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Biographia Scoticana Scots Worthies by John Howie

The Life of WILLIAM GORDON of Earlstoun.

William Gordon of Earlstoun was born about the year -- -- . He was son to that famous reformer Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun, and was lineally descended of that famous Alexander Gordon who entertained the followers of John Wickliffe, and who had a new testament of the vulgar tongue which they used to read in their meetings at the wood near Airds beside Earlstoun. William Gordon, having thus the advantage of a very religious education, began very early to follow Christ. As early as the year 1637, Mr. Rutherford in a letter admonishes him thus: |Sir, lay the foundation thus and ye shall not soon shrink nor be shaken: make tight work at the bottom, and your ship shall ride against all storms; if withal your anchor be fastened on good ground, I mean, within the vail, &c.| And indeed by the blessing of God, he began very early to distinguish himself for piety and religion with a firm attachment to the presbyterian interest and a covenanted work of reformation; in which he continued stedfast and unmoveable until he lost his life in the honourable cause.

What hand he had in the public affairs during Cromwel's usurpation, I cannot so well say: we must suppose him upon the remonstrators' side. But the first public testimony he gave after the restoration of Charles II. recorded in history, was, about the year 1663, when some commissioners were appointed by the council to go south and inquire anent some opposition that was then made by the people to the settlement of curates at Kirkendbright and Irongray: and the said commissioners, knowing this worthy gentleman's firmness to the presbyterian principles, and being designed either to make him comply in settling an episcopal incumbent in the parish of Dalry in Galloway (where, by the once established laws, he had some right in presenting) or, if he refused to concur with the bishop, which they had all reason imaginable to suspect he would, to bring him to further trouble. Accordingly they wrote him a letter in the following tenor: -- |Finding the church of Dalry to be one of those that the bishop hath presented, an actual minister Mr. George Henry fit and qualified for the charge, and that the gentleman is to come to your parish this Sabbath next to preach to that people, and that you are a person of special interest there, -- we do require you to cause his edict to be served, and the congregation to conveen and countenance him so as to be encouraged to prosecute his ministry in that place.| -- Your loving friends and servants,


To this letter Earlstoun give them a very respectful return, shewing, upon solid reasons, why he could not comply with this their unjust demand, as the following excerpt from that letter evidences: -- |I ever judged it safest to obey God, and stand at a distance from whatsoever doth not tend to God's glory and the edification of the souls of his scattered people, of which that congregation is a part. And besides, my Lords, it is known to many, that I pretend to lay claim to the light of patronage of that parish, and have already determined therein with the consent of the people to a truly worthy and qualified person, that he may be admitted to exercise his gifts amongst that people; and for me to countenance the bearer of your Lordship's letter, were to procure me most impiously and dishonourably to wrong the majesty of God and violently to take away the Christian liberty of his afflicted people and enervate my own right, &c.|

This was, without question, what the managers wanted, and so his trouble began: for, on the 30th of July following, |the lords of council order letters to be directed, to charge William Gordon of Earlstoun to compear before them -- to answer for his seditious and factious carriage:| that was, his refusing to comply with prelacy, and hear the curates, and for his favouring and hearing the outed ministers. And further, Nov.24th, same year, |The council being informed, that the laird of Earlstoun kept conventicles and private meetings in his house, -- do order letters to be directed against him to compear before this council to answer for his contempt, under the pain of rebellion.| But all this no-ways dashed the courage of this confessor of Christ in adhering to his persecuted and despised gospel; which made these malignant enemies yet pass a more severe and rigorous act against him; in which it was exhibited that he had been at several conventicles (as they were pleased to call the preachings of the gospel) where Mr. Gabriel Semple, a deposed minister, did preach in the Corsack wood and wood of Airds; and heard texts of scripture explained both in his mother's and in his own house by outed ministers; | -- and being required to enact himself to abstain from all such meetings in time coming, and to live peaceably and orderly, conform to law,| he refused to do the same: They did, therefore, order the said William Gordon of Earlstoun to be banished, and to depart forth of the kingdom within a month, and not to return under pain of death, and that he live peaceably during that time, under, the penalty of 10,000 l. or otherwise, to enter his person in prison.

Here it would appear, that he did not obey this sentence. And although we have little or no particular account of his sufferings, yet we are assured he endured a series of hardships. -- In the year 1667, he was turned out of his house and all; and the said house made a garrison for Bannantine that wicked wretch and his party; after which, almost every year produced him new troubles, until the 22d or 23rd of January, 1679, that he emerged out of all his troubles, and arrived at the haven of rest, and obtained his glorious reward in the following manner --

Having some affairs to settle (perhaps on a view never to return) he could not join that suffering handful who were then in arms near Bothwel: he sent his son who was in the action. He himself hastening forward as soon as possible to their assistance, and not knowing of their disaster, was met near the place by a party of English dragoons who were in quest of the sufferers, and, like another valiant champion of Christ, he refused to surrender or comply with their demand, and so they killed him straight out upon the spot; his son being out of the way, and his friends not obtaining that his body should be urned amongst the bones of his ancestors; he was interred in the church-yard of Glassford: and though a pillar or monument was erected over his grave, yet no inscription was got inscribed because of the severity of these times.

Thus fell a renowned Gordon, one whose character at present I am in no capacity to describe: only, I may venture to say, that he was a gentleman of good parts and endowments; a man devoted unto religion and godliness; and a prime supporter of the Presbyterian interest in that part of the country wherein he lived. -- The Gordons have all along made no small figure in our Scottish history; -- but here was a patriot, a good Christian, a confessor and (I may add) a martyr of Jesus Christ.

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