The Radical Life of Janet Hannay: Glasgow, Galloway and the Rejection of the Glorious Revolution

Without her testimony we would know nothing about the remarkable seventeenth-century life of Janet Hannay, a servant in Glasgow from the Galloway bank of the River Nith…

Old Bridge at DumfriesBridge End of Dumfries (left) © John M Wheatley and licensed for reuse.

Hannay was in service in Glasgow in the early 1680s. By her own account she was in a ‘wandering and extravagant condition’ before she joined the Society people. She was not inclined to hear the ministers of the established church under episcopacy, so she followed ‘that woful indulgence’, i.e., she heard indulged moderate presbyterian ministers. At some point she resolved to go to a preaching ‘at Paisley’ only with the intention of ‘being a beholder’. However, when she was there ‘the Lord gave me a lively sight and impression of the dreadful sinfulness of that course and way [of the indulged ministers]; that from that time I never durst go to them again’.

Two candidates for the Paisley preaching which influenced Hannay’s decision are a communion service held at Paisley in 1681 and James Renwick’s preaching ‘near Paisley’ in 1684.

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.

The other candidate is James Renwick’s preaching ‘near Paisley’ in July, 1684, which was ‘much noised about’ by the moderate presbyterian clergy as ‘intrusion’ into one of their charges.

At the beginning of 1685, Hannay still lived in Glasgow. Soon after the Abjuration oath, which renounced the Societies’ War against their persecutors, was introduced in early 1685, she ‘discovered’ the ‘sinfulness’ of the oath when she heard James Renwick preach. The influence of Renwick on Hannay was profound, as she described him as ‘my soul’s minister’.

She was then ‘forced to leave my service in Glasgow, and to return home to my father’s house, in the Bridge-end of Dumfries’. The reasons for her return to her family home were probably connected to the fate of her father and mother. According to Hannay, her father ‘being then banished, and my mother laid on a sick-bed, by the Lord’s afflicting hand upon her.’

Her father appears on the Fugitive Roll of May, 1684, as ‘John Hannay, at the Bridge-end of Dumfries’. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 219.)

Bridge End of Dumfries lay, as the name suggests at the western end of Old Bridge at Dumfries over the River Nith. Bridge End lies in Troqueer parish in Kirkcudbrightshire, Galloway.

Map of Bridge End            Street View of Bridge End

Her father ‘John Hannay in Traqueir [i.e., Troqueer parish]’ refused all oath and was banished in 1685. It is not clear if he returned from banishment. (RPCS, XI, 291, 293.)

After Renwick’s execution in February, 1688, Janet did not hear any minister preach until ‘some space’ after the Revolution of 1688 to 1689. She clearly did not support the decision by the three Societies’ ministers, William Boyd, Thomas Linning and Alexander Shields, to reunite with the established Presbyterian church in 1690. In order to avoid the ‘odious calumny of casting off the gospel’, she briefly heard two other ministers after the Revolution, William Somerville and John Hepburn, but appears to have found them unsatisfactory.

William Somerville was ordained to Hannay’s home parish of Troqueer in May 1690 and died in April 1696. Hannay presumably heard him in c.1691. (Fasti, II, 302.)

Hannay’s decision to hear John Hepburn at around the same time is far more intriguing. He had been associated with the Society people in the early 1680s. He had been granted indefinite ordination by the Scots ministers in London in 1678. In 1680 he was called to preach by the people in Urr parish in Kirkcudbrightshire and regularly intruded into other parishes to preach and baptise. (Fasti, II, 305.)

In the following year, Donald Cargill wrote to Hepburn and another unnamed minister to come to a meeting at David Steel’s home at Cumberhead in Lesmahagow parish to ordain Walter Smith. However, the meeting did not take place as Cargill and Smith were captured in July before it took place. (Walker, BP, II, 56.)

Hepburn fled to England at some point in 1680. In 1682, he was preaching in northern England and possibly in Teviotdale. Some of his hearers were Society people.

At the fifth convention in October, 1682, Andrew Young and the Teviotdale societies split from the United Societies after Young was excluded for hearing John Hepburn ‘against whom there were several reasons for withdrawing, particularly his not joining and concurring with our late Martyr ministers, in rejecting and disowning the authority of Charles Stewart. (Shields, FCD, 42.)

However, Hepburn received a call to preach from the United Societies’ seventh convention on 14 February, 1683, which took place while Renwick was in the United Provinces. (Shields, FCD, 50.)

