Rev. John Beardsley (1732–1809)

Founder of Freemasonry in New Brunswick

Reginald V. Harris

The Rev. John Beardsley, named as the first Junior Grand Warden of the Provincial Grand Lodge of New York in 1781, was one of the great pioneers of the Craft in New Brunswick


He was born in Ripton (now Huntington) Conn., about eight miles from Stratford, on April 23rd, 1732, the son of John and Keziah (Wheeler) Beardsley. His ancestor, William Beardsley, born in England, in 1605, came to Stratford in the ship "Planter" in 1635, was prominent in the affairs of the town and of the Congregational Church, and died in 1661. John Beardsley, the subject of this paper, was the great-great-grandson of William Beardsley, that is, fourth in descent from the immigrant arrival.

John was baptized in infancy by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Johnson, afterwards the President of King's (Columbia) College, his parents having been among Johnson's original parishioners in Stratford.

Nothing further has been found concerning his early life, but in 1758, at the rather late age of twenty-six, he entered Yale College, with the avowed intention of taking Holy Orders in the Church of England. At that time, the Rev. Ebenezer Punderson was the S.P.G. Missionary in New Haven and invited Beardsley to act as his lay reader. Yale, however, was bitterly opposed to the established Church and as such duty would have involved his absenting himself from services at the College Chapel, the President refused his consent, with the result that Beardsley withdrew from Yale after two years of studies.

Continuing his studies at King's College under Dr. Johnson, he would have graduated in 1761, had he not been obliged to embark for England before Commencement, on June 3rd, but the degree of A.B. honoris causa was conferred upon him, followed by the degree of A.M. in 1768.


As there were no bishops of the Church of England in America, he had to go to England for ordination. The voyage was then full of peril and it has been said that one-third of those who undertook the journey perished by the dangers of the sea, ship fever, small-pox or other illnesses.

Proceeding to England, Beardsley was armed with a letter from Archbishop Secker of Canterbury, dated May 2nd, 1761, in which Dr. Johnson certified that while at King's College, Beardsley had studied under his direction and had "conducted himself very seriously and industriously" and would, he believed, be "a very useful person."

Dr. Ebenezer Punderson of New Haven, also wrote the Secretary of the S.P.G. April 12th, 1761:

Both I and my people, are greatly rejoiced; that we have found so worthy a man as the Bearer Mr. John Beardslee to supply that Vacant Mission who has been a Member of King's College in New York and graduated by the Revd. & Worthy Doc'r Johnson, President & has for some time been reading Prayers & Sermons there to very good acceptance. Mr. Beardslee is of more than sufficient age for Holy Orders, is a Person of unspotted Character, & of an Excellent Temper & Disposition, sound in his Principles of Religion, firmly attached to our most excellent Ch. & bids fair for doing great service in the same if life is spared & The Venerable Society shew him favour.

Arriving in England, Beardsley was ordained Deacon by the Bishop of London (Thomas Hayter) on August 6th, 1761, and priest by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Thomas Secker) at Lambeth on August 23, 1761, (the date of his [Beardsley's] death 48 years later). The Bishop of London at this time had jurisdiction over all overseas Dioceses and frequently ordained overseas clergy for the Archbishop of Canterbury.


Returning to America as an S.P.G. missionary he labored for the next five years in Norwich and Groton, Connecticut. In 1765 he married Sylvia, daughter of Dr. Ebenezer Punderson, his sponsor.

In this same period, with the consent of his people, he visited Dutchess County, N.Y., six times and preached to large congregations in various parts of the County, baptizing many adults and infants.

In September, 1764, he wrote the S.P.G. "The number of communicants among them is considerable, who greatly lament the want of an Incumbent."

On July 5th, 1766, Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote the Society recommending Beardsley as missionary in Dutchess County, but before this letter reached England the Society had already taken action and on July 18th, 1766, had authorized his appointment to a parish which included Fishkill, East Fishkill, Wappinger, the westerly part of LaGrange and Poughkeepsie. Removing to Poughkeepsie on October 26th, 1766, he labored there until 1777.

