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Bolton Township: Celebrating 215 Years

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--August 21, 2012.

larger_bolton.1_0.jpgA public lecture at Holy Trinity Church in South Bolton,
by Maurice Langlois and Serge Wagner

Presented by the East Bolton Association for the Preservation of Heritage Buildings.

On August 19, 2012, the small Anglican church in South Bolton was full ... filled not by the faithful but by citizens interested in the beginnings of Bolton Township. The township was created 215 years ago, in 1797, and the lecture addressed not only the history of Bolton Township but also the origins of Holy Trinity Church.

Bolton, one of the first townships created after the Constitutional Act of 1791, was the largest of the Eastern Townships. Dr. Maurice Langlois, well known for his research on the history of Magog, Stanstead, and elsewhere, spoke of his recent work on the origins and progressive dismemberment of Bolton Township between 1797 and 1939. By royal decree in August of 1797, the British Crown created Bolton Township and awarded Letters Patent to Nicholas Austin and his 53 associates. Austin, a Quaker, was charged with surveying the land and with building roads, bridges, and mills. Though he arrived from south of the border with considerable financial resources at his disposal, unfortunately -- and for a variety of reasons including land speculation and unclear titles -- Nicholas Austin died in poverty in 1821.

Meanwhile, the Townships remained without local government. After the 1837 Rebellion and the Act of Union in 1840 creating the Province of Canada, the first municipal structures took form. The Municipality of Bolton Township was created in 1845. Dr. Langlois discovered that the first mayor was not John McMannis, as had been thought, but his brother-in-law, William Greene. Both are buried in the Anglican cemetery behind Holy Trinity Church in South Bolton.

Between the years 1849 and 1939 the Municipality of Bolton Township was considerably diminished by no less than five partitions. Bolton lost more than 75% of its territory as well as all access to Lake Memphremagog, which entailed a sizable loss of tax revenue. Here is the list of the new entities that were created and the year each separated from Bolton:

1849: Magog Township;
1876: West Bolton, obliging the remainder to adopt the name of East Bolton;
1888: Eastman;
1938: Austin, from which the Municipality of St-Benoit-du-Lac broke off in 1939;
1939: St-Étienne-de-Bolton.

Now an enclave, the East Bolton Municipality is the heir apparent to the original township and the first municipality. It has also inherited, Dr. Langlois added, a rich deposit of archives that date to the first half of the 19th century.

The beginnings of Holy Trinity Church in Bolton Township were stormy, as well. The early American colonists in the region arrived primarily from New England, belonging for the most part to such evangelical Protestant denominations as the Baptists and Methodists. These Protestant churches focused on the Bible and personal piety while the Church of England leaned more towards the sacraments and hierarchical authority. In fact, according to the afternoon's second speaker, Serge Wagner, the conflicts between these two religious currents during the American Revolution (1775-1783) spilled over into Bolton Township.

The Anglican Church, whose titular head was the King of England, underwent a difficult period during the American War of Independence. Thus, in 1789, it adopted the name of the Episcopal Church USA to signal its autonomy from England. Since a majority of the American colonists on the western shore of Lake Memphremagog belonged to the evangelical movement, the Church of England designated the Eastern Townships as an area for mission and supported by British missionary societies. They sent the Reverend John Godden, a native of Newfoundland, to establish a mission church in Mansonville (Potton Township) with the intention of establishing other churches in Bolton.

Thus, in 1860, Trinity Church -- as it was called then -- was erected in S. Bolton. It incited great opposition in the community, and acts of violence occurred pursuant to Bishop Fulford's consecration of the building, in part because of the 'scandalous' liturgical vestments worn by the clergy. The members of other denominations gathered around the church and hurled insults, and later the sacristy itself was vandalized, and the surplice and stoles carried off.

The conflict carried over into the local cemeteries. The Anglican Church advocated the establishment of churchyards adjoining the church and subject to Canon Law. But there was already a community cemetery in S. Bolton -- a Union Cemetery -- so the establishment of an Anglican cemetery gave rise to conflict within the community and some families.

In 1864, a second Anglican church, in the same neo-Gothic style as Trinity Church, was built in Peasley Corner, Bolton (in what is now Austin). However, since no distinct Anglican cemetery was designated in this hamlet, the church cemetery continued to serve as a community cemetery for the majority of Anglo-Protestants. Although in Austin, it is still called the East Bolton Cemetery.

To learn more about this fascinating period of our history, the East Bolton Association for the Preservation of Heritage Buildings has planned a series of three follow-up Sunday lectures:

September 30: "What the cemeteries teach us" presented in English and French by Maurice Langlois and Serge Wagner. Questions and discussion in English and French.

October 14: "Patriots, traitors, or opportunists: The early settlers of Bolton Township" presented in English by Jim Manson

October 28: "The early mills of Bolton' presented in French by the archeologists Daniel Chevrier and Hèléne Buteau. Questions and discussion in English and French.

All lectures take place on Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. These activities are supported by the Municipality of East Bolton during the 215th anniversary of Bolton Township. All lectures are free but voluntary contributions are welcomed.

All lectures take place at Holy Trinity Church, 903 Bolton Pass Road (Route 243), S. Bolton.

For more information: (819) 843-9595.

N.B. the research carried out by Maurice Langlois has been published by the Municipalité de Bolton-Est à l'occasion du 215e anniversaire du Canton de Bolton: "Canton de Bolton. Ses origines et les démembrements (1797-1939)."