BARRY, ROBERT, teacher, merchant, Methodist lay exhorter, office holder, and jp; b. c. 1759 in Kinross, Scotland, son of John Barry; m. May 1789 Mary Jessop in Delaware, and they had five sons and six daughters; d. 3 Sept. 1843 in Liverpool, N.S.
Although born in Scotland, Robert Barry was raised in Fratton, England. Through his father, a shopkeeper, he was introduced to a mercantile career. As Barry’s later reminiscences indicate, he was attracted in youth to Methodist evangelicalism. About 1774 he crossed the Atlantic as an impressed seaman but made good his escape in the port of New York. Little is known of his life there beyond his participation in a business partnership, his friendship with the Reverend Charles Inglis*, the rector of Trinity Church (where Barry was a regular communicant), and his attendance at Methodist services in the John Street Chapel. This chapel, built in 1768, was the first structure in North America dedicated by its founding congregation to the Methodist movement. Here Barry is said to have started his lifelong role as an exhorter.
In the spring of 1783 some of the leading John Street Methodists, including Barry, joined the exodus of several thousand loyalists from New York to Port Roseway (Shelburne), N.S. Though the majority of these refugees eventually moved elsewhere, Barry determined to stay in the settlement. For two years he taught school in Shelburne and then became established as a merchant there in connection with his only brother, Alexander, of Portsmouth, England. Their firm, known as A. and R. Barry, engaged in the West Indies fish, lumber, sugar, and rum trade, and transported considerable quantities of agricultural produce from the Chignecto Isthmus to Halifax and St John’s. British dry goods were imported from London for sale in Nova Scotia. Stores were acquired in Shelburne, in Liverpool, at the Strait of Canso, and in Dorchester, N.B., which were serviced by a small fleet of vessels owned in part or whole by A. and R. Barry.
With the dissolution of the partnership in 1810 Barry moved to Liverpool and set himself up in business there, although he still maintained his store and shipping interests in Shelburne. He was assisted by four of his sons, and saw them found their own stores in Halifax. One of them, John Alexander*, furthered family prominence by marrying in 1814 a daughter of Methodist Superintendent William Black* and by being elected in 1827 to the House of Assembly for Shelburne. Robert Barry himself served as a jp and in 1817 was appointed to the Commissioners Court, which was authorized to hold summary hearings of small claims. He joined organizations in Queens County such as the agricultural society and temperance and bible societies, and was a committee member of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Auxiliary Society. His business affairs were conducted with “probity, integrity and frankness,” and Methodist missionary Robert Cooney* described him in 1834 as “an upright and intelligent magistrate.”
Barry, whose life was guided by John Wesley’s teachings, represented the important role played by merchants in Nova Scotian Methodism. These merchants – Simeon Perkins* is another example – provided leadership to the movement and at the same time enhanced its respectability. Barry himself acted as a class leader and exhorter in Shelburne, which was the headquarters of the Methodist preacher James Man*. He also advanced the sect’s cause on the South Shore by participating in the construction of chapels at Shelburne, Barrington, and Sable River, and of one for blacks near Liverpool. In 1783, following a visit to Shelburne by William Black, Barry had initiated a correspondence with John Wesley. The Barry–Wesley letters offer useful insight into transatlantic Methodist ties, provide glimpses of the Shelburne Methodist society, and indicate Barry’s fervent devotion to Wesleyanism. They also reveal how Nova Scotia Methodists were torn between retaining – at Wesley’s insistence – their attachment to the Church of England and accepting preachers such as Freeborn Garrettson* from the Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States.
In his secular activity Barry exemplified those loyalist merchants who created a secure place for themselves in Nova Scotia. His promotion of Method ism gave him a special spiritual attachment to the colony, aided his integration into the pre-existing mercantile structure through select business ties, and kept him in touch with the greater world of transatlantic Wesleyanism. His life is a useful illustration of the dynamic impact that evangelical Protestantism has had on the formation of eastern Canadian society.
In addition to the sources cited below, the records of the Nova Scotia Court of Probate for Queens (Liverpool) and Shelburne counties and of the Registry of Deeds for Halifax, Hants (Windsor), Queens, and Shelburne counties were consulted; they are available on microfilm at the PANS.
PANS, MG 1, 120, 817; MG 3, 306; MG 100, 170, doc13 (copies); RG 34–321. UCC, Maritime Conference Arch. (Halifax), Black–McColl papers, John Wesley letters, Wesley to Robert Barry, 15 Sept. 1786; Granville Ferry Methodist Church (Granville Ferry, N.S.), board of trustees, minutes, 1887–1913, copy of letter, John Wesley to Robert Barry, 4 June 1790. The Newlight Baptist journals of James Manning and James Innis, ed. D. G. Bell (Saint John, N.B., 1984). John Wesley, The letters of the Rev. John Wesley . . . ,. ed. John Telford (8v., London, 1931; repr. ), 7: 225, 254; 8: 12. Christian Messenger, 1843. Nova-Scotia Royal Gazette, 1802, 1806, 1812, 1814–16, 1820–21, 1824. Times (Halifax), 1843. G. A. Rawlyk, Ravished by the spirit: religious revivals, Baptists, and Henry Alline (Kingston, Ont., and Montreal, 1984). A. B. Robertson, “Loyalist, Methodist, merchant – Robert Barry – from refugee to Nova Scotian” (ma thesis, Acadia Univ., Wolfville, N.S., 1984). Marion Robertson, King’s bounty: a history of early Shelburne, Nova Scotia . . . (Halifax, 1983). Smith, Hist. of Methodist Church.