CHURCH, JOHN, militia officer and businessman; b. 30 Sept. 1757; d. 19 Oct. 1839 in Churchville (Sweetsburg), Lower Canada.
Little is known of John Church’s origins. He is thought to have been a descendant of a family from the Palatinate (Federal Republic of Germany) that is believed to have emigrated around 1710 to the Hudson valley in the colony of New York. The family name, it would seem, evolved from Shirts or Shertz into Church. At the time of the American revolution Church is supposed to have crossed into Quebec to offer his services to the crown. He may then have joined John Burgoyne*’s army. A year after hostilities ended, in 1784, he went to live at Caldwell’s Manor, near Missisquoi Bay. He soon married Tryphena Huntington, who had also come from the Hudson valley, and they apparently had five children, a son and four daughters, all born at Caldwell’s Manor.
On 5 May 1795 Church took the oath of allegiance, a necessary step to obtain land in Lower Canada. In 1799 he moved to Dunham Township with Captain Jacob Ruiter and others. There he found his brother Henry and his sister Catherine’s husband, William Shufelt, who had both come a short time before by the trail John Savage* had opened up in 1795; this path became the main route between Shefford Township and Missisquoi Bay.
After buying a lot from surveyor Jesse Pennoyer* in 1800, Church decided to settle in Dunham Township. His choice of land was a good one, since it included the site on which Churchville (later the village of Sweetsburg) was to develop. He would enlarge his holdings by further purchases. Being a genuine loyalist did not, apparently, lead Church to make large claims. In 1803, however, as associates of Henry Ruiter he and his brother Henry obtained land in Potton Township. But they do not seem to have been interested in the properties and had probably acted in a nominal capacity, like many others, in return for some compensation.
Church fairly quickly set up a business in Dunham Township based upon trading ash and potash for essential articles. The enterprise, which was on a busy route, prospered and soon had a smithy, a potashery, and a distillery. In 1814 Church took his son into partnership and around 1819 with his help built a huge brick house, one of the earliest in the region. Eventually the house would become a well-known inn in which large meetings and even weddings were held, but in which gambling was never allowed.
Church’s methods of doing business have remained legendary. He believed that by selling his goods for four times what they cost he was making a four per cent profit. Since he did not know how to write, indeed could barely sign his name, his account-books are full of pictographs. Around 1830 the first post office in Churchville opened in his store, with his son in charge. At that time there was a plan to build a church on an adjacent lot, but a subscription opened by Charles Caleb Cotton, an Anglican clergyman, brought in little money, despite a generous gift from Church.
On 15 May 1804 Church had been commissioned lieutenant in the militia, and in 1805 he was taken on the strength in the 1st Townships Militia Battalion, which had been formed that year; this service involved no great obligation in peace-time, and he even managed not to take part in the War of 1812. Around 1817, however, he was appointed militia captain, a responsibility he fulfilled quite faithfully, although he was forced to complain to the governor, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke*, to obtain repayment of his expenses for travelling to Montreal. It may have been as a result of this claim that he received a land grant in Brome Township.
In 1826 Church renewed the terms of the partnership with his son and he had his will drawn up. Three years later he resigned as militia captain, recommending his son as successor. He apparently retired from business at that time, and in 1830 his son acquired another partner. Unfortunately John Church Jr died in 1831, and in 1833 his wife, Elizabeth Shufelt, also died, leaving three under-age sons. Their joint estate was then sold by auction, and Church was not even present at the family council that followed.
John Church died at Churchville on 19 Oct. 1839, aged 82, surrounded by his relatives, and was buried two days later in the Ruiter family’s little cemetery near his home. His remains were later transferred to their present resting-place in Christ Church cemetery, Sweetsburg. The name Churchville disappeared in 1854, but Church, an honest and good-natured man, was long remembered in the region. He had involved himself in its life and done his best to promote its progress.
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