BLACK, EDWARD, Church of Scotland minister and teacher; b. 10 Dec. 1793 in the parish of Penninghame, Scotland, third son of the Reverend James Black; m. first, before 1822, Elizabeth McCullough Craw, and they had one daughter; m. secondly c. 1837 Wilhemina MacMillan, and they had one son; d. 7 or 8 May 1845 in Montreal.
Edward Black was educated at local schools and from 1808 to 1815 at the University of Edinburgh. After being licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Wigtown in June 1815, he was appointed assistant to his father, but not being given his father’s charge after the latter’s death in 1822, he emigrated to Montreal with his wife.
It was probably an old friend, businessman Peter McGill*, who introduced Black to the Reverend Henry Esson*, minister of Montreal’s most prestigious Presbyterian church, the Scotch Presbyterian Church, later known as St Gabriel Street Church. The two clergymen were unlike in appearance and ministerial style. Esson had a slender physique, was an intellectual, and probably preached at a level beyond the comprehension of at least some of his parishioners, whereas Black was a heavy-set man with Luther-like features who presented an intensely emotional, evangelical message from the pulpit. On Esson’s invitation Black preached to his congregation, with such success that he was called to the pulpit on 26 Feb. 1823 as assistant to Esson and James Somerville, who had retired from active duty but remained the senior minister. At the demise of either minister, Black was to be colleague to the survivor.
Black was ordained on 4 March 1823 by an informal presbytery of Kirk ministers which had been established in the Canadas, probably in 1820. It had met periodically and had hoped to obtain statistics that would support its request for recognition of the Church of Scotland as an established church in the Canadas; recognition would bolster its claims for financial assistance from the government. The presbytery also seems to have been prepared to ordain clergymen, at least until a more official hierarchy of church courts was instituted in the Canadas. Problems ensued. John Burns, a Kirk minister of the evangelical party who arrived in Montreal in 1824 to succeed Robert Easton* as minister of St Peter Street Church, challenged the legality of Black’s ordination. He complained that the presbytery did not have the power to ordain a minister because it was not directly attached to the mother church. Furthermore, he feared that by assisting Black in communion services, he would jeopardize his own position within the Church of Scotland. Members of the presbytery were furious, and resolved to send pertinent documents to Scotland and to have no further contact with Burns. Nothing more was heard of the matter, and at the end of his two-year contract Burns returned to Scotland.
Black’s position at the Scotch Presbyterian Church continued to be uneasy. His salary had been guaranteed for only two years. Somerville’s pension and the salaries for both Esson and Black were dependent on pew rents and church collections but this revenue was inadequate for the needs of the three. Various attempts at relieving the difficulty failed, rumours abounded, and factions arose, one supporting Esson, the other Black. At one point, in the spring of 1831, Black’s supporters occupied the church, while partisans of Esson’s cause tried to enter by force. Acting upon the advice of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, that the case should be decided by ministers in the colony, 15 Presbyterian clergymen and several elders from Upper and Lower Canada met in Kingston in early June 1831 and formed the Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland. The arbitrators appointed by the synod decided, on 23 May 1832, that Esson and Black should form separate congregations with Esson remaining at St Gabriel Street Church. At first Black and his congregation worshipped in a Baptist church, but on 24 Aug. 1834 they were able to assemble in the newly constructed St Paul’s Church, on Rue Sainte-Hélène. During the years immediately after the separation, while his new congregation was getting established, Black had supported himself and his family by opening a school; James Moir Ferres* assisted him as teacher.
Black’s wife had died in 1828, leaving one daughter. In 1837 he was granted a dd by the University of Edinburgh, and it was probably during a visit to Scotland to receive the degree that he married Wilhemina MacMillan of Wigtownshire. The couple would have one son.
Black was deeply mourned when he died at age 52. An obituary in the Montreal Gazette described him as “a man of powerful natural abilities, of literary accomplishments and tastes, of great and unaffected sincerity and kindness of heart, and of calm and devoted piety.” He had been an outstanding minister. He was not rigid in his beliefs, having expressed his desire to take part with other religious denominations in advancing Christendom. Furthermore, he was extremely valuable in the courts of the church because of his knowledge of forms and procedures.
ANQ-M, CE1-125, 12 mai 1845. QUA, 2263, Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland, Synod papers. UCC, Montreal-Ottawa Conference Arch. (Montreal), St Gabriel Street Church, parish records, box II. Montreal Gazette, 13 May 1845. Borthwick, Hist. and biog. gazetteer. Scott et al., Fasti ecclesiœ scoticanœ, vol.7. Campbell, Hist. of Scotch Presbyterian Church. Gregg, Hist. of Presbyterian Church (1885). E. A. [Ken] McDougall, “The Presbyterian Church in western Lower Canada, 1815–1842”