This chapter is taken from the book entitled "A Cameronian Apostle, being some account of John MacMillan (Minister) of Balmaghie." published in 1896 and written by the Rev. Reid during the time he was minister in the same parish.

Life in the Parish of Balmaghie c1700

Let us now try to gain some idea of the parish to which we have just seen Macmillan duly called and ordained. At such a distance of time, this is a difficult undertaking; yet by piecing our scattered materials together, we may summon up a faint picture of the Galloway parish of 200 years ago.

The cure was served in 1567, after the changes brought about at the Reformation, by one of Knox's "readers." At this time nearly all the Galloway parishes were served by such lay readers, although some are described as "exhorters." In the ancient list quoted by Nicholson, only important centres such as Whithorn and Kirkcudbright appear as having ministers. Robert Chapman, the Balmaghie reader, received £20 a year from the revenues of Holyrood Abbey. The contrast between minister and reader, or exhorter, is seen in their stipends. The readers or exhorters were paid sums varying from one merk to £20. The ministers received from £54 to £80. These sums, of course, are in Scots money, and the intelligent reader must divide them by twelve in order to gain a notion of the incomes of the clergy immediately after the Reformation.

Readers or exhorters continued to minister at Balmaghie until 1601, when the parish had a vicar in the person of John Fairfoul, A.M. (Edin.), who was presented to the vicarage by James VI on the 22nd March of that year. He enjoyed but a short tenure, dying in 1605, at the early age of twenty-eight. Two subsequent vicars were William Dalziell, A.M., and Hew McGhie, A.M. (Edin.), who is described as "recommended by William, Bishop of Galloway." The Church at this time was a curious mixture of Presbytery and Episcopacy. It had bishops, and yet retained its Kirk-Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assembly. Hew McGhie during his ministry provided a pair of Communion Cups, which Macmillan used constantly in his turn, and which are associated with the sanctity and superstitious awe of his name. When the compromise known as the "First Episcopacy" broke down, Adam Alison, A.M. (Edin.), became minister. He was a staunch Covenanter, and accordingly he was deprived in 1662. He appeared before the Privy Council on a charge of "still labouring to keep the hearts of the people from the present Government in Church and
State." The case was delayed, but Alison no doubt continued to visit and teach his flock, in the fields and on the hillsides of Balmaghie. His place was filled in 1664 by a "curate," James Kirk, who was rabbled," along with his fellows in Galloway, in 1689. Scot in his Fasti says that he married "Mistress Elizabeth Lauristone, heiress of Drumbeck and pertinents."

In 1693, at the re-settlement of Presbytery, the parish received as its minister John Macmillan, A.M. (Edin.), the first of the name in the parish. His ministry ended in 1700, when he died at the age of thirty-seven. As we have seen, he came to the parish a sick man, and was always "in a dying-like condition." The result of this unfortunate state was, that the records fell into arrears, and it may well be supposed that the religious condition of the parish also suffered in proportion. Macmillan at his entry on September 18, 1701, found no documents on which he could base his future operations. But with characteristic energy, he called his Session together the Sunday after, and "1. inquired how many elders there was and deacons; it's answered, nine elders and two deacons. 2nd. inquired if the parish was divided into quarters amongst the elders; it's ansrd. No - there being a purpose of adding some more to their number, delays the division of the parish into quarters till the new addition. 3. inquired what utensils there was belonging to kirk and parish; it's ansred. None, save two cups, two tables, and boxes for collecting the poor's money. 4. inquired what money there was out belonging to the poor, and what security they had for it; it's ansred., about forty pound Scots. There is 7 pounds Scots of the 40 for the use of the poor, and otherwise."  It is added that there were "no delations," i.e., no scandals were at the time awaiting discipline. The collection at the church on this first day of Macmillan's ministry was £2 4s. Scots, or three shillings and eightpence sterling. It probably represented high water mark. According to modern estimates, it indicates an attendance of nearly 1000 persons. As the little church could not accommodate, even with much crowding, more than 200, the sermon was probably preached in the open air.