Hepburn did not accept the call and was named in a testimony of James Renwick in April, 1683, as one of the ministers whom the Society people were not to join with. It is almost certain that Renwick also named him as one the ministers that were not to be joined with when Renwick returned to Scotland at the end of that year.

Hepburn received further calls from the people of Urr parish in 1686 and 1689 and appears to have frequently preached in the area after the Revolution. Hepburn remained outside of the Societies after Renwick’s death. However, on 5 February, 1690, Hepburn and William Ferguson of Caitloch brought a letter from ‘a correspondent meeting of some gentlemen, and others in the foot of Nithsdale and Galloway to the Societies’ general meeting at Sanquhar, which proposed that they should jointly petition Parliament. The Societies did not agree to a joint petition, but the meeting with Hepburn was amicable and they both agreed on the need for a restored covenanted settlement. (Shields, FCD, 425.)

It is reasonably clear that in 1690, that the moderate leadership of the Societies and Hepburn were drawing closer together.

However, in her testimony, Hannay, was critical of the Societies’ leadership, as she mentions that ‘three that were our ministers turned aside’. The three ministers were William Boyd, Thomas Linning and Alexander Shields, who led a large section of the Society people back into established Presbyterian church in late 1690.

In going to hear Hepburn preach, Hannay was breaking Renwick’s prohibition on joining with him. It is clear that she later found a more conducive home for her Renwickite beliefs in the continuing Societies, which were re-established by Robert Hamilton in 1692 and rejected the Revolution settlement of the church and state in a series of declarations. In her testimony, Hannay mentions that she joined the ‘poor despised, yet desirable remnant’ of the continuing Societies and lauded the testimonies of ‘the rest of my fellow witnesses since the late revolution’.

Janet Hannay died at Bridge End at some point after the mid 1690s. She left her testimony behind, which was eventually printed in 1806:

The Dying Testimony of good and godly Janet Hanna, who lived some time in Glasgow, but died in her father’s house, in the Bridge end of Dumfries.

If now, after martyrs’ testimonies on scaffolds, fields, and seas, are ceased, I could do any thing for God’s glory, the advantage of precious truth, confirming and strengthening the poor remnant, in this dark and wearisome day, by adding my mite of a testimony to these foresaid, and the rest of my fellow witnesses [in the continuing Society people since 1692], since the late revolution, it shall be well. And

1. I have the Lord to bless, that after a long wandering and extravagant condition, particularly in following that woful indulgence, and that for my own ends, (for to hear the curates, and join with prelacy, was never my inclination,) that he in his mercy to me, was pleased to let me see the sin and evil thereof, that time at Paisley, where being gone only with a resolution to see, and be a beholder; the Lord gave me a lively sight and impression of the dreadful sinfulness of that course and way; that from that time I never durst go to them again.

Thereafter, the times growing worse and worse, when that black oath of abjuration came on [at the beginning of 1685]; the sinfulness of which I heard discovered, by that dear and faithful servant of Jesus Christ, and now glorified martyr, Mr. James Renwick, my soul’s minister. I was forced to leave my service in Glasgow, and to return home to my father’s house, in the Bridge-end of Dumfries; he being then banished, and my mother laid on a sick-bed, by the Lord’s afflicting hand upon her. Where continuing for a certain time, after the death of that blessed martyr foresaid [in February, 1688], even till the revolution [of 1689], and some space after, without hearing of any; frae once the three that were our ministers turned aside [i.e., William Boyd, Thomas Linning and Alexander Shields in 1690]; till, partly by advice, and partly to evite that odious calumny of casting off the gospel, I went and heard Mr. John Hepburn, and thereafter one Mr. Somervaile twice, who was entered to the parish I lived in: yet praise, praise and thanks be to the Lord, because he recovered me from them also, and all others, by that great word born in upon me; “The leaders of this people cause them to err, and they that are led of them are destroyed.” Isa. ix. 16. From which time to the present, I never durst, for my soul, venture to hear any of them again, how great and faithful soever they were called, nor for the instigation of relations thereunto. Then, and at that time, (notwithstanding these my declining and backslidings from him,) it pleased the Lord to bring me into that poor despised, yet desirable remnant, way, and testimony; in which, and with whom I have had (to the honour of his name be it spoken,) so much piece of mind, quiet, and satisfaction, from that time till now; and from his sweet word and Spirit, that I have not the least hanker, doubt, or challenge in my mind, of that not being his way, and they his people, if he have any upon the earth. Whatever odious calumnies, and viperous reproaches they have been, or may be loaded with, for the failing of some, turning away of others, and want of the precious gospel ordinances amongst them; all which to my certain knowlege, have been sorrowful to me or been sorrow of heart to me, and also to many of them. Yet, let none mistake me in this, after I am gone, as if I were making a vain boast herein; for am not. But as one who have felt the terrors of the Lord drinking up my spirit; and as one who desires to be faithful to God, and to you; I could not but let all concerned know so much. But if I should be reproached therefore, all my apology is, that after once the Lord began to take a dealing with me, and in mercy to my soul, I never durst venture on flaunting big words of vanity. But my conversation towards all persons, hath been in modesty, sobriety, and calmness of spirit; as they who best know me can bear witness. And I hope it shall be with stedfastness to the end of my sojourning hereaway.

