Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sheilds, Alexander

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SHEILDS or SHIELDS, ALEXANDER (1660?–1700), Scottish covenanter, son of James Shields or Sheilds, was born at Haughhead, parish of Earlston, Berwickshire, about 1660. He entered at Edinburgh University at a very early age, and graduated M.A. on 7 April 1675, writing his surname ‘Sheils.’ He later wrote it ‘Sheilds;’ it is usually printed ‘Shields.’ He began the study of divinity under Lawrence Charteris [q. v.], but his aversion to prelacy led him, with others, to migrate in 1679 to Holland. He studied theology at Utrecht, entering in 1680 as ‘Sheill.’ Returning to Scotland, he thence made his way to London, where he is said to have acted as amanuensis to John Owen, D.D. [q. v.] On the persuasion of Nicholas Blaikie, minister of the Scottish church at Founders' Hall, Lothbury, he was licensed as preacher by Scottish presbyterians in London, declining as a covenanter the oath of allegiance. Strict measures being taken shortly after (1684) for the enforcement of the oath, Sheilds was so zealous in proclaiming its sinfulness that his licensers threatened to withdraw their license. He appears to have bound himself by the ‘Apologetical Declaration’ issued by James Renwick [q. v.] in November 1684.

On Sunday, 11 Jan. 1685, he was apprehended, with seven others [see Fraser, James, (1700–1769)], by the city marshal at a conventicle in Embroiderers' Hall, Gutter Lane, Cheapside, and brought before the lord mayor, who took bail for his appearance at the Guildhall on the 14th. He attended on that day, but being out of court when his name was called, his bail was forfeited. Duly appearing on the 20th, he declined to give any general account of his opinions, and was committed (by his own account, decoyed) to Newgate till the next quarter sessions (23 Feb.) King Charles II died in the interval. Without trial in England, Sheilds and his friends were remitted to Scotland on 5 March, arriving at Leith by the yacht Kitchen on 13 March. Sheilds was examined by the Scottish privy council on 14 March, and by the lords justices on 23 and 25 March, but persisted in ‘declining direct answers.’ At length, on 26 March, under threat of torture, he was drawn to what he calls a ‘fatal fall.’ He signed a paper renouncing all previous engagements ‘in so far as they declare war against the king.’ This was accepted as satisfactory, but he was still detained in prison. A letter to his friend John Balfour of Kinloch, expressing regret for his compliance, fell into the hands of the authorities. They sent the two archbishops, Arthur Ross [q. v.] and Alexander Cairncross [q. v.], with Andrew Bruce, bishop of Dunkeld, to confer with him. On 6 Aug. he was again before the lords justices, and renewed his renunciation, adding the words ‘if so be such things are there inserted.’ A few days later he was sent to the Bass Rock, whence he escaped in women's clothes, apparently at the end of November 1686.

He made his way at once to Renwick, whom he found on 6 Dec. 1686 at a field conventicle at Earlston Wood, parish of Borgue, Kirkcudbrightshire. On 22 Dec., at a general meeting of Renwick's followers, he publicly confessed the guilt of ‘owning the so-called authority of James VII.’ His ‘Hind Let Loose’ is a vindication of Renwick's position on historical grounds. He went to Holland (1687) to get it printed, but returned to Scotland, leaving it at press. After Renwick's execution (17 Feb. 1688) Sheilds pursued his policy of field meetings, preaching on a famous occasion at Distincthorn Hill, parish of Galston, Ayrshire. He certainly approved of the Cameronian insurrection, under Daniel Ker of Kersland, at the end of the year, when the incumbents of churches in the west were forcibly driven from their charges. He was present at the gathering at the cross of Douglas, Lanarkshire, where these proceedings were publicly vindicated; giving out a psalm, he explained that it was the same as had been sung by Robert Bruce (1554–1631) [q. v.] at the cross of Edinburgh, on the dispersion of the armada. On 3 March 1689, with Thomas Lining and William Boyd, he took part in a solemn renewing of the covenants by a vast concourse of people at Borland Hill, parish of Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire.