After this memorable day, when he "preached himself in," Macmillan had time to take stock of the heritage, into which he had come. We imagine him wandering round his church, and going in and out with that sense of possession which warms a newly-ordained minister's heart. It was nevertheless a pitifully small temple, measuring about 18 by 12 yards, and of the same simple type as Rutherford's church at Anwoth. It lay exactly east and west, with a tiny belfry at the east gable. This gable-end still partially stands, the sole relic of the ecclesiastical buildings of Macmillan's time. It has escaped demolition, because a fine monument to Macmillan's successor had been built against it before the old church was demolished and the present one erected in 1794. Macmillan's homely pulpit stood at the east end, and the congregation sat on rough benches or stools. The collection or offering was taken then as still, in boxes handed round by the deacons or elders. The bare interior was lit by numerous windows. In a Presbytery minute, dated September 13th, 1727, when a careful inspection was made, the tradesmen reported "eight windows all wanting glass, save one." These windows must have been very small, probably three on each side, and one at either end. The church was slated, while the manse had a roof of thatch. At the eastern end, lay the tombstone of the "two Davids Hallidays," martyrs of the Covenant. A little way from the western gable, slumbered George Short, a poor peasant, shot one night on the parish border, by a party of Lag's men. Macmillan doubtless often mused over these graves.

He descended the sacred hill, and entered what was to be his home for 26 years. The manse was, to modern ideas, a very humble and uninviting abode. The Presbytery minute, already referred to, shews that it contained only five rooms and a kitchen. The kitchen, and two principal rooms, one of them the minister's "study," were on the ground floor. Above, were two bedrooms, and a "closet" between. A narrow wooden stair formed the approach to the upper chambers. Built in continuation with the kitchen, were stable, barn, and byre.

There was a glebe, of what extent I cannot discover; but the annual value was estimated by the Court of Session in 1727 at 100 merks, or over £5 sterling. Probably, therefore, it was as large as at present, viz: 14 Scotch acres, lying in a ring fence around church and manse.

The Scottish reader naturally asks, what was Macmillan's stipend? From the Old Statistical Account, we learn that when augmented in 1786, it was worth about £112. Assuming that there had been one previous augmentation, and that each increment was of three chalders, the stipend in 1701 may have been about £50.

Macmillan's total emoluments were therefore about £55 and his residence, such as we have seen it. But the real proportion, borne by such an income to those enjoyed by surrounding gentlemen, cannot be appreciated by using sterling money. If we remember that £50 sterling was equal to about 1000 merks, we gain an idea of the value of the benefice in those days. The income was beyond that of many "lairds" at the time, and constituted a very handsome provision in the eyes of the world.

That my estimate of Macmillan's stipend is near the mark, seems to be probable from what Wodrow says, in one of his references to Macmillan, where he reports that Macmillan was about to quit Balmaghie, having received from his supporters a promise of a stipend of 1000 merks yearly. It is natural to
suppose that the figure mentioned represented Macmillan's ordinary income at the time, which was to be made good to him by his new adherents.

We may now look out from the narrow windows of the manse, and try to conceive the landscape, and the parish features generally, as the new incumbent saw them in 1701.

In full view, as at this hour, the placid river pursued its lazy course, between low marshy banks. All around were the cottages of crofts or those who earned their daily bread by toil. On a high mound near the river's edge was the ferryman's dwelling, close to which lay the ford used by those who travelled on horseback. Across the water, the parish church of Crossmichael could be seen, with its village clustering round.

The houses of the common people would, to us, appear indescribably wretched. They were built of stone plastered together with mud, and they had roofs of straw and turf, often far from providing shelter in rainy weather. The windows, like those in Balmaghie Church in 1727, had no glass. They were mere holes in the wall, through which the smoke from the peat fire escaped, when it failed to emerge through the chimney hole in the roof. The live stock were sheltered under the same roof as their owners. Man and beast entered by the same doorway, and slept in the one undivided chamber.

An aged woman of my own parish assured me, that as late as the year 1825, she had visited a house in Minnigaff where there was no door at all, but only an old sheet or curtain hung up as a substitute. In my own recollection, there were two cottages in Balmaghie having but one room, with earthen floor, drystone walls, and a roof of thatch; and they were lighted by the two narrow openings already described, although it must be added that glass now filled the apertures, and a proper vent existed for smoke.

