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The History of Fettercairn
Chapter XXVI.—Ministers before and after the Reformation


THE first minister of the parish, so far as can be traced, i- was "Maister David Setone, persone de Fethyrcaine," whose name thus appears in minutes of the Council Register of the Burgh of Aberdeen, in 1491, as a member of committee anent land causes, and again, in 1498, as clerk pro tempore to the commissioners of burghs engaged in a matter affecting their foreign trade. He was also designated "Rector of Fethyrcarne," and held office at least till 1514. Along with him, or for a time in his absence, Alexander Rait was "Vicar de Fethircarne" in 1508 and 1509. The next in charge was "Master James Strachauchin," a cadet of the House of Thornton, who appears as "persone" from 1523, or from the demission of David Setone, till 1556 or a later date. An original letter, in the Register of Panmure, shows that he was minister in 1523, and a deed recorded therein that he was so in 1556, when appointed a tutor, as the nearest of kin on the "moder syde" to "Johne Thornetoune of y' ilk." Another tutor was "Johne Strauchauchin of Claypottis," probably a brother, according to the said letter copied as follows by the late Andrew Jervise:—"Honobl Ssr and Cune (cousin)—pies zou well, I ame adveset y* ze ar to be fra zor place ye maist pt of yis somer quharfor praie zou y* ye will caus deliver to my bruder ye berar my blak govne ye vestiment w* ye ptnitis (patens) and ye siluer chalice for I feir y* ye thrie pt of ye fruits of ye beficis sal be taken yis zeir as it wes ye last zeir under God's kepe y8. At Claipotts, ye xxj day of May, '23, zour cuyne (cousin).

"M. Ja. Strachauchin,
"psone of fethercarne."

"To ane honbl man this cam
Thomas Strachauchin of Carmily."

Regarding the Church of Newdosk, it is recorded that early in the thirteenth century "Bricius was persona de Neudonasse"; and that in the beginning of the sixteenth " David Ogilvy was rector de Newdosk." In the end of that century Newdosk was under the care of John Collace, who, as minister of Fettercairn, will be hereafter noticed. It is interesting to note that very generally the parish clergy, down to the eighteenth century, were cadets of the landed and opulent families of the country, such as the Lindsays of Edzell, the Ramsays of Balmain, the Strachans of Thornton, and the Wisharts of Pitarrow.

In connection with church matters, it may be proper at this stage to introduce a traditional story of witch-burning At Fettercairn; which, happily, is the only one of the kind in the annals of the parish. No date can be given as the record, said to belong to Aberluthnot (Marykirk), does not exist. It was to the effect that on the church door were .affixed the words : " Nae sermon here this day — the minister bein' awa' at Fettercairn burnin' a witch."

A Montrose poet has given the following version :—

"At Marykirk, in days of yore,
Ae Sabbath morn the auld kirk door
A curious inscription bore,
Addressed to puir and rich;
In whilk the minister made mane,
That there that day he could preach nane,
As he to Fettercairn had gane
To burn a wicked witch.

"A hag who had for mony a year
The kintra side kept in a steer,
Till her ill deeds, dune far and near,
Car't countless fingers itch,
To get her tethered to a post,
'Mang lowin' whins an' peats to roast,
Till she sud yield her sinfu' ghost,
As it becam, a witch."

After the Reformation, or about 1567, Patrick Bouncle was appointed minister of Fordoun, with charge of Fettercairn and Newdosk, as well as in 1574 of Conveth (Laurencekirk). His salary was ,13 6s. 8d. sterling. In a minute of the General Assembly of 1571, he is referred to as one of the "Auld Chaptoure" of St. Andrews, and one of the "Ministeris professouris of the treu religioun." He attended the Assembly of 1582, and reported that "a Presbyterie of Ministers, but not as yet of any gentlemen or elders, had been erected in the M earns." In 1599 Adam Walker, became his colleague and successor at Fordoun, who, in 1601, was engaged "in designing ane manse, and was sett upon by Sir David Wood of Craig, Knycht, and with twelve utheris, he strak him with the gaird of his sword upon the heid, dang him to the eird, and with their drawin swords they woundit him in baith his hands to the effusion of his blude in great quantitie." Patrick Bouncle died in 1607.

The Rev. Dr. Hew Scott, in his voluminous work, states that at this time Fettercairn was a mensal church of the Archbishop of St. Andrews, and that the parish was supplied by John Thom, reader in 1574, and Newdosk by David Straton, reader from 1574 to 1580. The latter appears as minister of Logie Coldstone in 1585. It may consequently be inferred that Patrick Bouncle, upon taking the charge of Conveth in 1574, either appointed these readers as his assistants or wholly demitted his charge of Fettercairn and Newdosk.

