Renwick’s Intercepted Letter of 1685: John Binning of Dalvennan, Mrs Binning, Edinburgh and Eaglesham

In 1685, a letter from the outlawed preacher James Renwick to a Mr Binning was intercepted by government forces. The interception of post in the late-seventeenth century was less systematic, but similar to, today’s age of digital interception.

We do not know how the letter which follows fell into the hands of the authorities, whether it reached its intended recipient, if was acted on or what the authorities made of it.

Fishmarket Close, Edinburgh

Before commenting on the context and contents of the letter, it should be read as it was when the prying eyes of the authorities looked over it at some point in 1685:

‘To Mr Binning at Edinburgh, in the back of the Fishmerkat towards the Cowgate.

‘Eglesome. My dear,
Our meeting in severall places hath been without interruption, blessed be God. I have come this lenth back in company with Carsland and unwillingly I leave him this day with ane intention to goe to Pollock in hopes to find him at home, for the lady wes at ane comunion in this place this last Saboth;

and if I doe not find him I hope you will not faile to see him at Edinburgh, that I may have these papers as soon as possible, for I am unwilling to enter upon any communing with Trochredge untill I have them and my act west also;

and theirfoir yow must be earnest with William Wallace that it may be in readines (if he come not west shortly himselfe) to be sent to me from him by post, and if he comes you must speake with him least he be forgetfull to bring it alongst with him.

I have ane horse heir which I am to send back with Johne as soon as I can make him ready, for hitherto I have done nothing.

Faile not to writte to me with every post that I may know how you are in your health, and I shall doe my utmost to satisfie you in other things that at present may trouble you.

I am in some feares to be brought to ane insensibility with so much preaching. I have not hitherto got time to ruminate and reflect on what is past. Lord send me the sanctified use of priviledges, and give me grace to have ane conversation answerable.

Pray for me, my dear, that I enter not into temptation; and I recommend you to Him that can give you ane inheritance amongst them that are sanctified.

Farewell.
Your faithfull weelwisher,
J.R.’ (RPCS, XI, 431.)

The letter certainly appears to be from James Renwick, the preacher to the Society people between late 1683 and early 1688.

Dalvennan © Copyright Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse.

Who was it sent to?
The ‘Mr Binning’ to whom the letter is addressed was almost certainly John Binning of Dalvennan. He was the son of the ‘Scottish Cicero’ and great Presbyterian divine, Hugh Binning (d.1653), and like his father, was from Straiton parish in Carrick, Ayrshire.

Map of Dalvennan in Straiton parish

After taking part in the Bothwell Rising of 1679, Binning was declared a fugitive and he fled to Ireland. On 6 July, 1680, he was forfeited and sentenced to death in absentia. (Wodrow, History, III, 180; RPCS, VII, 217; RPS, 1685/4/125.)

According to influential later sources, he was the son of another correspondent of the Societies, Mrs Binning, aka. Mary Simpson (d.1694), the widow of the illustrious Presbyterian divine. (Shields, FCD, 486-7n; Binning, The Works of the Rev, Hugh Binning (ed. Leishman, Third Edition, 1851), xliiin, l-li.)

The writers of those later sources were primarily interested in making a connection between Binning’s widow and the Societies in order to establish the authenticity of one of Hugh Binning’s works, A Useful Case of Conscience, learnedly and accurately discussed and resolved, concerning associations and confederacies with idolaters, infidels, heretics, malignants, or any other known enemies of truth and godliness (1693).

In order to prove a credible pathway for the transmission of the manuscript, it was important to place the manuscript in the possession of Mrs Binning for the forty years since Hugh’s death. In my view, it is far more likely that the manuscript was given to the Society people who published the work by her son, John Binning of Dalvennan, who was a member of the Societies and held the rights to publish his father’s works. (Leishman (ed.), Works of Binning, liv-lv & n. For Binning’s A Useful Case, see here .)

That debate is a side issue when it comes to the identity of the Mrs Binning who corresponded with James Renwick and Robert Hamilton.

The major problem with the identification of Mrs Binning as the Societies’ correspondent is that Hugh Binning’s widow remarried Mr. James Gordon (d. after 1683), a minister at Cumber in Ireland who conformed to episcopacy. Together, they had a daughter, Jean Gordon, the half sister of John Binning of Dalvennan. Jean was married to Daniel/Donald McKenzie, who from 1678 was an ensign under Lieutenant-Colonel William Ramsay, third earl of Dalhousie, in the Earl of Mar’s Regiment of Foot until he died in 1682. (Dalton, Scots Army, 113, 133; Fasti, III, 411; Leishman (ed.), Works of Binning, l-li.)

