Happy 300th Birthday to John Cuthbertson, Pioneer Covenanter Missionary!

The name of John Cuthbertson is greatly renowned in both the history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of America, and that of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He was born on April 3, 1718, near Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland. Having studied theology under the auspices of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, he was licensed 1745, ordained in 1747, and served as Moderator of the RPCS in 1750. The following year, he was sent as the first Scottish Covenanter missionary to America.

He landed in Newcastle, Delaware, where he began a diary, which still survives. "It is a small leather-bound volume, recording his day-to-day activities, sometimes in English, sometimes in Latin, often abbreviated, with some shorthand, portraying a magnificent life of travel and service" (David M. Carson, Transplanted to America: A Popular History of the American Covenanters to 1871, p. 11). Cuthbertson went on to settle at Middle Octorara, Pennsylvania, where Alexander Craighead had previously ministered, and also renewed the Scottish Covenants in 1743. 

With Middle Octorara as his base, Cuthbertson traveled throughout the middle American colonies on horseback, through Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, and so ministered widely to the scattered Scots-Irish in these places. "His ministry spanned the forty years after his 1751 arrival, and he traversed a remarkable 70,000 miles in his preaching tours through at least seven colonies" (Joseph S. Moore, Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution, p. 44). Extracted from his diary by S. Helen Fields is a Register of Baptisms and Marriages performed by Rev. John Cuthbertson. "According to his diary, during the thirty-nine years he was engaged in active service, he preached on two thousand four hundred and fifty-two days; baptized one thousand eight hundred and six children; married two hundred and forty couples; rode on horseback seventy thousand miles, or nearly equal to three times around the world. And this traveling was done in those days when there were no roads or bridges" (William M. Glasgow, History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, p. 478). His travels and trials are recorded in this diary with brevity ("Slept none. Bugs." "Give all praise to my gracious God." "l.D. [laus Deo, praise to God]") and with humility: "a real conviction of one's original guilt; actual transgressions of childhood; riper years, especially in the great office of the ministry; pride, carnality, indifference, want of true zeal for Christ's cause and the welfare of Immortal souls..." [after reading a sermon by Ralph Erskine]. 

On March 10, 1774, along with two other ministers and some ruling elders, Cuthbertson helped to establish the first Reformed Presbytery in America. His diary entry for March 9, 1774 states "Conversed with Messrs. Lind, Dobbin & until 1 o,clock," and on the following day he wrote "After more consultation, & prayer, Presbytery." On July 2, 1777, Cuthbertson swore allegiance to the cause of the American colonies in their conflict with Great Britain. Formal discussions with the Associate Church in that same year, and in 1782, these two ecclesiastical bodies merged to become the Associate Reformed Church, taking with them most members of both churches. This union between the Covenanters and the Seceders was not without challenges to Cuthbertson -- he wrote to his nephew that "Our coalescence with ye Seceders, I apprehend, is almost at an end...Was told that ye Covenanters in ye north of Ireland...had appointed a minister to come over here. Should divine Providence favor this, I expect ye true Covenanting cause might again lift up ye head in ys western world" (Letter to John Bourns, Aug. 19, 1789) -- but he never rejoined the Covenanter (Reformed Presbyterian) Church before his passing.  

When he died on March 10, 1791, he was buried in the church cemetery at Middle Octorara. There is a fine sketch of his life in William M. Glasgow's History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America. On the occasion of his 300th birthday, this pioneer Covenanter missionary is worthy of remembrance.

The Whigs of the Covenant Who Fought at Drumclog

The Battle of Drumclog on June 1, 1679, represents the high-water mark, militarily speaking, of the Scottish Covenanter struggle (1638-1688) against the Stuart kings (specifically King Charles II and King James VII). It was followed by a major Covenanter defeat at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on June 22, 1679. What followed after that is known to history as an intense period of persecution that we refer to as "the Killing Times" (c. 1680-1688). In the phase of the conflict from 1661 to 1688, it is estimated that 18,000 men, women and children were killed "for Christ's Crown & Covenant." 

Log College Press has recently added works by William Craig Brownlee (1784-1860), the Scottish-born American Presbyterian, who was descended from a survivor of these battles. He recounted the history primarily in Narrative of the Battles of Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge (1822, 1850); in the beginning of his critique of the Quakers, published in 1824; and in his two-volume The Whigs in Scotland: or, The Last of the Stuarts. An Historical Romance of the Scottish Persecution (1833). 

