Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, Alexander (1587-1654)

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GORDON, ALEXANDER (1587–1654), of Earlston, covenanter, was the eldest son of John Gordon of Airds and Earlston, and Mary, daughter of James Chalmers of Gadgirth in Ayrshire. His parents were married in 1585. The Gordons of Earlston in Kirkcudbrightshire were a cadet branch of the Gordons of Lochinvar. Gordon's great-grandfather, Alexander Gordon of Airds (1479-1580), was one of the first to introduce the principles of the reformation into Galloway. He read Wycliffe's New Testament to his tenants and others in the wood of Airds. He had a family, it is said, of eleven sons and nine daughters. He yoked ten of his sons to the plough on Christmas day, made the youngest his driver, and himself guided the share, by which means he avoided the confiscation of his cattle for profaning the feast.

Gordon was served heir to his father in the lands of Earlston and others on 23 Oct. 1628 (Retours Kirkcudbright, No. 175), and to his grandmother, Elizabeth Gordon of Blaiket, Dumfriesshire, one of the eleven daughters and heirs portioners of John Gordon of Blaiket, on 29 July 1634 (ib. No. 207). In 1623 he was indicted before the justiciary court for usurping the king's authority by apprehending and detaining a man in his private prison for three hours. The prosecutor, John Glendoning of Drumrashe, considerately refrained from pressing the charge, but the judge, on behalf of the crown, obliged Gordon to find caution to appear on fifteen days' warning for sentence if required (Pitcairn, Criminal Trials, iii. 552).

Gordon married in 1612 Elizabeth, daughter of John Gordon of Murefad, afterwards of Pennynghame, and he, his wife, and their eldest son were all esteemed correspondents of Samuel Rutherford during his confinement at Aberdeen in 1636 and 1637. Several letters to them are printed in ‘Rutherford's Letters.’ Gordon was required by the Bishop of Galloway to present an episcopalian curate to the parish of which he was patron, but declined to do so, and for his refusal was cited before the court of commission, fined five hundred merks, and ordered to ward himself at Montrose. Gordon was chosen by the barons of Galloway their representative in parliament, and was member of that body from 1641 to 1649. He was also as an elder a member of the general assembly of the church of Scotland in 1641, and was a prominent member of the committees of war, and for raising forces and taxes in the stewartry of Kirkcudbright. In 1641 he was appointed on a parliamentary commission for the further examination of the Marquis of Montrose and others on trial with Montrose, the screening of whom from certain charges he warmly opposed. He stoutly repudiated the claims of Charles I to Ecclesiastical supremacy. In conversing about Gordon with the Earl of Galloway, Charles jocularly dubbed him ‘Earl of Earlston,’ and Gordon was sometimes popularly so styled. The king wished him to become one of the Nova Scotia baronets, but Gordon declined to purchase such an honour with money.

He was also appointed on parliamentary commissions for the plantation of churches and raising of taxes, but on both of these, by an ordinance of parliament in July 1644, he was replaced by James McDowell of Garthland, because ‘that Alexander Gordonne of Erlestoun is so infirme that he cannot attend the service.’ He was stricken with palsy for some time before he died, which greatly disabled him, but he continued in parliament, until 1649, and in that year was nominated for a military command in connection with the operations then intended against the Commonwealth of England. As one of the interested heritors he took an active part in the erection of the parish of Carsphairn, Kirkcudbrightshire, in 1644.

Gordon died in 1654, and a contemporary, John Livingstone, who knew him well, says he was ‘a man of great spirit, but much subdued by inward exercise, and who attained the most rare experiences of downcasting and uplifting’ (‘Memorable Characteristics’ printed in Select Biographies, Wodrow Soc., i. 343). Of his marriage there was issue three sons and one daughter. The eldest son, John, predeceased him on 29 Oct. 1645, and the second son, William (1614-1679) [q. v.], whose son Alexander, also a covenanter, is noticed in the next article, succeeded as Laird of Earlston. The third son was Robert, a merchant, and the daughter, Margaret, in 1638 became the wife of a neighbouring proprietor, Francis Hay of Arioland.

[Acts of the Parliaments of Scotland, vols. v. vi.; McKerlie's History of Lands and their Owners in Galloway, iii. 414, 415, iv. 73-6; Simpson's Traditions of the Covenantors, ed. 1846, pp. 348-50.]

H. P.