AN ACT AGAINST “POPISH PERSONS” (September 18/07)

Such was the prejudice against Catholics following the expulsion of the Acadians I wrote last week in the column on Irish Catholics of Kings County, that in 1758 the government passed an act forcing every “every popish person” and “every popish priest” to leave the province within one year.

Internet historian Ivan Smith, Canning, e-mailed me that the quote about popish persons and popish priests sounded familiar. He recalled reading these phrases in a law book he had purchased some years ago. The book, published in 1805 by order of Richard John Uniacke, is titled “The Statues at Large, Passed in the Several General Assemblies held in His Majesty’s Province of Nova Scotia ….

In the publication is the act referred to, an act that when enforced literally banished Catholics from Nova Scotia. Called an “Act for the establishment of religious public Worship in this Province, and for suppressing Poperey,” it is indeed a harsh piece of business. Here is the key section of the Act, which was e-mailed to me by Ivan Smith:

“And be it further enacted, That every popish person, exercising any ecclestical jurisdiction, and every popish priest or person exercising the function of a popish priest, shall depart out of this province on or before the twenty-fifth day of March 1759. And if any such person or persons shall be found in this province after the said day, he or they shall, upon conviction, be adjudged to suffer perpetual imprisonment; and if any person or persons so imprisoned, shall escape out of prison, he or they shall be deemed and adjudged to be guilty of felony without benefit of clergy.”

It is difficult today to believe there was this degree of religious intolerance in Nova Scotia at one time. But it’s there in writing in that old Statues book. Online, Ivan Smith has placed a “shot” of the book’s cover and the Act that applies to poperty. Readers can view these on the Internet at:

http://ns1763.ca/law/ns-statutes1805-titlepg.html
http://ns1763.ca/law/ns-statutes1805-p007.html
http://ns1763.ca/law/ns-statutes1805-p008.html

By the early 19th century the religious climate in Nova Scotia had changed. The same Richard John Uniacke who had ordered the printing of the provincial law book led the way in eliminating religious prejudice. His biography, which is online by the way, tells us that in the 1820s he was one of the foremost leaders in the struggle for Catholic emancipation in Nova Scotia.

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