The Notorious Traitors: Gogar, Sangster and the Sweet Singers of Israel

As the Great Comet and strange signs lit up the night sky, something novel, dangerous and dreadful arose in Bo’ness. They were known as the Sweet Singers and within weeks, two of them, William Gogar and Robert Sangster, were martyred in Edinburgh as notorious traitors.

The “Cursed Town” of Bo’ness © Chris Downer and licensed for reuse.

William Gogar was from Bo’ness in Bo’ness parish, Linlithgowshire, but he also had some connection to Stirlingshire. He fought at Bothwell Brig in 1679, but did not take the bond of peace issued after the Rising. He also attended Donald Cagill’s Torwood Excommunication in Stirlingshire in September, 1680.

Robert Sangster is said to have been from ‘Stirlingshire’, probably on the basis that he subscribed a joint testimony to that shire which described him as a Stirlingshire man. A letter from Charles II described Sangster as a ‘labourer’, although it also applied that term to three Fife men in the same sentence; the land labourer, Andrew Pitilloch, and two weavers, Adam Philip and Lawrence Hay. (Wodrow, History, III, 277, 497.)

The Capture of Gogar and Sangster
When Robert Law discussed the appearance of Christopher Miller and John Murray before the council in February, 1681, he briefly mentioned in passing the capture of a similar group of people in Bo’ness parish that almost certainly contained Gogar and Sangster:

‘February 1681, one Christopher Miller, and another, Murray, being apprehended aforehand, and brought before the king’s councell at Edinburgh, … To this hight of delusion are some come; and by the same principles, if it were in their power, to kill all that are in a naturall state, yea, every one whom they judged enemies to God, whether they be so or not. Two women [Isobel Alison and Marion Harvie] suffered at Edinburgh a little before this tyme, for avouching the same principle before the councell; and now some few men and women are taken at Barronstounness, of the same principles [including Gogar and Sangster]. Oh! Satan prevails much in changing his methods to tempt souls to sin against God’s commands, and to self-murder.’ (Law, Memorialls, 182-3.)

Fountainhall provided more detail on those captured at Bo’ness:

‘On the 21 of Februar[y] 1681, ther ware brought in from Borrowstounnesse a company of distracted men and women (for I know not what other name to give them); they called themselves the only true saints, declared for Cargil’s covenant [i.e., the Queensferry Paper], had a napkin dipt in the blood of [Archibald] Stewart and [John] Potter, who ware hanged and headed on the 1 of December last, … [which they] weaved it in ther prayers before the Lord, crying for vengeance on the murderers; and in this furious posture, worse than quakers and enthusiasts, run up and doune that toune, disouned the King and all government, and followed a sailor named [John] Gib, who had now assumed the name of King Soloman, (for they, instead of ther former names, take names out of the Old Testament, as Abram, &c.): husbands, not of ther oune opinion, they are so far from conversing with them that they will not suffer them to touch them, and if any doe, they wash the place as having contracted impurity, like the Jewish ceremoniall uncleannesse, with 100 such fopperies.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, I, 28-9.)

On the next page of his manuscript, Fountainhall linked the ‘distracted company’ to Gogar and Sangster:

‘11 Marcij 1681. Ther ware 3 persons hanged at the Grassemarkat of Edinburgh, for disouning the King’s authoirty, and adhæring to Cargil’s covenant, declaration, and excommunication, and thinking it lawfull to kill the King and his Judges. See the præceeding page anent these from Borrowstouneness. Ther names ware Gogar, Millar, and Sangster’. (Lauder, Historical Observes, I, 29.)

Christopher Miller had been captured several months earlier and was not among those taken at Bo’ness.

The story of Gogar and Sangster’s capture is also that of the rise of the Sweet Singers of Israel or Gibbites, a schismatic sect led by John Gibb that emerged out of the Society people in Bo’ness in early 1681.

The ‘True Saints’
The story of the Sweet Singers, or the Bo’ness society, begins with two events. First, in mid November 1680, Donald Cargill fled into exile after his near capture at Muttonhole outside of Edinburgh. Cargill’s flight left the Society people without a minister to preach to them in the fields. At the time, there was absolutely no prospect of any other ordained presbyterian minister taking up field preaching and the way was left open for more radical solutions to the problem of obtaining preaching. Second, on 1 December, 1680, Archibald Stewart from Bo’ness was executed in Edinburgh alongside James Skene and John Potter. As Fountainhall hints at above, Stewart’s martyrdom had a significant impact on the prayer society in Bo’ness.

Patrick Walker, who was deeply hostile to the Sweet Singers, gave a short ‘history’ of them from their first appearance at the beginning of 1681 to April, when they left Bo’ness.

‘John Gibb a Sailor in Borrowstounness, a great Professor, (but still some serious Souls jealous of him) drew about Twenty six Women and three Men with him, the greater Part of them serious, exercised, tender, zealous, gracious Souls, who stumbled upon that Stumblingblock laid in their Way, of [the moderate presbyterian] Ministers Compliance, Silence and Unfaithfulness, [after Bothwell] … These lamentable Things, together with the cruel Tyranny, shedding so much innocent precious dear Blood, made them split with Zeal, not only to cast off all that do not agree with them in every Thing, but also to utter strange Anti-Gospel Imprecations, disdaining and reproaching all others as Backsliders, stating their Testimony against all Crown-dues, Excise and Customs; and for that End would make no Use of Ale nor Tobacco, and other fool Things. These People at first were commonly called Sweet-singers, from their frequently meeting together, and singing these tearful Psalms over the mournful Case of the Church, Psal. 74, 79, 80, 83, 137. Thus they continued from the Beginning of the Year until April; then all with one Consent, that they might be free of all these foresaid Things, left their Houses, warm soft Beds, cover’d Tables’. (Walker, BP, II, 15-16.)

