The Covenanters’ Minister Murder Plot of 1682 #History #Scotland

Killing Times

According to reports that Wodrow heard from presbyterian ministers decades later, the militant Covenanter John Nisbet of Hardhill was the chief mover behind a plot to ‘murder’ indulged presbyterian ministers in Ayrshire in a coordinated series of attacks in 1682. Wodrow had trouble in believing that the plot was real and instead weakly blamed Catholics ‘in disguise’ for encouraging the plan, which is, frankly, a ridiculous and despicable excuse, but was par for the course in those times.

According to Wodrow in 1712:
‘Mr [Andrew] Tate [minister at Carmunnock from 1692] informs me he had this account from Mr Antony Shau [induged at Loudoun parish], and others of the Indulged: That at some time, under the Indulgence, there was a meeting of some people, where they resolved in one night, which they sett to divide themselves in soe many, [to] goe to. evry house of the Indulged Ministers, and kill them; and all in one night. The thing took soe farr air, that it comes to the Earl of Loudon’s hands, who sent for all the Indulged Ministers near him, and keeped them that night in his house. Mr Shau and severall others came to the house of Loudon that night; and it was a matter generally then knouen. I find this account confirmed by Mr John Millar [minister of Neilston]; who tells me, he hath heard his mother [Grizel Cochrane] frequently tell of it, and that one of these High-flyers came about the house [in Ochiltree parish], and desired to speak with [her husband] Mr [Robert] Millar, but they wer in some terrour.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, II, 63-4.)

Wodrow’s informant for the murder plot was Andrew Tait (d.1742), the minister of Carmunnock from 1692, who was married to a daughter of Andrew Morton (d.1691), an indulged minister who had been under the protection of John Maxwell of Pollock in 1679 and the minister of Carmunnock before Tait. (Fasti, III, 379.)

Tait’s source was Anthony Shaw (d.1687), who was the indulged minister at the heart of the action in Loudoun parish, Ayrshire. As Shaw was removed from his charge on 2 January, 1684, the alleged plot must have taken place before that date. Shaw must have passed his account of the plot on to Tait before he died in 1687. (Fasti, III, 120-1.)

Wodrow’s source that confirmed the story of the plot was Mr John Miller, the minister of Neilston, via the stories he had heard from his mother, Grizel Cochrane, a niece of earl of Dundonald. She had been married to Robert Miller (d.1685), the indulged minister of Ochiltree parish. (Fasti, III, 61.)

In 1681, when militants were deterring people from going to hear the indulged, one woman responded to Robert Miller ‘being spoken of as a great prayer’ with ‘so is a ——- great at the one end, small at the other.’ (Law, Memorialls, 203.)

Loudoun Palace

Loudoun Palace

Wodrow’s Second Version of the Plot
Tait had further information on the alleged murder plot a decade later in 1722:

‘Mr Andreu Tate, Minister at Carmunnock, tells me that he was fully informed and assured, that, in the late times, ther was a designe formed among some of the rigid and High-flying Cameronians, to assasinat the Indulged Ministers in the shire of Air, at their houses, in one night, by different partys. That this designe was so far gone into, that it was agreed to in a meeting of these wild people, where . . . Nisbit, father to Mrs Fairly, wife to Mr Ralph Fairly in Glasgou, was present. He used to meet with them formerly; but when he heard that proposall, his very hair stood, and he never more went to their meetings. That, as soon as possible, he got a hint of this conveyed to my Lord Loudon [i.e., the earl of Loudoun], then living at Mauchlin, (I suppose it might be 1682 or [168]3, ) and informed him of the time it was designed. My Lord sent expresses to Mr Robert Millar [the indulged minister] at Ochiltrea, Mr James Vetch [indulged] at Mauchlin, and others in the neighbourhood that wer Indulged, and called them to his house that night; and severall of them came. My informer [Andrew Tait] was then in my Lord Loudon’s family, and had the account from the above-said Mr Nisbit.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, II, 357.)

