This Week in History
The Pictou Pastor: Educating with Humour
For the week of Monday December 18, 2006
On December 22, 1821, the first of 22 satirical letters from Mephibosheth Stepsure appeared in the Acadian Register, a Halifax newspaper. Mephibosheth – exterminator of shame – was a pseudonym for the Reverend Thomas McCulloch of Pictou, Nova Scotia, a Presbyterian minister, educator, administrator, naturalist, and author.
Scottish by birth, McCulloch studied logic, languages, medicine, history, and politics at Glasgow University before deciding on the Presbyterian ministry as his life’s work. After graduating from Divinity Hall, Whitburn, in 1803, he immigrated to Canada with his family to commence missionary work on Prince Edward Island. Waylaid by winter storms, he was convinced by the inhabitants of Pictou, Nova Scotia, to remain there and he became the first minister of Harbour Church in June 1804.
McCulloch's best-known literary works, The Letters of Mephibosheth Stepsure were his humorous attempts to cajole his neighbours into improving their attitudes towards life. Stepsure preached the virtues of living frugally, of a liberal education, of community service, and of the importance of family life.
For his contribution to education in Nova Scotia, for his influence upon the perceptions and intellectual lives of his students – lawyers, businessmen, scholars, clergymen, educators, and scientists – and for his contribution to literature as “the founder of genuine Canadian humour,” Thomas McCulloch was designated a National Historic Person in 1959. His Pictou Academy was made a National Historic Site in 1937.
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