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I am pleased to announce a new addition to the digitised material for the Christian Brethren Archive, a letterbook of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).

Darby was one of the founder members of what later became known as the Plymouth Brethren. When the latter split in 1848, he went on to become the first leader of the ‘Exclusive Brethren’. He was a noted biblical scholar whose doctrinal system was adopted well beyond the confines of the Brethren.

Darby produced popular synopses of the Bible and voluminous polemical writings on biblical subjects. As well as his distinctive eschatological views, he developed a dispensational interpretation of the Bible. This interpretation was adopted and developed further in the early twentieth century by C.S. Scofield, who produced a highly popular and influential series of reference and study Bibles. Through this medium, Darby became one of the most influential forces shaping the character and form of modern day American fundamentalist Christianity.

The letterbook contains handwritten transcriptions of 51 letters, 160 pages in total, which were written between 1862 and 1863 whilst Darby was on the first of several missionary journeys in Ontario, Canada. A great deal of the correspondence relates to discussion of Darby’s visit, and his activities during his time there, and it is our belief that much of this material will provide a source of new information on Darby’s time in North America.

A large proportion of the letters in the letterbook are written by Darby, but there are also letters by other individuals, sent from cities and towns in Canada including Toronto, Quebec, Hamilton, Guelph, and Montreal, and also from New York, Detroit, Massachusetts and Missouri in North America.

Inside the front cover are the following names, presumably the names of the owners of the letterbook at different dates:

  • John Pollock 1863
  • Algernon J. Pollock 1892
  • for J. Alfred Trench, Belfast
  • To Seton Pollock 1934
  • To William Bell – April 1957
  • G. Ross Holmes, Winder (about 1970-1998) Canada

This would suggest that the transcriptions were created and collated only a short period of time after the letters were written.

The handwriting is not that of Darby, however the transcriber has made a convincing attempt to imitate the signature of Darby on the letters attributed to him. There are also annotations, made at some later date by an owner of the book, recording their queries and comments.

The letterbook was donated to the Christian Brethren Archive by Thomas and Susan Holmes in 2017. The book had been part of a collection of Brethren books and other Reformation/Church of England books that belonged to George Ross Holmes, who was born in Bruce County, Ontario and died in Windsor, Ontario.

These letters are an excellent supplement to the John Nelson Darby papers, which include a series of Darby’s notebooks, scrapbooks, annotated bibles, notes on lectures and sermons by Brethren activists, and correspondence. The collection contains considerable information on the early history of the Brethren movement.

The digitised letterbook can be viewed here: John Nelson Darby Letterbook