Walker’s account confirms that the Bo’ness society was known as the Sweet Singers due to their psalm singing at their meetings. They probably used the versions in Scottish Metrical Psalms published in 1650 which were designed to be sung. According to Walker, the Psalms 74, 79, 80, 83 and 137 held particular importance for them.

In the miscellaneous documents of the register of the privy council is an information, which the editors ascribed to ‘c.June 1681’ but probably dates to the time of Gogar and Sangster’s capture in February, 1681. It describes the evolving ideas of the prayer society in Bo’ness, which Fountainhall stated ‘called themselves the only true saints’:

‘Mr Donald Cargil his disciples have now set up their alter in Borowstounes to the number of 30 or 40, being for the most part women; assemble in the nycht time sometimes in the links of Borowstounes, some times in a kill [i.e., kiln] logie near the toun, and in the day time in a house belonging to Thomas Knox, skipper ther. They mantaine strange tenats.’ (RPCS, VII, 704.)

The information then describes the ideological platform of the Bo’ness prayer society.

‘They adhere to the New Covenant [i.e., The Queensferry Paper], their excommunication of the King and D[uke] of York, etc. [i.e., Cargill’s Torwood Excommunication].’ (RPCS, VII, 704.)

At the time of the information in early 1681, the society in Bo’ness clearly adhered to Cargill’s militant platform. The society would later split over John Gibb’s rejection of the Cameronian papers as man-made inventions.

‘They mantain that any person that is gifted may preach and baptize, and accordingly they have bein earnest with on[e] that is son to David Jamie, merchant in Linlithgow, to take upon him that sacred office.’ (RPCS, VII, 704.)

John Gibb, Jamie and two of the other men involved in the Sweet Singers would later reject the authority of all presbyterian ministers, but in February it appears that the Bo’ness society were taking practical steps towards filling the gap in godly preaching left by Cargill’s flight. In particular, they were ‘earnest’ with David Jamie to become a minister. The evidence from other sources suggests that Jamie was either already in training for the presbyterian ministry, or a probationer minister, in early 1681. According to Patrick Walker, he was ‘a Piece of a Schollar’ and Cargill, who clearly knew him, later described him as ‘a good Scholar lost, and a Minister split’. (Walker, BP, II, 19, 23.)

The model of a prayer society or societies attempting to create a minister to make up for the lack of field preaching would also be used by the United Societies and the Cameronian societies in Fife, aka. the Russellites, in 1682 to 1684. It is not clear in the case of the Bo’ness society whether they required the formal ordination of a minister. In the case of the United Societies, they did require ordination. The Russellites did not, but they appear to have been pushed into that position after their students were denied ordination in the United Provinces. A few years later, when the unordained John Flint of the Russellites conducted the marriage of Mrs Moor, one of the former members of the Bo’ness society, the United Societies thought that it was an outrageous scandal.

There are strong signs that the Bo’ness society still believed in the office of the presbyterian minister in early 1681, although they had no minister to preach to them. They were Cameronian Society people. They also had a very radical edge:

‘They hold that a woman that is gifted may preach as wel as a man, only they allow a woman not to baptize; accordingly on[e] of those holy sisters made a sermon latelie at one of their meitings upon that text the 2nd of the Cor. Ch. 6, v. 11 to the end of the chapter.’ (RPCS, VII, 704.)

Prayer societies had long been a forum where women could take part in worship on equal terms with men, especially in free prayer and prophecy. Female prophetesses had been in the radical wing of the Covenanting movement since it began, although their pronouncements were often filtered into the public sphere by men. (See Louise Yeoman, ‘Away with the Faeries’, an unpublished paper on Scottish prophetesses.)

The informant’s identification of the sister’s discourse as a ‘sermon’ probably overstates what took place in the context of a private prayer meeting, rather than in the context of a public preaching. However, there is little doubt that the sister’s discourse on 1Cor. 6.11-20. was particularly influential on the development of the Sweet Singers. The text from first Corinthians is as follows:

‘And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.
And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.
Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid.
What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.
But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that commiteth fornication sinneth against his own body.
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.’

As the hostile Fountainhall noted:
‘[Such of the society as have] husbands, not of ther oune opinion, they are so far from conversing with them that they will not suffer them to touch them, and if any doe, they wash the place as having contracted impurity, like the Jewish ceremoniall uncleannesse, with 100 such fopperies.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, I, 28-9.)

The ‘washing’ refers to the curious post-coital proscriptions of Leviticus 15.16-33:

‘And if any man’s seed of copulation go out from him, then he shall wash all his flesh in water, and be unclean until the even.
And every garment, and every skin, whereon is the seed of copulation, shall be washed with water, and be unclean until the even.
The woman also with whom man shall lie with seed of copulation, they shall both bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the even.
And if a woman have an issue, and her issue in her flesh be blood, she shall be put apart seven days: and whosoever toucheth her shall be unclean until the even.
And every thing that she lieth upon in her separation shall be unclean: every thing also that she sitteth upon shall be unclean.
And whosoever toucheth her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
And whosoever toucheth any thing that she sat upon shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
And if it be on her bed, or on any thing whereon she sitteth, when he toucheth it, he shall be unclean until the even.
And if any man lie with her at all, and her flowers be upon him, he shall be unclean seven days; and all the bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean.
And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days out of the time of her separation, or if it run beyond the time of her separation; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness shall be as the days of her separation: she shall be unclean.
Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her separation: and whatsoever she sitteth upon shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her separation.
And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even.
But if she be cleansed of her issue, then she shall number to herself seven days, and after that she shall be clean.’ (Leviticus, 15.16-28.)

