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Aberdour and Inchcolme
Lecture 9


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 persecutions—Blair confined to Couston Castle in Aberdour parish—Death-bed experiences—Anecdotes of him—His poor tombstone—His descendants—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 impartially examined the history of their struggles. And the history 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 persecutions through which they unflinchingly bore the blue banner of the Covenant. Scotland, we repeat, owes much of 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 principles 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 prominent 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 wonderful 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 departure 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 Presbyterian Church. But difficulties sprang up, from Episcopalian 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 to say, Bishop Echlin, from 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 married 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, confined 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, existing 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 touching 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 depreciation 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 conference 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 Protector’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 Toleration. 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 Protector 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 Resolutioners 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 miserable plottings and persecutions which were gone into to set up Episcopacy in the Church, and absolute government in the State, no one holds a less-to-be-envied place than James Sharp, who had been sent to London in the interest of Presbyterianism, and basely betrayed the cause he professed to uphold and defend. His correspondence with his brethren in Scotland during this period has been preserved in the pages of Wodrow, and forms one of the most lamentable monuments of treachery. Rewarded, for the part he had acted, with the Archbishopric of St. Andrews, there was one man in that old city whom Sharp could not tolerate, and that was Robert Blair. It would appear, from some statements made by Wodrow, that Sharp lay under particular obligations to Blair; but that was a matter of small concern to the Archbishop now. The Council followed the lead of Sharp in the path of persecution ; and the magistrates of St. Andrews were ordered to summon Blair before the Lord Chancellor on an early day. He obeyed the summons on the xst day of October 1661. He was now an old man, wanting only two years of the threescore and ten, and was afflicted with many troubles and frailties incident to old age. But these were accounted trifles in a time of persecution. The accusation brought against him was in connection with a sermon he had preached, on 1 Peter iii. 14—‘ But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.’ It was late on a Saturday evening when the citation reached the aged servant of God, and on the following day he preached from the words, ‘Finally, brethren, farewell,’—knowing, I presume, that when once fairly in the hands of the Council, he was not likely to be permitted to open his mouth in public again to his attached flock. When he reached Edinburgh, he was examined by the Council; and it looks as if they had been ashamed to state their accusation against him in writing ; as in their Minute there is a large blank space, with only the words in the margin, ‘Act, Mr. Robert Blair.’ But however ashamed they were to commit their charge and sentence against him to writing, it was carried out, although at first with a show of tenderness. He was, to begin with, confined merely to his chamber in Edinburgh ; but, falling sick there, his place of confinement was changed to Musselburgh. In September 1662 a macerwas sent to bring him before the Council; but he was found writhing under a painful disease, and could not be removed. He knew, however, what the Council wanted. They had meanwhile managed to get his charge declared vacant; and as he knew only too well that his enemies would never permit him to fill it again, he sent them his presentation. This acted like a sop to Cerberus. He was now permitted to remove to Kirkcaldy, where he lived for about three years and a half. While there he spent his time chiefly in writing Annotations on the Book of Proverbs—a work that was never published. He was, however, not to be permitted to remain in Kirkcaldy. It was a populous place, and it was feared that his influence there would be stronger than was desirable. Sharp, too, had been heard to vow that he would ‘harry that nest,5 and he succeeded in doing this. An Act was passed, which compelled the aged and worn man to choose for his place of residence a dwelling at least twenty miles distant from St. Andrews, and at least three miles from any town. The persecuted minister, now seventy-three years of age, had no alternative but to obey, or be cast into some dungeon-cell. He came with his family, in the month of February 1666, to Couston Castle, in our parish—the crumbling remains of which, on the border of Otterston Loch, are fast disappearing; and there he remained till his death.

