Ministers of Scotland: The Presbyterian Connection

Rev. Patrick MacDonald, 1729 – 1824. Collector of Gaelic music

I found this silhouette from unknown artist of my ancestor Rev. Patrick MacDonald on the National Galleries of Scotland site with the information below. The silhouette looks surprisingly like my dad, or possibly me in a few years, particularly if I don’t trim my eyebrows:

One of the key early collectors of Scottish folk music, Patrick MacDonald was the minister at Kilmore in Argyll when he published ‘A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs’ in 1784. Some of the tunes from the most northerly parts of the country (originally sung in Gaelic, but published without lyrics) were collected by his brother Joseph, but the vast majority (which include songs, reels and dances) were gathered by Patrick himself on various tours. His work has been praised for the accuracy and authenticity it brings to original rhythms and performance styles, without the need for collector’s embellishments. This portrait of MacDonald is made from cut paper, revealing a silhouette of the minister in profile.

I’ve found a small sample of two “highly unusual tunes” from the Rev Patrick McDonald’s Highland Vocal Airs (Skye Dance and Harris Dance). They’re from  William Jackson’s album Notes from a Hebridean Island.

Two highly unusual tunes from the Rev Patrick McDonald’s Highland Vocal Airs, published in 1784. This collection of song airs and dance tunes was one of the first to present Highland music in its purest form, free from complex and often unsuitable ‘drawing room’ arrangements.

As mentioned in my Patrick MacDonald, “Father of the Church of Scotland”? post, my ancestor Rev. Patrick MacDonald was a Father of the Church of Scotland. I think he’s my gt gt gt gt gt grandfather. What’s interesting is that his wife Barbara MacDonell of Keppoch was daughter of Alexander the Jacobite Keppoch Chief who died at Culloden. She was a Roman Catholic who neither attended “public nor family worship with her husband” (see More on Patrick MacDonald, Father of the Church of Scotland). The marriage is particularly remarkable because I’ve subsequently found out that not only were Patrick‘s ancestors musical, but some play an important role in the Scottish Reformation as Presbyterian Covenanters:

The following genealogy has been found on the site starting with Rev. Patrick MacDonald. I found other sources and cited these when I can, but most of the background comes from the notes from the which are sourced from Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ: the Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation. My ancestors are highlighted in bold, and I’ve already written about Patrick (see above), so have started with his father Murdock below:

Rev. Murdock M’Donald, MA.

Born:     3 May 1696 Durness, Caithness, Scotland
Died:      23 Aug 1763

KINSHIP: Nephew of Walter Ross, minister of Tongue.
EDUCATION: Fearn School and University of St Andrews; Master of Arts, 1722.
CHURCH: Licensed by the Presbytery there 1725; became tutor in family of Mackay of Rhenovie.
CHURCH: Presented by the Presbytery jure devoluto and ordained in 1726.
CHURCH: Minister of Durness.
DISTINCTION: He was an accomplished musician, “a most melodious and powerful singer,” and composed many Gaelic airs.

Married: Anna Couper (possibly Agnes) on 23rd May 1728


  1. Rev. Patrick MacDonald,   b. 22 Apr 1729,   d. 25 Sep 1824
  2. Mary MacDonald,   b. 9 Oct 1730,   d. Yes, date unknown
  3. Margaret MacDonald,   b. 21 Oct 1731,   d. Feb 1756
  4. Donald MacDonald,   b. 21 Nov 1732,   d. Sep 1751
  5. Florence MacDonald,   b. 23 Sep 1736,   d. 23 Sep 1805
  6. Annabel MacDonald,   b. 22 May 1737,   d. Yes, date unknown
  7. Joseph MacDonald,   b. 26 Feb 1738/39
  8. Marion MacDonald,   d. Yes, date unknown
  9. Jenny MacDonald,   d. Yes, date unknown
  10. Jean MacDonald,   d. Yes, date unknown

Sources: Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ: the Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation (1915-), Scott, Hew, (9 volumes. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1915-) vol. 1 p. 22., vol. 4 p. 94, vol. 5 p. 228, vol. 7 p. 102, vol. 8 p. 674.

As mentioned in an earlier post Mudock or Mudoch or Murdo and his family are mentioned in 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 kept 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 another, 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, but 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 Edinburgh 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.

