Donald Cargill, the Sweet Singers and the Darngavil Conference

In late April, 1681, the Sweet Singers held a conference with the newly-returned Donald Cargill about the future ideological direction of the Society people. The outcome would cause the first schism in the militant presbyterian movement.

The location of the Darngavil Conference

The Sweet 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 for the Apocalypse in the Pentland Hills, they moved west to Eaglesham Moor. Encountering hostility from other Presbyterians, the Sweet Singers turned back and made their way to the bleak muir between Lanarkshire and Linlithgowshire. (Howie, Biographia Scoticana, 627.)

Donald Cargill also arrived in the same area:

‘In the mean Time of their lying in this sad Pickle in Desert-places, the Man of God, blest Cargill, came down from England; a happy Tryst to many godly zealous Souls, who had a Gale of Zeal upon their Spirits, and feared no Danger upon the right Hand, if they held off the Left. Immediately he was called to preach in Darmade-Muirs, by some who retained their former Zeal and Faithfulness.’ (Walker, BP, II, 17.)

Cargill’s preaching at Darmead in Cambusnethan parish, Lanarkshire, on 24 April was significant event for the Society people, as it was Cargill’s first field preaching in nearly six months. In mid November, 1680, he had fled to the relative safety of England  after many of close followers had been captured at the Mutton Hole and in Edinburgh. He had good reasons to flee. His network had been infiltrated by government agents and his capture must have seemed imminent – Cargill had already experienced two very close shaves at South Queensferry (June) and Linlithgow Bridge (October). However, for others, his flight was a desertion of his duty to maintain their Covenanted testimony in the fields. The Sweet Singers certainly took that view of his actions.

The preaching site at Darmead was close to where the Sweet Singers lay in the Deer Slunk: ‘That Sabbath Morning [24 April], John Gibb, David Jamie, Walter Ker, John Young, and Twenty six Women, were lying in the Dear-slunk, in Midst of a great flow Moss betwixt Clydsdale and Lothian, about a Mile distant.’ (Walker, BP, II, 17-18.)

The preaching site at Darmead lies about five kilometres directly south of Starryshaw.

Map of Darmead

A meeting was soon arranged:

‘Mr. Cargill sent two Men, whose Names I could mention, to desire them to come and hear Sermon, and that he might converse with them, severals of them being his Acquaintance. John Gibb answered, He had left the Land, and deserted the Testimony; they did not want him, nor no other Minister; it was never better with them than since they parted with all of them. (Walker, BP, II, 18.)

The two men sent by Cargill may have been the Marshall brothers in Starryshaw, as both of them were Society people known to both Walker and Cargill. Walker’s account also confirms that some of the Sweet Singers were Society people known to Cargill.

According to Walker, the Sweet Singers refused to come to the preaching because of Cargill’s failure to publicly acknowledge his desertion of field preaching. However, Walker also mentions a second reason, that the Sweet Singers ‘did not want’ Cargill, ‘nor no other minister’. The latter suggestion is contradicted by Walker’s claim a few lines later that the Sweet Singers asked Cargill to preach to them alone.

The Darmead Monument © Copyright Jon Morrice and reproduced by kind permission.

The Uneasy Conference at Darngavel
There is also some confusion in Walker’s narrative over the timing of the conference, as it appears to have happened either on the night of Cargill’s Sabbath preaching or the next day.

From his Darmead preaching, Cargill ‘went to Darngavell in Cambusnethen Parish, upon the [west] Side of the Muir: He sent for them To-morrow; when they came, they had a long Reasoning in the Barn [at Darngavell]’. (Walker, BP, II, 18.)

Walker’s detailed account of the meeting suggests that Cargill met with them at Darngavel on the Sabbath evening, i.e., on 24 April, and delivered his judgement on them the following morning, i.e., on Monday, 25 April. ‘Darngavell’ aka., Darngavel/Darngavil, is now a set of ruins called Darngavel Farm that lie in Cambusnethan parish, Lanarkshire. An excellent series of pictures of the ruins can be found here.

