Our History - Martintown
Taken from ‘Our Heritage” – A history of old St Andrew’s the Stone Church in Martintown
By Jean McCuaig MacIntosh
The origin of the village of Martintown was in the Scottish Highlands. When in 1745 the followers of Bonnie Prince Charlie failed in their attempt to place him on the British throne, they found thereafter that life for them, as tenant farmers was most uncertain. Portions of the estates were being sold and they were homeless and destitute. Tales of the New World across the sea were reaching them, and they began to dream of a new and freer existence far from their native glens. In 1773 three brothers of the clan Macdonald organized an expedition to sail for America. More than 600 passengers were on board the ‘Pearl’. They initially settled in the Mohawk Valley of New York State, and for a few years they prospered. When the American Revolution broke out, the majority of the Scottish settlers remained loyal to the British crown, many of them fighting with the Loyalist army. During the war, and afterwards, the United Empire Loyalists as they were called, were once more the victims of a victorious army. They were deprived of their possessions and driven from their homes. They Loyalists made their way to different parts of Canada. It is believed that the first Loyalist settlements in the Martintown area began as early as 1779, with the area being surveyed and lots being measured and numbered n 1784. An official list of Loyalists contains many names that are still common to this area, including Campbell, Cameron, Clark, Ferguson, Fraser, Grant, Munro, McArthur, McCallum, McDougal, McDonald, McGregor, McIntyre, McIntosh, McLennan, McMartin, Ross and Scott. The village of Martintown, which was first known as McMartin Mills, was built on land that was once owned by the Grant and McMartin families.
The very early settlers attended church at Williamstown, and were under the care of Rev. Mr Bethune, a pioneer minister, who organized churches at Lancaster, Cornwall and Williamstown. The commute between these villages was a formidable challenge in those days when the river and the forest trails were the only routes of travel. In 1804, Mr Reid, a school teacher and licensed preacher arrived in Martintown. He directed the building of a small frame church which became the Congregationalist Church. At that time, there was a greater number of residents who belonged to the Church of Scotland who continued to worship with Mr Bethune in Williamstown.
The most momentous years in the church’s history were the eleven years between 1825 and 1836 when the Rev Archibald Connell was the minister. At that time the total congregation numbered about 1300 people. The little frame church could accommodate less than one half of the worshippers. Mr Connell’s first plan was to build a larger place of worship. Although the congregation was large, the people there were struggling pioneers and there was little money for building a new church. Mr Connell returned to his native Scotland in 1829 and successfully raised a substantial sum of money, which combined with a government grant, amounted to 415 pounds. The site for the beautiful stone structure was donated by Finley McMartin. Overlooking the river, and high above its banks they dug the basement and began the building of what was later to be known as the finest rural church in Canada. During the building of the church in Aug 1835, Mr Connell and his congregation were assembled in the church yard for worship when a severe storm broke. The congregation took shelter within the unfinished walls where they continued their worship and partook of the sacrament. This was the only occasion on which Mr Connell conducted worship in the new church. On Aug 31 of the following year, the much loved pastor passed on to his reward. Shortly afterwards, the congregation gathered in the newly finished church, their pride in achievement greatly clouded, because on that day of dedication they also joined in burial service for their minister. A large tablet in the entry of the present church gives a brief biography of Mr. Connell.
By the mid 1800s, the Gaelic language was still in use in the homes of many of the folk; and Gaelic services as well as English were common. In 1853 the session resolved that no minister would be called unless he could use both languages in the services. By the turn of the century, the language of the Highlander could be heard in but a few of the homes and was no longer used in church except on special occasions.
On March 20, 1906 the villagers were aroused to action by the cry “Fire”. The beautiful stone church which had served the congregation for over seventy years was ablaze. When the flames were finally extinguished, the church was almost completely destroyed. Many of the old records were destroyed that day. The tablet at the front of the church erected in memory of Rev Connell was rescued from the fire and is now in the entry of the present church. Although the walls were made of stone, the fire was so thorough, only a portion of them could be used in the new building. Four years later, on Sunday, March 6 1910, our church, much as we know it today was opened and dedicated to the worship of God.
Over its history, the congregation at Martintown has been a part of unions with other churches. The fire of 1906 paved the way for a union of the two Presbyterian churches, long known as the Old Kirk and the Free Church. In the early 1920s the movement to unite Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches in Canada became more progressive. In June 1925 the general vote on union took place and St Andrew's Martintown gave a majority in favour of union. Those who opposed the change withdrew and formed another congregation, continuing as Presbyterians. In June 1962, the amalgamation of the Williamstown and Martintown congregations took place. The Rev Douglas McKay was the first minister of the amalgamated churches. It was part of the agreement that the minister should live at Williamstown, where a new manse was prepared during the winter of 1962-63. The same manse is now occupied by the current minister, the Rev Andrea Harrison, who became the minister of this pastoral charge in August of 1997.