Indignant Silence – A Place for Public Worship

Here is a story submitted to us from Donald E. Holmes with photography by Florence Wall. With such strong historical ties between our two communities, we are delighted to feature our first story on Kingston. We do hope Donald has some other gems like this one to contribute in the future. 

Howard Burying Ground,

Howard Burying Ground, “The Christian Cemetery”, Kingston, PEI

“That my son Roderick bury my remains in The Christian Cemetery
on the estate of the late Charles Howard, and it is my

wish that I be buried as near to the late
Charles Howard as possible.”

Such is the statement from the will of Charles Colwill, but why would one be so prescriptive? While many small pioneer cemeteries frequently succumb to neglect because rural churches close, face road widening, original family members relocate, or the community changes even in name, this is the case of one small now neglected cemetery in Prince Edward Island.

Residents of Kingston, formerly South Wiltshire, organized themselves in 1852 to collect money to build a church on the South Wiltshire Road in Lot 31. The church was to replace the local schoolhouse as the meeting place for worship.  Similar to a rural barn raising, the men of the community erected a building on a foundation of hand-hewn limestone. While the structure was no edifice, it was given a simple, apt name:  A Place for Public Worship.

The entire community contributed and everyone was welcome to worship there. As a place for public worship, it was used cooperatively by Church of Englanders, Presbyterians, and Baptists, with a minority of other denominations. What was unique or nearly so was that all denominations attended the services of the other groups thereby showing respect for those who expressed their religious beliefs in ways different from their own.

My paternal grandfather, Everett Holmes, told me that within five years of the church being built, it had become known as The English Church. However, all groups still continued to worship there. By 1875, the building had become known as the Methodist Church. That name lasted for fifty years.

With the approaching 1925 church union in Canada, uneasiness and disagreement existed not only between the Baptists and Methodists, but also among the Methodists themselves. Between harmony and cooperation often exist the twin devils of dissention and resentment. The Wesleyan minority disapproved that the original privilege of worshipping in the Place for Public Worship according to one’s tradition was surely being removed from the Baptists who insisted on adult baptism. Here, then, is the story of a small group of Baptists with some extraordinary events:  the loss of a worship location, and legacy of passion gone awry and the creation of a cemetery.

In 1925, when the United Church of Canada was formed, not everyone agreed with or accepted this union. Many traditional Church of Englanders travelled eight miles to South Milton to attend the English Church. In a number of incidents, there was an exchange or transfer of membership. No congregation, therefore, suffered drastic losses. My maternal great-grandparents, Reuben Barrett and Edith Kitson, were Church of England people who moved to Kingston from the South Milton congregation to join with the Methodist Church. The Barretts lived next door to the Kingston church and are buried in the churchyard to the west of the building. A flat stone marks their graves. My paternal great-grandparents, Captain Charles and Elizabeth Holmes, as did the Barretts, left the English congregation in South Milton principally because Elizabeth was confined to a wheelchair, which made the eight-mile journey to South Milton difficult. She was an avid Bible reader and her influence can be demonstrated in this anecdote related to me by her grandson, Gordon Holmes, Q.C., who told me this story at his Park Terrace home in Charlottetown on August 29, 1971.

Gordon Holmes’ English grandparents

In her early years, Grandmother was crippled, so she began reading the Bible a great deal and talked to Grandfather about the truth contained therein, and about baptism in particular. Being true to the Anglican tradition, Grandparents were baptized by the method known as sprinkling. But when Grandmother read and pondered over “And He went down into the water and coming up straightway,” this caused her great concern. Grandfather questioned their minister–the Church of England minister at South Milton–whose opinion was one of indifference. “It doesn’t really matter all that much.”  To Grandfather, it did matter:  he was baptized in the mill pond at Kingston Corner–coming up straightway from the waters.  His affiliation with the Church of England at South Milton ceased, and Grandfather became the first deacon of Kingston Baptist Church.


A Place for Public Worship, later Kingston United Church. The cemetery is in background to the West of the church.

The Presbyterians were divided. The “soft-shell” Presbyterians stayed in Kingston and joined the Wesleyans. Some of the Wesleyans changed to Methodist. Both continued to worship as part of the congregation of the United Church of Canada. The Presbyterians who were opposed to the union travelled three miles to the Clyde River. Curiously, none of my interviewees once mentioned a derogatory word about the Presbyterians who, like the Church of Englanders, chose to “leave” the community of Kingston to worship elsewhere. Had the Presbyterians not demonstrated the same faithfulness as did the Church of Englanders, or was this a case of Islanders guarding their families carefully?  If it were the latter, what part of the family were they guarding? What is the substance of that tenet?

Charles Howard Jr. headstone in Howard Burying Ground, Kingston, PEI

Charles Howard Jr. headstone in Howard Burying Ground, Kingston, PEI

Now let’s walk the road the Baptists trod. Charles Howard, a staunch elderly Baptist who was greatly perplexed by the conflict in this Place for Public Worship in Kingston, chose to avoid taking sides with either the Methodists or the Baptists.

