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Biographia Scoticana Scots Worthies by John Howie

The Life of Mr. WILLIAM VETCH.

Mr. William Vetch was born in the shire of Clydesdale, at Roberton seven miles from Lanerk, an. 1640. He was the youngest son of Mr. John Vetch, who was minister of that place for about the space of 45 years. His brethren were, Mr. John Vetch, who was minister of Westruthers in the shire of Berwick 54 years; another brother, Mr. James Vetch was ordained minister in Mauchlin in the shire of Ayr, 1656; a third, Mr. David Vetch, the most eminent of them all, was sometime minister at Govan near Glasgow, co-temporary and co-presbyter with the famous Mr. Durham, to whom Mr. Rutherford gave this testimony at his trials, |That the like of Mr. David Vetch in his age, for learning and piety, he had never known.|

Mr. William, being laureat at Glasgow anno 1650, was resolved to follow the study and practice of physick, as having so many brethren in the function of the ministry, and episcopacy being appearingly to be settled in the kingdom. And being then in the family of Sir Andrew Ker of Greenhead, great Mr. Livingston minister of Ancrum frequenting that house (as did other godly ministers) by many arguments dissuaded him from his intended design, and exhorted him to follow the footsteps of his brethren, who were then much esteemed in the church.

About the beginning of 1663, he went to Murray land, where he was sometime chaplain to Sir Hugh Campbel of Calder's family; but at the instigation of M'Kenzie then bishop of Murray, he was obliged about Sept.1664, to leave this family. He then returned home to his father then dwelling at Lanerk, being ejected from his own parish by the prelates: in which time he fell acquainted with one Marion Fairlie, whom he married; and being a woman eminent for religion, she proved a great blessing to him afterwards.

In the year 1666 he was solicited and prevailed upon by Mr. John Welch to join that party who were so oppressed by the inhuman cruelties of Sir James Turner and his forces then lying at Dumfries. Accordingly, after the Galloway forces had taken Sir James, Mr. Vetch and major Lermont went west and joined them on a hill above Galston. Next day, they sent him with 40 or 50 horse to take up quarters in the town of Ayr.

After some respite, they marched up the water of Ayr towards Douglas, and from thence to Lanerk; Dalziel and his forces having come as far as Strathaven in quest of them; but hearing they were at Lanerk, turned his march after them. In the mean time, the honest party being above 1500 horse and foot, it was thought proper that both the national and solemn league and covenant should be by them renewed; which they did with great solemnity: and hearing that Dalziel approached, they concluded it would be best to abide some time there, as the heavy rains had made Clyde impassable for him except by boat, (and that being broken) until the water decreased; and that 50 of their number might be able to stop his passage at the river; which might be both a dash upon the enemy, and encouraging to friends to join them at that place. But unhappily a letter came at that juncture from Sir James Stuart (after the revolution, advocate) to Messrs. Welch and Semple, to come as near Edinburgh as possible, where they would get men and other necessaries. This made them break their resolution, and march for Bathgate, where, both night and snow coming on, they concluded to go forward to Collington.

Having taken up their quarters, they consulted how they should do in answer to Mr. Stuart's letter; and at last voted Mr. Vetch to go to Edinburgh, and converse with him anent the promised supply. This, against his own mind at the importunity of col. Wallace, he undertook. -- And having disguised himself with a baggage horse, an old hat and cloke, Mr. M'Cormick conveyed him a little way, minding him of several things to communicate to James Stuart. He had but gone a little till he met a brisk strong fellow riding with a drawn sword in his hand, who asked, Which way he came? He said, Biggar way. But, says he, Did you not see all Colington on fire? I fear my house be burnt; for I hear the Whigs are come. Mr. Vetch declared his ignorance of this, and so they parted. Near Greenhill park, he met three women, who told him, that if he went by Greenhill house, &c. he was a dead man; for there lord Kingston was placed with a party to intercept all the Whigs from coming to the town. This made him take a bye-road to Libberton wynd. A little farther, he espied a centinel on horseback, which obliged him to take Dalkeith way. But coming thither, some colliers told him, there was no getting to the town; all the ports were shut and guards set upon them. This put him to a stand. Reason said, You must turn back; credit cried, You must go forward, else lose your reputation; and so he proceeded, till taken by two centinels, and carried to the Potter-row port, where he was examined by the captain of the guard; and instead of being let into the city, was sent with a file of musqueteers back to lord Kingston. Mr. Vetch, in this sad dilemma, had no other comfort but to put up his desires to God, that he would direct him what to do or say, if he had a mind to spare him any longer. Being examined by Kingston, to whom he gave soft answers; in the mean time, an alarm rose, that the Whigs (as they called them) approached; Kingston called them to their arms; whereupon Mr. Vetch called for arms, saying, he would go against them in the first rank: This made Kingston say, he was a brave fellow.

