Tag Archives: Minnie Eagle

Who were the Irish Presbyterians?

My father’s family were all professed Presbyterians, a religion which originated in Scotland. This included both those on his Scottish father’s side and his Irish mother’s side. Religion was very important in all their lives. They were part of a church, “which had a noble band of loyal devoted men and women who have counted it their chief joy to seek its highest welfare”.

It was not until 1843 that marriages performed by Presbyterian ministers were legally recognized in Ireland. My two times great grandparents, Susan Dodds and Alexander Bailey married in that year in Armagh were some of the first to have a recognized Presbyterian marriage.

The name Presbyterian comes from their form of church governance, an assembly of elders. These protestant churches trace their roots to the Church of Scotland whose theology emphasizes the sovereignty of God and following only the scriptures. The Scottish Reformation of 1560 shaped this Church, when many broke with Rome, led among others, by John Knox. This religion was brought to Ireland from Scotland with the migrations of people in the 1600s. Irish Presbyterians were never a single entity. Groups splintered, formed new congregations, united with others and broke apart again.

The majority of the Irish remained Catholic even when Henry VIII founded the Anglican Church, the Church of England and then the Church of Ireland. Most protestants lived in the north. While they soon outnumbered the Church of Ireland, the life of an Irish Presbyterian was not easy.

The government passed the Test Act in 1704, which stated that those wishing to hold civil or military office had to prove they had taken communion in the Church of Ireland. The Church of Ireland demanding tithes also angered the Presbyterians. Even after the Toleration Act of 1719 passed and Presbyterians were not penalized for their beliefs, they still felt estranged, which contributed to the large scale North American emigration in the early 1800s.

When the Susan and Alexander Bailey arrived in Toronto, they probably attended Knox Presbyterian Church, opened in 1820 as the First Presbyterian Church of York, Upper Canada. This church started by Scottish immigrants, welcomed the Irish but they wanted their own church and organized the Second Presbyterian Church in 1851.

Cooke’s Presbyterian Church, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The congregation raised money for a minister’s stipend and met first in St Lawrence Hall and then an empty Methodist church on George Street. This church soon became too small for the current members and the many others asking for seats. A new property purchased at Queen and Mutual St for 475 pounds soon a housed brick church.

There used to be many churches in the area as Toronto had a Sabbath Day Law with no public transport running on Sundays. People had to walk to church.

The new building became Cooke’s Church, named for Henry Cooke an Irish Presbyterian minister who in 1834 united the Irish Presbyterians. With his ordination in 1808, his ministry began in Northern Ireland. He reformed both the church and public education. He believed that the only music in churches should be what God created. There could be voices singing but no man-made musical instruments. When he died there was a massive funeral march through Belfast with all religious denominations in attendance.

The congregation kept growing. The church was renovated, enlarged and then in 1891 a new church that could hold 2000 worshipers was built on the same site. The Irish always knew they would be welcome in Cooke’s Church.

The new Cooke’s Presbyterian Church, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

My great grandparents, William Eagle from County Monaghan and Eliza Jane Bailey, were members of Cooke’s Church. William served as an elder until his death. Both their daughters, Amy and Minnie, were very involved in church life. Amy sang in the choir and served as secretary and treasurer of other societies. Minnie was the President of the Young Women’s Mission Band which had formerly been the Ernest Helpers Society. Their mother Eliza served on the Women’s Association as well as being Honorary President of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society.

Donald and Alice Sutherland, another set of great grandparents, although Scottish Presbyterians were also members of Cooke’s Church. Their children were named in the anniversary booklet. Mary, the Christian Endeavor Society flower convenor and Wilson on the Junior Visiting Committee. It is there that my grandparents, William Sutherland and Minnie Eagle met and were married by Reverend Andrew Taylor.

In 1925 the Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregational Unionists joined together to form the United Church of Canada. Cooke’s Church was for the union while Knox Church was against it and responsible for the continuation of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. It is still an active church celebrating its 200th Anniversary this year.

Cooke’s Church interior with their large organ.

Cooke’s Church closed in 1982. There were few parishioners left as most had moved away from the downtown. It’s glory years only a memory when it was the most pretentious structure in the city, a landmark on East Queen Street and a great spiritual influence. It was torn down in 1984 and is now a parking lot.

Notes:

Roulston, William J. Researching Presbyterian Ancestors in Ireland, Ulster Historical Foundation 2020.

Alison, James. Annals of Sixty Years Cooke’s Presbyterian Church Toronto 1851 – 1911. 1911.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyterianism accessed October 18, 2020.

