Three Ulster-Scots Spiritual Revivals, the Death of Montgomery and the "Eagle Wing" sets sail
King James was dead and his son, King Charles I, was now on the throne. James VI & I’s death on 27th March 1625 coincided with remarkable spiritual renewal in Ulster and Scotland. In his History of Protestantism, Rev J A Wylie wrote that:
“...the year of the king’s death was rendered memorable by the rise of a remarkable influence of a spiritual kind in Scotland, which continued for years... preachers had found no new Gospel, nor had they become suddenly clothed with a new eloquence; yet their words had a power they had formerly lacked; they went deeper into the hearts of their hearers, who were impressed by them in a way they had never been before... the moral character of whole towns, villages and parishes was being suddenly changed...”
For Wylie, the key to the revivals was this: “...it was distinctly traceable to those ministers who had suffered for their faith under James VI...”
Unsurprisingly, the ministers involved in the revivals, and the regions where revival was so strongly experienced, were both closely linked to James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery.
1. Stewarton, 1623 - 1630
The village of Stewarton is just two miles from James Hamilton’s home village of Dunlop, and close to the Montgomery family castles of Eglinton, Giffen, Hessilheid and Braidstane. Rev William Castlelaw was then the minister in Stewarton; the previous minister had been Sir Hugh Montgomery’s uncle, Rev Robert Montgomerie. Robert later moved to Ulster to become minister in Newtownards by 1630.
Rev Castlelaw’s neighbour and colleague Rev David Dickson from Irvine had been banished to the north of Scotland in January 1622 for his opposition to King James’ “Five Articles of Perth”. However he was allowed to return to Ayrshire in June 1623 thanks to the support of Sir Hugh Montgomery’s cousin and head of the Montgomery family, the Earl of Eglinton (above), and in particular the Earl’s wife Anna. Eglinton Castle became a refuge for many of Scotland’s persecuted Presbyterian ministers. Dickson began a weekly service in Irvine on Monday mornings, and within a few weeks thousands of people were flocking from all over Scotland to listen to his preaching.
Dickson was soon joined by Rev Robert Blair, the man Sir James Hamilton had brought to Ulster to become the minister in Bangor. The revival swept across the entire Stewarton parish, along the valley where the Annick Water or Stewarton Water runs and into the homelands of Hamilton and Montgomery. The Stewarton Revival lasted until around 1630, and its impact was to be felt for generations to come - the entire region would soon become a hotbed of Covenanter resistance to the Established Church.
2. SixMileWater, 1625 - 1634
The second revival took place in Ulster, in the area of South Antrim along the course of the Sixmilewater, in what had once been Sir Brian O’Neill’s lands of Lower Clandeboye. Scotsman Rev James Glendinning had been preaching in Carrickfergus amongst the English settlers of the town without success. He was visited in 1625 by Rev Robert Blair, who had sailed across Belfast Lough from Bangor to hear him preach. Blair advised him to move to Oldstone to preach among the Scots settlers - this advice brought immediate results.
Crowds flocked to hear Glendinning, who was soon joined by Rev Josias Welch (Templepatrick - John Knox’s grandson), and then in turn by Rev John Ridge (Antrim), Rev Robert Blair (Bangor), Rev Robert Cunningham (Holywood) and Rev James Hamilton (Ballywalter).
They established a monthly lecture meeting in Antrim on the last Friday of the month, in the house of a Scots settler called Hugh Campbell, which lasted from 1626 - 1634, and was attended by large crowds of Ulster-Scots. Religious revival swept the region. Glendinning left the area, and additional help then came to Sixmilewater in the form of Rev Henry Colwert (Oldstone), Rev George Dunbar (Larne) and in 1630 by Rev John Livingstone (Killinchy). Of these ministers, Cunningham, Blair and Livingstone had all been brought to Ulster by Sir James Hamilton.
In October 1632, Rev John Livingstone wrote to Anna, Countess of Eglinton (she had been involved in the Stewarton Revival) to tell her that there were crowds of around 1500 people regularly attending the communion services in Ulster.
3. Kirk O’ Shotts, 1630
The Kirk of Shotts is only around 35 miles from Stewarton. The minister in 1630 was a Rev Hance. Hance had been assisted by some of the local Ladies, Countesses and Marchionesses who were supporters of the Presbyterian ministers.
In return for their help they asked him to hold a large communion service at Shotts on Sunday 20th June 1630, attended by other ministers of their choosing. The same familiar group of ministers were invited - Rev Robert Blair, Rev David Dickson, the renowned Rev Robert Bruce (Edinburgh) and a young John Livingstone (aged 27, the chaplain to his future wife’s close relative Sarah Maxwell, Countess of Wigtown, but not yet ordained as a minister). The service attracted an enormous crowd, who remained at the church overnight, singing psalms and praying.
