Monifieth Session Records.
Longfellow, America‘s gentle poet, urges us to allow the dead past to bury the dead, and to “act in the living present,” but most of us have to act whether we will or not in order to keep the wolf from the door. As to allowing the dead past to bury its dead not a few of us think its influence is still felt in the present, and at any rate we have a curiosity to know how our ancestors lived and moved and had their being, hence our excursions into fields remote. It is a legitimate and natural feeling worthy of respect, and to gratify it in some slight degree is the object of these notes. We as a people are not content with the blood-stained annals which as a rule absorbed till lately so much of tie historian’s page, but want to know something of the social customs and manners of the past. From the session records of many country parishes light could be shed on the history and development of the nation, and the lecture which the Rev. Dr Young lately delivered on the parish ministers of Monifieth is, I hope, only a foretaste of others which he may yet give on similar subjects. That the store of information at his command is ample we have his own assurance, as also that of Dr Samuel Miller, who was minister of the parish at the time of the Disruption. From the latter’s account of Monifieth, published in 1840, it appears that the parochial registers have been with some exceptions kept for a period of over 300 years—in short, they commence at the date of the Reformation.
The earliest separate register of births and marriages begins in July 1649. Before this period baptisms and marriages were regularly engrossed in the weekly record of sessional proceedings. This curious archive commences with a title which is much damaged, but the entry is partly legible and is as follows:—” In Apryle ye sixth day 1560, the which day it is appynted that our assemble of ye Kyrk of Monefut meet, at twa afternoon, to do with prayer untc God for His assistans what He forordains to His glory and suppressing of Satan.” It will be observed that the tenor of this entry, which is not entire, is similar to that of the bond executed at Perth in the previous year by the Reforming congregations of Perth, Fife, Angus, and Mearns, among which the congregations in and around Dundee are specially mentioned by historians.
It would appear also that the zeal of the people had been directed against the edifice of the Popish Church in Monifieth, and that it had undergone a dismantling similar to what overthrew more stately fabrics, for the second entry is to this effect;—”Ye quhylk day it is thoicht necesser bi us yat the hous of prayr be mendit in haist, yat God may be glorifiet yair.” The circumstances which seem to account for the people of this parish embracing the Reformation so heartily and so early are:—
1st, The proximity of Monifieth to Dundee, in and around which George Wishart preached much and successfully;
2nd, Durham of Grange, the most influential individual in the district, and living on the spot was a zealous Protestant and a near relative of the celebrated superintendent of Angus, John Erskine of Dun. Erskine, indeed, lived frequently at Grange, and according to well-authenticated tradition, had at one time a narrow escape from the Government emissaries sent to capture him. We may, therefore, infer that during these visits this zealous Reformer organized the congregation of Monifieth, and that Durham was his hearty assistant in the work. We know further that John Knox lived much with Erskine of Dun at this period, that he was a frequent visitor at Grange and Pitkerro House—then the property of a son of Durham’s—that he was engaged visiting and conferring with these worthies as to the best means of bringing over completely all those who were alreadv favourably inclined to Protestantism, so that it is not unreasonable to suppose that Papacy was overthrown in Monifieth by the masterhand of the Reformer John Knox.
These records are full of amusing and curious information, besides throwing much valuable light on the history of the district, the manners of the people, the value of labour, and the supreme authority exercised in these times by the church in matters both civil and ecclesiastical.