The Cameronians and the Sanquhar

Sanquhar is a small town in Dumftries
and Galloway, in the south west of Scotland. It is of ancient origin, the
name being Celtic and meaning Old Fort, it lies in north Nithsdale and is
approximately midway between Dumfries and Kilmarnock. Small though it may
be on the map, Sanquhar was the scene for no less than six “Declaration at
Sanquhar“ These were on 22 June 1680, ( the Cameron Declaration); 28 May
1685 ( the Renwick Declaration ) and four after the Revolution by parties
who were not satisfied by the existing state of things. The four later
Declarations were made on 10 August 1692, 6 November 1695, 21 May 1703 and
in 1707.

There was, however, a precursor to the
Cameron Declaration known as the
Queensferry Paper
which was the work of Donald Cargill in
collaboration with Richard Cameron. Donald Cargill , born at Rattray in
Perthshire in 1619 was at St Andrews university at the same time as a
later oppressor the Earl of Rothes. Cargill was of mature years before he
was ordained as minister of the Barony Church in Glasgow in 1655. He was
cast out of his ministry in 1662 and banned from the south side of the
River Tay so he turned to private meetings and conventicles to pursue his
ministry. He was left for dead at Bothwell Brig but recovered to
collaborate with The Queensferry Paper . It was a solemn declaration of
faith and disavowed the sinful rulers. It is the strongest of the
Covenanter manifestoes but was never published by the Covenanters
themselves. Its disclosure came about because he was taken prisoner with
his companion Henry Hall at an inn at Queensferry on 3 June 1680. Cargill
managed to escape but Henry Hall was injured and later died. It was when
his clothes were searched that the compromising paper was found.

Undaunted by the disclosure of the
Queensferry Paper , labelled by the Government as  “The Fanaticks New
Covenant “, Cargill continued his work and memorably preached at a
gathering at Torwood, near Stirling. When he had
completed his sermon from Ezekiel “ Thus saith the Lord God, Remove the
diadem and take off the crown “
he calmly and formally excommunicated
Charles Stuart, King of England; James Duke of York; James Duke of
Monmouth; John Duke of Lauderdale; John Duke of Rothes; the Kings Advocate
Sir George MacKenzie; and Thomas Dalzell of the Binns. Sadly it was not
long before he was seized at Covington Mill where he had been resting for
the night and he and companions Walter Smith and James Boig were hustled
away to prison in Edinburgh. On 27 July 1681 he was executed at the Mercat
Cross and his head hung on the Netherbow Gate in Edinburgh with his hands
poised as if in prayer beneath – the manner reserved for Covenanting

It was on 22 June 1680 that the townspeople of Sanquhar
were astonished to see some twenty horsemen ride up the main street with
swords drawn and pistols at the ready. The group halted at the market
cross and two dismounted – these were Richard Cameron and his brother
Michael. After a psalm was sung a prayer was offered to the assembled
throng, and Michael Cameron read aloud the Sanquhar Declaration. When he
had done the Declaration was nailed to the town cross and the horsemen
returned from whence they came. Thus was done an act which was the seed
corn for a free Parliament and an unshackled church.

So many people died for the principles
of the Declaration it is worth reproducing it in full. The
Sanquhar Declaration which is forever
associated with the “Cameronians “ was published exactly one year after
the Battle of Bothwell, and a month prior to Cameron`s own death at
Ayrsmoss. This Declaration deserves notice,
both on account of the prominence given to it at the time by the
persecuted Presbyterians,
and also because it was used as an excuse for criminal prosecution of
those who acknowledged it. “Do you own the Sanquhar Declaration? ” was a
question to which an answer of `yes` meant they would be subjected to
whatever punishment the whim of the judges or the soldiers in the field
might see proper to inflict – usually death, often on the spot.

