The Cameronians and the Sanquhar Declaration.

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 ministers.

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)The 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 declared

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 throne.

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, obstinateand 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 to themselves that authority which the tyrant hath forfeited, 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 - text.



Home Scottish Reformation The Covenanters Ulster Scots English Reformation European Reformation General Topics & Glossary My Books & Bibliography Contact