Richard Cameron’s Road to Martyrdom Begins: ‘I Will Make Thy Hoofs Brass: And Thou Shalt Beat in Pieces Many People’

Richard Cameron

In late March, 1680, Richard Cameron and other militant presbyterians began to plot a new direction for the presbyterian movement which would take them into direct confrontation with the Restoration regime. Cameron did not expect to survive the struggle. Martyrdom beckoned…

The evidence for Richard Cameron’s plans comes from letters to Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun and Janet Hamilton, Lady Earlstoun.

The letter to Alexander Gordon explains that Cameron had travelled as far as Nithsdale with the intention to visit Earlstoun, but he was diverted by important ‘business of moment’. He urges Earlstoun and his wife to send any letters they have for the United Provinces, possibly including any for Lady Earlstoun’s brother, Robert Hamilton, as Cameron’s brother was to depart for there at the end of the week.

It also discusses a meeting in Edinburgh, which Cameron was keen that Earlstoun attended in person as ‘considerable things’ were ‘in hand’. The meeting appears to have been about raising the Lord’s standard in Scotland. That work was begun at fasts at Darmead and Auchengilloch several weeks later. Cameron’s reference to Micah 4.13. appears to give an apocalyptic interpretation to their forthcoming struggle. It is clear that Cameron feared that he would not survive the confrontation. He was killed at Airdsmoss in July.

If Earlstoun did not attend the Edinburgh meeting, Cameron indicates that he would come to him and other militants in the parishes of Dalry, Kells and Glencairn to explain what was settled upon directly after the meeting.

Cameron ends by sending his regards to Earlstoun’s family. He appears to have been particularly attached to Earlstoun’s daughter, Ann Gordon, who was almost certainly either a baby or an infant at that time. It is a touching moment amid the plotting and thoughts of death. It also reveals that Cameron had previously visited Earlstoun, probably earlier in the year.

Letter from Richard Cameron to Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun of Monday 22 March, 1680.

‘Right Honourable,
I was this day [22 March] within five miles of [the river] Nith, in order to meet with your Honour; but one is come to me from other friends, who has made me turn my head to another airth: the business is of moment, of which you may after this (if the Lord will) be informed. But if you be to write to Holland (as I doubt not but both you and your lady [Janet Hamilton] will) I am to send a brother of mine [probably Andrew Cameron or perhaps Michael Cameron] thither; his voyage is not to be delayed, and therefore you will not delay to have one in once this week to Edinburgh [i.e., before 28 March]: I mean I will be content, if business will permit, and counsel sought from the Lord, that yourself were there [at the meeting]; for we are to have considerable things in hand; but if you cannot win [to the meeting], I’ll make all the haste I can to see you and friends with you, I intreat you to signify this to our friends in Dalray, Kels, and Glencairn [, i.e., Dalry, Kells and Glencairn parishes]: I hope the Lord has some work for them yet, though I were gone, which will not be while my Master has work for me. O to be ready to be bound, yea, and to die. I dare not sit this call, whatever be the hazard. The Lord will carry on his work maugre all opposition: The daughter of Zion shall yet arise and thresh, &c.  Micah iv. 13. [Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion: for I will make thine horn iron, and I will make thy hoofs brass: and thou shalt beat in pieces many people: and I will consecrate their gain unto the LORD, and their substance unto the Lord of the whole earth.]

I have several encouraging things to impart to you when there is an opportunity of once meeting afforded. I hope to meet in heaven with not a few out of the house of Earlston and Aird’s one family. O how refreshing will it be to see in that day severals who lived in the Glenkens, together with some from Balmagie and Corsemichal [i.e., Balmaghie and Crossmichael].

The Lord be with you all. I doubt not but you mind me in your prayers. My respect to both your ladies [i.e., his mother, Mary Hope (d.1696), and wife, Janet Hamilton (d.1696)], sisters, &c. [Earlstoun had a sister, Margaret Gordon, and a brother, William Gordon (d.1718),] not forgetting the young laird [an infant son?], as sure as any I know, and my own Mrs. Ann. [Ann Gordon was probably a baby] Referring other things till meeting, Sir, I bid you farewell.
Richard Cameron.’
(McMillan (ed.), A Collection of Letters, 244-5.)

