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WILLIAMS, RICHARD, Wesleyan Methodist minister; b. c. 1790 in England; d. 1 Aug. 1856 in Bridgetown, N.S.; he was survived by his wife.

Richard Williams was raised in an Anglican home in England and in his youth was converted at a Methodist meeting. He served initially as a class leader and local preacher in the British Wesleyan Conference, and in 1813 became a probationer in the itinerancy. Two years later he volunteered to become a missionary and was appointed to Montreal.

The War of 1812 had temporarily disrupted the work in Upper and Lower Canada of the Methodist Episcopal Church, based in the United States, and caused a shortage of preachers. This disruption, in combination with the Wesleyan Methodist proclivities of some English immigrants, induced the missionary committee of the British Wesleyan Conference to send missionaries to the Canadas. Williams was one of the first missionaries to arrive in Lower Canada. The committee’s action led to severe rivalry between the American and English branches of Methodism, which was eased temporarily by an agreement between them in 1820, leaving Lower Canada in Wesleyan hands. From 1815 to 1825 Williams served on the circuits of Quebec, Trois-Rivières, Melbourne Township, and Saint-Armand in Lower Canada, as well as in Kingston in Upper Canada, before moving to Saint John, N.B.

From the outset, Williams was an energetic itinerant, who doubtless assumed that Wesleyan Methodism. was superior to the American variety. He found the Methodists in Kingston “very anxious to obtain an English missionary; and what a mercy it would be to grant them their request!” He located many erring Protestants in and around Montreal and described St John’s (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu) as a large village whose “inhabitants are wicked to a proverb,” a distinction shared by the people of Chambly.

On 18 Feb. 1819 at the district meeting in Kingston, Williams was elected chairman of the Canada District. The missionaries at that meeting prepared an address to the Duke of Richmond [Lennox*], governor-in-chief of British North America, assuring him that their object was to turn many from “darkness to light,” and that they would not fail to give “strenuous exhortations to the people of our charge, that they may be taught, both by precept and example, while they fear God, to honor the King . . . and to adorn our holy religion by a uniformly peaceable demeanor, and cheerful subjection to lawful authority.” By such means, Williams and his colleagues helped to build a loyal, British-oriented Methodist community in Lower Canada and thus kept alive the contest between British Wesleyan Methodists and Canadian Methodists, a dispute that would not be resolved until 1847.

Williams’s arrival in New Brunswick coincided with the decision of the missionary committee to divide the Nova Scotia District into two, an action that was unpopular among the missionaries and their adherents. In May 1826 he was appointed chairman of the newly created New Brunswick District, which also included the Annapolis valley in Nova Scotia. The committee’s action was indicative of its determination to promote self-sufficiency and local initiative in its missions, a policy that was coupled unfortunately with an unwillingness to listen to its missionaries or to approve steps taken by them to strengthen the Methodist cause. Its attitude had grown out of the society’s chronic shortage of funds and its insistence on replicating Wesleyan Methodism in the colonies.

From the time of his appointment to New Brunswick, Williams and his colleagues were in difficulty with the secretaries and the committee. The latter was tightening the system of allowances for missionaries, who in turn argued that the new arrangements would create personal inconvenience and hinder the development of new circuits. They urged the secretaries to pay some attention to their honest judgement. Williams himself put up a spirited defence of the costs he had incurred in his final year at Quebec. In 1832 the secretaries claimed that the New Brunswick District’s financial statement was misleading and unbusinesslike and that Williams was “utterly unfit” to manage financial matters. He was replaced that year as chairman by the Reverend John Bass Strong, a former colleague in Lower Canada.

After 1832 Williams did not figure prominently in the district meetings or in correspondence with the secretaries in London. He served on several circuits in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and in 1840, as a missionary who had entered the ministry in England, he was permitted to return to that country. He spent 1840–42 in Cornwall, before being sent back to New Brunswick. In 1844 he was appointed chairman of the Newfoundland District. He presided over the district meetings from 1844 to 1849, when he became a supernumerary because of illness. He moved to Bridgetown, N.S., in 1852 where, although retired, he continued to preach regularly. His last sermon was given at Tupperville five days before his death.

Richard Williams was a large man with a brusque temper and a strong devotion to the tenets and usages of Wesleyan Methodism. According to the Reverend George Oxley Huestis, “neither the face of clay, nor the presence of the devil, could divert him from his purpose or change his mind when he thought he was right.” He helped to build some strong circuits on the,. unpromising soil of Lower Canada, strengthened the influential Saint John circuit in New Brunswick, and gave quiet leadership in the New Brunswick and Newfoundland districts. Assuredly, he was convinced that Wesleyan Methodism was the best, but he recognized also the necessity to adapt it to British North American conditions. His preaching, “always rich in evangelical truth, was characterized by . . . the prominence which he gave to those great scriptural doctrines, justification by faith, and entire holiness.” Despite his commitment to preaching he believed funeral sermons to be evil; “in life and in death I am opposed to funeral sermons, and when I die let no funeral sermon be preached on my account.” His wish was granted: an address was given instead at his funeral.

G. S. French

SOAS, Methodist Missionary Soc. Arch., Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Soc., corr., North America, New Brunswick District, minutes, May 1826, May 1828; letter to Strong, 13 July 1832 (mfm. at UCA). Wesleyan Methodist Church, Minutes of the conferences (London), 2 (1799–1807): 272–73; 4 (1814–18): 107; 6 (1825–30): 37, 142; 9 (1840–43): 24; 10 (1844–47): 50; 11 (1848–51): 220; 12 (1852–54): 62. Wesleyan Methodist Church of Eastern British America, Minutes (Halifax), 1857: 4–5. Provincial Wesleyan (Halifax), 14 Aug. 1856. Carroll, Case and his cotemporaries, 2: 23. French, Parsons & politics, 67–74. G. O. Huestis, Memorials of Wesleyan missionaries & ministers, who have died within the bounds of the conference of Eastern British America, since the introduction of Methodism into these colonies (Halifax, 1872), 128. J. G. Reid, Mount Allison University: a history to 1963 (2v., Toronto. 1984), 1, chap. 1.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

G. S. French, “WILLIAMS, RICHARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed June 18, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/williams_richard_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/williams_richard_8E.html
Author of Article:   G. S. French
Title of Article:   WILLIAMS, RICHARD
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   June 18, 2024