There are some interesting incidents connected with his stay at Couston Castle. The spring air told favourably on him, after coming to the parish of Aberdour. He was able to walk in the neighbouring fields for recreation; his eye, no doubt, resting with pleasure on Otterston Loch, or taking in the beautifully variegated scene that rewards the walk to the summit of Pinel Hill. But the locality had not, then, the attractions which present appearances would suggest; for it is described as ‘an unwholesome place, surrounded with water and marshy ground.’ Many pious persons from Burntisland and Kirkcaldy were drawn to Couston Castle during Blair’s stay in it, and he was frequently visited by ministers who, like himself, were debarred from preaching the Word. To them he was wont to say, ‘As for me, who must shortly die, it is not to be regretted that I am laid aside; but it breaks my heart, and I cannot bear up any longer under this oppressing burden, that so many young men, whom God hath made able ministers of the new testament, should be laid aside.’ He exhorted such to be busy, wherever they could, in their Master’s service, and, like provident fishers, to be mending their nets in hope of more active employment. About the ioth of August he became sensibly worse, and felt that he was not far from his end. To the widow of the sainted Samuel Rutherfurd he said, when some were speaking of Archbishop Sharp,

‘I would not exchange my condition, though I am now lying on my bed of languishing and dying, with thine, O Sharp, for thy mitre and all thy riches and revenues; nay, though all that’s betwixt me and thee were red gold to boot.’ He often repeated the words of the twenty-third Psalm, especially the fourth verse, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.’ And on one occasion he repeated the whole of the seventy-first Psalm: ‘In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust,’ etc. This he was wont to call his own Psalm. At length, on the morning of Monday, the 27th of August 1666—surrounded by his wife and children, and some ministers who were fellow-exiles from their flocks—he died in peace. He was buried, as the Session Record of the parish tells us, on the 29th of the same month; and his dust lies on the south side of the old church of Aberdour. He was only for a short time resident in our parish, but even that brief sojourn has added fresh lustre to a place, interesting on many other grounds; for, of all the buried dead that at least seven centuries have congregated in that most sequestered of churchyards, Robert Blair is, so far as I know, the very greatest. His life has a noble lesson in it; and his history, thus imperfectly sketched, throws more light on the persecutions of his times than much impassioned declamation would.

An anecdote or two may help to give you a more vivid conception of the personality of the man. And, first, let me give you a glimpse of his early ministry. Preaching one day before the celebrated Robert Bruce of Airth, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, Blair was anxious to get the opinion of such a great man regarding his discourse. ‘Sir,’ said Bruce to him, ‘I found your discourse very polished and digested; but there is one thing I miss in it, and that is the Spirit of God.’ The young preacher never forgot this criticism; and afterwards said it had been the means of doing him much good. Take now an anecdote relating to his later style of preaching. An Englishman, who had the opportunity of hearing Blair, Rutherfurd, and Dickson preach, declared that Blair showed him ‘the majesty of God;’ Rutherfurd ‘the loveliness of Christ;’ while Dickson revealed to the listener ‘his own heart.’ It is further related of Blair, that, when brought before the English Council, in the time of Cromwell, it was proposed by some to take the office of King’s Chaplain from him. But after Blair had been questioned, the President said, ‘It is well that this man is a minister; for if he were not, he might vex us all with his great wisdom and policy.’ And so they allowed him to retain his place and pension, and sent him away with honour.

And now, ere we part from the subject, let us take a look at his tombstone. The scroll that surmounts it bears the inscription, Mors Jatiua Vitae—Death is the Gate of Life; and the simple epitaph when translated runs thus: ‘Here lie the mortal remains of the Reverend Robert Blair, a most faithful preacher of the Gospel at St. Andrews. He died on the 27th of August 1666, in the 73d year of his age.’ I have already said that for some time no tombstone marked his grave. On the 8th of May 1670, one of his sons petitioned the Kirk-Session, that he might be allowed to erect a monument to his father’s memory, and this liberty was granted, on the condition that he would ‘give the Session satisfaction.’ In August 1672, it is noticed that the monument had been erected on the ‘south kirk wall’ the previous week, and that sixteen pounds nine shillings Scots had been paid to the poor, for permission to put it up. It is expressly noted by Blair’s son-in-law, Mr. William Row, that the meagreness of the inscription was due to ‘the iniquity of the time.’ And it does excite surprise that more than two hundred years should have been allowed to pass away without the slightest attempt to do justice to the many eminent qualities of the man, by erecting a worthy memorial of him. But this is too often the case. We reap the fruit of the labours and sufferings of such men, and do little to keep their memory alive.

