Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33

The Life of ROBERT KER of Kersland, Esq;
taken from
Biographia Scoticana
John Howie

ROBERT KER of Kersland being born and educated in a very religious family, began early to discover more than an ordinary zeal for religion. But the first public appearance that we find he made for the cause, and interest of religion, was in the year 1666, about Nov. 26. when he, Caldwell, and some others of the Renfrew gentlemen, gathered themselves together, and marched eastward to join Col. Wallace and that little handful who renewed the covenants at Lanerk. But, having heard that General Dalziel was, by that time got betwixt them and their friends, they were obliged to dismiss. But this could not escape the knowledge of the managers: for the laird of Blackstoun one of their own number, upon a promise of pardon, informed against the rest, and so redeemed his own neck by accusing his neighbour.—But of this he had nothing to boast of afterwards.1

Kersland was after this, obliged to retire out of the way; and the next year he was forfeited in his life and fortune, and his estate given to Lieut. General Drummond of Cromlie, {416} and his lands in Beith to William Blair of that ilk, which estate they unjustly held until the Revolution.2

After this, to elude the storm, he thought fit to retire and go over to Holland; and there chose to live with his family at Utrecht;—where he had the advantage of hearing the gospel and other excellent conversations. In that place he continued near three years. But his friends thinking it necessary, that he should come home to settle some of his affairs, if possible, his lady returned home in the end of 1669, and himself soon followed: but to his unspeakable grief, he found, when he came to Edinburgh, that she was in a fever: She lodged in a woman’s house who was a favourer of the sufferers. And though he lodged in a more private place, and only used to come in the evenings to visit his sick lady; yet one Cannon of Mardrogate, who had not yet altogether cast off the mask, at least his treachery and apostacy was not then discovered, got notice of it.—He soon gave information to the Chancellor, and orders were procured from Lauderdale then in town, to search that house on pretence that Mr. John Welch was keeping conventicles in the Lady Kersland’s chamber: But the design was for Kersland himself, as the sequel will declare. Accordingly, a party came, and finding no conventicle, were just going to retire. But one Murray3 having particular notice from Mardrogate, that when any company came to the room, Kersland in the evening used to retire behind a bed; and having a torch in his hand, provided for that end, said, he behoved to search the room: and so went straight behind the bed and brought him out, charging him to render his arms. Kersland told him he had none but the Bible, which he had then in his hand; and that was enough to condemn him in these times.—At parting with his lady, she shewed much calmness and composure, exhorting him to do nothing that might wound his conscience out of regard to her or her children, and repeated that text of scripture, No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

He was forthwith taken to the guard, and then at the Abbey; where a committee of the council, that same night, was gathered for his examination. When he was brought before them, they asked him concerning the lawfulness of the appearance at Pentland; which he, in plain terms, owned to be lawful, and what he thought duty.—Upon {417} which he was immediately imprisoned. When going away, the Chancellor upbraided him with what passed betwixt him and his lady, which he suffered with much patience.

He was near three months prisoner in Edinburgh; and from thence sent to Dumbarton castle, where he continued near a year and a half. Then he was ordered for Aberdeen, where he was kept close prisoner without fire for three months space in the cold winter season.—From Aberdeen he was brought south to Stirling castle, where he continued some years; and then was, a second time, returned to Dumbarton, where he continued till October 1677. Then the council confined him to Irvine, and allowed him some time to transport himself and his family, then at Glasgow, into that place.

Coming to his family at Glasgow, he was visited by many friends and acquaintance: and the same night, convoying the Lady Caldwell and her daughter, he was taken by some of the guards, and kept in the guard house till next day; when the commanding officer would have dismissed him, but first he behoved to know the arch-bishop’s pleasure, who immediately ordered him a close prisoner in the tolbooth. The arch-bishop took horse immediately for Edinburgh: Lady Kersland followed after, if possible, to prevent misinformation.—In the mean time, a fire breaking out in Glasgow, the tolbooth being in hazard, and the magistrates refusing to let out the prisoners, the well affected people of the town got long ladders and set the prisoners free, and Kersland amongst the rest, after he had been eight years prisoner. After the hurry was over, he inclined to have surrendered himself again prisoner; but hearing from his lady of the arch-bishop’s design against him, he retired and absconded all that winter.4 In {418} the spring and summer following, he kept company with the persecuted ministers, and heard the gospel preached in the fields, and was at communions, particularly that at Maybole. About the beginning of harvest, 1678, he returned again to his old retiring place Utrecht, where he continued until the day of his death.

When near his departure, his dear acquaintance Sir Robert Hamilton being with him, and signifying to him that he might be spared as another Caleb to see the good land when the storm was over; to whom, amongst his last words, he said, “What is man before the Lord? yea, what is a nation? as the drop of a bucket, or the small dust in the balance: yea, less than nothing and vanity. But this much I can say in humility, that, through free grace, I have endeavoured to keep the post that God hath set me at. These fourteen years I have not desired to lift the one foot till the Lord shewed me where to set down the other.” And so, in a few minutes, he finished his course with joy and fell asleep in Jesus, Nov. 14. 1680, leaving his wife and five children in a strange land.

It were superfluous to insist here upon the character of the thrice renowned Ker. It is evident to all, he was a man of a great mind, far above a servile and mercenary disposition.—He was, for a number of years, hurried from place to place, and guarded from prison to prison. He endured all this with undaunted courage.—He lost a good estate then for the cause of Christ: and, though he got not the martyr’s crown, yet he beyond all doubt obtained the sufferer’s reward.


1 See more of this laird of Blackstoun, in the appendix.

2 For a particular account of this gift, see Samson’s Riddle, &c. page 139, 144.

3 See more of Murray in the Appendix.

4 It would appear, he was retaken about the end of that year, by the acts of council; and liberate without any conditions: which was a thing uncommon at this time. Vid. Wodrow’s histoery, Vol. I. page 146.

N.B. It has been thought somewhat strange, that the posterity of such ancient and religious families as this and Earlstoun should be now extinct in their houses and estates. But this needs be no paradox; for the condition of the covenant or promise of property and dignity is.——if thy children will keep my covenant and testimony, their children shall also sit upon thy throne for ever, and shall return unto the Lord thy God, and obey his voice; thy God will bring thee unto the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it. Now the contrary practices must produce the contrary effects: and upon none more remarkable than those who apostatize from the profession, principles and piety of their ancestors. It is said, that Sir Thomas Gordon of Earlstoun fell into a profligate and irreligious life. And for Donald Ker, he fell in with king William, and was killed at the battle of Steinkirk in Flanders, 1692. And for John Crawford (alias Ker) who married his [Donald’s] sister, and with her the estate of Kersland, he got a patent to be a rogue, patrem sequitur sua proles, from Queen Ann and her ministry, by virtue of which he feigned himself sometimes a Jacobite, and sometimes an old dissenter, or Cameronian, (as he calls them) unto whom he gives high encomiums. What correspondence he might have with some of these who had been officers in the Angus regiment I know not; but it is evident from the minute of the general meeting that he was never admitted into the community, or secrets of the genuine old dissenters: for, though he attended one or more of their meetings, yet he was refused, and so could never influence them to publish any of their declarations. But more of this, if the Lord will, elsewhere on another occasion.

The reader will find the above mentioned patent on the frontispiece of his memoirs: And what satisfaction he himself had in this dirty work and wicked courses in the court’s interest, as he himself calls it, and how he was by them repaid as he deserved, in those memoirs, from page 31 to 81, &c.