John Blackadder (preacher)

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John Blackadder
Religion Christianity
School Presbyterianism
Born ca. 1622
Died 1685 (aged 62–63)
Bass Rock
Resting place North Berwick
Senior posting
Title Reverend
Religious career
Profession Preacher

John Blackadder (or Blackader) (ca. 1622–1685) was an eminent Presbyterian Covenanter preacher in Scotland during the period of the Commonwealth of England (1649–1660). Despite a government ban he continued to preach in the fields after the restoration of the monarchy. He was arrested and imprisoned in 1681 and died in jail.[1]

Early career[edit]

Blackadder was born between 1615 and 1623.[fn 1] He was grandson of Adam Blackadder of Blairhall, a cadet of the Blackadder Baronetcy of Tulliallan, and became heir to the title after the extinction of the male issue of Sir John Blackadder of Tullialan, the first baronet. However, he did not assume the title. [2] Blackadder studied Divinity at Glasgow University, where his mother's brother was principal.[3] In 1646 Blackadder married Janet Haining of Dumfries and they had five sons and two daughters.[1]

On 7 June 1653 Blackadder was ordained by the Presbytery of Dumfries as minister of Troqueer, near Dumfries, during the time of the Commonwealth, when the monarchy was deposed. People came from other parishes to hear his weekly sermons. He arranged for reciprocal visits with two of his neighboring parishes. He catechised the parish twice each year, and achieved improvements in the standards of worship and of religious knowledge.[4]

Fugitive preacher[edit]

Depiction of a conventicle in progress, from H. E. Marshall's Scotland's Story, published in 1906

Blackadder was expelled from his parish in 1662 after the restoration of Charles II because he refused to comply with the Episcopacy, which the government had imposed in Scotland.[5] He was arrested and taken to Edinburgh, and was released soon after and moved to Caitloch in Glencairn parish, where he sometimes preached to large assemblies. When the authorities heard about his activities, he moved again, and began a wandering life.[3] In 1666 letters of Council were directed against Blackadder and other ministers who were preaching, praying and baptizing without authority.[2]

Blackadder preached in Dumfriesshire and Galloway and in most other counties of southern Scotland, and was often joined in these conventicles by other preachers.[3] He participated in meetings of the Covenanters at Hill of Beath in Fife and at East Nisbet in what is now Berwickshire.[6] The meeting at Beath Hill on 18 June 1670 was one of the first where the attendees brought arms to protect themselves against the military, who had been ordered to enforce a court ban on conventicles. After exaggerated stories of this conventicle had spread, he was called to appear before the privy council, but instead went into hiding. He later resumed preaching.[7]

On one occasion Blackadder preached at a conventicle on the crag beside Balcarres House in Fife. There was "a great confluence of people, and many of distinction". Blackadder took for his text "O that I knew where I might find Him" (Job 23:3). At the meeting, a notorious sinner was converted. Blackadder said that instances of the power and irresistible grace of God such as this rejoiced his heart, and did him more good than twenty years’ stipend.[8] On another occasion Blackadder preached to a large crowd at Kinkell, near St Andrews. When Archbishop Sharp asked the provost to call out the militia to disperse the crowd, the provost said he could not do so, since the militia had joined the worshipers.[3]

In 1674 Blackadder was made an outlaw, with a heavy reward for his capture, but continued to preach.[9] In 1678 the Battle of Bothwell Bridge was fought between militant covenanters and government troops, in which the latter were victorious. Blackadder was not involved.[10] He fled to Rotterdam, and returned to Scotland by June 1679.[1] He went again to Holland in May 1680, taking his eldest son, who was to study medicine. He returned in September that year.[10] By 1681 he resumed preaching, taking Edinburgh as his base and speaking at meetings in several neighboring parishes.[6] In his last public work, at a muir-side in the parish of Livingstone on 28 March 1681, he spoke on the text "That the nearer our delivery, our pains and showers would come thicker and sorer upon us" (Micah 4:9).[11]

Blackadder's tombstone, North Berwick

Imprisonment and death[edit]

On 6 April 1681 Blackadder was arrested in Edinburgh by Major Johnston. He was tried and found guilty, and imprisoned on the Bass Rock.[6] He was confined in a cell with three small iron-barred windows facing west. His health deteriorated due to the harsh conditions.[2] After he fell ill in prison, the privy council gave permission for him to leave as long as he remained in Edinburgh, but he was already too ill.[1] He died in prison at the end of 1685, aged sixty-three, and was buried in North Berwick churchyard.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Blackadder had five sons and two daughters.[1] The first four sons were William (born 1647), who became physician to William III, Adam, a merchant in Sweden, Robert, who died in 1689 while a student of theology in Utrecht and Thomas, who emigrated and became a merchant in Maryland.[2] His youngest son was Colonel John Blackadder (born 14 September 1664), later governor of Stirling Castle.[5]


St Andrew Blackadder Church, North Berwick, named after John Blackadder
The original Blackadder Kirk, since 1989 a church of the Baptists

Andrew Crichton, author of the Life of Colonel Blackadder, compiled the Memoirs of the Rev. John Blackadder in 1826, mostly unpublished manuscripts written during his imprisonment.[12]

John Blackadder is commemorated by the Blackadder kirk in North Berwick, a congregation of the Free Church of Scotland formed following the Disruption of 1843. The congregation united with the congregation of St Andrew's in 1989, to form the congregation of St Andrew Blackadder.[13]


  1. ^ There is uncertainty about Blackadder's birthdate. Stuart (1883) says Blackadder was born in 1622.[2] Anderson (1877) gives 1615.[3] The Dictionary of National Biography (1886) also gives 1615, but notes that another source gives 1623.[1]
  1. ^ a b c d e f Stephen 1886, p. 115.
  2. ^ a b c d e Stuart 1883, p. 50.
  3. ^ a b c d e Anderson 1877, p. 311.
  4. ^ Howie 1853, pp. 582-583.
  5. ^ a b Blackadder & Crichton 1824, p. 13.
  6. ^ a b c d Stuart 1883, p. 215.
  7. ^ Howie 1853, p. 585-586.
  8. ^ Fleming 1886.
  9. ^ Howie 1853, p. 586.
  10. ^ a b Howie 1853, p. 587.
  11. ^ Howie 1828, p. 237.
  12. ^ Johnston 1887, p. 355.
  13. ^ Official St Andrew Blackadder website
Public domain content

This article incorporates text from a work in the public domain: Fleming, D Hay (1886). "Kilconquhar". Guide to the East Neuk of Fife. Retrieved 2012-02-12. A countryman with a blue bonnet, who had been a notorious sinner, was converted; and Blackader was wont to say that such instances of the power and irresistible grace of God rejoiced his heart, and did him more good than twenty years’ stipend. 

Other sources

Further reading[edit]