William Ross.

Aberdour and Inchcolme; being historical notices of the parish and monastery, in twelve lectures online

. (page 21 of 35)
Online LibraryWilliam RossAberdour and Inchcolme; being historical notices of the parish and monastery, in twelve lectures → online text (page 21 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

then by a spirit of reverence ! We may, however, be per-
mitted to question the wisdom of the mode adopted for
securing this end, as shown in the way James Alexander,
William Hegy, William Craig, and Andrew Goosing, were
dealt with in December 1652, for 'making din in the
church in the time of Divine service.' These worthies
were ordered to ' sit down on their knees, and crave God
mercie for their fault ; ' and it was ordained further, that
' if ever found in the like, they will be set in the jogges
and banished the town.' But even this, although it must
jar with our ideas of what church discipline should be, was
quite in keeping with the ordinary procedure of those old

A few notices of the Communion seasons, and the way
in which they were observed in the parish, will, I am sure,
be acceptable to you. From 1654 till 1676 the Communion
seems to have been observed in Aberdour only once in
two years. This was the rule ; but, owing to the troubles
of the period, and other causes, intervals of three years
actually occurred. On one occasion from 1665 to 1671,
during the latter years of Mr Bruce's ministry a period of
six years elapsed without any ministration of the ordinance.
In those old days the Communion service, in our parish,
was always continued over a second Sabbath in most cases
a consecutive one. The end contemplated in this arrange-
ment, no doubt, was to allow the members of the congrega-
tion who were hindered from communicating on the first
day to do so on the second. The change from this mode
to one Communion Sabbath was effected in 1677. It was
attempted the previous year, without success ; some secret


influence being sufficient to command a second Communion
Sabbath, after three weeks had intervened. There was no
fixed time for the Communion in those days. Sometimes
it took place in January, more frequently in April, October,
or July ; less commonly in May or August. When speaking
on this subject, I may say, by anticipation, that, during the
first half of the eighteenth century, the ministration of the
Lord's Supper once every two years was still the rule. Not
till 1763 did the yearly observance of the ordinance become
the rule ; nor was it even then tied down to any fixed season
of the year. The service of preparation on the Saturday
before the Communion, and the service of thanksgiving on
the afternoon or evening of the Communion Sabbath, were
generally observed during the seventeenth century. These
were the only services for which the legislation of the Church
had made provision. The Church has never enacted the
observance of Fast-days in connection with Communion
seasons. The Thursday service does not seem to have been
commonly observed till about the beginning of the seven-
teenth century ; and it was only after the memorable
Communion Monday at the Kirk of Shotts' that the service
held on that day became at all common. The multipli-
cation of week-day services, in connection with the
observance of the Sacrament of the Supper, is out of
keeping with the frequency of the Communion service,
which is so desirable.

A custom was observed, in those days, in connection
with Communion seasons, which we would now think very
strange. On the Communion Sabbath a collection was
made at the table, as well as at the doors of the church.
This collection was for the poor of the parish. The custom
is referred to in the Directory for Public Worship, when
treating of the ministration of the Supper. ' The collection
for the poor,' it says, ' is so to be ordered that no part of
the public worship be thereby hindered.' We cannot help
thinking that, when made at the Communion table, it must


not only have hindered public worship, but have been liable
to grave misapprehension. It is, therefore, well that it has
passed away. There does not, however, appear to have
been any marked disposition on the part of the people of
Aberdour at that time, to wrong themselves by giving too
much of their means away. For, in October 1659, I find
the Session urging the minister to speak a word of reproof
to the people about the smallness of the collections. This
Mr. Bruce did with some degree of severity, assuring those
who gave nothing ' that if they did not amend, their names
would be publicly read out !' This was certainly sharp
practice, and could not fail to be disagreeable to the non-
givers, although we question much its wisdom and salutari-

Great efforts were made by the minister and elders, be-
fore Communion seasons, to get such persons as were
living at variance brought into terms of agreement. Some-
times, however, the mode adopted to secure this desirable
end was what would now be thought very strange the two
elders appointed to deal with such cases repairing with
their quarrelsome charge to a public-house apparently, and
there getting them to ' drink and shake hands '!

