- The Man Who Said No: Reading Jacob Bailey, Loyalist
This beautifully produced book from a small press that is struggling to survive, perhaps because of its high printing standards, provides an account of the life and times of Jacob Bailey. Bailey, a New Englander born in Massachusetts in 1731, attended Harvard in the early 1750s and taught school before deciding, with the help of a patron, to forsake the Congregational Church of his upbringing and become a Church of England clergyman. In 1760, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) sent him to a frontier church on the Kennebec River (now in Maine) where he supplemented his missionary work with farming. Caught up in the revolutionary movement by 1775, his activities were monitored by a local committee of correspondence. In 1776 he refused to omit prayers for the King from his services and to [End Page 360] read the Declaration of Independence. After being charged with sedition, Bailey was pursued, persecuted, and impoverished. Two years later he secured the permission of the rebel authorities in Boston to move to the safer environment of Nova Scotia. Most of the remainder of his life - he died in 1808 - was spent as SPG missionary in Annapolis Royal, the former seat of British government in the colony and, by the time Bailey arrived in 1782, populated by 'a mixture various and discordant.' The influx of Loyalists only served to contribute to this mélange.
Thompson's study has both strengths and weaknesses. Its greatest strength is the lively discussion of Bailey's modes of writing as correspondent, diarist, poet, dramatist, and historian. Bailey's approach was often satire. The author makes interesting connections between Bailey and his times, Bailey and other writers, and Thompson's own views of his character compared to those of earlier Bailey biographers and memoirists. In the discussion of Bailey as a young man, particularly his journey to England for ordination in 1759-60, there being no bishops in the American colonies, Bailey's journal reveals a tension between eighteenth-century sexual freedoms and the incipient moral righteousness of a later era. Bailey's literary topics and writing style reveal a familiarity with the poetry of John Dryden and novels as diverse as those of Sarah Fielding and John Cleland. Although Thompson relies on existing accounts of Bailey's life for his narrative line, he effectively takes issue with some of the omissions and interpretations, especially those contained in William Bartlet's publication of 1853.
The weaknesses of Thompson's book have partly to do with the fragmentary nature of the Bailey archive, which precludes an accurate chronology. The lack of an index is also unfortunate. But more obtrusive are the self-indulgent, gratuitous comments of the author who insists on making himself the centre of his reading of Bailey. His need to dominate the discussion raises questions about the purpose of the exercise. I suppose the approach might be appreciated by those who know Thompson well, who see his undoubted fondness for the historical character of Bailey as a reflection of their friend's interests and personality.
In the book's favour, however, the author convincingly highlights two significant features of Bailey's experiences. Thompson rightly cautions us to be mindful of the possibility that Bailey the writer inserted as much fiction as fact in his life-writing. And there are nuggets of wisdom in what Thompson extracts from Bailey about the dangers of evangelical religion in American society, illustrated by his interpretations of the Salem witch trials, the Puritan theocracy, and the Great Awakening. Here we have an eighteenth- century cleric who apparently had a clear appreciation of the political dangers of religious extremism. [End Page 361]
Judith Fingard, Department of History, Dalhousie University