The Kersland Connection: Covenanters Against the Union in 1707 #History #Scotland #Ayrshire

Sometimes in history, it is the ability to recognise an intriguing fact among mundane data that matters. It is a moment of revelation, a confirmation of an intuition, that advances your thinking. This is one of those moments. It is about the veracity of a spy’s account of the plots against the Union of 1707…

Kersland CastleRuins of Kersland Castle

It is only a small step forward, but it is an interesting one.

Its importance lies in the context. Between 1706 and 1707 there are rumoured to have been plots to overthrow the Union, initially involving the Cameronian McMillanites, the Hebronites, disaffected presbyterians in the West and the Jacobites. In response to the threat they posed to the Union, the governments of Scotland and England utilised spies and double agents – Daniel Defoe, John Pierce, John Ker of Kersland, Cunningham of Aiket – to deflect the militant presbyterian factions either from initiating, or joining, an insurrection.

Some of the agents involved left accounts of their activities. The veracity of the account left by John Ker of Kersland in particular, who claimed he successfully talked the Cameronians out of joining an insurrection, has come under sustained historical criticism. (For a quick outline of Kersland’s career, see here.)

It has proved difficult for historians to find any corroborating evidence for where and when Kersland actually met with the militants, as he claimed he did.

However, evidence that Kersland almost certainly met with John MacMillan, the minister of the Cameronian Societies/McMillanites, does exist.

It is found in Henry Paton (ed.), Register of the Rev. John MacMillan Being a Record of Marriages and Baptisms solemnised by him among the Cameronian Societies, (Edinburgh, 1908.).

At first sight, a register of baptisms seems an unlikely source for such information, but in the course of MacMillan’s itinerant ministry he also recorded where and when he baptised children. In other words, MacMillan’s register serves as a kind of road map to, and calendar of, his travels. It places him at a particular place on a specific date.

At the beginning of McMillan’s ministry among the Society people in late 1706 and early 1707, he mainly performed baptisms of the children of Society people who had refused to have their infants baptised by any minister since the bulk of the Society people had rejoined the post-Revolution Church in late 1690. In that initial wave of baptisms, some of the children were no longer infants. On one occasion, “the child” was sixteen, old enough to regarded as an adult and able to put themselves forward for baptism.

The entry in the register of particular interest took place ‘at Kersland in the paroch of Dalray, March 16, 1707.’

Kersland was the home of John Ker of Kersland in Dalry parish, Ayrshire.

The 16 March, 1707, was a Sunday. It appears that MacMillan preached on that day at Kersland, as baptisms on the Sabbath were usually linked to a preaching. It is clear that MacMillan’s presence at Kersland also featured a gathering of the Cameronian Society people.

The distribution of the parents of those baptised in the entry in the register of baptisms confirms that a gathering took place:

Kersland, Dalry parish, Ayrshire, 16 March, 1707

‘John Walker in the paroch of Calder [in Lanarkshire]:—John, aged 12 [i.e., born c.1695].
Margaret Urie in the paroch of Kilbryd [in Lanarkshire]:—Robert, aged 11; David, aged 6 quarters.
George Young in the paroch of Finick [in Ayrshire]:—James, aged 7; Robert, aged 4.
Janet Stinstoun in the paroch of Nilstoun [in Renfrewshire]:—James, aged 4; Janet, aged 2 and 6 months.
Mathew Flager in the paroch of Cragie [in Ayrshire]:—Elizabeth, aged 10.’ (Paton (ed.), Register of the Rev. John MacMillan, 5-6.)

The age range of those baptised probably indicates that the 16 March, 1707, was McMillan’s first preaching in that part of Ayrshire after he first preached among the Cameronians in December, 1706.

Kersland, now East Kersland, was the former manor house or castle of Daniel Ker of Kersland (d.1692) and from 1697, of the spy, John Ker of Kersland. In 1703, John Ker had changed his name from Crawford he after married Anna Ker, the sister of both Daniel Ker and  Margaret Ker. The latter was married to Thomas Linning, whom Daniel Defoe declared was a firebrand against the Union in 1706.

The connections between John Ker of Kersland and the Cameronians do not end there. He was also via another of his wife’s younger sisters, Jean Ker, the brother-in-law of Major William Borthwick of Johnstonburn, who was also a commander of the Cameronian Regiment. And, via Elizabeth Ker, yet another of his wife’s younger sisters, the brother-in-law of Alexander Porterfield, merchant in Glasgow, who potentially may be the same individual as Alexander Porterfield, a delegate to the general meetings of the Cameronians.

John Ker of Kersland had extensive and intimate connections into both the Cameronian Societies and the Cameronian Regiment.

Map of Kersland                     Street View of Kersland

Kersland was also where John Wilson (d.1713.), a delegate in the general meetings of the Cameronians, was a gardener between c.1690 and at least c.1696. It is not clear if Wilson remained there after John Ker of Kersland purchased the estate in 1697. If Wilson did remain at Kersland as a gardener, then he was clearly a potential point of contact between Kersland and the Cameronian leadership.

Three years after the baptisms at Kersland, MacMillan also baptised at Kersland Mill.

‘At Kersland milln’, Dalry parish, Ayrshire, Wednesday 8 November, 1710.
‘Hector Thomson in Kilmawers had a daughter baptised called Jean, born the 12 of September, 1710.’

Kersland Mill was the home John Millar, another delegate in the general meetings of the Cameronians. As the Mill was part of the estate of the John Ker of Kersland, it is clear that Kersland had other potential points of contact with the leadership of the Cameronians.

On the following day, 9 November 1710, the register records that MacMillan baptised ‘at Ramstone’, aka. ‘Ramstane’:

‘Joseph Francis in Irvine :—Joseph, 11 weeks old.
Hector Thomson in Kilmawers :—Jean, 8 weeks old.’ [a duplicate entry of the baptism on the previous day]

Joseph Francis was another delegate to the general meetings of the Cameronians. He subscribed the call to MacMillan in October 1706, that led to MacMillan preaching to the Cameronians from December, 1706.

Ramstane lies by the Annick Water in Dreghorn parish. It is not named on the modern OS map.

Map of Ramstane                     Street View of Ramstane

Kersland-Peden Connections

Peden’s Point, a traditional site in Dalry parish, is linked to the preaching of Alexander Peden, who knew Daniel Ker of Kersland after the defeat of the Argyll Rising in mid 1685.

John Ker of Kersland reported two stories about Peden’s last sermon and his burials in his memoirs. The second of those stories is connected in later tradition to Peden’s Tree in Auchinleck.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine



~ by drmarkjardine on June 12, 2016.

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