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Life and times of the Rev. John Wightman, 1762-1847, late Minister of Kirkmahoe online

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November, 1849, and there is no reason to doubt the
correctness of the data from which the above descrip-
tion is given.

There are one or two things, however, in connection
with the Quarrelwood Communions omitted, which we
are enabled to supply. These Communions were famous
in the district, and were attended by large numbers of
people, some of whom came a distance of thirty miles ;
and as the services were never over till after sunset, it
was impossible they could return to their own homes the
same day. These far-comers generally started on the
Saturday, travelling all night, carrying provisions with
them, and drinking of the brook by the way. The tent
was placed in an open space, not always in the same
field, but where a level spot could be found for the Com-
munion tables, and a rising ground in front for the
worshippers, somewhat like an amphitheatre. At the
entrance to the field was an array of ginger-bread and
sweetie stalls to captivate the young, while at no great
distance another emporium was open with ready wel-'
come for the benefit of those who thought they required
something more stimulating than ginger-bread and
confectionery. This, however, was not peculiar to
Quarrelwood, but was generally to be seen on similar
occasions almost everywhere. All the houses around
were full of visitors : couches, chairs, lang-settles, and
shake-downs being in requisition, and as the Monday
preachings were stayed for, it was Tuesday morning ere
many reached home. There was, therefore, the greater


part of four days consumed in the observance of this
solemnity, but then, in the eyes of the worshippers, all
the sacrifice they made, the travel they performed, and
the fatigue they endured, added to the worth of their
worship, and was therefore submitted to with the most
religious zeal. Though this ordinance was dispensed
only in summer when the days were long, yet the sun
had always sunk in the west ere the solemnity was
brought to a close; for as it was a day set apart for a
special purpose, it would have been undervaluing the-
blessing, and almost sacrilege, to have dismissed the great
congregation before the shades of evening necessitated
a truce.

We said that Mr. Thomson found his knowledge of
carpentry an advantage, and this was especially the case
in the erection of a meeting-house and manse, which
were only put up after he became minister. The greater
portion of the joiner-work of these edifices was executed
by himself. He made his own household furniture, the
pulpit for Hightae, in the neighbourhood of Lochmaben>
constructed more than one barometer, and even at-
tempted a thrashing-machine to be driven by hand. But
these things were not at all appreciated by his people,
and though he preached to them sermons of two hours'
duration, yet they thought that he often spent his time
otherwise than for the edification of his flock. He died
suddenly at Quarrelwood on the 18th of April, 1810, in
the fiftieth year of his age, and the sixteenth of his
ministry. He was buried in Kirkmahoe churchyard,
where a gravestone records that "he was a man of
distinguished talents, of profound theological knowledge,
and of eminent piety. In private he maintained an


unblemished character. He was a powerful aud faithful
preacher, and his discourses always showed deep thought
and extensive research. He was a diligent, affectionate,
and most exemplary pastor, although his flock was widely
scattered, and his congregational duties were, therefore,
peculiarly laborious."

Mr. Thomson was succeeded by the Eev. Mr. Jeffray,
a clergyman of great ability and varied talent; but
preachers began to be more plentiful, and new stations
being appointed for the greater convenience of worship-
pers, the congregation began to decline, the minister
resigned his charge, and henceforth the famous Quarrel-
wood meeting-house was entirely deserted, the worship
there having run the prescribed term of human exist-
ence threescore and ten years. If these were not sin-
cere and earnest men in their religious principles, we
know not who are ; they went ten, fifteen, and twenty
miles, every Sabbath-day, to worship the Lord their
Maker, and did not consider it any hardship to do so.
No doubt some may say that such things partook largely
of fanaticism or bigotry, but such harsh judgment ought
not to be so readily expressed. True, they might have
worshipped God as acceptably in their several parish
churches as at Quarrelwood or anywhere else, but they
had a principle to carry out on which it may be said
their denominational existence depended, and they
deserve credit for the sternness of attitude, the singleness
of purpose, and the devotedness of heart with which that
principle was maintained. They seemed to keep con-
stantly before them that saying of Scripture, " No man
having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is
fit for the kingdom of God."