It was regarded as a manifesto of a
highly treasonable nature because it disowned King Charles as the
lawful king of the realms, and coming so soon after the battle of Bothwell
Bridge, it was the means of stimulating the persecution of the
Covenanters. It led directly to a Proclamation
that Richard Cameron and his associates were Rebels and Traitors, and
rewards were offered  for them dead or alive.  Moreover, the
attention of the government became focused on that part of the country
where this Declaration was made public with land owners required to assist
and interrogate their tenants for information. This requirement also gave
information of those who did not appear or take the required oath, thus
identifying potential supporters of the Cameronians. As a result the army
was the instrument of a merciless persecution and execution of the
Covenanters in the south west of Scotland 

The ` Cameronians` as they became known,
refused to take an oath of allegiance to King William III after the
religious settlements of 1689 – 1690 They felt that they could not join
the newly formed Church of Scotland, even though Presbyterian, because it
ignored the Covenants and accepted some State interference in religious
matters. The Cameronians accepted the Crown`s right to dissolve Assemblies
and they even accepted the system of patronage so they were not totally
against the King. For sixteen years, the dissenting Covenanters maintained
their own Societies for worship and religious correspondence. They were ably assisted by the exiled members of the Scottish church in Holland, where Robert Hamilton of Preston (the commander at Bothwell Brig) was a leading light and link with the Dutch ministers. He was one of James Renwicks correspondents and was responsible for the latter and three others ( John Flint ,William Boyd and John Nisbet) going to Holland for ordination. He also corresponded with Renwick and was a useful `sounding board` for developing policies and strategies. By I706
there existed in Scotland twenty such Societies, with a membership of
roughly seven thousand. In 1743 these formed their own Reformed Presbytery
which spread to Ulster and the USA.

The Church membership increased quite
rapidly and was a clear reflection of a desire for a firm Presbyterian
church. In 1810 the Presbytery was divided regionally into a Northern,
Eastern, and Southern Presbytery. A year later, these three Presbyteries
convened as the first Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of
Scotland. In 1810 the Irish and the North American Reformed Presbyterian
Churches – offshoots of the Scottish – were also strong enough to set up
their own first Synods.

There was further division among the
Cameronians in 1863 over the question of parliamentary franchise when a
majority took the view that they should do away with the rule about
political dissent which meant abandoning a principle of the Covenant to
share responsibility for national sins. The minority set up their own
Synod and reiterated that they would not accept political systems which,
in the Synods view, ignored the primary rights of Christ Jesus as King of
the world`s nations. In 1876 most were reconciled with and joined the Free
Church of Scotland.

martyrsmon.jpg (40955 bytes)
final word on the trials of the Covenanters perhaps lies in the stark
detail of the inscription on the Martyrs Monument in Old Greyfriars
Kirkyard which says that between May 1661 and February 1688 that

“ were one way or other murdered and
destroyed for the same cause about eighteen thousand, of whom were
executed at Edinburgh about a hundred of noblemen and gentlemen, ministers
and others – noble Martyrs for Jesus Christ. The most of them lie here “

What must be remembered about the
Cameronians, is that some eight years before William and Mary took the
throne, they demanded the removal of the Stuart kings. Moreover, the
reasons later given for removing James II were almost identical to those
given in 1680. As Dodds in
The Fifty Years
Struggle says:

The Cameronians represented those bolder,
firmer  and more fervid minds, who preserve  nations from
slavery , and the world from stagnation”.

The martyrs were vindicated when the Parliament of Scotland
rescinded all the measures passed against the Covenanters and declared
them null and void from the beginning. And Renwick`s utterances against
the House of Stuart were fully borne out when the Scottish Convention

that King
James, by his abuse of power, had forfeited all title to the Crown,

The English Parliament
were equally explicit stating that

King. James the
Second, having endeavoured to subvert the Constitution, by breaking the
original contract between the king and the people, did abdicate the

As for the period of intense persecution during the
`Killing Times`, and until the settlement of constitutional government ,
the United Societies under James Renwick  acted with great prudence
and calmness. The records of the Societies show clearly their careful
discussion  and the completeness of their handling of the question of
resistance to the ruling power. This is reflected in

the Society’s letter to
Friends in Ireland, dated 2d March 1687

In things
civil, though we do not
say that every tyrannical act

makes a tyrant, yet we hold
that habitual, obstinate
and declared opposition
to, and overturning of religion, laws, and liberties, and making void all contracts with the
subjects, intercepting and interdicting all redress by
supplications or otherwise, doth sufficiently invalidate
his right and relation of magistracy,
and warrant subjects . . . to revolt from under, and disown allegiance
to such a power. Yet they may
not lawfully arrogate
themselves that authority which the tyrant hath for
feited, or act
judicially either in civil or criminal courts. Only, they may do that
which is necessary for securing themselves, liberty, and religion.”

They were most definitely NOT raving
fanatics as described by the government of the day and by some latter day
apologists, including the novelist Sir Walter Scott.

 Next Sanquhar Declaration –