Mordoch‘s father is recorded as Donald MacDonald on but they have no further information about him. I’ve founded an uncited source from Donna C White with the following information on Murdock and his parents:

Rev. Murdoch MacDonald was born in the parish of Durness, Sutherlandshire on the 3rd of May 1696. His father, who was born in Rosshire in 1655 settled in Durness some time before the birth of Murdoch. He was married to Margaret Ross, sister of the Rev. Walter Ross, minister of the parish of Tongue, but a native of Rosshire. Mr. Murdoch’s parents were distinquished for their piety, especially the mother to whose influence the son owed much of that piety which formed so important a factor, not only in his journal, but in the actions of his long and useful life. He made his way to the University of St Andrew’s to the principal of which-Principal Wishart he had a note of introduction. In 1725 he finished his course of study there and was on the 28th of September of the same year licensed to preach the Gospel. Educated at Fearn School and University of St. Andrews: M.A. 9th May 1722; licen. by the Presb. there 15th Sept. 1725; became tutor in family of Mackay of Rhenovie; presented by the Presb. jure devoluto 24th Aug., and ordained 28th Sept. 1726; sometime clerk of Presb. He was an accomplished musician, “a most melodious and powerful singer,” and composed many Gaelic airs. Rob Donn composed a beautiful elegy in Gaelic on him. He left an MS. Diary in eight octavo vols. extending to over 4000 pages of very small but legible writing. It is chiefly a record of the diarist’s spirtual experiences. Portions were published in Trans. Gaelic Soc. Inverness, xi, 293-310 (1884-5)-Sutherland and the Reay Country, 351.)

“The World of Rob Donn” by Dr. Ian Grimble, published by the Edina Press, Edinburgh 1979. Printed in Scotland by Howie and Seath Ltd., Edinburgh. This book contains much initimate information about the Rev. Murdo MacDonald who was well known by the Gaelic Poet Rob Donn (Mackay). Rob Donn was born and lived within the church parish of Durness. MacDonald was his minister and also his personal friend. A friendship probably cemented by their mutual love of music.

The has a record for the Rev. Walter Ross, and his father (my ancestor James Ross of ‘Mill of Hole’

Murdock‘s wife Anna (or Agnes) Cooper died 18 Jan 1784, Her parents were Rev. Patrick Couper and Janet Halyburton.

Rev. Patrick Couper or Cowper, MA (1660 – 1740)

Born: 1660 Scone, Perthshire, Scotland
Died: 14 Jun 1740

EDUCATION: St. Andrews University; Master of Arts, 1678.

CHURCH: Much persecuted as a Presbyterian; several times compelled to flee from the city.
CHURCH: Obtained a licence to preach in Holland,,, 1684.
CHURCH: Returned to Scotland and was invited to preach at St. Ninians.
CHURCH: Ordained in the meetinghouse at Bannockburn, 1688.
CHURCH: Minister of Pittenweem, 1692; called, April 1692; translated and admitted, May 1692.

PUNISHMENT: Taken prisoner and called before two of the bailies and imprisoned for nonconformity, 1679; was released under the royal indemnity after the battle of Bothwell Bridge.
PUNISHMENT: Again detained in prison for three months for attending conventicles; liberated after a fine was paid.
PUNISHMENT: Seized at Elithhead in Strathaven when on duty on horseback as a sentinel at a Conventicles; taken to Perth and kept in prison for three months and fined.

EMIGRATION: Went to Holland, and to Konigsberg, returning to Holland.

Marriage: Janet Halyburton Jun 1682


  1. Andrew Couper,   d. Yes, date unknown
  2. Thomas Couper,   d. Yes, date unknown
  3. Joseph Couper,   d. Yes, date unknown
  4. Janet Couper,   b. Cal 1684,   d. 15 Apr 177
  5. Jean Couper,   d. Yes, date unknown
  6. Margaret Couper,   d. Yes, date unknown
  7. Isabel Couper,   d. Yes, date unknown
  8. Sophia Couper,   d. Yes, date unknown
  9. Jean Couper,   d. Yes, date unknown
  10. Isabel Couper,   d. Yes, date unknown
  11. Anna Couper,   d. 18 Jan 1784

Sources: Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ: the Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation (1915-), Scott, Hew, (9 volumes. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1915-),, vol. 4 p. 193, vol. 5 p. 184, vol. 5 p. 227, vol. 7 p. 102, vol. 5 p. 228.

Here’s an excerpt from Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, H Scott (1915) rev 1917, 1920, vol 5 p 227 Pittenweem, 1692:

PATRICK COUPER [or COWPER],born in Scone 1660; educated at Univ. of St Andrews; M.A. (22nd July 1678); was much persecuted as a Presbyterian.

