James Lyon (1783-1785)

Written by Marjorie Melikian

The first minister after the Revolution was James Lyon. He is thought to have been born in Ireland. In 1759, he graduated from Princeton College (now Princeton University), where he composed some of his first music. He also published the tune that after his death, with words added by a pastor from Massachusetts, became "My Country 'Tis of Thee." It was in a book of music he published called Urania, which introduced Americans to European music. (A sample of his music, the song "The Lord Cometh," can be seen online sung by Quire Cleveland.)

Rev. Lyon was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in 1762 and was ordained by them on Dec. 5, 1764. He went to preach in Nova Scotia, Canada where he had been given a land grant by the English.

lyon glass
A window in the sanctuary of Centre Street Congregational Church in Macias, Maine honors Rev. Lyon's pastorate there.

In 1771, Rev. Lyon obtained the pastorate in a Congregational church in Machias, Maine (now the Centre Street Congregational Church, UCC), across the border. He was quite a patriot. In June 1775, he wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, requesting help, telling of his town's capture of a threatening British schooner and the subsequent battle in which four died and 11 were wounded. This was a year before the Revolution started, but there had been troubles with the British for some time. In another letter to the Provincial Congress about the same time, he urged the invasion of Nova Scotia, Canada. He and many others from New England had been granted land there in the 1760s, and American residents were being forced to swear allegiance to the king.

During the American Revolution, Rev. Lyon became a hero in Macias. He helped rebels who had learned that the British planned to attack the town during the church service, where all the men were gathered. Rev. Lyon allowed the men to bring their guns to church, with one man watching for the approaching British. Upon seeing the signal the British were coming, the men grabbed their guns and left the service to fight. Unfortunately, the British won and took over the town, cutting off all supplies. Since the invaded town could not afford to pay Rev. Lyon at all, he received no salary for several years, serving his flock faithfully but struggling financially. He is said to have dug clams for his family to survive on. Rev. Lyon is also responsible for setting the Maine-Canada border after the war. The original plan was to make the border about 100 miles west of his town, which would have then become part of Canada. He wrote letters of appeal. Because of him, we have the present border.

In 1783, to earn money, Rev. Lyon took a job as an interim pastor in Newtown, which was also recovering from the Revolution since the British had destroyed the prior church sanctuary. He gathered the remnants of the congregation and began the job of planning the building of the next church, which became known as the Old White Church. Rev. Lyon is said to have given music lessons while here to supplement his income.

After staying at Newtown for only two years, Rev. Lyon returned to his beloved Macias. Unfortunately, his Maine congregation had become so decimated and deprived of income sources that they still could not pay him salary. He died on October 12, 1794, still unpaid. After his death, with things finally improving, the town did raise money to give to his children. Although his life was full of difficulty, his music remains as a testament to the man's genius.