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The father of Mr. Witherspoon was the minister of the parish of Yester. He was a man, eminent for his piety and literature, and for a habit of great accuracy in his writings and discourses. The example of the father contributed, in no small degree, to form in his son that love of taste and simplicity, for which he was deservedly distinguished.
He was sent, at an early age, to the public school at Haddington, where be soon acquired a high reputation for the native soundness of his judgment, his close application to study, and the quick and clear conceptions of his mind. Many, who at that time were the companions of his literary toils, afterwards filled some of the highest stations in the literary and political world.
At the age of fourteen, be was removed to the university of Edinburgh. Here he was distinguished, as he had been at the school of Haddington, for his great diligence and rapid literary attainments. In the theological hall, particularly, he exhibited an uncommon taste in sacred criticism, and an unusual precision of thought, and perspicuity of expression. At the age of twenty-one, he finished his collegiate studies, and commenced preaching.
Immediately on leaving the university, he was invited to become the minister of Yester, as colleague with his father, with the right of succeeding to the charge. He chose, rather, however, to accept an invitation from the parish of Beith, in the west of Scotland, and here he was ordained and settled, by the unanimous consent of his congregation.
Soon after his settlement at Beith, a circumstance occurred of too interesting a nature to be omitted. On the 17th of January, 1746, was fought the battle of Falkirk. Of this battle, Dr. Witherspoon and several others were spectators. Unfortunately, they were taken prisoners by the rebels, and shut up in close confinement in the castle of Doune. In the same room in which he was confined, were two cells, in one of which were five members of a military company from Edinburgh, who had also been taken prisoners, and two citizens of Aberdeen, who had been threatened to be hanged as spies. In the other cell were several others who had been made prisoners, under circumstances similar to those of Dr. Witherspoon.
During the night which followed their imprisonment, the thoughts of the prisoners, who were able to communicate with one another, were turned on the best means of making their escape. The room where they were confined was the highest part of the castle, not far from the battlements. which were seventy feet high. It was proposed to form a rope of some blankets which they had purchased, and by means of this to descend from the battlements to the ground.
A rope was accordingly made, in the best manner they were able, and about one o'clock in the morning they commenced descending upon it. Four reached the ground in safety. Just as the fifth touched the ground the rope broke, about twenty feet above. This unfortunate occurrence was communicated to those who remained on the battlements, and warning was given to them not to attempt the hazardous descent. In disregard, however, of the advice, the next one whose turn it was to descend, immediately went down the rope. On reaching the end of it, his companions below perceiving him determined to let go his hold, put themselves in a posture to break his fall. They succeeded, however, only in part. The poor fellow was seriously injured, having one of his ankles dislocated, and several ribs broken. His companions, however, succeeded in conveying him to a village on the borders of the sea, whence he was taken, by means of a boat, to a sloop of war lying in the harbor.
The other volunteer, and Dr. Witherspoon, were left behind. The volunteer now drew the rope up, and to the end of it attached several blankets. Having made it sufficiently long, be again let it down and began his descent. He reached the place where the rope was originally broken, in safety ; but the blankets, which he had attached to it, being too large for him to span, like his predecessor, he fell, and was so much wounded, that be afterwards died. The fate of these unhappy men induced Dr. Witherspoon to relinquish the hope of escape in this way, and to wait for a safer mode of liberation.
Designed and Edited by John Vinci