Before his forfeiture in 1680, John Binning had held a considerable estate in the parishes of Straiton, Colmonell and Maybole in Carrick. In the wake of it, Mrs Binning’s family in Ireland tried to retain the Dalvennan estate within the family by arguing that John owed his step father a considerable sum of money. They were successful, as Dalvennan came into the hands of Jean Gordon (and Ensign Donald Mackenzie?). However, in July, 1683, Jean, by then a widow herself with a forfeited half brother, donated the lands to Roderick Mackenzie, advocate and principal baillie of Carrick. According to an act of Parliament, Roderick Mackenzie was ‘particularly zealous’ in ‘suppressing the rebellious, fanatical party in the western and other shires of this realm, and putting the laws to vigorous execution against them’. (RPS, 1685/4/125. & 1690/4/180.)

In short, Mrs Binning’s second family were conformists involved it the repression of the Society people. That does not mean that she definitely shared their views on the Society people, but it does make it much less likely that she took part in subversive activities in the 1680s.

Other references to Mrs Binning also tell a different story about her identify. As we shall see, the ‘Mrs Binning’ who corresponded with Renwick and Hamilton in the mid 1680s, was not the widow of Hugh Binning, but her daughter-in-law, Hanna Keir, or Kerr, the wife of John Binning of Dalvennan.

Mrs Binning and John Binning in the Societies’ papers
The surviving correspondence of Renwick, Hamilton and the Societies contains several references to ‘Mrs Binning’ and ‘Mr John Binning’.

After Bothwell and her husband becoming a fugitive, Hanna Keir moved to Edinburgh, allegedly to avoid converse with rebels in the West. (RPCS, XII, 154.)

Although Mrs Binning later claimed that she had moved to avoid rebels, she did correspond with known fugitives and is almost certainly the mysterious ‘M. B.’ who is occasionally mentioned in Renwick’s correspondence with Hamilton.

If the address in the letter to her husband in 1685 was directed to the Binning’s home, then the she lived ‘in the back of the Fishmerkat towards the Cowgate’, which is now known as Old Fishmarket Close.

Street View of Fishmarket Close

The earliest surviving correspondence of Mrs Binning is a letter to Robert Hamilton of 17 July, 1682. (‘Letter from Mrs Binning to Mr Ham: ‘, EUL MSS. La.III.344. Vol 2. No. 50.)

Leishman, the nineteenth century editor of Hugh Binning’s works, erroneously claimed that ‘50 letters from Mrs Binning to Mr [Robert] Ham[ilton].’ contained in a lost folio of Wodrow manuscripts, were proof of a voluminous correspondence between Mrs Binning and the Societies. However, the entry in Wodrow’s index actually reads ‘[Item] 50. Letter of Mrs Binning to Mr Ham:’ and the “lost folio” is in the Cameronian papers of the Laing Collection in Edinburgh University Library. (Leishman (ed.), Works of Binning, xliv.)

Mr John Binning is also almost certainly the ‘Mr Binny’ who is briefly mentioned in Renwick’s correspondence. The fact that he was referred to as ‘Mr’ Binning/Binny indicates that he held a degree. (Houston, Letters, 134; Shields, FCD, 66.)

When Binning returned from Ireland, he became an activist in the United Societies. ‘Mr John Binning’ was appointed by the Societies’ ninth convention at Edinburgh on 8 May, 1683, to teach Latin to the Societies’ ‘expectants’, or prospective students to be sent to study for the ministry in the United Provinces, for the fee of £25 Scots per quarter. At that time, Binning had ten students: John Williamson, ‘James Bool’ [probably James Boyle], John Dick [alias Kid in Livingston], Benjamin Hall [the son of Henry Hall], Gavin Witherspoon junior. [the son of Gavin Witherspoon] Edward Aitken, John Dalgleish, David Gibson, John Campbell and Robert Miller. According to Faithful Contendings Displayed, he taught ‘Latin to some of these young men for some time’. (Shields, FCD, 66.)

Binning’s appointment as tutor may hint at to his ideological position. He had been appointed to replace Andrew Young, who had been expelled from the Societies in late 1682 for hearing presbyterian ministers who would not withdraw from indulged presbyterian ministers. In other words, Young had opposed Hamilton and Renwick’s isolationist platform for the Societies that they must withdraw from all ministers who were guilty of the sins of the land or wished to maintain unity with them. In that context, it is possible that Binning was appointed because he held firmer views against the indulgences than Young.

However, it appears that Binning’s appointment did not meet with Renwick’s approval, for in a letter to Hamilton of 18 June, 1683, he declared that he did ‘not know what to think of it’. (Houston, Letters, 134.)

It is possible that Renwick suspected Binning’s ideological suitability for a post of such importance to the future development of the Societies. There may have been the proverbial cigarette paper between Binning and Renwick’s positions, but such fine distinctions mattered in the internecine politics of the Societies in 1683. What we do know is that Binning was replaced within weeks of Renwick’s return to Scotland.

