Rev. Ezra Adams—Methodist Episcopal Circuit Rider

In the hard and cruel life of the border, with its grim struggle against the forbidding forces of wild nature and wilder men, there was much to pull the frontiersman down. If left to himself, without moral teaching and moral guidance, without any of the influences that tend toward the uplifting of man and the subduing of the brute within him, sad would have been his, and therefore our, fate. From this fate we have been largely rescued by the fact that together with the rest of the pioneers went the pioneer preachers; and all honor be given to the Methodists for the great proportion of these pioneer preachers whom they furnished.

Theodore Roosevelt, 26 Feb 1903, at the bi-centennial celebration of the birth of John Wesley

For over half a century, “the whole powers of (Rev. Ezra Adams’) mind were absorbed in the great work of saving souls” on the Canadian frontier. [1]

The Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in the United States in 1784. As the country expanded west, the Church expanded with it. Conferences, many aligned with one or more states, and comprised of several districts, were organized to direct its activity over an area. Districts of the New York Conference initially covered Canada. In 1810, the districts covering northern-most New York and Canada were organized into the Genesee Conference. In 1824, the districts covering Canada were organized again into the Canada Conference.

Each Conference met in Annual Conference—usually in the late summer, presumably for ease of travel. As the members of the Annual Conference were the itinerant preachers, Ezra presumably traveled from Canada to some of these conferences in northern New York between 1814–1824.

At the Annual Conference, the Conference bishop assigned itinerant preachers to a circuit for the next year. From the minutes of these conferences, it appears the preachers left the Annual Conference, and immediately headed to their newly assigned circuit.

Beginning in 1824, the Canada Conference severed ties with the Methodist Episcopal Church, and in 1833 joined with the British Wesleyans to form the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada. Ezra would have then no longer traveled to the United States, instead attending Annual Conferences with the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada.

Circuit riding was difficult and dangerous work. Large numbers of them retired or died early. Ezra was designated superannuated three times during his career, and again at the end of his career.

“Superannuated Preachers are ministers in the Methodist churches who, by reason of age, infirmity, or afflictions, are disabled from preaching, but remain members of the Annual Conferences.” [2]

Ezra’s assigned stations are listed below. [1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7] The dates are from Annual Conference (late summer) to subsequent Annual Conference. Over his career, his circuits spanned 500 miles of southern Ontario, Canada, as far east as Ottawa, and as far west as Lake St. Clair (near Detroit). Here, we find the townships were his children were born, and where they met their future spouses. And we observe that he probably named his third child William Case Adams after Rev. William Case.

Methodist Episcopal Church (USA), Upper or Lower Canada District
1814–1815Traveled under direction of a Presiding Elder or Chairman, perhaps Presiding Elder Rev. William Case; Ancaster circuit
1815–1816Admitted on trial into the ministry; Bay of Quinte circuit
1816–discontinued for a year “for want of health”
1817–1818Hallowell circuit
1818–1820Ottawa circuit;
ordained as Deacon in 1819
1820–1822Thames circuit
1822–1824Niagara circuit
1824Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada formed
1824–superannuated in Esquesing, now Acton; “worn down by disease incurred in the swamps of the western country”
1827–mentions Rev. E. Adams’ school-house (Acton)
1830–1831“restored to a seat in the Conference”; Yonge Street circuit
1831–1833Presiding Elder of London District; also missionary to Munceytown Mission, Indian reserve on Thames River
1833–1835Muncey Mission, Indian reserve on Thames River
1834–1835Munceytown and Delaware Missions; as Presiding Elder’s Assistant, also “visited Gosfield and Thames circuits occasionally”
1835–1836Prescott and Augusta circuit
1836–1837Prescott and Augusta circuit, superannuated
1837–1840Nelson circuit, superannuated
1840–1841Toronto circuit
1841–1842Guelph circuit
1842–1845Newmarket circuit
1845–1847Markham circuit
1847–1848Bradford circuit
1848–1849Stratford and Peel circuit
1849–1864Peel circuit, superannuated
1864–1868Drayton circuit, superannuated
1868–1871records not found
1871–Peel circuit

Rev. Ezra Adams (1788–1871) is 5th great-grandfather of MKS in the Watne branch.

References:
[1] John Carroll, Case and His Contempories: Or, The Canadian Itinerant’s Memorial: Constituting a Biographical History of Methodism in Canada, From Its Introduction Into the Province, Till the Death of the Rev. Wm. Case in 1855, 5 vols. [I, II, III, IV, V] (Toronto: Samuel Rose, at the Wesleyan Printing Establishment, 1867-1877).
[2] “Superannuated Preachers“, McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.
[3] George H. Cornish, Hand-Book of Canadian Methodism, Being An Alphabetical Arrangement … (Toronto: Wesleyan Printing, 1867).
[4] Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the Years 1773–1828 (New York: T. Mason and G.Lane, for the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1840).
[5] The Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Wesleyan-Methodist Church in Canada, from 1824–1845, Inclusive … (Toronto: Anson Green, Conference Office, 1846).
[6] The Minutes of the Twelve Annual Conferences of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada, from 1846–1857 inclusive … (Toronto: Anson Green, Conference Office, 1863).
[7] George F. Playter, The History of Methodism in Canada: With an Account of the Rise and Progress of the Work of God Among the Canadian Indian Tribes, and Occasional Notices of the Civil Affairs of the Province (Toronto: Anson Green, at the Wesleyan Printing Establishment, 1862).