After the hurry was over, with great difficulty he got off into the town. But finding nothing could be got there, the next morning hearing that the western forces marched toward Pentland hills, he adventured to return by Libberton way toward the house in the muir; and making his escape at Pentland town, when passing through Roslin moor, coming to Glencross water, a frontier of Dalziel's horse had almost taken him. But being within cry of capt. Paton (now lieutenant of the rear-guard of the western army) who beat back Dalziel's horse, and delivered him, saying, O Sir, we took you for a dead man, and repented sore we sent you on such an unreasonable undertaking. As they rode toward Pentland hills, they perceived their friends leaving the high way, marching their main body towards the hill, and a select body to the top: general Dalziel's coming from Currie through the hills, occasioned this. It was about 12 o'clock the 28th of November 1666. It had been snow and frost the night before, the day was pretty clear and sunshine. In half an hour, Dalziel's select party under Drummond fell upon their select party; but was beat back, to the great consternation of their army, hundreds of whom, as they were marching through the hills, threw down their arms and run away. Drummond himself afterward acknowledged, that if they had pursued this advantage, they had utterly ruined Dalziel's army. M'Leland of Barmaguhen and Mr. Crookshanks commanded the first party, who took some prisoners; major Lermont commanded the second party, who beat the enemy again, where the duke Hamilton narrowly escaped by the dean of Hamilton's laying his sword upon the duke's back, which warded off the country man's blow upon him. Dalziel sending up a party to rescue him, major Lermont's horse was shot under him; but he, starting back to a dyke, killed one of the four pursuers, mounted his horse, and came off in spite of the other three. -- The last encounter was at day-light going, when the covenanters were broke, and Mr. Vetch falling in amongst a whole troop of the enemy who turned his horse in the dark, and violently carried him along with them, not knowing but he was one of their own. But they falling down the hill in the pursuit, and he wearing upward, the moon rising clear, for fear of being discovered, he was obliged to steer off; which they perceiving, cried out, and pursued after him, discharging several shot at him; but their horses sinking, they could not make the hill, and so he eloped, and came that night to a herd's house in Dunsyre common, within a mile of his own habitation.

A little after this, he met with another remarkable deliverance at the laird of Auston's, when the enemy were there in pursuit of his son-in-law major Lermont. After this, Mr. Vetch was obliged to abscond, and so he went off for Newcastle, where he continued some time. Here he took the name of William Johnston, his mother being of that name. After a considerable time of trouble, when he had the flux through the fatigue and cold he had got in the winter, he went home to visit his wife, where he again narrowly escaped, and so returned again to Newcastle. From thence he was invited to London, where he preached sometimes for Mr. Blackie, particularly one Sabbath on these words, If thou hadst known in this thy day, &c. After the blessing was pronounced, some of the auditors cried, Treason, treason; which surprized Mr. Blackie and the people, till one col. Blood stood up and said, Good people, we have heard nothing but reason, reason: and so he took off Mr. Vetch, which ended the business.

Thus Mr. Vetch travelled from place to place, sometimes at London, sometimes Nottingham, Chester, Lanchester, sometimes in Northumberland, especially in Reidsdale, till 1671, that he was persuaded to bring his wife and family to that county, which he did, and settled for some time within the parish of Rothbury in Northumberland. But no sooner was he settled here (though in a moorish place) than the popish gang stirred up enemies unto him on account of his little meeting, which obliged him to remove five miles, farther up the country to a place called Harnam hall, where many, out of curiosity, frequented his preaching. Likewise Anabaptists, who kept 7th day Sabbaths, were punctual attenders.

