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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XXXI


IT has been repeatedly observed, that the Reformation made at first slow progress in Dumfries. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, however, Protestantism was greatly in the ascendant, nearly all the inhabitants professing it, and only a few, chiefly of the upper ranks, adhering to the proscribed faith. Not only had the Dumfriesians become Protestant, but, as we have seen, intensely Presbyterian, and, as such, hating Episcopalianism nearly as much as Popery. Detesting the Prelatical measures which Charles I. tried to thrust upon the country, they rejoiced when the public voice and the General Assembly put the Service-book and its accompaniments under ban. After the Presbyterian form of religion had been established, the old Roman Catholic place of worship-St. Michael's-was constituted the parish church of Dumfries: Mr. Hugh Fullerton was its first minister, Mr. Thomas Ramsay its second minister, Mr. James Hamilton was the third, and Mr. Hugh Henderson (settled in 1648) was the fourth. It was not till 1657 that the officiating minister had a colleague appointed to him, so that for nearly a hundred years after the Reformation the spiritual oversight of the Burgh and Parish devolved upon one incumbent; but, as we shall afterwards see, lie was supported by a large and active staff of laymen.

In the year above named the Town Council consulted the inhabitants on the propriety of obtaining the services of a second minister; and at a meeting on the 26th of September, they "having before thair eyes the glorie of God, the propagatioune of the gospell, and the putting downe of sin and iniquitie in this place, and considering that it is impossible for ony one minyster to dyscharge all the dewties of the ministrie to this populous and numerous congreggatioune," they "with consent of the hail comunalitie," and the requirements of the Presbytery and Synod, "resolvit unanimouslie with all diligens to set about the calling of ane helper and colleigue" to the incumbent, Mr. Hill. At the same sitting the Council granted a thousand merks Scots as annual stipends to the assistant, and by their signatures to the minute gave legal effect to the agreement it embodied.

An entry in the Session record, dated 19th July, 1646, shows, that on that day several elders and deacons were ordained; and about this period there appear to have been twenty-one elders and eighteen deacons officiating in the burghal, and ten of both in the landward part of the Parish. These lay office-bearers were specially entrusted with the exercise of church discipline : for this purpose they took strict cognizance of Sabbath-breakers, profane swearers, drunkards, and transgressors of the seventh commandment; and so many cases occurred that meetings of Session were held every Monday and Friday afternoon, at which they were disposed of. We may think that they and the ministers of the time often overstretched their authority, and interfered with matters which they ought not to have meddled with. Undoubtedly, they were at times guilty of intolerance; but there is abundant evidence to show that they honestly acted out their convictions, and, according to the light given to them, endeavoured to restrain iniquity, and render the people of the Parish Godfearing and moral. In this work, as we have said, the church courts were actively assisted by the civil magistrates; and, between both, the inhabitants were in danger of suffering from too much law - though we must not overlook the circumstance that the long wars which roughened society, and the laxity prevailing in the pre-Reformation period, had left their traces upon the people, so that a severity approaching to despotism was perhaps needed to keep them in check. At all events, the rulers, clerical and municipal, felt themselves called upon to put down vice with a high hand; and the means they adopted for this purpose are strikingly illustrative of the spirit of the times.

Some specimens of the actings of the Town Council in matters religious as well as secular have already been given. Let us now look at the Session and Presbytery in the mirror of their own minutes. At a meeting of the Session on the 19th of October, 1654, elders were ordered "to attend the four parts of the burgh ilka Wednesday, from twa till sax," bailies being elders excepted, "in respect of the great affairs that occur to them on market days;" and these ecclesiastical constables, when going their rounds, were enjoined to take note of all persons "found drunk or scandalous," and, "if they have ane officer with them," to take such offenders into custody, " there to remain during the bailie's pleasure." The power to impose civil penalties was possessed and exercised by the Session : they could fine and imprison, as well as excommunicate. Any one brought before the Session, found guilty of swearing or blaspheming in the streets, might be mulcted in two shillings, or sent to jail for twenty-four hours. Adultery was sometimes punished by the forfeiture of two or more dollars; but two persons who had sinned in this way were, on the 15th of October, 1635, ordained "to sit seven Sundays in sackcloth, and to stand the first and last Sabbath at the church door barefooted;" and a third, on another occasion, for a similar offence, was adjudged to pay one dollar, and wear the gorgets on Sabbath, between the second and latter bell, with "ane paper upon her head," announcing the nature of her guilt. On the 2nd of February, 1654, a man caught playing at cards on a Saturday, was required to pay twelve shillings to the Session treasurer. Persons guilty of slander were made to stand at the kirk-stile on Sabbath, with the branks upon their mouths muzzling the unruly member; callers of bad names were put on the pillory at the Cross; a termagant lady was liable to be imprisoned in the Bell-house, and carted through the town to boot; and, strangest of all, we read that the magistrates were requested by the Session to do justice on an inveterate purveyor of malicious scandal, by causing her to be docked or shaven at the Market Cross.