When Macmillan entered such cottages on his pastoral rounds, there was often no chair for him to sit upon, but only a stool or stone. If he found the poor inmates at meat, he saw them each pull out of his pocket a short horn spoon, which he plunged into the one wooden dish on the table. This spoon was known as a munn. The food was of the coarsest, brose, porridge, sowens (grain steeped in hot water), and occasionally kail boiled with salt. Animal food was never tasted, except when a sheep or cow died of disease or old age. Braxy, indeed, or the flesh of a sheep cut off by some disease, was the prime luxury of the Galloway cottager.

The use of tobacco was already becoming general, and whey, or heather ale was the common stimulant. Tea cost at this time thirty shillings a pound, and was far beyond the dreams of the poor.

The dress of the people was on a par with their homes and fare. A Galloway man wore constantly, even in church, his broad blue bonnet, made in Kilmarnock. His coat was of waulked cloth, and homespun; his nether limbs were encased in white woollen hose; and his shoes were of rough leather, with one sole. But shoes were discarded in summer, and at other times wherever possible. Children got none until they were able to attend church. It must be added that the poor hardly knew what a shirt was; if such a thing was worn, it was made of coarse wool, and seldom saw the wash-tub.

The Galloway woman owed little to dress for her charms. The gown was of most unfashionable cut, and made of coarse plaiding or drugget. Young girls at home wore no head-covering, but snooded their locks with a piece of string or ribbon. At fair or church, they wore white linen mutches, slightly plaited above the brow. The farmers' wives covered their heads with coarse white linen toys when they went a-visiting.

The sights and sounds of daily labour in the fields were quite familiar to the new minister. He himself had most probably taken his turn at the clumsy and over-weighted plough; drawn by as many as four oxen and two horses, or by four horses abreast. Two men were required to manage this implement; one held the plough, while the second drove the cattle. A third man often attended with a fork to guide the coulter in the furrow. Thus, ploughing was then an eminently social task. Macmillan also felt no surprise when he saw his female parishioners carrying out manure on their backs in wicker creels; for there were no carts, and, indeed, no wheeled conveyances for the most part. Burdens were carried on the back whenever possible; in other cases, they were conveyed on horseback in panniers.

At this very time agriculture was beginning to rouse itself, and some of the better land was being redeemed from wild pasture; but only coarse gray oats were grown, and the domestic supply was so small, that actual famine sometimes came very near. Stories circulated of poor people gathering herbs to make a meal: almost realizing the cynical advice of the ill-fated Foulon,
"Let them eat grass!" Such miserable ones Macmillan was now to succour, according to the noble motto on his own signet.

The fields had no dykes or fences, so that cattle and sheep had to be watched night and day during summer. At night the cattle were folded in turf enclosures, and one or two persons kept guard, lying under their plaids or blankets in the open-air. Sometimes, in rainy weather, they crept under a rude shelter of branches and turf, and so spent the long summer night beside their charge. Macmillan himself had, in his youth, kept such "sentry-go" on the Glenkens hills and pastures; had listened to the Black Water as it brawled, or the Cree gurgling among the stones; and had shared the shepherds' homely talk and tales.

Such was the summer's night fur many Galloway toilers; but in the short days of winter, life took on a drearier aspect. At the darkening, few lights shone in the cottages, for there were no candles, and paraffin was not yet. When the hour of family worship came, a ruffy was lighted. At other times, to secure a temporary torch, the poor man kindled a heather cow. The blackness of darkness brooded over the houses, and the inmates, huddled together for warmth, spent the long night in slumber.

The great event of each week was the Sunday. On the Saturday night, the men, in default of razors, applied the shears to their beard, by way of toilet for the next day's duties. The church was well attended, not for devotion only, but also for the sake of human intercourse. The people lingered around the green mounds of the kirkyard, innocent of tombstones for the most part, although sometimes a rough and nameless slab of whinstone was placed over a well-known grave. The mourners knew who lay beneath: the inscription was written in the heart. There are three or four such stones preserved in Balmaghie church-yard, mostly very small and of oblong shape. I reckon them to be the oldest. One, and one only, a long narrow fragment, bears the quaint inscription — '■''John M'Kine in Barnbord aught this ston Janu. (?) 1731, as propr right."

