Our History & Our Heritage By Bill Kiefer

When I left off last week I had Thomas Campbell living in America and his son Alexander studying at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. I had a typo in the dates. Thomas came to America in 1807, not 1817.Nevertheless, they are important figures, not just to Brooke and Hancock Counties, but to America, and the world beyond. They may, in fact, be the most historically important people to come out of our area.
But, as I began this column, I realized it neither does justice to them, nor the religious movement which they were instrumental in founding, to just give a chronology of dates and events in their lives, mostly occurring around Wellsburg. Rather, I think it is important to provide some understanding of the factors at work in society which likely influenced their thinking and actions. Further, these same factors, in a broader sense drove much of the English colonization of the new world; the English success over their rivals France and Spain on the American Continent and the eventual severance of ties between the English Colonies and the mother country.
Several factors coincided for them to make their mark. While they were living in Ireland they were Scots, and were educated in Scotland. There they were undoubtedly affected by the Scottish Enlightenment.
Many of us think that the history of Scotland is one of being a peasant society dominated by the English. That is a view perpetuated by movies like “Braveheart” and “Rob Roy.” There is truth in filmdom, but History is a timeline. Braveheart hero William Wallace was executed in 1305, his chief enemy, Edward I of England, otherwise known as “Edward Longshanks” or the “Hammer of the Scots” outlived him by a few years until 1307. That is 300 years before a successful English colony in the new world. The relationship between the two countries was one of intermittent conflict or intrigue until late in the Tudor Dynasty. Most of us have heard of Mary, Queen of Scots. (Hollywood did that one also.) In any event Queen Elizabeth the First, died childless, her beheaded cousin, Mary Queen of Scotland did not. In 1603 at the time of Elizabeth’s death Mary’s son King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England the first Stuart monarch. In his person the crowns of the two counties were merged, although not their Parliaments, that occurred by an act of Union in 1707.
King James sponsored a familiar translation of the Bible into English and English literature flourished under his reign, writers such as Shakespeare, Donne and Ben Jonson were prominent while he was on the throne. King James I himself was regarded as a talented writer. Colonization of the New World was successfully undertaken during his reign. Perhaps his most enduring accomplishment was sponsoring the above-mentioned King James translation of the Bible to English. Even though the House of Stuart produced six monarchs, interrupted by about a decade of rule by Parliament and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, (following the regicide of Charles I,); it was during the reign of William III and his Queen Mary, and Mary’s successor and sister Queen Anne, that turbulence ended and England and Scotland were finally merged into Great Britain in 1707. And what was the cause of the turbulence from the reign of Henry VIII through and up to Willliam and Mary? Politics and Religion or Religion and Politics, or perhaps Religious Politics. If one remembers Henry VIII left the Catholic Church and begat the Church of England over some issues with a divorce. Whether a Catholic or an Anglican Christian practitioner should occupy England’s throne was the main issue.
After 1707, the Scottish Enlightenment took hold with a vengeance. Consider for a moment that in 1707 Scotland had about one-fifth the population of England and maybe one-twentieth of the wealth. Yet while England had two Universities (Oxford and Cambridge) Scotland had four (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St. Andrews.) The city of Glasgow became a center of international trade, particularly controlling the trade of tobacco between the colonies and Europe. Key Scottish philosophers included Adam Smith author of the “Wealth of Nations” a book which forms the basis of free market economies; Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham. Other prominent writers and thinkers included Boswell, Robert Burns, and Sir Walter Scott. Really the list goes on and on. I could do a series of one-hour lectures on this topic, let alone its influence on the Americas and the Campbells. Suffice it to say that Scottish schools and Universities in this period rivaled any in Europe for free and forward thinking.
I think that another factor was something that I referred to in an early column the subject of which was the great Presbyterian Evangelist Elisha McCurdy, buried at Independence, PA, that being the so-called Second Great Awakening. I also touched on parts of this in more recent columns such as the one on Nesley Chapel. In the early 1800’s many of the protestant Christians in America were served by ministers who rode a circuit. There were few church buildings, but faith was shared by evangelists at events called “Revivals,” that may last for days on the frontier and built strength of faith for those in attendance. The importance of these, is that they were physical and emotional experiences for those who participated. By comparison Catholic Mass or Anglican Services would seem downright formulaic and coldly rigid. So American’s in our region were likely ready for something “new,” for want of a better word. By the early 1800’s Thomas and Alexander Campbell were here and looking for that too.