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OSGOOD, THADDEUS, Congregational minister and educator; b. 24 Oct. 1775 in Methuen, Mass., son of Josiah Osgood and Sarah Stevens; d. unmarried 19 Jan. 1852 in Glasgow.

The youngest in a large and pious family, Thaddeus Osgood grew up in obscure circumstances and became a tanner. During one of the evangelical revivals that swept over New England at the turn of the century he was inspired to “devote the remainder of his life to the service of his Redeemer.” He attended Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., from 1799 to 1803, studied theology under various Congregational ministers, received a licence to preach in 1804, and was ordained a Congregational missionary in 1808 at North Wilbraham, Mass.

Osgood’s early work as a travelling preacher brought him to the Canadas in 1807 and he adopted the two colonies as his main mission field for the rest of his life. He remained a Congregationalist but always stressed the non-denominational aspects of his work. His purpose was to teach the “plain truths of the Bible” to all, and especially to those lacking easy access to the message of salvation. Osgood pursued his goal by seizing upon a succession of plans adopted by 19th-century evangelicalism to promote the religious and moral improvement of mankind.

Though initially he concentrated on the distribution of religious tracts, his interests increasingly turned to the problem of illiteracy, and in 1812 he went to England to organize support for a plan to further colonial education based on the monitorial system [see Joseph Lancaster*]. He was remarkably successful, winning the aid of a cross-section of English evangelicals who sponsored his return to Quebec City in 1814 as agent of the Committee for Promoting the Education of the Poor in Upper and Lower Canada. Osgood’s first step was to found the Quebec Free School on non-sectarian principles. Neither Catholic nor Anglican clergy, however, including bishops Joseph-Octave Plessis* and Jacob Mountain*, looked favourably upon schooling unaccompanied by denominational instruction. Together with competition from a newly established garrison school, their hostility put an end to the infant venture in 1817. Osgood helped organize a second school, opened in Kingston that year under the auspices of the Midland District School Society. The original non-sectarian plan, however, lasted only a year; after the first teacher departed the school gradually came under Anglican direction. Attempts to create other schools were even less successful.

For several years thereafter Osgood returned to the more conventional tasks of a missionary, although he also took up an interest in the growing Sunday school movement. In Stanstead, Lower Canada, and York (Toronto), he set up individual Sunday schools and, acting for the Sunday School Union Society of Canada, which he helped found in the early 1820s, he formed non-sectarian union societies in Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, York, and other communities. Day-schools remained a central concern, however, and in 1825 Osgood again crossed the Atlantic to seek support from English evangelicals. Once more he found powerful sponsors, and in 1826, accompanied by two teachers, he returned to the colonies, this time as agent of the Society for Promoting Education and Industry in Canada, which he had helped found in London.

In contrast to his earlier venture, Osgood’s new design won over influential people in both Upper and Lower Canada, including the governor himself, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*]. At Kingston, however, the teacher whom Osgood installed was dismissed within the year for “improper conduct” and the school was closed. An attempt by the Montreal branch of the society to establish a non-sectarian school for the Indian children at Caughnawaga (Kahnawake) foundered on the undisguised opposition of the local priest, Joseph Marcoux, and Bishop Jean-Jacques Lartigue*. A school at Châteauguay and a shelter in Montreal both operated for some time, but little else was achieved. Plans for day-schools, Sunday schools, circulating libraries, and houses of industry appealed to English enthusiasm but failed to take account of sectarian feeling or practical arrangements in the colonies. Osgood’s particular brand of piety annoyed many colonists; he lacked an ability to implement his ideas effectively; he was less than scrupulous about accounting for public funds or using well-known names; but worst of all, his schemes were founded on a principle of united Christian action that was increasingly opposed by denominational sentiment.

Beset by difficulties in the Canadas, Osgood returned to Britain in 1829 where, among other activities, he began to raise money for various new colonial projects. Late in 1835 he was back and the next year in Montreal he founded the Friendly Union for “the suppression of vice and the promotion of useful knowledge.” The growing problem of urban poverty and ignorance had become Osgood’s new frontier of missionary endeavour.

Many of the city’s dissenting ministers, including Henry Esson, Robert L. Lusher*, William Taylor*, and Henry Wilkes*, wholeheartedly endorsed the Friendly Union. A building, sometimes called the Bethel, was erected in 1837 to accommodate religious services and a Sunday school, and within a year it harboured a small day-school, initially to combine non-sectarian education for the poor with simple manual work. Over the next decade and a half, however, the Bethel functioned primarily as a shelter from the city streets. For the rest of Osgood’s life Montreal remained the focus of his work, though he also continued his preaching and fund-raising tours throughout Britain and North America. His death occurred at the outset of his seventh British campaign to secure funds for his Canadian mission.

Osgood’s lifelong commitment to the well-being of his fellow man resulted in few permanent achievements. In part this was owing to his personal eccentricities and his penchant for leaping precipately from one good cause to another. However, his appeals to the conscience of 19th-century evangelicalism tapped a growing awareness in Britain and the colonies that religious feeling might legitimately be manifested in new forms of humanitarian action. His career, moreover, shows the variety of instruments to which 19th-century benevolence turned. The succession of philanthropic causes he adopted reflects the gradual development of institutionalized social concern within Canadian society.

