COTTON, CHARLES CALEB, priest of the Church of England and farmer; b. 31 July 1775 in Eton, England, eldest of 13 children of Caleb Cotton and Ann Lemoine; m. 22 June 1814 Drusilla Pettis, and they had seven children, of whom three survived their parents; d. 9 Oct. 1848 in Cowansville, Lower Canada.
Charles Caleb Cotton’s father was a schoolmaster and his mother a daughter of a Swiss who taught French at Eton College. After attending Eton, Cotton graduated ba from Oriel College, University of Oxford, in 1797. He was ordained deacon by Bishop George Pretyman of Lincoln on 31 Dec. 1797 and licensed a curate in Wexham. The following November he sailed to the United States. In 1799 he became a master in Charleston College, Charleston, S.C., but the pay being meagre he resigned. From 1800 to 1804 he ministered successively at New York, in New Brunswick, N.J., and near Philadelphia.
In August 1804, well recommended, Cotton presented himself at Quebec to Bishop Jacob Mountain*, a close friend of the bishop of Lincoln, and on 9 September he became the first priest ordained in the new Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. He was subsequently licensed to Missisquoi Bay, in the seigneury of Saint-Armand. Mountain recommended him to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as “peculiarly suited to the situation, having great simplicity, becoming gravity of manners, good ability, and much facility in communicating his thoughts, & from his residence in America, sufficient familiarity with the manners prevalent among their new settlers which are so apt to give an Englishman disgust.” Cotton had been preceded at Missisquoi Bay by the SPG missionaries Robert Quirk Short* and James Marmaduke Tunstall, but he found that little had been accomplished in the rough pioneer settlement. Without church or parsonage, and with the inconveniences of primitive board and lodging, he continued for four years to give to the people of Saint-Armand, and in a measure to those of neighbouring Caldwell’s Manor, the first continuous ministrations of the church. In December 1806, however, Mountain noted that Cotton was disheartened by his parishioners, “many of them . . . addicted to profane conversation & dissolute habits.” To the bishop of Lincoln he acknowledged that Cotton was “a very worthy, a very pious, & a very sensible man,” but added that “his weak state of health renders him incapable of any very considerable or continued exertion: his mind appears to have no peculiar firmness; & perverseness discourages, & difficulties depress him.”
To relieve Cotton, Charles James Stewart was appointed to Saint-Armand in 1807. However, Cotton moved only a few miles away to Dunham Township, provoking a mild reproach from Mountain, who reminded him that clergy “were not ordained for their own convenience and comfort” but nevertheless allowed him to remain. Yet Cotton’s early years in Dunham were anything but comfortable. He had to contend not only with the indifference of the people and their ignorance of Anglican ways but also with itinerant Baptist and Methodist missionaries. In addition, he ultimately experienced personally all the problems encountered by the settlers to whom he ministered. After boarding for nearly two years with eight other people in a two-room cabin, he cleared and farmed three homesteads in succession, each one costing him dearly in time, money, and physical toil. In 1812 Mountain proposed Cotton for York (Toronto), but he was rejected by Isaac Brock*, then administering Upper Canada, who obtained the appointment of John Strachan*.
Cotton had to hold services in schoolhouses and private homes until a church was built at Dunham Flats (Dunham) in 1821. The parish was erected by provincial letters patent that year, and Cotton became rector, but the ceremony of institution, because of some “informality,” had to be repeated in 1829. The first All Saints’ Church, a spacious wooden building somewhat clumsily designed, stood until 1846 when it was demolished to make way for a stone structure.
Possessing no outstanding gifts, and, according to one observer, “as destitute of equestrian skill as he was . . . unequalled . . . for pedestrian ability,” Cotton could not provide the range of missionary services or cover the territory that Stewart could. Neither was his ministry entirely trouble-free. A man of simple habits and fond of retirement, he was in some respects eccentric, and his practice of expressing his views baldly could give offence. In 1823 Stewart had to settle a dispute between him and his parishioners, who alleged that he was inattentive to his pastoral duties and had refused to bury a young woman because she had been baptized by a dissenting minister. Stewart had more than once lost patience with Cotton, but in this instance friendly advice and warning seem to have resolved the difficulty.
In general, however, Cotton’s long ministry in Dunham was calm, and despite ill health in later life he performed his clerical duties regularly, conducting a total of 617 baptisms, 656 marriages, and 187 burials and preparing 226 candidates for confirmation. As befitted a schoolmaster’s son, he catechized children, established a Sunday school (in 1824), and helped to prepare two theological students, Micajah Townsend and James Reid, for ordination. He strictly observed the rubrics of the prayer book. One of the few clergy to receive a stipend of £100 from the British government, Cotton was granted another £100 from the SPG after 1814; not until 1834 when Stewart, then bishop of Quebec, urged self-financing by churches, did parishioners begin to contribute to their rector’s income. “Priest Cotton,” as he was known familiarly, died in 1848 after 40 years’ service in Dunham.
Descendants of the Cotton family have in their possession extensive correspondence containing a great deal of information on Charles Caleb Cotton and his family. A typescript, 325 pages in length, of a selection of these letters was made in 1932, and a photocopy and microfilm copy of it are at the ACC, General Synod Arch. (Toronto).
ACC, Diocese of Montreal Arch., file C-18. ACC-Q, 50. All Saints (Anglican) Church (Dunham, Que.), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 30 April 1815, 13 Oct. 1848. RHL, USPG Arch., C/CAN/folders 362, 410 (mfm. at PAC); journal of SPG, 29–43. Trinity Church (Anglican) (Frelighsburg, Que.), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 22 June 1814. Ernest Hawkins, Annals of the diocese of Quebec (London, 1849), 39–41. [G. J. Mountain], A journal of visitation in a portion of the diocese of Quebec by the lord bishop of Montreal in 1846 (London, 1847), 61–62; A journal of visitation to a part of the diocese of Quebec by the lord bishop of Montreal in the spring of 1843 (3rd ed., London, 1846), 37–38. SPG, [Annual report] (London), 1830: 129–30. Church, 2 Nov. 1848. T. R. Millman, A short history of the parish of Dunham, Quebec (Granby, Que., 1946); Jacob Mountain, first lord bishop of Quebec; a study in church and state, 1793–1825 (Toronto, 1947); The life of the Right Reverend, the Honourable Charles James Stewart, D.D., Oxon., second Anglican bishop of Quebec (London, Ont., 1953). Cyrus Thomas, Contributions to the history of the Eastern Townships . . . (Montreal, 1866), 137–43. “A brief history of the parish of Dunham,” Church Chronicle for the Diocese of Montreal (Montreal), 1 (1860–61): 4–7, 39–41. “Historical notes,” Missisquoi County Hist. Soc., Report (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.), 3 (1908): 70–81.