MacLEAN, PETER, merchant and Presbyterian clergyman; b. 1800 at Nigg on the island of Lewis in Scotland; m. in 1843 Flora Campbell Stalwart; d. 28 March 1868 at Stornoway, Scotland.
Peter MacLean spent the early years of his manhood as a successful merchant in Stornoway. At age 27 he experienced a deep religious conversion as a result of which he gave up his business to begin studies for the Presbyterian ministry. In winding up his affairs “he blotted out of his books all sums due to him by ministers.”
Following the successful completion of his studies in arts and theology at King’s College, Aberdeen, MacLean was licensed by the Presbytery of Lewis in 1836 and a year later he accepted a call to Cape Breton Island. The money required for his outfit and passage was furnished by the Edinburgh Ladies Association, which since 1828 had provided similar assistance to several Presbyterian missionaries bound for Cape Breton. He established himself at Whycocomagh, a small pioneer settlement, and began to preach throughout the countryside, eventually becoming a widely known evangelist. Powerfully built, with a voice to match, his sermons attracted large audiences, and “his preaching was accompanied by very extraordinary effects upon his hearers, not only mentally and spiritually, but also physically . . .”; some even followed him on his ministrations around the island. By preaching and travelling in all kinds of weather he fostered greater interest in religion among the people of the district. He also distributed bibles and encouraged the establishment of schools. The physical toll exacted by constant preaching and travelling forced him to return to Scotland in 1842 to rest. Recovering rapidly, he participated in the disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843 and accepted a call to the Free Church congregation of Tobermory, Scotland. There, as in Cape Breton, his preaching was popular.
He revisited Whycocomagh in 1853 and presided at a communion which drew 5,000 people, with 200 boats in the bay and 500 horses tethered in the groves, reputedly the largest pentecostal service ever held in Cape Breton. After returning to Scotland he was called to Stornoway in 1855, but ill health in 1862 forced him to seek rest. In an effort to heal strife among Presbyterians in Cape Breton he returned there in 1866, though still in poor health. Upon his return to Scotland he suffered bronchial troubles and died soon afterward. A small church in the Wycocomagh district was named after him.
Presbyterian Witness, 30 April 1898. John Murray, The history of the Presbyterian Church in Cape Breton (Truro, N.S., 1921). L. M. Toward, “The influence of Scottish clergy on early education in Cape Breton,” N.S. Hist. Soc., Coll., XXIX (1951), 153–77.