Saturday, June 25, 2016

Patrick Adair - A Presbyterian minister fighting the system

1625 – 1694
1 Patrick Adair, 2 Alexander Adair, 3 Thomas Adair, 4 Joseph Alexander Adair, 5 Joseph Alexander Adair, Jr., 6 Elizabeth “Betsey” Adair, 7 Elizabeth “Betsey” Jones, 8 Robert Hatten Copeland, 9 Charles Mabry Copeland, 10 Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr., 11 Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr.

Fortunately for genealogists, the history of the Adair family is fairly easy to trace. Their name is derived from the old English name, Eadgar or Edgar, and is most often found in the history of Antrim and Down counties in Ulster, Ireland.  As one of the most influential and well known members of the Adair family, Patrick, who had been born in Antrim County, spent much of his life traveling between northern Ireland, England and Scotland. 

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinborough
His role in history actually began when, as a 10 year old boy,  he witnessed violence in what was normally a peaceful place - Edinburgh's St. Giles Cathedral.  Why he was there is anyone's guess. Maybe - like a typical 10 year old -  he was simply exploring the nooks and crannies of the huge cathedral; or perhaps he was accompanying an adult who was planning to attend worship there.  

Whatever the reason, this young  boy did witness a local woman named Jenny Geddes and several of her friends flinging three legged stools at the dean and bishop of the cathedral. Since women had very little voice in the politics of the time, this was an attempt to let the powers-that-be know how angry they were about the new service book being introduced into the church without their input or agreement (and our pastors think they have problems sometimes!).

Over the years some have questioned whether Jenny Geddes was a real person or simply a tale created by those who longed for a symbol of the fight for Scottish independence in 1635.  Whatever the truth  might be, it is a fact that a brass plaque commemorating the event was attached to a three legged stool and is still on display in the cathedral. 

One can't help but wonder whether the 10 year old hid behind a pillar or crawled under a pew to escape the violence. What is known is that he often talked about what he had witnessed that day and how it affected him as he grew into manhood.

Cairncastle in Antrim County, Ireland
Perhaps Patrick's experience in the cathedral was responsible for his decision to enroll in Glasgow College's divinity school nine years later.  After completing his theological education in 1646, he returned to Cairncastle in Antrim County, Ireland, where he was ordained by the "army presbytery"  (formed by chaplains of the Scottish regiments in Ulster with a mission of protecting the protestant settlers in Ulster while crushing the "Irish Rebellion").

After his ordination, he was called as pastor of a church in Belfast, where he officiated for about 20 years.  During those years he became a highly influential cleric who provided steady leadership while the world around him was caught up in the intense religious upheaval between his Presbyterians and the Roman Catholic churches. 
Crowd to see beheading
Those were turbulent times in both Ireland and his life,
King Charles I
especially after he joined a committee which had as its main goal the replacement of Roman Catholicism with Presbyterianism as the main religion in Ireland.  Through building close relationships with influential advisors to King Charles I of England, Scotland and Ireland, they were just beginning to make headway toward their goal when even more influential men managed to get the king beheaded.   

After the king's violent death, his son, Charles II, who was not much wiser than his father, ascended the throne (briefly). The new king's luck wasn't much better than his father's.  He might not have been beheaded, but he was defeated in battle by a commoner, Oliver Cromwell, who firmly believed that Parliament was ineffective (probably true) and assumed the leadership of the kingdom from 1653 to 1658.

Needless to say, when the news got out that Cromwell was now in charge of the country,  Presbyterian ministers in Ireland felt the ground shaking under their feet.  In an attempt to regain at least some of the ground they had lost, a meeting was convened in Belfast to figure out how to tell  the country at large (without TV, radio or email) that the king's violent death was an “act of horror without precedent in both divine and human history”. 

As we know today, their fears were well-founded. Recognizing an opportunity when they saw it, the parliamentary generals sought - and were given - permission to search and seize all Presbyterian ministers' homes and assign their ministries to independent and baptist ministers. 