Mrs Binning Reappears
By mid 1683, Mrs Binning was also in correspondence with Renwick and Hamilton’s sister, Lady Earlstoun, in Leeuwarden, as Renwick also mentions in his 18 June letter that he had received three letters from Scotland out of a packet of letters directed to Lady Earlstoun, but that none of the letters were from whom he expected ‘viz. M B. [i.e., Mrs Binning]’. (Houston, Letters, 135.)

In the summer of 1683, Mrs Binning committed a social faux pas. She is mentioned in Renwick’s letter to Hamilton of 26 September, 1683, i.e., soon after Renwick had returned to Scotland. The paragraph that refers to Mrs Binning was deliberately omitted in later printed collections of Renwick’s letters, but it is found in the original manuscript:

‘Likeways, according to your [i.e., Hamilton’s] direction, I challenged Mrs. Binning upon her intimacie with your sister [either Jean Hamilton or Lady Earlstoun], but she says there is noe ground for it, and I think not such as your honour [i.e., Hamilton] apprehends.’ (Leishman (ed.), Works of Binning, xvii.)

Clearly, Hamilton had an issue with Mrs Binning’s recent correspondence to one of his sisters, both of whom shared a house with him in Leeuwarden.

She also committed an ideological faux pas. At the same time, Hamilton also raised ideological concerns about Mrs Binning with Renwick:

‘As also I challenged her upon the commendation she gave Jo[hn] Wilsone, in her letter unto you [i.e., to Hamilton], but she says she had not then seen his testimonie, and was sorrie when she saw it, it was so contrary both to her thoughts, and to her commendation of him’. (Leishman (ed.), Works of Binning, xvii.)

To understand Hamilton’s concerns, we need to move back a little in time. John Wilson was executed along with David McMillan in Edinburgh on 15 May, 1683. News of their martyrdoms had quickly spread to Renwick, who was then in Amsterdam. On 31 May, Renwick mentioned Wilson and McMillan in a letter to Hamilton. All that Renwick knew at that point was that John Wilson was ‘a young gentleman’ and that David McMillan was someone that he did not know from Galloway, but had heard good things of. (Houston, Letters, 131.)

At some point after their execution, Mrs Binning sent a letter to Hamilton (via Lady Earlstoun?) commending Wilson’s martyrdom. In turn, Hamilton negatively commented on Mrs Binning’s commendation in a letter to Renwick. Mrs Binning’s letter is now lost, but it must have arrived after Renwick departed for Scotland at the end of June and before the latest possible date for Hamilton’s letter in mid September. At some point after that and soon after Renwick returned to Scotland in September, Mrs Binning must have either met Renwick, or corresponded with him, as when Renwick replied to Hamilton on 26 September he was able to reassure him that Mrs Binning no longer commended Wilson.

Renwick, Hamilton and Mrs Binning probably came together in their disapproval of Wilson after copies of his testimony circulated through the militant network. Wilson’s testimony is printed in an edited form in Cloud of Witnesses without mention of Renwick’s disapproval of it. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 301-19.)

Darmead. Copyright Jon Morrice

John Binning Reappears
Mr Binning reappears again in Renwick’s letter to Hamilton of 14 November, which gave an account of the resolutions passed at the Societies’ eleventh convention at Darmead in Cambusnethan parish on 3 October, 1683.

Darmead was the first Societies’ convention held after Renwick’s return. It reached an important decision regarding Mr Binning’s position when it decided to appoint Thomas Linning to teach the Societies’ students. We know that Linning’s command of Latin was later utilised by the Societies, especially in their correspondence with Dutch divines. That raises another possible reason for Binning’s replacement: was his Latin up to scratch? (Houston, Letters, 146.)

It is not stated if Linning replaced Binning, but it certainly looks like a new broom was being brought in by Renwick. We know from Renwick’s earlier letter of 26 September, that he personally had been impressed with Linning, as he recommended him to Hamilton and mentioned how he had found him very satisfying, refreshing and encouraging since he had arrived home. (Houston, Letters, 141.)

Linning, rather than Binning, appears to have fitted better into Renwick’s vision for the Societies.

The Fate of Mrs Binning
Hanna Keir and her husband then disappear from the Societies’ papers until they both reappear in Renwick’s correspondence in 1685.

By then, Mrs Binning was in prison in Edinburgh. On 9 July, 1685, Renwick wrote to Hamilton that ‘M B is like to die in prison.’ (Houston, Letters, 178.)

Swine Abbey © James Allan and licensed for reuse.

What had happened?
The fate of Hanna Keir was dark and brutal. By her own account, she was captured during a search in Edinburgh for the murderers of two Lifeguards in late 1684. The killings of the two soldiers, Thomas Kennoway and Duncan Stewart, by some Society people had taken place at Swine Abbey, then in Livingston parish, after 1730 in Whitburn parish, Linlithgowshire. (RPCS, XII, 154.)

Map of Swine Abbey          Street View of Swine Abbey

By order of the privy council, Edinburgh was searched after 20 November and an even tighter and thorough search conducted on 29 November. Both searches were part of a wider clampdown on militants in response their posting of the Societies’ Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers on 8 November, rather than solely to find the assassins of the lifeguards. (RPCS, X, 29, 38-9.)