At eleven a.m. on Sunday, those who wished could hear the Scriptures read by an elder or other person, within the church. At noon, the minister came forth from his manse hard by, and the people flocked noisily into the house of prayer, where they still wore their blue bonnets while the psalm was sung. But at the first words of prayer, all stood up bare-headed, and so kept the dies dominica in the most ancient form. If the congregation at Balmaghie resembled Boston's flock at Ettrick, they were not so careful of decorum, as modern notions require. The Ettrick congregation, many of them, were used to get up noisily and leave the church during service, if their patience became exhausted. And some never entered the church at all, but continued their loud discussions in the churchyard. There is no record of the like, here. But our later narrative will shew, that manners were ruder and more unceremonious, than at present.

According to a contemporary writer, however, the people of Balmaghie at this date were "tractable to their minister, and as submissive to the Presbytery and other judicatories of the Church as any people in Galloway; and they were so at the present Mr. Macmillan's ordination." It is added, that under his ministry, they fell off in these respects; but this will be a matter of opinion. After seven years of a minister "always in a dying-like condition," any congregation might be expected to be in a languid and undemonstrative mood. The second Macmillan, however, used his time so well, that in less than three years the whole parish was ready to move, as one man, for the continuance of his pastoral connection.

When Macmillan, mounting his horse, began to perambulate his wide parish, he found the population very thin, as might be expected from the bad times and hardships of life. At this time, nearly half the population of Scotland was in a migratory state; at least, Fletcher of Saltoun estimated the vagrants at 200,000 in 1701, when the entire people numbered only half a million. The estimate is, on the face of it, grossly exaggerated; but it may be believed, that the difficulties of a settled livelihood forced large numbers of people to wander from place to place. The population of country parishes was liable to sudden and capricious changes, owing to the ebb and flow of the vagrant stream. Presbyteries kept a jealous eye on these wanderers, whose irruption caused both scandals and expense. To estimate the population of Balmaghie is difficult, but taking the figures given in the Old Statistical Account, we find that in 1755 it was 697, and that in 1793 it had increased to 862. It may, therefore, be conjectured that in 1701, the population was not much above 500 souls, if, indeed, it can be placed so high.

In 1710, the Presbytery had before them a protest in Macmillan's favour from "84 heads of families, besides young men." Allowing four persons for each family, this gives us a population of 336. And as nearly everyone in the parish adhered to Macmillan, we may safely conclude that the actual population was between four and five hundred.

Scattered over an area of about sixty square miles, the inhabitants were certainly not numerous. And the desolateness of large tracts was brought about by the natural tendency of the people to gather into "clachans" or villages. In the first place, as always, there was a group of houses around and near the church and manse. Then another considerable group lay near the principal landowner's house of "Balmaghie Place." But the chief mass was consolidated at Clachanpluck, "the village of the plough," which was also the geographical centre not only of the parish, but also of the Presbytery and the county. Here, or at Polsack or Cullenoch quite close at hand, the Presbytery met frequently. Here, was the original parish school, which, in 1794, had forty scholars, the schoolmaster drawing a salary of £8, with an equal amount in fees. Clachanpluck, now Laurieston, was the only village in the parish. The S.P.C.K. was not yet founded, and the village afterwards built on its lands at Bridge of Dee did not exist. Macmillan's flock were housed chiefly at the two points specified, the church and the village.

The farms were of small size, as a rule, and such labourers as were employed were young lads and men who slept in the outhouses. In 1794, there were only 18 "benefit-men," or in modern phrase "cotmen," being married ploughmen and shepherds having separate houses on the farms. At the same date, it is stated that 34 of the farmers paid rents under £30 a year. As the process of consolidating the small farms into larger ones had already been going on, we may suppose that in Macmillan's day there were even more of these "crofters" in the parish.