The members of the Bo’ness society, or Sweet Singers of Israel, were also given biblical names when they were admitted into the society: ‘They give new names to them they admit in their fraternity viz. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Solomon, Rheoboam, Deborah, Lidiah, the Queen of Sheba, etc.’ (RPCS, VII, 705.)

The adoption of biblical names was part of their further reformation aimed at restoring a biblical way of life. John Gibb went under the name of King Solomon and it is quite possible that Ann or Anna Stewart, who allegedly ‘forsook her husband and adhered to John Gibb as her husband’, was The Queen of Sheba. (Lauder, Historical Observes, I, 28-29; Law, Memorialls, 197.)

Some of the other names used may also hint at familial or other forms of relationship. Rehoboam was the son of Solomon. Jacob was the son of Isaac and Isaac was the son of Abraham.

A Penny Wedding

‘Father Abraham’ appears to have held significant power in the society. According to the informant:

‘Because on[e] of the sisters went to a penny wedding the rest caused her to doe pennance by sitting thrie nychts with her bair breetch on a cold stone, and at last father Abraham absolved her by pronouncing these words, Thow art welcome, Sarah, to the Land of Goshen.’ (RPCS, VII, 705.)

In the Bible, Sarah was the wife of Abraham.

Some of the other biblical names used by the women may also hint at a specific role or place within the society. Deborah may have been the female prophetess who influenced the society with her ‘sermon’. ‘Lidiah’, or Lydia, may have the first convert to their new reformed way.

Their commitment to further reformation was also manifest in their obsessive godly mode of living, which involved frequent fasting, prayer and spiritual conference, as well as opposition to some unscriptural practices:

‘They wil not work with their hands bot they imploy themselves only in reading, preaching, conference and prayer. They eat no mor meat then will keep them from starving, and they term al mechaniks [machinery?] limbs of Antichrist.’ (RPCS, VII, 704.)

Given their commitment to further reformation, it is extremely likely that the Bo’ness society thought that the Apocalypse was close at hand and interpreted recent events in that light.

Separation or Excommunication?
The society also took steps to separate from those they deemed guilty of the sins of the land. According to Walker, they testified against ‘all Crown-dues, Excise and Customs’ as sins of the land ‘and for that End would make no Use of Ale nor Tobacco, and other fool Things’. (Walker, BP, II, 16.)

The Sweet Singers’ view that the payment of Crown dues and customs was a compliance with ungodly authority was later shared by other Society people, such as the Russellites and some members of the United Societies. Even James Renwick had some sympathy with that position. (Shields, FCD, 22, 114, 239, 240.)

Walker’s statement that the Sweet Singers ‘cast off all that do not agree with them in every Thing’ may have exaggerated the situation to some extent, but it probably captures the spirit of the Bo’ness society. They almost certainly did ‘disdain and reproach ‘all others as Backsliders’. (Walker, BP, II, 16.)

Their desire to separate from the ungodly was particularly aimed against their presbyterian brethren who did not share their strict Cameronian views. It is not clear if the hostile informant used the term ‘excommunication’ accurately. It may reflect a private separation or withdrawal from those individuals, rather than a public excommunication like Cargill’s excommunication of the King.

‘They have at on[e] of their meitings excommunicated on[e] Mr Robert Steedman and Mr Michael Potter, ther old rabies, together with other 9 of their relationes and neighbours in Borowstounes, all of quhich are great fanatiks, and it is observable that on[e] of the sweet quorum is sister to Archibald Stewart that was latelie executed, and that she hath excommunicated Christian Dasten her mother, together with John Ritchie, elder, and his wife, she being their daughter-in-law; she hath also separated from her housband John Ritchie, becaus he sayles in a ship that payes tribut to Ch[arles] Stewart.’ (RPCS, VII, 704-5.)

Robert Steedman and Michael Potter were both moderate presbyterian ministers with significant ties to the local parishes of Bo’ness and Carriden. Steedman had been the minister of the adjoining parish of Carriden from 1650 until 1661. He was denounced for keeping conventicles in 1676 and later established a presbyterian meeting house in Carriden under James VII’s edict of toleration in 1687. He remained the minister of Carriden until his death in 1701.

Mr. Michael Potter was also presbyterian minister. In 1679, he was present at a meeting in Rotterdam between Robert MacWard and William Dunlop which investigated Dunlop’s scandalous allegation that Lady Kersland had sat on the rebel’s council of war during the Bothwell Rising. He was later called to Bo’ness under James VII’s edict of toleration. (MacWard, Earnest Contendings, 316; Scott, Fasti, I, 196, 198.)

The Information shows that the members of the society had previously heard both moderate presbyterian ministers, but at some point around the beginning of 1681 had ‘excommunicated’, or more likely separated from, them and nine relatives of members of the society, probably on the grounds that they did not adhere to Cargill’s platform or paid taxes to the regime. Later in the Information, it records that the society had also heard prophecies concerning the two presbyterian ministers:

‘they prophecie concerning Mr Steedman and Mr Potter that the chariots of Israel shal ride through ther hearts blood, bot of Mr Hamilton and Mr Park they hope beter things, for they say that these two were alwayes in darkness and that it may please the Lord to give them lycht, whereas Steedman and Potter have made defection from the lycht, and therefor being apostates ther is no hope of mercy for them.’ (RPCS, VII, 705.)

