Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Fraser, James (1639-1699)

FRASER, JAMES (1639–1699), covenanting divine (commonly called from his patrimonial estate Fraser of Brae), was born in the parish of Kirkmichael, Ross-shire, on 29 July 1639. His father, Sir James Fraser, was the second son of Simon, seventh lord Lovat, by his second wife, Jane Stewart, daughter of James, lord Doun (son of the Earl of Moray). Sir James Fraser, a devout man, was elder for the presbytery of Inverness in the general assembly of 1638 which abolished episcopacy, and sat in several other general assemblies. The son was educated at a grammar school, and suffered much from his father's pecuniary difficulties. At a very early age he came under deep impressions of religion, abandoned the study of the law, and obtained license as a preacher of the gospel from a presbyterian minister in 1670. Coming under the notice of Archbishop Sharp as a preacher at conventicles, he was ordered to be apprehended in 1674; decreets and letters of inter-communing were passed against him 6 Aug. 1675. He was summoned before the council 29 Jan. 1676–7, and ordered to be imprisoned on the Bass Rock the next day. Here he remained two years and a half, being released on giving security for good behaviour in July 1679. He was depressed by the sudden death of his wife in October 1676, and by the many troubles of the time, as well as by his imprisonment. He yet found material for recording in his diary many matters that called for gratitude. While in prison he studied Hebrew and Greek, and gained some knowledge of oriental languages. He wrote also a treatise on justifying faith, of which many editions have been printed. Some of its views in favour of a universal reference in the work of Christ were strongly objected to by certain of his brethren who saw it in manuscript, and it was not till 1722 that the first part was published, the second appearing in 1749. In December 1681 he was again arrested and committed to Blackness Castle as a prisoner until he paid a fine of five thousand marks and gave security either to give up preaching or quit the kingdom. A brother-in-law caused the fine to be remitted, and Fraser was sent out of Scotland. On 21 July 1683 he was ordered to be imprisoned for six months in Newgate, London, for refusing the Oxford oath. Before 6 July 1687 he returned to Scotland, and was living in the bounds of Lothian and Tweeddale. In 1689 he was minister of Culross, Perthshire, where he exercised his ministry with diligence and earnestness. He was a member of the assemblies of 1690 and 1692, had a call from Inverness in September 1696, but died at Edinburgh 13 Sept. 1699. Fraser was a man of peculiar type, independent and sometimes singular in his views, an ultra-Calvinist, yet with a certain doctrine of universalism. He was twice married: first to a lady, Jean G——, 31 July 1672, who died in October 1676; and secondly to Christian Inglis, widow of Alexander Carmichael, minister of Pettinain, Lanarkshire.

Besides the book already mentioned, Fraser wrote memoirs of his life, published at Edinburgh in 1738. This book is to a large extent a record of his religious experience, with notices of his captivities and other events in his life up to his release from Newgate in 1684. Another work is entitled the ‘Lawfulness and Duty of Separation from corrupt Ministers and Churches,’ Edinb. 1744, being an argument against attending the ministrations of the ministers who accepted the conditions imposed on them by the king. A third, entitled ‘Defence of the Convention of Estates, 1689,’ vindicates that body for having declared that James VII had forfeited his right to the crown and that his throne was vacant. A sermon, ‘Prelacy an Idol,’ appeared in 1713.

[Douglas's Peerage, vol. ii.; Memoirs of the Rev. James Fraser of Brae (Wodrow Soc. Select Biog. vol. ii.); Anderson's Martyrs of the Bass (in the Bass Rock, 1848); Wodrow's History; Scott's Fasti, iv. 585; Walker's Theology and Theologians of Scotland..]

W. G. B.