The practice at this time evidently was to admit to the
Communion table all, not grossly ignorant or immoral, who
made a profession of Christianity ; and it was quite a com-
mon thing to summon before the Session those who, being
members of the church, absented themselves from the
Lord's Table. Some misfortune had evidently befallen the
Communion cups belonging to Aberdour. Perhaps they
shared the fate of those owned by the parish of Dal-
gety, which were stolen, along with the money in the box,
by Cromwell's soldiers, at the battle of Inverkeithing. For
several years it is regularly noted, in connection with
Communion seasons, that there was paid, for the loan
of Communion cups, twelve shillings. At length it is re-
corded that two Communion cups have been purchased,



for 119 Ib. Scots, with two basins that cost jio, 6s. 6d.,
and a mortcloth, the price of which was ^63, 45. 6d.

It is extremely interesting to mark the number and variety
of the cases for which special collections were made for poor
people, during the time of which we are speaking. I do not
refer to the ordinary resident poor, but those who have be-
come needy and distressed, through casualties and mis-
fortunes, and sometimes have come from a great distance in
quest of help. There is hardly a Minute of Session, in the
neighbouring parish of Dalgety, at this period, in which there
is not to be found some notice of money given to ' poor
strangers.' In Aberdour, too, this in all likelihood was the
case ; but, from the way in which the Minutes are kept, it
does not so readily appear. An interesting lecture might
be composed of these notices alone. Sometimes distressed
people from Ireland are wandering about the country seeking
relief men and women who have escaped from the mas-
sacre, by which the Roman Catholics hoped to quench the
Protestant cause in blood. There are also those who were
made beggars and vagrants by the wild raids of Montrose.
Men from Muckhart appear, who had been spoiled in this
way ; and women, whose husbands and children had been
killed, implore aid. Many such were found at the doors of the
churches in those suffering times; and wounded soldiers and
persecuted Covenanters; and part of the collection was gene-
rally given to them. Sometimes a whole tragedy is summed
up in a single line, in connection with such cases. There was
not, I suppose, a single collection for missionary purposes
made throughout the Church in the seventeenth century.
But many special collections, for humane and philanthropic
objects, are noted in the Session Records of Aberdour and
Dalgety the one supplementing the other. Of these the
following are specimens : In 1654, John Brown and
Archibald Hardie, in Inverkeithing, have had their houses
burnt ; and a collection, amounting to ^8, 55. 4d., is made


for them. Lieut.-Colonel Andrew Leslie is in difficulties, and
for his relief ^5, i6s. 2d. is contributed. William Menzies
has fallen into the hands of the Turks, and ^7, 6s. zd. is
given towards his ransom. In 1655, James Tailor, in the
West Mill, has all his bestial smothered, by the falling of
his byre ;' and not only is a collection made for James's
relief, but a letter is written to the minister and ' bailzie ' of
Burntisland, imploring aid. In 1657, some poor prisoners
in ' Halyrudehouse ' debtors, no doubt, who had fled
thither for asylum get 11. In 1658, John Scott, in
Burntisland, has 'fallen from means,' and gets ^8. In
1662, William M'Rie, merchant in Dumbarton, has
^7, 155. collected for him. In the same year, 'a lady,
recommended by the Bishop' for the Church was again
under Episcopal government receives ^4. In 1666,
John Dick's house and plenishing are burnt, and the
sympathising parishioners contribute 14, 123. lod. to aid
him the Session likewise recommending his case to the
Presbytery. In 1675, John Gibson and John Reid, two
sailors belonging to Inverkeithing, fall into the clutches of
the Turks, and 45, 8s. is raised for their ransom and
release. In the same year a collection is made ' to buy a
horse for William Alexander, to keep him from begging.'
In 1677, the schoolmaster at Dalgety has the misfortune to
have his house burned, and he too gets a collection ; while
the Harbour and Bridge of St. Andrews, the Bridge of
Inverness, and I cannot stay to tell how many more public
works, are helped. These collections were all made in
Aberdour church, and, no doubt, also in the other churches
of the neighbourhood. But here I must stop. I trust the
statements made to-night will lead to a more intelligent
acquaintance with the history of the neighbourhood ; and,
as history is just a record of the experiences of the past,
with a reference to the relation which these experiences
have to one another and to their causes, it may be hoped


that something will be found, in what has been laid before
you, which is fitted to be profitable as well as interesting.
Our lot has been cast in the midst of clearer light, and
more peaceful scenes and higher privileges, than character-
ised those old times. Let us strive to avoid the blemishes
of the past, and, if possible, surpass its excellencies.


