Patrick MacDonald, “Father of the Church of Scotland”?

I find myself with unhealthy amount of free time so am back on the genealogy trial, in part prompted by an email from Graham Evan MacDonell, Principal Researcher at The Great Glen Genealogical Research Centre.

It’s just that I noticed that my great great great great great grandfather Patrick Macdonald (d 13.06.1844) was the minister of Kilmore & Kilbride and is referred to by as the “Father of the Church of Scotland”. I can’t find any mention of this anywhere else, but I did find him mentioned in a Biographical Sketches Of Early Scottish Musicians and Musicsellers by John Glen, from a forward to The Glen Collection of Scottish Dance Music, Edinburgh, 1891.

Patrick MacDonald was born in the Manse of Durness, Sutherlandshire, on 22nd April 1729. His grandfather and father were musically inclined. The latter, the Rev. Murdo Macdonald, to whose memory Rob Donn composed an elegy, was a man of wonderful talents, and he taught his children the principles of music, besides encouraging them in that art.

Mr. Murdo’s career is worthy of notice. He was born on 3rd May 1696, educated at St. Andrews, licensed to preach the Gospel of 25th September 1725, and ordained minister of Durness on 28th September 1726. On 23rd May 1728, he married Agnes, daughter of the Rev. Patrick Cooper of Pittenweem, by whom he had four sons and seven daughters. He dept a Diary extending to 7 volumes, and which contains numerous entries of remarkable interest. It was during his ministry that Robert Calder, usually called Rob Donn, the bard of the Reay country, composed his songs; and the poet’s intercourse with the family was, no doubt, of mutual advantage.

Patrick and his brother Joseph (who was born on 26th February 1739) were at an early age the pupils of Kenneth Sutherland of Cnocbreac, who was known for his remarkable skill in violin-playing. Joseph was the more apt pupil, however, and in addition to being a good violinist, he had some ability as a vocalist. His father relates that, at the age of eight, Joseph led the psalmody in church.

Their sister Flora, afterwards married to Dr. Touch, minister of St. Cuthbert’s Chapel of Ease, equaled, if she did not excel, her brothers as an instrumentalist; and the father not infrequently held a musical evening, when the musicians of his family competed with one antoher, not only in playing airs, but also in composing them. Joseph excelled in composition, and not a few of his airs enjoyed the distinction of having the songs of the local poet made to suit them.

Joseph was educated at the Grammar School of Haddington, the master of which was a friend of his father’s. Receiving an appointment in India, he proceeded thither in 1760, leaving a collection of airs,—compositions of his youth—as a parting gift to one of his sisters. In Persia he got the natives to make for him two or three whistles (Feadain meaghra) on which he practised, and thereby revived and sustained his recollections of the airs he used to play. His career in India, however, was destined to be short; for in 1762 he was seized with a malignant fever, from which he did not recover. A Treatise on the Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe written by him, was discovered in Bengal by Sir John Murray Macgregor, Bart., and delivered by him to Patrick, who published it in 1803. From the preface to the collection of Patrick Macdonald, published in 1784 (which is referred to in the Chronological List appended to this work), it may be inferred that the whole of the North Highland Airs—eighty-six in number—were those given by Joseph to his sister.

Patrick (the subject of this article) was in 1737 sent to his grandfather’s at Pittenweem, where he spent some time. On his return home, his father took charge of his education, and in 1747 sent him to the University of Aberdeen. He was duly licensed a preacher, and on 12th October 1756 was presented to Kilmore, where he laboured as a minister of the parish for the long space of sixty-nine years. He was married to Barbara M’Donald, bu whom he had a family of nine sons and four daughters. He died father of the Church, on the 25th of September 1824. His ministerial office appears to have deterred him from becoming a bagpipe player like his brother Joseph, but in his handling of the violin, he is acknowledged to have been unexcelled among his presbyterial brethren. An anecdote is related of him, that being in Ediburgh on the one occasion as a member of the General Assembly of the Church, he was urged by Stabilini (who was indisposed) to act as his substitute for the evening. He agreed to do so, and it is said that he executed his part so well that his audience were charmed and delighted. It is also said that there was some talk of his clerical brethren taking him to task for this performance in a playhouse, but that the general esteem in which he was held saved him from being brought to book.

