Before Cargill Met Cameron: A Letter to Lady Earlstoun of 1680
The agreement between Donald Cargill and Richard Cameron to restart field preaching and deny the King’s authority in 1680 was, in the words of an old tutor of mine, “perhaps the finest moment in Scottish history”. How did it come about?
A clue as to why the two preachers met appears in a letter from Donald Cargill to Janet Hamilton, Lady Earlstoun, younger, of Sunday 22 February, 1680. Janet was the spouse of Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun, who was forfeited for his role in Bothwell rebellion of 1679, and sister of Robert Hamilton, the commander at Bothwell.
Earlstoun Castle lies in Dalry parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.
Cargill’s letter was in reply to one from Janet Hamilton, which she had apparently written to him at the time of the Earlstouns’ forfeiture on 19 February, 1680. At that time, she, but perhaps not her husband, had taken a decision to withdraw from other presbyterian who acknowledged the authority of Charles II. Cargill commended her decision.
It is clear from the final paragraph that she had asked Cargill in her letter if he had heard from Richard Cameron, who had been secretly present in Scotland for several months. Cargill had not either met, or heard from Cameron, since he had returned to Scotland. Cargill also indicates that as far as he knew at that stage, he alone was prepared to join Cameron in restarting field preaching. It appears that Lady Earlstoun may have played a pivotal role in bringing Cargill and Cameron together.
Letter from Donald Cargill to Janet Hamilton, Lady Earlstoun, younger, of Sunday 22 February, 1680.
I shall not pass the expressions of your affection to me: I am truely sorry, that there is nothing in me that can either requit the kindness, or answer the expectations of any. And I am truely refreshed to hear of your frame, and your courage and stedfastness in that way, which is God’s. And I am persuaded, the further you stand off from them, and the more zealously you detest their doings, it is still the better. Fear not, your forfeiture shall not be long, and your de novo damus [i.e., we give a new] shall be from heaven, more sure, and more blessed, if you take it not from earth; and your rent of one year lifted by another, (which to me yet is doubted) shall not enrich the receiver, and shall bear interest unto you. He is not only putting me on petitions for higher and greater things than these private, but also himself is making me to crave of himself, in behalf of these that are afflicted, the hundredfold in this life, and it shall be sure to them, or to their heirs. However, for the present, make sure, and bring your comfort not only mainly, but only from the other; for, as this is your season to seek, so you shall find it his season graciously to give; for, I think, he would never have suffered you to come to this strait for him, if he had not purposed to gratify you with his exceeding great reward: and I am persuaded if it be sought by all, nothing will hinder the performance; no, not our own personal sins, if they be rightly acknowledged.——
As for Mr. Richard Cameron, I never heard any thing from him, in the Lord’s truth, but I am both ready and willing to confirm it. But woes me that I have not more worth and authority for that cause: but truth itself, if it be rightly pleaded, will have authority upon consciences. My respects being remembered to your nearest friends, and all other friends that are right in his cause,
Your servant in our Lord,
(McMillan (ed.), A Collection of Letters, 240-1.)
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.