MacLENNAN (McLennan), JOHN, Church of Scotland minister, justice of the peace, and teacher; b. 1797 in Lochcarron, Scotland; m. 11 June 1823 Catherine MacNab in Laggan (Highland), Scotland, and they had ten children; d. 11 Feb. 1852 in Kilchrenan, Scotland.
Born among the mountains of Wester Ross and reared in the sunlight of the Reverend Lachlan MacKenzie’s famous ministry, John MacLennan graduated ma from King’s College (University of Aberdeen) in 1818. During the next four years he studied divinity at King’s College and Marischal College (University of Aberdeen) and lived in Inverness-shire where he found his future bride. Licensed for the Church of Scotland ministry on 26 Nov. 1822, he was ordained on 15 April 1823 at Alvie “to qualify him for accepting of a Pastoral Charge in North America.”
He had received a call, perhaps through the efforts of the Reverend James Drummond MacGregor* or the Reverend Donald Allan Fraser*, from a group of Scottish Presbyterians who had established “flourishing settlements” in the southeast corner of Prince Edward Island. These predominantly Gaelic-speaking communities were founded in 1803 by Highlanders whose immigration had been promoted by the Earl of Selkirk [Douglas*]. Their language and culture had largely isolated them from the pastoral care of the few Protestant ministers who came to the Island. By 1816–17 they could afford to support a minister of their own and they subscribed a bond for the maintenance of one “licensed and ordained by a Presbytery of the Church of Scotland.” Not until MacLennan’s arrival in 1823 were their hopes realized.
MacLennan landed in Nova Scotia and, with Fraser, John Martin, and Hugh MacLeod (all clergymen of the Church of Scotland), formed the Scotch Presbytery of Halifax at Truro on 18 Sept. 1823. Soon afterwards he reached Belfast, P.E.I., where he identified the need for a commodious, centrally located church. Fortunately, an able craftsman, Robert Jones, was already at hand; the main edifice of St John’s Presbyterian Church, completed in the mid 1820s and featuring handwrought hardwood shingles, testifies to the skill of its builders.
From the Belfast area the pioneer minister’s influence spread widely. He shepherded the Presbyterians around Charlottetown into a congregation which by 1829 had built a church, St James, that could seat more than a thousand. Cherishing the Highland settlements at New London, he visited them monthly for many years and officiated at the opening of their church in 1833. Although “every corner of the Island was known to him,” he did not restrict his ministry to it. Robust and conditioned to arduous travel, he itinerated also in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, visiting Cape Breton extensively in 1824, 1827, 1829, and 1831. Preaching and administering the sacraments to the thousands of Gaels who had settled there without a pastor, he took up their cause in correspondence with Scotland, most effectively with Robert Burns* of Paisley and with the Edinburgh Bible Society. Ministers were sent out, as were Gaelic and English Bibles, and in 1836 Cape Breton had its own presbytery.
His parishioners at Belfast, however, remained MacLennan’s principal concern. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1826 by Lieutenant Governor John Ready*, and later dispensed welfare payments to the feeble of his flock. Because the district lacked a doctor from the death of Angus Macaulay* in 1827 to the arrival of Angus MacSwain in 1841, MacLennan’s pastoral care included nursing of the sick, first aid, and elementary medical treatment. Around 1839 he undertook responsibility for the school at Pinette, near his home, where he was an effective teacher of Latin as well as primary subjects.
During the 1840s Presbyterians outside Scotland were affected by conflicts in the homeland over spiritual freedom of the church, and the disruption in 1843 caused radical changes in the Maritimes. Most of the ministers in MacLennan’s presbytery and synod either returned to Scotland or joined the Free Church. Several Island congregations which he had fostered also joined the Free Church but his own folk in Belfast and the Charlottetown congregation remained with him in the established church. Additional stress came in 1845 from the death in Newfoundland of his friend the Reverend Donald Allan Fraser, whose congregation at St John’s MacLennan had then to look after for some months.
These events and the claims of his growing family determined his return to Scotland in 1849 for what he thought would be a temporary absence; his wish to return to Prince Edward Island was, however, never fulfilled. After a ministry of less than three years at the Gaelic Chapel in Cromarty he became parish minister of Kilchrenan and Dalavich, where he died on 11 Feb. 1852 of diphtheria contracted from a child he had been attending.
His missionary spirit, physical strength, and wide range of talents combined in helping to establish the Church of Scotland in Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland. Sociable and peace loving, in the service of his Master he was the devoted servant of the whole pioneer community. His legacy to Canada also included the members of his gifted family who returned to make notable contributions in religion, education, the army, industry, and health services.
PAC, MG 9, C8, 5 (copies) (mfm. at PAPEI). Walter Johnstone, Travels in Prince Edward Island . . . (Edinburgh, 1823). John MacGregor, British America (2nd ed., 2v., Edinburgh and London, 1833), 1: 541–42. Prince Edward Island Register, 1823–30. Scott et al., Fasti ecclesiæ scoticanæ, 4: 93; 6: 369–71; 7: 7, 622. Gregg, Hist. of Presbyterian Church, 269, 271, 273, 275, 318, 323, 326. The life and times of the Rev. Robert Burns . . . including an unfinished autobiography, ed. R. F. Burns (Toronto, 1872), 172. J. M. MacLennan, From shore to shore, the life and times of the Rev. John MacLennan of Belfast, P.E.I. (Edinburgh, 1977). J. [M.] MacLeod, History of Presbyterianism on Prince Edward Island (Chicago and Winona Lake, Ind., 1904). M. A. Macqueen, Skye pioneers and “the Island” ([Winnipeg, 1929]), 35, 37, 44–45, 54. John Murray, The history of the Presbyterian Church in Cape Breton (Truro, N.S., 1921), 44. George Patterson, Memoir of the Rev. James MacGregor, D.D. . . . (Philadelphia, 1859), 413. Donald Sage, Memorabilia domestica; or, parish life in the north of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1889), 6, 228, 315, 435. A. B. Warburton, A history of Prince Edward Island from its discovery in 1534 until the departure of Lieutenant-Governor Ready in A.D.1831 (Saint John, N.B., 1923), 259, 275, 348, 357, 390.
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Cite This Article
Jean M. MacLennan, “MacLENNAN, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 8, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/maclennan_john_8E.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:||Jean M. MacLennan|
|Title of Article:||MacLENNAN, JOHN|
|Publication Name:||Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8|
|Publisher:||University of Toronto/Université Laval|
|Year of publication:||1985|
|Year of revision:||1985|
|Access Date:||June 8, 2023|