ELLIS, WILLIAM, Methodist clergyman; b. 1780 in County Down (Northern Ireland); married with six children; d. 21 Sept. 1837 in Harbour Grace, Nfld.
At the age of 16 William Ellis was converted to Methodism and he subsequently served the church in his native land as a class-leader and local preacher. During the Irish rebellion of 1798, he and his family narrowly escaped death. On 30 Oct. 1808 Ellis sailed from England as a Methodist missionary to Newfoundland, arriving there on 23 November. For five years, he, John Remmington, and Samuel McDowell ministered in the settlements on the north side of Conception Bay and on the south shore of Trinity Bay. Ellis was responsible for building a church at Grates Cove and was the first person to preach in it. In 1813 he went to Bonavista, a town without a minister to serve its 1,200 Protestant residents. Under his leadership, the construction of a church, which had been started 15 years earlier, was completed. He was the first Methodist to visit Catalina, and in April 1814 he delivered the first sermon heard in Bird Island Cove (Elliston).
In 1815 the Newfoundland district of the British Wesleyan Conference was organized and Ellis became its chairman. Two years later he moved to Trinity where he established a Sunday school, had a church erected, and was able to visit many communities on the north side of the bay. While he was serving in Port de Grave in 1819, Ellis baptized six Indians who had been brought to the settlement by a Labrador planter. He was then stationed at the Blackhead mission before returning to Bonavista, which had been one of his most successful fields. In 1835, in poor health, he was again sent to Trinity, the least onerous charge. The 1837 district letter to the Missionary Society in London stated: “Brother Ellis had a stroke of palsy and is unable to continue his work; he is put down as supernumerary. . . . He has a family of six children, the oldest fifteen years of age, the youngest a quarter of a year, and therefore all that can should be done to save them from the most abject poverty.” Ellis’s death came at Harbour Grace on 21 September; he was the first Methodist missionary to die and be buried in Newfoundland The Reverend William Wilson, a fellow missionary with Ellis for 14 years, wrote: “He was a kind and amiable man, of good natural abilities, and very eloquent as a speaker; he was faithful, laborious, and successful in his work.” According to the Reverend Philip Tocque*, “Often theological nuggets of gold would embellish his discourses, and a stream of Irish oratory would flow from his lips.”
SOAS, Methodist Missionary Soc. Arch., Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Soc., corr. Nfld., 1808–37 (mfm. at PAC). Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine, 31 (1808)–60 (1837). Smith, Hist. of Methodist Church. William Wilson, Newfoundland and its missionaries . . . to which is added a chronological table of all the important events that have occurred on the island (Cambridge, Mass., and Halifax, 1866). Methodist Monthly Greeting (St John’s), 11 (1899), no.12; 12 (1900), no.4.