Donald Cargill at Torwood: Martyrs, Sweet Singers and Hearers
The Torwood conventicle of September 1680 is remarkable for the large number of hearers that can be identified and the high number of treason cases associated with it.
Who heard Donald Cargill at Torwood?
Three women, who were probably captured at Linlithgow Bridge in early October, were present:
‘Christian Spence, Sarah Spence and Janet Smith being these two moneths prisoners upon the account of their being at Torwood conventicle, it is the opinion of the Committy that, in regard of their bygone imprisonment and poverty and ignorance, they be liberat, certifying them, if hereafter they be found guilty of conventicles, they shall be scourged’. (RPCS, VI, 602.)
Alexander Russell (executed October, 1681) in Randiford, Falkirk parish, Stirlingshire, and Thomas Jarvie, who were both brought before the privy council on 9 December, 1680, were also at Torwood:
‘The case of Thomas Jarvey and Alexander Russell who have been apprehended for being at the Torwood conventicle and are content to live orderly and not goe to conventicles hereafter is remitted to the [Privy] Councill’. (RPCS, VI, 602.)
On the same day, four others, possibly including James Stewart (executed October, 1681) in Coltness, Cambusnethan parish, Lanarkshire, may also have been present:
‘George Johnstone, James Stewart, George White and William Dick, prisoners, being examined for some of them being in the rebellion and others at Torwood conventicle, and having refuised to give any satisfaction and refrain from conventicles hereafter, it is the opinion of the Committy that the King’s Advocat be appointed to process them.’ (RPCS, VI, 602.)
On the 14 November, 1680, ‘Robert Hamilton, sone to the chamberlain of Borrowstounness [aka. Bo’ness] being delated to have been at [Cargill’s] conventicles at Torwood, Largo Law, etc., and examined thereupon and severall other interrogatours, made answer as is in his examination’. (RPCS, VI, 574; Wodrow, History, III, 229.)
While Marion Harvie, who was also from Bo’ness, confessed that she had tried to reach, but ‘could not win to’ the Torwood preaching. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 136.)
John Murray, a sailor in Bo’ness who was taken after the executions of Archibald Stewart, James Skene and John Potter on 1 December, 1680 and later tried with Christopher Miller, confessed that ‘he was at the conventicle at Torwood with arms’.
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.)
Archibald Stewart in Bo’ness, who was later executed on 1 December, 1680, also attended the Torwood preaching. On 13 November, Stewart admitted that he had attended the preaching before the privy council:
‘Declares he has been frequently with Mr. [Donald] Cargill, and was present at the Excommunication of the King … at the Conventicle at Torwood, and he himself was there in Arms.’ (Anon., A True and Impartial Account Of the Examinations and Confessions Of several Execrable Conspirators Against the King & His Government In Scotland, 5.)
Two days later, he also named several others after he was tortured in the boots:
‘Confesses he himself was at that Conventicle at Torwood, where were present John Gib and another of the same Name and Sirname, both Seamen in Borrowstonness; and that Robert Hammilton [in Broxburn], son of Duke Hammilton’s Chamberlain, was also at the same Conventicle.’ (Anon., A True and Impartial Account Of the Examinations and Confessions Of several Execrable Conspirators Against the King & His Government In Scotland, 7.)
‘[Declares that Mr. James Boig] was in Arms at the Conventicle of Torwood, where the King and others were Excommunicated.’ (Anon., A True and Impartial Account Of the Examinations and Confessions Of several Execrable Conspirators Against the King & His Government In Scotland, 7.)
Finally, Walter Smith (executed 27 July, 1681) was Cargill’s confidant at Torwood.
The Bo’ness Connection
The prominence of individuals from Bo’ness among those taken after Torwood highlights the significance of Cargill’s excommunication for the Society people in that burgh. It is not a coincidence that the extreme Sweet Singers sect which emerged in Bo’ness adhered to ‘their excommunication of the King and D[uke] of York, etc.’, i.e., Torwood, and that they allegedly went on to ‘excommunicate’ others. The history of the emergence of the Sweet Singers can be found here, and their progress until they were captured here, here and here.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.