01 February 2010

Kirk Sessions Excerpts, Isle of Coll

Kirk Session records of the Church of Scotland throw illuminating glimpses into the lives of ordinary folk, as seen from the Presbyterian torch held high. Fines for immorality were collected by the Elders of the Kirk Session (or their appointees) and were redistributed to the needy of the parish. Immorality encompassed religious violations from not attending the Sunday sermon to illegitimate children. The system seemed to work well, notwithstanding cash or coin being rather uncommon items on a small island in the eighteenth century. The Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides, Argyllshire, is the small island in question.

The Kirk Session records for Coll exist for a few years in the 1730s; after an unfortunate gap of more than a generation, they continue from 1776 onward. Physical life in an almost-subsistence community was difficult by our standards, and spiritual life could be stern. But these were—on the whole—hardy, energetic, good-humoured people.

First, let’s look at some typical samples of transgressions.

Coll Kirk Session Minutes, 1733-1813, GB 234, CH2/70/1; National Archives of Scotland
28 March 1734
The Session appoints Donald McEachan vc Terlaich vc Rory to pay three merks to a poor blind boy at Totronald, son to Neil McDhoil.

Coll Kirk Session Minutes, 1733-1813, GB 234, CH2/70/1; National Archives of Scotland
20 August 1735
The Censors appointed to mark such as were guilty of Immorality ... Hector McEwen reported that Callum McIllespig vc Cannel was pulling & gathering Heather on the Sabbath day. Ewen McDhor vc Echan reported that several women in Gallanach went late on the Saturdays to fish for eels and did not return untill the Sunday mornings. Muldoni McGhoun observed Donald McIan vc Innes stragling on the Lord’s day. It’s remarkable that Charly McDhoil vc Terlach stragles from place to place on the Lord’s day.

Coll Kirk Session Minutes, 1733-1813, GB 234, CH2/70/1; National Archives of Scotland
11 April 1784
Samuel McLean boat carpenter having left his own house on the Lord’s day & gone for Loch [a___n] for timber, was called by the Session for such an atrocious breach of the Sabbath, & did compear, he being asked his reasons for thus overlooking both Divine & human institutions, answered most impiously & impertinently that he did not consider himself as guilty of the smallest crime. The Session having explained to him the public [utility?] & blessing of the Sabbath to mankind & the nature of his sin, proposed to him either to pay a penalty or do public penance, whichever of which he would comply, but instead of this [______] language to the Session, upon which they wrote to some of the Members of the Presbytery relative to it, to which they claimed answers desiring us assist on his submission, otherwise put him under the lesser excommunication. Upon which he was summoned again & told his doom if he persisted on his refractoriness. The Session finding him pay no regard to their admonitions, & consider himself as not bound to submit to the laws of their society, do unanimously resolve henceforth to deny him all Christian privileges whatever, untill becoming sensible of his error he submits to the laws of the Church.

Coll Kirk Session Minutes, 1813-1834, GB 234, CH2/70/2; National Archives of Scotland
13 September 1835
Compeared John MacArthur at Totamore, and Allan MacFayden of Grimsary, John MacArthur acknowledges being the father of Mary MacDonald at Grimsary’s Child and Allan MacFayden acknowledges being the father of Mary McFayden’s Child. The Session agrees that they shall get their Children baptized on paying the fines. John MacArthur & Mary MacDonald’s fine is £1:13:4 and Allan MacFayden and Mary MacFayden’s fine is £3:6:8 ie being their second offence.

Next time ... More samples and genealogical implications.

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