On another occasion we find the elders calling on the bailies to visit with "civil and corporal punishment" an obstreperous miller from Troqueer, accused of cursing and swearing; and the Burghal authorities sometimes evinced a feeling of reciprocity by taking security that those whom they punished should also present themselves before the tribunals of the Church. Thus, the Council, on the 5th of March, 1660, took bail from Adam Dickson, that a friend of his who had been fined for assault in absence, should, on his first return from Ireland to Dumfries, appear before the Kirk Session, under the penalty of twenty pounds, and "satisffie the sessioune for thrie dollors of penalties imposit upon him be the sessioune, in cais the sessioune think it expedient."

The Session and Presbytery were zealous enforcers of Sabbath observance. One curious instance is recorded in a minute dated 25th February, 1685, which sets forth that a brace of apprentices, whose names are given, "being lookit upon by the Session as twa of the perversest knaves in all the burgh for Sabbathbreaking," the magistrates had caused them to be soundly whipped before the Session, and then sent to the Bell-house; the clerical court taking the opportunity which the case afforded of admonishing their masters, "and all within the Burgh, that they shall be countable for their sons and apprentices on the Sabbath day." On the 27th of September, 1638, a man and wife from Palmerland were found guilty by the Session of drinking on the Sabbath "in Joan Edgar's house," and ordained "to confess thair fault publickly out of their seat on Sunday, and withal to pay twenty-four shillings to the poor." Total abstinence was by no means insisted upon by the Session, but they earnestly strove to prevent the immoderate use of intoxicating drinks, and to abolish or check all social practices which encouraged rioting and carousing.

On New-Year's Day, 1649, the following resolution was minuted:- "The Sessioune, resenting the great dishonour done to the Lord by sundry persons in the burgh not only abusing the creatures to excess of riot thro' drinking healths, but likewise in the height of their cups do calle for the drummer to beat the drum to them at every health, as they sinistrously term it, do henceforth dischairge the drummer to answer any persone whatever in such ungodlie demands, under the paine of inflicting upon him the sharpest measure of kirk discipline, and extruding him from his place withal." Three years afterwards, when the Commonwealth was set up, and some of Cromwell's soldiers were in the town, a professional musician, named John Laurie, craved leave from the Session "to exercise his calling of piping and playing;" but though he coupled his prayer with the patriotic condition that he would undertake never to play a spring to any of the interloping English, he found the court to be mercilessly unmusical. Conceiving "his former way of living to be useless and unnecessary," the elders "discharged him from henceforth to use the same," and required that he should "betake himself to some honest and lawful way of living."

Here is a curious illustration at once of the state of society at the period, and of the stringent discipline exercised by the Session, in a case which was more fitted to awake a smile than provoke a frown. Three young buxom brides, on their way to be wedded, started off from the sides of their intended husbands, each anxious "to obtain the foregait of ane another" - thinking, we suppose, that the first marriage would be the luckiest. For this bridal race, the amazons were, on the 23rd of July, 1657, ordered to be rebuked before the congregation on the following Sabbath, and to be handed over to the magistrates for civil punishment. Quite in accordance with a salutary edict of the Town Council, previously quoted, the Session, on the 23rd of December, 1649, appointed the minister to intimate publicly, that no person whatever was to be found drinking in tavern or ale-house after ten o'clock at night, under the pain of ecclesiastical censure.

