HUESTIS, GEORGE OXLEY, Methodist minister and author; b. 6 Aug. 1821 in Wallace, N.S., son of James Huestis and Melinda —; m. 3 June 1851, in Halifax, Margaret Annie Williams, daughter of Richard Williams of Saint John, N.B., and they had two daughters and four sons; d. 5 Sept. 1905 in Lunenburg, N.S.
George Oxley Huestis was the only boy in a family of nine. His parents, of loyalist stock, were pew holders in the Methodist church at Wallace, where he was baptized as an infant. In June 1837, Huestis experienced what he referred to as his “second and spiritual birth,” and thenceforth Methodism became the driving force in his life. He entered the ministry in 1846, his first charge being the Shelburne circuit, and he was ordained on 10 Feb. 1851.
During 43 years as a minister Huestis had charge of 18 circuits, most in Nova Scotia, although he also spent six years in Prince Edward Island and four in New Brunswick. He claimed that he had travelled through and preached in every county of Nova Scotia, but he never occupied a circuit in his native Cumberland County, despite his frequent requests for one. When he retired at the age of 68, he was one of the few remaining Methodist ministers in Nova Scotia to draw a retiring allowance from the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in Britain. Even when superannuated he was still active, often preaching two sermons a day for several weeks in succession.
Throughout his career Huestis was prominent in the administration of the church. He was chairman of several districts of the Wesleyan Methodist Conference of Eastern British America, including Fredericton in 1864 and Prince Edward Island in 1873, and he served as financial secretary of the Saint John district in 1865 and 1866. Chairman of the Truro district of the Methodist Church of Canada in 1877 and 1878, Huestis was superintendent of the Liverpool district in 1884, 1887, and 1888. He had been elected president of the Nova Scotia conference in 1884, and he also sat on several committees, such as those concerning church property and education.
Huestis wrote four books on Methodist history. He hoped that his first book, Memorials of Wesleyan missionaries & ministers . . . (Halifax, 1872), would inspire the writing of a “complete history” of Maritime Methodism. His second, A manual of Methodism: being outlines of its history, doctrines, and discipline (Toronto, 1885), was written in response to his perception of a general ignorance of the history of Methodism as a whole. During his 82nd year he produced The beginnings of Methodism throughout the world . . . (Toronto, 1903) in the hope that it would “kindle anew the revival flame which is smoldering in the not very warm embers of the continued revival.” In 1902 he had published Historical items and personal reminiscences of Methodism in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia (Windsor, N.S.), a tribute to his native county.
Although Huestis was a devoted Methodist, he respected Presbyterians and Baptists, contending that “there are, and have been just as good Christians on the wrong, as well as the right side of Arminianism.” He particularly admired the evangelism of the Baptists, and his inter-sectarian nature was symbolized by the participation of the local Baptist preacher at his funeral.
This popular Methodist minister was, according to a contemporary, a “forcible and fluent speaker.” He was also an avid student of the Bible, having read it through by the age of 12 and once through every year afterwards. He loved to sing, and often led the singing at ministerial gatherings, including the general conference in Montreal in 1878. Indeed, Huestis stated that two of the primary influences on his religious life were the Bible and the old Methodist hymn-book.
Because Huestis was an itinerant preacher, it is probable that he did not spend much time with his family, although he wrote in a poem that “A True Minister” was “A father, husband, gentle, true, / Devoted to his loving wife, / Attentive to his children too.” The household was undoubtedly kept together by his wife, said to be an “unassuming, quiet, retiring character” who “adorned her position as mother and queen of the home.”
Huestis was described by his contemporaries as a ray of “sunshine in winter,” with a “radiant face” and a “genial manner.” Although the rules of John Wesley, reiterated by Huestis in one of his books, stated that one must be serious and avoid all “lightness, jesting, and foolish talking,” Huestis himself commented that an ideal minister was “Not formal, stiff, austere, and sad, / But cheerful, pleasant, social, glad.”
Besides serving as a minister, Huestis was a school commissioner in Cape Breton in 1860 and in Lunenburg in 1868. He was also particularly active in the temperance cause. Two years before his death he claimed that he had not drunk alcoholic beverages since his ninth year. Huestis had joined the Sons of Temperance in 1848, and he was the first man to be grand worthy patriarch of each of the Maritime grand divisions. He also served as grand chaplain of the Nova Scotia grand division, and when the national division met at Philadelphia in 1876 he was elected most worthy chaplain. Huestis lectured and preached on temperance for 50 years and wrote many related articles and poems.
Huestis made his primary contributions as a pioneer of Methodism and a faithful proponent of temperance. Contemporaries described him as one of the best known clergymen of any denomination in Nova Scotia and one of the most active and loyal supporters of the temperance cause. His lifelong ambition was, an obituary noted, to prepare the way for the coming of Christ’s kingdom on earth.
NA, RG 31, C1, 1861, Cape Breton, polling dist.1, abstract no.8; 1871, Canning, div.1. PANS, MG 4, 156; MG 9, 43: 230; RG 3, 1, no.84; 2, no.299; 2a. Forward (Halifax), 7 Sept. 1905. Hants Journal (Windsor, N.S.), 13 Sept. 1905. Novascotian, 9 June 1851. Wesleyan (Halifax), 13–27 Sept. 1905. J. G. Angwin, Methodism in Cape Breton, 1789–1914; a retrospect . . . (Sydney Mines, N.S., 1914). Canadian annual rev. (Hopkins), 1905. “Cemetery inscriptions for Lunenburg – Queens – Shelburne counties” (typescript, 3v., Bridgewater, N.S., 1981–85; copy in PANS, Library), 1. Cornish, Cyclopædia of Methodism. J. A. Curtis Jowsey, “Cumberland County families; she lived in three centuries” (typescript, Truro, N.S., 1988; copy in PANS, Library). F. A. Doane, “Methodism in Truro” (typescript, Truro, 1922; copy in PANS, Library, Vert. file, 255, no.14). D. W. Johnson, History of Methodism in Eastern British America . . . ([Sackville, N.B.], n.d.). Methodist Church (Canada, Newfoundland, Bermuda), Nova Scotia Conference, Minutes ([Halifax]), 1884–90. Methodist Church of Canada, Nova Scotia Conference, Minutes (Halifax), 1877–79, 1883. T. W. Smith, History of the Methodist Church within the territories embraced in the late conference of Eastern British America . . . (2v., Halifax, 1877–90). Sons of Temperance, Grand Div. of Nova Scotia, Centennial book, 1847–1947 (n.p., ); Journal of the proc. (Halifax), 1868–69, 1871; National Div. of North America, Journal of the proceedings, 1876–1881 (Toronto, 1881), proc. for 1876–78. Robert Wilson, Methodism in the Maritime provinces (Halifax, 1893).