Events affecting the neighbourhood in the Covenanting Times Object of
the Covenant of 1638 The grave of Robert Blair His early life
His labours in Ireland Seeks to escape persecution by going to
America, but is driven back by storms The Echlins of Pittadro
Blair's labours at Ayr Translated to St. Andrews Employment in
public affairs Appointed Chaplain to the King His opinion of
Cromwell 'Cuffed on both haffets' Sharp's treachery and persecu-
tions Blair confined to Couston Castle in Aberdour parish Death-bed
experiences Anecdotes of him His poor tombstone His descen-
dants The ' Engagement ' Renewal of the Covenant The burden
of the soldiers Cromwell's invasion The battle of Inverkeithing
Mr. Bruce's flight The right of an Englishman to marry a Scotch
girl Aberdour men taken prisoners at the battle of Worcester
Margaret Gray's feelings towards her husband Strange proceedings,
with a view to discover Archbishop Sharp's murderer Sufferers by
fining in Aberdour parish.

I AM to call your attention in this lecture to the public
events, both of a civil and ecclesiastical kind, which affected
Aberdour and its immediate neighbourhood in a peculiar
way, during the Covenanting Times. Within the compass
of a single lecture only a few of the leading events of such
a lengthened period can be noticed, and these notices,
because of their brevity, must necessarily be of an imperfect
kind. But it may be hoped, nevertheless, that such
sketches as I lay before you will not be without interest,
touching as they do on persons and places connected with
the neighbourhood. It may be urged against such sketches,
that they err by not taking a wide enough sweep. But to
this it may be replied, that the student of history, in its local
bearings, is not likely to be ignorant of the facts and lessons
of general history; and the narrative of local events is


fitted to make the lessons of general history all the more
distinct and impressive.

It is under the guidance of a simple chronological order
that we reach the period, stretching from 1638 to 1688, or
what is commonly called the Covenanting Times. The
first great battle for the truth, in Scotland, was fought at the
Reformation, to get rid of Popery. The second which
some speak of as already won in 1638, but which, correctly
speaking, was only won fifty years later was to get rid of a
State-imposed Prelacy ; and the battle that was waged
throughout these years may, with great truth, be said to be
that which achieved the civil and religious liberty of our
country. That this was the great object for which the
heroic men of that period so nobly contended, cannot, I
think, for a moment be doubted by any one who has impar-
tially examined the history of their struggles. And the his-
tory of their struggles is, to a great extent, the history of
the whole nation during that period. We sometimes hear
people speak of the Covenanters as if they were merely a
small and bigoted faction of the Scottish people. This is
a mistake for which there is hardly an excuse. In 1638,
at the beginning of the fifty years' struggle for liberty, the
whole nation may be said to have been a covenanted
people. At least the nobles and barons, and burgesses and
peasantry, were so overwhelmingly on this side, that there
was little left on the other, but a small and insignificant
faction. No doubt, by and by, conflicting motives produced
divided counsels ; and persecution tamed the spirit of many
whose hearts were never truly in the cause, or, at least,
not in it so thoroughly as to lead them to suffer for it.
But from time to time the very extremities in which the
good cause was placed, kindled anew the patriotism of the
nation, and welded into a compact mass those who honestly
differed in regard to minor measures, or the mode of their
application. And dreadful indeed was the ordeal through
which the Covenanters had to pass in the maintenance and


defence of their principles ; and long and bloody the per-
secutions through which they unflinchingly bore the blue
banner of the Covenant. Scotland, we repeat, owes much
'"Sf the civil and religious liberty she now enjoys to the much-
persecuted, and, almost up to the present time, the much-
maligned Covenanters. My object, however, is not now
to expound the principles involved in that long struggle.
In addressing a Scottish audience these principles may be
regarded as understood. I purpose laying before you a
simple narrative of undoubted facts connected with our
neighbourhood, in reference to the contendings of which I
speak. In this way I shall put you in possession of
materials from which you are at liberty to draw your own
conclusions. And if any of you do not agree with the prin-
ciples of the Covenanters, you will, I am sure, at the very
least, admire their patience and courage and self-sacrifice.

