LANGHORN, JOHN, Church of England clergyman; b. c. 1744 in Wales, the son of a clergyman; d. unmarried 15 May 1817 in Natland, near Kendal, England.
Educated at St Bees School in Cumberland, John Langhorn served a curacy of 19 years, latterly at Harthill, Cheshire. In 1787, with strong support from two well-known churchmen, he was accepted by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel as a missionary to the loyalist settlements in western Quebec. His parish comprised townships No.2 (Ernestown) and No.3 (North and South Fredericksburgh), which had been settled three years before by disbanded soldiers from the King’s Royal Regiment of New York. After a journey of four months, Langhorn arrived on 5 Oct. 1787.
Aside from a few visits by John Stuart of Cataraqui (Kingston), the approximately 1,500 people of the parish had had the attention of no clergy whatever. The work awaiting Langhorn was immense and he took it up immediately. Quickly he established a routine to which he adhered with little deviation for the following quarter of a century. On alternate Sundays he conducted services for two home congregations, St John’s, at the front of Ernestown Township, and St Paul’s, at the front of Fredericksburgh (North and South Fredericksburgh) Township. Then, during the week, winter and summer, packing his surplice and books on his back, he traversed his territory on foot, systematically visiting a network of preaching stations. The names he chose for these small congregations were either appropriately apostolic or commemorative of his Cheshire diocese. Occasionally he also moved outside his parish to visit adjacent communities. Wherever he went, in addition to the regular services of the church, Langhorn performed baptisms, marriages, and burials.
The work was hard, the conditions severe, and the rewards few, especially since the area was not promising for a Church of England missionary. The people were loyalist and, reflecting their American origins, not many of them, perhaps one in ten, were Anglican. Langhorn quickly discovered that the two townships contained a large majority of Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, and Methodists. In 1787, he and Stuart were the only clergy at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. But within a few years, dissenting teachers and preachers were moving aggressively into the area, so that by the mid 1790s denominational pluralism was made permanent. It was accompanied by competitive pressure on the Church of England at the level of the individual congregation and of the government as well.
Langhorn’s response to that pressure was unequivocal. He had a deep reverence for the distinctive doctrines and forms of the church. An obstinate man with a tender conscience, he was driven by a highly developed sense of duty. Consequently, whatever the circumstances, he refused to make concessions to dissent. Whether it was a question of deviation from Anglican forms in marriage or baptism, of approving a sectarian preacher by sharing the pulpit with him, of recognition for dissenting ordination, or of wearing the surplice while conducting the rites of the church, in all cases Langhorn demanded, in Ernest Hawkins*’s words, “strict observance of the rules of the Church.” Ernestown (Bath) village, Langhorn told the SPG, was a “sore refractory town against the Church of England” and its people wanted him to behave as though all denominations and all clergy – no matter what “nonsensical gabble” they uttered – were equal and equally beyond criticism. But that was unthinkable for Langhorn. To him, dissenting clergy were schismatics and he was sure God would arrange harsh treatment for them in another world.
When no church principle was at issue, Langhorn was not uncharitable. Quite the contrary, he was well known for frequent acts of kindness that transcended denominational lines. But about the encroachments of dissent he was inflexible and as a result was in almost constant conflict and under frequent criticism. It was alleged that his attitude alienated possible converts and, in particular, drove crowds of people into the chapels of enthusiastic Methodist preachers. That criticism was made most vehemently and insistently by Stuart, a product of the apologetic Anglicanism of the Thirteen Colonies, who was willing to make some of the concessions that Langhorn refused.
Stuart was the bishop’s commissary and therefore was responsible for dealing with problems that arose out of Langhorn’s ministry. The difference in churchmanship between the two men made that task difficult. It was made harder still by Langhorn’s other attributes. He was, in the first place, not a university man. That was a grave disability in the eyes of, for example, Bishop Charles Inglis, who saw religion, science, and literature as interdependent and equally important. Similarly, Langhorn did not display that patina of speech and deportment characteristic of those who were accustomed to associating with the upper levels of Anglo-American society. By Inglis’s account, Langhorn was “uncouth, and little acquainted with the world” (that is, of course, the polite world). And finally, there seems no question that in manners and appearance he was one of the most curious clergy ever to cross the ocean. Stuart remarked that Langhorn had “so many Singularities in Manner and Dress, that the Real Friends to the Interest of our Church have often wished him in England again.”
For Stuart, in other words, Langhorn was an easy, indeed a tempting, target and more than once, baffled and frustrated in dealing with this strange, intractable man, Stuart succumbed to temptation and treated Langhorn unfairly. The most important instance occurred in 1804. Langhorn was engaged in public debate with Robert McDowall*, the local Presbyterian minister, on episcopal ordination. At the same time, he was being “railed at and abused” by the Methodists of Ernestown village. He finally responded to the Methodist pressure by composing one or two ribald verses or songs through which he informed the startled community “what an empty insignificant clamour these Gentry make.” In reporting the incident to Bishop Jacob Mountain* and to the learned doctors of the SPG, Stuart described Langhorn as a man who was “untaught, unteachable and incorrigible” and who, if allowed to continue “to meddle with matters above his capacity” (a reference to the debate with McDowall), would do grave harm to the prospects of the church.