The ‘chariot of Israel’ or ‘chariots of fire’ are mentioned in the second book of Kings:

‘And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.’ (2Kgs. 2.11-12.)

‘And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.’ (2Kgs. 6.15-18.)

The Bo’ness society plainly did not wish the two moderate presbyterian ministers well.

The attitude of the prayer society towards the two local “curates”, Hamilton and Park, probably reflects their hostility towards their former presbyterian brethren, rather than any warmth towards them. Mr James Hamilton was the episcopal minister (or “curate”) of Bo’ness from 1677 until his death in February 1685. Mr John Park was the episcopal minister of Carriden from 1665 until he was deposed for alleged drunkenness after the Revolution. Both “curates” had played a role in the near capture of Cargill and the death of Henry Hall at Queensferry in June, 1680. According to Walker, ‘these Sons of Belial, the Curates of Borrowstounness and Carriden’ had spotted Cargill and alerted the governor of Blackness Castle of their presence. (Scott, Fasti, I, 196, 198; Walker, BP, II, 11.)

The trigger for the excommunications, or separation and withdrawals, may have been the execution of Archibald Stewart on 1 December, 1680, as his sister, Margaret Stewart, had ‘separated’ from her husband, John Ritchie, a skipper in Bo’ness, as he paid customs, and at the same prayer meeting ‘excommunicated’ her mother, Christian Dasten, and her father-in-law, John Ritchie (elder), and his wife.

Margaret Stewart’s separation from her husband must have become an increasingly fraught situation, as she was pregnant. She was later banished from the kingdom. According to the register of the privy council of 9 June, 1681:

‘The Lords having considered the petition of John Ritchie, skipper in Borroustounnes, “supplicateing that the Councill would cause liberat Margaret Stewart, his spouse, prisoner with these persones in the correction house, called the ‘Sweet Singers’, in regard she is bige with child and that he intends to transport her shortly off the kingdome,” they ordain the magistrates of Edinburgh to cause her to be delivered to him, as he has found caution in the books of Council to transport her out of the kingdom within fourteen days after 17th June instant, under pain of 1000 merks, and that she shall not return without the Council’s license.’ (RPCS, VII, 129.)

Their Influence on the Society people
Both the Society people and moderate presbyterians would later throw a host of scandalous allegations at the Sweet Singers, which suggested adultery, incest, converse with the Devil, wizardry and bible burning, however, in early 1681, the Bo’ness society had a considerable impact on their brethren in the Society people.

Patrick Walker admits that he and other Society people was swept away by the impact of the Bo’ness society until Cargill preached against them in late April 1681:

‘in the Time of John Gib’s delirious Delusions, which were painted and gilded over with the highest Pretensions to Piety, Zeal, and mourning for their own Sins and the Land’s Abominations; … [I] being then very young, and somewhat of a Gale of young Zeal upon my Spirit, fearing no Danger upon the Right-hand, if I held off the Left. But … I, with many others of far greater Age, Knowledge and Experience, escaped as Birds out of the Snare of the Fowler, by Means of hearing blest Mr. Cargill publickly preach [from late April 1681]; which has endeared his Name to me, upon this and other Accounts, above all other Ministers’. (Walker, BP, I, 251.)

James Renwick also tacitly acknowledged the society’s influence when he described Gogar and Sangster as ‘well-meaning men’. (Renwick, Sermons, 589.)

‘The New Mode Against Monarchie’
In the spring of 1681, the moderate presbyterian minister, Robert Law, made reference to what he called ‘the new mode against monarchie’, by which he meant those who publicly rejected the authority of the King, Council and Justiciary, and threatened to kill them or those who served Charles II. (Law, Memorialls, 185.)

That new mode had first become publicly apparent at the executions of Stewart, Potter and Skene in the aftermath of Cargill’s Torwood Excommunication. Stewart and Skene had been members of Cargill’s inner circle who had been taken, long with Marion Harvie (executed in January, 1681), at the Mutton Hole. Both Stewart and Harvie were from Bo’ness and may well have been members of the prayer society. As discussed above, the Bo’ness society adhered to the full panoply of the Cameronian declarations which lay behind the new mode, such as the Queensferry Paper and the Torwood Excommunication. The Bo’ness society also had a close connection to at least one of those Cameronian martyrs.

First, one of its members, Margaret Stewart, was the sister of the Archibald Stewart executed on 1 December, 1680. Second, the society used bloody mementos from Stewart and Potter’s execution at their meetings. According to the Information:

‘And to al this I must add, they have tuo bloody nepkens besmeared with the blood of their late martyre Mr [Archibald] Stewart, and at their meeting they wave them befor the Lord, calling for vengeance on the sheders of that blood’. (RPCS, VII, 705.)

According to Fountainhall:
‘[They] had a napkin dipt in the blood of [Archibald] Stewart and [John] Potter, who ware hanged and headed on the 1 of December last, … [which they] weaved it in ther prayers before the Lord, crying for vengeance on the murderers’. (Lauder, Historical Observes, I, 28-9.)

The ‘murderers’ were the King, the privy council and the judges who had condemned Stewart and Potter, the very men excommunicated in Cargill’s Torwood Excommunication.

When Gogar, Sangster and others of the ‘distracted company’ were captured in mid February, Gogar and Sangster were said to be ‘armed’ when ‘apprehended’ for the ‘purpose’ of killing those who served Charles II. (T.D., Letter from Edenbrough, 1.)

