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Culross and Tulliallan
Chapter XVIII. The Kirk-Session Records from 1705 to 1715


THE Black Colonel, a portion of whose history has been detailed in the preceding chapter, becomes an elder of Culross church:—

“27 March 1706.

“This day Lieutenant-Colonel John Erskine, who had been for some years an elder in other places, having now for most part his residence here, was received as a member of this session, and the minister and eldership present gave him the right hand of fellowship.”

It is evident that the Culross kirk-session considered this last addition to their body as a most honourable and important acquisition. In some respects, however, before they had done with him, they found that they had caught in the Black Colonel a veritable Tartar. Though an upright man and a zealous Presbyterian, he was both of a most choleric and litigious disposition—tendencies of which we shall have ample illustration as we proceed with these records.

After receiving the Black Colonel, the session proceeds to investigate an alleged breach of the Act for restraining jovialities at weddings:—

“The session being informed of a breach of the Presby-terie’s Act anent marriages, by John M'Coran at his wedding, do order the said John to be cited to the next session.”

John appears, and is thus trounced:—

“23 April 1705.

“John M'Coran being cited, and this day called, and compearing before the session, was at some length spoke to for his conviction of having transgressed good order, and the laudable and needfull Acts of the Church for preventing abuses at marriages by restraining multitudes from being present at them; he got a sharp sessional rebuke for his presumption in counteracting the said laudable Acts, and was referred to the civil magistrate for his civil punishment according to the laws of the land.”

The bride and bridegroom, on another occasion, receive a severe reprimand for the frolics indulged in at their wedding:—

“12 June 1705.

“The session being informed of David Toschach and Issobell Dalgleish, that at their marriage they did sundry wayes transgress the Presbyterie's Act, and particularly by having a multitude of persons at it, with much playing on a viol and dancing, does thereupon order their being cited to the next session.”

“2 July 1705.

“David Toschach being called, and compearing, acknowledged his fault in having so many at his marriage, and in that there was so much lasciviousness at it in playing and dancing; whereupon he was dismissed with a rebuke, and referred to the magistrate for civil censure.”

Another bride receives a rebuke for being married by a deposed Episcopal minister:—

“4 March 1708.

“Jannet Lamb compearing, and giving in a testificate of her being married by an outed Episcopal incumbent, was sharply rebuked for her scandalous private marriage, and appointed to appear the next Sabbath before the congregation, in order to the receiving of a more publick rebuke.”

On 23d September 1708 the first charge of Culross, which had been vacant since the death of Mr Fraser in 1699, was filled up by the induction of Mr James Cuthbert. He is described as a youth of great piety and ability, an orator, and a poet. He had a great friendship with the celebrated Ralph Erskine, who about this time came to Culross to be chaplain in the house of his relation, the Black Colonel. Mr Cuthbert ordained Mr Erskine on the occasion of the latter being appointed to the second charge of the Abbey Church of Dunfermline.

At an election of elders in June 1709, besides the appointment of Mr Ralph Erskine, already mentioned, there were also six deacons chosen. This is the first election of deacons in connection with the church that I have seen in the kirk-session records of Culross. For some years after this date there is generally a notice of one or more deacons in attendance at the session meetings. The institution of deacons, as ministers to the church in secular matters, was received into the Presbyterian system as founded on apostolic usage. It seems, however, to have fallen into desuetude in practice, and we hear

little of it in connection with the history of the Church of Scotland. It was revived by the Free Church on the secession from the Establishment in 1843, and forms an important factor in its system.

“20 Septr. 1709.

“The session appoints Mr Balph Erskine to attend the Synod next week as elder from this.”

“29 Novr. 1709.

“Compeared Margaret Anderson: alleges she was unwell, and that the pain of her head hindered her coming to church. Being asked what she was doing amongst the kaill, answered she was pulling up a neep. It was thought she deserved a rebuke, which accordingly was given, and means used for conviction and amendment.”

“Given to four strangers last week—whereof one was a gentleman dumb and deaf, called Gordon, a minister’s son, who gave wonderful discoveries by signs of his knowledge in the mysteries of religion—5s. 6 pence sterling.”

“12 September 1710.

“Bailie Gray and George Aitkin, having been collectors last Sabbath, the said B, Gray reports that George Aitkin and the town officer having gone through the town on Sabbath in the forenoon, to see if there were any disorders or unnecessary absence from the church, they told him they found John Blaw walking on the shore, and Bot. Anderson, son to Anne Brown, in the garden gathering kaill; whereupon the session orders them both to be cited to the next session.”

It would be interesting to trace the progress of the above case, but nothing further is recorded.

