LOSEE (Loosey, Lossee, Locie), WILLIAM, Methodist minister; b. 30 June 1757, probably in Dutchess County, N.Y., son of John Losee and Elenor –; d. 16 Oct. 1832 in Hempstead, N.Y.
Descended from Dutch settlers, William Losee was a farmer in Beekmans Precinct, N.Y., at the outbreak of the American revolution. Though handicapped in one arm, variously described as “off close to the shoulder . . . short or withered,” he was a bold horseman and served during the war in James DeLancey*’s Westchester Refugees, also known as DeLancey’s “Cowboys,” an unincorporated group of volunteers who foraged for the British garrison in New York City. Captured at some point by the rebels, Losee remained in prison until shortly before the end of the conflict. After the signing of the peace treaty in 1783 he sent a petition to the British commander-in-chief, Sir Guy Carleton*, in which he noted “that he is now Determined to Proceed to the Province of Nova Scotia to settle in that Country, that he is Reduced to Extreme Poverty and being a Cripple must unavoidably suffer unless some Assistance is given him from Government. “Probably sailing for Nova Scotia with the June fleet, he settled with his unit on the Cobequid Road in Cumberland County, where two years later he received a grant of 250 acres.
There were already a number of Methodists in Cumberland County, mostly Yorkshire immigrants. Just when or where Losee espoused the Methodist cause is uncertain. One historian, quoting friends of Losee, says that in the summer of 1788 he had not yet “embraced religion.” Nevertheless, in May 1789 Losee was examined and received as a travelling preacher of the Methodist Episcopal Church at its annual conference in New York City. Bishop Francis Asbury appointed him to open up a new area around Lake Champlain, but Losee remained in this district only a few months before obtaining permission to minister to the loyalists – among whom were some of his relatives – settled along the St Lawrence River. To this end, Asbury ordained him to deacon’s orders on 13 Sept. 1789 in Baltimore.
That winter Losee crossed the border near New Johnstown (Cornwall) and preached among the people as far west as the Bay of Quinte. Soon after his arrival in the region he met John Stuart*, the Anglican missionary in Kingston. An unimpressed Stuart told Bishop Charles Inglis* that, like another preacher in the region, Charles Justin McCarty*, Losee carried a questionable recommendation – namely that he was formerly “a Man of very bad moral Character. But his Conversion is therefore the greater Miracle and he will be the better able to preach experimental Doctrine.” As it turned out, thanks largely to Stuart’s efforts, Losee was never able to gain a foothold in Kingston. Everywhere else, however, he enjoyed great success.
Losee was not the first Methodist preacher in the area, though he was the first who was regularly appointed. McCarty, an independent itinerant, and a local teacher named Lyons had preceded him but, being unauthorized, they could not form Methodist societies. In the fall of 1790 Losee returned to the United States with a widely subscribed petition asking the New York Conference to send a missionary to labour among the new townships along the northern shore of Lake Ontario. The conference concurred in the request and chose Losee for the job. In February 1791 he returned to his circuit and that month formed the first regularly organized Methodist classes in what is now Ontario, in the townships of Adolphustown and Ernestown; a third class was organized in Fredericksburgh Township in early March. Appointed again by the 1791 conference to the same region, now officially known as the Kingston Circuit, Losee consolidated his gains and launched the building of two Methodist meeting-houses. The first, at Hay Bay in Adolphustown, was completed in 1792 and still stands today, though in altered form. The second, in Ernestown, was never finished. In 1792 Losee reported 165 members.
This burgeoning mission field was divided into two circuits in 1792–93: Oswegatchie to the east of Kingston; Cataraqui to the west. Losee was assigned to the former, the Reverend Darius Dunham to the latter. On the Oswegatchie Circuit, Losee formed classes in the townships of Cornwall and Matilda, and he also served the class that had been meeting in Augusta Township since 1785 [see Barbara Ruckle*]. However, his work in Upper Canada was coming to an end. Apparently both he and Dunham set their affections on Elizabeth Detlor of Fredericksburgh. Her choice was made in favour of Dunham, whom she married. Overwhelmed, Losee returned to the United States, apparently in early 1795. A friend wrote of him: “I heartily pity Mr. Losee for withdrawing his hand, he is now to be treated with patience and tenderness.”
