HIGGINS, THOMAS ALFRED, Baptist minister, educator, and author; b. 17 Feb. 1823 in Rawdon Township, N.S., son of James Higgins and Margaret McLellan; m. 22 July 1863 Eliza Cramp in Wolfville, N.S.; they had no children; d. there 9 May 1905.
Thomas Higgins’s father was a miller and farmer, of strong Baptist leanings, who died when Thomas was only five, his wife having predeceased him. Thomas, with his brothers, sister, and half-brother, was raised by his stepmother and eventually a stepfather. He apparently worked on the family farm until the visit to Rawdon of the Reverend Edmund Albern Crawley*, of Acadia College, Wolfville, in the late 1840s. Uninterested in education, Higgins intended to work instead of attending Crawley’s meeting, but a broken axe handle forced a change in plans. Through the influence of Crawley, Higgins studied first at Horton Academy in Wolfville and then at Acadia, institutions with which he would be associated for the rest of his life.
Tragedy at Acadia in 1852 forced Higgins into his first experience with teaching. One of the college’s two professors and all of the members of the classes of 1853 and 1854 (except Higgins) were drowned in a boating accident on the Minas Basin. The president, John Mockett Cramp*, hired a recent graduate and the only remaining senior student, Higgins, to teach first-year students so that the institution could reopen in early 1853. Finding the experience to his liking, after graduating ba in 1854 Higgins accepted a position at Horton Academy.
Since the founding of Horton in 1828 and Acadia in 1838 there had been consistent concern for the spiritual as well as the intellectual well-being of the students. A number of revivals had swept the institutions over the years, encouraged by the local Baptist clergy and the university faculty. In 1855 one of the most memorable took place, a vivid account of which was left by one of the participants, Edward Manning Saunders*, himself a student at Acadia. A number of men were converted who would leave an important mark on the college and the Baptist denomination, including Higgins, Daniel Morse Welton, Charles Frederick Hartt*, and Theodore Harding Rand*. In March 1855 Higgins and 61 others were baptized by President Cramp.
Two years later Higgins left teaching for the ministry, accepting a call to the Baptist church in Liverpool, N.S., where he was ordained. In 1861 he returned to Horton Academy, this time as principal, the first Acadia graduate to assume the position. In his years at the institution he encouraged public speaking by forming the Horton Academy Lyceum and student writing by establishing the “Academy Budget,” a handwritten newspaper which began “publication” in 1862. Higgins was responsible for opening the doors of the academy to females, and by 1873 the former Grand Pre Seminary had become the Female Department of Horton Academy, an important step in the move toward higher education for women. He also encouraged among his students the spiritual growth that had played such an important role in his own student experience.
After leaving Horton Academy in 1874, Higgins spent the remainder of his life in the ministry, at Annapolis Royal (1874–82) as its first settled Baptist pastor and then in Wolfville (1884–95). He served on the board of governors of Acadia from 1880 to 1893, for the last ten years acting as secretary. He was awarded an honorary dd by the college in 1885. His major publication was a lengthy biography of President Cramp, whose daughter he had married. A memorial window in the Wolfville United Baptist Church commemorates the many contributions that Higgins made to his denomination.
Copies of the “Academy Budget” from 20 Feb. 1861 to August 1862 are held at the Acadia Univ. Arch., Wolfville, N.S.
Acadia Univ. Arch., Board of governors, minutes, 1 (1850–83); “Extracts from reminiscences supplied by C. H. Whitman, written in 1928” (n.p., 1928); R. S. Longley, “Horton Academy, 1828–1959” (typescript, Wolfville, 1959) [also published with photographs in Acadia Bull. (Wolfville), 45 (1959): 23–36]; I. B. Oakes, “History of Horton Academy” (typescript, Wolfville, 1928). Atlantic Baptist Hist. Coll., Acadia Univ. (Wolfville), Wolfville, United Baptist Church, records. Christian Messenger, 11 June 1873. The Acadia record, 1838–1953, comp. Watson Kirkconnell (4th ed., Wolfville, 1953). A. C. Chute with W. B. Boggs, The religious life of Acadia (Wolfville, 1933), 44–47, 93. J. D. Davison, Alice of Grand Pre: Alice T. Shaw and her Grand Pre Seminary: female education in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (Wolfville, 1981), 136–41. [S. W. DeBlois], Historical sketch of the 1st Horton Baptist Church, Wolfville, for the period of one hundred years, from A.D., 1778, to A.D., 1878 (Halifax, 1879), 23. J. V. Duncanson, Newport, Nova Scotia – a Rhode Island township (Belleville, Ont., 1985); Rawdon and Douglas: two loyalist townships in Nova Scotia (Belleville, 1989). Eaton, Hist. of Kings County. R. S. Longley, Acadia University, 1838–1938 (Wolfville, 1939), 68–70; The Wolfville United Baptist Church (n.p., [1953?]), 24. Memorials of Acadia College and Horton Academy for the half-century 1828–1878 (Montreal, 1881), 109, 239.