Robert Blair was twice married: first to Beatrix Hamilton, daughter of Robert Hamilton, merchant, Edinburgh. She died in 1632, at the early age of twenty-seven, leaving three children,—James, who became one of the ministers of Dysart, and died early; Robert; and Jean, who, as we have already noticed, was married to William Row. Three years after the death of his first wife, he married Katharine Montgomery, daughter of Hugh Montgomery of Braidstane, afterwards Viscount Airds. By this marriage he had seven sons and a daughter, among whom may be mentioned David, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, who was the father of Robert Blair, author of The Grave, and grandfather of Lord President Blair. And among his great-grandchildren were Dr. Robert Blair, Professor of Astronomy, and Dr. Hugh Blair, Professor of Rhetoric, in the University of Edinburgh.

We turn now to other incidents connected with the Covenanting Times, which affected this neighbourhood,— incidents, moreover, which have a closer bearing on civil than ecclesiastical interests. All who are acquainted with the history of the period know something of the famous ‘Engagement' that was entered into with King Charles at Carisbrooke in 1647. It was an arrangement by which the King was to be restored to power, without any effectual guarantee that the constitutional rights belonging to Church and State would be respected. The chief leaders in this movement—which entailed on those who originated it, or entered into it, the obligation to support the King with an army, against his subjects in England who were opposed to him—were the Duk'e of Hamilton ; the Earl of Lanark, his brother; Lord Chancellor Loudon, and the Earl of Lauderdale. In considering how this movement affected our neighbourhood, it is necessary to remember that William, Earl of Morton, was a devoted Royalist. Indeed, he sold his estate of Dalkeith to replenish the King’s exchequer, and it is computed that in this way he gave no less a sum than thirty thousand pounds. Opposed to the Covenanters, as he was, in their principles, and the main application of them, he would no doubt think those who entered into the Engagement right in as far as they supported the King, but wrong in as far as they attempted to put any check on his absolute power. The famous Marquis of Argyll, the leading nobleman among the Covenanters, was the son-in-law of the Earl, being married to his daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas; while Charles, second Earl of Dunfermline, who had entered warmly into the earlier movements of the Covenanters, but had gradually veered round to the Royalist side, was married to Lady Mary Douglas, also a daughter of the Earl of Morton. Lord Callender, who had married the widow of the first Earl of Dunfermline, and had his residence thereafter chiefly at Dalgety, had also sided with the Covenanters throughout their earlier struggles; but, like his stepson, he had come to espouse the cause of the King rather than that of the country. In these circumstances, the ministers of Aberdour and Dalgety were placed in a somewhat critical position, for the maintenance of their espoused principles. And how did they act? Mr. Bruce was at first opposed to the Engagement, but gradually, like most of the nobles of the district, he managed to get round to the Royalist side. Mr. Donaldson was opposed to the Engagement, and the principles it represented, and he seems never to have swerved from this position from first to last.

We learn, from the Session Record of Dalgety, that the Earl of Lanark, with some of Monro’s followers, paid a visit to that parish for the purpose of prosecuting the Engagement; and there can be little doubt that Aberdour got some attention from them too. They do not seem to have been very successful in raising recruits in Dalgety; although, for three weeks, their influence was great enough to keep the Kirk-Session from meeting. But recruiting, in those days, was conducted pretty much in the ‘ purse or life ’ fashion. Many of the men of Dalgety adopted the plan of contributing money in lieu of personal service; and those who did enlist were subjected to discipline, by the Kirk-Session, when they returned from service. Thus, 'Alexander Thomson, ane souldier in the late engadgment, satisfied according to order, the last day.’ What kind of satisfaction Alexander gave we probably discover in a somewhat similar incident, when John Cuik, the gunner at Aber-dour, was ‘ordained by the Presbytery to stand at the kirk-door, in sackcloth, between the first and third bells, for four several Sabbaths. And all this for his being on the late unlawful engadgment, and his bloodie carriage to noblemen and ministers.’ Arrayed in this garb, John would not look particularly warlike or bloody; but probably he still looked daggers at the noblemen and ministers who came within eyeshot of him.