The Trial of Gogar and Sangster
‘Upon the 8th of March, William Gougar in Borrowstonness, and Robert Sangster a Stirling-shire man, are indicted, … before the justiciary. The probation is their confession’. (Wodrow, History, III, 277.)

Their indictment was based on a unrecorded appearance of Gogar and Sangster before the privy council. Like other cases involving Society people at that time, the probation against them was their statements before the council. Fortunately, their statements before the council were recorded in their indictment and recorded by Wodrow:

‘[Gogar] acknowledges he was at Bothwellbridge, and refuses to take the bond; that he was at Torwood, and owns Mr Cargill’s excommunication, and says, he thinks it lawful to kill the king’s servants, because they are enemies to Christ; owns the Sanquhar and Queensferry papers; and refuses to sign [the confession]’. (Wodrow, History, III, 277.)

‘Robert Sangster owns [the] Bothwell rising, and [the] Torwood excommunication, as lawful, disowns the king’s authority, says, it is lawful to kill him and the judges, in as far as they are against God, and adds, he thinks they are God’s enemies. He refuses to sign [the confession]’. (Wodrow, History, III, 277.)

Like other Society people, they refused to subscribe their confession as that recognised the authority of the King, council and judges.

According to one witness:
‘At their Tryals, They Confessed confidently all that was laid to their Charge, and mantain’d all their Actions and Proceedings to be Just; As their being Personally in the late Rebellion, and in the Bond of Combination, which always obliges them to be Faithful to one another, and all those that take their Parts; To maintain the Covenant, and Establish the True Presbyterian Church; That it was Lawful to Kill the King, and all such as should take his Part, for Breaking the Covenant, and as Enemies to Christ and the People of God; And that the Excommunicating the King was Just, &c.’ (T.D., A Letter from Edenbrough, 1.)

According to Robert Law:
‘[Gogar and Sangster], though they had the offer of their lives upon that acknowledgement of the king’s authority, refused it’. (Law, Memorialls, 183.)

The statements of both men were plainly treasonable and the assize found them ‘guilty’ and sentenced them ‘to be hanged on the 11th of March alongside Christopher Miller, who had been tried and condemned on 2 March. (Wodrow, History, III, 277.)

There is no evidence that Christopher Miller was connected in any way to either the Sweet Singers or Gogar and Sangster, except for the short period of imprisonment he shared with the latter two men prior to their joint execution.

Image of Grassmarket

The Execution of Gogar and Sangster
Gogar, Sangster and Miller were executed at the Grassmarket in Edinburgh on 11 March.

Google Street View of Site of Execution

Prior to their execution, all three Cameronians had subscribed a joint testimony directed to the shire of Stirlingshire. It can be found here.

According to Cloud, William Gogar had the drums played when he tried to speak and was quickly turned over before he could recommend his spirit to the Lord. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 158.)

Hangings in 1681

Fountainhall recorded that all of the condemned remained obstinate to the end, even when offered a reprieve on the scaffold:

[11 March] 1681. Ther ware 3 persons hanged at the Grassemarkat of Edinburgh, for disouning the King’s authority, and adhering to Cargil’s covenant, declaration, and excommunication, and thinking it lawfull to kill the King and his Judges. … Ther names ware Gogar, Millar, and Sangster; if they would but have acknowledged his Majestie, they would have been pardoned; yea, when they ware upon the scaffold, [Wentworth Dillon] the Earle of Roscommons, by a privy warrand from the Duke of York, came and offered them ther lives, if they would but say, God save the King; but they refused to doe it’. (Lauder, Historical Observes 1680 to 1686, I, 29.)

The Earl of Roscommon

An eyewitness to their execution recorded some of their last words:

‘At the Gallows there was a Pardon offer’d, if they would Repent, and ask for Forgiveness; But they refused all Grace there, as at their Tryals; all answered, That they would not receive a Pardon from such Murderers, (meaning the King and his Councel here); Another said, He owned the King as the King owned the Covenant. In fine, They Dyed Obstinate and Impenitent, expressing Great Zeal for their Cause, but no Charity; For they neither asked God nor Man Forgiveness, nor Forgave any.’ (T.D., A Letter from Edenbrough, 1.)

According to Cloud of Witnesses:

‘It is remarkable that this martyr, William Gouger, had a little paper in his Bible, which he minded to throw over the scaffold; but when he was taken into the Council House with the other two, it was someway got by the murderers, who, having read it, commanded the executioner to tie him straighter nor [i.e., than] ordinary, so that he could scarce go up the ladder; and afterwards they stopped him from praying. When he was upon the ladder, he began to speak, and said: “I am come here for owning Christ to be head and king in Zion.” Whereupon they caused beat the drums, seeking to damp and astonish him, that they might trample upon his conscience; and when they offered him his life upon condition he would own the king, he replied, “I will own none but Christ to be king in Zion.” Then they said, “Will ye not retract anything, sir?” He answered, “No, no; I own all; I adhere to all.” Upon which they immediately called to the executioner to throw him over, which he did incontinent [i.e., immediately], not allowing him to recommend his spirit to the Lord.’ (Thomson (ed.), CW, 158.)

Wodrow also records the same incident based on Cloud’s narrative:

‘William Gougar had a short paper in his Bible, which he designed to have delivered as his speech to the spectators; … This paper, it seems, fell into the hands of some of the soldiers at the ladderfoot, and enraged them, and made them treat him very harshly. They tied his hands very strait before he went up the ladder, and when gone up, and beginning to speak, the drums were beat, and he was turned off the ladder, without time so much as to pray; such was their barbarity upon the least provocation.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 278.)

