SMITH, PHILANDER, Methodist Episcopal clergyman and bishop; b. 27 April 1796 in Schoharie County, N.Y.; m. twice, the second time to Mrs Harriet Cadman on 18 Aug. 1850, at Brooklin, Canada West; he had at least one son, also a Methodist Episcopal minister; d. 28 March 1870 at Brooklin.
Philander Smith, the son of Presbyterian parents, lived in Delaware County, N.Y., as a child. He came to Upper Canada in 1815 and found employment near the village of Lyn. The Genesee conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church met at Elizabethtown (Brockville) in 1817, and Smith joined the church during the revival that began there. He became a supply preacher on the Hallowell (Picton) circuit in 1819 and was formally received on trial for the ministry in the following year.
His first appointment was to Smith’s Creek circuit (Port Hope and Durham County). In 1821 he was on the Cornwall circuit and 1822–23 found him stationed in Kingston. He was ordained deacon in 1822 and elder in 1824, and was then sent to Augusta. Kingston and Bay of Quinte became his circuit in 1825. From 1826 to 1829 he was presiding elder of the Augusta district, which extended from Cornwall to Kingston and included the Ottawa valley and Perth.
In 1828 the Canadian branch of the church had become independent of the American parent organization. Smith requested superannuation for reasons of health in 1830 and held no appointment in the church during 1830 and 1831. At this time, however, he was reputed to be rich and to be carrying on a business. In 1832 he was appointed to Prescott as minister, but apparently because his endeavour to wind up his commercial activities involved an attempt to collect debts owed him by other Methodists he encountered hostility and criticism within the church. He was listed as a member of the York (Toronto) general conference of 1833, which voted to merge with the British Wesleyan Methodists. No appointment was listed for Smith that year and he was superannuated from 1834 to 1836. The minutes of 1837 list him with the Augusta circuit, but he requested a transfer to the Black River Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in New York State.
Smith did not make this transfer, but decided to leave the Wesleyan Methodist Church to join the continuing Methodist Episcopal Church, which dissenters from the 1833 merger had begun organizing in 1834. By 1835 the revived Methodist Episcopal Church numbered 1,243 members and 21 preachers and had elected its first bishop, John Reynolds. Smith was listed in its 1837 minutes as an elder and a conference missionary in the Bay of Quinte district. Still an elder, but a supernumerary, in 1838, he was then also vice-president of the church’s missionary society for forming new congregations. Appointed to Brockville, 1841, and Elizabethtown, 1842–43, he was an elder on the new Augusta charge in 1844–45. He chaired the committee to examine preachers on trial in their knowledge of divinity, church history, English grammar, and geography. The committee reported that the candidates’ chief claim to education was based on their knowledge of the Bible.
Smith served on numerous committees of both the general conference and the Bay of Quinte conference during the 1840s. In 1844 he was one of the deputation of three sent to the American general conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church to seek recognition of the status and continuing communion of the Canadian Methodist Episcopal Church; although they had been assured by many influential Americans that they would be welcomed, recognition was not granted because of objections raised by John Ryerson* who represented the dominant Methodist conference in Canada West. A long controversy simmered between the two Canadian groups of Wesleyan and Episcopal Methodists and recognition of the Canadian Methodist Episcopal Church by the American church was delayed until 1860.
Smith was one of the three who ordained the American John Alley to the post of general superintendent and bishop in the Canadian church in 1845. When Alley died, Smith was elected in 1847 co-superintendent and bishop, in association with John Reynolds. From then on he was co-signer of their annual pastoral letters and his name appears under reports of book committees, missionary committees, and the judgements of numerous disciplinary committees that heard grievances and disputes among the clergy and laity.
Smith was firmly attached to the strict Methodist discipline which he believed “next to the Bible, should regulate our conduct.” He told his people that “Personal piety, communion with God, and benevolence to man being of paramount importance, demand your first and most vigilant attention,” and insisted that “to be a strong church we must be a holy church.” His emphasis on spiritual life was matched by a measure of puritanism. Methodists, in his view, should shun popular amusements such as plays, circuses, balls, and gaming as these were “ruinous to religion.” He sought their support for the movement for Sabbath observance, and signed their petition to the Legislative Assembly in 1858 for its enforcement. He strongly promoted temperance societies and the conferences repeatedly memorialized the government to prohibit the manufacture and sale of alcohol.
Smith was also deeply interested in the cause of education. In 1853, under his chairmanship, the Bay of Quinte conference took the initial steps towards establishing the Belleville Seminary, later known as Albert College, their academy for secondary education and eventually for the training of ministers at university level. The Methodist Episcopal Church subscribed to the principle of voluntaryism and agents were appointed to collect contributions for the school. These voluntarist principles were tested in 1855–56, and again in 1859, by the availability of a government grant when desperate financial needs faced the school. The first board of managers, of which Smith was a member, in August 1855 rejected such grants as they would “render the Institutions which received them dependent on the Government of the day,” and were a “dangerous exercise of patronage.” This issue aroused much controversy within the church. A special general conference in 1856 directed the return of a grant to the government, and the voluntary principle was backed with new measures in 1859. Smith always urged the faithful to give generously to the school and he served as chairman of its senate.
When Smith was elected bishop in 1847 the Methodist Episcopal Church had 7,493 members and 92 preachers. After a few years of slow growth, it expanded swiftly until by 1864 there were 21,468 members and 216 preachers. Preliminary steps towards a union of various Methodist bodies began to be discussed in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1866. However desirable this object, Smith and James Richardson* maintained that past experience with the more conservative Wesleyan Methodists “prompts us to a cautious approach” so that union would take place only according to “constitutional and scriptural principles.” No real negotiations or progress occurred in the 1860s.
Bishop Smith made his home in the village of Brooklin, north of Whitby, at least from 1850 on. There he bought a 40-acre farm. At his death the Canada Christian Advocate asserted that he was “the oldest effective minister in the Methodist church, if not the oldest of any denomination in the Province,” and it paid tribute to “the unwavering nature of his faith,” to his forcible and eloquent preaching, and to his administrative talents, noting that “as a presiding officer he has few if any superiors.”
UCA, Methodist Episcopal Church in Can., General Conference addresses, correspondence, reports of committees; General Conference journal, 1835–70. Canada Christian Advocate (Cobourg; Hamilton, Ont.), 6 Nov. 1845, 16 May 1848, 20 Aug. 1850, 6 April 1870. Methodist Episcopal Church in Can., Minutes of the annual conference, 1836–71. Wesleyan Methodist Church in Can., Minutes of the annual conferences from 1824 to 1845 . . . (Toronto, 1846). Cornish, Cyclopaedia of Methodism, I, 48, 140. Carroll, Case and his cotemporaries, III, IV. W. E. L. Smith, Albert College, 1857–1957 ([Belleville, Ont., 1957]). Thomas Webster, History of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada (Hamilton, Ont., 1870).