The times looked very threatening to the Covenanting cause in 1648 ; and there was a general renewal of the Solemn League and Covenant throughout the land. This was before the date of the earliest extant Records of the Kirk-Session of Aberdour; but we have an account of the way in which the work was gone about in the parish of Dalgety. It was on the 17th of December 1648, and the Minute in reference to it is as follows:— The Covenant this day renewed, and sworn by the whole congregation, according to the order presented thereanent, and subscribed by the minister and Kirk-Session, some heritors and others, in face of the congregation; the rest appointed to meet the next Friday, at the Lecture, for subscribing of it.’ It becomes evident, however, that Aberdour was more exposed to suffering from the tumults that now began to agitate the country than Dalgety was. The fact that Lord Morton was so keen a Royalist, and was the owner of a castle, which, although perhaps not, at that time, very formidable as a stronghold, yet held out accommodation for a considerable number of troops, to some extent accounts for this. And the village seems to have suffered severely from the quartering of troops on the inhabitants. Among the very first notices in the Session Record, in June 1649, is a reference to the appointment of David Stevenson, one of the elders, 'to go to Couper, and see if he could get Aberdour freed of the burden of the soldiers.’ Some time before this Lord Sinclair seems to have been in the Castle. He was a supporter of the Duke of Hamilton in the Engagement, and was Colonel of the Fife regiment of horse. A certain Lieutenant Graham was the cause of a great deal of mischief in the place about this time. He was on the point of taking his departure, in April 1650, and had the hardihood to apply to the Session for a testimonial, that is, a certificate of character, ere he left. But the Session, as they leave it on record, ‘took it to their consideration ; and, considering the great injuries that he had done within the parish, thought fit not to grant him one until he redresses these wrongs, and make mention how many men he has quartered here, and how long/ They, moreover, appointed Patrick Black to speak to him about this matter. I fear, however, that Lieutenant Graham gave the Session no satisfactory account of his proceedings, as, a few days afterwards, the minister was appointed to speak to Captain Agnew in Dunfermline, and try to get the wrong redressed; with the intimation that, if he did not give them satisfaction in this matter, they would complain to the Committee of Estates. There is also a notice of General Ruthven being in the Castle about this time.

An English army, under Oliver Cromwell, was now on its way to Scotland, and the battle of Dunbar soon proved a much sterner business for the country than the meeting with Charles’s forces at Dunse Law. Indeed, the Engagement speedily showed itself to be the cause, not only of King Charles’s death, but also of an incalculable amount of misery to Scotland. There can be little doubt that many of the sufferers at the battle of Dunbar belonged to the neighbourhood of Aberdour. To the wounded in that engagement, the Minute of October 22d, 1650, no doubt refers: ‘The Session appointed a contribution to be gathered for James Johnstone’s travail, and pains, and expenses, that he took upon the hurt sogers.’ And Mr. James Stewart of Mains, and William Patton, went over the parish, and collected eighty pounds for the prisoners in England.

The close of the year 1650 was a time of intense anxiety in the neighbourhood. Charles the Second had come to Scotland to be crowned, and Cromwell was speedily reducing the whole country under his power. On the 30th of December, just two days before Charles was crowned at Scone, we have the following notice of affairs at Aberdour: ‘The quhilk day the Session and some of the heritors, in obedience to the Act of Parliament, and Act of the Committee of Shire, after reading of the orders to them, and showing to every one their danger and not obedience, did exhort them, as they love the honour of God, religion, and their own liberty, that they would now bestir themselves, and come all to the appointed place of rendezvous; and, if they shall not, we take God to witness that we are free of what evil shall come upon the refusers, and shall go ourselves, immediately, to the place of rendezvous, at Dunfermline.’ This, undoubtedly, has reference to steps deemed necessary with a view to oppose Cromwell. Indeed, at this time, there is a vast amount of din and bustle about military affairs in the village. On one day it is recorded that the Session have ‘ no time for discipline,’ they are so busy taking a vow of the men who have been enrolled. Another day they ‘ handle no discipline,’ they are so busy going about the village pressing on the inhabitants the necessity of keeping up a nightly watch, lest there should be a surprise. In fact, at this period, the minister and elders might appropriately have donned regimentals, their hands are so full of military preparations. A considerable levy of men is made in Aberdour, the place being divided into quarters, and every quarter being obliged to send out so many men properly equipped. Each man was to be armed in a sufficient manner, and to get twenty marks from the quarter to which he belonged ; and many other regulations are laid down to prevent possible abuses. The soldiers in the Castle are noted as exceedingly insolent and troublesome, so much so that the people could hardly get past the Castle gate on their way to the church.

