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Past and Present
“The Venerable Thomas Whitehead,”


These are the terms of respect and reverence by which the person named was usually designated for many years before his death, whenever referred to in public. Privately, he was designated by the ministers' and members of the church who knew him as “Father Whitehead.” He was so called when the writer, first became a, Methodist, some twenty-five years before Mr. W.’s death. His first sight of him also was in the “Old Framed Meeting House” in “little York,” at a prayer meeting. Mr. W. was bn his way from the lower part of the Province to his residence in Burford. Turning aside as a wayfaring man for a night, he had heard of this social means of grace, and felt it his duty and privilege to attend. We were struck with the peculiar manner of his utterance whenever he elevated his voice, which made him so difficult to be understood by hearers till they became familiar with its sound. This was the only drawback to his ministry. For his other excellencies were many and great.

He was a man of sterling, unbending integrity. He was not ashamed to be singular, and to stand alone, when contending for what he thought to be right. Many of the senior ministers will remember his standing in a minority of one in the great question before the Conference in thirty-three. But he, who always contended so honestly while a measure was under discussion, was equally submissive when it was fairly carried by a majority. In this respect his conduct was in beautiful contrast to that of another member of the Conference at that time, who, to avoid the difficulty of voting against what he did not approve, ran out of the house; and yet, subsequently left the connexion on account of this very measure, and did all in his power to rend it asunder. Whitehead’s genuine, truly evangelical piety was the secret of all this. His habits were very much of the simple, hardy kind, that characterized the early Methodist Preachers on the American continent. He rose early, lived plain, and always rode on horseback. No Wonder then, that he usually had excellent health and attained to a great age. It is a curious fact, that Mr. W/s favourite horse, "Sally-John,” so called to commemorate the names of the man and his wife from whom he bought him, although he served his master to the advanced age of twenty-jive years, had never a harness on his back. Mr. W. was a great reader and exceedingly well informed on all subjects of general interest. He was partial to our English poets, particularly Young's Night Thoughts, a copy of which he had always about him. He maintained that it was the most replete with thought, and the most suggestive of any book in the language. It was this venerable minister’s commendation t>f it, that led the writer, when a mere stripling, to purchase and give himself to the study of this work from which he thinks he derived both pleasure and profit.

Mr. Whitehead’s healthful flow of spirits, combined with, his intelligence, piety, and great conversational powers, made him a most interesting and desirable companion. The writer remembers the pleasure and profit he derived from his company during a visit of his to the circuit he was then travelling in '29. The old gentleman's excursion to the East, as far as Hollowell, had a most salutary influence in counteracting an evil leaven, which had begun to work in the connexion. It was during that visit, he first heard him preach. It was in the town of Cobourg, on his favourite theme, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.”

Mr. W. was eminently social, and although not a “spirit drinker,” he was fond of “the cup which cheers, but not inebriates.” And we have been told by an intelligent and pious gentleman, who had the strongest affection for him, that dur-the war of 1812, Mr. W. who was almost the only Methodist minister that laboured east of Kingston, and whose circuit extended from that town to Cornwall, and as far back as the Rideau : knowing how destitute the people were of that luxury in the interior, he used to carry some tea in his saddlebags, (as the celebrated Essayist, Foster, did, in his pocket when he went to see the poorer members of his flock); and to share at least, with the “old folks” of the families where he lodged. But whether old or young, the visits of one whose conversation was so entertaining and improving was hailed by all in those days, when there were few, if any, books and newspapers, and in many parts of the country no mails, not to mention the want of railroads and magnetic telegraphs! Under such circumstances, how inexpressibly beneficial must the itinerant rounds of such a man have been?

The writer, thus late, at the suggestion of an aged preacher, one whom we might denominate his “companion in arms,” has endeavoured to pay a tribute of respect to one of a class of men to whom Canada owes much. As he has not dealt in anything like narrative in reference to Mr. TV. he encloses the obituary of him published in the Minutes of Conference for 1846, which it is judged best to publish:

“Quest. IV. What Preachers have died since last Conference?"

