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William Duncan (missionary)


Dec 15, 2021

William Duncan (3 April 1832 – 30 August 1918) was an English-born Anglican missionary who founded the Tsimshian communities of Metlakatla, British Columbia, in Canada, and Metlakatla, Alaska, in the United States. Although sometimes referred to as “Father Duncan” in subsequent reports, he was never ordained.

English missionary
This article includes a list of general references, but it remains largely unverified because it lacks sufficient corresponding inline citations. (July 2014)
William Duncan c. 1902
William Duncan age 20

. . . William Duncan (missionary) . . .

Duncan was born in the hamlet of Bishop Burton, Yorkshire, England, the illegitimate son of Maria Duncan, a teenaged servant. He was raised by his mother’s parents, William and Elizabeth Duncan. In the 1841 census he is recorded as living with his father and his sister Mary Duncan on Lairgate in Beverley. In 1851 he was lodging with William Botterill, a tailor, and Mary Botterill in Keldgate, Beverley and his occupation is described as book-keeper. Duncan later worked in his grandfather/adoptive father’s trade as a tanner. Duncan became the only churchgoer in his impoverished family.[citation needed]

In 1854 he joined the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and attended the Church Missionary Society College, Islington.[1]

In 1856 the CMS sent Duncan to the North Pacific coast of Canada, and in 1857 he arrived at the remote Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fort settlement at Lax Kw’alaams, British Columbia, then part of HBC’s New Caledonia district and known as Fort Simpson or Port Simpson.[1] He proselytized among the Tsimshians and learned to speak Tsimshian from Arthur Wellington Clah, a Tsimshian lineage head and HBC employee. Clah was to later save Duncan’s life when the village’s leading chief, Paul Legaic, threatened Duncan at gunpoint for ringing churchbells on the day of Legaic’s daughter’s initiation into a secret society. Legaic eventually became a key convert of Duncan’s.

Duncan’s church at Metlakatla, B.C.

Duncan led initially 60 Tsimshians to found with him a new utopian Christian community, Metlakatla, on Metlakatla Pass near present-day Prince Rupert, at the southern end of the small peninsula on which Lax Kw’alaams sits. He wanted to protect his 50 Lax Kw’alaams native followers from the alcohol and loose morals of the H.B.C. fort atmosphere. By the end of the summer in 1862 several hundred more joined the community; Metlakatla was officially established that year within what was by then the Colony of British Columbia. When the 1862 Pacific Northwest smallpox epidemic killed 500 in Lax Kw’alaams but only five in Metlakatla, Duncan had no qualms in convincing his flock that this was divine providence.

In the early 1870s the Rev. William Henry Collison served with Duncan in Metlakatla,[1] and Collison’s memoir In the Wake of the War Canoe provides a portrait of the community.

The community grew. In Metlakatla, Duncan exerted his own brand of low church Anglicanism, which involved a set of rules for Christian living and, controversially, eschewing the sacrament of communion so as not to whet the cannibalistic appetites of a people who he worried might be beholden to the anthropophagous rites of their “secret societies”.

. . . William Duncan (missionary) . . .

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. . . William Duncan (missionary) . . .