Along with this respected body of Christians we would
notice a sect of a far different description, a sort of
Latter-day Saints, who invaded Nithsdale towards the
close of the last century, but who did not succeed in
attaching followers, except, to our astonishment, a few
from our friends the Cameronians. They are known in
history, for they are otherwise extinct, as the Buchanites,
whose head was an illiterate and immoral woman, who,
by her volubility of speech, hypocrisy, and assumption
of divine origin, imposed upon a small knot of persons
whose gullibility only equalled in greatness the impious
daring of their female founder. Their whole story is.
ridiculous in the extreme, in some points painful, and
in others important in an ethical view; but as the last
of the sect in this country lived till far on in the present
century, and was the custodier of all their documents,
the information regarding them may be relied on as
authentic. From these documents, and a pretty full
narrative drawn up by the only survivor, the late Mr.
Joseph Train produced a very interesting volume,
entitled " The Buchanites," to which we are indebted
for much of our knowledge with respect to that peculiar
and self- deluded body of religious fanatics.

Elspath Simpson, or "Luckie Buchan," as she was
familiarly called, was the daughter of a wayside alehouse-
keeper in Banffshire, and was born in 1738. Before she
was three years old her mother died, and her father
having again married, she was put out to the /remit?
where, as soon as she could herd a cow, she was assigned
the duty. A distant relation, after whom she had been
named, gave her a little instruction in reading and sew-
ing, but at an early age she gave evidence of vicious


propensities, which she maintained on principle till the
time of her death. At Ayr she inveigled into marriage
a working potter, called Robert Buchan, who soon had
cause to repent of his indiscretion, as her vows of fidelity
were cast to the winds, and, ashamed of her licentious-
ness, he removed to Banff, where he afterwards left her,
with one son and two daughters, to shift for themselves.
She opened a sewing and reading school for girls, and
might have succeeded tolerably well had her conduct
been in keeping with the office she assumed, which,
unfortunately, it was not, and so the children were with-
drawn. Strangely inconsistent, she pretended to be
very pious, read the Scriptures, attended fellowship
meetings, at which she debated on religious subjects,
and had frequent discourse about Heaven and the soul
with certain female acquaintances, whom she deluded
with her hypocrisy and cant. She had been divorced
from her husband, and became enamoured of a Relief
minister in Irvine, the Rev. Hugh White, whom she
heard preach in Glasgow, and whose vanity she flattered
in a fulsome letter she sent him, declaring, " I have been
more stumbled and grieved by ministers than by all the
men in the world or by all the devils in hell; but I have
rejoiced many times, by the eye of Faith, to see you
before I saw you with the eyes of my body." The
result was that, by invitation, she took up her abode in
Mr. White's house in Irvine, with Mrs. White's consent,
and henceforth had him as her main supporter in the
faith she held.

By-and-by she became loftier in her pretensions and
bolder in her speech. She declared that she was the
Third Person in the Godhead that she was the woman


described in the Revelation as clothed with the sun,
and Mr. White was the man-child she had brought
forth, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron
that she had the power of conferring immortality on
whom she breathed and that all her followers in a
body would be translated to Heaven without tasting
death. She further held that marriage was abolished
at the termination of the bestial sacrifices, and that free-
love was now the universal command. Maintaining
such views and principles, it is astonishing that any one
was weak enough to give her a listening ear, but still a
number, comparatively small, became her followers.
The Presbytery deposed Mr. White from the ministry
as being heterodox, and dangerous to the morals of
society. The inhabitants of the town became infuriated
that such a pest should be allowed to remain amongst
them, and insisted upon the immediate expulsion of the
whole body, which was carried out under the protection
of the magistrates, as otherwise it was almost certain
that summary vengeance would be taken upon the
delinquents. As it was, when the bounds of the burgh
were passed, and the magisterial jurisdiction ceased, the
mob with execrations proceeded to maltreat the leaders
with the utmost persecution. Mrs. Buchan was thrown
to the ground, kicked and tossed, and hair torn from her
head. Others were thrown into the ditch, and every
indignity and reproach cast upon them. At last, how-
ever, they got clear of their tormentors, and directed
their steps towards the rising sun, from which quarter
they expected the agents of their ascension to come.
They made their way by easy stages through Mauchline j
Cumnock, Kirkconnell, and Sanquhar, when the journey