The next day the young Livingstone was due to preach a sermon, but he became nervous and tried to run away. However he returned and preached in the churchyard (below) to the assembled crowd for an hour and a half when a heavy rain shower began, but he preached on through for another hour regardless. 500 people in the crowd were converted.
1620 – 1630
1621 - Sir William Alexander is Granted Nova Scotia, Canada
On September 10 1621, King James signed a land grant to his old friend, and his partner on the Psalms project, Sir William Alexander. This was for an area larger than Great Britain and France combined, "between our Colonies of New England and Newfoundland, to be known as New Scotland ". In Latin the name of this land was Nova Scotia.
1622 - The Marriage of Hugh Montgomery & Jean Alexander
The following year, Sir William Alexander’s daughter Jean married Sir Hugh Montgomery’s eldest son Hugh. As a wedding present Sir Hugh built a large manor house for the newlyweds just outside Comber, and named it Mount Alexander in honour of Sir William. It was made from the stone from the ruins of Comber Abbey, which, like Bangor Abbey, had been burned by Sir Brian O’Neill in 1572. Only a few walls from Mount Alexander survive today, as part of a farm.
1622 - Hamilton & Montgomery Become Viscounts
On 3rd May 1622, Sir Hugh Montgomery was made the first Viscount of the Great Ardes by King James; the next day, Sir James Hamilton was made the first Viscount Clandeboye.
1625 - Hamilton & Montgomery’s Land Disputes
Hamilton & Montgomery’s relationship was deteriorating fast and legal actions caused by boundary disputes were relentless. The estimated cost of these legal cases was £1400 - approximately £200,000 in today’s money! These disputes would reach such a low point that in 1625 Hamilton called in the cartographer Thomas Raven to map all of the Hamilton estates. These maps are on display at North Down Heritage Centre in Bangor.
Portpatrick, Donaghadee, Ballymena, Ballygally, Killyleagh
Sir Hugh Montgomery bought Portpatrick from the Adairs of Kilhilt in 1626; he also tried to rename Donaghadee as “Montgomery” and Portpatrick as “Port Montgomery”. With the income, the Adairs bought Ballymena from the MacQuillans and named the area “Kinhiltstoun” for a time. Sir Hugh’s brother in law James Shaw moved to Ballygally and built Ballygally Castle in 1625. Around this time Sir James Hamilton moved from Bangor to Killyleagh Castle.
The Death of the Wives
Sir James Hamilton’s second wife Ursula - from whom he was divorced - died in 1625. Ursula was the sister of Bishop George Montgomery’s wife Elizabeth. Sir Hugh’s great companion in the Settlement project, his wife Elizabeth, died in the late 1620s (exact date unknown). She was buried inside the Priory in Newtownards, without memorial. In 1630, during a visit to the Earl of Eglinton in Ayrshire, Sir Hugh remarried. His new spouse was Rev Livingstone’s friend the Countess of Wigtown, Sarah Maxwell. She moved to Newtownards but stayed only a few months before returning to Scotland, vowing never to return to Ulster!
1631 - 1636
The Opposition of the Bishops
The three revivals were opposed by the Bishops of the Established Church in both Scotland and Ulster. After Blair and Livingstone had preached at Kirk O’ Shotts, they were accused by the Scottish bishops of “exciting the people” - these charges were sent to Bishop Echlin in Ireland, who accused Blair and Livingstone of “making an insurrection”. In Autumn 1631 Rev Blair, Rev Livingstone, Rev Dunbar and Rev Welch were all suspended from their ministries in Ulster.
The suspension was lifted briefly following an appeal to Archibishop Ussher, (James Hamilton’s former pupil in Dublin) but it was reinstated in May 1632.
So Blair decided he would travel to London to appeal to King Charles I, carrying letters of support from a number of Scottish noblemen including Sir Hugh Montgomery’s now-relative Sir William Alexander. Blair was given a letter of support from the King and he returned to Ireland.
However, the King’s Lord Deputy in Ireland (Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford) and the new Archbishop of Canterbury (William Laud) were firm opponents of Presbyterianism. Nevertheless, the suspension of the four ministers was lifted in May 1634, but only for six months. In November 1634 not only were these ministers suspended again - this time they were permanently deposed.
Shortly after this action, Bishop Echlin fell ill. When his doctor asked what was wrong he replied “It’s my conscience, man!”. Lady Jean Montgomery (described in The Montgomery Manuscripts as a “vehement Presbyterian”) said of Echlin “...I shall bear witness of it to the glory of God, who hath smitten this man for suppressing Christ’s witnesses...”
A Letter to America
It was clear that life for the Ulster-Scots was going to get much worse. However, America offered the religious freedom they desired so Rev John Livingstone and his former teacher at Stirling (a Mr William Wallace) were chosen to make an advance trip to New England, to gather information and choose a suitable homeland in America for any future Ulster-Scots emigrants.
