STINSON, JOSEPH, Methodist minister; baptized 1 March 1802 in Castle Donington, Leicestershire, son of William Stinson and Mary Cheatle; m. the daughter of the Reverend John Chettle in 1829; d. 26 Aug. 1862 at Toronto, Canada West.
Joseph Stinson, a well-educated member of a Methodist family, was recruited as a missionary by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society and in 1823 was stationed in Melbourne, Lower Canada. From 1823 until his death, with some intervals, Stinson was an active and influential participant in the development of Methodism in Upper and Lower Canada, deeply involved in the shaping of the complex relationship between the English and Canadian Methodist bodies.
The growth of Methodism in Upper Canada was initiated and directed by the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States. The societies in Lower Canada, however, had been given over in 1821 to the supervision of the English conference and its agency, the Missionary Society, in order to end the rivalry in the same fields between the English and American conferences. In 1828, in keeping with the emergence of Canadian self-awareness, the conference in Upper Canada became independent of the American church. Nevertheless a conflict developed in Upper Canada as a result of persistent efforts by the English conference to secure effective control over the Canadian Methodist societies. There were differences in church organization that caused conflict, the English Wesleyan conference being essentially a clerical oligarchy, whereas the Methodist Church in the United States was governed through its conferences, with the executive authority resting with its bishops and elders. The strongest issue was the British conference’s attempt to disseminate Methodism as a means of promoting and cementing loyalty to the empire, the crown, and church establishment. The British missionaries and many English immigrants considered native Canadians to be Americans and therefore of doubtful loyalty. Stinson thought the Canadians’ “political character” was “extremely objectionable.” Canadian Methodist leaders such as James Richardson*, in contrast, conceived that they were loyal to their British heritage, but that it was essential to interpret and adapt this tradition in the light of Upper Canadian needs and interests.
In an effort to collaborate harmoniously with each other, and at the urging of the Colonial Office, the English and Canadian conferences united in 1833 [see John Ryerson*]. Stinson was appointed superintendent of missions in Upper Canada, an office he held until the union was dissolved in 1840. During these years, Stinson was actively engaged in the development of Indian missions and, as the permanent representative of the English conference, played a key role in the strained relations between the two conferences.
The English, American, and Canadian conferences were agreed on the importance of Christianizing and civilizing native peoples. The Canadian conference, spurred especially by William Case*, had by 1833 laid the foundations of extensive missionary activity to the scattered Indian tribes in what became southern and northern Ontario. Its work, funded in part after 1833 by government grants, was characterized by intensive efforts to convert the Indians to Methodist doctrines and practices, and, wherever possible, to establish model settlements in which, through education and example, they were encouraged to make permanent homes, practise agriculture, and permit their children to acquire certain skills and the rudiments of literacy. In so doing, the Methodists were brought into active and sometimes abrasive contact with the imperial and colonial governments, which were wrestling with the pressures exerted by humanitarian groups to give Indians clear title to their lands and by the advance of settlement in the colony which threatened Indian communities.
As superintendent of missions, Stinson visited Indian missions and recruited missionaries from England; he brought to his work indefatigable energy, a measure of realism, and scrupulous attention to detail. The information he accumulated about the Indian settlements justified the continuance of Wesleyan financial support for the missions and was used by the Missionary Society and the Aborigines’ Protection Society, an interdenominational humanitarian organization, in their efforts to ensure equitable treatment for the Indians in the face of settlers’ avarice and the resettlement plans sponsored by Sir Francis Bond Head* [see Jean-Baptiste Assiginack]. The advance of settlement was not halted, but the missions were separated from regular circuits and consolidated. The Missionary Society was encouraged by the Hudson’s Bay Company to extend its operations to the territories controlled by the company. With James Evans* as superintendent and with Stinson’s encouragement, these missionary efforts were pursued by the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Canada after 1847. Appropriately, the last address Stinson gave in 1862 was entitled “The Aborigines of Canada.”
From the outset, however, Stinson was concerned not simply with missions but with the wider task of establishing an effective working relationship between the English and Canadian conferences and the types of Methodism which they respectively represented. In large measure, he shared the conviction of his English brethren that “it would be a noble object to get the whole of Methodism in the British Empire really under the control of the British Conference & one with it in spirit & in interest.” To achieve this objective it was necessary that the Canadian Methodists accept the jurisdiction of the English and, more important, the principle of church establishment. The Canadians should avoid intervention in politics, and take a firm stand against republicanism, by which was meant opposition to or criticism of the existing political order in Upper Canada. Stinson considered the uprising in December 1837 “the most rascally unprincipled rebellion that ever disgraced a country.” In the immediate post-rebellion period, when Egerton Ryerson* criticized the Church of England’s claims to establishment and ownership of the clergy reserves, Stinson warned him of the danger implicit in his complaints and insisted that a majority of the population “would rather have [an established church] and connexion with Great Britain than republicanism. . . .”
As missions superintendent and president of the Canadian conference in 1839 and 1840, Stinson mediated between the proponents of the Canadian and Wesleyan positions, but he grew “sick” of the controversy. The dissolution of the union between the two conferences in 1840 marked a temporary frustration of his hopes for unity. He stayed in Canada until June 1842 as chairman of the British conference’s Canada Western District, but he sought privately to persuade his English colleagues that they had “been too thin-skinned about Canadian Wigism.” He also believed that conflict between Methodists was unseemly and dangerous, particularly at a time when the Roman Catholic Church was experiencing a revival and the Oxford movement was having a profound effect on the Church of England. His conciliatory efforts and those of Canadians like Anson Green* were rewarded with the reunion of the two conferences in 1847; the union continued amicably until the formation of the Methodist Church of Canada in 1874.
In England after 1842 Stinson was stationed on regular circuits, but he kept in touch with the situation in Canada West. As one who stood high in the esteem of the Canadian brethren, he was appointed president of their conference in 1858. He willingly left England that he might “live and die in Canada.” From 1858 to 1861, when his health began to fail, he was continually on the move, delivering sermons and addresses in support of missions and the general advancement of Methodism. In this capacity he was “universally beloved by the members of the Conference.”
Stinson left no written works of consequence and was not identified with any great ecclesiastical accomplishments. Methodists would remember him as a warm, generous, and tolerant representative of the Wesleyan strain in the ongoing development of Canadian Methodism – one who was able to ease the tension between the English and Canadian bodies. The eventual amalgamation of the two groups left the Canadian conference more open to transatlantic influences and hastened its consolidation as an institution. Hence, in the latter half of the 19th century, Canadian Methodism was a less abrasive force in society than it might have been. Apart from that, Stinson deserves recognition for his reorganization of Methodist missions to the Indians at a critical juncture in their development. Methodist concern for the welfare of the native peoples helped keep alive political interest in the formidable issue of their assimilation to the white man’s culture.
Methodist Missionary Soc. Archives (London), Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Soc. correspondence (copies at UCA). Christian Guardian, 1833–40; 3 Sept. 1862. Anson Green, The life and times of the Rev. Anson Green, D.D. . . . (Toronto, 1877). Wesleyan Methodist Church, Minutes of the conferences (London), 1819–24. Wesleyan Methodist Church in Can., Minutes (Toronto), 1863. Carroll, Case and his cotemporaries. G. G. Findlay and W. W. Holdsworth, History of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (5v., London, 1921–24), I. Sissons, Ryerson.