But affairs became still more alarming when Cromwell’s troops came into conflict with a part of the Scottish army on the occasion of the battle of Inverkeithing. This battle was fought on the 20th of July 1651, the object of the Scottish force being to intercept Cromwell, and prevent him from reaching and occupying Perth. I must content myself with a brief notice of this battle; and so am glad to be able to give you an account of it from the pen of no less distinguished a personage than Oliver Cromwell himself. This account is contained in a letter, of date July 21, 1651, addressed by the Protector to the Parliament through its Speaker. It is as follows:—

‘Sir,—After our waiting on the Lord, and not knowing what course to take (for, indeed, we know nothing but what God pleasethto teach us), of his great mercy we were directed to send a party to get us a landing by our boats, whilst we marched towards Glasgow. On Thursday morning last, Col. Overton, with about 1400 foot and some horse and dragoons, landed at the North Ferry in Fife. We, with the army lying near the enemy (a small river parted us and them), and we having consultations to attempt the enemy within his fortifications; but the Lord was not pleased to give way to that counsel, proposing a better way for us. The Major-General marched on Thursday night with two regiments of horse, and two regiments of foot, for better securing the place; and to attempt upon the enemy as occasion should serve. He, getting over, and finding a considerable body of the enemy there (who would probably have beaten our men from the place if he had not come), drew out and fought them ; he being about two regiments, and about 400 of horse and dragoons more, and three regiments of foot. The enemy, five regiments of foot, and about four or five of horse. They came to a close charge, and, in the end, totally routed the enemy, having taken about 40 or 50 colours, killed near 2000, some say more, having taken Sir John Brown (the Major-General also commanded in chief), and other colonels, and considerable officers killed and taken, and about five or six hundred prisoners.’

Such, in the words of the victor, was the battle of Inverkeithing ; but there is reason for thinking the account overdrawn. We have now to inquire in what way this event told on our immediate neighbourhood. There are no notices of meetings of Kirk-Session, nor meetings for public worship, in Aberdour, from the Sabbath before the battle of Inverkeithing till the 4th day of November— a space of four months. On this account we have hardly any information about the state of matters in the parish. It is evident, however, that Mr. Bruce, the minister, betook himself to flight at the approach of the English; for, in the first Minute that occurs after the fight, the elders are requested to report what enormities have been committed in the minister’s absence. From the reports given in, it appears that the two millers in the place—the tenants of the West and the Nether Mill—had taken advantage of the minister’s absence, and been grinding on Sabbath as well as other days. Katharine Balfour had taken a leaf out of the millers’ book, and had ‘ gathered pease ’ on Sabbath ; while John Anderson, the quarrier, had been heard to ‘ thank God that the enemy had come to this side.’ It is mentioned, quite incidentally, a few years after this, that ‘the Englishes’ had broken open the Aberdour poor’s-box, as well as that of Dalgety.

The prisoners taken at the battle of Inverkeithing seem to have been carried into England. There are several notices of collections made, both in Aberdour and Dalgety, for ‘the prisoners in England,’ or, as they are sometimes more specifically called, ‘the prisoners at Tynemouth Castle.’ It appears, from some incidental notices, that an English garrison was left in Aberdour. At any rate, an English soldier had presented himself before the Kirk-Session, desiring marriage with an Aberdour girl, to whom he had become attached. This raised a grave question. Was the Englishman to be allowed to marry the girl or was he not? The matter was considered so important, and the true solution so dubious, that the minister was instructed to get the advice of the Presbytery. The Presbytery’s decision was that ‘he marie not the Englishman, by reason of the unlawfulnesse of thair invasione.’ Now, with all respect for the wisdom of the Presbytery, it does appear unreasonable to punish a common soldier for Cromwell’s invasion, seeing that a member of the rank and file would never be consulted as to the lawfulness of that step.