The moderate-presbyterian Robert Law accused Gogar and Sangster of ‘self-murder’ for denying royal authority:

‘To this hight of delusion are some come; and by the same principles they were obliged, if it were in their power, to kill all that are in a naturail state, yea, every one whom they judged enemies to God, whether they be so or not. … Oh! Satan prevails much in changing his methods to tempt souls to sin against God’s commands, and to self-murder. Alace! it’s the sad fruits of putting out of the ministrie of the Presbyterian persuasion in the year 1662, who taught the people both religion toward God, and loyaltie to authoritie’. (Law, Memorialls, 182-3.)

However, Fountainhall recognised that their martyrdoms were counterproductive:

‘To refuse the pardoning ther enemies was to dy in much malice and unmortified rankor, as appears by Gogar’s printed speach. Yet some thought it sad to dispatch men away to the other world in such spirituall madnesse and religious melancoly, who rushed upon death and ware wain of suffering, and from whose boldnesse in dying (as if it had come from the immediate divine assistance) other simple peeple, as Hydra’s head, and Cadmus teeth fowen, ware proselyted, at leist ware hardened and confirmed in their error; and it could have been better to have kept them in bonds as madmen, or to have employed physitians to use ther skill upon them as on hypocondriack persones’. (Lauder, Historical Observes 1680 to 1686, I, 30.)

The West Port

Immediately after their executions, the heads of two of them were spiked on Edinburgh’s West Port gate as replacements for the heads of Stewart and Potter which had been recently removed by other Society people:

‘About 8 dayes before this [i.e., on c.3 March], they had stollen away 2 heads, which stood on the West Port of Edinburgh, viz.: [Archibald] Stewart’s and [John] Potter’s; the criminal Lords, to supply that want, ordained 2 of thir criminal heads to be struck off and to be affixted in ther place.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes 1680 to 1686, I, 30.)

Google Street View of the West port

A Letter from Edenbrough (1681)

The Instant Publication of Gogar’s Testimony
Gogar had probably failed to deliver his testimony speech at the gallows, but it was quickly rushed into print in London, either for the propaganda purpose of discrediting the English Whigs who were sympathetic towards the moderate presbyterian cause in Scotland, or as a great piece of sensational news.

The full text is as follows:

A Letter From Edenbrough, Giving an Account of the Behaviour of Three Notorious Traytors, Who were there Executed, March, 11. 1681. Also The last Speech of William Gogar [The most notorious Traytor] at the place of Execution.

I Cannot omit to give you a short Accompt of the Tryal and Execution of Three Notorious Traytors, which were Hang’d in this City Yesterday. At their Tryals, They Confessed confidently all that was laid to their Charge, and mantain’d all their Actions and Proceedings to be Just; As their being Personally in the late Rebellion, and in the Bond of Combination, which always obliges them to be Faithful to one another, and all those that take their Parts; To maintain the Covenant, and Establish the True Presbyterian Church; That it was Lawful to Kill the King, and all such as should take his Part, for Breaking the Covenant, and as Enemies to Christ and the People of God; And that the Excommunicating the KING was Just, &c. At the Gallows there was a Pardon offer’d, if they would Repent, and ask for Forgiveness; But they refused all Grace there, as at their Tryals; all answered, That they would not receive a Pardon from such Murderers, [meaning the King and his Councel here;] Another said, He owned the King as the King owned the Covenant. In fine, They Dyed Obstinate and Impenitent, expressing Great Zeal for their Cause, but no Charity; For they neither asked God nor Man Forgiveness, nor Forgave any. This Inclosed is the Exact Speech of one of them. No more, but all True Service, from, Sir,
Your Humble Servant,
March, 12.

The Last Speech and Testimony of William Gogar, One of the Three Desperate and Incorrigible Traytors, Executed at the Grass-market in Edenbrough, the 11th Day of March, 1681.

For Disowning His Sacred Majesties Authority; and Owning and Adhering to the Bloody and Murdering Principles contained in that Execrable Declaration at Sanquar, Cargils Traiterous Covenant, and Sacrilegious Excommunicating of the KING, by that Arch-Traytor Cargil, and avowing of themselves to be bound in Conscience, and by their Covenant, to Murder the KING, and all that serve under Him; being Armed [the time they were apprehended] for that purpose.

Men and Brethren; These are to shew, that I am come here this Day, to lay down my Life for owning Christ, and his Truths; And insomuch as We are Calumniated and Reproached by Lying Names, and Dreadful Upbraiding of Us; with saying, That We are not led by the Scriptures; And say, We have taken other Rules to walk by; &c. I take the Great God to be Witness against all and every one of them, That I take the Word of God to be my Rule, and I never Design’d any thing but Honesty and Faithfulness to Christ: And for owning of Christ and the Scriptures, this Day I am Murdered; for adhering to the Born-down-truth, I am Condemn’d to Die; And I also leave my Testimony, and bear Witness against all the Apostate Ministers this Day that have taken favour at the Enemies Hands. The only thing they take away my Life for, is, Because I disown’d all those Bloody Traytors not to be Magistrates, which the Word of God casts off, and We are bound in Conscience & Covenant to disown all such as are Enemies to God, and which they are avow’d and open Enemies to Christ; And they have made void my Word, saith the Lord: Say what ye will Devils, say Wretches, say Enemies, say what ye will, We are owning the Truth of Christ, and his written Word; And condemn me in my Judgment who will, I leave my Blood on One and All that says we are not led by the Scriptures: I leave my Blood upon You again to be a Witness against You, and a Condemnation in the Great Day of Judgement. I have no more to say, I think this may mitigate all your Rage, &c. I leave his Enemies to his Curse, to be punished unto everlasting Wrath, for now and ever, Amen.
Sic Subscribitur, WIL. GOGAR.