Here he had no small success in the reformation of people's morals; several instances of which, for brevity's sake, must here be omitted. But the devil, envying these small beginnings, again stirred him up enemies, particularly one justice Lorrain, who, at the instigation of the clergy, issued out warrants to apprehend him. But this misgiving, Lorrain, in one of his drinking fits, promised to go in person next Sabbath, and put an end to these meetings. But not many hours after, he by an unusual and strange mean got his leg broke: so that he could travel none for many weeks after.

This design being frustrated, one parson Ward of Kirkhails went up to the bishop of Durham, and returned well armed, as he thought, against Mr. Vetch, having orders to excommunicate all such. But being delayed by another curate, they drank all night together; and that he might be home against Sabbath, he so tired his horse, that he was not able to get him on alone. He hired the herd man of Harnam to lead him, taking his club to drive him on; but while he so unmercifully was beating the poor beast, it, without regard to his coat, canon, or the orders he carried, struck him on the cheek, till the blood gushed out; which made the boy that led the horse (seeing him fall) run to a gentlewoman's house hard by, who sent out two servants with a barrow, who carried him in where he had his wounds dressed, and lay there several weeks under a cure; and so they were again disappointed.

Having continued there four years, he removed to Stanton-hall, where he found the country filled with papists, and the parish church with a violent persecutor, one Thomas Bell. This Bell, though he was his own country-man, and had received many favours from Mr. Vetch's brother, yet was so maliciously set against him, that he vowed to some professed papists, who were stimulating him on against that meeting, that he should either ruin Mr Vetch, or he him. And, as the event proved, he was no false prophet; for he never gave over till he got one major Oglethorp to apprehend him, which he did Jan.19, 1679.

After different turns, he was brought to Edinburgh, and Feb.22. brought before a committee of the council, where bishop Sharp was preses. The bishop put many questions to him to see if he could ensnare him. One of them was, Have you taken the covenant? He answered, This honourable board may easily perceive, I was not capable to take the covenant, when you and other ministers tendered it. At which the whole company gave a laugh, which somewhat nettled the bishops. They asked, Did you never take it since. Answ. I judge myself obliged to covenant myself away to God, and frequently to renew it. At which bishop Paterson stood up and said, You will get no good of this man: he is all evasion. After other questions, he was required to subscribe his own confession, which he assented to, if in mundo, without their additions; which at last through Lundy's influence they granted. And though they could prove nothing criminal against him, he was remanded back to prison, and by a letter from the king turned over to the criminal court, which was to meet March 18th. but was adjourned to two different terms after, till the month of July, that sentence of death was to have been passed upon him, upon the old sentence in 1666. Mr. Vetch, now finding sentence of death was to be passed upon him, prevailed with his friend Mr. Gilbert Elliot to ride post to London, where not having access to Lauderdale, he applied to Shaftsbury, and got his case printed, and a copy given to each member of parliament, The king being applied unto, and threatened with a parliamentary enquiry, wrote a letter, and sent express to stop all criminal process against him: which expresses, procured at last by Lauderdale out of antipathy to Monmouth, who was minded to have interceeded to the king for him, he was liberated under a sentence of banishment, to retire to England; which he did in a short time after.

In the mean time these affairs were transacting, bishop Sharp was cut off at Magus moor, the account of which it were needless to relate here, being touched elsewhere: excepting a circumstance or two somewhat different, or more full, than some others on that particular; that is, after they had fired several pistols at him in the coach, being pulled out, Burly having a brazen blunderbuss charged with several bullets, fired it so near his breast, that his gown, cloaths and shirt were burnt, and he fell flat on his face; they, thinking a window was made through his body, went off, but one staying to tie his horse's girth, heard his daughter call to the coachman for help, for her father was yet alive: which made him call back the rest, (knowing if he was not dead, their case would be worse than ever) Burly (or Balfour) coming to him while yet lying on his face, (as is said) putting his hat off with his foot, struck him on the head till his brains were seen; then, with a cry, he expired. Searching his pockets, they found the king's letter for executing more cruelties, as also a little purse with two pistol bullets, a little ball made up of all colours of silk, like an ordinary plumb, a bit of parchment, a finger breadth in length, with two long words written upon it which none could read, though the characters were like Hebrew or Chaldaick. This they took, but meddled with neither money nor watch.

