Profile: Rev. William Ellis (1780 – 1837)

Reverend William Ellis (1780 – 1837) was perhaps the most memorable and tireless of all the early Methodist missionaries in Newfoundland. Like many of his calling, Ellis was an Irishman, born in 1780 in County Down. As a youth he witnessed some battles of the Irish Rebellion (1798), on one occasion barely escaping with his life when his sheltering family was discovered by rebels. The timely arrival of friendly troops saved his life, a circumstance Ellis ascribed to Divine Providence, which, he believed, saved him for a purpose.

Shortly thereafter, he offered himself as a Methodist class leader and local preacher. The date of his ordination is uncertain, but in 1808 he was sent to Newfoundland as an ordained minister. Here, Ellis would 29 years in the ministry, becoming the first Methodist missionary to die and be buried on the island. In 1816-17, he had the distinction of being the first chairman of the newly created Methodist District of Newfoundland (under the British Methodist Conference).

His circuits in Newfoundland included the District’s major centres: Bonavista (three separate terms: 1812-15, 1820-21, and 1832-35), Blackhead, Brigus-Cupids, Port de Grace (which then also included Bay Roberts and Clarkes Beach), and Harbour Grace. His posting in 1816 to Trinity, Trinity Bay, where several earlier attempts to establish a mission had failed, was met with no greater success; however, years later, a substantial Methodist circuit was finally constituted in the community. He was also instrumental in the creation of two new missions at Catalina and Bird Island Cove, which grew into substantial circuits. In April 1814, Ellis delivered the first sermon to the latter community; and eighty years later, Bird Island Cove was renamed Elliston in his memory.

Ellis died at Harbour Grace on September 21, 1837. He is buried at the Coughlan United Church graveyard, on the property’s western boundary.

Burial site of Rev. William Ellis, Coughlan United Church graveyard.

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