Adding to Patrick's woes was the heavy pressure he was receiving from all sides to sign "The Engagement Oath" which renounced the king's hereditary claims and bound the signatories “to be true and faithful only to Cromwell's government”.  He refused!  Although many dissenting clergy had already fled to Scotland, Patrick was one of the few who refused to leave, and continued to minister to his flock through clandestine open air meetings. 

Such actions did not make him popular with Cromwell, who had taken  the title of “Lord Protector” and was determined to put down all resistance. In light of that refusal, troops were sent to Patrick's residence to seize all his papers (which would have been devastating since , as the official historian of the Presbyterian church, he kept most of the church and committee records). Thankfully, one of his loyal maids found a way to hide most of the papers and gave them back to him after the soldiers left.

It took Cromwell awhile to realize that Presbyterians, while incredibly stubborn, were essentially law abiding and peaceful people, and finally ended his persecution of them in 1655.  A short time later he had his minions draw up a list of 14 pastors (including Patrick) whom he considered qualified to preach the Gospel.  

Sadly, the seeds of evil had continued to grow during Cromwell's reign and came into full bloom after his death. About the same time, Patrick once more took his life in his hands by pleading that tithes be restored to ministers who had been forced to depend on the charity of their parishioners to simply feed themselves.  Although he was not totally successful, the ministers were finally  granted a small annual salary which would allow them to feed their families and regain some of their independence. 

It was after Cromwell died and the exiled King Charles II was restored to his throne that the Presbyterian circumstances changed again - for the worse.  This period was known as "The Restoration" and celebrated the King being restored to his throne.  The problem was that it also allowed the old lines of power to also be restored.

One of the survivors of this power struggle was a newly appointed Roman Catholic bishop, Jeremy Taylor, who demanded that Pastor Patrick Adair and seven other Presbyterian ministers attend his installation. When they refused, their churches were declared vacant and they were ejected from the ministry.

Despite finding himself no longer the pastor of Cairncastle Parish Church, Patrick continued to pull every string in an attempt to find relief  for his fellow ministers.  But his efforts were in vain since he could only obtain permission for them to “serve God in their own families” - not in their churches.

Thomas Blood
It's no surprise that during this time of unrest, someone new would step up with a plan guaranteed to bring positive change. That person was Thomas Blood and his plan, which was supported by Patrick Adair and many of his fellow pastors, proposed that Dublin Castle be stormed in order to usurp the government and kidnap the thoroughly disliked Bishop James Butler.  Sadly for all who had supported it, the plan fell apart before it could be carried out and the supporters were persecuted. 

Unlike many people who had given up everything to follow him, however,  Blood evaded the authorities by hiding in the mountains until he could escape from the country altogether.  One has to wonder if he ever regretted leaving behind so many broken lives and careers, including that of 38 year old Patrick Adair who,  although charged with complicity (which usually carried a sentence of death by hanging), somehow managed to get his sentence reduced to a long prison term.  What was even more amazing was that he was freed from prison after only three months, on the condition that he "would promise to live peaceably".  (It's only a guess but it's likely that a lot of people were beholden to the pastor who had served them so well during many tumultuous years and finally had an opportunity to return the favor.)

Cairncastle Parish Church
After being released from prison, he went home to Cairncastle.  Shortly after his return, a small meeting house was built by his parishioners which finally allowed him to  conduct worship services. 

It wasn't until 1687, when the newest English king, James II issued the “Declaration of Indulgence”, that the Irish Presbyterians were finally allowed to preach openly.  This ruling was confirmed later by King William III, who seemed to feel kindly toward Patrick, especially after he had presented a congratulatory address to the new king on behalf of the general committee of Ulster Presbyterians.
In his later years, this man, who was known for his part in negotiations with the government for religious liberty, began to write “A True Narrative of the Rise and Progress of the Presbyterian Government in the North of Ireland"  (the  narrative can be found in  He was joined in this massive endeavor by one of his four sons, Pastor William Adair,   Sadly, before his work was done, time ran out for Patrick in 1694. 

Although he lived and died over 300 years ago, his spirit lives on through the legends of all he accomplished during his lifetime.