A record of her interrogation is not among the papers of the privy council, but it is listed as among the Wodrow Manuscripts. (‘Mrs Binning, Account of the Questions put to her by the council, 1685.’, NLS MSS. Wod.Fol. XXXIII. item 91.)

Keir was ‘not cleir to take any oaths’. In addition to the Test, she probably refused the Abjuration Oath, which renounced the Societies’ declaration, as it was approved for use on 24 November. (RPCS, X, 35.)

Edinburgh Tolbooth

‘She was then imprisoned in the tolbuith of Edinburgh and putt up ina verry uglie roume ther called the women house, amongst a great many theeves and whoores, wher she have lyen all this tyme in a very pitifull and miserable condition’. According to Hanna, ‘the women house’ was controlled by its inmates: ‘nor will any man come in to the roume, the very servants of the tolbuit loathing to come amongest the crew that are with her’.

The conditions brought on a severe illness. By June, she was ‘at the poynt of death of a bloodie flux’. Word of her condition quickly reached both Renwick and Hamilton. On 9 July, 1685, Renwick wrote to Hamilton that ‘M B is like to die in prison.’ (RPCS, XII, 154-5; Houston, Letters, 178.)

Her illness coincided with the privy council banishing Presbyterian prisoners en masse to the plantations in North America and Jamaica. Fortunately for Mrs Binning, on 30 July, 1685, the council decided to delay their consideration of the case of ‘Mistres Binning’ as she was in a ‘sick and valetudenary’ condition. (RPCS, XI, 129, 330.)

Unable to get a doctor to enter ‘the women room’, she remained sick. In another letter to Hamilton of c.21 October, 1685, Renwick wrote that ‘Mrs B hath been long sick in prison; But this is the ordinary calamity of the country; for I never heard of such a general sickness in Scotland.’ (Houston, Letters, 244.)

After nine months of the ‘bloodie flux’, Hanna Keir was persuaded to petition the council on c.25 March, 1686:

‘To the right honorable my Lord High Chancellor and Lords of his Majesties most honourable Privie Counsell, the humble petitione of Hanna Kerr, wyfe to John Binning late of Dalvennan, now prisoner in the tolbuith of Edinburgh, swetheth that yowr petitioner haveing come into Edinburgh immediatlie after the rebellione at Bothwellbridge, and haveing lived here ever since that tyme that she might be free of falling in snares by resideing in the west by conversing with rebels or otherways, and she haveing lived verry peaceable ever since that tyme till about sexten or eighten moneths agoe, that she wes apprehended in a search that wes made in Edinburgh for the murtherers of the two gentlemen of his Majesties guard who were murthered at Swyne Abbay, and because [she] wes not cleir to take any oaths, being a poor simple ignorant woman, she was then imprisoned in the tolbuith of Edinburgh and putt up ina verry uglie roume ther called the women house, amongst a great many theeves and whoores, wher she have lyen all this tyme in a very pitifull and miserable condition, she haveing been these nyne moneths bygone at the poynt of death of a bloodie flux, of which she most now infalible dye except yowr Lordships be pleased to order her liberty, nor can she gett a phisitiane to come nere her in this sad and deplorable conditione, because she had neither money nor friends to imploy them nor will any man come in to the roume, the very servants of the tolbuit loathing to come amongest the crew that are with her: May it therefor please yowr Lordships for Gods sake to pitty her sad and deplorable conditione and ordor her libertie, that she may dye in some private house and have the comforte of some christians to look after [her] in this her sad conditione, and your petitioner shall ever pray’ (RPCS, XII, 154-5.)

We do not know if the petition gained her liberty, but it seems likely that it probably did procure her immediate release. Although ‘at the poynt of death of a bloodie flux, of which she most now infalible dye’, she did survive.

On 15 July, 1687, Renwick wrote to Hamilton, that ‘Mrs Binning is gone to Ireland’. That letter was the first that Renwick had sent to Hamilton in several months, so it is possible that Mrs Binning had gone to Ireland much earlier in the year. (Houston, Letters, 240.)

Hanna Keir’s decision to petition for her liberty was not in line with Renwick’s view that sufferings were a form testimony that should not to be avoided. By petitioning, she had also tacitly accepted the authority of James VII and the Privy Council. It is possible that Mrs Binning had to either take oaths or give assurances as to her behaviour or agree to leave the kingdom in order to be released.

She does not reappear in Renwick’s correspondence in the few months he had left to live.

She was still alive in 1692 when Hamilton wrote to her complaining about her silence over his own imprisonment by the Williamite regime. (Shields, FCD, 486-7n.)

We do not know any more about Mrs Binning, but judging from the later poverty of John Binning, she never regained the elevated position that she had once held.

