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Showcase Display: David Willson, an Influential Canadian Author

Today’s local history highlight comes to you, the reader, courtesy of the Sharon Temple National Historic Site. This museum is one of the oldest museums in our area, having been purchased by the York Pioneers to save the building from demolition in 1917, and owned and operated it as a museum starting in 1918. You can learn more about this historic building in our blog post about the Sharon Temple: https://www.egplblog.com/post/may-is-museum-month-david-willson-and-the-sharon-temple-1832.


The museum has decided to put up a display on the life of David Willson in our Holland Landing branch. David Willson was born in 1778, born to parents who owned a rental farm property in Duchess County, New York. In 1801, Willson and his family came to Ontario, and “after a few years became a member of the society of Quakers, at my own request, as I chose a spiritual people for my brethren and sisters in religion.” (Willson, 1815, 3). In 1812 he broke away from the Quakers due to irreconcilable differences in belief, and he formed his own religion, known as the “Davidites”. A log meeting house was built in Sharon in 1814. Eventually this religious sect grew enough that a more permanent structure was needed; the Temple of the Children of Peace was built between 1825 and 1830.



Figure 1: Close up view of the showcase display in Holland Landing, showing a reproduction painting of David Willson, an inkwell, and David Willson's autobiography.


During the rebellion of 1837, Willson became a party organizer and threw his political power behind William Lyon Mackenzie, in the hopes of helping him to form a responsible, democratic government. Many members of the sect of the Children of Peace, including two of his sons, participated in the armed march toward York and the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern. Given the volatile climate of the time, there was some discussion about destroying the community’s meeting houses and the stately Sharon Temple (which fortunately did not happen).


In addition to his role as the leader of the Children of Peace, David Willson was also a theologian, and wrote hymns for people to sing as well as a variety of religious treatises. However, after his death on January 16, 1866, the membership of the Children of Peace slowly dwindled with no strong personality to hold them together. However, many of his writings remain for us to read, such as The Rights of Christ According to the Principles and Doctrines of the Children of Peace (1815), Letters to the Jews (1835), and Mysteries of the Mind, or, Operations of Grace (1858). These works are in the public domain, and can be found on the Toronto Public Library website or the Internet Archive.



Figure 2: A desk watch which was crafted in 1825, may have been used by David Willson (the face of the watch is missing).


If you want to find a way to beat the heat this weekend, come to the Holland Landing library and check out our fascinating historical display!


References

Willson, David (1815). The Rights of Christ According to the Principles and Doctrines of the Children of Peace. Philadelphia: for the Author. https://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/pdfs/37131055408967d.pdf

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