The Radical Gardener: John Wilson and Kersland #History #Scotland #Ayrshire
John Wilson was a gardener and a radical, who at some point lived at Busbie in Kilmaurs parish, Ayrshire. He was one of the leading post-Revolution Society people in the Cameronian Societies, later known as the McMillanites.
According to his testimony, in his younger days his minister was William Guthrie in Fenwick parish. Wilson appears to have been from the parish and remained there up until the deposition of Guthrie from the parish in 1664. After that, Wilson explains he began to make the first of several personal covenants with the Lord in July 1664.
Wilson states that he was intercommuned as a fugitive after the defeat at Bothwell in 1679. He presumably had taken part in the battle. His name is almost certainly on the published fugitive roll of May, 1684, probably either under ‘John Wilson, in Saltcoats’ in Ardrossan parish which lay near where he is known to have stayed or, perhaps less likely, under ‘John Wilson in Out-mains’ in Tarbolton parish.
He appears to have heard Richard Cameron (d.1680) preach, but did not have the occasion to hear Donald Cargill, probably as Cargill (d.1681) mainly operated further east than the area where Wilson lived. He later joined James Renwick (d.1688) when the Society people were ‘hunted partridges’ in c.1685.
Immediately after the Revolution, in early 1689, he was at ‘Busbie’ in Kilmaurs parish, the neighbouring parish to Fenwick. Busbie probably refers to the farm of Busbie Mains. Wilson made a personal covenant at Busbie on 26 February, 1689.
Less than a week later, on 3 March, 1689, he made another personal covenant at Borland Hill in Lesmahagow parish when the Covenants were renewed by the Society people and their ministers, Alexander Shields, Thomas Linning and William Boyd.
In the text of A Collection of Dying Testimonies, Wilson does not specify where he was a gardener immediately after the Revolution. However, in the the same passage reproduced at the end of Faithful Contendings Displayed (1780), it is clear that Wilson worked at Kersland, as it adds ‘(viz. Kersland)’ to describe the location. (Shields, FCD, 484.)
Wilson clearly worked for the Kersland family at their castle or manor house in Dalry parish, as he subscribed a further personal covenant at Kersland on 1 January, 1696, a year before John Ker of Kersland purchased the estate.
In his testimony, Wilson wrote that immediately after the ‘sad and breaking times’ of Revolution in c.1690,
‘I wanted not my part of the trials, in these times; by reason of the entire respect I bare to these great persons in the place where I then resided [(viz. Kersland)]. And any thing that I was then overhailed in, when the Lord took me through for it, was made as the terrors of death unto me; so that I was forced to entreat them, for the Lord’s sake, to let me alone. O! that was a dark time as ever mine eyes saw. But when it pleased to the Lord, to give a little comfort, a little light, and a little help, by raising up, and spiriting some to be means in his hand, to gather the small gleanings after the vintage; I mean to draw some few of the once many scattered people of the Lord, and bring them to understand their ways, and one another’s minds; and to take up the fallen testimony, […] This was a new joy and comfort unto me.’ (A Collection of Dying Testimonies, 167-8.)
That passage implies that Wilson had lived in the same place from around 1690. One of ‘these great persons in the place where I then resided’ was Daniel Ker of Kersland, who died at the battle of Steinkirk in 1692. Kersland was a supporter of the Revolution and a commander in the Cameronian Regiment. Wilson may have tried to push the trials of the times to the back of his mind out of respect for Kersland.
After the death of Daniel Ker of Kersland, the estate passed to his sister, Jean Ker, who was married to Major William Borthwick, also of the Cameronian Regiment, who held the estate until it was sold in 1697 to John Ker of Kersland, who changed his name from Crawford after he was married to Anna in 1703, a sister of Daniel Ker, Jean Ker and Margaret Ker, the latter was the wife of the former minister to the Society people, Thomas Linning.
Plainly at some point in the mid 1690s, Wilson became active in the Cameronian Societies. Less that two months after his covenant at Kersland, he is recorded among the delegates at the Cameronian Societies’ general meeting on 19 February, 1696. He attended later general meetings as a delegate from Ayrshire.
He died on the morning of Wednesday 4 November, 1713.
Wilson was not the only Cameronian near Kersland, as John Millar subscribed two personal covenants with the Lord, the first in 1694 and the second in 1712, at the Mill-house of Kersland. (A Collection of Dying Testimonies, 190-7.)
The Mill-House lay by Kersland Mill on the Powgree Burn in Dalry parish.
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