seemed to become too painful for them. Compared with
the exodus of the Israelites they were a small body,
only forty-six in number men, women, and children
but they had higher aims than the land of Canaan, and
they cheered one another along. By some unaccount-
able instinct, such as influences certain animals, they
lighted on the farm of Cample, near Closeburn, where
the tenant gave the use of his barn till he should need
it for his strain; but offering them a site on which to

o o

rect a habitation for themselves. This offer they
gratefully accepted; and as the barn was soon required,
they set about the construction of their own abode, as
several artisans were in the body. This is the descrip-
tion of the edifice given by one of their number, Andrew
Innes : " The house was only one story high, and
covered with heather it was thirty-six feet in length,
and sixteen feet wide. There was a loft in it, made of
poles from a neighbouring plantation, and these were
covered with green turf, instead of boards. Something
like a bedstead was formed by four boards being nailed
together at each end ; these were laid flat on the loft,
and filled with straw, as soon as we could procure it.
We had now two blankets for each bed one below, and
the other as a coverlet. The beds, now more numerous
than when in the barn, were required to be placed so
close together, that a person could hardly move between
them. To the bedroom we ascended by a trap-ladder
in the middle of the house. There were only two beds
below, in a small closet adjoining the kitchen. Our
furniture consisted of two long tables, or deals, sur-
rounded by binks or cutty-stools. In the kitchen was
A dresser, a meal-chest, and a few stools. In Mr.


White's closet was a table and a few chairs, intended
for strangers." Such was " Buchan Ha'," the name by
which it was universally called, even long after the
departure of the inmates.

But here no more than in Irvine were they allowed
to remain in peace, though extremely obliging to all
they met, and working to the farmers gratuitously,
refusing even thanks. The community were indignant
at their presence, and resolved to expel them, vi et
armis, some seven months after their arrival, which was
done with fell destruction, though no lives were lost.
Choosing a moonless night in December, when the
ground was deeply covered with snow, about a hundred
men ruthlessly attacked the dwelling with bludgeons of
various kinds, threatening to set fire to the whole place
unless Mrs. Buchan and Mr. White were delivered up to
their rage. Seeing these worthies were not forthcoming,,
they battered in the doors and the windows, ransacked
the whole premises, and when the objects of their search
were not to be found they drove out all the inmates to
the highway, ordering them to return whence they came.
After the infliction of much harsh treatment and rude
insult, the assailants, as if satisfied with what they had
done, retired, whereupon the persecuted victims wan-
dered back to their house, and were no more similarly
molested there. Apprehensive of injury, Mrs. Buchan
and Mr. White had been previously removed to a place
of safety till the riot was over.

Getting somewhat settled down after this disastrous
attack, their minds were more and more directed by
Friend Mother, as Mrs. Buchan preferred being called,
to their glorious ascent at the coming of Christ, which


was declared to be fast approachiDg. Mr. White com-
posed doggrel hymns for the exercise of their vocal
aspirations, which were constantly sung with the greatest
enthusiasm, as being more divine even than the Psalms
of David. These were generally chanted to the air of
" The Beds of Sweet Roses," then a popular song. As a
necessary preparation for the joyful event, it was decreed
that the whole body should undergo a fast of forty days,
that they might thereby be purified from all earthly
pollution. This was actually carried out to a certain
extent, when the legal authorities found it necessary to-
interfere and put an end to the absurdity. All were
reduced to the merest skeletons, except Mrs. Buchan
and Mr. White, who, it was known, took their usual
food, lest they should become too transparent and
shining, so as not to be looked upon as Moses was
on coming down from the mount. This was a sad
blow to their arrangements, but the arm of the law
was stronger than theirs, and they were obliged to