In Wodrow’s second record of the minister murder plot, one of the militant Society people named Nisbet betrayed the plot to the earl of Loudoun in advance of the date that it was due to be carried out. Loudoun then sent expresses to Robert Miller, the indulged minister of Ochiltree. Miller’s son had provided Wodrow with information in the first record of the plot.

One of the others that Loudoun sent an express to was James Veitch (d.1694), the indulged minster at Mauchline. Wodrow suggested date for the plot of 1682 or 1683 is plausible, as like Shaw, Veitch was deprived of his charge at the beginning of January, 1684.

Wodrow’s Third Version of the Plot
In 1731, Wodrow returned, again, to the Cameronian Society people’s plot to murder the indulged ministers. On that occasion Wodrow had a name for the chief plotter:

‘Mr Andreu Tait tells me, (perhaps it’s already set doun,) that, about the [16]78, or, may be, afterwards [i.e., probably in1682 or 1683], ther was a design laid, and a particular night fixed, by John Nisbit of Hardhill, who was said to [be] the principal promotter of it, and other violent Cameronians, as they wer called, to attack all the Indulged Ministers in the shire of Air their houses, and to murder them. That one privy to it [i.e., a different Nisbet in the United Societies from Hardhill] revealed it to the Earl of Loudon, the last Earle Hugh[‘s] father, a very litle before it was to be execute; and the Earl immediately wrote letters to them, and sent expresses with them, requiring them to come to his house at Loudon, wher they should be safe that night; and that, accordingly, eight or nine of them came, among whom Mr Heu Campbell of Muirkirk was one, who told the informer [Andrew Tait].’ (Wodrow, Analecta, IV, 302.)

John Nisbet of Hardhill (d.1685) was a notorious fugitive Covenanter from Loudoun parish.

In this third version of the plot, Wodrow’s identification of the earl of Loudoun, as ‘the last Earle Hugh[‘s] father’ narrows down the potential time frame for the plot. James Campbell, the father of Hugh, was earl of Loudoun until his death in 1684, however, he fled to the United Provinces prior to the revelation of the Rye House Plots in June, 1683. The alleged plot must date to 1682 or early 1683. It is possible that the plot was earlier, as Wodrow suggests in this third version. However it could not have been as early as 1678, as Wodrow suggests. It is clear from Wodrow’s description of the alleged plotters as ‘violent’, ‘rigid’ and ‘High-flying Cameronians’ that the alleged plot plainly post dates June 1680 and was probably after 1681.

Wodrow also named a fourth indulged minister as a potential target in Muirkirk parish, Hugh Campbell (d.1714). (Fasti, III, 59.)

The parishes of Muirkirk, Loudoun, Ochiltree and Mauchline where places where the militant Society people were active.

Was the Plot Real?
In the end, it comes down to how much you trust the later moderate presbyterian accounts and their interrelation with other. Tait, who was said to have been part of the earl of Loudoun’s household (presumably before the end of 1687), was informed by two ministers, Anthony Shaw of Loudoun parish who died in 1687 and Hugh Campbell of Muirkirk parish who died in 1714. Wodrow was informed by Tait, but also by the minister of Neilston, whose mother and father (d.1685) were involved in the events.

In the end, Wodrow settled on the ridiculous and conforting idea that Catholic incendiaries were behind a false alarm, even tough all his sources were moderate presbyterians:

‘This information seems to be very indubitable; and yet it’s strange that, these forty years, I have met with no hint of this but this one. One would not wish to belive such a horrid thing in people who have the name of Christians! I knou sad lenths wer run to by some at this time, and the coal was blouen by Papists in disguise; but one would willingly belive that this may have been a false alarum, really given to the good Earle, by one who was ane enemie to the sufferers, with a designe to leave a blott upon them. Houever, I have set [it] doun as I have it.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, IV, 302-3.)

For more on John Nisbet of Hardhill, see here.

 

~ by drmarkjardine on June 30, 2018.

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