Whitechurch Old Parish Church (1626)

The year was 1626. Sir James Hamilton’s estate was by now well established. He arranged for the London cartographer Thomas Raven to draw a set of maps charting Hamilton’s lands

Ballywalter needs a minister!

The new Scottish settlers had by now more or less taken over east Ulster and had done a fine job in farming the land, building villages, homes and harbours. But the ancient church buildings (small by today's standards, stone and originally built by the Anglo-Normans in the 1200s) had been confiscated by King Henry VIII around 1540 and were then burned down in the 1570s by Sir Brian O’Neill. Sir James Hamilton and Sir Hugh Montgomery (by this time they were Viscount Clandeboye and Viscount of the Great Ardes respectively) began a remarkable series of church restoration projects when they arrived in 1606, and the coastal village of Ballywalter was next on the list. So the ruined church of “Whitkirk” or Whitechurch was to be rebuilt. The “Low Country” of the Ards Peninsula was to have a restored church - therefore it also needed a minister. That's today's Whitkirk/Whitechurch in the photos above - set in a flat area of land overlooking the Scottish coast (look closely at the pic). There's not much of the church left today, which is probably what it looked like in 1626 before it was rebuilt.

Just about 9 miles up the road in Bangor was Rev Robert Blair, who was described in a biographical booklet recently published by the Presbyterian Historical Society as “the leader of the Ulster-Scots”. Sir James Hamilton was a member of Blair’s church – today known as Bangor Abbey and lived just up the hill (on the site of what is today the Town Hall). Young James Hamilton

Hamilton’s nephew and namesake, also James Hamilton, had been brought from Scotland to look after his uncle’s financial and estate management affairs. Young James’ father, Gawin Hamilton, was a merchant in Glasgow and had estates “at the foot of the River Clyde… Holywood and Coleraine”, and was “…very wealthy and great in his station…” But young James felt compelled towards the church. He attended Bangor Abbey and was an assistant to both Blair and Rev Robert Cunningham of Holywood (from my last post). Young Hamilton continued to develop his spiritual interests in secret. But then one Sunday, Blair invited young James Hamilton to preach in the Abbey. Adair’s Narrative tells the story:“…An honest and godly young man, being a daily hearer of Mr Robert Blair, showed much tenderness and ability. He being then chamberlain to the Lord Claneboy, his uncle, Mr Blair, and Mr Cunningham, (the then minister of Hollywood,) put him to private essays of his gifts, and, being satisfied therewith, Mr. Blair invited him to preach publicly at Bangor, in his uncle's hearing, he knowing nothing till he saw him in the pulpit, (they fearing my lord would be loath to part with so faithful a servant). But, when my lord heard him in public, he put great respect upon him the same day, and, shortly after, entered him unto a charge at Ballywalter, where he was painful, successful, and constant, notwithstanding he had many temptations to follow promotion, but was graciously preserved from these baits, and made a successful instrument in the work of Christ in these parts." In Rev Robert Blair’s Life he says of young James Hamilton: "Being satisfied with his gifts, I invited him to preach in my pulpit, in his uncle's hearing, who, till then, knew nothing of this matter ; for, Mr. Hamilton, having been his uncle's chamberlain, and chief manager of his affairs, we were afraid the Viscount would not part with so faithful a servant. But he, having once heard his nephew, did put more respect on him than ever before. Shortly thereafter (about the year 1625.), Mr. Hamilton was ordained (by Bishop Echlin) to the holy ministry at Ballywalter, where he was both diligent and successful, and notwithstanding he had many temptations to espouse episcopacy, and might easily have obtained promotion in that way, yet the Lord did graciously preserve him from being ensnared with those baits, and made him very instrumental in promoting His work." Rev John Livingston, described Rev Hamilton as "a learned and diligent man," and that "his gift of preaching was rather doctrinal than exhortatory."

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 Massachusetts. Rev John Livingstone wrote to John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts 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. The ‘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".

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 Assembly 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 sworn 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 Castleon 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 everyone 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 forever…”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 Guthriewere 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 said 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 useful; 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 Cannongate Kirkyardin Edinburgh. I hope he has a memorial or headstone somewhere in Scotland.

This biography was written by Mark Thompson. You can see it on his website http://clydesburn.blogspot.com/2007/11/story-of-rev-james-hamilton-of.html.

John Livingstone writes of James Hamilton. Mr James Hamilton, a nephew of the Lord Viscount Clannybuie’s, minister at Ballywalter, a learned and painful man. His gift of preaching was doctrinal rather than exhortatory. When he was deposed by the Bishop of Doun, he sustained a dispute for a long time against the Bishop, and those with him, in the church of Belfast, being full of people, confuting the errors of the Service Book and ceremonies, for the satisfaction of many. After the year 1638, he was settled minister at Dumfries, during which time, having gone on a visit to Ireland, was, on his return, taken at sea with Mr John Weir, minister at Dalsyrf, by some of Master M’Donald’s men, and kept prisoner in Migricastle, where Mr John Weir died. He, after long and sore imprisonment, was at last let out, and after that was, by the General Assembly, transported to be minister at Edinburgh; but after the change, 1660, he was, by the Secret Council, put out of Edinburgh, and in a few years thereafter he died.