TROTTER, THOMAS, Presbyterian minister, teacher, office holder, and author; b. 1781 in Berwickshire, Scotland; m. 1808 Elizabeth Eadie, and they had one son and one daughter; d. 20 April 1855 in Antigonish, N.S.
Little is known of the early years of Thomas Trotter except that he studied medicine for a period at the University of Edinburgh before changing to theology. After studying under George Lawson at Selkirk, he was ordained in the Presbyterian ministry, into the burgher branch of the Secession Church, on 13 April 1808. That year he married and was called to Johnshaven, where he served for the next ten years. He was described as having exercised his pastoral duties with diligence and fidelity; for some time he was also the clerk of the Aberdeen presbytery. Through his warm-hearted friendship and extensive scholarship he became well liked and widely respected. However, economic conditions were poor and a heavy work-load was beginning to affect his health so he decided to accept a call from the congregation in Antigonish, N.S. Upon his arrival on 20 June 1818, he was inducted as the successor to the Reverend James Munroe.
The parish at Antigonish covered an extensive area but its population was small. To augment his income Trotter farmed and, in 1819, opened a grammar school. His main purpose, however, was to remedy a serious weakness in the educational system and for some time the government, recognizing the need for the school, gave an annual grant of £100. Trotter taught Latin and Greek and lectured on a variety of scientific issues, particularly geology, in which he was keenly interested. The Antigonish congregation, along with those in surrounding districts, increased in numbers and influence during Trotter’s pastorate. An intelligent man with a great capacity for work, Trotter involved himself in all facets of community life. In addition to his preaching, teaching, and writing on a variety of issues, he also served as a school trustee, devoted considerable time to agriculture in trying to promote better farming methods, and built a grist-mill and later a fulling-mill.
During his years in Antigonish the population of the district was heavily Roman Catholic but, nevertheless, the Presbyterian cleric was well received and respected and enjoyed a warm friendship with Bishop William Fraser, the Catholic prelate, who, like Trotter, had been born in Scotland. Trotter was not as deeply involved in the theological disputes of Presbyterianism as some of his colleagues but neither did he refrain from expressing his views. He remained an orthodox minister and, although he had some differences with colleagues, it was his strong wish that there be a general union of Presbyterians in Nova Scotia.
Trotter developed a reputation as a writer on theological and scientific topics. He contributed letters and articles to the provincial press and occasionally to British publications as well as maintained a regular correspondence with friends and colleagues in Scotland and Nova Scotia. Some of his letters concerned Pictou Academy [see Thomas McCulloch*], in which he took a lively interest. His articles covered a wide area of learning and reflected the great depth of his scholarly and religious pursuits. A paper he read before the Literary and Scientific Society of Pictou on 4 Jan. 1837 was published as The principles of meteorology, and in 1845 A treatise on geology represented his attempt to reconcile religion and geology. Three years later he published Letters on the meaning of baptizo in reply to the views of Baptist minister Charles Tupper* concerning baptism. It appears that he also wrote “on one or two occasions” political articles in support of the liberals in Nova Scotia.
Following a stroke in 1853 Trotter gradually relinquished his duties and was succeeded in 1854 by the Reverend David Honeyman*. Trotter died the following year and his passing ended a career of useful endeavour in the religious, educational, and agricultural spheres. Like so many educated clerics of his day, he contributed towards the evolution of a Nova Scotia society, one in which the colonial cocoon was being shed.
Thomas Trotter is the author of The principles of meteorology; read at the meeting of the Literary and Scientific Society of Pictou, 4th January, 1837 (Pictou, N.S., n.d.; copy at St James United Church, Antigonish, N.S.); A treatise on geology; in which the discoveries of that science are reconciled with the Scriptures, and the ancient revolutions of the earth are shown to be sources of benefit to man (Pictou, 1845); and Letters on the meaning of baptizo, in the New Testament; in reply to the views of the Rev. Charles Tupper (Pictou, 1848). A collection of unpublished sermons and essays is in the Thomas Trotter papers, PANS, MG 1, 914B, and a “Legendary history of Britain” in his hand is found in PANS, MG 100, 239, no.41.
PANS, Churches, Presbyterian: Presbyterian Church of N.S., minutes, 1817–60, pp.303–5 (mfm.); MG 1, 552; Places: Pictou, Pictou Academy papers, W. M. Hepburn papers, W. M. Hepburn, “The early newspapers of Pictou,” 5 (mfm.); RG 1, 439; RG 5, P, 51, no.97; RG 14, 45; RG 32, 13, no.6. St James United Church (Antigonish), Presbyterian Church, Antigonish, minutes, 1818–53. Casket (Antigonish), 22 Jan. 1857. Colonial Patriot (Pictou), 18 Feb. 1832. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis. Lit. hist. of Canada (Klinck et al.; 1976), vol.1. D. G. Whidden, The history of the town of Antigonish (Wolfville, N.S., 1934). Casket, 17 Dec. 1891.