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James Evans was a teacher, Methodist minister and missionary, linguist, and author. He was born in Kingston-upon-Hull, England, the son of James Evans, ship’s captain, and Mary–. He married Mary Blithe Smith in 1822, and they had two daughters, one of whom died in childhood. He died in Kelby, England.
Evans went to school in Lincolnshire, England. In 1822 he followed his parents to Lower Canada. He found employment as a teacher near L’Original, Upper Canada. About three years later he and his wife moved to Augusta Township on the St Lawrence River, where he converted to Methodism. He accepted an appointment to the Rice Lake School for Indian children in 1828. Ordained in 1833, he was appointed to the St Clair Mission (near Port Sarnia) in 1834. In 1838, the Canada Conference sent him on a tour of the north shore of Lake Superior. In 1839 he met Governor George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company, who in January 1840 agreed to support Methodist missionaries, named by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in Britain, in its territory. Evans, who since his return to Upper Canada had been serving as minister at Guelph, was appointed to Norway House, Manitoba, in April of that year. However, his concerns for the native peoples, and his location at a main transfer point of the HBC brought him into conflict with company policy and practice, culminating in accusations of sexual misconduct and a request for his removal by Simpson in 1845. The Wesleyan Society invited him back to England, where he was tried before Methodist church authorities. He was acquitted of sexual improprieties. Evans died suddenly of a heart attack following a missionary rally in Lincolnshire in November 1846. In 1955 his remains were brought from England and reburied at Norway House.
During his career Evans studied several native languages. He devised a syllabary for the Ojibwa (1836) and Cree (1840) languages, which he used for teaching, translating and writing. He translated and printed portions of the New Testament, hymns and other material. He published his book Speller and Interpreter, in Indian and English, for the use of the mission schools, and such as may desire to obtain a knowledge of the Ojibway tongue in 1837.