In Ireland there were many Presbyterian Sects:

The Presbyterian Church of Ireland

The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church

The Secession Church

The Reformed Presbyterian (Covenanters) Church

There is a story about my great grandfather Donald Sutherland leaving his church because they purchased an organ. He seemed to subscribed to the ideas of Henry Cooke. According to a story in the Toronto Star, in 1880, a group of parishioners heard the choir had brought a organ into the church for choir practice. These people entered the church and dragged the offending instrument into the street. A riot ensued. Some were arrested and all were suspended from the church. They went off and formed their own church. Was this the incident Donald was involved with?

A story about Susan Dodds https://wordpress.com/post/genealogyensemble.com/1691

Love Letters

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Amy Eagle, Eliza Jane Eagle and Minnie Eagle

A collection of letters that William Sutherland wrote to Minnie Eagle before their marriage has survived. They carried on a long-distance relationship. She was living in Toronto with her mother and sister while William had moved to Montreal for an engineering job with Montreal Water and Power. I do wonder what happened to Minnie’s letters to William. He kept them initially and reread them, “five and six times,” as he often referred to her previous letters. Did Minnie not want her private thoughts around after they were married?

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Little Willie

They are very sweet letters showing the developing love between two people and the preparations for a life together. William and Minnie met at Cooke’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto in the early 1900’s. This was the church both their families attended.

William was immediately smitten but Minnie took coaxing. He was thrilled when Minnie finally agreed to marry him. “There was one line in your letter, Minnie that did me more good than all the rest put together and that is saying a good deal. It was “I don’t think I want to wait so long.” These little phrases dropped now and again are the strongest assurances that you are now looking forward to being with me as I have been so long to being with you.”

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William, his sister Mary, mother Alice Dickson, brother Wilson and father Donald Sutherland

How often did he ask? His parents thought highly of her. His father, a man of few words said, “ You should marry that girl right away.” His mother was his confidant.

Their September 1907 wedding was almost immediately called off, as Will went out to a tavern with his work colleagues. Minnie was part of the temperance movement and totally against alcohol. “I am rather astonished that you felt so deeply about that little question about going into the bars. But you need have no worry on that score. My position is so well known among the boys here, that not one of them ever think of asking me to have a real drink.”

Will was full of plans for their life. He and a friend Mr Schwartz owned a couple of lots in Outremont and were designing semi-detached houses they hoped to build. He sent his drawings to Minnie asking for her opinion. “One objection to this plan was the big kitchen. Some people think that it makes more work but Mrs Schwartz says, the bigger the better.” The houses were never built. “Our house building plans may fall through as there is very persistent talk of the company selling to the city and if they do I don’t know whether I would stay in Montreal or not.” The Montreal Water and Power company was later sold to the city but William did stay. He and Clare Dryden started a plumbing company.

There was some talk about how soon they should be married. He wondered if she thought she should learn to cook and keep a house first or should they learn together. “The greatest pleasure we get in this life is planning and arranging and looking forward and this I think we ought to do together. We are in the formative period of our lives now and I think we should be together. We have much to learn from each other and much to unlearn if we are to live smoothly and happily in each others company.” I don’t think she ever learned to cook well.

Their wedding was postponed from the fall to the summer and then to the next year. Minnie was in hospital April of 1908. He didn’t immediately know she was ill. “Your consideration of me is so characteristic of your own dear self and I love you for it. I should have been terribly anxious if I had known.” He didn’t rush off to Toronto to see her but her mother kept him informed about her progress. He even waited to send flowers as she already had 12 bouquets!

Further wedding plans didn’t go smoothly as there was a problem with her sister Amy. Exactly what, was never stated but Amy was upset that Minnie was to be married and move away. They both worked at Ryrie Bros. Jewellers but neither worked after the wedding. Will sometimes stayed away while they tried to bring Amy around. “I understand the situation all right little girl; a visit to Toronto would be rather a failure under present circumstances and I am more than tickled to think that you look at it that way also.”

The wedding finally took place June 02, 1909. They had a honeymoon trip up the Saguenay River and then moved into an upper duplex on Chomedy Street in Montreal. A friend of Will’s was going to have a border to save expenses but that was not what he wanted. “If it took half my salary for rent I would have you all to myself and nobody else around, for the first year anyway. Yours as ever with best love, Billy”


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Minnie, William and son Donald rowing on Boyd Lake abt. 1940.

Notes:

Letters from William Sutherland to Minnie Eagle, 69 Seaton Street, Toronto, Ontario. From September 10, 1907, to February 16, 1909. In the possession of the author.

William Harkness Sutherland (1879 – 1942)

Minnie Eagle (1883 – 1967)

Children:

Amy Elizabeth Sutherland van Loben Sels (1911 – 2005)

Dorothy Alice Sutherland (1914 – 1955)

Donald William Sutherland (1917 – 1996)