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LYON, JAMES, Presbyterian minister and composer; b. 1 July 1735 in Newark, New Jersey, son of Zopher and Mary Lyon; m. first, on 18 Feb. 1768, Martha Holden of Cape May, New Jersey, and they had nine children; m. secondly, on 24 Nov. 1793, Sarah Skillen in Boston; d. 12 Oct. 1794 in Machias (Maine).

James Lyon was educated at the College of New Jersey (Princeton), where he received his BA in 1759 and his MA three years later. Ordained a minister by the presbytery of New Brunswick, New Jersey, on 5 Dec. 1764, he accepted a call to Nova Scotia and arrived there the following year, his first pulpit being as minister to the Protestant dissenting congregation in Halifax until 1766. He then went to Onslow Township, where a number of families from Massachusetts had settled, and in 1768 moved to the Pictou area. This last move was the result of his connection with the Philadelphia Company, a land speculation group which, using Alexander McNutt* as agent, had obtained in 1765 a grant of 200,000 acres at Pictou known as the Philadelphia Grant. Lyon was a grantee there, as a member of the company, and between 1765 and 1775 he received a number of large grants in other parts of the province. In fact, in 1768 the presbytery of New Brunswick found it necessary to warn him of his reputation as a “land jobber,” which it was feared would destroy his influence as a minister.

Of the many families from Pennsylvania expected to settle in Pictou only a few arrived, and Lyon soon returned to the Onslow area hoping to find enough families to support a minister. The fact that his name appears in the censuses for both Pictou and Onslow in 1770 suggests that he moved that year. In 1770 he also participated at Halifax in the ordination of Bruin Romkes Comingo* as minister of the Dutch Calvinistic church in Lunenburg. All four of the dissenting ministers in Nova Scotia officiated at the ordination: John Seccombe, James Murdoch, Benajah Phelps, and Lyon. Lyon’s duties included delivering the charge to the candidate.

In August 1771 Stephen Jones of Machias met Lyon in Boston and offered him the pulpit of the Machias Congregational church. Lyon accepted and remained in Machias, with two intermissions, until his death. During the American revolution he supported the rebels, was chaplain in the militia, and in June 1775 led the group which captured some British ships off Machias. On 25 December of that year he wrote to George Washington suggesting a plan for the capture of Nova Scotia and offering his services as leader.

James Lyon was the first American composer to appear in print. In 1761 he had edited a psalm-tune collection, Urania, which included at least six of his own tunes. In addition he wrote the music for a composition entitled “Ode” for his graduation ceremony in 1759, and he is thought to have composed The military glory of Great-Britain for his 1762 commencement. Although Urania was the only collection he published, he continued to compose after 1762 and his tunes appear in other compilations. Surprisingly, however, the inventory of his possessions at his death lists no music, no musical instruments, and no copy of Urania. The memorial window in the present Congregational Church in Machias is silent also but bears witness of another kind: “In memory of Rev. James Lyon, A Noble Patriot, A Faithful Minister, A Good Man, and Full of the Holy Ghost.”

Timothy J. McGee

No copy of the composition entitled “Ode” has been found. [James Lyon and Samuel Davies], The military glory of Great-Britain . . . (Philadelphia, 1762; repr. Tarrytown, N.Y., 1925). Urania, or a choice collection of psalm-tunes, anthems and hymns . . . , ed. James Lyon (Philadelphia, 1761).

PANS, MG 1, no.742 (Rev. George Patterson docs.); MG 9, no.31, p.5; RG 1, 37. Presbyterian Hist. Soc. (Philadelphia), Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., New Brunswick presbytery, minutes, v.2 (1756–71). Private archives, William Riddiough (Machias, Maine), papers. Washington County Probate Court (Machias, Maine), Probate records, v.2 (1790–1801), p.205, petition for administration of estate of James Lyon. G. W. Drisko, Narrative of the town of Machias, the old and the new, the early and the late (Machias, Maine, 1904). G. T. Edwards, Music and musicians of Maine . . . 1604–1928 (Portland, Maine, 1928). I. F. Mackinnon, Settlements and churches in Nova Scotia, 1749–1776 ([Montreal, 1930]). O. G. [T.] Sonneck, Francis Hopkinson, the first American poet-composer (1737–1791), and James Lyon, patriot, preacher, psalmodist (1735–1794): two studies in early American music (Washington, 1905; repub. 1967). A. W. H. Eaton, “The settling of Colchester County, Nova Scotia, by New England Puritans and Ulster Scotsmen,” RSC Trans., 3rd ser., VI (1912), sect.ii, 221–65.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Timothy J. McGee, “LYON, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 19, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lyon_james_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/lyon_james_4E.html
Author of Article: Timothy J. McGee
Title of Article: LYON, JAMES
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: December 19, 2014