Charles donated, on the occasion of the death of his twenty-seven year-old son, Charles G. Howard, a plot of land on his own farm and buried his son Charles there on January 5, 1878.

Charles Howard headstone, Howard Burying Ground. The Christian Cemetery, Kingston, PEI

Charles Howard headstone, Howard Burying Ground. The Christian Cemetery, Kingston, PEI

Five months later, June 18, 1878, Charles Sr. was buried in this same cemetery which became locally known as “The Howard Burying Ground” although it was not restricted for exclusive use by the Howard family. Close friends were also buried there too. Here is a story related to me:

On the surface, Charles Howard was a staunch old [62 years old when he died] Baptist and as upright as could be produced.  However, behind the façade of his righteousness was a twinkle in his eye and an edge to his wit that could be matched by few. Howard recorded the name of the cemetery on his farm as “The Christian Cemetery”. The implication of his deed is that the graveyard to the west of the Church was for people who were other than Christian. To what extent did Charles Sr. know what he was doing! Whose side was he avoiding?

This name raises intriguing implications for the graveyard surrounding the Church building itself! The “Christian” cemetery was restored in 1972 as a joint project of the PEI Department of Health and the Heritage Foundation, a roadside marker, long gone, bore the following inscription:

Established Approximately 1878
Abandoned 1902
Restored 1972

How we wish that silenced tongues in the graveyard could be heard! In the context of the time the situation was understandable. It may be an Island peculiarity, or is it as Rev. Arthur Willis observed, “Islanders guarding their families”?

Buried beside him . . . never!

Nonetheless, the Howard story’s intrigue comes from a legal document, the last will and testament of Charles Colwill, a man of strong Methodist conviction and individuality. Colwill (1819-1908) was a friend of Charles Howard, and he agreed with Howard that the worshipping privileges at the Place for Public Worship should not be removed from the Baptists. Upon this principle alone, Colwill was told he could be buried in “The Christian Cemetery”. The flip side of the story is intriguing. Colwill did not want to be buried in the churchyard cemetery to the west of the church building. His last will and testament articulates his wishes in plain English so that no error could occur.  It reads:

That my son Roderick Nicholas pay all my just debts, Doctor’s fees and funeral expenses and that he bury my remains in The Christian Cemetery situated in or on the southwest corner of the estate of the late Charles Howard, and it is my wish that I be buried as near to the late Charles Howard as possible.  

Charles Colwill’s will was made in haste as the result of a dispute between him and one of his Methodist brothers, Jonathan Smith, whose differences over church doctrine and church government set these men at odds with each other. Their differences, it seems, were left unresolved.

Charles Colwill, knowing that Jonathan Smith was a faithful Methodist, decided he would not be buried in the Kingston cemetery with Smith. He made his will accordingly in an effort to outsmart Smith–he chose The Christian Cemetery of his Baptist friend, Charles Howard. In the end, however, like the twists and unveilings in a morals and manners scandal, the tables turned and Colwill was outwitted by Smith who was buried in the Cornwall United Church Cemetery beside his wife, Sarah Howard, who had predeceased him on August 24, 1887.

Sarah Howard's tombstone, West River United Church, formerly Cornwall United Church, Cornwall, PEI

Sarah Howard’s tombstone, West River United Church, formerly Cornwall United Church, Cornwall, PEI

Colwill was shortsighted not to realize that Mrs. Smith was already buried in Cornwall before he made his will, and there was no reason to expect that Jonathan Smith would be buried anywhere but in the plot beside his wife. Interment in the Kingston churchyard cemetery was out of the question. Whatever transpired between Colwill and Smith still lies indignant and silent, but not yet forgotten.

I’m told that Charles Colwill did get even closer to the Late Charles Howard in death than he expected and requested in his will. The gravediggers (graves were dug by hand at that time), unknowingly dug into the side of Charles Howard’s grave when they were hand digging Colwill’s grave. Undoubtedly, Colwill would have smiled or even thanked God for granting him his dying wish!

This Place for Public Worship tempest climaxed in 1878, especially for the Baptists, and, even if partially anecdotal, it must be said that they brought the trouble upon themselves. Susan Newson, a longstanding Baptist just shy of her one-hundredth birthday told me this story in her own delightful manner with a chuckle in her voice, she expressed the situation in these words:

Dan MacKinley lost his head over religion!  He was always preaching baptism, and one Sunday as the congregation was dismissed, he started again:  “People are not on the right track;  infants are being sprinkled where men should be baptized!”  At this utterance, two men of the congregation picked up Dan and carried him out of the church. On his way out, he was heard shouting:  “I’m more honoured than the Saviour–he rode on one ass and I’m on two.”

With this event, the Baptists– all of them– were without further worshipping privileges in the Place for Public Worship. Alas though, they had their cemetery!

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  1. Lillian Bentley on November 18, 2016 at 12:03 pm

    This is a great story Professor Higgins ! It is good to see our collective stories coming together as many of us share families from both Kingston and Clyde River.

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