KILPATRICK, ROBERT, priest of the Church of England, missionary; b. in England; d. 19 Aug. 1741 at Trinity, Newfoundland.
Robert Kilpatrick’s mission at Trinity was one of several started along the east coast of Newfoundland in the early 18th century. Trinity was settled by fishermen from the English west country, and in 1729 the inhabitants petitioned the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for a missionary. The settlers promised £30 per annum for a minister’s support and the SPG thereupon sent Kilpatrick.
He arrived in 1730, but before 16 months had passed was complaining to the society. He had received no letters from home, the cost of living was high, provisions were scarce and his parishioners “difficult and disagreeable.” Few or no contributions towards his support were made by the people, some of whom treated him cruelly, and he was faced with starvation. He asked the SPG for “removal from this unpleasant corner of the earth.” The majority of the inhabitants, however, headed by the justices of the peace, testified on Kilpatrick’s departure that he had been diligent and had worked a moral reformation. He had toiled among a people ignorant and unbaptized, had built a church, and had distributed prayer books and tracts. Many people regretted his going.
In July 1732 the SPG sent Kilpatrick to New Windsor, New York, where promises similar to those made by the people of Trinity had indicated the desire for a missionary. But there he found no house, no subscriptions, and a hostile reception. He lodged with a family so ill natured that they often threatened to throw him out in the depths of winter. He therefore appealed to the SPG in October to send him back to Newfoundland, with a possible addition to his salary. The SPG agreed to his requests and he landed at Placentia en route for Trinity in June 1734. At Placentia he preached, baptized, and visited. He had a large congregation and felt they needed a missionary. By September 1734 he was back at Trinity.
His congregation during the summer fishing season was large, but in winter most of the remaining families went away to trap or hunt seals. He instructed his parishioners carefully in their religion and ordered books from England on the New Testament and the Book of Common Prayer. Children and adults were baptized and tracts distributed. At about this time he married and began to father a family.
In 1737 Kilpatrick visited England and the SPG headquarters in London, to which his congregation had sent a petition thanking the society for his work and asking that he be given more money. George Clinton, a former governor, supported their request, describing Kilpatrick as “a good Christian.” Aided by a grant of £10, Kilpatrick returned to Trinity, where he worked until his death in August 1741. He left a wife and five children who were granted £25 by the society. Henry Jones of Bonavista, at his own request, was transferred to Kilpatrick’s mission.
Kilpatrick was like many pious and hardworking 18th century clergymen who volunteered for missionary work, presumably because of lack of employment in England. He was promised financial support, but such promises, given by a community dependent upon the uncertain yield of the fisheries, were not worth much. In practice he had to depend upon the SPG. Newfoundlanders, like colonists everywhere, would not pay for clergy whom missionary societies would provide free of charge. Kilpatrick’s initial efforts at reform seem to have met with opposition from men unaccustomed to the influence of the church, but he persisted in his efforts to bring elements of civilization to a rough and uneducated community. He was a typical missionary, receiving a typical colonial welcome.
USPG, A, 22, pp.226–27; 23, pp.33–36, 38–39, 250; 24, pp.250, 254, 479; 25, pp.148, 319; B, 7, p.249; 9/2, p.54; Journal of SPG, 5–6; 7, pp.202–4; 8, pp.293–94; 9. [C. F. Pascoe], Classified digest of the records of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701–1892 (5th ed., London, 1895). F. M. Buffett, The story of the church in Newfoundland (Toronto, ). Prowse, History of Nfld.