Map of Darngavel             Aerial View Darngavel


Patrick Walker was present at Darngavel and gives an account of the conference. However, Walker’s knowledge of the conference in the barn must have come from someone else, as he also claims that he never saw John Gibb. According to Walker:

‘Two Things they required of him, before they could join, and own him as their Minister; (1.) That he would confess publickly his Sin in leaving of the Land. (2.) That he would engage to preach to none but them, and those that joined with them. He answered, That he did not see that to be his Sin in leaving the Land in such a Time, and so short a Time, in his Circumstances; and he hoped that he had been useful to not a few where he had been; and to preach to none but them, was a dreadful Restriction upon his Ministry; for his Commission was far more extensive, to go and preach, and’ baptize all Nations, and to preach the Gospel to every Creature; and if his Trumpet would sound to the Ends of the Earth, he would preach Christ to all.’ (Walker, BP, II, 18-19.)

According to Walker, ‘the Sum and Substance’ of Cargill’s ‘reasonings’ at the conference could be found in a later letter that Cargill sent to the Sweet Singer women when they were imprisoned in the Correction-house in Edinburgh. See Wodrow, here.

One interesting detail at the end of the conference was that Gibb and the others were offered a bed for the night at Darngavel. According to the Sweet Singer men, they had frequently been refused hospitality at Bo’ness and after they had left their ‘soft beds’ and moved west:

‘That all may know and see our innocency, and know our end is and was the glory of God, in all we did, though we came far short; and, in the months past, we could get none to show us kindness for meat or lodging, though we could pay for it ourselves. That word in Malachi, “Ye are cursed with a curse, for ye have robbed me, even the whole nation.” [Mal. 3.9.] And likewise in Deuteronomy, We seeing the land all thus cursed, and all justifying themselves in that iniquity, were afraid to eat, or drink, or sleep under a roof with them. Though there were many that would have sheltered us, yet we could not eat, drink, converse, or pray with them, lest we had come under the curse; so many times our beds have been in the open fields, and we have come to houses, and they would not sell us meal to make pottage of, and we have found meal and water a rare dish, because the curse was off it, and it was blessed to us, according to that scripture, “The blessing of the Lord maketh rich.” [Prov. 10.22.]. (Wodrow, History, III, 351n.)

Contrary to their practice of refusing hospitality from the ungodly, the Sweet Singer men were prepared to accept a bed for the night from the Society people at Darngavil. Their acceptance of that hospitality suggests that the Sweet Singers still saw Cargill and the other Society people as their brethren. It also suggests that the Sabbath-evening conference with Cargill witnessed disagreement between the parties, but that it had not ended in acrimony.

However, during the night, Cargill apparently feared for his life:

‘Gibb and Jamie carried Pistols upon them, and threatned all who came to seek their Wives or others from them; which frighted some. There was a Bed made for him and John Gibb [at Darngavil]: He lay down a little, but rose in Haste, and went to the Muir all Night; I well remember it was a cold easterly wet Fogg. Many waiting on to have his Thoughts about them, he refused upon the Sabbath Evening to give his Thoughts until he spake with them. They found him in the Muir on the Morning wet and cold, and very melancholy, wanting Rest all Night, and great Grief upon his Spirit. They said, Now, Sir, you have spoke with them, and have had your Thoughts about them; be free with us. He said, My Thoughts are both bad and sad: This Man, John Gibb, is an incarnate Devil, and there are many Devils in him; wo to him, his Name will stink while the World stands’. (Walker, BP, II, 19.)

Alexander Peden would later use a similar phrase about James Renwick when he said that he would make his name ‘stink above the ground’. (Shields, Life of Renwick, 116.)

Cargill appears to have had an in-depth conference with the Sweet Singer men, as he assessed their individual views. According to Walker, Cargill said:

‘I bless God, who preserved me; he [i.e., Gibb] might have cut my Throat this Night, but I got Warning of my Danger. As for David Jamie, there is a good Scholar lost, and a Minister spilt; I have no Hope of him. I am afraid that Walter Ker and John Young and others will go a greater Length, but I hope the Lord will reclaim many of them:’ (Walker, BP, II, 19-20.)

He then gave direction to the Society people about their relations with the Sweet Singers:

‘And now, go all Home, and pray that this Snare may be broke; for this is one of the most dreadful and dangerous Snares that hath been in my Time; but they run so fast, they will soon discover themselves: But I greatly fear, these wild Tares of Delusions and Divisions will spring and grow, and never be rooted out in this Land.’ (Walker, BP, II, 20.)

Cargill’s decision led to the first schism in the ranks of the Society people. Although Walker makes no mention of it, it appears that Gibb and the Sweet Singers were expelled from the Society people in the morning. It is not clear if Gibb was informed of that when he parted from Cargill.