After he was by the council's order examined by two surgeons, the blue marks of the bullets were seen about his neck, back and breast, where his cloaths were burnt; but in all these places, the skin was not broke: so that the wound in his head had only killed him; which occasioned an universal talk, that he had got proof against shot from the devil, and that the forementioned purse contained the sorcery or charm. However, his brother got liberty to erect a marble monument on him, which instead of honour (the only end of such sumptuous structures) stands yet in St. Andrews as an ensign of his infamy unto this day.

The rising of Bothwel immediately followed this. But being broke, an indemnity was granted to those concerned therein. But one of the conditions being, that no minister should preach without liberty given, which no faithful minister could assent to. However Monmouth, upon Shaftsbury's recommendation, inserted Mr. Vetch's name in the roll with the rest. But by bishop Paterson's means, his name was excluded. This made Monmouth say he should get the matter done another way, as soon as he came to London. Which coming to Lauderdale's ears at court, by means of lord Stairs, the king signed a warrant, turning the sentence of death to banishment from Scotland only; and so he was liberated, and returned back to his old habitation in England.

But not long after his return, hearing they intended in these parts to apprehend him again, he retired westward in the English borders; where he frequently preached, viz. Kilderhead, Wheeler, Causeway, Deadwater, &c.

What wonderful success the preaching of the gospel had by ministers retiring thither under the persecuting period, to the repressing, yea, almost extinguishing, the feuds, thefts and robberies so connatural unto these places and people about the borders, has been worth a singular and serious observation.

Before his apprehending, he had preached with much success at Blewcairn in Lauder moor, and several places in the Merse and Teviotdale, especially at Fogo moor, upon these words, Psal. cii. Thou shalt arise, and have mercy on Zion, &c. After which he had a very remarkable escape from his enemies. After his return, upon a line from Mr. Temple, he went to Berwick. But the news coming in the mean time there, that the earl of Argyle was escaped from Edinburgh, caused no small confusion in that place; out of which he emerged, and at last having surmounted several difficulties, by means of his good friends and acquaintance, he got to the house of Mr. Ogle the outed minister of Berwick, now six miles from the place. He desired him to stay till Sabbath was over, and perform an old promise of giving a sermon to one Hall and his lady; to which he assented.

But going to bed after this confusion, he being weary fell asleep, and dreamed that his house at Stanton-hall (more than 30 miles distant) was all on fire; which made him awake with no small consternation, resolving to take journey home. But it not being time to rise, he fell asleep, and dreaming the same thing over again, awaking all in a sweat. The doubling of the dream he took for a clear call to go home, and telling the dream to Mr. Ogle, (who called it a maggot) he excused himself the best way he could to the laird and lady, to whom he was to preach, and went off. About a mile and a half from his own house, he met Torwoodlee's man, who said, O Sir, you are long looked for at your house: which made him ask what was the matter, and if his family was all well? He answered, Yes; but, says he, there is a stranger, viz. Argyle, and your wife longs to see you, and we have been for two days sending about the country to find you.

After meeting and some converse, with his wife's consent, (who was now near her time) he undertook to do his best for bringing the earl safe to London, and so he took Argyle under the name of Mr. Hope along with him to Midburn Grange, where he was to preach that Sabbath; and on Monday, he took him to a friend's house between Newcastle and Newburn, where he left Argyle and went to Newcastle, and bought three horses for him at his own expence, the earl being then scarce of money: after which they came to Leeds, and then to Roderam; and took up there one night; from thence they set off, and at last arrived safe at London.

After staying some time in London, Argyle set off to join with Monmouth in Holland, and Mr. Vetch returned to his house in Stanton-hall. But the thing breaking out, he narrowly escaped being taken; and after lurking sometimes in one place, and sometimes in another, he was obliged to go over secretly to Holland, where he met with old friends and acquaintances, Monmouth, Argyle, earl of Melvil, Polwart, Torwoodlee, and James Stuart. Monmouth and Argyle, having agreed to make a descent at one time, the one to England, and the other to Scotland, several of their friends were sent over incognito, to warn their friends in both kingdoms to make ready. It was Mr. Vetch's part, to give Northumberland and the Scots borders notice. Mr. Vetch had a verbal commission from Argyle to procure money for buying arms, drums, colours, horses, and taking on men, especially Oliverian officers: somewhat of all which he did. But the matter taking air, he was obliged to hide himself near Reidsdale head, even from his very friends, till the season of appearing came, where he narrowly escaped being taken, while hid on Carter-hill covered with a turff of heather, col. Strothers and Meldrum's troop being out in quest of him and others.

