PEASELEY, WILLIAM, priest of the Church of England, missionary; b. 1714 in Dublin (Republic of Ireland); d. after 1756.
William Peaseley was educated at Dr Quigg’s school, Dublin, and at Dublin University, where he received his ba in 1737. Lacking employment at home, he was accepted as a missionary by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and was ordained by the bishop of London in September 1742.
At this time several missions in Newfoundland were without clergymen because of the difficulty of ensuring adequate financial support. Since 1736, when John Fordyce had left it in disgust, St John’s had been without a missionary. Bonavista had lost its pastor when Henry Jones, who had served there since he founded the mission, moved to Trinity in search of a higher stipend in 1742. Peaseley was sent to succeed Jones at Bonavista, and arrived in June 1743, after spending several months in St John’s waiting for transportation.
His report on St John’s, in which he spoke of being kindly treated, coupled with a letter of 1742 from Thomas Walbank, chaplain to hms Sutherland, led the SPG to consider whether a missionary should be sent there. Walbank had spoken of 200 families who had built a wooden church, “with a decent altar, font, and pulpit, and Ten Commandments and Lord’s Prayer handsomely written over the Communion Table,” and of a “well disposed fisherman” who “hath lately given to it a silver patten and chalice.” He had also been impressed by the resistance of the inhabitants to New England traders who wished to convert them to Presbyterianism. Consequently when the SPG received a petition from some inhabitants of St John’s asking for a missionary and promising £40 a year for his support, it ordered Peaseley to move there from Bonavista.
Peaseley arrived in October 1744, was greeted warmly, and given a house. One of his first objects was to provide a school so that Protestant children, who had been attending a Roman Catholic school – the only one available – could have an appropriate religious education. The SPG granted him £10 a year for this purpose. In 1745 he reported that his congregation was increasing and his church was full. He extended his mission by visiting Petty Harbour. The SPG helped his work with another £10 a year, but his financial difficulties continued, as he did not receive enough money in subscriptions. It was only by securing the position of garrison chaplain that he could manage to survive. Though his school and mission were still flourishing in 1747, a series of fires led to a doubling of rents and a halving of subscriptions, and he had to appeal to the SPG for money and books; he received £10 and a box of books.
Despite this aid Peaseley felt that he could not continue in St John’s. In 1749 he begged to be moved elsewhere “out of the many difficulties he had laboured under for six years in that miserable island.” Besides a lack of funds there was violent opposition from some parishioners to his appeals for money and his efforts to curb work on Sunday, excessive drinking, and sexual immorality. On returning to England, he secured the parish of St Helena, South Carolina. He laboured there until 1756, when he retired because of bad health and competition from the Methodists. No further trace of him can be found.
Peaseley’s career illustrates the plight of 18th-century clergymen in Newfoundland. Though he firmly re-established the presence of the Church of England in St John’s and began its educational work there, he was forced to leave for want of money and support from his congregation.
USPG, B, 11, 13–17, 19; Journal of SPG, 9, pp.78–79, 121–22, 203, 250; 10, pp.15, 95, 225–26; 11, pp.89, 158; 12, p.352; 13, p.207. [C. F. Pascoe], Classified digest of the records of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1701–1892 (5th ed., London, 1895). T. T. Sadleir and G. D. Burtchaell, Alumni Dublinenses . . . 1593–1860 (new ed., Dublin, 1935), 658. Prowse, History of Nfld. (1896), 580.