At last the anticipated day of ascension was at hand,,
and all was activity, and bustle, and joy, in full expec-
tancy of the grand translation to the realms above.
Layard tells us, in his story of Nineveh, with regard to
a sect of devil-worshippers, called the Yezidis, that on
the eve of one of their great religious festivals at which
he was present, the devotees washed their robes and
their bodies in a stream contiguous to the scene of the
solemnity, and next morning they all appeared in white
raiment, spotless and pure. So also here, on the eve of
the expected ascension, there was rubbing and scrub-
bing in the Cample Burn, that on the following day the


" saints" might appear in comely garments for entering
the mansions of the blest. Of course these were white,
or what was meant for such. It may well be supposed
that there was little or no sleep in the Ha' that night,
and by daybreak the surrounding eminences were occu-
pied as situations of ascension. On a particular height
three platforms were erected, as if so many spring-
boards, for the more distinguished of the body, the centre
one being several feet higher than the others, and
allotted to the special use of Mrs. Buchan, so that she
might gain a somewhat earlier ascent, leading the way,
and the flock following in promiscuous order. The whole
fraternity, in full expectation of immediate ascent, had
had their heads closely shaved, with the exception of a
little tuft on the top by which the angels might grasp
them and waft them to glory. All were in readiness by
an early hour the platforms were occupied the floor of
the Ha' was strewn with watches and jewellery of all
descriptions, as no longer of use the high grounds were
covered, the neighbourhood having turned out its won-
dering spectators and the sound of hymn-singing in
all its ecstacy rose and floated far away among the hills,
the refrain, as usual, lilted to "The Beds of Sweet
Roses :"

"Oh! hasten translation, and come resurrection!
Oh! hasten the coming of Christ in the air!"

By-and-by the sun came forth in magnificent splen-
dour, as if conscious of the glorious event just about to
happen. All eyes of the " saints" were turned towards
the heavens, and every moment it was expected the sky
would be darkened by a cloud of angels on their visit


to the plains of Cample. The sun shone on with in-
creasing lustre, the "saints" gazed with increasing
expectation, and the crowd watched with increasing
wonderment. A slight breeze sprung up, and this
was construed as heralding the angelic approach, the
cause being the action of celestial wings through the
air. "Still they gazed, and still the wonder grew."
The breeze not only continued but increased, though
not a single angel wafted into sight. All at once a
sudden blast swept over the scene ; the platforms, with
their occupants, were violently overturned, and an igno-
minious fall put an end to the ascension. Shortly
afterwards Mrs. Buchan was found quietly smoking her
pipe by the fireside, as if no mishap or disappointment
had occurred, and alleging for the failure of the ascen-
sion that they Avere not all sufficiently ready.

This was indeed the downfall of the Buchanites.
The dupes came now somewhat to reason, and a great
many of them went away. Mrs. Buchan and her
remanent family were compelled to leave the locality,
as certain rumours, not without foundation, of the fruits
of their free-love doctrine roused the indignation of the
inhabitants, and we next find them settled on a piece of
ground at Auchengibbert, in the parish of Urr. Their
day, however, was done; the faith they inspired was
exhausted, and it was hopeless to expect any new
recruits, or even to retain the adherence of old ones.
After imprisonment for debt in Dumfries, and other
vicissitudes, Mrs. Buchan died in 1791, and her remains,
after being clandestinely buried in Kirkgunzeon church-
yard, were secretly disinterred, placed in a box, and
preserved as a household relic, every now and again


receiving an airing, and a covering of hot flannels,
which were afterwards used as a sort of charm when
they came to be changed. At last the box for it
could not be called a coffin with its cherished treasure,
was transferred to the earth in the kailyard of Aucben-
oibbert, alons? with the remains of her only surviving

