STEWART, JOHN, clergyman; b. in Perthshire, Scotland, c. 1800; d. in New Glasgow, N.S., 4 May 1880.
John Stewart was educated at Perth Academy and at the University of Edinburgh where he studied medicine for a short time but finally chose to take a degree in theology. He was licensed by the presbytery of Dunkeld on 26 June 1832, and from 1832 until 1834 taught at St George’s Academy, Edinburgh. Under the auspices of the Edinburgh Ladies Association and the Glasgow Colonial Society, he immigrated to Nova Scotia, landing at Plaster Cove, Cape Breton, on 23 Aug. 1834. After a year’s missionary work in Cape Breton, he was ordained by the Pictou presbytery of the Church of Scotland on 6 Oct. 1835. Thirteen days later he was inducted into the West Bay charge of Cape Breton.
In the summer of 1836 Stewart returned to Edinburgh to marry Alica Murray Drysdale. The couple left Cape Breton in June 1838 and moved to Fraser’s Mountain (New Glasgow) where John Stewart was pastor until his retirement in 1869. Fluent in both English and Gaelic, he continued his missionary travels in Cape Breton and elsewhere, and was often the first missionary to visit a pioneer settlement.
A disciple of Dr Thomas Chalmers, leader of the Free Church movement in Scotland, Stewart opposed state control and patronage in his parishes. In 1844 he worked to free his own congregation, the Pictou presbytery, and the synod of Nova Scotia from the Church of Scotland. In New Glasgow most of his congregation followed him when he left St Andrew’s Church and formed John Knox Free Church. As early as 25 Dec. 1839, in a letter to the Halifax Guardian, he advocated the union of all Presbyterian bodies, and continued to support this policy until 1875 when practically every Presbyterian church in Canada was under one organization. Stewart also gave full support to the church’s missionary work in the New Hebrides and Trinidad and was the leader of missionary activities in the synod for a number of years.
Perhaps the Reverend John Stewart’s greatest contribution was in the field of ministerial training. By 1848, four years after the inception of the Free Church in Nova Scotia, he and several other clergymen had organized the Free Church College in Halifax. The college, giving classes in arts as well as divinity, opened with two professors and 15 students. In 1850 the synod sent Stewart to Britain to obtain funds for the endowment of the college. He travelled and canvassed widely, returning the following year with £1,000 and a valuable library. This divinity school was one of the ancestors of Pine Hill Divinity Hall, the present United Church seminary.
Free Church of Nova Scotia, Synod, Minutes (Halifax), 1844–60; Minutes of the last session, 1860. Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, Minutes of the last session (Halifax), 1860. Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces of British North America, Synod, Minutes of the first session (Halifax), 1860; Minutes, 1860–75. Presbyterian Church in Canada, Synod of the Maritime provinces, Minutes (Halifax), 1875–80. Presbyterian Church in Canada, General Assembly, Acts and Proceedings (Toronto), 1880, 61.
Guardian (Halifax), 25 Dec. 1839, 12 May 1841. Presbyterian Record (Halifax), June 1880. Presbyterian Witness (Halifax), 12 July, 4 Oct. 1851; 8, 15 May 1880. The missionary record and ecclesiastical intelligencer for 1851 and 1852 (Halifax, 1852). Gregg, History of the Presbyterian Church, 344–47. John Murray, The history of the Presbyterian Church in Cape Breton (Truro, N.S., 1921), 54–57.