History of the Churches of Scotland


To understand the plethora of religious sects, one must keep in mind the religious fervor and dissent of the times. The turbulent politics in Scotland in the 17th century were as much over religion as over politics. What began with the Reformation in Germany in 1517 (Martin Luther), continued for 150 years in the 16th and 17th centuries. In comparison to other countries, there was very little persecution of Protestants in Scotland. In the early 17th century, only about 10% of the population, mostly lairds and townsfolk, were Protestant, but their numbers included some very important nobles. How this was to change! By 1700 Scotland was so predominantly Protestant, that the Scottish Catholics were on the verge of extinction.

CHURCH OF SCOTLAND -- It could be said that the Church of Scotland dates from 1560 when the Scottish Parliament decided that the protestant Confession of Faith should be be the only authorized creed of the Scottish Kingdom. Others claim that the Church dates from 1690 over a century later. In the next decade after 1560 Prelacy had been re-established only to be abolished by a General Assembly of 1638. After the Restoration of Charles II he rescinded the act in favour of the National Covenant and abolishing the prelatical hierarchy. In 1688 after the flight of James II and the usurpation of the throne by William the situation changed and by 1690 the church had been re-established by the state as a Presbyterian body. Although from this time the Church of Scotland was truly the established church it was the relation between church and state that was to lead to secession and Disruption in later years.

EPISCOPAL CHURCH -- This church is not established but is part of the world-wide Anglican Communion and would consider itself the true representative of the medieval church, and teacher of the Catholic Faith. After the Reformation in the mid-1500s to 1690 prelacy had a chequered history in Scotland but in the last years of the 17th century the Church of Scotland was finally fully established as the state church with a presbyterian structure. The years immediatley following were difficult and many episcopal clergy were thrown out of their livings although the degree of oppression varied widely and some were left undisturbed for many years. Later they had a structure of seven bishoprics which took titles from, or combining, the names of the medieval sees. It was one of its bishops that consecrated the first bishop for the USA in 1784.

PRESBYTERIANISM -- This term describes a method of church government. "Presbyter" means "elder" and Presbyterianism means the government of the church by elders. The Kirk Session is made up of the elders who rule over the spiritual affairs of the congregation and the ministers who teach and rule. It is the duty of every member to care for the church and to further its activities by financial support, choosing ministers, management of its affairs etc. Many of the Presbyterian churches have no set prayers books or liturgy, and there is an emphasis on the ministry of the Word.

SECESSION CHURCH (OR ASSOCIATE PRESBYTERY) -- The breakaway group of 1733 was led by Ebenezer Erskine and the main source of disagreement was patronage. The Patronage Act passed by the state enabled the landowners to place the ministers of their choice. The Secession Church believed that this right belonged to the people. To the doctrinal statements of belief the church required that its ministers subscribed to both the Long and the Short Westminster Catechisms. In 1747 the Secession Church split again. This was because of a religious clause in the oath (which was basically directed against Jacobites) required of all burgesses in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Perth. This division gave rise to the Burghers and Anti-Burghers. At the end of the century, from 1799 to 1806) these two groups each split again into Old Lichts (or Lights) and New Lichts. This was over the jurisdiction of the civil authority over the Church. The two groups of New Lichts merged about two decades later into the United Secession Church.

The size of the following of the secession church varied by town, but could even be the majority church, as witnessed by the 70% of all the parishiners in Jedburgh in the 1790s -- one of the periods we are interested in:
In his 1791-1799 Statistical Account of Scotland the Rev. Thomas Somerville wrote the following: "There are four clergymen in the town of Jedburgh; the minister of the Established Church, of the Relief congregation, of the Burgher, and the Antiburgher, seceders. Their respective examination rolls are as follows: Established Church 800; Relief congregation 1200; Burgher congregation 600; Antiburgher 150 ... Near a half of all the families in the parish of Jedburgh, and a great proportion of the families in all the surrounding parishes, are members of this [Relief] congregation."
Also:
Pigot and Co's Commercial Directory of Scotland published in 1837 lists the following non-conformist churches in Jedburgh: United Secession at High Street; United Secession at Castle Street; Relief Synod at High Street.
[However, the only secession church record books that remain are for the Associate Congregation later called Blackfriars United Presbyterian (see below) -- but it is not clear which of the churches this includes -- probably the Relief congregation only since it is a large record book and all three secession churches were likely to have kept separate records at this time.]
The following Jedburgh church records are available:
-- Jedburgh: 1639-1857 for the Church of Scotland, Parish Church of Jedburgh (Roxburghshire) (OPR) (1639-1857 baptisms; 1669-1739 and 1758-1772 and 1821-1854 marriages; 1641-1649 and 1822-1855 burials) and,
-- Jedburgh: 1812-1654 Free Church (but first baptisms appear to be in the 1840s), and
-- Jedburgh: 1737-1839 for the Jedburgh Associate Congregation (Nonconformist) (1737-1839 baptisms).
These latter Nonconformist church records for Jedburgh were examined and no Taylor entries could be found. There were many Turnbull and Cranston entries, and baptisms for children of Andrew Swan of Ancrum Mains (surely a brother of John Swan who married Janet Taylor):