He stayed in Dutchess County for a couple of years and then came back to Upper Canada in 1797 to claim the free lands offered to loyalists. His petitions of that year won him 300 acres in Murray Township and two town lots in Kingston – all this in addition to 200 acres in Ernestown he had obtained earlier. By 1805 he had moved again to the United States, and by 1818 he had settled in Hempstead, N.Y., where he sold shellfish and preached whenever the occasion offered itself. There he married Mary Rushmore, née Carman. They did not have children of their own but he seems to have been close to his stepchildren.
In 1830 Losee made a last visit to see his friends on the Bay of Quinte and to sell his town lots in Kingston; the lots were purchased by the shipbuilder Henry Gildersleeve*. Methodist historian George Frederick Playter* has left us the following description of Losee at the time of his 1830 visit: “He was now a feeble old man, with spare features and his withered arm, but still walking in the way of the Lord. . . . His under jaw in speaking would fall a little, so that it was tied up while preaching. He would yet ride on horseback, resting his weight on the stirrups, and as he rode, he balanced himself with his one arm, his body violently shaking.” Losee died on 16 Oct. 1832 and was buried in the preacher’s plot beside the Hempstead Methodist church. In 1969 the grave was excavated for road-widening purposes, and his gravestone and that of his wife were removed to Ontario – to the cemetery beside his Hay Bay meeting-house.
Although he served in Upper Canada only about three years, Losee effectively laid the groundwork for what eventually became the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. John Saltkill Carroll* has said that as a preacher “he was impassioned, voluble, fearless, and denunciatory, cutting deep and closely, and praying to God to ‘smite sinners!’ He was, probably, more awakening than consolatory; and more of a John the Baptist, with a temporary, preparatory mission, than one adapted to build up a permanent cause.” Carroll was not exaggerating when he wrote of Losee’s fondness for divine “smiting” of sinners. On one occasion, according to Carroll, “an ignorant, wicked young man . . . was struck by the power of God while in the act of making derision in a religious meeting, in answer to Losee’s prayer, who, on seeing his misconduct, lifted his eyes and hands to heaven and cried out, ‘Smite him, my God! My God, smite him!’ He fell like a bullock under the stroke of the butcher’s axe, and writhed on the floor in agony, until the Lord in mercy set his soul at liberty.”
Losee was typical of those pioneer Methodist preachers who thundered at every door, a style well suited for the isolated, rural settlers with whom they identified. A generation honoured him as their “Father in the Gospel.”
ACC, Diocese of Ont. Arch. (Kingston), Group 11, John Stuart papers, Stuart to Inglis, 5 March 1790. PAC, RG 1, L3, 284: L3/58; 306: L misc., 1788–95/137. PANS, RG 20A, 8, no.51. PRO, PRO 30/55, no.7826 (transcript at PAC). Abstracts of wills on file in the surrogate’s office, city of New York (17v., N.Y. Hist. Soc., Coll., [ser.3], 25–41, New York, 1892–1908), 9: 259–60. Kingston before War of 1812 (Preston). Canniff, Hist. of the settlement of U.C., 286, 290–92. J. [S.] Carroll, Case and his cotemporaries . . . (5v., Toronto, 1867–77), 1: 7–14. Esther Clark Wright, The loyalists of New Brunswick (Fredericton, 1955; repr. Moncton, N.B., 1972, and Hantsport, N.S., 1981). W. S. Herrington, History of the county of Lennox and Addington, (Toronto, 1913; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972), 146–48. The history of Dutchess County, New York, ed. Frank Hasbrouck (Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 1909), 1: 51. Richard and Janet Lunn, The county: the first hundred years in loyalist Prince Edward (Picton, Ont., 1967), 151, 153, 157–58. A. G. Meacham, A compendious history of the rise and progress of the Methodist Church, both in Europe and America . . . (Hallowell, [Ont.], 1832), 449–52. G. F. Playter, The history of Methodism in Canada . . . (Toronto, 1862), 17–43. J. E. Sanderson, The first century of Methodism in Canada (2v., Toronto, 1908–10), 1: 27–31. J. W. Lamb, “William Losee: Ontario’s pioneer Methodist missionary,” UCC, Committee on Arch., Bull. (Toronto), 21 (1969–70): 28–47; repub. in pamphlet form (Adolphustown, Ont., 1974). F. F. Thompson, “A chapter of early Methodism in the Kingston area,” Historic Kingston, no.6 (1957): 32–45.