But this enterprize failing, Argyle being defeated and taken in Scotland, and Monmouth in England, the design came to nothing, only Mr. Vetch, besides his time, trouble (wherein he was in many dangers) lost about 120 l. ster. and its interest; and Argyle's son, the late duke, gave him repeated promises to reimburse him, yet never was there any thing of this kind done, his kindness being soon forgot.

But prior to this affair of Monmouth and Argyle, one tyrant was cut off to make way for another. But as the death of king Charles II. is related by so many historians, it were needless to relate the whole affair here: only the following circumstances seem more full and somewhat different from the accounts of the most part of writers in that period. The king's harlot, the Duchess of Portsmouth, (for so we may call her) being by the Duke of York's direction to give the king a treat on Sabbath night, and being by him stored with wines, especially Claret, which the king loved; after he was drunk, they bribed his coffee-man to put a dose of poison in his coffee, and then advised the Duchess to keep him all night; and likewise knowing that when he first awaked in the morning, he usually called for his snuff, they hired the Duchess's chambermaid to put poisoned snuff into his box. Accordingly having drunk the coffee at night, in the morning he awoke, and cried out he was deadly sick, and called for his box and took a deal of it. Then growing worse, he called for his servant to put on his cloaths; which doing, he staggered and got to the window, and leaning on it, cried, I am gone, I am poisoned, have me to my chamber. The Duke getting notice, came running undrest to lament his fate, saying, Alas, Sir! what is the matter? To whom he answered, O you know too well; and was in a passion at him. In the mean time he called for an antidote against poison he had got from a German mountebank; but that could not be found, being taken out of the way: neither was his physician to be got being as was thought out of town. All things failing, he being so enraged, made at his brother. But all entries being secured, in the mean time the duke seeing him so enraged, and that the poison was not likely soon to do his turn, set four ruffians on him, which made him cry out; but they soon choked him with his cravat, and beat him instantly on the head, so that he died. It is said, his head swelled bigger than two heads, and his body stunk, so that they were obliged to take him out in the night, and bury him incognito.

But to return; after the defeat of Monmouth and Argyle, Mr. Vetch was obliged to lurk for some time in a wood near Newcastle, until the storm was a little calmed: and then he ventured to Newcastle, to see his wife and family, where he met with some of his Scots relations; and some other good people of the town were also there. -- They spent a part of the night in prayer and mourning over the sad case that the church and nation were now in, the most part fearing they were never like to see good days again.

After this, Mr. Vetch being wearied with such toil and confinement, went with a Nottingham merchant to Yorkshire, and staid some time in a town called Southeave. -- From thence he was invited to preach to the people of Beverly. Here he met with another remarkable deliverance; for the mayor and aldermen compassed the house where he was preaching, and caused the clerk mark down all their names: but Mr. Vetch, by means of his landlord, got off under the name of William Robertson, and so he escaped, and hid himself, sometime amongst bushes, and then went to a man's house two miles from town, where he preached out the rest of his sermon to some people that followed that way, and then went home with his landlord.

From thence Mr. Vetch returned to Yorkshire, where he met with another deliverance; for a Scots jesuit priest, knowing him, procured a warrant to apprehend him; but, by a divine providence, he escaped their hand, and so went toward Newcastle. From Newcastle, he went to Nottingham. While there, king James's indemnity and liberty was proclaimed, and then he had a call from the people of Beverly to be their minister, which he complied with. At this place he had a numerous congregation, and several times he was invited to preach at Hull six miles from thence. -- There the people declared, There was never such a reformation in that place. Some of the justices of the peace in that place, being papists, were greatly incensed against it, and used all means to break his preaching there, but were opposed by the people. Mr. Vetch never had more satisfaction of his ministerial work (as he himself says) than in that place.