The rumour that Gibb had presented a threat to Cargill, which could only have come from the Society people present, quickly spread. The moderate Robert Law also mentioned it, although he misdated the rumour to June, 1681, by which time Gibb had been apprehended:

‘June 1681, does a company of these men who keept the fields in armes, and who reject magistracy and ministrie, fall in upon the house of Mr [Peter] Kid, an indulged minister, in [Carluke parish in] the presbytery of Lanerk, in the night time, to kill him, as it would seem, according to their principles, but he escaped them. And it is reported they threatened Mr Donald Cargill with death, because he would not go all the length of their wickedness and errour.’ (Law, Memorialls, 197.)

Walker was particularly exercised by such reports, as they connected the Society people to the Sweet Singers:

‘Nevertheless, the Indulged, Silent and Unfaithful, Lukewarm, Complying Ministers and Professors made no Distinction betwixt him [i.e., Cargill] and Gibb, but made it their Work by Tongue and Pen to bury him and his Faithfulness in the Ashes of these vile Extremes; and as for any of us that travel’d 40 or 50 Miles far or near to hear him preach, (and no Danger or Enemies could stop or discourage us) they spread that we were away with the Gibbites, altho’ I never saw John Gibb, nor was acquaint with any of his Followers at that Time: For which I bless the Lord, that so mercifully and remarkably prevented it, by hearing and following of blest Cargill.’ (Walker, BP, II, 20.)

However, it is clear that the Society people and the Sweet Singers were part of the same militant movement until Cargill turned against them. His intervention appears to have prevented Walker and other Society people following Gibb’s path, as elsewhere in his works, Walker admitted that he and others had fallen under the influence of the Sweet Singers’ vision in early 1681. (Walker, BP, I, 251.)

The conference at Darngavel was a decisive step in severing relations between the Society people and the Sweet Singers. After his encounter with Gibb, Cargill judged that the Sweet Singers were dangerous snare for Society people which would have to be broken: ‘After this, in Preaching and Conference, he [Cargill] was most sententious and plain in discovering and giving Warning of the Snare, Sin and Danger of these wild Extremes’. (Walker, BP, II, 20.)

Cargill then publicly preached against the Sweet Singers at Underbank Wood on 1 May and at Loudoun Hill on 5 May.

For the Sweet Singers, the conference marked the end of any hopes that they may have harboured of persuading Cargill to join with them or for the Society people to adopt their platform. However, it is clear from the refusal of the Sweet Singers to attend Cargill’s preaching at Darmead and their demands at Darngavel that they were only willing to be reconciled with Cargill and the Society people on their terms.

Without the support of the Society people, the Sweet Singers probably lost the aid of a protective network. They were captured within three weeks.

For the capture of the Sweet Singers, see here.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights are Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on September 30, 2011.

18 Responses to “Donald Cargill, the Sweet Singers and the Darngavil Conference”

  1. […] reached Eaglesham Moor, the Sweet Singers turned back east. On 24 April they held a conference with Donald Cargill in Cambusnethan parish which resulted in their expulsion from the Society people and adopting an […]

  2. This post and the previous one I received by email did not seem to open in my email – just a blank area. All these posts are extremely interesting. I am particularly keen on learning more about the book “Collection of dying testimonies of some holy and pious Christians, who lived in Scotland before and since the revolution”. .. (1806)
    William Wilson, Schoolmaster of Park, Douglas, has a large chapter on his testimony. He seems to have supported Sir Robert Hamilton and his actions at Bothwell Bridge when many other accounts of the battle have painted Sir Robert in a very unkind light. It seems that many were scared of Sir Robert Hamilton and gave him a “bad press”, whereas James Renwick stood by him as a friend and an admirer of his efforts for the Cameronian/United Societies cause. I know that Sir Robert Hamilton died at Bo’ness but is there any trace of where he might have been buried?

    • Mark,
      I’m sorry you could not open the link. It may be a blog hosting issue, as they seem to be upgrading the site evey free days at the moment.

      Calderwood’s A Collection of the Dying Testimonies of Some Holy and Pious Christians (Kilmarnock, 1806) used to be extremely difficult to find, Essentially, it is a collection of testimonies from the post-Revolution era.

