Cargill’s Preaching at Coulter Heights: Confusion, Climbing and the Thunder Clap

The Culter Water and the Coulter Heights © David Thomson and licensed for reuse.

After Donald Cargill field preached in Carrick and Galloway in May 1681, he returned to Lanarkshire where he preached at Holm’s Common, which was somewhere behind the Coulter Heights in Coulter parish, on 12 June 1681. However, the site of the field preaching was not where he had expected to preach.

According to Patrick Walker:

‘He [Donald Cargill] came to Clyd[e]sdale, where he took most Delight, and had greatest Liberty in Preaching and Praying, and several other Ministers at that Time in the same. He designed to have preached at Tinto-hill, but the Lady of St. John’s Kirk got Notice, and wrote to some publick Men that he was to preach at Home’s Common, in the Back of Coulter Heights:’ (Walker, BP, II, 34.)

Walker’s passage gives an insight into how a field preaching was arranged. Cargill would have been invited to preach at Tinto Hill by representatives of the local prayer societies: Examples of that process can be found in the meeting at Benty Rig and Earlstoun’s invite to Peden.

Map of Tinto Hill          Street View towards Tinto

When he arrived in the area, Cargill expected that Tinto would be the location for the field preaching. However, the local societies’ plan had changed after Lady St John’s Kirk had written the ‘publick men’, i.e. the local organisers, and directed that Cargill’s preaching should be relocated to the hills above the nearby village Coulter.

The key issue for Lady St John’s Kirk appears to have been that the field preaching did not take place on her estate around Covington and Thankerton parish, for, as the heritor or heritor’s spouse, the St John’s Kirk family would have been fined for any field conventicle on their land. Instead, she requested that the preaching took place at Home’s Common, ie. on common land, where her family could not be held solely responsible.

Map of St John’s Kirk            Street View of St John’s Kirk


St John’s Kirk

Lady St John’s Kirk was clearly sympathetic to the Presbyterian cause and, as a result, was able to influence the organisers of Cargill’s preaching. According to Walker, she was ‘not only a follower of the persecuted Gospel, but also frequented private prayer Society-meetings’ with Thomas Johnston in Grangehall in Pettinain parish and Frances Liverance in Covington parish. (Walker, BP, II, 43.)

Map of Grangehall

Streetview of Grangehall

Map of Covington parish

The identity of Lady St John’s Kirk is not clear. The St John’s Kirk estate was held by the Baillies of St John’s Kirk. After the Restoration, John Baillie of St John’s Kirk was renewed as a justice of the peace. Lady St John’s Kirk had, presumably, recently come to the title, as Violet Riddell, the spouse of John Baillie of St John’s Kirk, had died in early 1680. At some point prior to 1690, the Kirklands (aka. the St John’s Kirk estate) was sold to the president of the Court of Session, Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath. (Vere, The Upper Ward of Clydesdale, I, 480; Grant, The Commissariot Records of Lanark, 1595-1800, 82; RPS, 1663/6/144.)

If anyone can help to resolve the identity of Lady St John’s Kirk, please comment or use the contact details here.

Robert Baillie of Jerviswood

What is known is that the Baillies of St John’s Kirk were close kin to Robert Baillie of Jerviswood, a leading moderate presbyterian who was executed in late 1684 for his part in the Rye House Plots. In 1681, Lady St John’s Kirk appears to have shared Jerviswood’s politics.

Tinto above St John’s Kirk © Chris Eilbeck and licensed for reuse.

The Preaching at Home’s Common
On the night before the preaching, Cargill was stayed at John Liddell’s home ‘in Heidmire’, which lay near Tinto-hill. ‘Early in the Sabbath-Morning’ he went to the preaching site at Tinto,‘thinking to spend the Morning alone’.


‘when he saw the People passing on, he called to some of them, and enquired where they were going; they told him [that they were going to Holm’s Common]. He said That’s the Lady’s Policy to get us at some Distance from her House; but she will be discovered. When Mr. Cargill saw none of the People staying with him, he rose and followed them five Miles’. (Walker, BP, II, 34.)

The Clyde near Symington © David Greer and licensed for reuse.