Having preached six or seven months there, and settled a meeting-house and a people greatly reformed, -- he was strongly invited to his native country by those who had accepted of the toleration then granted. And his wife being forward for his return, he took his leave of Beverly, a pleasant city, having preached his farewel sermon, where there were many tears shed. In his way home, he visited his friends at Darntoun, who persuaded him to stay some time, where he settled a congregation, and left one Mr. Long for his successor to that people. After all impediments removed, he returned to his native land; where the people in the parishes of Oxnam, Creilland, Eckford, Linton, Marbottle and Harnam gave him a call to preach to them at Whitton hall; unto which charge he entered in April 1688. Here he continued that summer, and sometimes was invited to preach at Reidsdale on the English side. But the prince of Orange having landed in England, Nov.4, 1688. the ministers of Scotland who had been outed, thought it expedient to meet at Edinburgh, and called all their brethren to attend there to consult of matters.

It fell out unexpectedly to Mr. Vetch, that the meeting voted him to preach the next day after he came, in the new meeting-house over against Libberton's wynd. This he was most averse to, being a stranger to the transactions for the most part in Scotland for upwards of 30 years. But his reasons not being heard, he was so perplexed what to do, that till 8 o'clock, he could not find a text: but at length falling upon Psal. cxix.18. Thou hast trod down all that err from thy statutes, &c. he was taken up the whole night in thinking on it without going to bed. When he came to the pulpit, seeing 16 of the old ministers sitting, and the congregation greatly increasing, his fear increased also. However, he delivered his thoughts upon the subject with respect to the then circumstances with such freedom and plainness as offended the prelates, who afterwards sent him a message, that ere long they resolved to be even with him. -- All the answer he returned them was, to put on their spurs. -- Upon the other hand, he seemed to give some offence to the godly party by some free expressions he had with respect to the present government, if presbytery was erected.

When the Presbyterian church was restored, he had calls from several parishes, viz. one to Creilland, another to Melross, and a third to Peebles; which he was persuaded by the earl of Crawford and others to embrace: and yet he met with such opposition there, from the old duke of Queensbury, that the church was so over-awed as to loose him from that charge: and he having a call from Edinburgh, one from Paisley, and another from Dumfries, the assembly, hearing his aversion to Edinburgh, voted him to Dumfries, after he had been minister of Peebles full four years from Sept.1690 to 1694, when he was settled or admitted to his ministry at Dumfries.

He left Peebles with great aversion, not only with respect to the parish, but the country round about; and upon a new call, struggled to be back; but lost it only by four voices. However, he lost all his legal stipend the four years, which, with the expences of suit, amounted to 10,000 merks. Mr. Vetch's hard usage from the assembly, with their illegal removing him, merely to please the duke, and to send him to Dumfries, made him resolve to leave the nation, and refuse to submit to their sentence. In the mean time his old friends in England, hearing this, sent a gentleman to Peebles to bring him back to them. Mr. Vetch went with him; but he refused to settle with them, till he had handsomely ended with the commission of the church, to whom the matter was referred. Upon his return, they persuaded him to submit: which at last he did, and continued minister in that place until the day of his death, which fell out (if I mistake not) about the year 1720, being then about 80 years of age.

From the foregoing account two things are conspicuous: first, that the whole of Mr. Vetch's life, at least during the persecuting period, was attended with a train of remarkable occurrences of divine providence. Secondly, that in that time, he behoved to be a most powerful and awakening preacher from the influence he had upon the manners or morals of those who attended his sermons. Nor is it any disparagement to him that that black-mouthed calumniator in his Presbyterian Eloquence displayed, has published to the world, |That he murdered the bodies as well as souls of two or three persons with one sermon, because (says he) preaching in the town of Jedhurgh, he said, There are two thousand of you here, but I am sure eighty of you will not be favored; upon which three of his ignorant hearers dispatched themselves soon after.| Indeed it must be granted, that, after the revolution in the latter end of his life, he became somewhat inimical and unfriendly to dissenters, at least some of those who professed to own and adhere unto the same cause and testimony that he himself had contended and suffered somewhat for; whether this proceeded from the dotage of old age (as some would have it) or from mistaken principles, or any thing else, we cannot, and shall not at present determine.

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