One Sunday evening, when engaged in family worship, he narrowly escaped capture by the magistrates of Perth, and was several times compelled to flee from that city. In 1679 he was taken prisoner there one Saturday on his way to a field meeting, though unarmed, called before two of the bailies, and imprisoned for nonconformity, until after the battle of Bothwell Bridge when he was released under the royal indemnity. Next year he was again detained in prison for three months for attending conventicles, but was liberated by his parents paying a fine of fifty merks, and a fee to the jailer of £11. A third time he was seized at Elithhead in Strathaven when on duty on horseback as a sentinel at a conventicle. He was taken to Perth where he was received with derision by the Episcopal congregation, and was kept in prison for three months, fined £106, and bound over to enter into ward again under a severe penalty.

Having determined to go abroad he sailed for Holland, and from thence to Konigsberg. He returned to Holland and obtained a licence to preach the Gospel at Rotterdam in Dec. 1684. He proceeded to Scotland, landed at Borrowstounness, and travelled to Perth, where he wrote to his wife to join him, but they were forced to flee to Edinburgh, and had to leave that city after two months as a search was made for him. He returned to Perth, spent the winter there, and returned to Holland in the spring with his wife, his mother- in-law, and his brother Thomas, afterwards Professor of Divinity.

In Feb. 1687 he came back to Kirkcaldy and found the Toleration had been proclaimed. He again went to Holland in Aug., and when further restrictions were taken off he came home, landing a second time at  Borrowstounness.   He was invited to preach at St Ninians; the meeting-house at Bannockburn 14th Aug. 1688; called 4th April, trans, and adm. 5th May1692, his admission being opposed by certain Jacobite heritors who barricaded the church. The magistrates, however, broke open the doors and drove out the offenders; died 14th June 1740. ” He studied to follow a clear and distinct method in his sermons, and abhorred jingling, bombastic words, that airy self-seeking men affect much.” In bodily appearance he was “small and thin,” and when young nearly lost the sight of one of his eyes through illness, yet at seventy sevenhe could read the smallest print without spectacles even in candle light. He was the first who ( in 1716) proposed the raising of the Ministers’ Widows’ Fund. He marr. June 1682, Janet (died 1702), daugh. of George Halyburton, min. of Aberdalgie, and had issue— Andrew, a licentiate; Thomas; Joseph; Janet (marr. Andrew Burn, min. of Anstruther Wester) Jean; Margaret; Isabel; Sophia; Jean; Isabel; Anna (marr. Murdoch Macdonald, min. of Durness.).

Patrick Couper‘s wife Janet was the daughter of the Rev. George Halyburton, and Margaret Playfair. She died in 1702.

Rev. George Halyburton, MA (1628 – 1682)

Born: approx 1628
Died: Oct 1682  [1]

KINSHIP: Descended of the family of Pitcur.
KINSHIP: Kinsman of George, Bishop of Dunkeld.
EDUCATION: Master of Arts, St. Andrews, 1672.
CHURCH: Licensed by Presbytery of Glasgow, 1656.
CHURCH: Minister of Aberdalgie and Dupplin, 1657; ordained (colleague), 1657.
CHURCH: Deprived by Act of Parliament and Decreet of Privy Council, 1662.
CHURCH: Denounced by Privy Council for keeping conventicles, 1676.
RESIDENCE: He retired to a house at Dupplin given him by George Hay of Balhousie, who sympathised with him and shared his suffering
FAMILY: Had 10 additional children, who died young.

Mariage: Margaret Playfair on 3 Mar in either 1628 or 29.


  1. Rev. Thomas Halyburton, MA,   b. 25 Dec 1674,   d. 23 Sep 1712
  2.  Janet Halyburton,   d. 1702

Sources: Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ: the Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation (1915-), Scott, Hew, (9 volumes. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1915-),  vol. 4 p. 193, vol. 5 p. 228., vol. 7 p. 429.

There is a Wikipedia entry for the Rev. Thomas Halyburton, who is considered a Scottish Devine: ‘clergy whose theological writings have been considered standards for faith, doctrine, worship, and spirituality’:

He was born at Dupplin, near Perth. His father George Halyburton, one of the ejected ministers, having died in 1682, he was taken by his mother in 1685 to Rotterdam to escape persecution, where he for some time attended the school founded by Erasmus. On his return to Scotland in 1687 he completed his elementary education at Perth and Edinburgh, and in 1696 graduated at the University of St Andrews.