The new location for the field preaching was in the ‘waste and desolate …Mountains’, i.e. the hills, to the south of Coulter known as Coulter Heights. It is not clear where Holm’s Common was, as it does not appear on the maps on the NLS website, but Cargill must have crossed the Clyde (via Sandy’s Ford at Symington?) and probably followed the course of the Culter Water for some way into the Heights before making the mile long ascent to Holm’s Common:

‘The Morning being very warm, in the Beginning of June [12 June], and the Heights [behind Coulter] very steep, a full Mile; he was very much stress’d ere he wan to the Place. I saw a Man give him a Drink of Water in his Bonnet, and another betwixt Sermons, which was the best Entertainment he got that Day, and had tasted nothing that Morning.’ (Walker, BP, II, 34-5.)

Walker’s eyewitness account may suggest that the preaching site at Holm’s Common lay beside one of the burns in Coulter Heights.

Map of Coulter Heights         Street View of road into Coulter Heights


Holm Nick towards Coulter Reservoir © Dannie Calder and licensed for reuse.

A clue to the site of Cargill’s preaching can be found in Robert Sanderson’s Frae the Lyne Valley: Poems and Sketches (1888):

‘Holmes Common was a favourite resort of Donald Cargill, the famous field preacher. On the last occasion on which he preached there, which was only a few months before his execution, he spoke on the 6th chapter of Isaiah, where the Almighty is spoken of as ” sitting upon a throne high and lifted up”; and also on Romans xi. 20. “The scene,” says Mr Whitfield, “was sublime and impressive beyond description. He drew his illustrations from the hills that surrounded them like bulwarks of defence, with Cardon and Culterfell lifting their kingly heads above the rest far up into the clouds. He was drawing near the close of his life, and a foreboding of his coming martyrdom tinged his thoughts and words with a prophetic power that gave him a strange fascination over his audience. Six weeks later and the voice that awakened the mountian echoes of the solitudes of Glenholm was to be lifted up for the last time upon the uplands of Dunsyre, and to bear its dying testimony in the Grassmarket of Edinburgh.’ (Sanderson, Frae the Lyne Valley)

Near Common Law © Adam Ward and licensed for reuse.

Holm’s Common presumably lay near, or around, the Common Law or near Holm Nick or above Holmes (now known as Holms Waterhead) in Glenholm and Kilbucho parish in Peeblesshire. Where ever Cargill preached it was probably by the shire boundary between Lanarkshire and Peeblesshire. His long walk tand ascent to the preaching site suggests that he left the parish he was in and that the preaching site was located in Peebleshire.

Map of Common Law.

Map of Holms

Map of Holm Nick

Holms Waterhead © Callum Black and licensed for reuse.

If anyone knows the exact location of Holm’s Common please get in touch, either via a comment or the contact details here.

Cargill’s Field Preaching at Holm’s Common, 12 June, 1681

Patrick Walker was present at Cargill’s preaching and provides eyewitness testimony as to what he lectured and preached on.

According to Walker, in the morning Cargill lectured on Isaiah 6.8-13.:

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not.
Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.
Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate,
And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.’

Walker described the lecture as follows:

‘He lectured that Day upon the 6th of Isaiah, upon which he had many sententious Sayings, I remember, from that Word, Whom shall I send? and who will go for us? He said, To speak with holy Reverence, we see that the Trinity of Heaven may be at a Stand, where to get a fit Messenger to carry the Message; the Prophet said, Here am I, send me: ‘Tis like, if he had known what he was to do, he would not have been so forward; For, if an honest-hearted Minister might refuse any Errand that God sent him, it would be to denounce Judgments upon a People, especially spiritual: But the Hand of God was here;

And, when he got his Commission to preach to that People [Isa. 6.9.], and they grew more and more deaf and blind [Isa. 6.10.], he cried out, How long? And the Answer was returned, Until the City be without Inhabitants, and the Land utterly desolate. [Isa. 6.11.].

After he insisted a little in explaining these Words, he said, gro[a]ning deeply, If he knew any Thing of the Mind of God, this is the Commission that we are getting, and the Commission that Ministers will get, to preach the greater Part of the Generation more and more deaf and blind. And preach who will, and pray who will, this Deafness and this Blindness shall remain until many habitable Places of Scotland be as waste and desolate as these Mountains (looking to them with a very weary Countenance.) But remember I am setting no Time to this, we know not what Manner of Spirits we are of; a Thousand Years appear in his Sight as one Day, and a delayed Thing was neither forgot nor forgiven; and the longer delay’d, the sorer when it comes. It will be a Midnight Cry, the Foolish sound asleep, and the Wise slumbering, and will come upon you as a Thunder-clap.