O <J / O

and most devoted follower, Andrew Innes, in January,

The sect, as we have said, gained no followers in
Dumfriesshire, with the exception of a few weak-minded
Camcronians, who unaccountably were led astray by
their nonsensical doctrines. But in this they were not
altogether to blame, as some of their own pastors could
not forbear visiting the fanatics, perhaps somewhat out
of curiosity, but ostensibly on a mission of proselytism.
The Rev. John Fairley, mentioned above, being on a
professional tour in the neighbourhood, thought it lay
within his sphere to visit Buchan Ha', and endeavour to
reclaim the wandering brotherhood and sisterhood there.
After waiting for a considerable time, his knock was
answered by Mr. White, who was immediately joined by
Mrs. Buchan, and in a gruff voice he was asked what he
wanted. On answering that he had heard of their being
in the place, and had called for the purpose of having a
friendly c onference, he was sharply told to go about his
business, and the door was slammed in his face. A
more deluded sect of religionists it is scarcely possible
to imagine, and, what is very remarkable, it contained
more than one member of cultivated intellect and of
good position in society, who yet allowed themselves to
be gulled and guided by the artful machinations of an
illiterate, a coarse-minded, lascivious, but naturally


clever woman. On their breaking up, the greater
number of them emigrated to America, as if ashamed to
remain at home, and unable to bear the jeering of their
friends. Mr. White became a schoolmaster in the Far
West, occasionally preaching to a body of Universalists;
but he never made the slightest allusion to his previous
connection with the Buchanites in Scotland.




DURING the year 1S1G a sort of fanatic tidal-wave
passed over the land, threatening destruction to the
interests of religion, but, fortunately, not leaving any
very baneful effects behind. It was a blow insidiously
aimed against Church Establishments, and, from the
thin veil under which it was shrouded, many were ready
to say of it, as of the wooden horse of Troy, " Quicquid
id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes." The proposal
was the formation of an association in which persons of
all creeds and of no creed should be harmoniously
blended together for the better promoting of Christian
love, and of more successfully propagating the gospel of
Christ. In short, it was to be the fulfilment of the
prophet's oracle " The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the
calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a
little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear
shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the suck-
ing child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the
weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain."


Alas for human fallibility! Under all the display of
brotherly affection and Christian love, there was hid a
snake in the grass; the principal, if not the sole, object
in view was to destroy in the holy mountain. The
infection crossed the Border and took a hold in Dum-
fries. Some belonging to the Presbytery, of whom other
things were expected, came under its influence, and if
ever that reverend Court did sing, it was evident to
every discerning mind that the piece in preparation was,
"Let Whig and Tory all agree!" By all means, we say,
but let there be an equal agreement, an equal disin-
terestedness, and on neither side a desired humiliation
of the other.

That the movement was not disinterested was shown
by the result, as the record of the times too sadly
testifies. Mr. Wightman's spirit was greatly moved at
the seeming inconsistency of some of his brethren who
fell under the contagion, and who were endeavouring to
inoculate others with the disease. He accordingly sub-
mitted a resolution to the Presbytery on the subject, the
gist of which was that they should not connect them-
selves with any association of persons pursuing such
measures, however well meant might be their views, but
should discharge their duties diligently and faithfully,
following no divisive courses, in terms of the vows they
came under at their ordination. At the same time they
would carefully, as they had hitherto done, conduct them-
selves with Christian moderation and charity towards
all denominations, according to the sound principles of
religious toleration; but they strongly disapproved of
ministers of different persuasions mingling their religious
exercises of preaching, exhortation, prayer, and praise


in the same church, school, or elsewhere, whether with a
view to edify the old or instruct the young, as disorderly,
and not tending to edification; that the great interests
of religion and morality were safer under the steady
auspices of our religious establishment than under the
desultory directions of promiscuous speculation.

Mr. Wightman, in supporting his resolution, spoke
with great feeling and animation; and as he was seldom
loquacious in the Presbytery, he was listened to on this

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Online LibraryDavid HoggLife and times of the Rev. John Wightman, 1762-1847, late Minister of Kirkmahoe → online text (page 18 of 28)