Renwick’s Letter to Mr Binning of c.1685
The biographies of Mr and Mrs Binning advance our knowledge of the context into which Renwick’s letter was sent. In 1685, Mrs Binning was imprisoned in the Tolbooth and some line of communication had been established between her and Renwick. At the same time, John Binning was staying in the Fishmarket, which lay close to the tolbooth.

Street View of the former site of Edinburgh Tolbooth

It is not clear where Mr Binning was when his wife was captured in late November, 1684. He may have been away at the Societies’ twelfth convention held on 28 November. He also does not appear on the surviving lists of Edinburgh residents when the Abjuration oath was imposed in the burgh at the end of January, 1685.

When did Renwick write the Letter?
An important clue as to the date of the letter is Renwick’s mention that he had recently parted with ‘Carsland’, i.e., Daniel Ker of Kersland, a supporter of the moderate-presbyterian Argyll Rising who moved in Societies’ circles after the rising failed in mid 1685.

Before the Rising, Kersland had been in exile at Utrecht in the United Provinces with his mother, Lady Kersland. She was an influential exile who had initially welcomed Robert Hamilton into her household, but after a dispute arose between them, Lady Kersland’s circle entirely consisted of moderate presbyterian ministers and supporters of Argyll like John Erskine of Carnock, who frequently attended her prayer meetings. (Shields, FCD, 206; Jardine, ‘United Societies’, I, 162.)

It is not clear when Daniel Ker returned to Scotland. He may have been sent as an agent by Argyll in advance of the rising to contact the Societies, but it is more likely that he embarked with Argyll and took part in the conflict. On 16 August, 1685, Mrs King wrote to Carnock, who had fought in the Rising and was then in hiding, that ‘Dun Carr, Kersland’ was ‘recovering’, possibly from wounds and probably in Glasgow, and that he sent his love to Carnock. A later and unreliable source written by a distant kinsman of Kersland, claimed that he had commanded ‘Cameronians’ during the Rising, but Carnock’s evidence confirms that Kersland had probably come over with Argyll in May and taken part in the fighting. Like other followers of Argyll, Kersland was later an officer in the Cameronian Regiment. He was killed at the battle of Steenkerque in 1692. (Erskine, Journal, 146-7. Kersland, Memoirs, 7.)

Kersland’s presence indicates that Renwick’s letter must date to the period after the Argyll Rising and probably to after Kersland’s recovery, i.e., after 16 August, 1685.

That time frame fits well with Renwick’s line in the letter that ‘I am in some feares to be brought to ane insensibility with so much preaching. I have not hitherto got time to ruminate and reflect on what is past’.

The Argyll Rising had opened up fissures in the United Societies, as Renwick and his hardline followers had insisted that the Society people did not join with Argyll. In the months after the Rising, Renwick had embarked on a preaching tour to shore up his fracturing support base. He records details of it in his letter to Hamilton of c.21 October, 1685, his first letter to Hamilton since mid July. Renwick wrote of how he had enough work ‘as would keep ten ministers busy’ and gave an account of his preaching in the South West since his last conference with two moderate ministers, Robert Langlands and George Barclay, who had come over with Argyll, on 29 July:

‘[He had made] a progress through Galloway, and found never such an open door for preaching the gospel, the people coming far better out than they did before. We got eight field meetings kept there without any disturbance, and six in Nithsdale, many coming out who were not wont to come, and none in any of these places staying away that came out formerly’.

He also gave Hamilton a report on the state of the Societies in the face of the challenge from Argyll’s faction after the Rising:

‘Clydesdale continueth firm as it was; Nithsdale is as one man upon their former ground, together with Annandale; some in Kyle [in Ayrshire] are gone off, but many continue; many in Carrick [in Ayrshire] are jumbled, some, for the time, are quite off, and some few continue; the few that are in Livingston and Calder are put in a reel;—-the Lord knoweth how they will settle.’ (Houston, Letters, 243, 244.)

Fourteen field preachings in the South West was probably, at the very least, about seven weeks work, i.e., Renwick was in the South West until at least late September. In comparison to his previous fragmented and harassed preachings during the Killing Times in early 1685, it was a very busy period of preaching for him.

The time frame for the intercepted letter can be further narrowed down when the location that Renwick wrote it from is taken into account.

Eaglesham © John McLeish and licensed for reuse.

‘Eglesome’ is Eaglesham, which lies in Renfrewshire next to the boundary with Lanarkshire.

Map of Eaglesham

Renwick’s presence at Eaglesham is an important clue to the date of the letter. His letter to Hamilton of c.21 October was sent at around the time of the Societies’ twenty-fourth convention on 21 October near the Polbaith Burn at the southern end of Eaglesham Moor.

Map of Polbaith Burn

At around the same time, Renwick preached somewhere in Eaglesham parish. His preachings were often located in space and time close to a Societies’ convention. For example, see his preachings surrounding the Darmead convention, here and here.