Stuart’s was an unfair and exaggerated reaction. If Langhorn’s mode of reply to his Methodist attackers was not one to be generally recommended, neither was it so shockingly improper. As to the debate with McDowall, Langhorn argued publicly because he was not prepared to let the church’s position on a matter of central importance go by default. A defence of the church’s status in the Canadas could never rely solely on legal arguments. The best case possible had to be made for the distinctive theological and historical position of the Church of England, and much of that case would rest upon establishing and maintaining the difference between bishop and priest and, consequently, the necessity for episcopal ordination. If the case were not made – if the church were not differentiated clearly from Protestantism on the one hand and Roman Catholicism on the other – its status would be seriously undermined.
Although he was almost recalled, Langhorn survived the crisis. He survived it, as he had others, for one fundamental reason. No matter how much they might differ from him (or, for that matter, be astounded by him), all observers agreed upon one central point: Langhorn was an honest and simple man, with a cheerful disposition and a humane and benevolent outlook. Even Stuart, at least in his calmer moments, shared this perception, as did Inglis and Mountain. And the point was affirmed later in Hawkins’s history of the diocese of Toronto.
Ironically, however, it was the honesty and simplicity of the man that lay at the roots of the conflicts that swirled around him. Those were the characteristics that forced Langhorn to identify and face problems which others either ignored or dealt with inadequately. In that respect, he was anachronistic. He was what a later generation would know familiarly as a high churchman and he would have been more comfortable with the spirited and aggressive journalism of the Church of the mid 19th century than he was with the bland temper of his own time.
On the eve of the War of 1812 Langhorn was approaching 70 years of age. His health was beginning to fail. Through prudent management he had saved enough money to provide for himself, and he was therefore inclined to retirement. In the summer of 1813, overcoming his fear of being taken prisoner and spending his last days in France, Langhorn sailed for home. He died there four years later.
[The most important source for John Langhorn is his correspondence with William Morice, the secretary of the SPG. Langhorn usually wrote twice annually to report on the progress of his mission. Morice prepared abstracts of these letters which were presented to the general meetings of the society and then incorporated into its journals. The letters and abstracts are to be found in USPG, C/CAN/folder 439 and Journal of SPG, 24–30. Both sources are available on microfilm at Anglican Church of Canada, General Synod Arch. (Toronto), the former under the old reference, Box IVa/38.
All of this material has been published. In 1926 A. H. Young reproduced the references to Langhorn, including Morice’s abstracts, which he found in the society’s journals, in “Entries in the journals of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts relating to the Revd. John Langhorn,” OH, 23 (1926): 534–60. It seemed at the time that the original Langhorn letters had been destroyed, but shortly thereafter some of them were discovered in the society’s archives. These letters were then published by Young in “More Langhorn letters,” OH, 29 (1933): 47–71. h.e.t.]
Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Ont. Arch. (Kingston), Group 11, John Stuart papers. AO, ms 35 (mfm. at McMaster Univ. Library, Hamilton, Ont.); MU 2923, ser.A (photocopies at Anglican Church of Canada, General Synod Arch.). PRO, CO 42/19 (mfm. at McMaster Univ. Library). QDA, 72 (C-1)–80 (C-9) (mfm. at Anglican Church of Canada, General Synod Arch.). Corr. of Lieut. Governor Simcoe (Cruikshank). Early church records of Rev. John Langhorn and Rev. Robert McDowell, comp. C. Loral et al. (n.p., n.d.). Ernest Hawkins, Annals of the diocese of Toronto (London, 1848). Kingston before War of 1812 (Preston). Jacob Mountain, “From Quebec to Niagara in 1794; diary of Bishop Jacob Mountain,” ed. A. R. Kelley, ANQ Rapport, 1959–60: 119–65. “Rev. John Langhorn,” [comp. John Langhorn et al.], ed. T. W. Casey, OH, 1 (1899): 13–70. Kingston Gazette, 13 March, 1 June 1813. “The correspondence and journals of Bishop Inglis of Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1775–1814,” PAC Report, 1912: 215–88. “Completion of the correspondence and journals of the Right Reverend Charles and John Inglis, first and third bishops of Nova Scotia,” PAC Report, 1913: 227–83. D. H. Farmer, Oxford dictionary of saints (Oxford, 1978). “Jacob Mountain, first lord bishop of Quebec: a summary of his correspondence and of papers related thereto, compiled from various sources,” ANQ Rapport, 1942–43: 175–260. A. N. Bethune, Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan, D.D., LL.D., first bishop of Toronto (Toronto and London, 1870). J. W. Lydekker, The life and letters of Charles Inglis: his ministry in America and consecration as first colonial bishop, from 1759 to 1787 (London and New York, 1936). Millman, Jacob Mountain. G. H. Patterson, “Studies in elections and public opinion in Upper Canada” (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1969). Guardian (London), 14 March 1918: 203. [Arthur] Jarvis, “Some notes of early ecclesiastical history, Bay of Quinte District,” Lennox and Addington Hist. Soc., Papers and Records (Napanee, Ont.), 1 (1909): 49–60. W. R. Riddell, “The law of marriage in Upper Canada,” CHR, 2 (1921): 226–48. G. F. G. Stanley, “John Stuart, father of the Anglican Church in Upper Canada,” Canadian Church Hist. Soc., Journal (Toronto), 3 (1956–59), no.6. A. H. Young, “The Revd. John Langhorn, Church of England missionary, at Fredericksburgh and Ernesttown, 1787–1813,” OH, 23 (1926): 523–33.
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Cite This Article
H. E. Turner, “LANGHORN, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed March 22, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/langhorn_john_5E.html.
The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:
|Author of Article:||H. E. Turner|
|Title of Article:||LANGHORN, JOHN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1983|
|Year of revision:||1983|
|Access Date:||March 22, 2023|