Saddle Bag Preacher

The Reverend Nathan Bangs

Anticipation! That is what Garrett and Elizabeth Miller and family were feeling this day in 1805. A young Garrett Jr. would rush to take the saddled horse to stable and feed the animal then hurry inside their log home 12 x 16 feet, to watch their mother add more water to the soup for the company. She would stoke up the fire to dry off the preacher from his stream crossing. The saddle bag preacher’s news would gladden all their hearts. The first Methodist camp meeting ever to be held in Canada would happen in September 1805 over at Hay Bay and they were all invited.

Circuit Rider pencil sketch by Wendy Harty May 2021

The life of my 6th great grand parents Garrett and Elizabeth Switzer Miller continues to fascinate me. Both were born of Irish Palatine German backgrounds, survived the trip to the shores of America, married at Camden New York and fled the Revolutionary War to a final resting and home at Ernestown, Ontario. Garrett lived a long life of 84 years; his wife Elizabeth to 84 and it is the spiritual journey of this family that I want to explore.

When Garrett Sr. was 14, his father Adam Miller was the Lutheran minister for the Courtmatix, Ireland community. It is here in their home they entertained the Reverend John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church. So too, the circuit rider would make an anticipated visit travelling the 200 mile trip to share the gospel with the small villages and farms. And who was one of these riders? With over 2 million people arriving on America’s shores, what are the chances that it would be a 4th cousin of Keziah Atwood Gibbs! And that he would have the ancestral ties to Presidents George Herbert Walker Bush and his son President George Walker Bush. Who is this new find for the family tree. His name is Reverend Nathan Bangs, 1777-1836. If you need a refresher of the Bangs story read “Migrant Ship” and “7 Men of Eastham” found on my WordPress site under

At Ernestown, the Millers built a farm and brought up the children in the faith. My 5th great grandmother Rebecca, had a brother named after her father, Garrett Miller, Jr. born November 18th 1786 at Sorel, Quebec. His obituary reads: with his family at age 12, a young Garrett gave himself to God and to the Church, joined Mr. Detlor’s class and remained unshaken in his confidence until his last hour. His stability in relation to the Church of his early choice may be accounted for, in part at least, by the fact that he was from an early and constant reader of our church organ; from the first he was want to hail The Christian Guardian as a weekly visitor, close and continued attention to its columns put him in possession of that information which saved himself and others in the the years of storm and trial. Others where born off on the tide of division when he remained unmoved, a pillar in the Church of God. In church matters as in his personal experience he often said, “my heart is fixed”. He was more knowing and better read in church matters than many of his day. The House of the Lord was his chief joy, often, when scarcely able to sit up in his chair, he found his way to the place of prayer. His wife’s maiden name was Nancy Foster. With her he lived long and happily, leaving behind him 6 married children, and a number of grandchildren. After a long illness of patient suffering he died in great peace, on Monday the 28th of December, 1863.

Info from obituary buried Newburgh United Church Cemetery, Newburgh, Lennox and Addington, Ontario, Canada

And with this information I’m off on a new hunt for information. Tugging on oars for weeks before they reached a new home to begin again, the land along the Bay of Quinte had been taken years earlier by the Loyalist and the Millers went closer to Elizabeth’s relatives the Switzers, who with the first group of Loyalists settled the area in 1784. These people were granted the Fourth Township, surveyed at the Bay of Quinte.

Elizabeth Switzer Miller’s parents Anna Maria Guier 1730-1807 and Peter Switzer 1730-1816 are buried here, my 7th great grandparents along with Garrett Miller Sr. 1738-1823

A three week bateaux voyage and they arrived upon the sloping banks of a small stream, disembarked and called it home. The future home of each, chosen by ballot gave them 200 acres and one lot in a plot of 300 acres which was set apart for a village. The Garrett Miller family sacrificed not once but twice their worldly possessions and weren’t to be stopped by any obstacle. They came about 1796 to the area called Ernestown. The forest had to be overcome. A crude log home was erected and they gathered around the open fireplace that first winter, enjoying long evenings, Rebecca 18 would be married the next year to Charles Henry Bush, Peter 17, Agnes 13, William 9, Garrett Jr. 6. Garrett was 58 when he started over, his wife Elizabeth 42. Imagine how exhausted they must have been from getting rid of the green timber, removing stumps and underbrush to get ready for a planting season. Garret would recount the suffering his loyalty had brought upon his body, showing his musket ball injury. There was lots of kinfolk on the Switzer side and someone gave Elizabeth a pumpkin, which would become standard fare. She would mix it with Indian corn meal and made into a small loaf, baked in the open oven. Outside their door, was maple syrup for the taking.

