Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
A Preacher of the Covenant in
the Killing Times
HE CAME OF GENTLEFOLK, THIS
SAME John Blackader of Troqueer. For, he was of that namely family in
Berwickshire which was far and widely kenned during the fifteenth century
as the Black Band of the Blackaders. They were fell fighters and worried
the Englishers to death again and again. It was old Cuthbert Blackader and
his seven strapping sons who went bravely out to fight at Bosworth Field,
all accoutred in their armour of fine-made steel and dour Scots courage.
But, three of them fell with their doughty father, and only four returned
in dool to the bonny Berwickshire merse. King James of Scotland, with a
proper pride in their great adventures, gave leave to the living
Blackaders to commemorate the dead, by carrying, for ever after, on their
shields a red rose and a whiteand to this day their crest is a right hand
holding a sword, with this for a family text below: Courage helps fortune.
It was out of that siccar
Scots fighting family, that John Blackader of Tulliallan, two centuries
after, camenot to fight with sword and whinger, but to wage the better
war of his Captain, Jesus Christ, in the killing times of persecution when
the Blue Banner of the Covenant was dipped in the blood of the martyrs.
All through his wandering,
hunted life you can hear the jingling of horses' bits, the clash of
swords, and the thud of hoofs on the heather, as the redcoats ride down
with a curse those clean-souled men with their innocent wives and bairns
whose memory today makes Scotland dirl with pride.
A patient, scholarly saint
himself, he was settled at Troqueer in Dumfriesshire over a parish of
wild, godless folk in 1653. But soon he cleansed his flock and his session
from evil ways, and took inspection into their behaviour, until he garred
them curb their profanity by the help of God's own grace. If old Cuthbert,
the Berwickshire laird, was a captain of the foray, young John of Troqueer
was a non-such Captain of Christ.
But, after nine years of
this good gospel drill in the parish of Troqueer, John Blackader was outed
with the rest for conscience and the Covenant.
He was off for the moors at
the first sound of the galloping dragoons, determined henceforth to give
his life to the wide, windy diocese of Scotland's outed folk, rather than
bow the knee to the usurper of Christ's crown and Covenant.
Hear them, clattering up to
the little whitewashed manse of Troqueer at two o'clock in the morning
these coarse-grained, red-coated soldiery, to whom the names of Sir James
Turner, Auld Tarn Dalzell of the Binns, and the Bloody Clavers himself
were all in all. When they found that the brave man had gone, they wreaked
their rage on his innocent wife and bairns.
The ruffians drag the wee
ones from their warm beds and threaten with a curse to roast them alive.
Stools and chairs are broken up with a dreadful smashery, and heaped in
the yard to make a fire. One of the little lads is made to hold a candle
in his father's study, while a great dragoon throws down all the precious
books from the cupboard to see if any of them are tainted with Whiggery.
They stab all the beds and bedding through and through with their swords,
in hope of finding the outed preacher. And while all this is going on inby,
there are others who are outby wrecking the henroost, where they thraw the
neck of every hen and leave the poor, harmless creatures lying dead on the
cold clay floor.
It is then that one of the
little bairns, wild with terror, creeps quietly out of the house in his
shirt, and runs barefooted in the bogle-haunted night all the way to the
Brigend of Mennihyvie, where he climbs the steps of the market cross and
lies down, faint and forfochen, and sleeps.
Betimes, in the early
morning, an old wife in a mutch comes out at her door and spies the wee
white shivering bairn.
"Save us! What art thou?"
"I'm Mr. Blackader's son."
"O my puir bairn! What
brocht ye here?"
"There's a hantle o'
fearful men with red coats have burnt all our house."
"O puir bit thing! Come in,
come in, and lie doon in my warm bed."
And the wee one was soon
fast asleep between the blankets of old Widow Weir.
The other bairns, "bag and
baggatch," were put into cadgers' creels and carried off to Dumfries,
where, coming to the bridge in the early morn, one of them cried out in a
perfect drollery of fright," I'm banisht! I'm banisht!"
For, the old whitewashed,
thackit-roofed manse was all alowe with fire, the precious personalities
of the happy household were lying in a heap of ashes, black and burned,
and the sound of the psalm would never be heard again round John
Blackader's little family altar at Troqueer.
It was this that clinched
the faith of many a douce Scots presbyter more than anything elsethe
break-ingand burning and banishing of his own family roof-tree in the name
of a king and a council that flouted Christ and cursed His children with
So John Blackader, the
faithful but cautious preacher of the Covenant, felt the blood of old
Cuthbert of the Black Band running hot within him that day, as he fled for
the moors which were for fifteen years to be his only home.
Galloway, Ayrshire, Lanark,
and the Lothians, with trips to the Borders and Fifehe was known in every
glen and on every hillside wherever the huddled flock of Christ gathered
for prayer and praise. His pony carried him everywhere. When, in times of
danger, he had to leave it at some farm place and take to the wilds, he
would walk or crawl over the peat bogs and heather from place to place.
See him, skulking from one
moss dub to another, as he sees the figure of a man coming over the brow
of the moor, looking this way and that on the dull wintry afternoon. Then
the sound of a well-known voice actually singing a psalm in that danger
zone, and John Blackader runs across the heather to his friend in exile.
"It is Alexander Peden
And with that, the two
great men meet.