At the battle of Worcester, which took place the same year—the Scottish army having, with considerable strategy, marched into England, as Cromwell’s force advanced northward,—several Aberdour men fought in the Royalist ranks. Among these were John Reverence, Robert Cusing, and William Alexander. A common, and yet a very sad story, which reveals the case of many a poor soldier mortally wounded in battle, is preserved in the Session Record regarding one of these men. In the engagement, Reverence was hit by a musket-ball, which pierced his right shoulder; he had also a wound on his left shoulder, and one on his back. Cusing was near him when he fell, and, lifting his comrade, carried him some distance, and laid him on a heap of hay. Thoughts of home came into the mind of the dying man, and, little realising, amidst his weakness and mental wandering, how impossible it was to grant his request, he asked Cusing to go and bring his wife to him, for ‘he thought she would never more see him alive.’ Alexander, too, kept near the wounded man for a time; but neither of them saw him die, as they were taken prisoners, and carried off to a neighbouring church. Cusing and Alexander returned to Aberdour; but poor Reverence was one of ‘ the unreturning brave.’

The story is a touching one, giving us, as it does, a glimpse of tender affection between husband and wife. But in this world of ours, and many a time within the little world of a village, there are strange manifestations of an opposite kind; and these do not seem to have been entirely unknown in Aberdour in the seventeenth century. When a levy of recruits was leaving our village in those old days, no doubt some of the bystanders, who had no near relative in the band, would cheer the soldiers as they left the village. Others would be mute at the thought of friends leaving for scenes from which they might never return. Mothers, wives, and sisters would be in tears. But it was not true of all the wives of Aberdour, at that time, that they wept tears of sorrow when their husbands left for the field of war. Here, for instance, is Margaret Gray, whose case has been preserved in the Session Record—as curious animals are sometimes preserved in spirits of wine,— and Margaret did not shed tears of sorrow when her husband, equipped for war, marched out at the west end of the village, on his way to Stirling. Her feelings, in prospect of a bereavement more or less prolonged, are of a less loving kind; for she expresses the wish that her husband may never return! But she has been indiscreet enough to give expression to this wish in the hearing of her neighbours,—not so loudly, we may well believe, as to be heard by her husband, but loud enough for it to find its way to the ears of the Kirk-Session. Margaret is accordingly summoned to appear before them, and asked to give an account of herself; and, if she did not love her husband, it is evident that she feared the Session, for she acknowledged her fault; ‘wherefore the Session thocht fitt that shee sould sit down on her knees, and crave God mercie, quhilk she did accordingly.’

Meagre as the notices of public events in the Session Record are, there are still one or two that should not be passed over. In 1678 the whole country was in a state of ferment, on account of the tyrannous proceedings of the Court and the prelates. In Aberdour, one would naturally think, there need not have been much stir. No minister had been banished from its church, and the leading heritors were now all in favour of the State proceedings of the time; or, if they were not, they had not the courage of their convictions. Yet that year, although the Communion had been fixed for an earlier season, it was not celebrated till the month of July, ‘ owing to the commotions of the land that intervened.’ A strange unsettled time it was, when unprincipled men were set on high, and men of whom the world was not worthy wandered about in places where they were not likely to be recognised, subsisting on the cold pittance that charity doled out to them. In the Minute of September 21st, 1679, it is recorded that twelve shillings were given to ‘ an old reverend man.’ Who was this ? Evidently he was a stranger and unknown, else his name would have been given, as was usually done. Is it any stretch of imagination to suppose that, in this nameless stranger, some poor, persecuted, banished minister is to be found, whose appearance pleaded for him, when his name must not be breathed, in case his enemies should be put on his track?

On the nth of May 1679 there was read from the pulpit of the church of Aberdour a proclamation regarding the murder of Archbishop Sharp. The proclamation is not, of course, engrossed in the Minutes, but a copy of it lies before me as I write. And it gives us a striking illustration of the value attached by the Government of the time to a Bishop’s blood, when the blood of martyrs was falling thick as rain on our Scottish soil. Narrating, after its own fashion, the circumstances attending Sharp’s murder—which, of course, we cannot justify,—the proclamation ordered all heritors and masters, within the shires of Fife and Kinross, to take their tenants, cotters, servants, and others dwelling on their lands, to the seat of the Presbytery within whose bounds they lived, on a given day, that some witnesses of the murder might examine their faces, with a view to discover the murderers. The day fixed for the Presbytery of Dunfermline was the 23d of May, and on that day, accordingly, the heritors and masters, in this and other parishes within the bounds, were to drive their tenants, cotters, and servants, like so many head of cattle, to Dunfermline, and be there by ten o’clock, that they might be inspected, with a view to discover whether any of them were actively concerned in the murder of Archbishop Sharp ! For the crime of a mere handful of desperate men, driven into that state by Sharp’s own tyranny, the working men of two whole counties were doomed by the Government to a whole day’s suspension of labour, and the suspicion of being concerned in a deed of blood. Comment on this tyrannous proceeding is unnecessary; for it can hardly escape your notice that it proceeded on the principle that all are to be held under the suspicion of being guilty until their innocence is proved.