Another pamphlet which reproduced Gogar’s testimony, minus the introductory letter from ‘T.D.’, was also quickly published until the title of The Late Speech and Testimony of William Gogor, One of the Three desperate and incorrigible Traytors, Execute at the Grass Mercat in Edinburgh, the Eleventh day of March, 1681.

The Mystery of Sangster’s Testimony
The discovery of the ‘Testimony of Robert Songster’ in the early twentieth century creates some confusion about Gogar’s testimony, as the manuscript copy of Sangster’s testimony is the same text as Gogar’s testimony.

The full text can be found here.

Sangster’s testimony was found in a collection of sermons and Cameronian testimonies that date to at least 1690. It had remained in manuscript for over two-hundred years, until David Hay Fleming transcribed it from document collection which was privately held by a minister in Heckmondwike, Yorkshire. Fleming did not notice that Sangster’s testimony was the same as that of Gogar. (PSAS, 45, 225-49.)

There is no simple answer to the duplication problem of Gogar or Sangster’s individual testimonies. Gogar’s printed testimony and Sangster’s manuscript testimony both come from the same text or scaffold speech. The Sangster transcription does not appear to be a direct copy of the printed versions of Gogar’s testimony, but is patently the same text.

Goar and Sangster’s testimonies was transmitted by different routes. Sangster’s testimony was probably passed down to the 1690 collection of testimonies through the hands of Society people. The collection contains several other Cameronian testimonies and letters which almost exclusively date from mid 1680 to mid 1681. The earliest Cameronian testimony in the collection was that of David Hackstoun (July 1680) and the latest were Donald Cargill and Walter Smith’s last words (July 1681). (It also included a single non-Cameronian testimony, that of Ballie of Jerviswood from late 1684.) Several unpublished letters, one of which was to Archibald Stewart and John Potter (November 1680), and the unpublished testimony of Christopher Miller (March 1681), were also part of the collection. Whoever initially drew those Cameronian documents from mid 1680 to mid 1681 together, probably had a direct interest in the events of that period.

Gogar’s printed testimony also had a contemporary origin. It was probably copied on the day after their execution by ‘T.D.’ and sent to London. Either ‘T’D’‘ or the publishers may have altered the testimony’s wording into English for wider consumption, however, it is clearly the same text.

At this distance from events, there is no way to know whether ‘T.D.’ or the collector of Sangster’s testimony gave the correct attribution.

The Fate of Gogar and Sangster’s Testimonies.
Immediately after their execution, Gogar and Sangster’s testimonies were probably passed through the Society people without question. However, a few weeks later in late April, when Donald Cargill returned to Scotland and began to preach against the Sweet Singers, it is likely that the validity of them was questioned among the Society people.

At the same time, rumours spread that the recent Cameronian testimonies – ‘the new mode against monarchie’ – were part of a secret Catholic conspiracy against the Protestant religion. Who initiated those rumours is not clear. They were probably spread by moderate presbyterians to discredit the Society people and disassociate themselves from the militants’ views, however, an origin among the Society people to discredit the martyrs connected to the Sweet Singers cannot be discounted:

‘It’s reported that severalls of the speeches of the lait dying persons on scaffolds at Edinburgh have been penned by papists, and put out in their names to make the protestant religion odious unto the world; and that they have a great hand in stirring up these men and women to these foperies and follies, that thereby our religion may be contemned.’ (Law, Memorialls, 185-6.)

In mid 1683, the Societies’ minister, James Renwick, rejected their joint testimony and claimed, probably inaccurately, that the testimony of these ‘three well-meaning men’ had been ‘penned by that blasphemous man John Gib’. (Renwick, Sermons, 589.)

It is very unlikely that Gibb could have personally penned or altered the testimonies of Gogar, Miller or Sangster in the tolbooth, as he was not captured and imprisoned there before May, 1681. It is also impossible for Gibb to have altered Gogar’s testimony between it falling into the hands of the authorities at the scaffold and it being sent by ‘T.D.’ to London for publication the next day. ‘T.D.’ would not have cooperated with Gibb, as he clearly despised Gogar and all he stood for. The testimony printed by ‘T.D.’ is either the short paper that Gogar possessed on the scaffold or the misidentified speech of Sangster.

Where the influence of Gibb is possible was in the events before and after their execution. Before their execution, Gibb had helped to frame of the beliefs of the Bo’ness society that influenced Gogar and Sangster and some of their fellow prisoners. Gibb did not need to hold the pen. However, as discussed above, at the time of Gogar and Sangster’s capture, the Bo’ness society adhered to the Cameronian platform, rather than Gibb’s extreme views.

After their execution, Gibb could have participated in the copying and distribution of their testimonies. However, he could not have had any influence on the copy of Gogar’s testimony used by ‘T.D.’ which is the same text as Robert Sangster’s testimony. As discussed in the post on Christopher Miller, he does not appear to have had any hand in Miller’s testimony.

There is no evidence to suggest that Gibb’s later strange views had any influence on either their joint testimony or their individual testimonies, however, he may have copied and distributed them.

The presence of Sangster’s testimony in a collection of Cameronian testimonies, suggests that not all of the Society people agreed with Renwick’s rejection of Gogar, Sangster and Miller’s testimony due to their connection with Gibb and the Sweet Singers.