The letter to John Binning almost certainly dates to around the time of Renwick’s preaching and presence at the twenty-fourth convention. Since Kersland probably attended the convention and Renwick mentions that ‘our meeting in severall places hath been without interruption’, it is very likely that the intercepted letter dates to the days after 21 October, 1685.

Renwick also states in his intercepted letter that he had recently held a communion preaching on the Sabbath. That communion was probably held on Sunday 18 October. Two sites in Eaglesham parish, Picketlaw and the Munzie Well, are associated with field preachings.

The low hill at Picketlaw, which lies just to the south-west of Eaglesham, is supposed to have been used to watch for approaching government troops at a field preaching.

Map of Picketlaw           Street View Towards Picketlaw

The Munzie Well, which at a more remote site in the parish, was used as a preaching site by Richard Cameron.

Map of Munzie Well

Intercepted Mail
The dating of Renwick’s letter raises the question of what impact its interception had. As discussed above, when or how it was intercepted are not clear. To avoid interception the Societies often used secure couriers and sometimes resorted to letters in cant, a form of letter writing in which the language of trade was used to discuss matters of the utmost secrecy. Few precautions appear to have been taken over the content of Renwick’s letter from Eaglesham. That may have been a costly mistake for some of the Society people around Eaglesham.

As Renwick mentions in his letter, the Societies’ meetings and communion around Eaglesham had gone off ‘without interruption’ from government forces. It is not clear how the government forces discovered about the meetings around Eaglesham, but prisoners taken in connection with the Eaglesham field preaching were brought before the council in Edinburgh in late November and early December 1685.

The interception of the letter does not appear to have led to the capture of John Binning. There is no record of John Binning being captured or taking bonds before the Revolution. As a fugitive, he presumably remained in hiding and may have went into exile again. He clearly did survive into the post-Revolution period, as he was later involved in a failed attempt to regain the Dalvennan estate from Roderick Mackenzie. At that time, he was described as being ‘altogether insolvent’. In the decades that followed, Binning cuts a pitiful figure in comparison to his landed status before 1679. In 1702, 1704 and 1717, he made charitable applications the Presbyterian Kirk that were granted out of kindness to his father’ name. (Leishman (ed.), Works of Binning, lin.)

The Politics of Renwick’s Letter
The letter offers a rare glimpse into the day-to-day politics of the Societies in Scotland. The vast majority of Renwick’s surviving correspondence were periodic summaries of recent events sent to Robert Hamilton in the United Provinces.

First, it tells us that Ker of Kersland had abandoned his former moderate presbyterian brethren in the wake of the conference with Langlands and Barclay. By the end of 1685, most of Argyll’s leading followers had rejected Renwick and retreated to the United Provinces, however, Kersland opted to stay and joined the Society people. He would become a thorn in Renwick’s side, but in late 1685, Renwick clearly enjoyed his company.

John Maxwell of Nether Pollock

Second, the letter gives a snapshot of the post-Argyll Rising discussions between the presbyterian factions in late 1685. Renwick mentions that he had ‘ane intention to goe to Pollock in hopes to find him at home’. Sir John Maxwell of Nether Pollock (d.1732) was a prominent moderate presbyterian who was later a patron of the presbyterian historian, Robert Wodrow. In late 1685, Renwick was prepared to have a face-to-face meeting with Sir John.

Renwick’s mention of his ‘hopes’ to find Nether Pollock at home, reveals that he was aware of Sir John’s situation. Nether Pollock had been released from prison on 17 May, 1685, in order to attend his sister’s funeral under an astonishingly high bond of £10,000 Sterling. He had reentered prison in Edinburgh on 11 September, but he was once again liberated under bond on condition that he reenter prison on 12 October. (Wodrow, History, IV, 212.)

It is likely that he remained at liberty at the time that Renwick planned to visit him, but he may not have been at Pollock. Renwick appears to have appreciated the fluid nature of the situation, as he also laid plans that if he did ‘not find’ Sir John, he hoped that John Binning ‘will not faile to see him at Edinburgh’ so that he ‘may have these papers as soon as possible’.

What the papers were that Renwick expected to receive from Nether Pollock is not clear, but in the context of the Societies ongoing discussions with Argyll’s followers, they may have dealt with the possible reunion of the Society people and Argyll’s followers.

Those discussions ultimately failed to reach agreement and caused a schism within the Societies’ ranks when the societies in Carrick departed the convention in January, 1686. After the rapprochement between much of the moderate presbyterian faction and the regime of James VII, Sir John Maxwell would sit on the assize that condemned Renwick to death in 1688. (Wodrow, History, IV, 448.)

Thomas Steuart of Coltness

In October 1685, Renwick may have believed that Sir John was open to discussions on the basis that ‘the lady wes at ane comunion in this place this last Saboth’. Sir John’s wife, Lady Nether Pollock, was Marion Steuart (d.1706), a sister of Thomas Steuart of Coltness, another leading moderate presbyterian. Coltness had been tried and forfeited in absentia in May, 1685. His name is associated with three dead Society people from Cambusnethan parish; Paterson in Kirkhill (killed 1680), James Stewart in Coltness (executed 1681), and William Paterson in Murrays (executed in 1685).