Fasts appear to have been of frequent occurrence at this period—almost as much so as the festivals in the old Popish days. The times, in the estimation of the kirk-session of Culross, had certainly become very wicked, as we find two congregational fasts ordered within two months of each other. A curious reason is assigned for one of these in the “boundless toleration” now accorded by law in religious matters, and the refusal of the civil to concur with the ecclesiastical powers in the enforcement of discipline.

The following entry refers to the book of subscriptions by the Culross parishioners to the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643 and 1648, already mentioned:—

“18 Septr. 1711.

“This day Bailie Adam gave in to the session a book wherein is contained the names of those in this paroch who subscribed the Solemn League and Covenant in the years Jayvic. and fourtie-three and Jayvic. and fourtie-eight, together with the said Covenant and some Acts relative thereto in print, which book is marked in gilded letters on the broads or covert therof. For the kirk of Culross the session do unanimously give thanks to the said Bailie John Adam for his care therof, and delivering up the same; and for the time committ it to the care of Mr Cuthbert, to be carefully kept by him at his house with the session-book.”

Among the protestations by the kirk-session there is not one against the famous Act of Queen Anne, passed in 1712, and which, by restoring to patrons the right of presentation to benefices, occasioned ultimately so much dispeace and discredit to the Church. In point of fact it does not appear for a long period to have been much acted on, and the elections to vacant charges seem for some time to have been generally conducted in compliance with the wishes of the congregation; at least, if any high-handed proceedings took place, it was more on the part of the presbyteries than the patrons. It is not till near the middle of the century, when the counsels of Dr Robertson and Dr Carlyle began to gain the ascendancy, that we hear of forced presentations to parishes, and the growing power of the party in the Church, which would fain have excluded the laity from any control in ecclesiastical matters.

Towards the end of this year (23d December 1712) an entry occurs relative to a dispute between Mori-teith of Burro wine and Thomas Brown of Barhill, regarding the right to a particular seat in Culross church. A certain “Archibald Angus in Inzevar” is mentioned as one who, both on his own account and as acting for Brown of Barhill in the absencc of the latter, claimed an interest in the matter. He was doubtless the same occupant of Inzievar who married a sister-in-law of the celebrated Thomas Boston of Ettrick, so well known in Scottish households as the author of * The Crook in the Lot ’ and ‘ Fourfold State,’ and whose wife—Katherine Brown —was the daughter of the laird of Barhill, above Culross. This Thomas Brown—called by Boston in hiB Autobiography “Thomas Brown of Barhill, in Ferrytown” [I do not know this locality. Perhaps Kincardine is meant]—had married the eldest sister of Katherine Brown. Their father — Robert Brown of Barhill, near Culross—had now long been dead.

From various circumstances, Boston was brought into close contact for several years with Culross, and he seems to have first come into the district in 1696, when he assumed the charge of Andrew Fletcher of Aberlady, a boy of nine, whose mother had married in her widowhood Lieutenant-Colonel Bruce of Ken-net, in Clackmannanshire. He had first the oversight of the boy while at the High School of Edinburgh, and afterwards accompanied him and his family to Kennet, where the lad attended the grammar-school at Clackmannan. Boston expected at one time to have been received into the family of Colonel Erskine, [This was either the Black Colonel or his nephew—most probably the former. It would seem that Colonel John Erskine, notwithstanding his attachment to the principles of the Revolution, could never be induced to take the oath of allegiance, and thus incapacitated himself from holding any office under Government. William III., however, was so satisfied of his loyalty, that whilst he appointed the nephew nominally to the command of Stirling Castle, he directed that the emoluments of the situation should be received by the uncle.] then governor of Stirling Castle; but this never took place. He speaks of attending a Sacrament at Culross on 6th June 1697. Shortly after this he was licensed as a preacher by the united Presbyteries of Dunse and Chimside; and having apparently a great inclination to return within the bounds of the Presbytery of Stirling, notwithstanding of several offers of presentation to more than one parish in Berwickshire, he proceeded thither in 1698. Here, he informs us, he resided with the above-mentioned Thomas Brown of Barhill, in Ferrytown, with whom he had contracted a particular friendship when previously living as tutor at Kennet. In August 1698 he accepted an invitation from Mr Fraser of Brea to assist at the Communion in Culross; and when there, he made the acquaintance of Fraser’s colleague, Mr George Mair, from whose friendship, he informs us, he afterwards derived great comfort. But a closer intimacy was to be inaugurated on the same occasion, inasmuch as during the succeeding week he proposed to and was accepted by Katherine Brown, then residing with her widowed mother at Barhill, near Culross. The worthy divine naively relates that when he was living with Thomas Brown at Ferrytown, Miss Biown had come from Culross to visit her brother-in-law ; and finding Mr Boston sadly distressed with fainting-fits, she had, on the strength of information acquired from her father, recommended to the sufferer the application of wormwood poultices to the stomach —a prescription from which he derived great relief. He was soon afterwards troubled with a complaint in the chest; and for this also, like another Helena, Miss Brown was enabled to provide a remedy from the paternal recipes in the shape of Lucatellis balsam. “ What engaged me to her,” continues Boston, “was her piety, parts, beauty, cheerful disposition fitted to temper mine, and that I reckoned her very fit to see to my health.”

