursue throughout his career, Noble bargained hard. The “subscribers to a bond for the support of the Preached gospil among us” were forced to meet again on 29 June 1774, when they agreed to “cut and haul twenty five cords of wood” annually to Noble’s house “so long as he shall continue to be our Minister.” In November 1775 Noble married Hannah, daughter of Joseph Barker of Maugerville, and the couple moved into their new residence, built at the same time as the meeting-house, early in 1776. At this stage Noble’s career, hitherto similar to those of hundreds of American frontier parsons, was significantly altered by the arrival of the American rebellion on the Saint John.
Nineteenth-century tradition has it that Noble wrote to George Washington advocating American conquest of the Saint John region and offering assistance in the endeavour, but no evidence to support this story now survives. What is documented is that the lay leaders of Noble’s church at Maugerville, among them Israel Perley, spearheaded efforts to place the area under American control, and that Noble was one of the town’s residents who left it to support the American cause. On 14 May 1776 a town meeting appointed a committee of 12 “to make immediate application to the Congress or General Assembly of the Massachusetts Bay for relief under their present distressed circumstances.” The committee drafted a number of resolutions in sympathy with American resistance and claimed these were signed by 125 local residents, all but a dozen of the adult male inhabitants on the river. Later the same year the town supported Jonathan Eddy’s abortive expedition against Fort Cumberland (near Sackville, N.B.). When in the spring of 1777 the government of Nova Scotia enforced an oath of allegiance to the crown upon the Saint John River settlers, Seth Noble left Maugerville. As a “proscribed person,” he escaped to Machias (Maine) with Eddy and other rebel leaders, leaving his wife in Maugerville for more than two years apparently to preserve his connection with the community (and his salary), although he made it clear he had no intention of living under a British constitution. Enlisted as a private in the American forces on 17 May 1777, Parson Noble assisted John Allan with intelligence work on the expedition to the Saint John that year, returning to Machias in August. He was there during the British attack that month and preached a sermon “on the late event.”
Noble did not soon revisit his people in Maugerville, although the Massachusetts authorities tried in 1779 to interest him again in intelligence work on the river. He spent the remainder of the war preaching with “full employ and good wages” at Woburn, Mass. When in 1784 Noble attempted through correspondence to restore his relations with Maugerville and collect his back salary, the church’s leaders wrote him an angry letter, particularly incensed that their pastor should insist that they had left him by remaining in “immoral” Nova Scotia.
Returning northwards in the mid 1780s, when he received land in what became Eddy Township (Maine) through the efforts of his old associates Eddy and Allan, Noble ministered occasionally on the Penobscot River and ultimately became settled preacher at Kenduskeag Plantation (Bangor, Maine) on 7 June 1786. He visited the Saint John valley in 1791, shortly after the death of his first wife. In Bangor, where on 11 April 1793 he married widow Ruhama Emery, Noble found he was unable to collect his salary; despite supplements to his income from teaching singing and selling land, he was forced to leave in 1797, gradually finding new pulpits by migrating west – first to Montgomery, Mass., in 1801 and then to Franklinton, in the Ohio country, in 1806. Not long before his death he was married, for a third time, to Mary (Margaret) Riddle, a widow. At least one son of his first marriage took up residence in New Brunswick.
Seth Noble was a typical late-18th-century frontier Puritan parson, constantly following the expansion of settlement in hopes of a success which never materialized. His career was distinguished only through his finding himself on the wrong side of the frontier line when rebellion came.
“Documents of the Congregational Church at Maugerville,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.1: 119–52, esp. 119–20. Military operations in eastern Maine and N.S. (Kidder), 92, 99, 110, 129. “Papers relating to the townships of the River St. John in the province of Nova Scotia,” ed. W. O. Raymond, N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 2 (1899–1905), no.6: 287–301. G. A. Rawlyk, Nova Scotia’s Massachusetts: a study of Massachusetts-Nova Scotia relations, 1630 to 1784 (Montreal and London, 1973). G. O. Bent, “Parson Noble,” Acadiensis (Saint John, N.B.), 7 (1907): 46–57. James Hannay, “The Maugerville settlement, 1763–1824,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 1 (1894–97), no.1: 63–88, esp. 74. G. B. MacBeath, “New England settlements in pre-loyalist New Brunswick,” N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., no.18 (1963): 27–33. “Rev. Seth Noble, the first minister of Bangor,” Bangor Hist. Magazine (Bangor, Maine), 3 (1887–88): 66–69. “Some of the early pioneer business men,” “Old Northwest” Geneal. Quarterly (Columbus, Ohio), 15 (1912): 96–97.