In those times a regular attendance on the ordinances of religion was required by the Kirk Session: a demand that was right enough in itself, only that it was enforced not merely by admonition and rebuke, but by fine. By an edict passed on the 28th of January, 1641, every gentleman absent from church was made liable to a fine of thirty shillings for each day's absence; a burgess committing the same offence had to pay twelve shillings, a farmer ten shillings, and a servant five. All the incorporated Trades had seats assigned to them in the gallery of the parish church; and, three years before the above resolution was adopted, the Session, taking into account the absenteeism of which many were guilty, "especially wrights and masons," intimated that they must be more punctual in their attendance, on peril of losing their sittings. About the same time, the inhabitants of Kelton, a village near Dumfries, then more populous than now, were, at the request of the Session, warned from the pulpit to be present in St. Michael's more regularly; the Session, moreover, desiring the minister "to publickly read the names of the indwellers in Kelton every Sabbath; and if these be found to be out of the kirk, they, and every ane of them, shall pay, for every day they are absent, six shillings."

Against Roman Catholics and breakers of the Covenant, the church courts at this period took stringent proceedings. "Young Protestantism," it has well been said, "at first partook largely of the intolerance of old Rumanism;" but "if the Covenanters are to be blamed for intolerance, remember their fault was the blindness of their times, in which their opponents, and other sects and parties, were as much, if not more, involved than themselves. And Presbyterianism was at least self-curing; it carried in its bosom the antidote as well as the bane. Unlike the dark, close, unventilated hierarchies, Presbyterianism, by its institutions and opinions, threw itself open to lay influences, to the voice of the eldership, to the election of the people, to the full breeze of public opinion; and public opinion, as it became more enlightened, was sure, in the end, to blow away and dissipate the fumes of intolerance." [Dodds's Fifty Years' Struggle of the Scottish Covenanters, pp. 51-2.] When we add that the clergy looked upon the Solemn League as the palladium of their civil liberties, as well as of their religious rights, and recognized Romanism as the insatiable foe of both, we shall wonder less at the steps taken by them to uphold the League, and to check, and if possible root out from their midst, the adherents of Popery. With these general explanations, we shall now adduce some illustrations of the way in which professors of the old faith and contemners of the Covenant were, two hundred years ago or more, dealt with by the Government in Edinburgh and by the church courts of the district.

The Presbytery of Dumfries fully realized the fact, that within their bounds, more than in other parts of Scotland, it would be requisite to maintain a merciless warfare against Popery: if they did not do so, their own faith would be gradually undermined and eventually undone; and if there was one member of the Presbytery who felt a need for this uncompromising antagonism more than another, it was Mr. Thomas Ramsay, minister of St. Michael's. One instance of his zeal may be noticed here, and others will be given at a later period. Whilst he, with several co-presbyters, were, one day in September, 1626, passing along Devorgilla's bridge, a suspicious looking personage on horseback rode up. "A mass priest!" Not a doubt of it-a pestilent emissary of the Pope, notorious for having perverted many country folks, " not only in their religion, but in their allegiance to the King's majesty." [Privy Council Records] He was at once recognized and challenged by Mr. Ramsay; but the man of the mass, instead of surrendering to the summons, slipped off' his steed, and, favoured by some sympathizers who followed him, effected his escape-leaving behind, however, his horse and a capacious cloak-bag, which proved to be as full of perilous chattels as Pandora's box, containing as it did " a number of oisties, superstitious pictures, priests' vestments, altar, chalice-plate, boxes with oils and ointments, with such other trash as priests carry about with them for Popish uses." [Ibid.] Forthwith Mr. Ramsay, accompanied by several of his friends, proceeded to Edinburgh, and reported the occurrence to the Privy Council ; who commended their diligence, and ordered them to burn the captured articles at the Market Cross of Dumfries, excepting the silver plate, which was to be melted down for behoof of the poor.

At a subsequent period, when the Reformed faith had become firmly rooted in the town and district, one of Mr. Ramsay's successors, Mr. Hugh Henderson, manifested no less hatred towards all that savoured of "papistry." In March, 1658, he addressed a petition "to the Honorable the Comissioneirs for adminystration of justice to the people of Scotland in caises criminall," in the following terms:- "Whairas thair ar severall preistis vestmentis, chalices, alteris, and uther idolatrous and superstitious monumentis and habitis laitlie fund within and neir to this burgh of Dumfries-the priest where they were himselle fled-which the petitioner concevis were fitt to be abolished and putt away. Thairfore humblie desires your honoris to give orders that these vestmens, chalices, alter books, and utheris, be exemplarlie put away, destroyed, and abolished, conforme to the lawis and practice of this natioun." The answer given to Mr. Henderson was according to his heart's desire. "10th Apryll, 1658. - The Comissioneirs ordaines the plates to be broken, and bestowed on the poore, and the vestmentis, bookis, and utheris, to be burnt and destroyed be the hand of the hangman at the place of execution, the first Wedinsday of May, 1658." [Burgh Records] So that again, as in 1626, there would be a bonfire of "Popish trash" at the Market Cross of the Burgh.