In Clachanpluck and at the Kirk Clachan, now known as Shankfoot, the few tradesmen had their abodes. In 1794, there were 8 shoemakers and 8 tailors, the latter a migratory class who went from farm to farm making or mending. There were also 8 "dram-sellers," of whom most resided in Clachanpluck, although there was always an alehouse, or "change-house," quite near the church. There were 2 "boatmen," one at the church, the other at Boatcroft. For bridges were hardly known as yet, one of the first having been built, over the " Water of Dee," by a synodical collection shortly after Macmillan entered on his ministry. Glenlochar Bridge, however, did not link Balmaghie to Crossmichael, until the present century had begun. When Macmillan went to the Synod, he crossed the river either by the ford or in the ferry-boat, and then jogged onward to Wigtown or Stranraer, on his stout "Galloway nag."

We may be certain that Macmillan paid his first visits to the poor, of whom in those days Kirk-Sessions took special and tender care. We have seen how strictly he inquired after the poor's money, and the security upon which it was lent out. This fund was collected from Sunday to Sunday, and applied, after deducting the fees to officials, to the relief of the impoverished, without regard to creed or church. In 1794, the parish had so far improved in respect of paupers, that only five were on the roll. The church collections then amounted to about £10 10s. annually. In 1701, the number of poor was probably far larger, and the fund available a good deal smaller. But money went further, and the doles were smaller in amount.

Besides the toiling cottagers and farmers or crofters, there were some resident "heritors" or "lairds." As we have seen, the heir of Quintinespie was the leading commissioner in presenting Macmillan's call to the Presbytery. The lairds of Balmaghie, Slogarie, and perhaps others, lived on their estates. In 1727, when the heritors were summoned to meet the Presbytery regarding repairs on church and manse, only four gentlemen came. They were Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness, Patrick Heron of that Ilk, Alexander Gordon of Carleton, and Alexander McGhie of Airie. None of these seem to have resided. It has been pointed out already that the lairds of Balmaghie and Slogarie were both under presbyterial discipline when Macmillan began his ministry. The former died before a final decision was arrived at; but the latter had just been excommunicated from the parish pulpit. It was the greater excommunication, a terrible weapon of ecclesiastical censure, which cut the victim off from converse either with God or with man. Both these gentlemen had refused to stand in the "public place of repentance," and "wearing the habit of sackcloth"; and Macmillan was to have much anxious dealing with them. They were both McGhies, a family which at one time had owned most of the parish, and still exercised great influence.

The morals of the common people could not be expected to excel, when the leading gentry of the place lived in such open defiance of religious duties. The Session Book is painful reading, but one cannot feel surprise to find that people who lived in one-roomed hovels were frequently in fault. Drunkenness was so prevalent that the Presbytery issued a pastoral letter in reference to this vice. The liquor, as we saw, was fermented whey or heather ale; as yet, whisky and brandy were not in general use. Wine, of course, was confined to gentlemen's tables. The Session under Macmillan shewed the greatest vigilance in reproving not only scandalous sins of immorality or intemperance, but other and what might seem to us trivial offences.

The following extract is an example of this: -

"1702, March 8. - Session met, after prayer to God, etc. John Bennet called, and compearing, was interrogate concerning the drying of his corn the day before the fast, and that the kilner of it, vizt., John Cambel, bade him come down the next night and lay it on. He told his family of it, and his son Alex., who was not at the kirk that day, had gone over and done according to the direction of the kilner, and he himself went over after he had come home, and laid it on. Alex., being asked if he had gone the night of the fast and dried his father's corn, said he did. John Cambel, being asked whether or not he laid on John Bennet's corn the night of the fast, in order to dry it, answered he did. The Session considered it was in ignorance they thought they could do so after sermon was ended, and ordered a sessional rebuke; they were accordingly soberly censured."

