Thus in Petty, a few miles east of Inverness, the curate, Alexander Denoon, was deposed on 19 June 1706 for the rather common prelatic sins of swearing and drunkenness, but he disregarded the sentence and was allowed “to continue” until his death in 1719. In a list of curates continued after the Revolution, held in the Advocates’ Library, Wodrow, amid other notable characteristics, frequently affixes the epithet of “scandalous drunkard”.
At Moy, 12 miles south of Inverness, Alexander Cumming, the presentee of Bishop Falconer and a bigoted Jacobite, continued in full possession of the charge until his death in 1709. A long vacancy of seven years followed. Efforts were made to obtain the faithful services of Daniel Bethune, but they were unsuccessful. In 1716 worthy James Leslie, a licentiate of the Presbytery of Elgin, was called by the Presbytery, and inducted on August 23.
The following Sabbath Mr Leslie walked up along the banks of the Findhorn to preach at Dalarossie, the other church of a united parish, in the face of strong opposition. Within two miles of this place of worship, at a wood overhanging the river, he encountered a crowd of women with aprons well filled with stones. Blocking up the narrow way, they bade him return and excitedly assured him that if he proceeded further they would certainly stone him. Mr Leslie, nothing daunted, replied to the angry clamour: “Let the greatest witch among you throw the first stone!” No one among them cared for so unhappy a pre-eminence and, in the confusion that ensued, the valorous minister was allowed to proceed.
Arriving at the church, he found it empty. There was a multitude in the graveyard engaged in “putting the stone” – the husbands, brothers and sons of those women from whose hands the preacher had so happily escaped on the way. Leslie urged the athletes to leave their sport and attend his service, but they emphatically refused and in return urged him to take part in the game. Thereupon he offered to throw the stone (the test of physical strength) once, on condition that if he surpassed them they would adjourn to the church. Being a very powerful man, his one throw far exceeded the mark reached by the foremost of the company. The new parson at once rose in their estimation, and they readily acknowledged his superiority and followed him into the church. The “strength-stone” lay for many long years untouched on the spot on which it had fallen from Mr Leslie’s hands; and the sermon preached on that bright autumn Sabbath of 1716 was the beginning of a great moral revolution and blessed revival in that beautiful strath.
Nearer Inverness, in the parish of Daviot, the erratic curate, Michael Fraser, succeeded the worthy Alexander Fraser, who had been deposed for non-conformity in 1672. The outed minister survived the Revolution, but not being comprehended in the Act of Parliament of 1690 restoring the survivors of the persecution, he remained at Abbotshall. Michael seems never to have shown any concern for the spiritual interests of his parishioners. As early as 1675 he was enjoined by the Synod that in time coming “he abstain from all limning and painting which hitherto has diverted him from his ministerial employments”. He continued in Daviot till his death in 1726.
When Mr Shaw, minister of Cawdor, went to declare the church vacant soon after, he reported to the Presbytery “that he found great numbers, some in the churchyard, others in the open fields, with the kirk door locked, the key carried off and could not be found; while the people behaved so rudely that he could not worship in the churchyard without being disturbed by them, and so returned home”. Mr Leslie came to preach and found numbers “sitting at a hillside near the church” – probably engaged in some of the games sanctioned by the “Book of Sports” of King James, of worthless memory. He gained admission into the dilapidated church and, more fearless than his brother of Cawdor, continued the service amid much peril from “the throwing of stones at the door, windows, and through the open roof”.
Verily, the Presbyterian ministers of those times in the north required great tact, energy, prudence, physical strength and courage, and the Head of the Church raised up many such men – ministers whose names are fragrant in many a remote and lonely Highland glen.
1. This article, one of a series “by a Highland Minister”, appeared in The Original Secession Magazine in 1890. It has been slightly edited. Theappeared last month.