Princ. William Wishart DD (1660 – 1729)

Wishart Tree WIS0014

Wishart, William (1660–1729), Church of Scotland minister and university principal, was the son of William Wishart (1621–1692), minister at Kinneil, near Linlithgow, and his wife, Christian, daughter of Richard Burne, a magistrate, also of Linlithgow. His elder brother was James Wishart, naval officer and politician, and a second brother, George, achieved the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the army. William Wishart was educated privately and at Edinburgh University, from where he graduated MA in 1680. Like other churchmen with covenanting sympathies he also studied in the Netherlands, at the University of Utrecht; on his return to Scotland in 1684, like many others, including his father, he was imprisoned for denying the authority of James II, although he was released in the following year. On 15 March 1691 he married Janet (d. 1744), daughter of Major William Murray of Touchadam.

On 24 November 1687 Wishart was called as minister of the ‘gathered congregation’ that his father had served in a meeting-house near the Sherriff Brae, in Leith. He was ordained to this ministry on 12 January 1688, although the presbytery only confirmed his call on 6 January 1692, when he was appointed minister of the parish church of South Leith. His move to Leith occasioned a considerable and hostile reaction from the episcopal section of the parish led by their minister, Charles Kay. Indeed the Presbyterians in support of Wishart only occupied the parish church by force, ‘breaking open the windows, breaking the locks off the doors, and putting on new ones, and so caused guard the church doors with halberts, rang the bell, and possest Mr W. of the church’ (Fasti Scot., 3.136). During his ministry in Leith he served (from April 1706) as moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland, a position that he held on a further four occasions.

On 3 September 1707 Wishart was translated to the Tron Church, Edinburgh, where he took up his duties on 12 October. While at the Tron he served (1716 until 1728) as principal of Edinburgh University, from where he received an honorary DD in December 1728. During his principalship he also served again as moderator of the general assembly, in 1713, 1718, 1724, and 1728. His publications were limited to devotional books, collections of sermons, and several discourses on suppressing vice (published in Edinburgh in 1702), as Theologia, or, Discourses of God (2 vols., 1716). A response to the heresy controversies surrounding the teachings of Professor John Simson of Glasgow University entitled A Short and Impartial State of the Case of Mr John Simson, as it Comes before the General Assembly (1729), often attributed to Wishart, was in fact the work of his son William Wishart (1691/2–1753).

Wishart died on 11 June 1729, at Edinburgh, and was commemorated by John Bell, minister of Gladsmuir, Haddington, as a ‘godly, grave person, a sweet and excellent preacher, whose life being of a piece with his preaching, he made almost as many friends as there were persons known to him’ (Fasti Scot., 3.136).

Wishart was survived by his wife, who died on 30 June 1744, and by his two sons, William and George Wishart (1702/3–1785), Church of Scotland minister. George was educated at Edinburgh University, from where he graduated MA in 1719. On 6 December 1727 he married Ann (1709/10–1782), daughter of John Campbell of Orchard, with whom he had five daughters and one son. He was ordained at St Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh, on 24 November 1726 and was translated to the Tron parish, Edinburgh, on 23 July 1730. In November 1743, together with Robert Wallace, he was appointed by the general assembly to travel to London to request parliament to pass an act to provide for the widows and children of kirk ministers. He served as moderator of the assembly on 12 May 1748 and was one of his majesty’s chaplains-in-ordinary; from July 1765 he was also dean of the Chapel Royal. Between 1733 and 1740 he published four sermons and A letter to the author of a pamphlet intitled lawfulness and necessity of ministers … of bringing to justice the murderers of Captain John Porteous (1737). He died, aged eighty-two, on 13 March 1785.

Biography © Michael Jinkins

Sources   Fasti Scot., new edn, 3.136 · R. Wodrow, Analecta, 4 vols., 3–4 (1842–3) · H. Sefton, ‘“Neu-lights and Preachers legall”: some observations on the beginnings of moderatism in the Church of Scotland’, Church, politics and society: Scotland, 1408–1929, ed. N. Macdougall (1983), 186–96

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