The Canon and Cloud
The debate over the validity of Gogar, Miller and Sangster’s testimonies continued for decades after their deaths. When it came to settling on a canon of martyrs’ testimonies for Cloud of Witnesses in 1714, their joint testimony was admitted, but all three of their individual testimonies were rejected.

Gogar, Miller and Sangster’s joint testimony was printed in Cloud, even though Renwick had warned that it had been ‘penned’ by Gibb. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 159; Renwick, Sermons, 589.)

The editors of Cloud could not find the taint of Gibb’s excesses in the joint testimony and decided to print it. In retrospect, it is unsurprising that they could not detect the presence of Gibb’s ideas, as the Bo’ness society adhered to the Cameronian platform when Gogar and Sangster were captured, rather than Gibb’s extreme views.

However, in a somewhat contradictory judgment, the editors of Cloud explained that their individual testimonies were rejected due to their association with Gibb:

‘there are extant particular testimonies of these three martyrs; but, because it is doubted that they may not be genuine, but vitiated [corrupted or debased] by John Gib, or some of these that were tainted with his errors, therefore they are here omitted.’ (Thomson (ed.), CW, 159.)

The spectre of Gibb’s potential influence on their individual testimonies caused them to be left out of the canon of martyrs’ testimonies.

Cloud also stated that ‘some are suspicious that these three martyrs themselves, or at least the two last, were in some danger from the errors of John Gib’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 159.)

Cloud suggests that ‘the last two’, i.e. Christopher Miller and Robert Sangster, were in ‘some danger’ of the errors of Gibb. As discussed in the post on Miller, it was probably Miller’s tearing of the dedicatory letter to James VI out of the Bible that led to the suspicion that he was guilty of the same errors as Gibb, although Miller appears to have committed that act while he was in prison just at the point that the Sweet Singers emerged. Miller’s connections with Gogar and Sangster in subscribing the joint testimony and their shared execution also probably strengthened ideas of his guilt by association.

It is not clear what evidence led ‘some’ to suspect that Sangster was in danger of Gibb’s errors, but not Gogar. The only surviving evidence today is the Gogar/Sangster testimony. Perhaps the editors of Cloud knew of Sangster’s individual testimony, but not of Gogar’s printed testimony? Both Gogar and Sangster appear to have been members of the Bo’ness society known as the Sweet Singers.

Wodrow, too, undermined the validity of Gogar’s testimony based on the judgments of Cloud and Renwick:

‘William Gougar[‘s] … short paper … whether it be that which is printed, and goes under his name, I know not; for I find it remarked at this time, that Gib and his followers, both put some well-meaning prisoners to heights they would not otherwise have gone to, and corrupted and made additions to papers which went under their name.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 278.)

As discussed above, it is extremely unlikely that Gibb directly influenced the text of Gogar’s (or Sangster’s) individual testimony or Miller’s testimony or their joint testimony. However, the Gogar/Sangster testimony did share some similar views to those found in a later paper of Gibb and the Sweet Singer men, as both papers bitterly attacked all apostate ministers and cursed all who opposed them. It may have been those similarities and Gogar and Sangster’s connection to the Sweet Singers which swayed the editors of Cloud to exclude the Gogar/Sangster testimony.

The later debate over the canonical status of Gogar, Miller and Sangster’s testimonies obscures the impact and initial acceptance of their testimonies in early 1681. It does not detract from their value as historical sources for the radical beliefs of the Society people.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on September 7, 2011.

11 Responses to “The Notorious Traitors: Gogar, Sangster and the Sweet Singers of Israel”

  1. […] the latter is the more likely, as a few months before at the executions of Christopher Miller, William Gogar and Robert Sangster a ‘pardon’ was offered if they would ‘repent, and ask forgiveness’ for their treasonable […]

  2. […] early beliefs and their involvement with the Society people was dealt with in an earlier post on the execution of William Gogar and Robert Sangster in March […]

  3. […] Singers had already gained considerable notoriety through the execution of two of their members, William Gogar and Robert Sangster. Following that, in April, 1681, they were driven out of Bo’ness. After a brief spell preparing […]

  4. […] were shared by other followers of Cargill at that time, such as James Russell, Christopher Miller, William Gogar, Robert Sangster, Lawrence Hay and Andrew […]

  5. […] His martyrs’ testimony contains a some useful biographical details. In it he stated that he had been through ‘wanderings and imprisonments’ and that he knew some of the Sweet Singers: […]

  6. […] William Gogar (executed 11 March, 1681) from Bo’ness acknowledged ‘that he was at Torwood, and owns Mr Cargill’s excommunication’ and thought that it was ‘lawful to kill the king’s servants, because they are enemies to Christ’. (Wodrow, History, III, 277.) […]

  7. […] other prophetesses, see the Crossford Prophetesses and the Sweet Singers of Bo’ness. In foretelling her death, Gracie yearn for martyrdom in a similar way to Richard […]

  8. […] Mrs Moor became one of the Sweet Singers. […]

  9. […] It appears that Cuthill and Murray’s planned attacks and Drysdale’s attack were all instigated by the followers of Cargill in Bo’ness. Some of those followers later emerged as a distinct sect known the Sweet Singers. Others were later executed as ‘notorious traitors’. […]

  10. […] discussed in the post on Gogar and Sangster, the Sweet Singers almost certainly did not emerge until after the 1 December execution of Skene, […]

  11. […] His martyrs’ testimony contains a some useful biographical details. In it he stated that he had been through ‘wanderings and imprisonments’ and that he knew some of the Sweet Singers: […]

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