John Horden

John Horden as bishop

John Horden (1828 – January 12, 1893) was the first Anglican Bishop of Moosonee. He is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Episcopal Church (USA) and in the Calendar of Saints of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Early life

He was born in Exeter, England, and received his early schooling at St. John's School there. He was apprenticed to a blacksmith while still a child, spending his spare time improving his education. By attending night school and studying during odd moments, he was in time able to become a teacher and schoolmaster. He took advantage of the opportunities to study given him there, and eventually learned to read Latin and Greek.

He was also an active member of his local Anglican congregation, and regularly attended Vicar's Bible class, which offered information on the mission opportunities available in addition to a Biblical education. With two other students, he expressed his interest in the mission field, and they met to pray and study. After some time, they all volunteered for the Church Missionary Society, and two were accepted. Horden was rejected -- he was told he was still thought rather young to be a church leader in heathen areas. He was, however, encouraged to continue his schooling, and was told that he would hear from the Society when they needed someone.

Arrival in Canada

On May 10, 1851, he received a letter from them, informing him that the bishop of Rupert's Land had made a request for a schoolmaster at Moose Factory, and that he had been appointed to fill the position. They also told him to prepare to leave within a month, and indicated that they desired he marry and take his wife out to assist him in his missionary work. Although he was less than enthused about the appointment, he immediately prepared for his new position. He contacted the woman of his choice, a young lady who herself had missionary inclinations, and she agreed to marry him. On June 8, 1851, they set sail for Canada.

Horden spent much of his time on the trip by continuing his studies of the Greek Testament and beginning the study of the Cree language. He benefited from the prior experience of several of the crew of the ship with the language, and had developed a small vocabulary by the end of the voyage.

The ship arrived at Moose River on August 26, and the passengers were delivered to Moose Factory. Horden immediately engaged a young native in conversation, making several mistakes initially. He found that prior missionaries had already created a translation of the Lord's Prayer and a few biblical texts, and he used the existing transliteration system to help him in his own studies.

He continued to go among the natives, writing down new words as he heard them and, after eight month's effort, becoming able to preach to the natives without an interpreter. He was ordained a priest during this period. He went on to create his own version of the Lord's Prayer, later going on to translating the Apostle's Creed, the Ten Commandments, some prayers from services, a few hymns, and some passages of scripture, all of which he copied and circulated among the natives. He used the opportunity he had at the mission school to teach the adults and children how to read and write, and the fundamentals of Christianity. His previous work as a schoolmaster, along with valuable assistance from his wife, worked to make the school a great success and pronounced influence in the local community.

Horden also worked to address the spiritual needs of the staff of the Hudson's Bay Company at Moose Factory. They were very grateful, and built the church, schoolhouse, and residence he and his family would use.

Cree Bible

Soon Horden had prepared a prayer book, a hymnal, and translations of the Gospels in the Cree language, and sent them to England with an order for a thousand copies. The printer had no proofreader capable of reading the print, and decided the person who created the manuscript would probably be best qualified to check it. On that basis, they returned the manuscript to him, with a printing press specially prepared. However, they forgot to include the instructions on how to operate it.

Horden spent his free time studying the mechanism and operation of the machine for several days, leading his neighbors to wonder what was bothering him. Then one day he came running to the camp waving a sheet of paper over his head, shouting, "Come, see this thing!" They followed him and saw the first sheet Horden had printed. Horden proudly told them that he would now be able to give them books. For the next several years, he and his students printed and bound books which were distributed throughout the region, substantially increasing the awareness of and interest in Christianity in the area.

Then in 1865, Horden and his family, which now included five children that he and his wife had had in Canada, sailed back to England so that his children could be educated, and Thomas Vincent was placed in charge of the mission. Upon Horden's return to England, he found he was very well-known throughout the British Isles, and became a popular and sought-after speaker.

In 1867, Horden returned with his wife to James' Bay. Bishop Robert Machray visited the area and was very impressed by Horden's achievements. He licensed four of Horden's lay readers to conduct services and read the Scriptures among their fellows, the first time a bishop licensed lay readers in any of the stations of the Church Missionary Society.


In the autumn of 1872, Horden received a message to return to England to be consecrated as a bishop, and on December 15, 1872, he and two others were ordained in a ceremony involving eight other bishops, including Bishop Anderson, who had first ordained Horden 20 years earlier.

He continued to serve as bishop of his huge territory, making pastoral visits to as many parts of his huge diocese as possible, despite his having a serious problem with rheumatism. In his later years, he also worked diligently to finish his translation of the Bible into the Cree language.

On November 21, 1892, the pain was more acute than ever, and despite the care and assistance of his family, his health continued to wane. He died on January 12, 1893.

See also

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