      Here is the link to online and PDF versions:

      In many ways, Hamilton was the most outward looking of the Society people. I think part of the reason that Hamilton attracted so much hostility from moderate presbyterians was because they saw him as responsible for the Society peoples’ platform and for the ordination of Renwick. Take a look at my thesis for Hamilton. (See About Dr Jardine section).

      Where Hamilton is buried has puzzled me for a long time. I suspect Bo’ness is the most obvious location. Maybe the records of burials on soctlandspeople may contain information. He was from Preston, now part of Prestonpans, in East Lothian. He could be buried there, but I did’nt see memorial to him or the family in the graveyard. He may be buried where ever the Hamiltons of Preston and Fingalton are buried.

  3. […] The shift in Foreman’s views on the Sweet Singers was almost certainly due to Cargill’s recent preaching against them at Loudoun Hill following the conference with them at Darngavil. […]

  4. […] emergence of the Sweet Singers can be found here, and their progress until they were captured here, here and […]

  5. […] After the ambush, Cargill fled to England where he remained until he returned to preach at Darmead on 24 April, 1681. Soon after, he met the Sweet Singers at a conference at Darngavil. […]

  6. […] only cost involved being the material required and the inscription on the plaque. It stands near the Deer Slunk, where Richard Cameron’s funeral sermon was preached by Donald Cargill on 21 July [actually on 25 […]

  7. […] Some of Cargill’s letter is taken up with refuting the Sweet Singers’ views as expressed at a conference with him at Darngavil in Lanarkshire on 24 to 25 April, […]

  8. […] visited, and at which he preached. It was during his last visit to Darngavel [in March, 1681] that he had an interview with the leaders of a sect which had been originated at Borrowstounness, who, af….” […] Reference has already been repeatedly made [earlier in this work] to John Miller, in […]

  9. […] Antiquities of the Parish of Cambusnethan states that Benty-rig lay near Stanebent: ‘Darngavel, and Benty-rig near Stanebent, are two of the places in Cambusnethan which Mr. Cargill frequently […]

  10. […] the militant presbyterian movement would have been aimed at the Sweet Singers or Gibbites, as he invited them to his Darmead preaching and met with them at the nearby farm of Darngavel on the fo…. It was a dangerous […]

  11. […] Cargill preached at Torwood (12 September), Falla Hills (19 September) and Craigwood (3 October). After his narrow escape at Linlithgow Bridge, he resurfaced field preaching at Largo Law in Fife (24 October) and near Fauldhouse (31 October). They were his last two preachings in 1680, as after an alleged Gunpowder Plot to kill the Duke of York and his near capture at the Mutton Hole on 12 November he fled into exile in England and did not return to Scotland until April 1681, when he preached at Darmead in Lanarkshire where he met the Sweet Singers. […]

  12. […] ‘After that Conference with the Gibbites at Darngavel, the next Sabbath-day he preached two miles beneath Lanark, in the Under-bankwood upon Clydeside, upon that Text, I have set Watchmen upon thy Walls [i.e., Isaiah 62.6.]; where he lamented that it had been the great Sin of the Church of Scotland, in setting up of Watchmen that had little or no Experience of Regeneration, and had been overly of their Trials, contenting themselves with a Clatter of Gifts and Learning: And lamented also that so many Watchmen were fled off the Walls, and deserted their Posts, frighted as if they were blasted or thunder-slain.’ (Walker, BP, II, 23-4.) […]

  13. […] Cald Coal to Blow At in The End’ According to Walker, the Loudoun Hill sermon was influenced by Cargill’s recent encounter with the Sweet Singers (aka. The Gibbites). They were led by John Gibb and had emerged in the port of Bo’ness in early 1681 during the […]

  14. […] From the Deer Slunk, the Sweet Singers went armed to meet with Cargill. There would be fallout. […]

  15. […] the Darngavil conference with Donald Cargill, John Gibb and the Sweet Singers were captured in the hills and imprisoned in […]

  16. […] The shift in Foreman’s views on the Sweet Singers was almost certainly due to Cargill’s recent preaching against them at Loudoun Hill following the conference with them at Darngavel. […]

  17. […] What he said did not satisfy the Sweet Singers in the Deer Slunk at all and later that night they went armed to Darngavel to demand that Cargill only preached to them. Within a month, the Sweet Singers were captured at Wolf Craig in the Pentland Hills. Two months […]

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