It is instructive to notice, that extreme strictness in the consistorial court existed along with a never-ending crop of scandals. One may well infer, that the Session discipline, with its prolonged penances, its public appearances in sackcloth, its fines and censures, its rebukes and absolutions, tended rather to lessen the sense of sin. The wrong-doer felt that, after all, he could "satisfy" the Session, and so escape temporal and eternal retribution. The whole Sessional discipline was, and is, an attempt to do the work of the Roman Confessional in a safe and unquestionable manner. Auricular and private confession to the priest had wrought endless mischief, whenever the priest was a bad or careless man. The consistory took the priest's place. Confession was now made to several men, not to one. Though nominally private, it was really public, and often issued in a public penance. The Session, a body made up almost wholly of laymen, many of them possessing much piety but little learning, heard the confession, fixed the penance, and gave the absolution. The inevitable result was, and is, a lowering of public morals. The sense of shame was dulled. The true idea of sin, as an offence against God, was replaced by the defective notion of sin as an offence against the Church. The proper proportion of sins also, must have been obscured, when a poor man could be "soberly censured" for drying his corn at a kiln on the fast-day.

Before leaving the episode of the kiln, I may add, that the offender, John Bennet, appears among the 87 signatories to the protestation in Macmillan's favour presented at the trial in Balmaghie Church, December 28th, 1703. His son Alexander, the real offender in the corn-drying incident, is the very last to sign. Macmillan's rebuke had not, therefore, lessened their attachment to him.

The list of names attached to this document gives us a certain acquaintance with the actual personnel of Macmillan's parish. The entire list was faithfully engrossed in the Presbytery's minute-book, and represents nearly every family in the parish. It includes six elders and two deacons, but apparently no heritors at all. Of the elders, one bears the name of Murdoch, afterwards notorious in connection with the Glebe Riot in 1713. Another has that of McGuffog, of a family descended from Colonel McGuffog, who fell at Flodden. Here also are Hugh Mitchell and John McKine or Cunie in Barnboard, who went together to Kirkcudbright in 1710, to protest against Mr. McKie's settlement as minister in room of their beloved pastor. It was the same John M'Kine who "aught this ston Janu. (?) 1731, as propr right.” The signature of Thomas Short reminds us, that George Short, a martyr of the Covenants, lay in the kirkyard: perhaps the father of Thomas. There is a John Knox, too, surely in fitting company. And lastly, Alexander Charters is here, of whom his epitaph says: -

" True to the Church, like rocks unmoved,
In rough and stormy seas,
Was Alexander Charters still,
In reeling staggering days."

He died in 1715. Although "like rocks unmoved," his name appears in 1710 among those who prosecuted a call to William McKie, to be minister in Macmillan's room. But there may well have been two Alexanders, and in any case, a man is entitled to change his mind.

All the leading family names are here: Gordon, Geddes, Milligan, McKinnel or McConnel, Cochrane, Murdoch, Clachrie or McClacharty, McGuffog, Craig, McNish, McGowan, McMinn, McCartney, Shennan, Bennet. These names still persist. The blood of the Covenanters, though perhaps a little adulterated, runs in the veins of the people today.

Some faint picture of the old parish may loom out to us from the foregoing remarks. We have to conceive a parish thinly peopled, with a hardy but ill-clad and ill-fed body of inhabitants, housed in huts and hovels where we should not now-a-days care to put a dog. We have to think of them dwelling almost al-fresco amid wide unfenced fields, or beside pathless moss-hags, or in little dingy groups of thatched houses. We have to remember that few of them could read or write, yet in nearly every home there was family worship of praise and prayer. We must bear in mind too the absence of roads and bridges, the rude implements of husbandry, the uncultured and superstitious ways of the peasantry. It was the day of brownies and witches, charms and spells. Nor, above all, can we form a fair judgment of the troubles which arose without always remembering the martyrs' graves and the stern wild enthusiasm of the Galloway Covenanters. For many of Macmillan's parishioners had been among the "hill folks" or "wild folks": some had narrowly escaped death for conscience sake. Scotland's "Reformation, Covenants, National and Solemn League," were household words with all. The advent among such people of a minister of Macmillan's early training and associations was like the introduction of a naked light into a coal mine. An explosion was apt to ensue, unless unusual good fortune were experienced. And Macmillan was not likely to gain much from the arts of a diplomatist or ecclesiastical tactician. He was now lodged in a position where his strength and weakness alike were soon to be manifested - his strength as a minister of mercy to the wretched, his weakness as a member of church courts. Let us turn, now, from his solitary figure, musing over the martyrs in his kirkyard, and direct our regards toward the men who had just ordained him, and who, in a short time, were destined to judge and depose him.

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