Whilst Boston resided at Ferrytown, he seems to have acquired considerable reputation as a preacher, and movements were set on foot for having him settled at no fewer than four different places — at Clackmannan, at Saline, at Camock, and at Dollar. With regard to Camock, a strong influence had been put forth on his behalf by Lady Veronica, Dowager-

Countess of Kincardine, whose husband had been the principal heritor in that parish. Boston, however, informs us that he had received a bad impression of the parishioners, “as a self-conceited people, among whom I would have no success;” and so that locality, which is celebrated in the history of the Scottish Church as the scene of the ministrations of Row, Hogg, and Gillespie, missed the chance of adding another notable to its roll of great names in the author of ‘ The Crook in the Lot.’ Boston’s own inclinations or the force of circumstances proved equally cogent in preventing his settlement as minister of any of the other three parishes. Possibly, indeed, his own independence of spirit had something to do with this. In the case of Clackmannan, he informs us that his not bowing to the heritors from the pulpit, and declining to join their society on Sunday evenings, had, it was supposed, given offence, and rendered him unacceptable. He accordingly returned in 1699 to his native Berwickshire, where the same year he was ordained minister of Simprin, now united with the parish of Swinton, from which he was transferred in 1707 to Ettrick, where he died in 1732.

Boston is careful to relate that on his way to Edinburgh and the south in 1699 he called at Barhill, the family mansion of the Browns. The house stood on the crest of the hill above Culross, and nearly equidistant from the Gallows Loan and the road leading to Blairhall and ShiresmilL These two roads are connected by an ancient way, which, running east and west, led up to the house of Barhill, which has now entirely disappeared, though its site is still marked by a field belonging to Mr Dalgleish of West Grange, called the Barhill Park. I have already described the incomparable view from the top of the Gallows Loan; and one nearly similar must have been commanded from this house, if it had any window looking to the west. It had certainly an “upper west chamber,” to which Boston tells us that he retired to meditate on the evening after his marriage; and there was also an orchard attached, where, in the days of his courtship, he was wont to converse with Miss Brown.

A month after Boston’s induction to Simprin he again crossed the Forth, and paid a visit to Barhill and his future bride. Whilst staying there, he was contemplating one Saturday to start for Clackmannan, with the view of preaching there next day; but just as he was setting forth, an earnest application was sent up to him by Mr Mair, begging him to do duty for him at Culross, in respect that he himself was obliged to go to Edinburgh. Going down accordingly to the manse, though rather against his inclination, he found that his reverend friend had put off his journey, but nevertheless was nowise disposed to set Mr Boston free for his proposed excursion to Clackmannan. He represented to the minister of Simprin the violence of the weather as a special indication of Providence for his remaining at Culross, and urged, moreover, that both he himself and many others were exceedingly desirous to have Boston as his colleague, the first charge being then vacant. The latter yielded to these arguments, and describes with peculiar unction how he spent the evening and following Sunday (5th November 1699), when he preached for Mr Mair in the afternoon. On the following Monday he was preparing to return to Barhill, when his fervent host besought him to remain and take part in a “ family fast,” which, with devotional exercises, continued till two in the afternoon, when dinner was served. This was the first food partaken of by the two clergymen, at least that day; and the effect of such austerities may be conceived in the case of a man like poor Boston, who, though intellectually possessed of considerable powers, was bodily of a weak and sickly frame. He chronicles, however, all this asceticism with the greatest complacency.

After a sojourn in this part of the country for a fortnight, Boston returned to Simprin, from which, in the following year, he proceeded again to Culross. Apparently he paid more visits than one in the earlier part of the year; and on 17th July 1700, between eight and nine o’clock in the evening, he was united, by the aid of Mr Mair, to Katharine Brown in the house of Barhill. He was then twenty-five years of age, and his bride twenty-seven. He details his feelings and perplexities during his courtship and at the time of his marriage, in a fashion which he doubtless intended as seriouB and edifying, but which irresistibly recalls Pope’s lines:—

“To laugh were want of godliness and grace,
Yet to be grave exceeds all power of face.”

Boston was a good and well-meaning as well as an able man, but it was not judicious in him to commit to paper such a long and detailed account of his religious experiences during the period of his courtship. The wedding appears to have been a very solemn affair indeed, said most assuredly could have afforded no ground of complaint to the Culross kirk-session on the score of gaiety and merriment.

