LAWSON, WILLIAM, lay preacher and merchant; b. 27 Nov. 1793, at Wallholme, near Brampton, Cumberland, Eng., second son of William Lawson, a tailor, and Frances Bell; m. 25 June 1814 Ann Atkinson of Brampton, a bonnet-maker, by whom he had 11 children; d. 19 Feb. 1875 at Hamilton, Ont.
After a rudimentary education William Lawson entered his father’s trade, but suffered financial losses and in 1829 emigrated to Canada with his family. He opened a shop in York (Toronto) as a tailor, draper, and hat-maker, and was joined by his former apprentice, Robert Walker, who bought the business in 1834. Lawson moved to Brampton, Upper Canada, then returned to Toronto, and finally settled in Hamilton in 1847.
Lawson’s importance is not as a merchant but as a Primitive Methodist. His family belonged to the Church of England, but in 1813 he joined the Methodists and began preaching around Brampton. Although lacking formal training he was obviously a gifted preacher, arousing great feeling. He complained of the lukewarm attitudes of many Wesleyans, and in 1822 joined the Primitive Methodists, attracted by their enthusiasm and democratic organization, in which lay preachers played an important role.
Through Lawson’s efforts the first Primitive Methodist congregation in Canada was formed at York in 1830. Toronto remained the centre of Canadian Primitive Methodism, which spread mainly into western Ontario. At its peak in 1882 there were 8,200 members; in 1884 the Primitive Methodists united with other Methodist bodies to form the Methodist Church of Canada. Besides his preaching, Lawson served his church as missionary secretary for many years, and in 1853 attended its English conference as the special delegate from Canada. He holds a pre-eminent place in the history of Canadian Primitive Methodism.
UCA Primitive Methodist Church (York), minute book. Christian Journal (Toronto), 26 March 1875. William Lawson, The life of William Lawson, J.P., one of the builders of Canada . . . , [ed. J. D. Lawson I (n.p., 1917). Jane Hopper, Old-time Primitive Methodism in Canada, [1829–1884] (Toronto, 1904).