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Erskine, Henry (1624-1696) (DNB00)

ERSKINE, HENRY (1624–1696), presbyterian minister, was born in 1624 at Dryburgh, in the parish of Mertoun, Berwickshire, being one of the younger sons of Ralph Erskine of Shielfield, a cadet of the family of the Earl of Mar. It is commonly said that his father's family were thirty-three in number; but the late Principal Harper says he had seen a small manuscript volume in which Ralph Erskine had entered the names of all his children, just twelve in number (see United Presbyterian Fathers—Life of Ebenezer Erskine). Mr. Simpson, minister of Dryburgh, under whose ministry he was brought up, was a man of very earnest piety, and probably influenced him to study for the ministry. His first charge was at Cornhill, a village in Northumberland, where, according to Wodrow, he was ordained in 1649, but according to others ten years later. From this charge he was ejected by the Act of Uniformity on St. Bartholomew's day, 1662, greatly to the regret of his people. The revenues of his charge not having been paid to him, he went to London to petition the king to order payment; but after long delay he was told that unless he would conform he should have nothing. Driven on his voyage home by a storm into Harwich, he preached with such acceptance and benefit that the people would have had him to take up his abode with them; but his wife could not be prevailed on to settle so far from her friends and home.

On leaving Cornhill he took up his abode at Dryburgh, where he lived in a house of his brother's. From time to time he exercised his ministry in a quiet way, till arousing the suspicion of Urquhart of Meldrum, one of those soldiers who scoured the country to put down conventicles, he was summoned to appear before a committee of privy council. Being asked by Sir George Mackenzie, lord advocate, whether he would engage to preach no more in conventicles, he boldly replied, ‘My lord, I have my commission from Christ, and though I were within an hour of my death I durst not lay it down at the feet of any mortal man.’ He was ordered to pay a fine of five thousand merks, and to be imprisoned on the Bass Rock till he should pay the fine and promise to preach no more. Being in very poor health he petitioned that the sentence might be changed to banishment from the kingdom. This was allowed, and he settled first at Parkridge, near Carlisle, and afterwards to Monilaws, near Cornhill, where his son Ralph was born. Apprehended again, he was imprisoned at Newcastle, but after his release in 1685 the king's indulgence (1687) enabled him to continue his ministry without molestation. He preached at Whitsome, near Berwick, and after the revolution was admitted minister of Chirnside, where he died in 1696, at the age of seventy-two. During his times of persecution he and his family were often in great want, but obtained remarkable help. It is said that when he could not give his children a dinner he would give them a tune upon his zither. Thomas Boston of Ettrick [q. v.] bears grateful testimony to the profound impression made on him in his boyhood by hearing Erskine preach at Whitsome. Many other men of mark owned him as their spiritual father. He was twice married: first, in 1653, to a lady of whom little is known, and again to Margaret Halcro, a descendant of an old family in Orkney. His two distinguished sons, Ralph [q. v.] and Ebenezer [q. v.], were children of the second marriage.

[Scott's Fasti; Calamy's Continuation; Palmer's Nonconf. Memorial; Wodrow's History; Fraser's Life and Diary of Ebenezer Erskine, with memoir of Rev. Henry Erskine.]

W. G. B.