-- George Cranston and Margaret Hall in Perrelston(?) had: Agnes in 1753 and Robert in 1757.
-- Robert Cranston and Alison Cairns of Crailing Hall had George in 1772, Margaret in 1774, Isabel in 1776, Elspeth in 1780, William in 1782, Mary in 1784, George in 1792.
-- George Cranston and Grizzie (diminutive of Grizzle, a form of Grace) Brown of Ulston had George in 1778, William in 1781, Thomas in 1784, Janet in 1786, George in 1789.
-- George Cranston in Oldhalm had Martha in 1785 and George in 1794.
-- William Cranston and Agnes in Ullston had William in 1790, Thomas in 1792 and Robert in 1793.
-- William Cranston and Margaret Rendam(?) had children William and Margaret.
-- Andrew Swan of Ancrum Mains Hall had children baptised in 1785-89
Clearly there were many early Cranstons who were part of this secession church; it is not unreasonable to expect that their parents might have been too. While no baptisms for John Swan's children nor William Hay's children were found in these records, it still suggests the family had ties to a secession church.
The Statistical Accounts for Ancrum, Linton and Makerstoun do not mention the secessionists, and no church records have been located; in Crailing it is said they go to Jedburgh. No specific numbers are mentioned in Kelso, but there are obviously quite a few, based on this quote from the 1791-99 Statistical Account: "Besides the established church, and an Episcopal chapel, there are a number of sects, each of which has a house for public worship, and some of them are even elegant. These are the kirk of Relief, Burghers, Antiburghers, Cameronians, Methodists, and Quakers. There are three Roman Catholics, and one Jew in the Parish. The major part of the inhabitants, particularly of the genteel class, attend the parish church, and Episcopal chapel." Although Kelso had secession churches at the time, the only records that remain are the session minutes; these mention no names (before 1812) except of the elders and for women punished for adultery.

To understand the impact of the split on OPR and Nonconformist records, it is of interest to examine an OPR record from Ancrum:
1779 -- "June 16. John Wallace Taylor in Long ?? [sic] had a Son Ba Andrew. he came from the Anti Burghar Society at Midleholm about Witsunday last because the Sep would not allow him the benefit of Baptism for his child because he was married by Mr. Cranstoun." [Mr. Cranstoun was the minister of the Established Church in Ancrum.]

This gives one more reason why records might be missing -- the nonconformist parishoners may not have been allowed to baptise their babies in any church!

RELIEF CHURCH -- Developed from groups that seceded from the Church of Scotland in the 1700s and in 1847 united with the United Secession Church to form the United Presbyterian Church.

It should be noted that our Scottish ancestors who emigrated to America (William and Jane Anne Taylor Hay) in 1811 were part of a group of 100 Scottish dissidents, suggesting they may have had disagreements with the "Mother Church." One example of this is the fact that Jane and William were married irregularly in England in 1787. It is of interest to note that the father of Ebenezer Erskine, the leader of the 1733 secession movement, was minister of the church in Cornhill, Northumberland, England -- the same church where Jane and William were married. This is likely to be no coincidence even though the times were far apart -- 1660s versus 1787. Also, even in Indiana there were further schisms -- in 18xx a second Presbyterian church was established by peopoe unhappy with the first. My favorite saying as to the differences between these churches is:

With these facts, and the knowledge that as of 1790 the subscription to secession churches was 70% in Jedburgh and substantial in Kelso, and that the 1760s Hay records (parents' marriage and William's birth) are not in the OPRs, it seems reasonable to assume the Ann's Cranston parents were part of a secession church. On the other hand, the Taylor ancestors seem to have stayed longer with the established church, since the 1761-72 baptisms are in the OPRs.