Isobel Traill and Rev John Wilson

Isobel Traill was born on 24th June 1643, a daughter of James Trail I of Westove and Jean Cook.  Following the death of James Fea IV of Clestrain around 1663, she married the Rev John Wilson on 11th March 1684

Mundayes morning, about fyve or yrby, the eleventh of Mairch 1684, Mr Jon Wilson, second minister at Kirkwall, wes married to Issobell Traill, relict of James Fea of Clastraine, in Stronsay

The Diary of Thomas Brown 1675-1693  (1898) - Edited by A Francis Stewart

The Rev Wilson came from Elgin, graduating at Aberdeen University.  He became a schoolmaster and then chaplain to Lord Duffus before finally coming to Kirkwall where he was appointed as second minister at St Magnus Cathedral on 16th January 1684.  At the time of this marriage to Isobel Traill, he was on the point of being transferred to Stronsay.

He was a strong Episcopalian and thus appealed to the Stronsay folk who had previously complained to the Bishop about the candidates for their kirk.  In fact, the Bishop and Presbytery were surprised to receive a letter from “the Gentlemen, Heritors and Elders of Stronsay” thanking his Lordship for sending Mr Wilson.

The Rev Wilson only ministered in Stronsay for three years, returning to Kirkwall in 1687.  Although Isobel Traill was a native of Stronsay, her family to James Fea IV of Clestrain, had business interests and property in Kirkwall and consequently the move was not that surprising.

The move to Kirkwall was initially an unhappy time for her husband as he would not conform to full Presbyterianism and he was deposed and banned from the pulpit of St Magnus Cathedral.  He was an inspired and enthusiastic preacher and published numerous sermons, discourses and poems.  He regarded his circumstances then at St Magnus Cathedral as “a fate worse than death.”

While suspended, he worked on this writings and the odd sermon where he could be accepted, for there was still support for the Episcopalians in Orkney.  He certainly preached in Edinburgh on 22nd March 1696 when his subject was  “David’s duties and deliverance - a sermon on 1 Samuel 30,6”.

His place in St Magnus Cathedral was taken by Rev Thomas Baikie AM,  whose  first wife was Elizabeth Fea, whom he had married in 1697. This Elizabeth Fea was the daughter of Patrick Fea I of Whitehall and  Barbara Traill.

Isobel Trail died on 14th November 1702.  The Rev John Wilson must have been devoted to her to judge by the epitaph for his departed wife.


Here Rests the Remains of a Woman of an untainted fame and sustained Virtue.

Daughter to James Traill of Weston, Relict of James Fea of Clestron
Spouse to John Wilson, Minister of the Gospel at Kirkwall of a stature tall and erected and of a beautiful countenance.

Conspicuous for her Piety towards GOD, love to her neighbour, Charity to the Poor and Peace with all.  For Virginal Chastitie, Continuing in Widowhood, and Constancy in a married state signal.
In labour Industrious, in Affections Patient, in Enjoyments singalarlie temperate.  In governing her Tongue, Family and Substance singular.
Towards her Husbands, Children and Friends lovely and loving.
In Prosperity Composed, in Adversity with more than a manly Courage Magnanimous.
For smartness of Wit, Prudence, Integrity, Veracity, Modesty, Hospitality , and goodness of Nature famous.
An ornament to her Sex and Surname, a comfort to her friends, and a support to her kindred.

Who not having arrived at the age of 60 left and removed to Eternity, born June 24, 1643, departed this life November 14, 1702.

Despite the family connection, the first husband of the Rev John Wilson’s wife [James Fea IV of Clestrain] having been an uncle of the wife of the Rev Thomas Baikie [Elizabeth Fea], relationships were not entirely amiable.  The Rev Wilson must have earnestly wished to return to St Magnus Cathedral.  On 3rd January 1703, he seized his opportunity.  The Rev Baikie had been sick for three weeks and had been unable to find a preacher with the result that the service had been cancelled.

The Rev Wilson took matters into his own hands and entered the cathedral and got the  bell ringer to sound the bells for the faithful to attend. They duly trooped in and, the Rev Wilson in the pulpit, the service began.

The Rev Baikie and his wife lived opposite the cathedral, in Broad St., and were surprised to hear the bells ringing and people entering.  Elizabeth Fea was a daughter of fiery Patrick Fea of Whitehall and also quite a character.  She quickly grasped the situation.

She quickly got her husband out of bed, dressed him and they both marched across the Kirk Green and boldly entered the cathedral.  The Rev John Wilson was dragged unceremoniously out, the congregation dismissed and the doors locked. This must have caused some consternation, especially as Elizabeth Fea in her hurry to dress her husband, had forgotten to take off his night cap.

The bell ringer was dismissed and the Rev John Wilson was tried by the Presbytery.  In his defence, he maintained that although he was suspended, he still had a pastoral relationship with his congregation and if the Presbytery could not supply a minister then he considered that he had a right to fulfil that need.

Better times did come to the Rev Wilson with the partial legalisation of Episcopalianism by Queen Anne with the Act of Toleration in 1712.  The Episcopalian ministers had suffered considerable hardship and collections had been taken to assist them.  In Kirkwall, the magistrates often appointed four baillies to organised voluntary collections.  It is noted that two had the names of Fea and Covintry and were almost certain to have had Stronsay connections.

The Rev Wilson opened a meeting house in his tenement at Anchor Close in Kirkwall.  He was well supported with the Baillies, the Dean of Guild and other important citizens attending.  He continued to have preach elsewhere.  In May 1706, he officiated with the Rev Davy Walker at the Episcopalian meeting house at “Toddricks Wynd” in Edinburgh and there is a set of notes for a sermon preached at the Episcopal Church in Edinburgh on 12th June 1709.

He had a fair degree of success.  In 1713, he handed over his property in Anchor Close to William Fea of Milnfield, son of his wife to her first husband, James Fea IV of Clestrain, who gifted the property to his daughter, Isobel Fea, and her husband William Traill.

The Rev Wilson eventually ministered to the Episcopal congregation in Haddington, near Edinburgh.  This was in the meeting house of Poldgate from about 1714 to 1715. The gift of the Anchor Close property may seem rather strange as the Rev Wilson did marry again and one wonder if he may have been contracted to do this when he first married Isobel Traill.