BAMFORD, STEPHEN, soldier and Wesleyan Methodist minister; b. December 1770 near Nottingham, England; m. first 1799 in Ireland Jane – (d. 4 June 1839); m. secondly 28 Oct. 1840 Abigail Kirk, daughter of Abdiel Kirk, a musician, and they had at least one child, Margaret; d. 14 Aug. 1848 in Digby, N.S.
Little is known about Stephen Bamford’s early life until 1793 when he enlisted in the British army and was assigned to the 29th Foot. He served in the Netherlands, the West Indies, and Ireland, and from September 1802 was stationed at Halifax. While in Ireland he had become a Methodist and he was soon invited to preach in the Halifax chapel. He became a popular and effective preacher and in 1806 his friends purchased his discharge from the army. That year the Nova Scotia District recommended him to the British Wesleyan Conference and stationed him on the Cumberland circuit. Bamford was admitted to full connection by the British parent in 1810, and in the same year he was ordained in Pittsfield, Mass., by bishops Francis Asbury and William McKendree, the last missionary from the Nova Scotia District to be ordained by the Methodist Episcopal Church, an American body.
Following ordination Bamford served on several Maritime circuits, including Liverpool, Saint John, Horton, Annapolis, Charlottetown, Halifax, and Windsor, but there is little detailed record of his work. In 1824 he became chairman of the Nova Scotia District, succeeding James Priestley. A year later Bamford assured the missionary committee in London that, despite the scandal caused by Priestley’s alcoholism, “the work of the Lord is in a prosperous way.” Bamford remained chairman of the Nova Scotia District after it was divided in 1826 into the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia districts. He was succeeded by William Croscombe in 1829.
By 1833 Bamford was determined to return to England. Writing in 1834 to his old friend the Reverend Robert Alder*, then the missionary secretary responsible for British North America, he exclaimed: “I cannot bear the exposure and hard travelling of this frigid country, and therefore shall not attept to take another Circuit except it be where there is no travelling.” His own brethren, he wrote later, had treated him unfairly in stationing him on the comfortable Windsor circuit and then reducing his salary because “he could not stretch to the utmost bounds of a Nova-Sctia circuit!!!” Thus he was deeply grateful to Alder for arranging an appointment to Exeter, England.
Although Mrs Bamford’s health prevented her from leaving Nova Scotia, Bamford did go home in 1836. After being away for more than 30 years he found England a strange and lonely place and he soon decided to return to the Maritime provinces. In 1836 he was listed on the Saint John circuit as a supernumerary, a status he retained until his death. Following his wife’s death in 1839 he travelled again to England and preached for a time in Guernsey. He settled in Digby, N.S., in 1841 and preached regularly in that area. Characteristically, after he was injured in a carriage accident there he preached first in his house, and then for nine months was carried “to the Chappel by hand” and spoke from his chair. Bamford died in Digby on 14 Aug. 1848 and was buried in Saint John beside his first wife. One who was present at his death found him “as kind and considerate as ever,” and indeed his simplicity, gentleness, and unassuming piety had endeared him to many.
Stephen Bamford left no record of his conversion or of his spiritual journey. His letters, which were not numerous, are those of a simple, humble man who cherished his friends, his church, his country of birth, and Nova Scotia. “I have ever endeavoured,” he wrote, “to maintain the honor, and purity, of methodism, I have preached her Doctrines, enforced her Discipline and have lived a holy life.” “Old England” was, he believed, the “greatest, wisest, bravest, and best of all lands”; yet, “I love Nova-Scotia, her hills, Dells, and extensive forests are all pleasing to me.” Undoubtedly, he helped to establish in his adopted home a form of Methodism in which commitment to John Wesley’s teaching and loyalty to England were linked inextricably.
SOAS, Methodist Missionary Soc. Arch., Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Soc., corr., North America (mfm. at UCC-C). Francis Asbury, The journal and letters of Francis Asbury, ed. E. T. Clark et al. (3v., London and Nashville, Tenn., 1958), 2–3. Wesleyan Methodist Church, Minutes of the conferences (London), 3 (1808–13): 129; 6 (1825–30), minutes for 1828–29; 7 (1831–35), minutes for 1834; 8 (1836–39): 48. New-Brunswick Courier, 8 June 1839, 31 Oct. 1840. Novascotian, 28 Aug. 1848. N.B. vital statistics, 1840–42 (Johnson et al.). Smith, Hist. of Methodist Church. William Burt, “Memoir of the Rev. Stephen Bamford, of British North America,” Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine, 74 (1851): 833–40.