Reverend James MacGregor was a Presbyterian minister born in December of 1759 in Portmore, Scotland to James Drummond and Janet Dochert/Dochart. He was brought up in the anti-burgher wing of the Secession Church, which had split from the Church of Scotland in 1733. After matriculating at the University of Edinburgh in 1779, he attended the General Associate Hall, the anti-burgher theological college from 1781-1784. The Presbytery of Perth accepted an application by the people of Pictou, Nova Scotia for a minister, and surprised MacGregor with this appointment in the spring of 1786. Ordained by the Presbytery of Glasgow shortly thereafter, he set off and arrived in Pictou that summer, being only one of five Presbyterian clergy in Nova Scotia. (In 1784, Nova Scotia had split into two provinces, creating the province of New Brunswick.) MacGregor’s adherence though to anti-burgher principles kept him from uniting with the presbytery in Truro for the first decade of his work. MacGregor agreed to preach in English and Gaelic as many of his parishioners were Scottish Highlanders. His duties took him into New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Cape Breton, and other areas of Nova Scotia, thus providing a first-hand account of life and conditions in the Maritimes during these early years of development.
Later years saw the creation of a unified synod at Truro in 1817 as the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, and MacGregor was chosen its first moderator. He worked within this new unit to advance educational opportunities and legal rights for Presbyterians and other non-Anglican denominations. In his zeal to spread the gospel, he was a member of the British and Foreign Bible Society; translated works from English to Gaelic; wrote original works in Gaelic, mostly a series of spiritual songs; promoted Sunday schools in Pictou, and with the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, a domestic missionary society.
MacGregor married Ann McKay at Halifax, 11 May 1796 and settled on the west side of the East River; he married a second time to Janet Gordon in Pictou, 25 Dec. 1811, and had children by both. He died in Pictou 3 March 1830.
The Diary of Rev. James MacGregor describes his activities as a Presbyterian minister to the inhabitants of and around Pictou, Nova Scotia from the time he arrived in 1786 to 1806. As communities were scattered and clergy were few, it also includes his journeys and visits further afield in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Cape Breton, and Prince Edward Island, providing a window into life and conditions in the Maritimes. Conveys impressions of his surroundings including inhabitants, lifestyles, and landscapes; records travel experiences in sparsely settled areas, and the work of ministering – its challenges and issues, as well as his own challenges of adapting to life in this new environment. Subject matter is centred around the North Shore of colonial Nova Scotia and includes religion (clergymen and Presbyterianism), travel and description, local and town history, and social history.
Arrangement: Diary appears to have been written in later years; it follows a broad chronological sequence but does not contain entries for specific days.
Detailed Contents 1786-1790
To illustrate the kinds of topics included, the following has been extrapolated from the diary from its beginnings through to the end of 1790.
1786 -1789: May - his reaction to appointment; June - journey from Scotland to Halifax; July - immorality in Halifax; “dangerous” journey from Halifax to Truro with a stop at Stewiacke; journey from Truro to Pictou, mentions George MacConnel and Will Smith; initial impressions of Pictou area – harbour and the East, West and Middle rivers; history of settlement up to that point told by Squire Paterson; first service – scene of those arrivals, accommodation, overall impressions, presenters in Gaelic and English found – Thomas Fraser and W. Smith, mentions Squire Paterson and Mrs. MacMillan; inhabitants on East River; baptisms – issue of who should be baptised; elders found – Thomas Fraser and Simon Fraser; congregation – soldiers, and impiety; to Middle River – mentions Robert Marshall and Kenneth Fraser; state of children’s education; to Truro – issue of union; his accommodations in Pictou; autumn - discouraged at no meeting house yet; more elders needed, comforting – Donald MacRay, Peter Grant, Robert Marshal, Kenneth Fraser, John MacLean, Hugh Fraser and John Patterson; to Merigomish; services during winter ; relationship with soldiers; trials of early farming; death of mother; humiliation day (July) to be observed; building of meeting house; difficulties preaching in two languages and at two places so far distant; some immigration due to letters from inhabitants to Scotland; personal financial difficulties; road conditions; summer – dispensation of sacrament of supper described plus the number of communicants; to Amherst; winter followed same plan of visitation, examination and preaching; winter – shows number of communicants; strife between William MacKay and Colin MacKay – both were refused admission to Lord’s Supper last year, and due to this MacGregor had to leave the abode of William and move in with Daniel MacKay; Mrs. Allardice – question about admitting her to Lord’s Supper; problems in attracting minsters to the area; Merigomish elders – Walter Murray and John Small.
1790: Pictou population; communicants from outer areas – Shubenacadie and Nine Mile River; Mrs. Ann Patterson – “grievous distress”; summer to Prince Edward Island – ministered to Cove Head, St. Peters, and Princeton, mentions Mr. Miller of Scotland, Mr. Rae, a Scottish merchant, and Donald Montgomery; baptisms - issue of who to baptise, also includes numbers of baptisms; sailed from Charlottetown with Capt. Worth; state of religion on island.