James Lindsay, "a mild, learned, and accomplished divine," the fourth son of David, ninth Earl of Crawford, was appointed to Fettercairn in 1576. He visited France to seek relief from the stone, with which he was painfully afflicted. In a letter to his brother John of Balcarres in Fife, dated Paris, 1579, he writes: "I have taken my voyage from this town to Geneva, being pressit thereto baith be sundry writings from the ministry in Scotland. Also be ane infirmity of Scotsmen here, wha ye knaw are mony ways fashious. By (besides) this, some sight of the country with far greater commodity in my expenses and the winter season being at hand, did haste me. I knaw ye will do in my matters, as ane loving brother, wherever I be." He died at Geneva, 15th June, 1580; and a Latin elegy to his memory was written by the celebrated Andrew Melville, and published in Delkiae Poetarum Scotorum.

The next was John Collace, son of "an honorabil man," John Collace of Balnamoon. Newdosk, as already stated, was also under his care, till his death in 1587, and he was evidently the last minister of that parish, before its partition between Fettercairn and Edzell. "He was awand to the Reader of Fettercairn for his stipend, for singing at Kirk thereof, in anno 1587-8." He was succeeded, in 1588, by Alexander Forbes, A.M. (born in 1564), son of John Forbes of Ardmurdo (Keithhall), a descendant of Forbes of Brux (Strathdon). He graduated at St. Andrews in 1585; was appointed to the Bishopric of Caithness in 1604, but held the charge of Fettercairn in conjunction with it, and continued to hold it afterwards along with the Bishopric of Aberdeen, to which he was promoted in 1616. He married Christina, daughter of------Straton of Criggie (St. Cyrus), and had seven sons and three daughters. Margaret, one of these, was married to Andrew Straton of Warburton, ancestor of the Stratons of Fodra, Drumhendry and Balmakelly, as stated in a former chapter. Bishop Forbes was a member of Assembly almost every year from 1593 to 1610; for some years constant Moderator of Presbytery; in 1609, a member of the Conference at Falkland; in 1610 and 1615, of the Court of High Commission. He seems to have favoured the remission of George Marquis of Huntly from the sentence of excommunication, which not improbably paved the way to his promotion. He was nicknamed "Collie," for his being a pluralist. He died at Warburton on 24th November, 1617, aged fifty-three. At the Court of James VI. he was high in favour, as shown by a letter, of which the following is a copy:—

"James VI.; To the Presbyterie of Mernis, 4 Aprile 1603. Trustie freindis, we greet you heartlie weill, ye sail wit, we have thocht guid and expedient that Mr Alexander Forbes, ane of your number, sail accompanyie us towards London, God willing, to attend upon our service thair, with certaine uther of the brethren appointed to the same effect, and likewise to recive from us bak agane, directions to the Commissioners of the Generall Assemblie for preserving of peace and unitie in the Kirk, quhairof we ar maist desyrous as ye have found heirtofoir be experience— Quhairfoir we will you and commandes that ye provyde his Kirk of Fetterkarine with ane of the brethren of your presbetrie quha may best and maist convenientlie serve to his returning, in all poyntis of the ministrie, and this faill not to do, as ye will do us acceptabill service. At Halyrud houss, the fourt of Apryl, 1603."

"To our trustie friendis, the ministeris of the presbitirie of the Mernis."

William Wischart, A.M., son of Sir John Wischart of Pitarrow, was laureated at King's College, Aberdeen, in 1606, and admitted to Fettercairn, as coadjutor to Bishop Forbes, in 1611. He was translated to the parish of Minto in 1613; presented again by James VI. to Fettercairn in 1618; and translated to South Leith in 1630. His successor was David Strachan, A.M., descended from the family of Inchtuthill, a branch of the house of Thornton. He graduated at the Edinburgh University in 1622, and acted as a Commissioner of Assembly in 1645, 1647, and 1648. He petitioned Parliament in February, 1646, craving payment for his losses by Montrose's raid and for his maintenance. In 1661 he was named by Parliament one of the Commissioners for visiting the University of Aberdeen; and was promoted to the Bishopric of Brechin in 1662. His wife was a sister of Barclay of Ury.

William Chalmers, A.M. of King's College, Aberdeen, was translated in 1665 from Aberluthnot (Marykirk), and died at London in, 1669, aged about 49. In 1678 the ministers of the Presbytery contributed 6s. 8d. stg. each for the benefit of his widow in a poor and sickly condition.

Hercules Skinner, A.M., son of Laurence Skinner, minister of Navar, graduated at St. Andrews in 1651; was appointed schoolmaster of Brechin in 1653; ordained minister of Navar in 1658, and translated to Fettercairn and inducted in 1669 by the " Presbytery of Aberbrothock " (that of the bounds till 1700). He married Agnes, daughter of Mr Patrick Lyon, minister of Barry, and had a son Hercules and a daughter Isabel. He died in January, 1698, in the 67th year of his age and 40th of his ministry. "He was awand to Mr David Clerk .the helper for one year's salary ijc li. (200 pounds or .16 13s. 4d.); to a physician xxix li. (2 8s. 4d.); and for drogs, ijc li.; the funeral cost ijc li.; Frie geir (from his effects), d.d. jc xlvj li. vj"viijd(12 3s. 10d.)"