Though the Lord Herries of Queen Mary's day, and the Lord Maxwell slain at Dryfe-Sands, conformed to Presbyterianism before they died, their successors adhered to the Papal Church, as also several other influential families in the district. Do what the Privy Council and the local Presbytery might, these incorrigibles persisted in their "obdured and Popish opinions and errors;" and, to the sore scandal of their lordships, demeaned themselves like "free and lawful subjects," and were "reset, supplied, and furnished with all things necessar and comfortable unto them," though they had been previously subjected to excommunication and horning. As a last resort, the Council in 1628 issued a commission for the apprehension and trial of all persons "who are suspect guilty of the reset and supply of the said excommunicat rebels;" the list of the latter including Herbert Maxwell of Kirkconnell; Gilbert Brown, formerly Abbot of Newabbey; Charles Brown, Newabbey (his brother); Barbara Maxwell; Lady Mabie; John Little, master of Lord Nithsdale's household; John Allan in Kirkgunzeon; and John Williamson in Lochrutton. Two of the Commissioners, Sir

William Grierson of Lagg (father of the persecutor) and Sir John Charteris of Amisfield, succeeded in apprehending the ex-abbot and his brother in the parish of Newabbey. This act occasioned a serious outbreak among the females of the parish. Headed by the wife of Charles Brown, they mobbed the minister and schoolmaster, who were suspected of having been concerned in the capture of the prisoners, and subjected their wives and servants to rough usage, "pursuing them with rungs, and casting of stones." The Council looking upon this riot as nothing short of sheer rebellion, caused those concerned in it to be cited before the Commissioners at Dumfries, that they might be tried and punished. [Privy Council Records]

A few years later, we find the Privy Council flying at higher game. On the 17th of November, 1631, their lordships, considering that the Earl of Nithsdale "is vehemently suspected in his religion, and that the remaining of Lord Ma-.well, his son, in his company, may prove very dangerous to the youth, and now in his tender years infect and poison him with opinions wherefra it will be difficult thereafter to reclaim him, ordered" his lordship to "exhibit" his son, that "direction may be given for his breeding and education in the true religion." "When we remember," says Robert Chambers, "that the Earl of Nithsdale was the most powerful man in the southern part of the kingdom, and had, so lately as 1625, acted as the royal commissioner to Parliament, and since conducted a large auxiliary for the service of the King's brother-in-law in Germany, the character of this interference with his domestic arrangements becomes all the more noticeable." [Domestic Annals, vol, ii., p. 59.] About the same period "ane busy and trafficking Papist," named Andrew Anderson, was consigned to a place of durance in Dumfries known as the pledge-house, on a charge of making arrangements for conducting gentlemen's sons beyond sea, that they might be educated as Roman Catholics. The Lords of the Council ordered that he should be sent to Edinburgh for examination : but the unfortunate emissary, summoned before a higher tribunal, died in the tolbooth ; and they could do no more in the matter than command the magistrates to inquire into the "form, manner, and cause of his death."

In June, 1634, the Privy Council had on hand the cases of numerous other Dumfries delinquents; one of whom, Robert Rig, a Brigend resident, was accused of having been united in matrimonial bonds to "ane excommunicat Papist named Elspeth Maxwell, for which offence he had been previously dealt with by the Presbytery. The terrified Benedict exhibited a tearful mood when examined by the lordly inquisitors. He ruefully acknowledged his fault, craving pardon for the same. From his statement it appeared that "he was married by a Popish priest upon the 17th of November last (being Sunday), at night, with candle-light, above the bridge of Cluden, in the fields, and that four were present at the marriage beside the priest, whereof some were men and some were women, whom he knew not, because they had their faces covered." The Lords having heard the prisoner's confession, and the evidence of Mr. Ramsay, parish minister of Dumfries, as to what had been done by the Presbytery in the matter, found that "Robert Rig has violat and contravened the laws of this kingdom in marrying ane excommunicat woman by a priest, who has no power to exerce any function within this kingdom;" and they adjudged him to be incarcerated in Edinburgh jail during their pleasure, with instructions that no one from his wife should have access to him "by word or write." Meanwhile the woman herself was enduring involuntary penance in the Dumfries tolbooth, from which she was only liberated that she too might be taken before the Lords of Council. With her went other fourteen females, chiefly wives of tradesmen in the Burgh, who had been her companions in prison, "for hearing of mass, and being present thereat sundry times within thir twelvemonths bygane, as their confessions bears," all being "exhibited" before the Council by Mr. Ramsay and Bailie Williamson, "to the intent such order may be taen with them as may give terror to others to commit the like." Eight of the accused "declared that they were heartily sorrowful for the scandal they had given to the kirk by hearing of mass, and craved pardon for the same;" adding a solemn promise, "in all time coming to obey the laws, and for that effect to resort to the kirk, hear preachings, and to communicate, and that they should not hear mass nor reset Jesuits." These penitents were ordered to remain in their Edinburgh lodgings till further notice; but seven other women obstinately " refused to conform to the religion presently professed within the kingdom; in respect whereof the Lords ordain them to be committed to ward within the tolbooth of Edinburgh, therein to remain upon their own expenses, till they be freed and relieved by the said Lords." Shortly afterwards, the seven recusants were remitted to the Archbishop of Glasgow, "to be dealt with as he might think fit." [Privy Council Records, as quoted in Chambers's Domestic Annals]

