Monday, November 12, 2007

The Story of Rev James Hamilton of Ballywalter – Part Two

And now for Part Two...

The Bishops “Depose” the Presbyterians
A new bishop, Henry Leslie, arrived in Ulster in July 1636. He was opposed to Presbyterianism and so he summoned the young Rev James Hamilton and four other ministers to meet with him in private, to discuss their refusal to use the Service Book of the Established Church. Leslie couldn’t persuade them to dilute their principles.

So on 10th August 1636 he summoned them to a meeting in Belfast, where he put it to them that he would hold a public meeting the next day in the church in Belfast. Perhaps to Leslie’s surprise, the five ministers accepted the challenge.

They selected the young Hamilton to speak on their behalf. He stood before the gathered audience of nobility, gentry and clergy, and spoke with “great readiness and acuteness” during a debate which lasted several hours. Bishops Leslie and Bramhall, frustrated, stopped the meeting and adjourned - two days later on Friday 12th August 1636, the bishops pronounced against the five Presbyterian ministers and deposed them from their churches.

It was no surprise to Hamilton - the Ulster-Scots had seen this coming for some time. In fact, over two years before, some of the Ulster-Scots Presbyterian ministers had been suspended from their churches, and so they wrote to the Puritans in Massachussetts. Rev John Livingstone wrote to John Winthrop, Governor of Massachussetts, in July 1634, to find out about the possibility of the Ulster-Scots being welcomed in the New World; Winthrop’s son visited Ulster in January 1635 and encouraged the Presbyterians to come to America.

A few days later ALL of the Presbyterian ministers in Ulster were deposed.

The “Eagle Wing”
They had already been planning to sail to America. The pressure on them was now so great that on 9th September 1636, Rev James Hamilton of Ballywalter, Rev Robert Blair of Bangor, Rev John Livingstone of Killinchy and Rev John McClelland of Newtownards set sail from Groomsport with 136 of their congregation. Also on board was John Stewart, the Provost of Ayr.

As all of you know, “Eagle Wing” didn’t make it. She returned home, having sailed about 1200 miles across the Atlantic and 1200 miles back, on 3rd November 1636. Defeated and scorned by the Bishops, the four ministers went back to Scotland.

The Return to Scotland
Rev James Hamilton moved to Dumfries where he was minister for ten years from 1636 – 1646… a time when Scotland rose up in rebellion against the King on 28 February 1638 with “Scotland’s National Covenant”. You know the rest!

From September to December 1642, Hamilton and Blair were back in Ulster, preaching among the Ulster-Scots and the Scottish army regiments. Then, on 26th March 1644, Hamilton (along with three other Scottish Presbyterian ministers) was sent back to Ulster by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to administer the Covenant. In a letter from the General Assembly to the officers of the Scottish Covenanter Army in Ulster, they wrote:

“…As our cause is one that has common friends and enemies, so we must, with God's assistance, stand and fall together ; and, for our firmer union, the Commissioners of the Assemblie, and we, have sent Master James Hamilton (a faithful minister in this kingdom, and whose integritie is well known in Ireland) with the Covenant to be sworne by the officers and souldiours of our army, and all such others of the British as shall be willing to enter into this Covenant…”

Hamilton and his three colleagues (Rev Adair from Ayr / Rev Henderson from Dalry / Rev Weir of Dalserf) arrived at Carrickfergus by the end of March and visited almost every town in Ulster – Belfast, Comber, Newtownards, Bangor, Holywood, Ballywalter, Broadisland, Derry, Raphoe, Ramelton, Ballyshannon and Enniskillen – administering the Covenant to the people and holding national days of repentance for those who had rejected the Covenant previously and had taken the “Black Oath”. Hamilton spent much of his time back at Ballywalter, renewing friendships with the kinsfolk he had been forced to leave behind 8 years before.