Cameron’s Letter to Lady Earlstoun, younger.
The letter to Lady Earlstoun is undated, but must post date Donald Cargill’s letter to her of 22 February, which mentioned that he had not ever heard from Cameron, as Cameron mentions that Cargill had not attended an expected rendezvous. His record of the arrival of government forces at Dumfries may refer to the circuit court and accompanying troops led by John Graham of Claverhouse in March, 1680. (Wodrow, History, III, 190-1.)

Cameron’s letter to Lady Earlstoun may have been sent at around the same time as his letter to Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun on 22 March, as it appears to refer to the same set of events.

Cameron had stayed at Earlstoun, as he mentions that ‘we had some good days, not to be forgotten’. His reference to the fact that he was ‘more refreshed with my thoughts of the Laird, and of what God hath done and is doing to him’, may indicate that Earlstoun’s commitment to the cause was increasing since he had been forfeited. Cameron hoped that Earlstoun’s commitment would result in him being honoured ‘above’ his illustrious forebears.

Letter from Richard Cameron, to Janet Hamilton, the Lady Earlstoun, younger. No date.

‘Madam,
I once intended to have been at Earlston the last week, but was detained by the unseasonableness of the weather, and the present discomposure of the country, with the alarm of the soldiers being come to Dumfries, because the country will be unsettled, until they see what course is taken by the adversaries; and also because Mr. Donald [Cargill] has not come. I have now resolved to go to a place in Clydesdale, if the Lord will, from which I may conveniently ride into [>248.] Edinburgh, in order to meeting with friends, and after that to return with all the speed I can to Galloway, that I may see your Ladyship, or at least tryst with the Laird [Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun]. My Master laid ties on me to the Glenkens, and some other two parishes in Galloway, that I was not looking for. I am bound, while I live, to remember with thanksgiving the Lord’s condescendence and kindness to me in Earlston, where I am sure we had some good days, not to be forgotten. I am more and more refreshed with my thoughts of the Laird [of Earlstoun], and of what God hath done and is doing to him. I am hopeful that the Lord shall carry him and you through your tribulations, which may be great for a little time. And now you may be sure that your steps shall be more observed than any forfeited family in Galloway: therefore I hope you will not be high-minded, but fear; happy is the man that feareth the Lord always: You should also trust in him at all times, for in the Lord Jehovah there is ever-lasting strength: There is enough in him for bearing your charges. You have now a notable opportunity of giving proof of your love to our sweetest Lord Jesus, who hath done so much for us. Praise, praise, to him that hath pitched upon you to witness for him, and that he is still keeping possession of that family of which you are now a mother,—-and that the honour thereof is screwed up to so high a pitch in your time; and that this laird, who seems to be far inferior to the three that have gone before him, should in some respects be honoured even above his uncle and grandfather, whose names are, and will be savoury to the generations to come: This is the Lord’s doing; his ways and thoughts [>249.] are not as our ways and thoughts.

I desire to remember your son and daughter [Ann], &c. I intreat that your Ladyship. and sister [Jean Hamilton] may remember me: ye know what need there is for praying for one another.—– The Lord be with you all.
Madam, Farewell;
Richard Cameron.’
(McMillan (ed.), A Collection of Letters, 247-9.)

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on April 2, 2013.

2 Responses to “Richard Cameron’s Road to Martyrdom Begins: ‘I Will Make Thy Hoofs Brass: And Thou Shalt Beat in Pieces Many People’”

  1. […] his message was beginning to make headway in the South West and he was receiving calls to preach. On 22 March, we was with five miles of the Nith, a river which flows from Cumnock parish via […]

  2. […] that the Old Chapel tradition refers to earlier martyrs, Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill, who both wrote to Earlstoun and to Lady Earlstoun, had stayed at Earlstoun Castle in early 1680 and may have preached […]

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