JAILED FOR THEIR RELIGION
by Esther F. Ramharacksingh Knott
It was a beautiful Sunday morning and John Matthews was going to take advantage of the wonderful weather. He got up early and spent the morning cutting and raking his hay. Someone else was up early that morning too and noticed that Mr. Matthews was working hard. The observer didn't think to help Mr. Matthews but intead decided to report him to the authorities. The year was 1895 and in 1895, in Chatham, Ontario it was illegal to work on Sunday.
John Matthews was found guilty of cutting and raking hay on a Sunday. For his offence he was fined $5 and costs, amounting to $20.60. Declining to pay, he was ordered to take up residence in jail for thirty days. So John Matthews found himself to be the first individual to be imprisoned in Chatham for violating the Sunday law.
The following year Wm. Ward Simpson and two fellow ministers, Howe and Burrill, were also arrested for working on a Sunday. These men had been working on a church they were constructing in Darrell where they had just raised a new company. The people in that community were very hostile to these ministers. They had thrown eggs at their tents, cut the ropes and later deliberately burnt the lumber which they had purchased for the erection of the church. Simpson, Howe and Burrill were tried before a prejudiced justice and given a jail sentence.
They were not incarcerated immediately after the trials because, back then, Canadian law stated that "persons cannot be imprisoned for this offence unless the costs in the case and cost of board for the offenders are paid by the complainant." It took two months to raise enough money to cover the expense of feeding these men. On May 5, 1896 Simpson was escorted to the Chatham jail and in viivd detail he described his reception.
The jailer, after reading the summons, greeted Simpson with, "So you are one of those fellows who are stirring up the community with the _______ religion."
Simpson didn't reply and the jailer ordered: "Throw up your hands."
Then as the jailer searched Simpson, he lectured him as follows: "You _______ Yankees need not think you are coming over her to teach the people to break the Sabbath."
At this point Simpson interrupted, denying the charge.
"You teach the people that Saturday is Sunday," continued the jailer.
"No, sir, we do not teach that Saturday is Sunday, for it is not," answered Simpson.
Somewhat surprised, the jailer gasped, "Don't you?"
"No," replied Simpson, "we teach just what the Bible teaches, . . . that the seventh day of the week, and not the first, is the Sabbath."
"To _______ with the Bible," observed the jailer. "You've got to be subject to the law of the land."
Having completed his search of Simpson, the jailer escorted him to this cell. Opening the door, he ordered, "Get in there now, and we'll see if you won't keep Sunday."
On entering jail, Simpson's clothes were taken from him and he was dressed in the convict's garb of that day. He was given trousers - the right leg was made of gray cloth and the left of yellow. He had a coat that matched the trousers and a cap of blue and orange pieces. In this outfit he was obliged to cut the lawn surrounding the jail.
The food bothered Simpson worse than the clothing. For breakfast he received a piece of bread and some skilly, or old-fashioned oatmeal gruel which he couldn't eat. At noon he was given another piece of bread and a basin of strong tea which he returned to the jailer with thanks. What he got for supper he didn't mention, but he must have nearly starved.
Finally the day came when Simpson was released. He returned to his post of duty and later witnessed the dedication of the church on which he had been caught working on a Sunday. Two years later he was ordained in London, Ontario at the time of the organization of the Ontario Conference.
Mrs. White had the opportunity to meet Mr. Simpson and hear him preach. She was quite impressed with him and wrote the following:
"Brother S. is an intelligent evangelist. He speaks with the simplicity of a child. Never does he bring any slur into his discourses. He preaches directly from the Word, letting the Word speak to all classes. His strong arguments are the words of the Old and New Testaments. He does not seek for words that would merely impress the people with his learning, but he endeavors to let the Word of God speak to them directly in clear, distinct utterance. If any refuse to accept the message, they must reject the Word."
From his experience we know that Pastor Simpson not only preached the Word, but he lived it, even if it meant going to jail.
Story adapted from J. Ernest Monteith Papers