On the 22nd of April, 1647, the Synod of Dumfries ordered intimation to be made from all the pulpits within the bounds, that a sentence of excommunication had been passed upon John, Lord Herries, Dame Elizabeth Beaumont, Countess of Nithsdale, Dame Elizabeth Maxwell, Lady Herries, Dame Elizabeth Maxwell, elder of Kirkconnell, and about thirty other persons of a humbler degree. What this sentence implied we can scarcely say, though it was not, certainly, of such a serious nature as its name used to import when Popery was predominant. All persons were forbidden "to reset or resort to" those mentioned under ban, "without licence of Presbytery or the kirk judicatories, upon evidence asked and given, under peril of ecclesiastical censures;" [Synod Records.] but we do not suppose that this decree of isolation would tell very terribly on the parties concerned. A week after it was fulminated, we read that the Session gave liberty to two individuals "to speak with Lord Herries, notwithstanding he be excommunicat, in respect that both of them have sundry business of good concernment with his lordship."

At a meeting of Presbytery on April 5th, 1647, Mr. George Gladstanes reported that John Herries of Croghmore had begun his obedience;" that is to say, had submitted to certain terms imposed upon him for the purpose of being relieved from a sentence of excommunication he had incurred. It was also intimated to the court, that " whereas Elspet Herries, his mother, having been excommunicat for recusancy, had departed this life, and had by divers gentlemen and others been accompanyied to her burial," and "the brethren for purging of that scandal, thocht fitt that such as were thaire should be enquired for, and cited for the first day." In obedience to the summons thus resolved upon, John Herries appeared penitentially before the brethren, on the following 18th of May, and he was punished no further than by being "ordained to acknowledge his fault before the congregation at Lochrutton," in which parish orernore is situated. [Presbytery Records] In 1648 the Presbytery brought a more serious charge against Lord Herries than the profession of Popery. He did nothing ostensibly to assist the Royalists under Montrose, but his son took active part with them. His lordship on that account was cited to appear before the court; and not being in a position to contemn its authority, he presented himself before the brethren. He appears to have fenced a little with his clerical inquisitors. When, however, he was questioned as to the furnishing of his son with troops, he "admitted that, being put upon by the Duke of Hamilton, he did what he could for his son's furtherance." Thereupon, it is stated, the Presbytery agreed "to dismiss his lordship till they be certified by the commissioners of the kirk anent his censure." Everything considered, Lord Herries was tenderly handled by the brethren; but they were at this time negotiating with him regarding a stipend to the parish minister of Terregles -which was eventually fixed at two chalders of corn, five hundred merks, with the teind of the fishings in the College water-and, perhaps on this account, they did not wish to press matters to an extremity with his lordship. [Burnside's MS. History] We find the following entry in the Session record dated 3rd February, 1659:-"Capt. Ed. Maxwell delate for dishaunting the ordinances and that he is suspect of Popery-instance his inviting Lady Nithsdale and Lady Semple, both excommunicat for Popery, to a publick feast. Confesses that he invited the Lady Semple, but knew not that she was excommunicat; and that Lady Nithsdale came to visit his wife in her seickness. He was ordained to consider the Confession of Faith, and be ready to declair what profesioun he was of."

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