He went on to the following Verse [Isa. 6.13.], Yet in it shall be a Tenth, who shall be as the Oak, which hath the Substance in the Root. And from that he asserted, that, as the Lord had preserved a Remnant, through all the Periods of the Church; so he would preserve a Remnant that would ride out all these Winter Storms.’ (Walker, BP, II, 35-6.)

Towards Coulter Fell © Marion Boyle and licensed for reuse.

Cargill’s forenoon sermon was on Romans 11.20: ‘Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear

According to Walker, ‘He preached upon that Word in the Forenoon, Be not high-minded, but fear. His first Note was, That these who knew themselves best, would fear themselves most; And that, as it was hard to determine what a Length a Hypocrite may gang in the Profession of Religion, it was as hard to determine what a Length a Child of God may go in Defection, having Grace, but wanting the Exercise thereof; And that a Christian might go through Nineteen Trials, and carry honestly in them, and fall in the Twentieth. While in the Body, be not high-minded, but fear. I am not speaking this of these wretched Creatures, Wo to them; some of them are nothing but Devils, and many of them are misled: For the Lord’s Sake, look not to these, I mean John Gibb and his Company.’ (Walker, BP, II, 36.)

Cargill’s sermon warned of the dangers of the right-hand defection of the Sweet Singers, aka. the Gibbites, which was a continuing source of concern for militant presbyterians in mid 1681, even though the Sweet Singers had been captured at Wolf Craigs in mid May.

Walker also recorded Cargill’s afternoon sermon on Revelation 12.12: ‘Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.’

‘In the Afternoon he was upon that Word, The Devil is come down, having great Wrath; of which I have given some Notes before, but must not insist, otherwise it would swell above my Reach to publish.’ Walker’s reference to his prior notes in the Life of Cargill appears to be a reference to Walker’s relation that the Devil had begun a ‘new project’ with the Gibbites. (Walker, BP, II, 15, 36.)

John Howie of Lochgoin’s account of Cargill’s preaching broadly follows Walker’s account, although he mistakenly dates Cargill’s sermon to Wednesday 1 June 1681 and confused Benty Rig with Benry Bridge. (Howie, Scots Worthies, 382-3.)

On the next Sabbath after he preached at Coulter Heights, Cargill preached at Benry Bridge at the edge of Carnwath parish, Lanarkshire.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to or retweet this post, but do not reblog without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

~ by drmarkjardine on June 12, 2011.

9 Responses to “Cargill’s Preaching at Coulter Heights: Confusion, Climbing and the Thunder Clap”

  1. […] prior to the capture of Cargill on 11 or 12 July 1681. According to Walker, Cargill preached at Coulter Heights on a Sabbath in early June, ie. on Sunday 12 June, and on following Sabbaths at Benry Bridge (19 […]

  2. […] April), Underbank Wood (1 May), Loudoun Hill (5 May), toured the South West (c.12 May- c.5 June), Coulter Heights (12 June), Benry Bridge (19 June), Devon Common (26 June) Auchengilloch (3 July) and Dunsyre Common […]

  3. […] the hot summer are also mentioned in the account of Cargill’s preaching at Holm’s Common in the Coulter Heights on 12 June, […]

  4. […] preached in the South West for ‘a short time’ before he returned to Lanarkshire and preached at Coulter Heights. (Walker, BP, II, […]

  5. […] preaching mentioned was that at Coulter Heights/Glenholm on 12 June, […]

  6. […] What is clear is that Cargill had finished his tour of the South West by 12 June when he field preached at Coulter Heights. […]

  7. […] on boundary between the parishes of Carmichael, Covington, Symington and Wiston. In June, 1681, Donald Cargill attempted to field preach there, but was deflected from it by Lady St Johns Kirk. Both Cargill and Cameron may have intended to […]

  8. […] 5 May, he moved through Ayrshire, Carrick and Galloway before he returned to Lanarkshire and preached at Coulter Heights on Sunday 12 June. That time frame suggests that Cargill may have preached on relatively few occasions in Galloway, […]

  9. […] which date Walker’s list of Cargill’s final preachings. The first is Cargill’s Sabbath preaching at Coulter Heights in ‘early June’ 1681, which must have taken place on either on Sunday 5 June or on Sunday 12 June. The second is […]

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