Erskine, John

Variant last names: Erskin
honorificRev.; Dr.
Birth: 1721-06-02 in Edinburgh
Death: 1803-01-19 in Edinburgh
Affiliation:

Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge; Scotland's Popular Party

Education:

University of Edinburgh in the 1730s and 40s

Faith:

Anglican

Nationality:

Scottish

Occupation:

Minister; Author

Residence:

Edinburgh (from 1721 to 1753)

Culross, Scotland (from 1753 to 1758)

Edinburgh (from 1758 to 1803)

Marital status:

Married to Christian Mackay on June 15, 1746. They had 14 children.

Biography:

John Erskine was a prominent clergyman in the Church of Scotland. He came from a wealthy family, but despite his eventual inheritance decided to dedicate his life to the evangelical revival in Great Britain and America. In the mid-1730s, Erskine attended Edinburgh University where he took arts courses and began the law program, but in 1742, he transferred to divinity hall (after finally convincing his family of his desire to join the clergy). He was a leading member of Scotland’s Popular party, which opposed the law of patronage and supported popular votes for the clergy. By 1768, he became the party’s unofficial leader. Erskine was known for his dissemination of books with the hope of propagating religious ideas, and he used his influence to encourage booksellers to publish or print further editions of evangelical works at affordable prices. He regularly donated books to Harvard, Yale, the College of New Jersey (later Princeton), Dartmouth, and Dickinson College, as well as Eleazar Wheelock’s Indian School. He served as one of the chief directors for the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK), securing funds for Indian Affairs and donating £600 to Wheelock's school in 1765. However, he objected to what he perceived as Wheelock's promotion of Presbyterianism as opposed to the Church of England. Nathaniel Whitaker worried about how Erskine's objection would affect the funds provided to Wheelock by the Trust in England. Still, Erskine remained committed to Native American causes and was present at the death of John Shattock in 1768, one of two Narragansett brothers who travelled to England in the hope of preventing the Niantic Sachem from selling further Niantic lands to the colony of Rhode Island. By the end of the 1760s, Erskine had become disillusioned with Wheelock and his school, and expressed displeasure with Wheelock's management of donated funds. He feared that Dartmouth would fall under Episcopal influence and questioned Wheelock's frankness in his procurement of the College’s charter. He was also disappointed that Occom and Kirkland were the only two distinguished missionaries with ties to Wheelock. When Erskine decided that Dartmouth College, with which Moor’s had merged, was not serving the intended purpose of providing a Christian education to Indians, he stopped providing funds. Throughout his life, Erskine penned pamphlets, sermons, and five theological treatises. During the Great Awakening, Erskine established relationships with a number of ministers in America, and because of these contacts became sympathetic to the American cause against Great Britain.

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Sources:

Yaeger, Jonathan M. Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print. Love, W. DeLoss. Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England. Boston: The Pilgrim Press, 1899. Web. Landsman, Ned C.“Erskine, John (1721–1803).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Oxford: OUP. 23 Oct. 2014 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8870.