VINCENT, ROBERT, priest of the Church of England; b. probably in England; d. Halifax, Nova Scotia, 15 Nov. 1765.
Nothing is known of Robert Vincent’s career prior to August 1761, when he was appointed by the Nova Scotia Council, on the recommendation of Lieutenant Governor Jonathan Belcher*, “Minister at Lunenburg [Nova Scotia] at a salary of 70 Pounds, and with 20 Pounds per annum as the Schoolmaster.” He was to assist Jean-Baptiste Moreau, the Church of England minister at St John’s Church, who was suffering from ill health. As the salary given Vincent was inadequate, Belcher asked the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in January 1762 to adopt Vincent as their missionary and schoolmaster at Lunenburg. The appointment was made in March.
Belcher had definite intentions in sending Vincent to a settlement where German was the predominant language. He wanted the settlers’ children to learn to speak English, so that in time the use of the German language would wane, and hoped that “Mr Vincent’s known abilities and exemplary life [would] render him universally acceptable to the Germans, whose children will by his means, be trained up in the principles of the Established Religion, and many of their parents drawn from their Errors.” According to Belcher there were 596 children under the age of 12 in the settlement. As schoolmaster Vincent taught them the church catechism as well as reading, writing, and arithmetic. In writing to the SPG, Belcher also noted that “the General Assembly of the Province has passed a law Establishing the Church of England as the official religion of the Province.” This meant that the Germans at Lunenburg could obtain a German-speaking Lutheran minister only if they were prepared to pay him themselves, and this they refused to do. The restriction of financial aid to the Church of England was to cause friction in Lunenburg, off and on, for about the next 60 years.
Shortly after his arrival at Lunenburg, Vincent took on as “assistant schoolmaster” Gottlob Neuman, who had been serving the Germans as schoolmaster since 1760. As Vincent’s assistant Neuman received a government allowance of one shilling a day. Vincent could not speak German and made no effort to learn the language. Neuman, for his part, could barely speak English. Vincent’s insistence that instruction in the school be conducted entirely in English antagonized the German settlers, who had hired Neuman to instruct their children in the Lutheran doctrines in German.
When he sent his first report to the SPG in January 1763, Vincent stated that there were 300 families in his mission and most of the young people spoke English. It is likely, however, that their vocabulary was quite limited. Vincent appealed to the SPG for a special grant to Neuman as his assistant and by August 1764 a salary of £5 per year had been approved. In November, however, Belcher and Vincent had to appeal to the society for further assistance as the British government had withdrawn Neuman’s allowance and suspended paying the rent on Vincent’s house.
Vincent had difficulty gaining adherents to the Church of England. The Germans remained determined to follow their Lutheran faith, and in April 1765 Vincent reported that they were “anxious to have a German minister and have prepared timber towards building a Meeting House.” The previous September he had complained that “an Enthusiast [Calvinist] has taken to exhorting the Congregation after the services.” The Indians of the area Vincent described as “a roving Crew, [who] never remain settled in any Habitation. . . . They are very averse to the Ceremonies of ye Church of England, as they have not that Show which is used in ye Romish Church.”
By November 1764 Vincent was beginning to complain of ill health and in March 1765 he offered to give up his salary as schoolmaster, as “violent feavers hath affected my eyes, and I can no longer act as School Superintendent.” In June the Reverend John Breynton* of Halifax notified the SPG that “Mr Vincent’s health is in a declining state,” and recommended that his successor should be able to officiate in English and German. Breynton reported in October that Vincent’s health had completely broken down and that he was then in Halifax “on his way home to England, but is too ill to write to the Society.”
Vincent’s illness prevented a sea voyage at that time and he stayed on in Halifax, where he died of tuberculosis on 15 November. He was buried in the cemetery of St Paul’s Church. The SPG made an allowance to his widow while she was in Halifax, and she sailed for England the following summer.
PANS, RG 1, 164. St Paul’s Church (Halifax), Parish registers, 15 Nov. 1765. USPG, B, letters 15, 16, 20, 50, 55, 59, 60, 61, 64, 65, 67, 71, 75, 95 (copies in PANS, USPG mfm, reel 15). Bell, Foreign Protestants.