THE SANQUHAR DECLARATION
I think it was during the week I lay thus in the barn at the Duchrae, often with Richard Cameron or his young brother Michael at my back in the quiet of the corn mow, that first I got within me the true spirit of the Covenant. Then it was that I heard all the troubles and the sins of Scotland redd up and made plain; for in the night watches Cameron and his brother had great communings together. Richard was all for being done with the authority of the King, and making but one cast for it. Michael thought that the time was not ripe nor the men ready.
Now these two youths were they who chiefly set Scotland in a lowe at this time, when Lauderdale had so nearly trampled out the red cinders of the fire of Presbytery. It was strange to think, that he who should blow them again into a flame had once been a Prelatist, and that from the wicked shire of Fife. When one cast it up to him, Richard Cameron said:
‘Ay, it humbles us all to remember the pit from which we were digged!’
Then one night in the barn we gave in very solemnly our adhesions to the disowning of Charles Stuart and his brother James—all save my cousin Wat, who said:
‘I canna bide to cast off the blood of Bruce. I had rather kiss the Red Maiden.’
And with that, early in the morning he left us, which was a surprising grief to me, for he and I had been brothers in peril during many months. Whither he went I knew not then, but it shall be related in its proper place and all that befel him in his lonely wanderings, after he parted from me.
‘We must not do this thing lightly or gladly,’ said Richard Cameron to us that abode with him in the barn. ‘We have laid our accounts with the worst that the Government may do to us. We count not our lives dear. We see plainly that naught is to be gained save by defiance, any more. The Indulgence is but a dish of sowens with a muzzle thereafter, to make us for ever dumb dogs that will not bark. Who shall hinder or blame, if we choose to lay down our lives in the high places of the field, that the old faith be not forgotten, neither the old Covenant engagements to our Lord Christ for ever abrogated?’
Yet I think there was not one of us that was not heart-sorry to break with the House of Stuart. For after all we were of Scotland, and we or our fathers had stood for the Scots House and the Scots King against Cromwell and the supplanters. At any rate, let it not be said of us that we did this thing lightly; but rather with heavy hearts, because the King had been so far left to himself as to forswear and abandon the solemn engagements which he had undertaken.
So it came to pass in the mid days of the year, that one afternoon we rode away through the lonely hills by Minnyhive, and turned north up the fair valley of the water of Nith. Here and there we gathered one to whom the word had been passed, finding them waiting for us at some green loaning foot or at the mouth of some glen. Little we said when a friend joined us; for our work was sad and solemn, and to be done once and for all. We rode as it were under the shadow of the scaffold. Yet I think we thought not so much of ourselves, as of the women folk that abode at home. I know that I was wae for my mother, who was now like to lose her two sons as she had aforetime lost her husband, and sometimes also I thought of the lass Maisie Lennox, and what she would do wanting her father.
But this I put from me, for after all Covenanting was man's business. And as Richard Cameron said: ‘They that are trysted to the Bridegroom's work, must taigle themselves with no other marriage engagements!’
At the Menick foot, where that long stey pass begins, there met us ten men of the Upper Ward, all douce and stalwart men, armed and horsed as well as any of our men out of Galloway. I was the youngest of them all there, and indeed the only one that was not a mighty man of his arms. There had been indeed some talk of leaving me at the Duchrae to keep the place—which I knew to be but an excuse. But one James Gray of Chryston, a laird's son and a strong man, cried out, ‘Let the lad come, for his brother Sandy's sake!’
A saying which nettled me, and I replied instantly:
‘Let any man stand out against me with the pistol and small sword, and I will show him cause why I should come for mine own!’
At this Cameron rebuked me:
‘Ah, William, I see well that thou hast the old Adam in thee yet. But was there ever a Gordon that would not go ram-stam at the boar, whatever his religion?’
Then I, who knew that I had spoken as a carnal man, was somewhat shamed. Yet was I glad also that no man took my challenge, for indeed I had small skill of the sword. And with the shearing sword especially, my blows were as rat-tail licks to the dead strikes of Richard Cameron or even those of my brother Sandy. But nevertheless only to say the thing, did me good like medicine.
So into the town of Sanquhar we rode two and two, very slow and quiet, for Cameron had forbidden us to ride with a tight rein and the horses champing, as indeed I longed to do for pride and the lust of the eye.
‘For thus,’ said he, ‘do the King's troopers, when they enter a town, to take the eyes of the unthinking. But contrariwise, we are come to do a deed in Scotland that shall not be forgotten while Nith water runs, and to tie a band which shall not be broken through. We ourselves shall fall and that speedily—that know we well—but, nevertheless, that which we do this day shall one day bring the tyrant's downfall!’
And so indeed it proved to be.
Sanquhar is ever a still place, as though there were no other day there but the Sabbath only. Also the inhabitants are douce and grave, and so remain to this day—buying and selling, eating and drinking, as though they were alone on God's universe. But that day as we came riding up the street, there was a head at every window and I heard the wives cry:
‘The hill-folk have risen and come riding into Sanquhar!’