Renwick also specifically informed Binning that he was ‘unwilling to enter upon any communing with Trochredge’ until he had the papers ‘and my act west also’. ‘Trochredge’ appears to have been involved in the same moderate presbyterian faction as Nether Pollock.

However, Renwick was not prepared to meet. or discuss, matters with ‘Trochredge’ until he had viewed Nether Pollock’s papers (proposals?) and his own ‘act’. What the ‘act’ was in not clear, but it appears to have been an important draft document for Renwick. Its importance is reflected in his instructions to Binning to ‘be earnest with William Wallace [another member of the Societies?] that it may be in readines (if he come not west shortly himselfe) to be sent to me from him by post, and if he comes [west] you must speake with him least he be forgetfull to bring it alongst with him’.

Who was Trochredge?
Robert Boyd of Trochrig was another moderate presbyterian who had recently been in trouble with the authorities. He came from Trochrague in Girvan parish.

Map of Trochrague

John Binning and Boyd may have had shared grievances. Like Binning, Boyd was from Carrick.

He was brought before the circuit court at Ayr in late 1684. He may have been one of the lairds before the circuit whom Sir William Wallace of Craigie allowed to stay in his house, rather than in Ayr’s Tolbooth, as on 7 November Wallace was the principal cautioner for Boyd’s bond of £1,000 Sterling. He was then fined in disputed circumstances, apparently as part of a private agreement to keep him out of prison. His bond was then deleted for unspecified reasons. In December Boyd was before the council in Edinburgh and on 17 December he was ordered to find ‘new cautione to compear, when he is called for and not to depart out of the toune of Edinburgh under the penalty of ane thousand pounds sterling’. He failed to find a new cautioner. On 20 February, he was part of a group accused of attending conventicles and being at Bothwell, the libel specifically mentioned the group being at the burial of Captain George Campbell at Galston. His immediate imprisonment in Edinburgh Tolbooth was ordered ‘having refused the oath of allegiance and to assert the prerogatives or to depone upon his libel’. (RPCS, XI, 56, 70, 156, 168, 324, 362, 516.)

The precise nature of this dispute involving Carrick men is hard to fathom, but Boyd may have felt an increasing sense of injustice at his predicament. He remained in the tolbooth until 7 August, 1685, when he was released by the council on the grounds of the tragic death of his wife, ill health and having paid his disputed fine:

‘Anent the petition presented by Robert Boyd of Trochrig, shewing that the petitioner, being called before the Lords of the district of Air, was dismist upon finding caution to ansuer before the Councill when called and accordingly did appear befor ane committie appointed to consider the petitioners cause, but not haveing ane cautioner then in readiness he was committed to prison; and now the petitioners wife since his incarceration being deseased leaveing eight small children behind her, and there being no crime made out against the petitioner, he haveing payed his Majesties Cashkeeper his fyne imposed by the baillie of Carrick for his irregularities, and who by reason of the want of air in the tolbooth is very sickly and valetudenary, and therefor humbly supplicating that ordor might be granted to the effect underwritten; the Lords of his Majesties Privy Councill, haveing heard and considered the forsaid petition, doe hereby grant ordor and warrant to the majistrats of Edinburgh and keepers of the tolbooth thereof to sett the petitioner at liberty, in regaird he hes payed to his Majesties Cashkeeper one thousand merks as his fine, upon enacting himslefe under penalty of one thousand pounds sterling money to live regularly and orderly to compeir when called’. (RPCS, XI, 138.)

Where Boyd’s case becomes interesting in relation to the letter to John Binning, is that the Baillie of Carrick to whom Boyd paid his fine was Roderick Mackenzie of Dalvennan, the same man who had taken over Binning’s former estate in Carrick.

A few months before, on 16 June, Mackenzie had gone to the length of obtaining an act of parliament in his favour to confirm his potentially disputed ownership of the Dalvennan estates. On 16 December, 1686, he also supplicated the council about the property or superiority of ‘John Binning of Dallvennan, who was forfeited for being in rebellion in 1679.’ In 1690, Binning unsuccessfully disputed Mackenzie’s ownership. (RPS, 1685/4/125. & 1690/4/180; RPCS, XIII, 50.)

Binning appears to have had a bee in his bonnet about his forfeited estate. The use of persecution by some in positions of authority in Carrick to obtain economic and social advancement through fines and the forfeiture of land may have brought Boyd and Binning together.

They also had connection through Edinburgh Tolbooth, as Binning’s wife was also very sick in the tolbooth when Boyd was imprisoned there and suffered the loss of his wife.

