The Covenanters in Glasgow and Paisley After Donald Cargill

The execution of Donald Cargill in 1681 did not bring to an end the Covenanters struggle, as a series of minor incidents around Glasgow and Paisley involving the Society people highlight that they had taken a new direction…

The incidents were recorded by Robert Law, a moderate-presbyterian minister.


‘August 1681, now the gospel grows contemptible to many in the land, many refusing to hear it preached, and to partake of the sacraments, vilifying and setting at nought the meanes of grace, and contemning the ministers of it. The sacrament of the Lord’s supper [i.e., communion] being dispensed at Pa[i]sley two Sabbath-days in this moneth, severals refuse to go to partake that used to go before, though the dispensers were able and faithfull ministers as is in the church, Mr [John] Baird, and Mr [William] Eccles.’ (Law, Memorialls, 202-3.)

According to Law, one reason for the outbreak of such challenges to the social hierarchy were the actions of two Society people, Robert Goodwin and James Kirkwood:

‘One [Robert] Goodwin, maltman in Glasgow, and James Kirkwood, a burgess in it, go about to diswade people to hear ministers, indulged or not indulged, particularly not to hear Mr Andrew Mortoun’ (Law, Memorialls, 203.)

Robert Goodwin would become a member of the United Societies’ general convention. Before the Restoration he had been an elder of the presbyterian divine, James Durham, in Glasgow and after the Restoration he had heard Donald Cargill’s protest in the burgh against the celebration of the anniversary of the King’s Birthday. (Walker, BP, II, 7.)

After the capture of Donald Cargill on 11 July, 1681, Goodwin and John Hodge may have witnessed Cargill’s brief imprisonment in Glasgow’s Tolbooth in mid-July, as they investigated the case of John Nisbet, the factor of bishop Paterson, who apparently lost the power of speech after he ridiculed Cargill at the Tolbooth. (Walker, BP, II, 45.)

Cargill’s capture was a huge setback for the militant-presbyterian Society people, as it left them without any minister and little prospect of obtaining another. Goodwin and Kirkwood’s endeavours to dissuade other presbyterians from hearing their moderate opponents demonstrate that lay Society people were prepared to keep the movement going and continue their protest against the defection of the moderate presbyterian ministry. A few months later, on 8 October, Goodwin was forfeited in absentia along with others of his ‘lives, lands and goods’ for his part in the Bothwell Rising on 1679. (Wodrow, History, III, 247-8.)

Who were the ministers the Society people refused to hear?
Andrew Morton had been the minister of Carmunnock until he was deprived of the charge in 1662. Under the protection of presbyterian lairds, he had continued his ministry. He was fined and imprisoned and in 1672 rejected the offer of indulgence. From 1679 he was sheltered in the family home of John Maxwell of Nether Pollok at Haggs Castle on the edge of Govan parish, Lanarkshire.

Map of Haggs Castle       Street View of Haggs Castle

Morton supported the moderate presbyterian faction in opposition to Donald Cargill in the debates during the Bothwell Rising of 1679. He is also said to have conducted his ministry and celebrated communion in the fields while he was at Haggs until he was driven into hiding in Edinburgh in 1683. Morton was the moderator of the meeting of presbyterian ministers in Edinburgh which accepted James VII’s edicts of toleration. He returned to Carmunock parish in 1687 and died in 1691. (Fasti, III, 379; Wodrow, History, III, 424-5; IV, 433.)

The ministers at Paisley which several refused to hear were both indulged moderate presbyterians.

William Eccles was the son and heir of John Eccles of Kildonan. Ordained in the parish of Ayr in 1656, he was deprived of his charge in 1662. In 1672, he was indulged in the second charge at Paisley, but he was soon fined for refusing to observe the anniversary of the Restoration. Eccles persisted in refusing to observe the anniversary until his indulgence was finally withdrawn in late 1684. He returned to preach at Ayr under James VII’s edicts of toleration in 1687 and died in 1694. (Fasti, III, 9, 11, 168.)

Eccles held the Kildonan estate in Colmonell parish, Carrick, Ayrshire. (RPS, 1672/6/113.)

Map of Kildonan

On the night after the deaths of the two Barrhill martyrs in 1685, Lieutenant-General William Drummond is said to have burned the Bible when he lodged in Eccles’s manor house at Kildonan.

John Baird had been the minister of Innerwick until he was deprived in 1662. He was indulged in the first charge at Paisley in 1672 and like Eccles was fined in 1673 and ultimately deprived in 1684 for failing to observe the anniversary of the Restoration. Baird died March 1685. (Fasti, III, 165.)

The role of female Society people
Law found the lack of respect shown by a number of women to ministers particularly contemptible:

‘One woman, doubting to go [to the Paisley communion], went to her neighbour to ask counsel, she replyed, What! will ye be guilty of the blood of the saints? [i.e., the Society people and their martyrs.]’ (Law, Memorialls, 203.)

He also mentions that two other women had refused to go to the Paisley communion:

‘A young woman took the boldness to reprove a gentleman for going from Glasgow to the communion at Pa[i]sley at this time. Oh! what sad evidence have we of a departing God from our land, and of removing the candlestick out of its place. Another being asked, Whether she will not go to church to hear? replyed, she would not profane the Sabbath so far.’ (Law, Memorialls, 203.)

And that yet another woman had insulted the indulged minister of Ochiltree parish in Ayrshire:

‘Mr Robert Miller being spoken of as a great prayer, a woman replyed, so is a ——- great at the one end, small at the other.’ (Law, Memorialls, 203.)

Robert Miller had been the minister of Ochiltree until he was deprived in 1662. After a spell in exile in the United Provinces and France, he was indulged in the parish in 1669. Like Eccles and Baird, he was fined for not keeping the anniversary of the Restoration. In late 1683, he was cautioned to find 3,000 merks to appear before the privy council when called over if he had loyally read the proclamation condemning the Rye House Plots in church. He was married to the niece of the earl of Dundonald and died in 1685. (Fasti, III, 61.)

In Law’s view, ministers like Baird, Eccles, Morton and Miller had faithfully maintained the presbyterian cause and the withdrawal from them was ‘sad evidence’ of ‘a departing God from our land’.

He may have interpreted the withdrawal of the Society people from both indulged and nonindulged moderate presbyterian ministers as worrying further evidence that the cohesion of the presbyterian movement was crumbling and that the “dangerous” forces of Radical Reformation, as exemplified by lay-led groups like the Sweet Singers, had broken out.

However, the Society people, too, were concerned with what they viewed as the right-handed excesses of the mainly female Sweet Singers. In the months before Cargill’s capture, Cargill and his followers had worked to create a disciplined militant-presbyterian movement based on prayer societies which could maintain their testimony without ministerial oversight. The actions of the women, Goodwin and Kirkwood provide a glimpse into the transformation of the militant presbyterian movement from one led by a minister into one directed by the laity after Cargill’s execution. Within months, the United Societies were born.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on October 9, 2012.

2 Responses to “The Covenanters in Glasgow and Paisley After Donald Cargill”

  1. […] In August, 1681, several indulged ministers held a communion services at Paisley on two Sabbaths. The communions appear to have been some kind of set piece event for the indulged ministry, however. the occasion was the cause of controversy when two leading Glasgow Society people, Robert Goodwin and James Kirkwood, discouraged people from attending them. […]

  2. […] 1681, Paisley would see an outbreak of militant dissent, again involving women, against moderate presbyterian preachers at a […]

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