Kidnap, Prayer and Praises in Prison
Their Covenanting mission was completed. On Sunday 2nd July 1644, having preached in Donaghadee that morning on Hebrews chapter 12, Hamilton and Weir were sailing back to Scotland when the ship was captured by supporters of Sir Alexander MacDonnell (the Lieutenant General of Montrose’s anti-Covenanter army). They were held hostage for almost a year in Mingary Castle on the peninsula of Ardnamurchan, near Tobermory (shown above).

Their imprisonment is described in The Hamilton Manuscripts as:

“…They got not liberty jointly to exercise worship together; but every one did as he best might, apart ; only they had now and then conferences of what they read, for their Bibles were spared to them by the good providence of God And, also, when the frigate was pursuing any bark or boat, the said prisoners, being all closed under decks and alone, took opportunity, to pray together. Upon the said 15th of July, the said prisoners were carried from the said frigate to Castle Meagrie, and were all put in one chamber together. Every day twice, the said Mr. Weir and Mr. James Hamilton, did both of them expound a psalm or a part of a psalm, the one praying before, and the other after the said exposition. This they did in the hearing of those other fellow-prisoners, which were above-named, so long as they were together, which was till the twenty-third of September, in which time they had proceeded in expounding to the eighty-first psalm...

...No prospect of relief appeared, and their spirits began to despond; but the consoling truths of that Gospel, which they had so faithfully preached sustained them, and "though their flesh, and their heart failed, God was the strength of their heart, and their portion for ever…”

From the Tower of London to Bangor
Weir died on 16th October, but Hamilton was eventually freed on May 2nd 1645 in an exchange of prisoners and lived out the rest of his life ministering in Dumfries and Edinburgh. He was appointed by the General Assembly as one of the King’s chaplains when he was again taken prisoner – this time at Eliot in Angus, north Scotland, by General Monck’s army. Hamilton was then moved to the Tower of London where Oliver Cromwell held him captive for two years before releasing him.

In 1648 Hamilton and James Guthrie were tasked by the General Assembly to draw up an account of the duties of church elders (Guthrie was hanged and beheaded in Edinburgh in 1661).

Hamilton returned to Edinburgh, and made at least one journey back to Ulster – he presided as Moderator in a meeting of the Presbytery of Bangor on 25th May 1664. He died in Edinburgh on 10 March 1666, leaving 5 children, one of whom – Archibald Hamilton – became minister at Benburb and Killinchy. His daughter Jane married another Archibald Hamilton, minister of Bangor.

His mentor, Rev Robert Blair, died on 27th August of the same year, aged 73.

His Character and Legacy
Hamilton’s cousin William, the author of The Hamilton Manuscripts, wrote:

“…I shall not insist on his character, only as it is evident he was, in providence, from his infancy to his grave, exposed to many afflictions and temptations, so he was helped to carry with great steadfastness, wisdom, and patience—yea, cheerfulness. He was naturally of an excellent temperament, both of body and mind; always industrious, and facetious in all the several provinces or scenes of his life; he was delightful to his friends and acquaintances—yea, beloved of his enemies. Much might be say'd of his boldness for truth, and tenaciousness in everything of moment ; tho' he naturally, and in his own things, amongst the mildest and * sort of men, he was rich in all parts of learning which might contribute for the usefulness and ornament of his ministry; he was intelligent, yea, judicious in all civil and state affairs ; he was great in esteem with the greatest and wisest ; as he was highly valued by the meanest sort of his acquaintances, so he was denied to the favours of great men and popular [assemblies.] His ambition was to be spotless and usefull ; his covetings, to have acceptance with God, the love of his friends, and peace in his own conscience ; he lived always frugally ; bestowed what at any time he had gathered upon his children (who were all married long before his death); was very open-handed to the poor ; and died even with the world…”

I don’t know for sure where Rev James Hamilton was buried - it may have been Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh. I hope he has a memorial or headstone somewhere in Scotland. After all, it’s not a bad life’s work… for a Ballywalter man!