ROSS, HUGH, Presbyterian minister; b. c. 1797 in Rothiemurchus, parish of Kincardine, Scotland; m. 10 Oct. 1826 Flora McKay at the East River, Pictou County, N.S., and they had seven daughters and four sons; d. 1 Dec. 1858 in Tatamagouche, N.S.
Hugh Ross emigrated to Halifax with his family in 1813. After a brief business apprenticeship there, he followed his family to Pictou County where he was tutored by the Reverend James Drummond MacGregor*, taught a Sunday school class at New Glasgow, and became one of the first class of six ministers to graduate from Pictou Academy [see Thomas McCulloch*] and be licensed by the Pictou Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Nova Scotia in 1824.
From beginning to end, Ross’s ministry was a series of unhappy conflicts. During a tour of Cape Breton with the Reverend Thomas Trotter in July 1824, he received a tentative call at Canso. While he was in other parts of the island, however, Donald Allan Fraser* and John MacLennan, Kirk ministers, visited Canso and in Ross’s words, “without shame or delicacy . . . belied the venerable Dr. McGregor, calumniated our church, reprouched our College, and stigmatized its Professors and Students.” The call to Ross was withdrawn. By 1827 he was settled at Tatamagouche. A personal disappointment came in 1830 with his failure to be called to MacGregor’s congregation after the latter’s death, especially galling in that he had been selected to deliver the eulogy at MacGregor’s funeral.
The sparsely settled New Annan–Tatamagouche charge was served by Ross with firmness and zeal. In 1840, however, his congregation split over the question of infant baptism. In essence, Ross’s position was that parents who did not take communion could not expect their children to be accepted automatically for baptism when brought to the altar. He demanded adherence to “the Westminster Confession of Faith [and] the Catechism larger and shorter as a rule of faith and practice.” The dissenting elders noted “a good many had never seen the Confession of Faith, and if they had, could not read it.”
This storm might have passed had not Ross become embroiled in the controversy surrounding the 1841 election battle in Colchester County, won by Thomas Dickson who was supported by Alexander Campbell. The feelings were so virulent that a year after the election Ross was hung in effigy. Upheavals and divisions, especially in Presbyterian congregations in Nova Scotia, were quite common but the action that Ross and his supporters settled upon in November 1842 was unprecedented – they joined the Church of Scotland. That members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in Nova Scotia would turn Kirk was virtually inconceivable.
Almost immediately after these events, Ross accepted a call to Georgetown–Murray Harbour, P.E.I. This move improved his financial position and removed him from the political-religious controversy raging in Tatamagouche. In 1844, one year after the disruption of the Kirk in Scotland, Ross joined and became the first moderator of the free church Synod of Nova Scotia Adhering to the Westminster Standards. Ross resigned his Murray Harbour charge in 1847. Six years later his religious odyssey came full circle when he returned to Tatamagouche and on 26 July 1853 was readmitted to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Nova Scotia. He proceeded to serve in various places throughout the province. In November 1855 he was located at Baddeck and from March to May of the following year he was an itinerant missionary to Cape Sable Island. For the first two weeks of June 1856 he ministered to the railway workers at Grand Lake.
Ross was a powerful, logical reasoner and a clear, forceful preacher of the Gospel in English or in Gaelic. A quiet, retiring individual noted for useful talents, good disposition, and a kindly heart, he made diligent efforts to discharge his ministerial responsibilities. When aroused, as during the aftermath of the 1841 election, his passionate prose knew neither restraint nor retreat. A former elder suggested that Ross had been driven from Tatamagouche because “he was too faithful in reproving sin, and too zealous in the cause of truth.” Ross, however, was very much a victim, partly of his own naïvety, certainly of the religious and political factions of his fellow Presbyterians. In a letter he wrote to the Pictou Observer in 1842 it is clear that in the face of adversity and criticism he was unwavering – “I have never sold my conscience: I have never compromised my principles: I have never veered with the wind, either to inhale the incense of popular applause or to grasp of the mammon of the world.”
MCA, A. B. Dickie papers, History of Presbyterian congregations. PANS, MG 1, 553, no.131. An address to the members of the Presbyterian Church of Novascotia, on the impropriety and inconsistency of the conduct of parents, who solicit and claim baptism for their children, while they habitually neglect the observance of the Lord’s Supper (Pictou, N.S., 1847). Christian Instructor, and Missionary Reg. of the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia (Pictou), 4 (1859): 30–32. Guardian (Halifax), 1841–42; 14 June 1844. Mechanic and Farmer (Pictou), 17 Feb. 1841. Observer (Pictou), 1841–42, especially 22 March 1842. Alexander Maclean, The story of the kirk in Nova Scotia (Pictou, 1911). L. C. C. Stanley, The well-watered garden: history of Presbyterians in Cape Breton, 1798–1860 (Sydney, N.S., 1983), 46–47.