In Mr Skinner's time the yearly communion, for want of room in the church or some other reason, required two Sundays for its celebration. A minute authorising the visitation of the several "Churches lyand within the bounds of the Presbytery of the Mearns" was adopted and signed by James Sharpe, Archbishop of St. Andrews, on 27th April, 1677. On the 23rd August, 1682, the brethren of the Presbytery met in the Church of "Fettercardine," and after a sermon preached by Mr Eobert Eait of Aberluthnot from Malachi iiic. 13v., Mr Hercules Skinner, minister of the parish, "was called and asked if he had fulfilled his duties faithfully."— 41 Answered he had." A list of the names of the Heritors, Clergy, Elders and Deacons being given in to the Presbytery. There being present of Heritors, Sir Charles Ramsay of Balmain, Andrew Middletone of Pitgarvie, who appeared as having the oversight of my Lord Middleton's lands, himself also being an Heritor in the Parish; who also being Elders. The Elders being called and asked if the Minister had done his duty faithfully; Heritors called, and had the same question put. Both replied that he had been faithful in the discharge of all his ministerial duties. Minister again called and had ten questions put to him. Asked in absence of Heritors, Elders and Deacons, whether they had zealously assisted him. He answered, 'they had.' Being asked whether they had a Schoolmaster, it was answered that they had one, who had tolerable maintenance, and they were satisfied with his carriage."

These minutes were all signed by "Mr Alexr. Grant, Clerk." This antiquated practice is partly described in a recent magazine article in the following terms:—

"In the olden time, two Sunday sermons, and one during the week, on the 'mercat' day, were required of the minister. He was under the supervision of the Kirk Session, for some time after the Reformation, but claimed the privilege of fixing the hours of worship, and selecting of texts. Presbyteries visited parishes, and catechised the elders one by one (the minister being retired) concerning his behaviour, &c. Whether a haunter of ale-houses; a swearer of minced oaths; whether he studied on Saturdays only; whether disposed to court popularity instead of censuring his flock; and whether his preaching was hard to be understood. Ministers were often in a dilemma. If they occupied ten or eleven Sabbaths with continuous exposition of one text, they were in danger of rebuke. If, on the other hand, they disposed of their subject too quickly, that gave rise to complaint, such as made against the minister of Craigie, ' that he doth often change his text, and doth not raise many heads, and doth not prosecute such as he names, but "scruffs them."'"

Not so direct and outspoken was the pawky verdict of a Fettercairn parishioner. During the vacancy in 1858, the ministers of Fordoun Presbytery in their turn supplied the pulpit. A worthy old clergyman officiated one day, but from his hesitancy and confused delivery few could make out his meaning. As the congregation were retiring by the door, one elderly ploughman was heard asking another, "Weel, fou did ye like him?" "Dod," replied the other, " he wan throu."

By the disestablishment, in 1689, of Episcopacy in Scotland, Mr Skinner was the last minister of that persuasion in the parish. After his death it was vacant for two years, no doubt owing to the troubles which had arisen in connection with the claims of David Clark the " helper " to be appointed his successor. In consequence of this delay the rights of the Crown lapsed, and the Presbytery jure devoluto appointed David Eamsay, A.M. of St. Andrews, probably related to the leading heritor, Sir David Ramsay of Ealmain, and his ordination took place in March, 1700. He married a Margaret Raitt, had two daughters, and died in May, 1722, in the 53rd year of his age and 23rd of his ministry. Owing to a blank in the Parish Records, it is only from those of the Presbytery that anything is known of church matters during his ministry. It extended over the troublous years of the Rebellion. He was well affected to the existing Government, and, like many other parish ministers, his loyalty exposed him to persecution. Shortly after his appointment the Presbytery were called upon ta settle a dispute among the heritors about their respective sittings in the church. "The kirk contained 40 couples of room," and each heritor claimed a number proportionate to his rental, reckoned in chalders of victual. The whole rental of the parish was valued at "eight score chalders." In January, 1701, Mr Ramsay submitted to the Presbytery a list of persons conferred with and examined by him as to their fitness for eldership in the parish. They were subsequently ordained, and their names are—"Robert Gentleman in Eaw of Ealmain; John Kinloch in Drumhendry; John Pirie in Strath of Balmain ; John Brown in Dalladies; Robert Aikenhead in Strath of Arnhall; Robert Falconer in Esslie; Alexander Valentine in Boggendollow; John Stewart in Loch (West Woodton); George Milne in the Inch; Thomas Chrystie in Nether Thenstone; William Mores in Balmain; Alexander Croll in Fettercairn; Alexander Chrystie in Strawnossen: James Wood in Thorniehill; John Wiliocks in Easter Woodton: and James Willocks in Fettercairn. This list of names, long forgotten, will interest not a few of the present generation, who may recognise in it some of their ancestors.


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