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August 28th 1678

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Sweet Singers of Israel

In 1678 John and George Gibb, masters of the ship ‘John of Borrowstouness’ (Bo’ness), were made burgesses of Perth, “for their encouragement hereafter to resort to this burgh, and in hopes they will also befriend this place, either at home or abroad, as lies in their power; the town being at no expense at delivery of the burgess ticket.” 

In other words, it cost the town nothing to makes the Gibbs burgesses and might bring some extra trade to the town. This action, though showing a commendable spirit of commercial enterprise on the part of the town council was doomed to failure.

Shortly afterwards John Gibb was to embark on a new and more public career; he founded and led a small sect known as the Sweet Singers of Israel, so named because of their frequent singing of the “mournful Psalms.”  There were but three male supporters and twenty six women, but what they lacked in numbers they made up for in conviction, and their iconoclastic attitude towards organised religion ensured plenty of publicity.

They renounced the Old and New Testaments, the Catechism, the Covenants, “all authority throughout the world,”  the names of the months and weekdays and all manner of holidays. They were in fact against just about everything, “story books and ballads, romances and pamphlets, comedy books, cards and dice”  and “all the customs and fashions of this generation, their way and custom of eating and drinking, sleeping and wearing.” 

With such a comprehensive condemnation of the habits and way of life of almost everyone, the sweet Singers were not a popular sect, but it was when they finally got around to public burnings of the Bible that the authorities acted.

John Gibb and his three male acolytes were brought to Edinburgh and sentenced to be transported to the American plantations. John Gibb lived in America for the next forty years and seemed to go down well with the local population. He was “much admired by the heathen (Indians) for his familiar converse with the Devil.” 

He died about 1720.

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