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Children of Peace

For the week of Monday January 14, 2008

On January 19, 1866, David Willson died at the age of 87. Willson founded a religious group in Upper Canada named the Children of Peace.

David Willson
© Sharon Temple Museum
Willson was born on June 7, 1778, in New York State. He married a Quaker woman named Phebe Titus and, in 1801, along with a number of other Quakers from the United States, he migrated to Upper Canada in what is now central Ontario, where he spent the rest of his life.

Willson preached in the community; however, most Quakers rejected his beliefs. In 1812, he and his followers, broke from the community and formed the Children of Peace, also known as the Davidites. The Children of Peace collected alms for the poor, set up the first homeless shelter in Ontario, owned Ontario’s first barrel organ and launched Ontario’s first credit union.

The Children of Peace worshipped at the Sharon Temple (built 1825-31) in what is now Sharon, Ontario. For the design of the Temple, Willson took inspiration from the Bible, and its descriptions of Solomon’s Temple, incorporating unique features and religious symbolism. The Temple was built as a perfect square to signify the equality of everyone who enters the building, and its three tiers represent the Trinity. There are four central pillars, each inscribed with one of the four cardinal virtues that the Children of Peace valued: faith, hope, love and charity; and 12 pinnacle lanterns and interior pillars symbolizing the Apostles. 

Sharon Temple
© Ontario Heritage Trust 2007 (www.heritagetrust.on.ca)

The Children of Peace found music to be very important in both education and to the community. Singing classes started in 1819 and a band was formed the following year, which included clarinets, French horns, bassoons, flutes, flageolets, violins, cellos, bass-viols and trombones.

Among the Davidites were a number of radicals who advocated for political change and followed William Lyon Mackenzie, an important figure in the 1837 Rebellion in Upper Canada. Many Davidites took part in this rebellion and were jailed their participating. The Davidites were also very involved in both the campaigns and elections of Robert Baldwin and Louis Hippolyte LaFontaine, the “Fathers of Responsible Government” in Canada, who became the first elected premiers of the Province of Canada in 1841.

Since David Willson was the only leader the sect ever knew, when he died the Children of Peace gradually diminished and eventually disappeared. The Sharon Temple still stands, and is a National Historic Site. For more information, please visit www.sharontemple.ca.

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