At a Convention held October 12th, 1768 in New Brunswick, N.J., concerning the widows and children of deceased clergymen, Beardsley said that he rode about 3,000 miles each year in the course of his duty. (Prot. Epis. Mag. Vol. 3, p. 20).

During his eleven years as rector, Beardsley secured a glebe farm for the mission, built a rectory in 1767 (still standing) also Trinity Church at Fishkill in 1768–1769, obtained a Royal Charter for Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, and built the first Church in that town in 1774, also still in use.

The title to the glebe-house or rectory was taken one-third in his name and two-thirds in the name of the Society and became later the subject of a dispute which was not finally settled until July, 1805.

Trinity Church, Fishkill, was occupied by the New York Provincial Convention until September 3rd, 1776, and was used as a Military Hospital by the Army of Gen. Washington until June 2nd, 1783. It still stands as a monument to the first rector, Rev. John Beardsley.


During this period of eleven years, we find the earliest record of Beardsley's connection with Freemasonry. The minutes of old Solomon Lodge, Poughkeepsie, (Warranted May 22nd, 1771) record that the Rev. John Beardsley preached to that body on several St. John's Day anniversaries beginning December 27th, 1771, and that on December 28th, 1772, the Lodge passed a resolution of thanks for a sermon he had preached and ordered that a large folio Bible be presented to Mr. Beardsley. The record further states that a Book of Common Prayer, not exceeding 12 shillings in value, be presented to Mr. William Emott for his services as clerk to Mr. Beardsley this day.

The last reference to such an occasion is in the minutes of December 27th, 1774. The Bible presented to him is said to have been left by him in the Church on his removal to New York but all trace of it has been lost. At this time, Beardsley had not become a member of the Craft.


While residing at Poughkeepsie, his wife, Sylvia Punderson, died about 1774, leaving two children, John Davis Beardsley and Sylvia Beardsley (twins) born February 4th, 1771.

The Beardsleys of Woodstock, N.B., are descended from the son John. He died at Woodstock in 1852. Sylvia, his sister, married a German officer and later migrated to New Brunswick, where his regiment was disbanded. After four years residence there, he with his wife and two children, returned to Hesse Cassel, Germany, his native town.

In 1774 or 1775, the Rev. John Beardsley married Anna (or Gertrude) Crannell, daughter of Bartholemew Crannell, later the first Common Clerk of Saint John, and first barrister admitted to the Bar of New Brunswick. Their first child was Bartholemew Crannell Beardsley, born October 21, 1775, later Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and a member of the House of Assembly. He died in Toronto in 1855. The second child of the marriage was Hannah, who married Walter Dibblee of Kingston, and in whose home Mr. Beardsley died in 1809. The late Ven. W. O. Raymond was the great-grandson of this marriage. The third child of this marriage was Amy, who married Benjamin Daniels of Port Lorne, Annapolis County, N.S. Catherine, the fourth child, married Samuel Nichols, July 5, 1802, and later resided at Flushing, Long Island. The youngest child was Beverley Robinson Beardsley, who married Sarah Hatch in New Brunswick (July 15, 1785) and also lived at Port Lorne. The name still flourishes in the County.


In common with nearly all the clergy of the Church, he opposed the popular movement in favour of separation from the Mother Country, and this attitude on his part resulted in the suspension of his Church services as from July 13th, 1776. After many privations, repeated insults, misery and distress, he arrived in New York about December 26th, 1776.

In March 1777, he was living on Long Island but later returned to Poughkeepsie where he appeared before the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies and was paroled for five days. Refusing to take the oath of allegiance he was ordered to remain on his farm until further orders, with permission to visit and baptize.

He continued to disobey orders, and as a consequence, he, with his wife, five children, his 'negro wench' and three negro female children sailed from Poughkeepsie for New York, arriving December 16th, 1777.


One of his parishioners in Poughkeepsie had been Col. Beverley Robinson, a member of Lodge No. 210, who at this time was raising a regiment for service on the British side, the "Loyal American Regiment." Robinson offered Beardsley the appointment of Chaplain, June 1778. Many of the officers and men were residents of Dutchess County, and Beardsley was well known to most of them. The regiment served throughout the war, and saw much service in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and in the South. The muster-rolls have been preserved in the Canadian Archives at Ottawa, and in them Beardsley's name appears in various forms or spellings.


