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Joseph Scriven - "What a Friend We Have in Jesus"

church port hope

church port hope

Joseph Scriven


oseph Scriven has become more myth than man since he trod the streets of Port Hope in 1886. He was born in Banbridge, Ireland, the second child of well-to-do John Scriven, a Captain in the Royal Marines, who served in Canada during the War of 1812, and Jane Medlicott (1787-1866).

In hopes of carrying on the family military tradition, Joseph spent two years at military school in England, but, ultimately being thought unfit for a soldier's life, he returned to Trinity College where he received his BA in 1842.

He found work as a tutor and in 1843 planned to take a wife, but his fiance fell from her horse while crossing a bridge, as Joseph stood waiting on the other side, and drowned in the river Bann, the day before they were to marry.

In 1846, during a trip to the Middle East, as a tutor in the Bartley family, like Saul of Tarsus (called Paul), Joseph found inspiration on the street called Straight, in Damascus. There he is said to have written the first line, 'What a Friend we have in Jesus,' and the rough draft of a poem, later to be called, Pray Without Ceasing.

On his return to the British Isles, he went to England where he stayed in Plymouth and fell in love with a Miss Falconer, only to have a rival take the young lady away from him. They remained friends however and the three travelled together when Joseph came back to Canada in 1847.

Scriven became a familiar sight around Port Hope, a big man with bushy white hair and full white beard, carrying a buck and a bucksaw, offering to cut wood for anyone who was unable to cut his own, or pay someone to do it for him. But he wouldn't cut wood for hire.

Joseph might preach wherever he found people gathered, in the country or on the street corners of Port Hope, Millbrook or Bewdley, sometimes to their express annoyance. Pelting with fruits and vegetables did not stop him. Arrest didn't deter him.
He gave away his money and most of his possessions and worked to help the poor and the destitute.

The uncertain circumstances of his death add to the myth of Joseph Scriven. It is generally believed that he accidentally drowned in the mill-pond, August 10, 1886, age 66. Dr. Corbett, the coroner, did not think it necessary to hold an inquest. No one knows what actually happened.

First Baptist Port Hope
59 John St.
Port Hope, Ontario L1A 2Z3

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