It is an interesting fact, which throws a good deal of light on the influence exerted by the ministers of Aberdour and Dalgety respectively, that, while in the latter parish, during the Persecuting Times, twenty-three persons subjected themselves to fines, amounting to ^8400, rather than do violence to their consciences, in the much larger parish of Aberdour there are only ten names in the list of sufferers, and the amount of fines imposed upon them is 3300. But it is to be borne in mind that Mr. Bruce, the minister of Aberdour, was a man of facile principle in regard to the public movements of the time. And when a minister can regard, with such comparative equanimity, questions which agitate, and even rend asunder, the Church, that he can take his side now with the one party, and now with the other—like Buckingham, ‘ everything by turns, and nothing long’—it does not give a very exalted idea of the domain of conscience; and the tactics thus displayed are likely to be followed by his parishioners, and even carried into the sphere of general morality. In this light all the more credit is due to those who, in direct opposition to their natural leader, marshalled themselves, in dark and stormy days, under the banner of the Covenant, and parted with their pelf rather than their principles. After search of an unsuccessful kind in the Sheriff-Court room at Cupar, and another, under happier auspices, among the Wodrow mss. in the Advocates’ Library in Edinburgh, it gives me great pleasure to tell you the names of those who suffered for conscience sake in our parish. The date of the first Decreet is 1682, and the following are the names in it:—Charles Wallace, in Wester Bucklyvie, for house conventicles and withdrawing from the church, 3003 Thomas Brown, in Aberdour, for ditto, 300; Marion Anderson, in Couston, for ditto, 300; John Sanders, in Easter Bucklyvie, for ditto, 300; James Adamson there, 300 Thomas Anderson, tenant in Cullelo, and his spouse, 600. In another Decreet the following names occur:—Janet Stevenson, in Doun-Inch-quey, 300; David Hoom, in Humbie, 300; David Meldrum, younger, in Pitcairn, 300; and David Meldrum, elder there, 300. The locality in the parish to which reference is made in the last two entries, is, probably owing to the mistake of the scribe, beyond my ability to identify it.

Such are a few facts connected with our parish and its immediate neighbourhood, having reference to the Persecuting Times.- These facts speak for themselves; and, compared with other parts of the country, especially in the west and south, this neighbourhood escaped almost untouched. In some districts of our native land almost every churchyard has its martyrs’ stone; and traditions of Claverhouse and Dalzell, and Grierson and Skene, keep in undying remembrance the atrocities of those dark times. The rude epitaphs, which the hand of affection has engraven on these lowly tombstones, and from time to time deepens to prevent them from becoming obliterated, tell of the noble deeds and heroic sufferings of men, and women too, whose names are worthy of being held in everlasting remembrance. We sometimes hear lamentations uttered, because the Covenanters latterly took the law into their own hands, and offered resistance to the tyrants who were oppressing them. But, with a pretty full knowledge of the facts of the case, I declare my astonishment is that free-born men tolerated, so long as they did, the wretched government from which these oppressions sprang.

It is computed that, during the period of twenty-eight years, between the Restoration of Charles the Second and the Revolution, no fewer than eighteen thousand persons suffered death, or the severest rigours of persecution in other forms. But as an English writer has so touchingly said: ‘It would be endless to enumerate the names of the sufferers; and it has not been possible to come at the certain number of those ministers, or others, who died in prison or banishment, there being no record preserved of their prosecution in any court of justice. Nor could any roll of their names be preserved, in those times of confusion, anywhere but under the altar and about the throne of the Lamb, where their heads are crowned, and their white robes seen, and where an exact account of their number will at length be found.’


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