Given those connections and their shared Carrick backgrounds, it is possible that Boyd knew Binning and that his approach to the Societies was initiated via Binning. The intercepted letter does appear to imply that Trochrig’s advances had not come about via Renwick, as Renwick was not prepared to ‘commune’ with him until the papers were sent.

Boyd was later given a ‘remission for treason’ with other moderate presbyterians and former supporters of Argyll on 19 May, 1687, probably as part of the rapprochement between James VII’s regime and leading moderate presbyterians when James introduced his edicts of Toleration in 1687. (RPCS, XIII, xvi.)

Annotated Version of Renwick’s Eaglesham Letter
In light of the above, it is worth rereading the intercepted letter:

‘To Mr [John] Binning [,formerly of Dalvennan,] at Edinburgh, in the back of the Fishmerkat towards the Cowgate.

‘E[a]glesome [, Renfrewshire, c.21 October, 1685,].
My dear [John Binning],
Our meeting in severall places [around Eaglesham parish] hath been without interruption, blessed be God. I have come this lenth [to Eaglesham] back in company with Carsland [i.e., Daniel Ker of Kersland] and unwillingly I leave him this day with ane intention to goe to [Sir John Maxwell’s house at Nether] Pollock in hopes to find him at home, for the lady [Nether Pollock, Marion Steuart,] wes at ane comunion in this place [near Eaglesham] this last Saboth [18 October, 1685?]; and if I doe not find him [i.e., Nether Pollock] I hope you [John Binning] will not faile to see him at Edinburgh, that I may have these papers [from Sir John] as soon as possible, for I am unwilling to enter upon any communing with [Robert Boyd of] Trochredge untill I have them and my act west also; and theirfoir yow [i.e., Binning,] must be earnest with William Wallace [a Societies’ activist?] that it may be in readines (if he come not west shortly himselfe [to Renwick]) to be sent to me from him by post, and if he comes you [i.e., Binning] must speake with him least he be forgetfull to bring it alongst with him. I have ane horse heir which I am to send back with Johne as soon as I can make him ready, for hitherto I have done nothing. Faile not to writte to me with every post that I may know how you are in your health, and I shall doe my utmost to satisfie you in other things that at present may trouble you [Mrs Binning’s imprisonment?]. I am in some feares to be brought to ane insensibility with so much preaching [in Galloway and Nithsdale in August to September, 1685]. I have not hitherto got time to ruminate and reflect on what is past. Lord send me the sanctified use of priviledges, and give me grace to have ane conversation answerable. Pray for me, my dear [John Binning], that I enter not into temptation; and I recommend you to Him that can give you ane inheritance amongst them that are sanctified. Farewell. Your faithfull weelwisher,
J[ames]. R[enwick].’ (RPCS, XI, 431.)

For the Eaglesham martyrs who were killed earlier in the year, see here.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on February 15, 2012.

9 Responses to “Renwick’s Intercepted Letter of 1685: John Binning of Dalvennan, Mrs Binning, Edinburgh and Eaglesham”

  1. […] Auchengilloch was a site frequently used by the Society people. The preacher at the harvest conventicle was almost certainly James Renwick. He probably preached there after he had held 13 field preachings in the South West in August and September, 1685, and before his field preaching at Eaglesham in mid October. For the Eaglesham preaching see here and here. […]

  2. […] Another possible trigger for the raids was the interception of a letter sent by James Renwick from Eaglesham. […]

  3. […] He was a neighbour of both Lord Bargeny and Robert Boyd of Trochrague. The latter appears to have intrigued with James Renwick in late […]

  4. […] taken a hostile attitude towards local Society people. His patron, Maxwell of Pollock, was later involved in a secret negotiation with James Renwick in October, 1685. Renwick’s willingness to visit Maxwell of Pollock’s home at that time is a […]

  5. […] former followers of Argyll. At almost exactly the same time that Hamilton wrote, James Renwick was involved in discussions over the issue with two moderate presbyterians, Robert Boyd of Trochrague an…. When he wrote, Hamilton did not know the outcome of those […]

  6. […] Binning was a member of the United Societies and taught Latin to their ‘expectants’, i.e., trainees for the ministry, between May to October, 1683. He was married to Hanna Keir, who corresponded with both James Renwick and Robert Hamilton. A letter from James Renwick to Binning was intercepted in late 1685. […]

  7. […] was executed with David McMillan in Edinburgh on 16 May, 1683. Wilson’s martyrs’ testimony was admired by Hanna Keir, but was rejected by James Renwick and Robert Hamilton. It is possible that Wilson’s connections to Peden were the cause of Renwick and Hamilton’s […]

  8. […] File Name : Renwick’s intercepted letter of 1685: john binning of Source : drmarkjardine.wordpress.com Download : Renwick’s intercepted letter of 1685: john binning of […]

  9. […] in his narrative, it is likely that the those events took place in the reverse of that order. Hanna Keir was also caught up in the searches of Edinburgh after Swine […]

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