Covenanters Against The Union: The Call to John MacMillan in 1706 #History #Scotland

Just as the Union Crisis was coming to a head in Scotland in 1706, the “Continuing” United Societies met at Crawfordjohn in Lanarkshire on 2 October and subscribed a call to John MacMillan to become their minister. At first sight, the list of thirty-two names who subscribed the call appears unremarkable. However, when you delve deeper into it, the list becomes far more interesting…

What it reveals is who actually ran the United Societies at the height of the Union Crisis in 1706. In many cases, those people had run the Societies for years, and in few cases, some individuals reach back to the Killing Times of the 1680s. They where the men who decided whether the Societies joined a rising against the Union, or not, between 1706 and 1708. They were the people whose actions a panicky government was afraid of. It is worth knowing who they were, as for a crucial moment, the fate of the Union was partially in their hands. If they had risen, especially alongside the Hebronites, disaffected Presbyterians and possibly, although not necessarily, the Jacobites, it difficult to see how the parliament in Edinburgh that was passing the Union would not have been abandoned and the political momentum of the elite changed. What we know is that those who ran Scotland, or spies like Daniel Defoe, John Ker of Kersland and John Pierce, did everything they could to ensure that the “Continuing” United Societies/MacMillanites, the Hebronites and disaffected presbyterians in the West did not rise.

One question which is rarely asked is, was it wise to issue a call to John MacMillan at that moment, at the very moment, of the Union Crisis? The standard Presbyterian story of MacMillan is that he was an uncompromising minister of the Church of Scotland who left it due to his principles to minister to the Society people. Was he as uncompromising as the legend of him? In truth, the answer is no. MacMillan certainly had principles, but he often tacked towards maintianing his association with the Kirk, i.e., established order. He was later married by a church minister and he later, again, recognised the rule of George I much to the dismay of many in the “Continuing” Societies who left him. There was nothing wrong with compromising, but the “Continuing” Society people had been founded on not compromising with the Erastian state by Robert Hamilton. He had always had a nose for ideological weakness, whether writers at the time believed he was a fruit cake or not. He died several years before MacMillan was issued with a call. If one looks back at the history of the Society people, they had occasionally issued calls to ministers that some in their ranks, including many Hamilton considered to be ideologically suspect, e.g., Alexander Peden, John Hepburn, William Boyd and Thomas Linning, etc. Was John MacMillan any different from that pattern? No. However, an intriguing question remains: why was the call issued at the moment of the Union crisis in late 1706? I will leave that open.

Those who subscribed the call to MacMillan were:

John Currie, elder, who was from Tinwald parish in Nithsdale. He subscribed a personal Covenant at Carse of the Water of Ae in 1681.

William Stewart, elder, from Galloway. A Societies’ delegate in March 1689.

David Jardine in Applegarth parish, Annandale.

James Mundell from Nithsdale.

John Bell from Tinwald, Nithsdale.

John Glover. Perhaps the fugitive in 1684 from Barrshill, Tinwald parish, Nithsdale.

Thomas Brown. Possibly from Nithsdale.

John Robson.

John Bryce.

William Hannah. Probably from Tundergarth parish, Annandale.

John Knox.

Joseph Francis in Irvine, Ayrshire.

Hugh Dickie in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.

James Currie in Pentland, Lasswade parish, Edinburghshire.

Charles Umpherston in Pentland, Lasswade parish, Edinburghshire.

James Brigton, who was from in, or near, Edinburgh, Edinburghshire.

Duncan Forbes in Bo’ness. Probably the fugitive in 1684 in Queensferry, Dalmeny parish.

John McVey.

William Swanston in Tweeddale.

John Hislop.

John Grieve in Annandale.

James Donaldson in Eskdalemuir parish, Eskdale.

James Cargill.

Francis Graham.

Robert Barrie.

Robert Maxwell from Renfrewshire.

John Muir from Lanarkshire. A delegate for the Netherward of Clydesdale in March 1689.

John Stanley.

John Paterson, perhaps from Kincardine parish, Perthshire. Or perhaps from Pennyvenie?

Thomas Milns.

Mr Robert Smith, preses of the General Meeting, had studied at Glasgow and Groningen. He later withdrew from McMillan over his ‘sinful acknowledgement’ of George I.

Robert Hamilton, clerk of the General Meeting, from Lanarkshire.

H. M. B. Reid is his A Cameronian Apostle (1896) continues:

‘Thirty-two names in all appear above. From Mr. J. H. Thomson’s notes [in the Reformed Presbyterian Magazine of 1869] regarding them, some interesting particulars may be gleaned.

John Currie, whose name heads the list, had been “cast out of house and hold in Tinwald, Dumfriesshire, for not complying with prelacy.” He drew up a curious personal “covenant” with God, which is reprinted in the Reformed Presbytetian Magazine for 1869. It was taken at “Carse of the Water of Ae, Sept. 15, 1681.”

Charles Umpherston had been intended for the ministry, and was one of four young men chosen by the Societies in 1699 to be sent at their expense to Holland, in order to obtain license and ordination. The establishment, however, of full communion between the Dutch Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland rendered this design null, and Umpherston became a “surgeon” in Pentland. He was the most active literary agent of the Societies. His quaint tract on the Wolf in a Sheepskin has already been referred to, and is the sole existing authority on [John] Macmillan’s last days. We shall have occasion ere long to reproduce its very touching record of these closing moments. Umpherston died in 1758, aged 80.

James Currie also lived in Pentland. His name may be read on the Martyrs’ Monument in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh. “This tomb was erected by James Currie, Merch[an]t. in Pentland, and others.” Both he and his wife, Helen Alexander, left behind them short autobiographies, or “Passages” in their lives, which are extant in a printed form. They had been married by [James] Renwick, and in the wife’s little narrative the following occurs, which Mr. J. H. Thomson quotes : —

“And when Mr. Renwick was execute, I went and saw him in prison. And I said to him, Ye will get the white robes; and he said, And palms in my hands. And when he was execute, I went into the Greyfriars’ Yard, and I took him in my arms till his clothes were taken off, and I helped to wind him before he was put in his coffin.”

Robert Smith, who presided on this memorable occasion, had studied at Glasgow and Groningen, where he took his degree. He transcribed many of Guthrie and [Donald] Cargill’s sermons for the Lochgoin Collection. At a later date he withdrew from Macmillan’s ministry, on the ground of an alleged “sinful acknowledgment” of George I. He and James Mundell, another signatory, are in Calderwood’s Dying Testimonies.’ (Reid, A Cameronian Apostle, 145-6.)

~ by drmarkjardine on July 2, 2017.

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