And this pleased me in the heart, though I know well I should have had my mind set on other matters.
At the cross we formed up, setting our horses ten on either side and Richard Cameron in the midst, he alone dismounted and standing on the steps of the cross. We sat still and quiet, all being bareheaded. For show I had plucked my brand out of its scabbard. But Cameron sternly bade me put it back again, and gave me his horse to hold instead. Which thing grieved and shamed me at the time sadly enough, though now I am both proud and glad of it.
‘The time for drawn steel is yet to come, William. Be sure that thou art then as ready as now,’ he said.
We sang our psalm of Covenant-keeping, and the hills gave it back to us, as though the angels were echoing the singing of it softly in heaven. After that, Cameron stood up very straight, and on his face, which was as the face of a lion, there was a great tenderness, albeit of the sterner sort.
The townsfolk stood about, but not too near, being careful and cautious lest they should be called in question for compliance with the deed, and the strange work done by us that day; for the King's scoop-net gathered wide. Also the innocent were often called to judgment, especially if they had something to lose in goods or gear, as was the case with many of the well-doing burghers of Sanquhar.
‘This day,’ cried Cameron, loudly and solemnly, after he had prayed, ‘do we come to this town of Sanquhar to cast off our allegiance to Charles Stuart and his brother James. Not hastily, neither to make ourselves to be spoken about, but with solemnity as men that enter well-knowing into the ante-chamber of death. An we desired our own lives, we should receive Tests and Indulgences thankfully; and go sit in our kennels, like douce tykes that are ready to run at the platter and whistle.
‘But for all that, we are loyal men and no rebels, though today we cast off Charles Stuart—ay, and will do our best to make an end of his rule, so that he shall no more reign over this realm. This we shall do, not by private assassination, which we abhor and abominate; but by the levying of open war. We declare ourselves loyal to any covenanted king—ay, and had Charles Stuart kept his engagements, plighted and sworn, there is no man here that would not right gladly have laid down his life for him.’
‘All ye that stand by, hear this word of Richard Cameron! There are those behind me, who heard with their ears the oath that the King sware at Perth, when before the Solemn Convocation he spake these words: 'I Charles, King of Great Britain and Ireland, do assure and declare by my solemn oath in the presence of Almighty God, the Searcher of hearts, my allowance and approbation of the National Covenant and of the Solemn League and Covenant above written, and faithfully oblige myself to prosecute the ends thereof in my station and calling.'’
‘The King,’ cried Cameron, ‘who sware these oaths hath cast us off. We have not cast off the King! There is one waiting in the Low Countries whence I came, and looking towards the hills of Scotland, to see if there be any faithful. Shall the fortress be utterly broken down with none to build her up? Are there no watchmen to tell the towers thereof—none to cry from rampart to rampart, 'What of the night?' Ay, there be here in Sanquhar town this day at the least twenty men that have not bowed the knee to Baal. This day we come to lay down our lives, as happily as children that have spent their play-day in the fields, and being tired, would lay them down to sleep. But ere we go, because the time cannot be long, we come to give the banner of the Lord once more to the winds—the banner of that other Kingdom in Scotland that is Christ's. Behold!’
And with that he lifted up the banner-staff which he held in his hand, and there floated out upon the equal-blowing wind the blue banner of Christ's Covenant. And as the golden scroll of it took the air, there came that into the hearts of most of us, which filled them to the overflow. The tears ran down and fell upon our horses' necks. ‘For Christ's Crown and Covenant,’ ran the legend. Then we gathered ourselves closer about the battle-flag, for which we had come out to die. As one man we drew our swords, nor did Cameron now gainsay us—and lifting them high up, till the sun glinted bonnily upon them, we sang our solemn banding song. I never felt my heart so high or heaven so near, not even at the great field-preaching by the water of Dee, when I sat by the side of Maisie Lennox. Even thus we sang,
‘God is our refuge and our strength, In straits a present aid; Therefore, although the earth remove, We will not be afraid.’
Then we rode out of Sanquhar town, for once gallantly enough, having solemnly set ourselves to face the King in open field—we that were but twenty men against three kingdoms. Well we knew that we should be put down, but we knew also that so long as there were a score of men in Scotland, to do as we had done that day, the cause and the flag would never be wholly put down.
So the douce burghers of Sanquhar watched us ride away, our swords gleaming naked because we had appealed to the sword, and were prepared to perish by the sword, as the word is. Also our blue banner of the Covenant waved bravely over our heads, in token of our dependence on Jehovah, the God of battles.
And as we rode was it not I, William Gordon of Earlstoun, who carried the banner-staff, for Richard Cameron had given it into my hands. So I had not lived in vain, and Sandy would never again bid me sew bairn-clouts, and bide at home among the women. I wished my father had been alive to see me.
men of the moss hags
125th anniversary 'slow reading' serialisation.