Alexander Macleod became minister of Uig in 1824. Illiteracy and superstition abounded in Uig at the time. Virtually no one - not even the church elders - understood elemental Christian truths and no one anywhere in the parish was known to conduct family worship. The Sabbath was universally desecrated, and people would sell whisky and tobacco outside the church on both the Lord's Day and weekdays alike. Yet the custom was that as soon as anyone came of age they joined the church. Consequently, there were between 800 and 1,000 on the Communicants Roll. Horrified, Macleod cancelled communion for three consecutive years, causing his name to be maligned throughout the island, not least amongst his ministerial colleagues, He commenced prayer meetings, set up teaching meetings and inaugurated a pattern of systematic pastoral visitation.
Just fourteen months after his induction people were flocking to Macleod's services from all over Lewis and he could write, 'Many, young and old seem to be under serious impressions. They now give close attention to what is spoken. Many young and old are in tears every Lord's Day and several so affected as not to be able to contain themselves or to retire'.
By December 1825 Macleod was offering heartfelt praise to the Lord 'for his goodness to my people since I came among them, especially of late! They now to come to me from every corner, crying, "What shall we do to be saved?" It is manifest that many of them are the subjects of deep conviction and others enjoy some of the consolations of the gospel by faith. In April 1824 I could get none in the parish that I could call upon to pray at our prayer meeting, but now I have more than twelve that I can call upon, with liberty and pleasure, to that duty in public'.
'Diary and Sermons, with brief Memoir by the Rev D Beaton', 1961, page 12.
'There is plainly a revival exhibiting itself under the preaching of the gospel and a marked and almost incredible change in the morals of people'.
'Scottish Revivals' by Couper, page 116.
Macleod was a man of commanding presence and a beautiful silvery voice, which, it was said, could be heard a mile away. Remarkably, although he was not known as a talented preacher, conversions were again and again traced to what friends called very weak sermons. (It seems that many were 'hell, fire and damnation' which was very effective in those days).
The movement gradually spread throughout much of Lewis and Macleod felt able to start communion services again in June 1827. He wrote, 'When the elements were presented there appeared as a shower of revival from the presence of the Lord through the whole congregation, and in serving the tables, the heavenly dew of gracious influence was evidently falling down on the people in so conspicuous a manner that, not only the friends of Christ but also the enemies of the Lord cannot forget an occasion and a scene so singularly remarkable, in which all acknowledge that God was of a truth among us. But all this might be called the commencement of what happened afterwards, for when our young converts saw the uncommon liberty that was granted to the pastors in addressing those who sat at the table, they were still more impressed and filled, as it were, with new wine and holy solemnity... It was a night ever to be remembered in this place, in which the whole of it was spent in religious exercises, whether in private or together with others in cases mingled with unusual instances of joy and sorrow. While these things were carried on, the ungodly themselves were in tears and iniquity for a time dwindled into nothing.
'Aspects of the Religious History of Lewis', by MacAuley, page 177-8.
John Macdonald of Ferrintosh ministered at this Communion - see this website.
The revival continued to intensify and seemed to be at its strongest between 1828 and 1830. It has become legendary in Lewis church lore that an estimated 9,000 people from all over the island assembled for Communion at Uig in 1828, a staggering number given the remoteness of the location and more so given the population of Lewis at the time (around 12,000, that of Harris being no more than 3,500). [I have had a lot of experience in people vastly overestimating crowd numbers, but it appears that contemporaries and other historians have accepted this figure.]
A widow Mackenzie, 'frequently told of seeing days in Uig in which the hillsides and moors were literally covered with people pleading for mercy on their own souls and the souls of their neighbours. She has told that it was no uncommon thing to have to travel miles of the moor before one could find an unoccupied nook in which to bend the knee, so as neither to be disturbed by nor to disturb others similarly employed.'
'The Highland News. 28th March 1896, by Rev P Macdonald, page 2.
Angus McIver, who was converted during the Uig revival said that he, 'saw much of the blessed fruit (that the revival) bore in after years and they were undoubtedly far and full of sap and aye flourishing. I have seen many Christians in my day in home and foreign lands, but I have never seen - taking them all over - finer or more intelligent Christians than the first generation of Christians in the parish of Uig. All the beautiful graces of the Spirit were visited upon them. They were wonderfully free from excesses of any kind and grew up symmetrical and beautiful as the cedars of Lebanon, and spread out as the palm trees'.
'The Stornoway Gazette', 15th January 1972, page 5.
Taken from, 'Land of Many Revivals', by Tom Lennie, pages 244-8.
The revival went on to about 1833 and there was another in 1835.