In order that I may lay before you some illustrations of
the contendings of the Covenanters, drawn from our own
neighbourhood, let me ask you to accompany me to the
grave of Robert Blair in our old churchyard. He was a
remarkable man whose dust lies there. You would not be
ready to think that one so great, and who occupies so pro-
minent a place in the history of his times, should have so
poor a monument as that crumbling tombstone. But there
is a reason for this. He died a banished, and wellnigh a
broken-hearted, man. His enemies could scarcely have
denied him ' a little dust for charity ;' they could hardly,
with good grace, have denied him a grave. Yet it was
remarked by a historian of the period as something won-
derful that Robert Blair was buried in the daytime ! It
was considered somewhat bold, on the part of his friends, to
lay the weary sleeper down in his bed of dust ere darkness
had thrown its friendly cloak over those who ventured to
render him the last sad office of humanity. It almost
seems as if his enemies had forgotten that it was God's sun
that was shining in the heavens in the year 1666 the


annus mirabilis and not King Charles's or the Bishops'.
Little wonder that a man, who dared hardly be buried in
the daytime, had not a rich monument ! For a time he
had none at all, and when at length one was erected, liberty
to put it up had to be paid for to the Kirk-Session. And it
was judged wise on the part of his friends to set up only a
plain and simple memorial of him, ' because of the iniquity
of the time.' Wherein consisted the wrong-doing of this
man ? Let me tell you his story, in as few and simple words
as I can.

Robert Blair was born in the town of Irvine, in the year
1593. His parents were highly respectable, and connected
with some of the best families in Ayrshire. Two of his
brothers were successively Chief Magistrates of the town of
Irvine, at a time when municipal honours were more prized
than they appear to be now. Another brother rose to be
a Professor in the University of Glasgow. Robert Blair
entered College in the year 1611, took his degree in
1614, and in 1616, when he was only twenty-three years
of age, he became Professor of Moral Philosophy in the
University of Glasgow. Ample testimony has been left on
record by some of his pupils, who afterwards distinguished
themselves, of his scholarship and skill in discharging the
duties of this office. But while devoting himself to his
work as a Professor, he seems to have been himself taught
what no earthly master could impart to him ; and he longed
to be employed in the work of the ministry. He was
destined to be much of a wanderer; and his first de-
parture in that line was due to his acceptance of a call to
Bangor, in Ireland. His memory is to this day revered in
that country as one of the founders of the Irish Presby-
terian Church. But difficulties sprang up, from Episco-
palian intolerance, which stood so much in the way of his
usefulness, that he and several others resolved to leave the
country altogether, and cross the Atlantic, hoping to get a
field of unrestrained usefulness in New England. Strange

' By


to say, Bishop Echlmyfrom whom Blair received so much
opposition in Ireland, belonged to a family long resident
in this neighbourhood the Echlins of Pittadro. When
more than half the voyage was accomplished, however,
such storms arose as drove the emigrants back, and they
relinquished the intention of going to America. After they
returned to Ireland, and from that to Scotland, we find
Robert Blair and his companions, ere they settled down to
stated labours in the ministry, engaging in the Communion
service along with our old friend John Row at Carnock.
Row's son, William, minister of Ceres, was afterwards mar-
ried to Robert Blair's daughter Jean. We find the wanderer
at length settled in the second charge of the town of Ayr,
as colleague to Mr. Annand, in 1638. But hardly has he
had time to become known there when he is called to St.
Andrews. It was considered a desirable thing that a man
so well fitted to fill one of the high places in the Church
should be preferred to this charge ; but it was with great
reluctance that he went. The Assembly of 1638, by whose
authority he was translated, was the famous Reforming one
held at Glasgow, which began the fifty years' struggle for
liberty. When settled in St. Andrews Blair exerted a
powerful influence on the place, which was at that time the
seat of three Colleges. The learning of the new minister
found there ample scope, and among the Professors and
students his influence was not only great, but fitted to tell
over a wide sphere. His labours were not, however, con-
fined to that city. For a short time he returned to Ireland
to consolidate the cause of Presbyterianism there, but he
still continued minister of St. Andrews. In almost all the
public negotiations of the time Robert Blair was employed
by the Church ; and not unfrequently matters of high
importance in the State were confided to his care. Thus,
after the defeat of Charles the First at Newburn, Blair was
appointed to assist at the ratification of the Treaty of
Ripon. And he was one of the Committee appointed to


meet the English Commissioners to confirm the Solemn
League and Covenant.