They were amongst fellow Loyalists, family and neighbors, all looking forward to the circuit riders making the 200 mile round trip to bring them the gospel. The home of Garrett and Elizabeth Miller was a welcome stop, where William Losee, 1792 had been appointed to supply the ministerial work in Canada. The circuit was called Oswegotchie with 90 members. Old Hay Bay Church, the first Methodist Church in Canada was built that year. Next came Sylvanus Keeler, appointed 1795 to the Bay of Quinte.

This was the area surveyed for the Loyalists in Southern Ontario. Ernestown is close to Millers Corner and is about 25 miles to Hay Bay where the First Methodist Camp Meeting would be held.

Governor Simcoe, in 1796 by proclamation directed the magistrates of Upper Canada to ascertain under oath and register the names of all such persons as United Empire Loyalists Garrett Miller was awarded the honorary distinction of U.E.L.

Itinerant circuit riders were travelling preachers opposed to local preachers. Nathan Bangs was anti-religious until his sister, who was a devout Methodist, convinced him. At age 23 he was put on trial to be a circuit rider, in 1801. There was no formal education requirement. Those on trail apprenticed with existing circuit riders for two years. Nathan Bangs was assigned the Bay of Quinte Circuit, having 457 members, travelling from Kingston east, west to York, on the St. Lawrence River, then north to Lake Simcoe and back along both sides of the bay. In his journal he wrote on October 7, 1802 of his experience. He was heading with Joseph Jewell, towards the Bay of Quinte; the hills and creeks, mud and water were his experiences on a terrible non existent road. Safely they arrived at York, now Toronto where he became sick with influenza. Jewell continued without him. He was tenderly nursed, recovered, mounted his horse and rode on. His faithful animal was taken sick and died the next day. Alone, in a strange place, no money, without friends. He said, “I trusted God alone”. Along came a man offering him a loan of a horse on condition he preach to them before going on to the Bay. Thankfully Bangs accepted the offer. Into new settlements he rode on extremely bad roads, and found the people so poor and demoralized. He also encountered bad food and violent opposition to the gospel. As he travelled further, he found mention of Seth Crowell, a godly and zealous itinerant, who had travelled the lake shore before him who had awakened and converted many settlers. Small societies had formed, although separated by many isolated miles. His Itinerating came to a halt December 1803, when he came down with Typhus. He was given up for dead by his caregiver. He survived and in 1804 Bishop Ashbury ordained Bangs deacon and then an elder so could administer sacraments. He worked with 2 other riders and would have known “The Brethren” by name. The family of Miller would be numbered in the 520 Methodists. In 1805 Nathan Bangs and Sylvanus Keeler came to the Bay of Quinte. Keeler had passed his trial in 1795, travelled the Bay of Quinte and the Oswegatchie Circuit and was back in 1802-1805. They would travel the 200 miles over and over in 2 week circuits.

Nathan Bangs arrived on May 29, 1805, at Hay Bay. He felt his spirit refreshed at meeting with the brethren in this place – a Joyful meeting was going on. He gave a blessing to them for good and asked God to spread His spirit over them day and night. Bangs gave the sermon, preaching from Deutronomy 32:11. ” As an Eagle stirs up her might, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, takes them and bear them, so does the Lord shelter those that trust in Him”. He would return in July, 1805. At this meeting he preached twice and wrote about a strange thing happening. A man bereft of reason, waked – was made aware of his sinfulness next to God’s perfect holiness. By Thursday, July 4, 1805 he was taken ill with ague and fever, weakened in his body and his friends took care of him. “Lake Fever” it was called from stagnant swamps near the rivers, dirty water. On entering a house he would often be offered whiskey to combat it but declined. The people thought the use of spirits preventive of epidemic diseases. If they used the swamp water, 9 cases out of 10 would induce the disease rather than prevent it.

Bangs, the Elder, was about to organize the first camp meeting in Canada. He wrote about his spiritual insecurities in a journal. His Wesleyan theology said one had to consciously choose salvation and make an individual decision and then strive for a live of perfect holiness each day. (From the Journals and Notebook of Nathan Bangs 1805-06).

A lapsed Methodist wrote about the religion’ excessive enthusiasm and spiritual fear it fostered on its converts.

Hay Bay Camp Meeting was to play a major role in frontier evangelism. It’s success resulted in a sustained level of participation in organized religion, as hundreds of souls were converted, by Preachers Case and Ryan, Pickett, Keeler, Madden and Nathan Bangs, my 4th cousin. I’ll be reporting on the meeting in my next blog and continue his astonishing saga when describing the Devine flame running through his soul.

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