Livingstone wrote to John Winthrop, Governor of Massachussetts (left) in July 1634, but due to storms the attempted voyage was unsuccessful. However Winthrop’s son visited Ulster in January 1635 and encouraged them to come to America.
The ministers began to make preparations, intending to set sail to America in the spring of 1636. Events would delay their planned departure date.
The Death of Hugh Montgomery
Spring of 1636 was to be a time of great sorrow for the Ulster-Scots settlers and their ministers - they were devastated when one of the Founding Fathers of the Settlement, Sir Hugh Montgomery, died on 15th May 1636, aged 76. The Montgomery Manuscripts (available as digital CD Roms from the Ulster-Scots Agency) provide a detailed description of his funeral arrangements. The funeral followed the full Scottish ceremony for the burial of a Viscount - a Scottish state funeral in Newtownards for the Founding Father of the Ulster Scots.
The Ministers are all Deposed
To make matters even worse, in August 1636, all of the remaining Presbyterian ministers in Ulster - Rev Brice, Rev Ridge, Rev Cunningham, Rev Colwert and Rev Hamilton - were also deposed. Not only was Montgomery, the great figurehead, now dead, but the Ulster-Scots now had no ministers to pastor them.
The Funeral of Hugh Montgomery
Sir Hugh Montgomery’s body was embalmed, rolled in wax and locked away until September. One week before the funeral, his body was taken outside Newtownards where it lay in State. He was buried in Newtownards Priory (above) on 8th September 1636, the building he had rebuilt in 1606 and where his first wife Elizabeth was already buried.
On the day of the funeral a great procession, all clothed in black, made the slow walk to the Priory. Carrying a large banner and large flag, the cortege of around 200 people included the Earl of Eglinton and scores of other noblemen who had travelled from Scotland to pay their respects. Even Montgomery’s bitter rival, Sir James Hamilton, was there.
Perhaps Sir Hugh Montgomery’s death was the factor which delayed the planned emigration to America. Rev Blair’s wife and Rev Hamilton’s wife were both daughters of Sir Hugh; Rev Livingstone and John McClelland were also related to Sir Hugh through marriage. It is highly likely that they would have wanted to see their father, father-in-law and Founding Father laid to rest before leaving for America.
Perhaps they were among the crowds in Newtownards that lined the streets as the funeral procession made its way through the town. Perhaps they stood outside the Priory during the funeral, where they might have gritted their teeth as their arch enemy Bishop Leslie preached the sermon. Perhaps they bristled at the irony of this when they saw the two Bible texts Sir Hugh had carved above the doorway there (Psalm 122v1 and Ecclesiastes 5v1) Perhaps, knowing that Sir Hugh’s son would waver between the Established Church and Presbyerianism, they decided the time was now right to leave Ulster. And perhaps they slept on it...
Eagle Wing Sets Sail
... because the next morning, 9th September 1636, the Eagle Wing finally sailed from Groomsport.
On board were three of Sir James Hamilton’s ministers (Rev Robert Blair, Rev John Livingstone and Rev James Hamilton) along with Sir Hugh Montgomery’s schoolmaster and part-time minister in Newtownards John McClelland. With them was John Stewart, Provost of Ayr and 135 other Ulster-Scots emigrants, who had surnames like Campbell, Girwin, Brown, Stuart, Agnew, Calver and Summervil.
This was the first attempted voyage from Ulster to the New World of America. Adair’s Narrative records that Livingstone and Blair had reservations about the journey. However the Eagle Wing left Ulster and sheltered off the Scottish coast, first at Loch Ryan and then near the Isle of Bute, before heading out across the North Atlantic. Around 1200 miles from Ireland they were struck by “a mighty hurricane” which smashed one of the master joists and the rudder. Adair wrote “...there were no waves there, but mountains of waters...”.
After a stirring address from Blair, one of the crew volunteered to go over the side of the ship to fix the rudder, with a long rope tied around his middle. The repairs were made but the storm didn’t cease. Livingstone proposed that they should wait for a further 24 hours, and if it was God’s will He would end the storm and allow them to carry on; if not, they would take this as His sign to turn back. The storm continued, and they all agreed to turn back and head for Ulster. The trip home was completed in fine weather.
There were two deaths and one birth during the voyage, and on 3rd November 1636 the Eagle Wing docked in Carrickfergus. Sadly for Rev Blair and his wife Katherine (Sir Hugh Montgomery’s daughter) their baby son William died on their return to Ulster.
Back to Scotland - for now...
The failed emigration was scorned by the Bishops in Ireland, and under further persecution the four ministers fled to Scotland - a Scotland where revolution was building and a National Covenant was being conceived. The Ulster-Scots ministers had little idea of what lay just around the corner...
(This article was originally published in The Ulster-Scot, August 2006)