His wife Barbara MacDonell of Keppoch was daughter of Alexander of Culloden. Their daughter Anne married Donald Macdonell who was the son of Angus ‘ban’ Macdonell of Inch, the natural son of Alexander of Culloden – making Anne and Donald both grandchildren of Alexander of Culloden. Their son Angus married Christina McNab, who was also a descendant of Alexander of Culluden as her maternal grandmother Charlotte was his youngest daughter (see my earlier Christina McNab descendant of Alexander of Culloden post).


8 thoughts on “Patrick MacDonald, “Father of the Church of Scotland”?

  1. just letting you know there is another ancestor of the MacDonalds i’m a Great,Great,Great,Great,Great grandaughter of Patrick MacDonald here in Australia,i’m one of three so far that i’m in contact with,but they are from my g.g.g.grandmother flora MacD who married a MacPherson from Laggan who came out here in 1852,she was the daughter of Archibald the son of Patrick.

    1. Hi Lorraine…Rev Murdo MacDonald is my 6th great grandfather. I have my family tree on ancestry. I am in the process of making a web site for my MacDonalds and trying to gleen any info I can. I own the book The story of Rob Donn of which Murdock is mentioned throughout. Info is all over the net with snippits here and there, I also have a small tree on tripod. Nice to meet you relative:) I live in Canada with many relatives in Australia
      Cheers Donna

      1. Donna and Lorraine … thanks for your comments. I’ve had so much on my plate that I haven’t been really keeping up with the family history research. What interests me though is Patrick is claimed to be ‘Father of the Church of Scotland’, or at least that’s what it says/said on, but the MacDonalds/MacDonells of Keppoch where arch Jacobites. In fact, his wife’s father was Alexander of Culloden who died fighting alongside Bonnie Price Charlie, so seems strange she married a Presbyterian. Do either of you know anything about this? Anyway, would be good to know more about these MacDonalds as Patrick’s wife Barbara’s clan are well documented.

        Best and cheers


  2. Hi Donna / Justin,well been a few years since I was back here,I found a Lot of Answers to this Family in a Book or Books called Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae Volume 4 in the Main Library in My City.It seems to have every Minister who was Ordained in Scotland noted,even Patrick’s father.They even note that she was a Roman Catholic and attended neither public nor Family worship with her Husband,that would have been a bit strange having to make the children attend church every Sunday and mother not attending with said family.Any way hope this helps a bit.

  3. Hi all – fascinating to know that old Rev Patrick has ancestors across the world. I live ten minutes walk from the old kirkyard where he is buried, and can tell of at least another two stories of him. One is that he was so mean in later life that his beadle played a trick on him once. Because Patrick would never give the man a share of the haunch of pork donated annually, one year he secretly scattered some grains of rice on the haunch while it was in Patrick’s cellar. Subsequently rushing upstairs, he declared in mock disappointed tones that the pork was covered in maggots. When Patrick went to look, he was convinced, and the beadle offered to remove the supposedly maggoty pork – except he didn’t tell Patrick he was removing it to his own cottage across the field!
    It’s also known that Patrick turned to drink in his latter years, and often spent the entire Sabbath in the pub next door to the kirk (ironic considering how he spoke so much against inns and alcohol in his entry in the First Statistical Account for the parish), abandoning the service altogether. Quite unlike the upstanding preacher who so impressed Mrs Grant of Laggan when she visited c.1770, and described as being a riveting preacher with dark eyes.
    Dark eyes or no, I also believe that his ghost visited a local house repeatedly in the 1990s, until he received what he was requesting. Strange story, but he was settled by the reciting (in Latin no less) of the 18th century Roman Catholic Last Rites service at the location. I sincerely hope he rests in peace.
    All the best,

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