"What news?" says Blackader,
as he surveys the weird, dreamy-looking figure standing on the moor before
"Waesome news, Johnwaesome
news! For Clavers and his men are out on the hill this very day after the
Lord's anointed. There have been more murder-ings in Galloway, and a wee
bit laddie was shot up-by yestreen. Lord, how long, how long? But God is
our Refuge and our Strength."
The two preachers knelt
down in the heather, which was wringing wet with rain, and prayed for the
cause of Christ in the land. Were not their hearts bleeding for many of
their martyred friends? Then they sat and talked for a long time of many
things, forgetting in their eagerness where they were.
"Eh! what was that?" said
"Methought I heard the
tramp of a horse," replied Peden, with a calm unconcern, as he looked
round the moor.
"Ayquick. There they are.
They have seen us. They are galloping this way!"
It was Clavers and his men
on Peden's track at last.
But the prophet only closed
his eyes, and kneeling calmly down, began to pray again in the peat-hag.
"O Lord, who hast never
failed them that lippen to Thee, cast the lap o' Thy cloak over puir auld
And the mist came down, and
shrouded the moor in its thick white folds.
They heard the jingling of
the horses' bits, and the sound of the men cursing the poor brutes that
kept stumbling into the peaty sludge in the mist. Once Clavers' own voice
was raised in command quite close to them. But the two preachers never
moved in their hiding-place. Then the sounds grew fainter as the dragoons
rode farther and farther away. And when the mist lifted John Blackader saw
the glint of the sun on a helmet far down the glen.
See him again in the
Lothians, with headquarters in Edinburgh and a good horse always at hand.
It is a summer Sunday at
Hill o' Beath in Fife. John Dickson is with him, and at eight o'clock in
the morning he stands up to preach to the great assemblage. The long
service is finished by eleven o'clock in the forenoon. Then a second one
begins, and while John Blackader is speaking a young lieutenant of militia
rides up, dismounts, and listens. But it is a composing and winsome
address, and there is nothing to haggle over. The lieutenant mounts again,
amid some show of resentment, and rides off. The news goes round that John
Blackader is in danger of arrest. The boatman at Queensferry refuses him a
passage in the evening. So, utterly wearied with the long day's work, he
mounts his horse and rides away by Stirling through the night, continuing
by Linlithgow to Edinburgh, which he reaches before the kitchen fires are
lit in Auld Reekie. Sixty miles from dusk to dawn!
At Paisley he preaches to
twelve hundred souls. At Fenwick he lies in hiding at death's door for
sixteen weeks, for his hardships in the open are many and severe. Yet he
never girns at Providence, this good soldier of Christ's Crown and
At Livingston and
Linlithgow we hear soughs of him holding conventicles. For the faithful
folk smell-ed him out wherever he was, despite his caution. He would
preach in snowy moors with nothing but a chair from a herd's kitchen to
stand on, while the devout folks pulled bunches of heather from the
hillside and sat on them in the snow.
It is on the bleak hills
round Torphichen we see him flying one day from the horsemen of Bloody
Tarn Dalzell. The going is rough for his little beast, and on his way he
finds a woman running for her life with a baby wrapped in a shawl.
"What ails ye, my woman?"
"The red-coats hae killed
my man; but they winna get my wee bit bairn. O Lord, whither can I flee wi'
"Lay him in that whin bush,
and jump up with me."
So she laid the bairn down,
all wrapped in a shawl, in the middle of a great whin bush, and rode off
with the preacher. They soon reached a farm where a true son of the
Covenant took charge of the horse and hid the two fugitives in a safe
Next morning, when danger
was past, the woman went early to the whin bush, and there sleeping
sound and coshshe found her babe unharmed.
That day John Blackader
held a conventicle on a little green hill near Torphichen. The sentries
were placed on the high points to the north and south and east and west,
and down in a hollow many mothers brought their bairns after sermon to the
baptism. Among them was the woman whose little babe had slept all night in
the whin bush. There they were all baptized by the same name of John,
after the great preacher of the Covenant. And the little green hill is
called Johnshill to this very day.
Later on he ventured down
to the ancient seaport town of Borrowstounness, which even then was old in
history and tradition. There he preached and baptized twenty-six bairns.
But ere the conventicle was over Dalzell of the Binns and his butcher
dragoons were on their way from Blackness to arrest the preacher. His son
Adam was with him, and was taken prisoner by some soldiers, who told him
he would be thrown into a dungeon in Blackness Castle that was full of
puddocks and toads. John Blackader himself, now almost crippled with
rheumatic pains, escaped by the merest chance. For, despite the rheums and
weaknesses of approaching age, he had to climb dykes and plunge through
hedges and scramble in the dark from one backyard to another, till he
managed to gain the braes and cow parks above the town. There he found
shelter in a barn all night.
The very last conventicle
he held was at Newhouse Moor, near Livingston, in the year 1681. Then,
full of rheumatics and almost blind with the constant glare of the sun and
exposure, he retired to a house in Edinburgh. The Council summoned him for
trial, and one April day of that same year the officers of the Council
climbed the stairs of his house in the High Street and seized him.
It was the beginning of the
end for John Blackader, as it had been for many another preacher of the
Covenant in the Killing Times. A voyage down the stormy waters of the
Forth to the Bass Rock, and there he was confined for five years, with the
seamaws screaming every day about him, and other faithful martyrs of the
Cross lying in the cells beside him.
Then, release from all his
troubles, and a resting-place beneath the shadow of Berwick Law, where,
with some others who loved the Blue Banner, he a-waits the coming of his
Lord in a neuk of the old kirkyard.
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