Friday 24 November 2023

Greenock Burghers

Greenock has a very complicated church history.  Tracing the origins of congregations can be difficult because of all the splits, fall-outs and changes of buildings and names that have taken place over the years.  One of the big splits within the church in Scotland took place in 1733.

Ebenezer Erskine - founder of the Secession Church

In 1733 the first Seceders, those who were dissatisfied with the Church of Scotland and against ministers being presented to congregations by a patron, formed an Associate Presbytery.  Members tended to be known by their “strictness in manners and doctrine”.  Many were descendants of Covenanters.  Locally, it all started in Kilmacolm in 1737.  William Clark who owned the land of Killochries held meetings in his barn for those who were dissatisfied with the local minister, John Fleming, who had been appointed to the parish by most of the local landowners despite some opposition from parishioners.  This small group were later joined by others from Port Glasgow and Greenock.  Many of these had left their own churches because their ministers had read “The Porteous Act” from the pulpit.  In July 1738 they were formally constituted as part of the Associate Presbytery as the “sixteenth congregation”.

They were too small a gathering to be able to afford a minister of their own, but occasionally a seceding minister would attend, including Ebenezer Erskine (1680-1754), the founder of the Secession Church.  A year later, their number increased as folks from Kilbarchan who were also dissatisfied with their minister joined them.  Unfortunately, this was not a happy union.  However eventually when they could afford it, a meeting house was built at Burntsheilds (nearer Kilbarchan) in 1745.  In 1747 the Seceders split into Burghers and Anti-Burghers over an oath known as the burgess oath which had to be taken by all clergy in Scotland.  This particular congregation were Burghers.

Eventually those members from Greenock grew in number and formed their own congregation and built a church at Cartsdyke (Stanners Street) although at first they were still connected to the Burntsheilds church.  The first minister of the joint congregations was John McAra. 

In 1752 the Cartsdyke congregation separated from Burntshields church and appointed their own minister, Daniel Cock.  In 1769 he was sent to Nova Scotia at the request of congregations there for ministers.  In 1771 he became minister at Truro, Nova Scotia, becoming one of the founders of the presbyterian church in Canada.  He seems to have been a popular preacher and settled in the locality with his wife, Alison Jamison and family.   He died there in 1805 aged 88. 

Photo source - William Fischer Jr Historical Marker Database

A plaque in his memory can be found at Truro which reads: -  

This plaque commemorates the centennial of the formation of the Presbyterian Church in Canada in 1875; The ministry of the Rev. Daniel Cock (1771-1805) of Greenock, Scotland, and the Rev. David Smith (1771-1795) of St. Andrew's, Scotland. 
The erection of the first two Presbyterian churches in Canada, at Glenholm in 1771, and in Truro in 1772. The formation in Truro of the first Presbytery in Canada in 1786, and the first Bible Society in British North America.
This plaque is placed here through the cooperation of the Province of Nova Scotia, the Town of Truro, the Synod of the Atlantic Provinces of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the Kirk Session of St. James Presbyterian Church, Truro.

Back at Cartsdyke, their next minister was William Richardson who was ordained there in 1773 and died in 1780.  In 1782 a gravestone was found turned upside down in a path leading to the church.  It read:-  "In memory of the Rev William Richardson who was ordained minister of this church in March 1773.  Died March 1780 and was interred here at his own request."

In 1780 William Willis from Linlithgow succeeded Richardson as minister at Cartsdyke.  In 1799 the congregation separated from the Associate Synod and along with other churches formed the Original Associate Synod (Auld Lichts) who were more Calvinistic in thought than the more liberal New Lichts.  In 1802 Willis moved to Stirling and died in 1827.  William Willis was described as a “champion of the New Lichts” and was the author of many pamphlets in support of the split.  He was married to Janet Jamieson.  Their daughter Janet Jamieson Willis married Rev Robert McIndoe.  Rev Willis' son, Dr Michael Willis became Principal of Knox College in Toronto, Canada.  William Willis died in 1845 aged 83 at Galston.

The next minister was George Moscrip who was born in Jedburgh in 1763.  He was ordained to Greenock in 1802 and died in 1838 aged 75.  He was buried in Inverkip Street Cemetery.  During his time at Cartsdyke, the original church was rebuilt in 1828 with an attached schoolroom.  George Moscrip married Janet Wilson in 1803 she died in 1840.  His son, Clement Moscrip (1804-1848) was ordained in Bathgate in 1829 (died 1848) and was minister at Pollockshaws.  Son Andrew Moscrip died in 1871 (63) at Herrickville, Bradford County, Pennsylvania.  

George Moscrip memorial stone Inverkip Street Cemetery

James Stark came to Greenock in 1834 to work alongside George Moscrip.   In 1834 James Stark married Eliza Aitken (daughter of Robert Aitken of Chapleton, New Kilpatrick) and had a large family.  He retired in 1872 and died at Barrwood, Ashton, Gourock in 1890.

Photo source - Greenock Burns Club

The Cartsdyke congregation joined the Established Church of Scotland in 1839 but in 1843 at a schism known as the Disruption, they became part of the Free Church which broke away from the Established Church of Scotland.  In 1854 the church building, schoolroom and manse at Cartsdyke were sold to the Caledonian Railway Company and the congregation moved to their new church, Wellpark Free Church, on Lynedoch Street facing the Wellpark.  In 1855 the Cartsdyke building reopened as St Laurence Roman Catholic Church.

Wellpark Free Church, Lynedoch Street, Greenock

After all those splits, name and venue changes, the congregation found themselves part of Greenock's Free Church community.  Their story continues!

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