Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gordon, James (1615?-1686)

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GORDON, JAMES (1615?–1686), parson of Rothiemay, Banffshire, geographer, and author of 'Scots Affairs,' fifth son of Robert Gordon of Straloch [q. v.], was born probably in 1615. He was educated at the university of Aberdeen, and graduated at King's College in 1636. In 1641 he was appointed pastor of Rothiemay, in succession to Alexander Innes, who had refused to take the covenant. Gordon's attitude to the covenant was not widely different from that of Innes, and he himself states that 'he ran the hazard oftener than once of being turned out of that place, as well as his predecessor had been' (Scots Affairs, iii. 207). He assisted his father in the preparation of the maps for the Scottish section of Bleau's 'Atlas.' It was probably while engaged in the map of Fife that he visited Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet in October 1642, who communicated to him a poem by Arthur Jonston (first printed in 'Scots Magazine' for January 1745), which had been suppressed in an edition of his works published that year at Middelburg. Gordon's peculiar claim to distinction is that he is the first person who is known to have preserved views of particular places and buildings in Scotland. In 1646-7 he executed a large survey of Edinburgh, engraved by De Witt, for which he was paid the sum of five hundred merks by the magistrates. It has been published in vol. ii. of the 'Bannatyne Miscellany,' accompanied with a description of the city, by David Buchanan. The survey is pictorial, and, as in the case of all Gordon's drawings, is executed with considerable skill and finish. On the same sheet are a north and a south prospect of Edinburgh, regarding which Gordon has explained that the engraver, in enlarging his drawings 'to make them sell the dearer,' has falsified both (Aberdoniæ Utriusque Descriptio, p. 20). He also made sketches of the castle of Edinburgh (reduced facsimile published in 'Bannatyne Miscellany,' ii. 398), Holyrood Palace (ib. i. 188), Parliament House (ib. ii. 401) and Heriot's Hospital ('Transactions of the Architectural Institute of Scotland'). In 1661 he constructed, at the request of the town council, a large plan of Aberdeen, which gave so much satisfaction that they presented him with a silver cup weighing twenty ounces, a silk hat, and a silk gown for his wife (appendix to preface to Scots Affairs, No. v.) An engraving of the drawing was published in vol. i. of the Bannatyne Club edition of Spalding's 'History of the Troubles.' It was also published by the Spaldlng Club in 1842, along with 'Aberdoniæ Utriusque Descriptio,' which he wrote to accompany the drawing, and a translation of the description, under the title 'A Description of both Towns of Aberdeen.' The Latin description is printed from a manuscript, apparently in his father's hand, preserved in the library of the Faculty of Advocates, Edinburgh, and the translation from a manuscript in the same volume. In the original Straloch maps and plans in the Advocates' Library are pen-and-ink sketches by the parson of Rothiemay of St. Andrews and Cupar-Fife, of the former of which an engraving was published in the 'Bannatyne Miscellany', iii. 329, and of the latter in 'Ecclesiastical Records of St. Andrews and Cupar,' published by the Abbotsford Club, Edinburgh, 1837, p. 101. In 1646 Gordon wrote a commonplace book of practical divinity. By William Gordon, author of the 'History of the Illustrious Family of Gordon,' who made large use of its materials, the 'History of Scots Affairs' is attributed to Robert Gordon of Straloch, the parson's father. But Man, in his introduction to projected 'Memoirs of Scots Affairs from 1624 to 1651,' states, on the authority of James Gordon of Techmuiry, the parson's grandson, that the historical manuscripts were written, not by Straloch, but by his son James. This is corroborated by internal evidence, although probably the parson was indebted to his father for much of his information. The author of the 'History of the Gordons' says that he had not been able to recover any of the manuscript of more recent date than September 1640; and Dr. William Gordon, in his 'Life of Gordon of Straloch,' states that, 'receiving no encouragement in a time of general distress, it was soon abandoned.' Not improbably, therefore, it never extended beyond 1640. Dr. William Gordon, writing in 1780, states that ninety sheets of the manuscript from 1637 to 1640 remained in possession of representatives of the family. The edition of 'Scots Affairs' published by the Spalding Club in 3 vols. 1841 was printed from a copy transcribed, at the expense of the university of Aberdeen, by James Paterson, schoolmaster at St. Machar, from a copy in the possession of the grammarian Thomas Ruddiman. While the volumes were passing through the press, the original manuscript possessed by Ruddiman was placed at the editor's disposal by General Gordon of Cairness and Buthlaw. It was found to be in the autograph of the parson of Rothiemay, and from the marks in the margin appears to have been written at intervals from the end of 1659 till about the spring of 1661. On the first page there is inscribed in Ruddiman's handwriting: 'This was written either (as is supposed) by the famous Robert Gordon of Straloch, or by — Gordon, parson of Rothemay.' From another copy in the possession of the 'laird of Techmuiry' Man made large extracts, which are contained in two volumes of his 'Historical Collections' in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh. The parson's father, Gordon of Straloch, bequeathed him all his maps, papers, and descriptions relating to Scotland, with the injunction that they were not to be published until they were well corrected (will of Gordon of Straloch, Scots Affairs, appendix to preface, No. iii.) Except that his remissness in the 'exercise of discipline' against persons suspected of anti-covenanting leanings led occasionally to grave admonitions from the visitation commissions, Gordon's life as a pastor seems to have been uneventful. He died on 26 Sept. 1686. He is thus characterised by Man: 'The stoicism which has been observed in that family (besides expressing strong sense in ordinary conversation in broad Scots) was likewise observed in him. He is said to have been a dealer in judicial astrology.' He was twice married, first to Margaret, sister of James Gordon, laird of Rothiemay, without issue, and secondly to Katherine Gordon, of whose family there is no mention, by whom he had two sons. The two youngest died without issue, and the eldest, James, who succeeded his father in the lands of Zeochrie, Banffshire, acquired in 1686 by marriage the estate of Techmuiry, Buchan.

[Prefaces to Scots Affairs (Spalding Club, 1841); Preface to Aberdoniæ Utriusque Descriptio (ib. 1842); Introduction to Bleau's Atlas, vol. vi. ed. 1662; Hew Scott's Fasti Eccles. Scot. iii. 214-15.]

T. F. H.