ARNOLD, OLIVER, teacher, Church of England clergyman, and jp; b. 15 Oct. 1755 in Mansfield, Conn., eldest child of Dr Nathan Arnold and Prudence Denison; m. 9 Nov. 1786 Charlotte Hustice, née Wiggins, of New York, a loyalist widow, and they had seven children; d. 9 April 1834 in Sussex Vale (Sussex Corner), N.B.
Oliver Arnold was educated at Yale College, where he was a member of the class of 1776 (am, 1792). His activities and whereabouts during the American revolution are unknown but he probably served in the British provincial forces. In 1783 he joined the loyalist migration to Parrtown, the future Saint John, N.B., and acted for a time as secretary to “The Directors of the Town at the Entrance of the River Saint John,” who included George LEONARD, his future patron. After involvement in a number of land transactions in Saint John and vicinity and a brief residence in Long Reach, north of the city (where he married), Arnold secured, through Leonard’s influence as a local commissioner for the New England Company, a position in 1787 as schoolmaster to the Indians at Sussex Vale, the location of Leonard’s country seat to which Arnold removed. The London-based New England Company, titled in full the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England and the Parts Adjacent in America, transferred its program for educating, evangelizing, and apprenticing native people from New England to New Brunswick after the revolution. Relying on a local board of commissioners to hire and oversee the Indians’ teachers and masters and to make provision for the natives’ moral, spiritual, and economic welfare, the company employed Arnold as teacher until 1790, when he became its missionary. Although nominally he remained the instructor, he contracted out the teaching duties. His responsibilities for visiting, instructing, and reporting made him in effect the company’s superintendent in Sussex Vale, where the enterprise was largely centred. He continued in this capacity until he was dismissed from the company’s employment in 1824 following several years of mounting unease among its governors about the Indian policies being pursued on their behalf and at their considerable expense.
In the mean time, Arnold’s involvement in Indian education and “civilization” became secondary to his other work as Anglican pastor to fellow refugees and new immigrants from Britain. He had been ordained in 1791 by Bishop Charles Inglis* on the basis of a title from the New England Company and given responsibility for the parish of Sussex, which then included three major settlements: Sussex Vale, where he continued to reside, Norton, and Hampton, respectively 20 and 33 miles distant from his church. After three years’ pressure from the bishop and Leonard’s gift of a 200-acre glebe, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel agreed to designate Sussex Parish one of its missions in 1794. In receipt of a SPG stipend and a salary from the New Brunswick government, Arnold continued to serve the settlements in his area until his death. The arrival of Elias Scovil in 1803 and James Cookson in 1818 as neighbouring missionaries eased his original duties for the SPG, but the opening of new settlements and Arnold’s increasing infirmities led to the appointment of his son and successor Horatio Nelson Arnold as an assistant in 1829. Another son, Samuel Edwin, had also followed him into the church in New Brunswick in the 1820s.
Like other loyalist clergy in rural missions, Arnold experienced difficulties securing financial assistance from his congregations, whom he described in 1791 as “exceedingly poor,” with “a very rugged country to subdue,” and scarcely able to support their families, let alone a clergyman. He had to endure unfinished churches, sporadically maintained schools, and arduous travelling conditions in order to minister to his scattered flock. The burden of raising and educating his own family was not made any easier by the prevailing shortage of cash in New Brunswick and capriciously protested bills of exchange in London. The Nova Scotia diocese also suffered from inadequate supervision. Although Arnold referred specifically to problems relating to the ordination of his own sons, he spoke for all the clergy of the diocese when he lamented in 1823 the absence in England of Bishop Robert Stanser. Despite the pioneer hardships of the day, Arnold appears to have been one of the more energetic and adaptable clergymen of the loyalist era. Sussex Vale became the centre of an Arnold dynasty which contributed to the growth of a stable community. As a justice of the peace and a freemason, Oliver Arnold added secular and social prestige to his role as a well-loved pastor.
His success as a clergyman to people of his own kind stands in marked contrast to his notorious reputation as New England Company missionary to the Indians. That he benefited more from his position than the Indians did from his care seems unquestionable. He received a salary of £30 as missionary, increased to £50 in 1814; he gave the schoolmaster to the Indians only a portion of the money he was paid as instructor; he enjoyed premiums of £20 a year for each Indian apprentice whose indenture he undertook (between four and seven at a time); he lived in a house belonging to the company which he was ultimately able to buy on easy terms; his two eldest sons and other kin shared the remaining Indian indentures. The labour of the apprentices, certainly the second generation if not the first, represented a considerable boon in an agricultural community. Under the guise of apprenticeship, which Arnold considered necessary from infancy in order to wrest the Indians from the control of Catholic priests, the indentured children became virtual slaves to the leading families of Sussex Vale.
Arnold himself may not have been the worst of the masters. He apparently attempted to learn the Indians’ language and train an Indian teacher or missionary, and he claimed that his settlement scheme for the predominantly Malecite people was as practicable as that projected by Walter Bromley* in the North American Indian Institution of 1814. But after the initial years of his involvement with the Indians, Arnold exhibited little enthusiasm for amelioration efforts. His description of the instruction of the Indians as an unpleasant task suggests that he may have been unsuited to the work. The financial rewards clearly afforded his incentive for persistence. John Coffin*, who became the salaried superintendent of the local New England Company board in 1807, may have been as financially involved as Arnold, but he still described the latter as “rapacious in the extreme,” comparable more to “a mad dog – after his prey than a Clergyman in the habit of praying for things requisite and necessary.” Whether out of a belief in Indian inferiority, financial self-interest, or despair of success, Arnold created the impression among colonists that the Indians were at best exploitable, at worst dispensable. The ignominious history of the New England Company enterprise at Sussex Vale portrayed in the reports of Walter Bromley (1822) and John West* (1825), commissioned by the company’s governors in England, throws a revealing if unattractive light on the activities of this otherwise respectable white man.
Guildhall Library (London), mss 7920/1–2, 7954, 7956, 7970. N.B. Museum, Sussex Indian Academy papers. PAC, MG 23, D1, ser.1, 13. PANS, MG 1, 479, no.3: 206–59 (transcripts). USPG, C/CAN/NB, 1, nos.80–92; 4, no.521; Journal of SPG, 25–37. Winslow papers (Raymond). F. B. Dexter, Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale College, with annals of the college history (6v. , New York and New Haven, Conn., 1885–1912). “Roll of officers of the British American or loyalist corps,” comp. W. O. Raymond, N.B. Hist. Soc., Coll., 2 (1899–1905), no.5: 249. Leonard Allison, The Rev. Oliver Arnold, first rector of Sussex, N.B., with some account of his life, his parish, and his successors, and the old Indian College (Saint John, N.B., 1892). G. H. Lee, An historical sketch of the first fifty years of the Church of England in the province of New Brunswick (1783–1833) (Saint John, 1880). C. F. Pascoe, Two hundred years of the S.P.G. . . . (2v., London, 1901). Judith Fingard, “English humanitarianism and the colonial mind: Walter Bromley in Nova Scotia, 1813–25,” CHR, 54 (1973): 123–51; “The New England Company and the New Brunswick Indians, 1786–1826: a comment on the colonial perversion of British benevolence,” Acadiensis (Fredericton), 1 (1971–72), no.2: 29–42.