JAMES, PHILIP, Bible Christian minister; b. in Cornwall, England, around 1800; d. 1 March 1851 in Pickering Township, Upper Canada, and was buried at Columbus (Oshawa), Upper Canada.
Philip James experienced an evangelical conversion in 1820 on the St Ervan circuit, Cornwall, of the Bible Christian Church, a Methodist sect founded in the West Country five years earlier. The movement was characterized by revivalism, the ministry of women itinerants, and the plain dress of its adherents. In 1825 James was appointed an itinerant minister on trial and in 1828, after appointments to Buckfastleigh, Devon, the Forest of Dean mission, Gloucestershire, and Bristol, he was received as a minister in full connection. Additional one-year assignments followed, including postings in the Isles of Scilly, Penzance, and Guernsey, until 1834 when, “having had deep feelings on the subject,” he offered himself as a missionary and was sent to assist the Reverend Francis Metherall* on Prince Edward Island.
His arrival, on 29 July 1834, allowed Metherall to expand the Bible Christian mission westward from its first outposts north and east of Charlottetown. James, assigned to serve the eastern area (including Gallas Point, Rustico Road, and Wheatley River), found that most of the Island’s inhabitants, chiefly Presbyterians and Roman Catholics in affiliation, were almost totally bereft of Christian preaching. In some communities people had only one or two opportunities annually to hear the Gospel preached, and one group he addressed had not been able to hear a sermon for over two years. James worked hard to meet the need, travelling the rough terrain on foot in all seasons. At New Bideford (Bideford), he formed a small class “composed of some of our friends from England,” but regretted that he could be among them only at six-week intervals. He could not visit some preaching points as often as that. Clearly, the mission’s resources were totally inadequate to minister to the Island’s many communities, most of which lacked places of worship. James, who was highly devout, wrote in 1835 that he was frequently “destitute of a room in which to retire for prayer.” Moreover, he felt that the church did not understand the conditions under which its missionaries laboured, in particular the severity of the Canadian winter, the need for warm clothing, the poor housing and isolation of its preachers, the scattered circuits, and the difficulties of transportation. After two years on the Island he wrote: “I should just like to have the Missionary Committee with me for a few days, only a few days, when I am tottering through the snow three or four feet deep, and over the ice, when the water and slush . . . takes me nearly to my knees for six or seven miles together, and then say, whether a horse be necessary.”
One of the drawbacks of sporadic preaching was that its benefits were often lost before the preacher had the opportunity to return. As James described it, “A poor Irish woman told Brother Metherall, that I came among them so seldom, that although they felt under the word when I was there, they ‘got wild again’ before my return.” He was convinced that if the church’s leaders could see the spiritual destitution of some of the areas where he worked, they would exert themselves to the utmost to send the Gospel. A third missionary was just as necessary as the second had been. Help came in 1839 when Richard Cotton arrived to share the load, but James was not to benefit long from the additional assistance. The increased immigration to Upper Canada of people from Devon and Cornwall, where most supporters of the Bible Christian Church resided, meant that experienced missionaries were needed there. Accordingly, in 1841 he departed Prince Edward Island to join other colleagues, including John Hicks Eynon*, his wife, Elizabeth [Dart], and, later, Ann Robins [Vickery], in bringing the Gospel to their followers in Upper Canada.
James was first assigned to Cobourg, which received many Bible Christian immigrants before they passed through to other destinations. In 1842 he moved on to the circuit in Darlington and Whitby townships, another area with a large number of West Country immigrants, and returned to the Cobourg circuit in 1844. Two years later he was sent to Mitchell to minister to Bible Christians who had moved to the Huron Tract on the southeast shore of Lake Huron. By 1848, with the help of the Reverend Arthur Doble, James had gathered a circuit which extended 50 to 60 miles one way and 40 to 50 in the other, an area covering 12 townships. He found that 30 of the first 38 members of his congregation were English-born, and that some 11 or 12 had been Bible Christians in the old country. Unfortunately, for the want of Christian preaching and fellowship, many had fallen away from their faith; however, after a short time, he reported that most were “repairing their loss” and appeared “to be in full sail for Port Glory.” The Huron Tract, with some of the worst roads in the province, made heavy physical demands upon him. Doble, writing in 1849, said, “I learn from the people that he has laboured very hard among them, more than his strength would rightly admit. He seems to be failing.” But despite the concerns of his congregations, James reported that lay help was difficult to obtain because it was hard to persuade the people of their duty to sacrifice just one hour to attend to the business of the church.
James left the arduous Huron mission in 1850 and moved to the Pickering circuit, only to find that his new appointment also strained his declining strength. On the evening of 28 Feb. 1851, disregarding the advice of friends, he conducted a preaching service. Afterwards he had to be taken to a follower’s home, where he said, “How well it is to be always ready, – If I live or die I am the Lord’s.” Despite medical attention, by noon the following day he was “enjoying eternal life.” His superintendent, the Reverend Paul Robins, paid tribute to him by saying: “We have lost an efficient labourer. . . . He was greatly beloved . . . in every station where he laboured: was remarkably punctual in attending his appointments; and his straight-forward, open-hearted, and affectionate carriage won for him general esteem, confidence, and affection.”
UCA, Bible Christian Church in Canada, Annual conference and district meetings, minutes, 1847, sect.5, “Mitchell, Huron Tract.” Bible Christian Magazine (Shebbear, Eng.), 14 (1835): 35–40, 106–9; 15 (1836): 49–50; 28 (1849): 43–44, 121–24; 30 (1851): 161–62, 204. Bible Christians, Minutes of the annual conference (Stoke Damerel, Eng.; Shebbear), 1828: 6; 1841: 6; 1851: 5–6. United Methodist ministers and their circuits . . . 1797–1932, comp. O. A. Beckerlegge (London, 1968). John Harris, The life of the Rev. Francis Metherall, and the history of the Bible Christian Church in Prince Edward Island (London and Toronto, 1883), 36, 38, 45, 47, 54–55, 109.