Notwithstanding his military duties Beardsley kept in more or less close touch with his old parish and wrote from time to time to the S.P.G. in England reporting conditions there.

Following the Battle of Yorktown, the preliminary treaty of peace was signed November 30th, 1782, and on April 19th, 1783, Washington proclaimed the war at an end, the definitive treaty being signed on September 3rd of the same year.

In the meantime, on March 21st, 1783, Beardsley with seventeen others, meeting at Woodbury, Conn., signed "a Plan for an Episcopate in Nova Scotia". Thirteen days previously, on March 8th, the same eighteen clergymen signed in New York a "Plan of Religious and Literary Institution for the Province of Nova Scotia".

This was the origin of the present day University of King's College, established at Windsor, N.S. in 1789, and now situated in Halifax.

Of these eighteen clergymen, ten shortly afterwards proceeded to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick and three of the eighteen became bishops of the Church; Inglis, Seabury and Moore, all Freemasons. Among the others were Rev. Dr. William Walter and Rev. John H. Rowland, who went to Shelburne, where they were prominent in Freemasonry.


While in New York, Beardsley, sometime between February 20th, 1779 and June 24th, 1780, the date of the first returns sent to London, became a member of Lodge No. 210 (Ancients). He soon became an outstanding member of the Craft for at the meeting of Lodge No. 169, A.Y.M. January 23rd, 1781, when initial steps were taken to form a Provincial Grand Lodge in New York, "it was unanimously agreed to and do appoint the Reverend Br. Beardsley (210) Jun'r Grand Warden." Thereafter, Beardsley acted as J.G.W. at two of the three meetings of the Provincial Grand Lodge: October 18th, 1781, to constitute Lodge No. 213; and February 21st, 1782, to constitute Lodge No. 215. He also attended the first meeting of Grand Lodge, December 5th, 1782. He is again mentioned in the minutes of June 5th, 1783, when he "signified his intentions of removing soon from this City and desired leave to resign which being accepted" his successor, William Cock, was elected.

He is last mentioned in Grand Lodge minutes on June 19th, 1783, when he proposed that a blank warrant be issued to the brethren of Lodge No. 210 who were removing to Saint John, then part of Nova Scotia, but the request was denied.


As the war drew to a close many of his compatriots in arms and Connecticut friends decided to settle in Nova Scotia and Beardsley considered it his duty to remove thither to minister to them. On one ship, the "Union", out of twenty in the "Spring fleet" which left New York on April 19th, 1783, arriving at Saint John on May 10th, were eight families from Dutchess County, ten from Norwalk, Conn., nine from Stamford, five from Reading, two from his native town of Stratford, his kinsmen, Abel Beardsley from Fairfield, and eight from other neighbouring places in Connecticut. He preferred to go to them rather than remain in idleness in New York. He was 51 years of age, and still a man of action. Writing to the S.P.G. he said he had been urged to undertake duty both at Saint John and Kingston as a resident minister, "but he verily believed that under the present circumstances he could be more useful as an itinerant than if stationed at any one place."


He was back in New York for a month or so, but finally left that city some time between June 19th (when he last attended Grand Lodge) and the middle of July 1783.

One writer says that Beardsley was the first clergyman of any denomination to minister to the spiritual needs of the exiles.

In the records he is named as the grantee of Lot No. 151, measuring 50 by 200 feet, and situated on Studholme Street. Here he built a shelter for his family on his lot opposite the present Admiral Beatty Hotel. Next spring with a volunteer party he began preparations for a church on the southwest corner of the old burial ground opposite the present Court House. He worked at it himself, broad-axe in hand, until a destructive fire on June 18, 1784, destroyed it and a number of the settlers' log houses, and the project was abandoned.