It is sometimes asserted that Blair, and those who acted
along with him in these matters, were opposed to Monarchy,
and were ill-affected to the house of Stuart I can scarcely
conceive how such an opinion can be honestly held by any
one who has been at the pains to make himself acquainted
with the simplest facts connected with the history of that
time. The Covenanters were, almost to a man, in favour of
Monarchy, and the great majority of them were devoted to
the house of Stuart. This was especially true of Robert
Blair. Indeed, as I shall ere long show you, there was a
strong bond of esteem, I might almost say affection, exist-
ing between him and the King. It was after the battle of
Marston Moor that he met Charles at Newcastle ; and from
the first the King seems to have been impressed with his
high qualities. Alexander Henderson being dead, Blair
was installed as Chaplain to the King for Scotland, and
Charles assigned the reason why he conferred this honour
on Blair. ' That man,' said he, ' is pious, prudent, and
learned, and of a meek, moderate, and calm temper.' But,
mild as he was, Blair would sooner have surrendered his
life than part with his principles. One of the most touch-
ing incidents connected with the death of the King was
his urging the request, that Mr. Blair might be with him
during the time of his imprisonment, and at his death.
But the request was not complied with, to the shame, as
we think, of those who refused it And William Row
informs us, that had his father-in-law been permitted to
go to the scaffold with the King, he had resolved to lift
up his testimony against what he considered to be Charles's
murder, laying his account to die with the King, and that
he would 'as willingly have laid down his head to the
hatchet as ever he laid his head to a pillow.'

It might have been expected from such opinions as these,
held by Blair, that his estimate of Cromwell would not be


high ; and neither was it. Indeed, we can neither share
in Blair's exaltation of Charles's character, nor his deprecia-
tion of Cromwell ; but we admire the honesty of the man
in firmly holding what he believed to be the truth. When
Cromwell was in Edinburgh in 1651, Blair, Guthrie, and
Dickson were the three ministers appointed to hold a con-
ference with him ; and Blair was deputed to sound the
Protector as to his views regarding the government of
Church and State respectively. Blair begged to put three
questions to Cromwell. He asked, first, what the Protec-
tor's opinion of Monarchical Government was ; to which
Cromwell replied that he was favourable to it. In answer
to a second question, he said he was opposed to Tolera-
tion. And when his catechiser asked what his judgment
regarding the government of the Church was, Cromwell
replied, ' Ah, now, Mr. Blair, you article me too severely.
You must pardon me that I give you not a present answer
to that question.' While Dickson went away satisfied with
these answers, Blair expressed the opinion that the Pro-
tector was an arrant dissembler, ' a greetin' deevil ' was,
I believe, his exact phrase. And while it cannot be denied
that under the early part of the rule of Cromwell a greater
amount of liberty was enjoyed than during the reign of
any of the later Stuarts, it has to be admitted that, ere it
closed, the greatest of the Puritan divines shared, to a
large extent, in Blair's distrust of the Protector.

But I must not indulge in further notices of Blair during
the period of his laborious public efforts; I must advance
to the time of his sufferings. During the contests between
the Resolution ers and the Protesters in the Church, Blair
strove to keep a middle path, with the usual want of success
which falls to the lot of such as try to be neither on the
one side nor the other. To use his own expressive phrase,
he was 'cuffed on both haffets.' The restoration of Charles
the Second was the signal for the renewal of hostilities
against the Presbyterianism of Scotland ; and in the miser-


able plottings and persecutions which were gone into to

Online LibraryWilliam RossAberdour and Inchcolme; being historical notices of the parish and monastery, in twelve lectures → online text (page 21 of 35)