Duncan was the first to admit that when he decided to study for
the Ministry, it was not the souls of his prospective parishioners
which drew him. Rather it was his youthful enthusiasm and belief
that he could change their world. Little did he know that he would
change the whole world. From a choice of three parishes he chose
Ruthwell, the poorest parish with the lowest stipend, the truly
stony ground in which to sow the seeds of self improvement.
It was not until some five years into his ministry
that he listened to some Quakers preaching. That experience aroused
his spiritual consciousness and influenced him for the rest of his
This was not his first meeting with Quakers. When
he worked in Liverpool, he lodged with Dr James Currie (the first
biographer of the poet Robert Burns). Among Dr Currie's friends
were Quakers and other Dissenters, whose literary evenings the young
Henry Duncan was privileged to attend.
Memories of the Covenanting killing times were still
fresh in the minds of his parishioners and their Minister took great
pains to convince them that without Catholic emancipation, religious
persecution could again become a real threat.
Throughout his life as a Minister of the Church of
Scotland, Henry Duncan was troubled by patronage - the right of
the heritors or landowners to impose a Minister on the congregation.
He openly opposed this State interference, risking unpopularity
with influential members of society. He sided with the evangelicals
but was desperate to avoid a split and used his many contacts to
reach a compromise with government. St Andrews University conferred
on him the degree of Doctor of Divinity and he became Moderator
of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. However, when
the situation within the Kirk reached crisis point he did not hesitate.
Together with his two sons, his son-in-law and his step-son, he
left the established Kirk and joined the Free Church of Scotland.
As a family this was materially a disastrous move. They lost their
living, their home - and they had to get out of the parish. They
could no longer send their children to State schools. The hardship
troubled him not at all, although the younger members of his family
felt the privations strongly.
Within two years he had built a new Church and Manse
at Mount Kedar, in the adjoining parish to Ruthwell. Ill health
forced him to retire to Edinburgh - at least for a few months. Back
on the road again, he travelled to Manchester and Liverpool to raise
money for the Free Church. On his way home to Edinburgh he stopped
off at Ruthwell and while delivering a sermon there, he suffered
a stroke, dying two days later in his beloved Ruthwell, where he
had served for fifty years. The year was 1846 and he was seventy-two
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