And now I leave my testimony to the sweet scriptures of truth, both of Old and New Testaments; which have often been made refreshful to me: but more especially since the streams of the sanctuary began to fail; I mean the faithful preached gospel, and ordinances of his house. O! How sweet have they been unto my soul!

Next, I leave my testimony to the Confession of Faith, Catechisms Larger and Shorter, covenants, national and solemn league, covenanted work of reformation; and to all the testimonies, blood-sufferings, and declarations of old or of late, and particularly these since the revolution [of 1689 to 1690].

And now my dear friends, it cannot be expected that any thing I leave of this kind, should be long or large. If it be considered, that of a long time, I have been a woman loaded with infirmities, or bodily diseases. Yet praise to him for it, with as little repining or grudging, at the continuation thereof, as I could; but rather with David, have often been made to say, “It hath been good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn his law.” Yea, on the contrary, I have rather longed to live, that I might see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. That I might see the reviving of the Lord’s work in these covenanted nations; and the returning of his glory to this land. But yet seeing that it is his will whose I am, to call me hence ere I see that day; who am I, that I should withstand his command and will? But yet ere I part with you, my dear friends, (for you are in my heart to live and die with you,) I must give you my last counsel and advice: which is, to wait upon the Lord in the way of truth and duty. Faint not, weary not, because of the lengthening out of the time; or the falling away of many. Each must have faith for himself, and not depend upon anothers: for all too looks will be taken out of the way, and yet the deliverance shall be no farther back of that. And the Lord will come in due time , the fewer there be for him, either as to number, or men of learning: yea, the more glory will redound to him in the delivery, and the less hazard shall you be in, of maring the work in the Lord’s hand. You are not yet come to Gideon’s 300; so then let neither the numerousness of your enemies, nor the fewness and weakness of yourselves, discourage you. The battle is the Lord’s, and he will fight it, and let you be beholders. Neither be troubled with their arguments, seemingly strong; for in respect of the cause you own, they are but like Samson’s new cords, to him; or flax before the fire: and shall be counted as such, when the Lord raises up his strong ones, to grind them to powder. Do they not all tend to defection, and to strengthen the hands of evil doers? Therefore hear them not, and fear them not, and value them not. The Lord, who is a man of war, will speak to them in ire. Keep up your fellowships duly, week diets, and the Lord’s day. Labour to be clear in your cases, and near the Lord at all times, for therein lies your safety.

Wrestle, wrestle with the Lord, (Jacob like,) for the cause and testimony of the day. Beware of deadness, lukewarrnness, formality, and worldly mindedness. Mind the things that are above, and the nobleness of the cause ye own, and the present duty. Make much of the sweet, sweet scriptures, together, and alone. Oh! Knew ye the value of these, the Sweetness and excellency of them, and found oftener the breathings of the Holy Ghost upon them, you would leap for very joy, and rejoice that the Lord had left you them; and prize them, as a nonsuch pearl, or gift. Next in value to that great and nonsuch gift, Christ Jesus, given unto sinners. O! prize them, prize them; for these are they which testify of him. And think much of these who have gone before you. martyrs or others, who have sealed it with their blood, or died stedfast in the cause: for these shall rise in the day of judgment, to condemn this faithless and perfidious generation. And happy shall these be, who are keeping their garments clean unto the end.

And to conclude, see 1 Corinth[ians], xv. 58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” 2 Pet[er]. i. 5, 6, 7, 8. “And besides this, giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue and to virtue, knowlege , and to knowle[d]ge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity. For, if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowlege of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Lord be with you all, my dear friends.
Sic subscribitur,
Janet Hanna.’ (A Collection of Dying Testimonies, 68-73.)

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on August 29, 2013.

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