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In 1783, Mrs Buchan, in her late 40s and the daughter of an inn owner, declared herself to be a prophet and a biblical figure in her own right, and claimed to be immortal and able to give immortality to her followers by breathing on them. She gathered a group of followers in Irvine (North Ayrshire), where they are reputed to have practised behaviour that contravened social norms as they prepared to ascend en bloc at short notice to Heaven. They broke away from the Relief Church when Hugh White, minister at Irvine, declared Elspeth Buchan to be a special saint identified with the woman described in Revelation 12.
As with many controversial sects in various times and places, they were rumoured by a disapproving society to practise "a community of wives" or "orgies in the woods"; but there is no conclusive proof that they did either.
They were expelled from Irvine, residents even threatening to drown them in the towns Scott's Loch. Eventually they made their way to Closeburn (north of Dumfries) in 1784. They were expelled from Dumfriesshire in 1787 and then settled in the Crocketford area (Stewartry of Kirkcudbright).
Mrs Buchan died of natural causes in 1791, disproving her claim to immortality.
The end of the Buchanite saga came in 1846, when the last "adherent", Andrew Innes, died. Innes, who lived in the (still existing) Buchanite last abode, "Newhouse", Crocketford, had expected a "resurrection" of the mummified body of Mother Buchan on March 29, 1841 - the 50th anniversary of her death. He was disappointed and died at "Newhouse" in 1846 - a death which coincided with the discovery of Mother Buchan's hidden mummified body. Many Buchanites were buried (or reburied) in a graveyard next to the north-west wall of "Newhouse", in the expectation that they would "ascend" eventually with "Lucky" Buchan.
References in literature
The Buchanites are remembered in Scottish literature in the works of John Galt, who was a four-year old child in Irvine when the Buchanites were expelled. According to Galt's autobiography, he "with many children also accompanied her, but my mother in a state of distraction pursued, and drew me back by the lug and the horn. [...] [T]he scene, and more than once the enthusiasm of [their] psalm singing, has risen in my remembrance, especially in describing the Covenanters in Ringan Gilhaize."
They are also mentioned - quite negatively - in a letter by Robert Burns: "[A]bout two years ago, a Mrs Buchan from Glasgow came among them, & began to spread some fanatical notions of religion among them, [...] till in spring last the Populace rose & mobbed the old leader Buchan & put her out of the town; on which all her followers voluntarily quit the place likewise, & with such precipitation, that many of them never shut their doors behind them [...] Their tenets are a strange jumble of enthusiastic jargon; among others, she pretends to give them the Holy Ghost by breathing on them, which she does with postures & practices that are scandalously indecent. They have likewise disposed of all life, carrying on a great farce of pretended devotion in barns, & woods, where they lodge and lye all together, & hold likewise a community of women, as it is another of their tenets that they can commit no moral sin. [...] This My Dear Sir, is one of the many instances of the folly in leaving the guidance of sound reason, & common sense in matters of Religion."
The Buchanites are the subject of a novella by F. L. Lucas, The Woman Clothed with the Sun (Cassell, London, 1937; Simon & Schuster, N.Y.; 1938). This takes the form of an account, written by a Scottish minister in middle age, of his youthful bewitchment by Elspeth Buchan and of his curious sojourn among the Buchanites. Writing in the Manchester Guardian, J. D. Beresford said of it, "The manner of writing is that proper to the period, with a spicing of dialect, both so admirably rendered that we might easily be deceived into the belief that it is an authentic ducument."  The Times Literary Supplement described it as "a brilliant pastiche."