In 1700 he was ordained minister of the parish of Ceres, and in 1710 he was recommended by the synod of Fife for the chair of theology in St Leonard’s College, St Andrews, to which accordingly he was appointed by Queen Anne. After a brief term of active professorial life he died from the effects of overwork in 1712.

His works were all published after his death. John Wesley and George Whitefield used to commend them to their followers.

The James Begg society have a longer entry on Thomas:

THOMAS Halyburton (1674-1712) was born into a family of Scottish Covenanters. His Father, Rev. George Halyburton, was a minister in the Reformed Church of Scotland until his ejection in 1662. Twenty years later George was denounced by the Privy Council of Scotland for holding “conventicles” (church services in the open air, unauthorised by the established church and outlawed by the government in those days). After his father’s death, young Thomas’s family (mother and sister) fled to Rotterdam in order to avoid the fierce persecution which was carried on against the Covenanters, where Thomas had his early education in the school of Erasmus. Following the Revolution, he returned to Scotland and continued his education.

After a period of inner struggle with the philosophy of Deism, God sovereignly and graciously enlighened Thomas’s soul, and gave him saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He became committed to the same Reformed Christian religion as his father, and followed in his footsteps as a minister of the gospel. On completing theological training, Thomas was licenced to preach in the Church of Scotland by Queen Anne, and ordained to the ministry of the church in Ceres, Fife. The church was part of the presbytery of Kirkcaldy.

After faithfully pastoring the church in Ceres for ten years, Rev. Dr. Halyburton became Professor of Theology at St. Leonard’s College in St. Andrews.

He died two years later at the age of 38, following an illness. At his request, his body was buried in St. Andrews next to his favourite Christian minister, Rev. Dr. Samuel Rutherford.

Thomas Halyburton’s theological and apologetic writings are marked by a distinctive thoroughness. The surviving scripts of his sermons show him to have been richly theological, deeply experimental (i.e. dealing with the experiences of the soul) and very practical — a master of the classic Puritan style of preaching.

The Thomas Begg Society have published his work, which you can see on their site. They also have the following articles:

A Biographical Introduction to Thomas Halyburton by Hugh Cartwright

Thomas Halyburton on Experimental Religion by Robert Burns

Preface to the Memoirs of Thomas Halyburton by Archibald Alexander

There’s also an entry for Thomas in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Thomas’s mother Margaret is my ancestor, and she was the daughter of Rev. Andrew Playfair, MA, and  Margaret Oliphant. The site shows she was christened in 3 Mar 1628/29 and was noted for her remarkable knowledge of the scriptures, and a gift of prayer.

Rev. Andrew Playfair, MA (1579 – Abt 1658)

Born: 1579
Died: Abt 1658

EDUCATION: St. Andrews University; Master of Arts, 1600.
OCCUPATION: Schoolmaster of St. Madoes, 1594.
CHURCH: Minister of Aberdalgie and Dupplin, 1613; ordained, 1613.

Marriage: Margaret Oliphant, niece of Andrew Oliphant in Muresyde of Tullois, and they had the following children:

  1. Margaret Playfair,   c. 3 Mar 1628/29,   d. Yes, date unknown
  2. Andrew Playfair,   c. 26 Jun 1635,   d. Yes, date unknown

Sources: Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ: the Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation (1915-), Scott, Hew, (9 volumes. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1915-), vol. 4 p. 193, vol. 8 p. 359.


3 thoughts on “Ministers of Scotland: The Presbyterian Connection

  1. Dear Sir

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article on Rev Patrick Macdonald.

    Are you aware if any of his brother Joseph’s descendants remained in Durness, Sutherland? It would be fascinating to discover if they are aware of their musical heritage. I understand that Bal Na Cille house and the Mackay mansion at Tongue were popular centres of Gaelic music and culture. I wonder if this influenced the Macdonald family?

    I appreciate any information you can share.

    Yours Sincerely

    Donnie Macdonald

    1. Donnie, thanks for your post. Sadly, the above is the extent of what I know about my ancestor. Was fascinating to find out about him.

      Best and cheers


      1. Hi Justin

        Many thanks for getting back to me.

        The Macdonalds of Durness were certainly a fascinating family.

        I will contact you if I find out any more information about them.

        Yours Sincerely

        Donnie Macdonald

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