On the meeting of the first general assembly under the presbyterian settlement, Lining, Sheilds, and Boyd presented two papers, the first asking for redress of grievances, the second (an afterthought, according to Sheilds) proposing terms of submission. The paper of grievances the assembly received, but declined to have publicly read, as tending ‘to kindle contentions.’ The submission, dated 22 Oct. 1690, was accepted on 25 Oct., and the three signatories were received into fellowship, with an admonition ‘to walk orderly in time coming.’ Sheilds was appointed on 4 Feb. 1691 chaplain to the Cameronian regiment (26th foot), raised in 1689 by James, earl of Angus (1671–1692) [see under Douglas, James, second Marquis of Douglas.] On 4 Feb. 1696 he was called to the second charge in the parish of St. Andrews, but not admitted till 15 Sept. 1697. On 21 July 1699 he was authorised by the commission of the general assembly to proceed, with three other ministers and a number of colonists, to Darien, this being the second expedition in pursuance of the ill-fated scheme of William Paterson (1658–1719) [q. v.] They sailed in the Rising Sun, and reached Darien late in November 1699.

The quarrels and ill-conduct of the colonists disheartened Sheilds. He made some expeditions inland, running considerable hazards. At length, with Francis Borland, he crossed over to Jamaica, but had scarcely arrived there before he was seized with malignant fever. He died on 14 June 1700 in the house of Isabel Murray at Port Royal, Jamaica. His ‘library,’ left at St. Andrews, was valued at 1l.; he left property valued at 6,483l. 16s. 10d.

Sheilds was a little man, of ruddy visage, hot-headed and impulsive. The ‘Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence’ (1692) represents him as recommending, in a sermon at Aberdeen, ‘a pint of hope, three pints of faith, and nine pints of hot, hot, hot burning zeal’ (p. 140). The same writer describes his ‘Hind Let Loose’ as ‘the great oracle and idol of the true covenanters’ (p. 58). The title of this work is of course biblical, yet not only the title, but the illustration (p. 658) of ‘run a muck,’ was suggested by Dryden's ‘The Hind and the Panther’ (published April 1687). Its ferocity of tone is exhibited in the defence of the murder of Archbishop Sharp and in the charge openly made against James II of poisoning his brother. The strength of the book is its spirited and luminous exposition of the doctrine that the monarch ‘at his highest elevation’ is a ‘publick servant.’ In this respect it is justly claimed by his party as an able forecast of modern political principles.

Sheilds published: 1. ‘A Hind Let Loose, or an Historical Representation of the Testimonies of the Church of Scotland … by a Lover of True Liberty,’ 1687, 8vo (no printer or place of publication); reprinted Edinburgh, 1744, 8vo; epitomised as ‘A History of the Scotch Presbytery,’ 1691, 4to. 2. ‘An Elegie upon the Death of … J. Renwick,’ 1688, 12mo (anon.). 3. ‘Some Notes … of a Lecture preached at Distinckorn Hill,’ [1688], 4to. 4. ‘The Renovation of the Covenant at Boreland,’ [1689], 4to. 5. ‘A Short Memorial of the Sufferings … of the Presbyterians in Scotland,’ 1690, 4to (anon.); reprinted as ‘The Scots Inquisition,’ Edinburgh, 1745, 8vo. 6. ‘An Account … of the late … Submission to the Assembly,’ Edinburgh, 1691, 4to. Posthumous were: 7. ‘Church Communion enquired into; or a Treatise against Separation from this National Church of Scotland,’ [Edinburgh], 1706, 4to (edited by Lining, who has been suspected, without reason, of modifying it in the interest of union); reprinted as ‘An Enquiry into Church-Communion,’ 2nd edit. Edinburgh, 1747, 8vo. 8. ‘A True and Faithful Relation of … Sufferings,’ 1715, 4to. 9. ‘The Life and Death of … James Renwick,’ Edinburgh, 1724, 8vo; reprinted, Glasgow, 1806, 8vo; and in ‘Biographia Presbyteriana,’ Edinburgh, 1827, 16mo, vol. ii. 10. ‘The Perpetual Obligation of our Covenants’ in R. Ward's ‘Explanation … of the Solemn League,’ 1737, 8vo. 11. Two sermons and a lecture in Howie's ‘Collection,’ Glasgow, 1779, 8vo; reprinted as ‘Sermons … in Times of Persecution,’ Edinburgh, 1880, 8vo (edited by James Kerr).

[Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot. 1879, ii. 395 sq.; Sheild's Works; Borland's Memoirs of Darien, 1719; Crookshank's Hist. of the Church of Scotland, 1749, ii. 363 seq.; Wilson's Dissenting Churches of London, 1810, iii. 126; Acts of General Assembly, 1842, pp. 224 seq., 291 seq.; Darien Papers (Bannatyne Club), 1849, pp. 247 seq.; Catalogue of Edinburgh Graduates, 1858, p. 107; Howie's Scots Worthies (Buchanan), 1862, p. 642 seq.; Album Studiosorum (Utrecht), 1886, p. 74.]

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