“Ans. Thomas Whitehead.—He died at the house of his son, in Burford, 22nd January, 1846, aged 83 years, and in the 62nd of his ministry. The theme of his long ministry was embodied in his last words—“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men.” He was born in Duchess County, in the Province (now State) of New York, 11th December, 1762; was converted and joined the Methodist Church in the 18th year of his age; commenced his itinerant ministry at the age of 21, under the direction of the New York Conference, and laboured about three years in the neighbourhoods of Albany and New York, when he was sent as a Missionary to the Province of Nova Scotia, and continued there and in the Province of New Brunswick about 16 years, when he returned to New York; laboured two years near Albany, and was sent by Bishop Asbury in Sept. 1806 to Upper Canada, where he continued to reside and labour during the last forty years of his useful life. While in Nova Scotia, he married a daughter of Israel and Flizabeth Andrews. At the time of his coming to Canada he had a family of six children; was exposed six weeks in an open boat coming from Albany to Niagara, during the greater part of which time he and his family subsisted on boiled wheat. He laboured two years in the Niagara District—two years in the Long Point country— travelled several years on circuits in the Prince Edward, Midland, and Johnstown Districts, when he removed again to the Long Point Circuit—superannuated and settled in Burford in the year 1815.

‘‘Mr. Whitehead’s early religious convictions had been deep and strongly marked, and his experience of salvation by faith clear and undoubted. His piety was, in the words of his favourite Dr. Young, as

“An even spun thread, alike throughout ”

fervent, deep, and experimental, during the whole of his protracted Christian life. His gentlemanly deportment was but emblematical of his gentle and affectionate piety, and his fine physical stature but the index of the noble spirit within. He possessed a well cultivated mind, which was richly stored with general knowledge. His pulpit talents were superior; and notwithstanding a slight impediment in his speech, which in- v creased with age, he was a popular as well as highly instructivo and animated Preacher. He was industrious and faithful in his public labours, as he was diligent and devout in his private readings and prayers. In all agitations and oppositions, he remained firm in his connexion and attachment with the Church in which he had found the Lord Jesus. Christ crucified was his favourite theme, and preaching his delightful employment. He loved to preach, as the Discipline directs, on the occasions of Christian festivals, and preached no less than fifty-three Christmas sermons on as many successive Christmas days. He preached for the last time in his life on Christmas-day, 1815, from Luke ii. 14, While his body, literally worn out, was gradually sinking beneath the accumulation of years and labours, the vigour of his intellect remained unimpaired— his peace perfect—his hope buoyant. His eye of luminous faith converted the darkness of death into the opening light of .Heaven, and transformed its gloomy valley into a highway of triumph; and while he was giving the sign of assured victory, after speech had failed, he fell asleep in Jesus—haying furnished a practical commentary during a longer period than any other Clergyman in Canada, on the words of his favourite hymn, with which he was accustomed, for many years, almost invariably to commence public service:

“His only righteousness I show,
His saving truth proclaim:
'Tis all my business here below
To cry, “Behold the Lamb!”

“Happy if with my latest breath
I may but gasp his name;
Preach him to all, and cry in death,
"Behold, behold the Lamb!*

"After the example of the Redeemer himself and his holy Apostles, Mr. Whitehead, with his ministerial brethren, was, for many years, maligned and persecuted as an American Preacher—as not well affected to the Government of his birth and choice; but he, as well as his fellow-labourers have long since lived down this calumny; and his mortal remains were followed to the grave by the largest concourse of people, of all ranks and denominations, which was ever witnessed in Burford on any similar occasion.

“It may be added in this place, that those self-sacrificing Preachers who, like Mr. Whitehead, came into this country at an early period, came here not because of their aversion to the British Government, but because of their preference for it, and because of their willingness to endure any privations and labours in order to preach to the then destitute inhabitants of Canada the unsearchable riches of Christ. Volunteer Preachers for the then distant and wilderness Canada, were called for in the Conference of the new American Republic, when those who, from hereditary attachment, or from disappointment at the working of the new American Institutions, and from a noble spirit of Christian enterprise to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, offered themselves as labourers in Canada. To them the people of Canada are deeply indebted. Their souls were then cared for by no other class of men. Those venerable men have nearly all gone to their reward; and like Mr. Whitehead, have died in the faith of the Gospel, which they had laboured and suffered so much to preach. It remains for the living members of the Church to serve the present generation as faithfully and as efficiently as their predecessors served the last generation.”

We want to say in conclusion, to those who never saw him, that the printed portrait of this servant of Christ is a good one; but it is not so life-like as it would have been, if his hair had been disposed in the meek way he usually wore it.


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