Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Skinner, John (1744-1816)

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SKINNER, JOHN (1744–1816), bishop of Aberdeen, second son of John Skinner (1721–1807) [q. v.], was born at Longside, Aberdeenshire, on 17 May 1744, and as a boy was the companion of his father's imprisonment. Educated at the parish schools of Longside and Echt (under his grandfather), and at Marischal College, Aberdeen, which he left in 1761, he became private tutor in the family of Sir Hugh Paterson of Bannockburn, Stirlingshire. Ordained deacon in 1763, priest in 1764, by Andrew Gerard, bishop of Aberdeen, he was appointed to the congregations of Ellon and Udny, Aberdeenshire. In 1775 he succeeded William Smith in the charge of the episcopal congregation in Longacre, Aberdeen. Increased accommodation was soon required; the two upper floors of his dwelling-house were converted into a chapel, holding over five hundred people. On 25 Sept. 1782 he was consecrated at Luthermuir, Kincardineshire, as coadjutor to Robert Kilgour (1707–1790), bishop of Aberdeen. His consecrators were Kilgour, Charles Rose, bishop of Dunkeld and Dumblane, and Arthur Petrie, bishop of Moray and Ross.

Skinner took part in transmitting the episcopal succession to America. It was with him that correspondence was opened by George Berkeley, LL.D. (1733–1795), son of Bishop Berkeley, owing to delay in negotiations opened with the English hierarchy by Samuel Seabury (d. 1795). On 31 Aug. 1784 Seabury applied for consecration to the Scottish bishops, who now numbered four, having about forty clergy. Seabury was consecrated at Aberdeen on Sunday, 14 Nov., by Kilgour, primus since the death of William Falconer (d. 15 June 1784, aged 76), Petrie, and Skinner. Next day the Scottish bishops, with Seabury, met in synod, and drew up eight articles of a ‘concordate’ between ‘the catholic remainder of the ancient church of Scotland and the now rising church in Connecticut.’ The fifth article recommends to America the use of the Scottish communion office; with the result that the American office (1786) owes its special features to the Scottish model.

On Kilgour's resignation of his see (October 1786), Skinner was appointed bishop of Aberdeen; he was elected primus in December 1788, on Kilgour's resignation of that office. He presided at a synod of bishops and deans at Aberdeen on 24 April 1788, when it was unanimously resolved that, in consequence of the death of Charles Edward (31 Jan.), the Scottish episcopal clergy should, from Sunday, 25 May, pray for George III as king, using the terms of the Anglican prayer-book. All did so except Bishop Rose and James Brown of Montrose. Rose consecrated Brown, and Brown ordained Donald McIntosh; with their deaths the schism ended.

Skinner now bent his efforts to the removal of the penal laws still weighing heavily on his church. Early in 1789 he went to London with William Abernethy Drummond [q. v.], bishop of Edinburgh, and John Strachan, bishop of Brechin. They were received by John Moore (1730–1805) [q. v.], archbishop of Canterbury, who gave them less help than Samuel Horsley [q. v.] Leading presbyterian divines, headed by Principal William Robertson (the historian), warmly favoured their claims. Opposition came chiefly from Anglican clergy officiating in Scotland, whose objections were seconded by Lewis Bagot, bishop of Norwich, and John Warren, bishop of Bangor. A bill passed the commons, but was rejected in the lords owing to the hostility of Thurlow, the lord chancellor, who held that there could be no bishops without the king's authority. Returning to Scotland, Skinner presided (11 Nov.) over a synod at Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire, to concert measures for further action. To this synod, for the first time since the Revolution, lay delegates were summoned. In 1792 Skinner was again in London, watching the progress of a relief bill introduced in the lords, and carried after Horsley had strengthened it by inserting a subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles. As it contained money clauses it was stopped in the commons, but at once reintroduced, and it received the royal assent on 15 June 1792. The laity were left perfectly free, unless they attended a chapel in which the reigning house was not prayed for; the clergy were bound to take the oath of abjuration, and unless ordained by an Anglican bishop could not officiate in England. A synod at Laurencekirk (22 Aug.) approved Skinner's action.

It was his strong desire to unite the Anglican congregations in Scotland into one body with the Scottish episcopal church. He had hoped to effect this by the appointment of Jonathan Boucher [q. v.] as bishop of Edinburgh. In 1793 Boucher visited Edinburgh with this view, but the scheme was abandoned, owing, in part, to the alarm raised among presbyterians, who dreaded an invasion of English bishops. On 24 Oct. 1804 a synod at Laurencekirk proposed terms of union, embodied in six articles. Daniel Sandford [q. v.] was the first to accept, in November, the proffered terms; Archibald Alison [q. v.] was the next. Skinner seems to have felt later some fear lest the union might imperil the Scottish communion office; before consecrating John Torry and George Gleig [q. v.] he insisted on subscription to a promise to ‘strenuously recommend’ its use.

In his own diocese Skinner was a hard-working prelate. At Aberdeen he built a new chapel in 1795, and laid the foundation of St. Andrew's Church in 1816. He held diocesan meetings of his clergy twice a year from 1786, annually from 1792, and delivered thirty-six charges. Like his friend Boucher, he adhered to the theologico-philosophical views of John Hutchinson (1674–1737) [q. v.] He was to have opened on 25 July a new chapel at Ellon, but died of hernia on 13 July 1816, and was buried in the Spital churchyard, Aberdeen. He married (27 Aug. 1764) a daughter of William Robertson, episcopal clergyman at Dundee, and left two sons—John (see below), William Skinner (1778–1857), who is separately noticed—and two daughters. A portrait is engraved in Walker's ‘Life and Times’ of the bishop's father (1883, p. 126). He published, besides single sermons: 1. ‘A Course of Lectures,’ Aberdeen, 1786, 12mo. 2. ‘A Layman's Account of his Faith,’ Edinburgh, 1801, 12mo (anon.). 3. ‘Primitive Truth and Order Vindicated,’ Aberdeen, 1803, 8vo (against George Campbell (1719–1796) [q. v.]).

John Skinner, M.A. (1769–1841), elder son of the above, was born on 20 Aug. 1769, educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen, and ordained 1790, episcopal clergyman at Forfar from 1797, and dean of Dunkeld; he was author of ‘Annals of Scottish Episcopacy … 1788 to … 1816,’ Edinburgh, 1818, 8vo (including a memoir of his father). He died at Forfar on 2 Sept. 1841, leaving a son James (1818–1881), who is separately noticed.

[Skinner's Memoir of Bishop John Skinner, 1818; Grub's Eccl. Hist. of Scotland, 1861, vol. iv.; Irving's Book of Scotsmen, 1881, p. 479; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886, iv. 1304; information from the Rev. H. Mackean, Forfar.]

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