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Significant Scots
Andrew Cant


Andrew Cant CANT, ANDREW, a Presbyterian preacher of great vigour and eloquence of the period of the Second Reformation. In 1638 he was minister of Pitaligo in Aberdeenshire. Unlike the generality of the clergy in that district of Scotland, he entered heartily into the national covenant for resisting the episcopalian encroachments of Charles I., and took an active part in the struggles of the time for civil and religious liberty. He was associated with the celebrated Alexander Henderson, David Dickson, the Earls of Montrose and Kinghorn, and Lord Cupar, in the commission appointed in July 1638, by the Tables, or deputies of the different classes of Covenanters, noblemen, gentlemen, burgesses, and ministers, to proceed to the north and endeavour to engage the inhabitants of the town and county of Aberdeen in the work of reformation. The doctors of divinity in the town had steadily resisted the progress of reforming principles, and were greatly incensed when they heard of this commission. They fulminated against it from the pulpit; and the town council, under their influence and example, enacted, by a plurality of votes, that none of the citizens should subscribe the covenant. The deputies arrived on the 20th of the month, and were hospitably received by the magistrates; but they declined their proffer of friendship till they should first show their favour to the object of their visit. Montrose, "in a bold and smart speech," remonstrated with them on the danger of popish and prelatical innovations; but the provost excused himself and his coadjutor by pleading that they were protestants and not papists, and intimating their desire not to thwart the inclination of the king. Immediately after their interview with the magistrates, the deputies received from the doctors of the two universities a paper containing fourteen ensnaring propositions respecting the covenant, promising compliance should the commissioners return a satisfactory answer. These propositions had been carefully conned over previously, and even printed and transmitted to the court in England before the arrival of the deputies. They were speedily answered by the latter, who sent their replies to the doctors in the evening of the next day. Meanwhile the nobles applied to the magistrates for the use of the pulpits on the Sabbath following, for the ministerial commissioners, but this being refused, the three ministers preached in the open air, to great multitudes, giving pointed and popular answers to the questions of the doctors, and urging the subscription of the covenant with such effect that five hundred signatures were adhibited to it upon the spot, some of the adherents being persons of quality. On Monday the deputies went out into the country districts, and although the Marquis of Huntly and the Aberdeen doctors had been at pains to pre-occupy the minds of the people, yet the covenant was signed by about forty-four minister and many gentlemen. Additional subscriptions awaited the deputies on their return to Aberdeen, where they preached again as on the former Sabbath; but finding that they could produce no effect upon the doctors of divinity, whose principles led them to render implicit obedience to the court, they desisted from the attempt and returned to Edinburgh.

In the subsequent November, Mr Cant sat in the celebrated Glasgow Assembly (of 1638), and took part in the abolition of episcopacy with the great and good men whom the crisis of affairs had brought together on that memorable occasion. In the course of the procedure, the Assembly was occupied with a presentation to Mr Cant to the pastoral charge of Newbattle:—"My Lord Lowthian presented ane supplication to the Assemblie, anent the transportation of Mr Androw Cant from Pitsligo to Newbotle, in the Presbitrie of Dalkeith. Moderatour (Henderson) said—It would seeme reasonable your Lordship should get a favourable answer, considering your diligence and zeale in this cause above many uthers, and I know this not to be a new motion, but to be concludit by the patron, presbitrie, and paroche. The commissioner of Edinr. alleadged that they had made an election of him 24 yeares since. Then the mater was put to voiting—Whither Mr Andro Cant should be transported from Pitsligo to Edinburgh? And the most pairt of the Assembly voited to his transplantation to Newbotle; and so the Moderatour declaired him to be minister at Newbotle."