Scottish Covenanter Thomas Brownlee (1638-1713), Laird (landowner, or squire, not lord) of Torfoot, fought in both the battles of Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge. After the latter battle, he was captured and placed on a prisoner ship bound for Barbados to be sold into slavery. This ship sank near the Orkney Islands on December 10, 1679, and approximately 200 Covenanters drowned, but Thomas Brownlee was one of those who escaped and made it to shore alive. His account of these battles, it is said, was not published until 1822, by a descendant, in an American newspaper, the National Gazette. (It is this work which was later published by William Craig Brownlee under the title Narrative of the Battles of Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge.) By this time, Sir Walter Scott had recounted the battle of Drumclog in his "Waverly Novels" (The Tale of Old Mortality from Tales of My Landlord), not in a favorable light to the Covenanters. The account of Thomas Brownlee was prefaced by a letter to the editor which took note of this and, he says, it led him to seek publication of this defense of the "Whigs of the Covenant."

"Messrs. Editors,

Of all the Waverly Novels "Old Mortality" produced perhaps the greatest sensation in Scotland. It pleased the light readers. It was very acceptable to the Tory party. It roused the attention of the Whigs--I mean not the Radicals, but the descendants and lovers of the true "Whigs of the Covenant." It excited a burst of admiration, and a burst of indignation, deep and severe. The one from the Tories, and the mere admirers of fine historical romance-- the other from the religious and devout body of the nation.

It was a novel affair, and it excited the public feeling to an intense degree, to see venerable clergymen descending into the arena to attack the statements and sentiments of a romance. There was a reason for this. The book was read by everybody, and it contains the sentiments of toryism in their most imposing form--and there is much that approaches to a degree of impiety which that sober people will not bear. Nay, the religious people deemed that they saw no less than a design to ridicule the memory of the martyrs and patriots of the days of Charles II and to vilify their holy religion. The description which he has given of the conduct and motives of the military chieftains; the personal accomplishments and the romantic gallantry with which his imagination has clothed the atrocious Claverhouse, do prove that there is too much room for the one; and the absurd balderdash and disgusting cant which he has put into the mouths of the leading preachers of that age (and they were no mean men), do altogether show a spirit of hostility and persecution not to be tamely submitted to in this enlightened age. The result of this public indignation was visably in favour of the "good cause." Accurate engravings of Graham of Clavers were brought forward. In opposition to the romantic paintings of the novelist, the harsh features of his iron face were revealed; and the tout ensemble exhibited an exterior in every respect befitting the gloomy and dark soul of a man whose hands were dipped in human blood to the wrists. And in the late additional details of his public character, it has been satisfactorily shown, from the most authentic documents, that the "gallant and enterprising officer" of Hume and of the Tories, was a cold-blooded murderer of the unarmed peasantry; that he shot down, without trial or form of law, free citizens on their own lands, and by their own firesides; that he belonged to that licensed banditti, the oppressors of their country, who "employed even the sagacity of blood-hounds to discover the lurking places of the patriots and martyrs," whom they butchered in the presence of their wives and crying babes. (See Laing's History of Scotland, vol. ii, Scots Worthies, & c.passim.)Another consequence of this national excitement was a holy seal, which put forth its activities in repairing the tombs and monuments over the bodies of the martyrs. Each sacred spot, on mountain, in valleys, and on moors, where the patriots had fallen by the steel of the life-guards, was sought out and monuments erected, and tombstones repaired, and a host of "Old Mortalities" put in requisition to chisel deeper the names and the epitaphs of the martyrs.

This is my introduction--I now offer you the "Battle of Drumclog". And the "Battle of Bothwell Bridge" shall be forthcoming--that you may judge of the contrast between the account of these battles in the Waverley romance, and in history.

In his "Battle of Drumclog", the "great wizard" makes the Covenanters' army murder a gallant young officer, who came with a flag of truce. Nothing can be more erroneous and slanderous. It is an outrage to history. It is only surpassed by that more outrageous fiction of their intending murder of young Morton in the night after Bothwell battle.

The following words of the Laird of Torfoot, whose estate is this day in possession of two brothers, his lineal descendants of the fifth generation. The Laird speaks of what he saw and what he did. I have carefully compared his account with the statements handed down by family tradition--particularily with the statements of a venerable aunt, who died lately in Pennsylvania, aged nearly ninety, and who was grand-daughter of the Laird's second son. I have also compared the account with the brief printed account of these battles in the "Scottish Worthies" and the "Cloud of Witnesses." This last book (p. 334, Lond. edit.) records the Laird's name in the list of those driven into banishment; but who, in spite of Clavers and Charles, and shipwrecks, by the grace of God, regained his native halls to bless his afflicted family, and who finally died in peace, in the presence of his family, in a good old age." 

The history of Drumclog has been written by the infamous John Graham of Claverhouse. Sir Walter Scott's account has already been alluded to. In Thomas Brownlee's account, via William Craig Brownlee, we have a sympathetic tale of the Covenanters who suffered and gave so much for freedom. It is little-known today, but Brownlee's account, more so than the others, is a tale is worth the re-telling.