He continued to officiate at Saint John until the death of Rev. John Sayre, Rector of Maugerville on August 5th, 1784, when he removed thither and remained there as rector until 1803. Here he ministered to more than 10,000 people between St. John and Meductic, a stretch of 150 miles. At Maugerville, he built a parsonage and a church. The church in Maugerville was probably the first finished in the province. It was at least the first that was consecrated. The name of "Christ Church" which was then given, may have been suggested by the name of Mr. Beardsley's former parish church in Poughkeepsie. It had a pew for the Governor with its canopied top, surmounted by a dove. The dimensions of the church were 32 x 40 feet. A letter written by Mr. Beardsley to Col. Abraham De Peyster, who had removed in 1792 to Saint John, is quoted in Lawrence's "Footprints" and will be of interest here. It is dated from Maugerville, July 10th, 1792.

Dear Sir,

I thank you for your answer to mine of the 27th ult., and its contents.

At a meeting of our Church Wardens and Vestry, it was agreed that Mr. Daniels should be employed to make a ball, and Mr. Clarke to make a spindle and weathercock for our steeple, to be put up before the Right Reverend's visitation here, which we expect will be the last of this or the beginning of next month.

It was also concluded in Vestry to secure the steeple against the rain, for which purpose is wanted a barrel of tar and 10 lbs. of osklum.

We are likewise in want of a two quart pewter christening basin two plates and a pint cup for our communion table, as they will be required by the Bishop. If the cup could be had of block tin I should prefer it.

These, if you will be so good as to procure, and charge to the Church account, and send them by the first opportunity, and engage the boatman, whoever he is, to be punctual in leaving them at my house, it will much oblige your friends here, and none more so than dear Sir,

Your most obedient, humble servant,

John Beardsley

In 1791 the rectors of all the parishes in New Brunswick then assembled in convocation at Maugerville addressed a memorial to Governor Carleton in which they state that "They think it their duty, with his Excellency's approbation, to represent to his Grace of Canterbury that it is impossible for any bishop at such a remote distance as Halifax to minister to the real necessities of the Church in New Brunswick." The Bishop and the Governor both agreed with this representation, but nothing tangible came of it until more than fifty years had lapsed. Still it is worthy of note that the first cry for the extension of the episcopate emanated from the Rev. John Beardsley's parish of Maugerville.

It was while he was rector of Maugerville that he was appointed Chaplain of the King's New Brunswick Regiment of which the Lieut. Governor, Major General Thomas Carleton was Colonel and Col. Beverley Robinson his former commanding officer was Lieut. Colonel. The regiment was disbanded in 1802.

In a letter written by Lieut. Governor Thomas Carleton to Edward Winslow dated March 2nd, 1807, he refers to having arranged for half pay for "Doctor Beardsley", about 80 cents a day.

On October 28th, 1798, he married a Mrs. Quain of Saint John, New Brunswick.


In 1802, he resigned as Rector of Maugerville, and it is here that one may regard his life-work as virtually ended. The vicissitudes through which he had passed, with accompanying anxieties and strain seem to have prematurely aged him, and, at a time when many men are still possessed of vigour and ripe judgment, he was worn out and was at length so regarded, even by his life-long friend Bishop Charles Inglis, as being in a state of comparative dotage.

The old parson spent the evening of his days at Kingston, where his daughter Hannah and her husband Walter Dibblee then lived, and where he passed quietly to his rest on the 23rd of August, 1809, and was buried under the shadow of the old parish church. It is a matter of great regret that no portrait or silhouette of Beardsley has been found.


On March 9th, 1784, while still resident in Saint John, Beardsley was invited by his Masonic brethren to become the first Master of Hiram Lodge, established under a dispensation granted by St. Andrew's Lodge, No. 155 (now No. 1) and St. John's Lodge, No. 211 (now No. 2) Halifax. The warrant was issued by the Grand Lodge at Halifax on September 1st, 1784, and assigned the No. 17. The officers were installed by Dr. Azor Betts, who had been S.W. of Lodge No. 210 in New York, and had been a Captain-Lieutenant in the King's American Rangers. The Lodge met at John Kirk's Inn, "Lower Cove", on Britain Street, near Germain Street.

In the list of petitioners, Mr. Beardsley is referred to as a Doctor of Divinity, but no evidence has ever been found that he ever received the degree of D.D.