From his proximity to Edinburgh in his new charge, Mr Cant was enabled to devote much of his attention to public affairs, with which his name is closely connected at this period. In 1640, he, and Alexander Henderson, Robert Blair, John Livingston, Robert Baillie, and George Gillespie, the most eminent ministers of the day, were appointed chaplains to the army of the Covenanters, which they accompanied in the campaign of that year. When the Scots gained possession of Newcastle, August 30, Henderson and Cant were the ministers nominated to preach in the town churches. In the same year the General Assembly agreed to translate Mr Cant from Newbattle to Aberdeen. In 1641 we again find him at Edinburgh, where public duty no doubt often called him. On the 21st of August he preached before Charles I, on the occasion of his majesty a second visit for the purpose of conciliating his Scottish subjects. When the union of the church and nation, cemented by the covenant, was dislocated by the unhappy deed known as the Engagement, in 1648, Cant, as might have been expected from his zeal and fidelity, stood consistently by the covenanting as now distinguishedfrom the political party. When General David Leslie was at Aberdeen in November, 1650, on an expedition against some northern insurgents, he was visited by Messrs Andrew Cant, elder and younger, ministers of Aberdeen, who, amongst many other discourses, told the lord general, "that wee could not in conscience asist the king to recover his crowne of England, but he thoughte one kinqdome might serve him werey weill, and one crowne was eneuche for any one man; one kingdome being sufficient for one to reuell and governe." Balfour’s Annals, iv. 161.

In the year 1660, a complaint was presented to the magistrates, charging Mr Cant with having published Rutherford’s celebrated book, entitled Lex, Rex, without authority, and for denouncing anathemas and imprecations against many of his congregation, in the course of performing his religious duties. A variety of proceedings took place on this question before the magistrates, but no judgment was given; Mr Cant, however, finding his situation rather unpleasant, withdrew himself from his pastoral charge, removed from the town with hiswife and family, and died about the year 1664.

A clergyman, named Mr Andrew Cant, supposed to have been son to the above, was a minister of Edinburgh during the reign of Charles II., and consequently must have been an adherent of episcopacy. He was also principal of the University between the years 1675 and 1685. The same person, or perhaps his son, was deprived of his charge in Edinburgh, at the Revolution, and, on the 17th of October, 1722, was consecrated as one of the bishops of the disestablished episcopal church in Scotland. This individual died in 1728.

How far it may be true, as mentioned in the Spectator, that the modern word Cant, which in the beginning of the last century was applied to signify religious unction, but is now extended to a much wider interpretation, was derived from the worthy minister of Aberdeen, we cannot pretend to determine. The more probable derivation is from the Latin cantus, singing or chanting.

We have some further anecdotes of Mr Cant in Wodrow’s Analecta, or private memorandum book; a valuable manuscript in the Advocates’ Library.

"Mr David Lyall, who was formerly a presbyterian minister, was ordained by the presbytery of Aberdeen, Mr Andrew Cant being at that time moderator. He afterwards complied with episcopacy, and was the man who intimated the sentence of Mr Andrew Cant’s deposition, who was present in the church hearing him, and immediately after he had done it, it’s said Mr Cant should have spoken publicly to him in the church in these words, ‘Davie, Davie, I kent aye ye wad doe this since the day I laid my hands on your head.’ He (Mr Lyall) was afterwards minister of Montrose, and had ane thundering way of preaching, and died at Montrose about 10 or 12 years agoe. It’s said that, some days before his death, as he was walking in the Links, about the twilight, at a pretty distance from the town, he espyed, as it were, a woman all in white standing not far from him, who immediately disappeared, and he coming up presently to the place saw no person there, though the Links be very plain. Only casting his eyes on the place where she stood, he saw two words drawn and written, as it had been with a staff upon the sand— ‘SENTENCED AND CONDEMNED;’—upon which he came home very pensive and melancholy, and in a little sickens and dyes. What to make of this, or what truth is in it, I cannot tell; only I had it from a minister who lives near Montrose, Mr J. G.—i. 149.

"Mr Andrew Cant, in Aberdeen, was a violent royalist, and even when the English were there, he used to pray for our banished king, and that the Lord would deliver him from the bondage of oppressors. One day in the time of English, (i. e. while Scotland was subject to the English commonwealth,) when there were a great many officers in the church, he was preaching very boldly upon that head, and the officers and soldiers got all up, and many of them drew their swords: all went into confusion. Mr Menzies, his colleague, was very timerouse and crap in beneath the pulpit, as is said. The soldiers advanced towards the pulpit. After he had stopped a little, he said, with much boldness, here is the man spoke soe and soe, and opened his breast ready to receive the thrusts, if any will venture to give them for the truth. He had once been a captain, and was one of the most bold and resolute men in his day.—iii, 153.

"Mr Andrew Cant was minister of the new town of Aberdeen. He was a most zealous straight man for the covenant and cause of God. I hear he had that expression at his death, that his conscience bare him witness that he never gave a wrong touch to the ark of God all his dayes. The malignants used to call him one of the apostles of the covenant." iv, 265.


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