W. P. J. Millar

[Thaddeus Osgood’s principal works are The Canadian visitor, communicating important facts and interesting anecdotes respecting the Indians and destitute settlers in Canada and the United States of America (London, [1829]); A brief extract from the journal of Thaddeus Osgood, minister of the gospel, with some anecdotes and remarks on men and occurrences, during a residence of six years in England . . . (Montreal, 1835); and A brief extract from the journal of Thaddeus Osgood, during his last visit to Great Britain and Ireland, with some interesting anecdotes and friendly hints (Montreal, 1841). In addition to these he produced innumerable brief pamphlets and broadsides; like other primary sources concerning his life and work they are now scattered so thinly among a host of library and archival collections that it would be virtually impossible to list all of them. A few examples of such documents are a printed leaflet in the form of an open letter introducing himself and his mission on the occasion of his 1829 visit to Britain, dated Montreal, 1829 (a copy is available in UCA, London Missionary Soc., selected papers (mfm.)); An affectionate appeal, on behalf of seamen and emigrants in Canada, by an agent of the Friendly Union of Montreal (broadside, [Montreal, 1845]; copy at McGill Univ. Libraries (Montreal), Dept. of Rare Books and Special Coll., Lawrence Lande coll.); and Canada must be protected or assisted, or lost to the British crown; the Queen and legislature are entreated to consider, what Lord Durham and others have said respecting that interesting colony (London, n.d.; copy at PAC).

The principal manuscript collections used in researching Osgood’s biography are: PAC, MG 24, B1, 2: 14647, 22526, 25861, 35859, 51011; 3: 21516; 11: 43638; 29, Thaddeus Osgood, statement of receipts and expenditures, 16 May 1815; D8: 2998–99, 3019–24; RG 4, A1: 33593–95; 185: 45; 405: 10–11; B30, 4: 1; C1, 266, no.2691; 270, no.58; RG 5, C1, 112, file 6173 (an autobiographical account dated 28 July 1843); PRO, CO 42/210, Report of the meeting of the committee for promoting education and industry in Canada, 19 July 1826; 42/305, especially Osgood to Labouchère, 27 Feb. 1839; QUA, Midland District School Soc., Board of Trustees, minutes; SOAS, Council for World Mission Arch., London Missionary Soc., corr., Canada, folder no.8, 15 March, 20 May 1815; 14 Feb., 14 March 1816 (mfm. at UCA); SRO, GD45/3/82 (mfm. at UCA); and UCA, London Missionary Soc., selected papers, Soc. for Promoting Education and Industry in Canada, An appeal from Canada (printed leaflet, Montreal, 1829); The Union Building of Canada, for the accommodation of the charitable and religious societies (printed leaflet, Montreal, 1829) (mfm.).

Relevant printed primary sources include: Central Auxiliary Soc. for Promoting Education and Industry in Canada, First and Second annual report . . . (Montreal, 1827; 1829); Doc. hist. of education in U.C. (Hodgins), 1: 89–93; Joseph Lathrop, Damnable heresies defined and described, in a sermon, preached at North Wilbraham, June 15, 1808; at the ordination of Rev. Thaddeus Osgood, to the office and work of evangelist (Springfield, Mass., [1808?]); “Rev. Mr. Osgood, of Canada,” Christian Guardian, 28 Jan. 1852, an item announcing his arrival in Britain just prior to his demise; and T. C. Orr, “Rev. T. Osgood,” Christian Guardian, 25 Feb. 1852, a letter concerning Osgood’s death. The most important references to Osgood in the colonial newspapers of the period include the Pilot (Montreal), 9 Nov. 1850, 21 Oct. 1851; Quebec Gazette, 19, 26 Oct. 1809; 5, 12 Oct., 28 Dec. 1815; 4 Jan. 1816; Quebec Mercury, 180529; and Register (Montreal), 6 Nov. 1845.

The only full-length treatment of Osgood is my article, “The remarkable Rev. Thaddeus Osgood: a study in the evangelical spirit in the Canadas,” Social Hist. (Ottawa), 10 (1977): 5976. Other secondary sources referring to him or treating some aspect of his life are: G. T. Chapman, Sketches of the alumni of Dartmouth College, from the first graduation in 1771 to the present time, with a brief history of the institution (Cambridge, Mass., 1867), 11213; Judith Fingard, “English humanitarianism and the colonial mind: Walter Bromley in Nova Scotia, 181325,” CHR, 54 (1973): 12351; and “‘Grapes in the wilderness’: the Bible Society in British North America in the early nineteenth century,” Social Hist., 5 (1972): 531; Allan Greer, “The Sunday schools of Upper Canada,” OH, 67 (1975): 17475; B. F. Hubbard, “Materials for our church history; no.ii,” Canadian Independent (Toronto), 13 (186667): 28286 (the details in this source agree with and expand on Osgood’s version of his early life); G. W. Spragge, “Monitorial schools in the Canadas, 18101845 (dpaed thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1935); and J. D. Wilson, “‘No blanket to be worn in school’: the education of Indians in early nineteenth-century Ontario,” Social Hist., 7 (1974): 293305.  w.p.j.m.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

W. P. J. Millar, “OSGOOD, THADDEUS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/osgood_thaddeus_8E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/osgood_thaddeus_8E.html
Author of Article: W. P. J. Millar
Title of Article: OSGOOD, THADDEUS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1985
Year of revision: 1985
Access Date: April 20, 2014