On removing to Maugerville in 1785, Beardsley seems to have withdrawn from Hiram Lodge, but he soon identified himself with St. George's Lodge, No. 2, N.Y., (later No. 19 R.N.S.) warranted January 29, 1783, in the 3rd Battalion, New Jersey Volunteers. On the granting of the Nova Scotia warrant, Beardsley, "one of our Past Masters" constituted the new Lodge and installed the officers. He continued a member of the Lodge until some time between December 19th, 1800 and April 10th, 1801, during which period, he "declared off" without certificate.

On April 10th, 1792, he endorsed a petition for a warrant for Sion Lodge, No. 21, at Kingston; on October 3rd, 1792, he installed the officers of Solomon's Lodge No. 22 at Fredericton, acting for William Campbell, D.G.M. for New Brunswick; and on March 3rd, 1793, he installed the new officers of Hiram York Lodge No. 23 at Fredericton. While in retirement at Kingston, he was twice invited to deliver the St. John's Day sermon before St. John's Lodge, No. 29 (now No. 2) Saint John, first on June 24th, 1802, and again his last Masonic Sermon, before St. John's Lodge on June 24th, 1803, from the text, Hebrews XIII, v. 1., "Let brotherly love continue." The sermon was afterwards printed by Jacob S. Mott, Prince William Street, Saint John, but copies are very rare.

In 1916 the Grand Lodge of New Brunswick unveiled a brass memorial tablet at the left of the chancel in Trinity Church, Kingston, N.B., reading as follows:

To the Glory of God (Square and Compasses) and in memory of The Reverend John Beardsley, D.D. Junior Grand Warden of The Provincial Grand Lodge of New York and First Worshipful Master of Hiram Lodge No. 17 A.F. & A.M. at St. John, September, 1784 who came to New Brunswick with the Loyalists and whose body rests beneath this Church.

This tablet is erected by The Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of New Brunswick as a Tribute of Regard for one of The Pioneers of the Craft in this Province obit August 23, 1809.

The historian, Archdeacon W. O. Raymond said of him:

John Beardsley was well fitted for pioneer work—a man of restless energy, who could wield the broad-axe, paddle a canoe, and was reputed to be 'fully as good a farmer as preacher'. He was at this time the only active minister on the Saint John. In consequence there devolved on him the duty of ministering to more than ten thousand people, settled all the way from Parr-Town to Meductic, a distance of nearly 150 miles. He could do little more than keep the Church alive. For about two years he did his best to cover the ground, and truly he was 'in journeyings often.' We need no further proof that he was 'in labours abundant' than the fact that during the first year he baptized 135 persons, of whom 12 were blacks and a good many were adults, besides officiating at 69 funerals and solemnizing 75 marriages.

Such is the dramatic story of a great and humble servant of his Master, a founder of the first church in Loyalist Saint John, and of other churches in many places, a founder of the present Grand Lodge of New York and the pioneer of Freemasonry in the Province of New Brunswick. His memory and his good work for the Craft should be remembered. Is it too much to hope that some day a medallion named for him may be struck, to be awarded to worthy Craftsmen who may have served as steadfastly for their God and the Craft as did Parson John Beardsley?


Footprints by J. W. Laurence, St. John, N.B., 1883.

Collections of New Brunswick Hist. Soc. No. 5 (1904) "Loyalists in Arms 1775–83" by Ven. W. O. Raymond.

Winslow Papers by Ven. W. O. Raymond.

The Church in Nova Scotia and the Tory Clergy of the Revolution by Rev. Dr. A. W. H. Eaton, 1891.

Minute Book, Grand Lodge of Nova Scotia, 1784–97, and original MSS.

History of St. John's Lodge, No. 2, Saint John, N.B. by W. F. Bunting.

Transactions Amer. Lodge of Research.

"William Walters Associate Officers in Grand Lodge" by H. P. Nash. Vol. II. p. 250.

"Origins of the Grand Lodge of New York" by H. P. Nash. Vol. III. p. 278, 518.

The New York Masonic Outlook, August 1931.

"Parson John Beardsley" by Rob't T. Reid.

Canadian Churchman, August 6th, 1931.

"The Rev. John Beardsley" by Ven. W. O. Raymond.