Boston had no reason afterwards to repent his choice of a wife; and though his married was like his bachelor life, checkered by great bodily suffering as well as family trial, it seems to have been also characterised by much domestic happiness. In the year following their union Mrs Boston gave birth to a daughter whose face was disfigured by a double harelip. A strange incident is related in connection with this child, who did not long survive, and died while her parents were absent at Barhill, whither they had gone to procure a settlement of sundry family matters. It is thus told by Boston himself:—

“In pursuance of which project I went to Barhill about the harvest, and the child having appeared to grow better, at the quarter’s end took my wife along with me. But that journey proved a very heavy one for our trial. By the way thither my wife swooned at Danskin. . . . She recovering, we accomplished our journey. And being in Inzievair,1 in her sister’s house on a morning, she, lying abed after I was risen, dreamed that she saw the child perfect, the natural defect being made up, and extraordinary beautiful. This making impression, as it could hardly miss to do, we returned homeward as soon as conveniently we could.

Arriving at Blacksmill, about eight or nine miles from home, in a little our hearts were pierced with an account that our dear child was dead and buried; after which we came home in great heaviness, and found that very day and hour of the day, as near as could be judged, wherein my wife had the dream aforesaid, the child had died. Thus it pleased the Lord to exercise us with one affliction on the neck of another.”

The scene of the above occurrence was probably the old farmhouse of Nether Inzievar, then occupied by Mr Angus, Boston's brother-in-law, as tenant, and which I remember upwards of forty years ago being used as a bothy.

After this digression on the subject of Thomas Boston and his connection with Culross, I return to the annals of the parish. The celebration of a Communion occasion in 1713 is thus noticed:—

“On Thursday, Nov. 19, the Fast was kept. Mr Buchanan and Mr Erskine, ministers of Dunfermline, and Mr Logan at Torryburn, preached.

“On Sat., Nov. 21, Mr Hamilton at Airth, and Mr Plen-derleath at Saline, preached.

“On Sabbath, Nov. 22, Mr Cuthbert preached the action sermon on Kom. iii. 25, and Mr Mair the thanksgiving afternoon sermon, and the whole work comfortably ended ’twixt 4 and 5 afternoon.

“On Monday, Nov. 23, Mr Logan at Alloa, and Mr Kid at Queensferry, preached; and on Tuesday, Mr Hamilton at Airth.”

The above shows the formidable amount of sermonising prevalent in those days. It is evident that on the Fast-day there had been two sermons in the forenoon and one in the afternoon, "two on the afternoon of Saturday, and two on the forenoon of Monday. As for the services on Sunday, they had probably commenced at eight o’clock in the morning, and ended, as we are told, “ comfortably ” between four and five in the afternoon. Both clergy and laity must have been pretty well worn-out.

Great battling goes on at this time about the church - seats. It is a pity that Culross had no Boileau2 to immortalise the contests. Fixed pews were probably only beginning to be introduced, and being generally erected at the expense of the sitters, there was much wrangling over them, and the place in the church which they should occupy.

In July 1714, Mr Mair was translated from the second charge of Culross to Tulliallan, much to the displeasure of the magistrates and people, by whom he appears to have been highly esteemed. On 4th October of same year the session enacts—

“That persons be forbidden to stay out long in the churchyard, where they are idly employed, and whence they come not till the minister enter the church. And that persons be prohibited to sell ale, except to the sick, in time of sermon.”

It is also

“Ordered that the last bell for week-day’s sermon be rung at nine o’clock precisely; also, they judge it convenient for the people in the town that the tolbooth bell ring not only at the second bell but also at the last bell, and that intimation hereof be made from the pulpit.”

It would seem that certain Acts of session were appointed to be read before the congregation after morning service on the ensuing Sunday. This may account for the fervour of the language so generally conspicuous in them at this period. Mr Cuthbert, who is at present sole minister in Culross (Mr Mair having been translated, as already mentioned, to Tulliallan), is quite as unctuous as his colleague.

Notwithstanding the Act of Queen Anne restoring the privileges of patrons, there is no trace in the kirk-session records of Culross of any such privileges being claimed in the years which immediately followed 1712. In May 1715, Mr Charles Moore is admitted second minister, as successor to Mr George Mair; and though from the delay that had taken place in his election a jus devolutum had accrued to the Presbytery, the nomination and selection of the minister is left with the parishioners.

Mr Moore, who was a native of Armagh in Ireland, had but a brief stay in Culross, and was translated to the second charge of Stirling in 1718. Considerable interest attaches to him from the circumstance of his being the father of Dr John Moore, the celebrated author of ‘Zeluco,’ and the grandfather of Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna.


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