Designated by Denomination

Renwick Cargill Smith (1840-1903)

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 3: Namesake

Renwick Cargill “Ren” Smith in his Union Army uniform.

PROMPT: Are you named for one of your ancestors? Do you have an ancestor who was named for someone else (either in the family or a well-known person?)

Renwick Cargill Smith came by his name because of his Scottish ancestors’ religious faith. His family came from a long line of Scottish Covenanters.

I have previously written about the countless ancestors I have on my Mother’s side who were of the Covenanter or Reformed Presbyterian faith.

When I first started researching my tree, I naturally began to see some of the same surnames. But I also began to see some of the same strange (at least to me, at the time) given and middle names turn up time and again.

“Renwick” was one of these unusual names.

The first time I saw this name, I assumed that it had been a family name, passed down from previous generations. As I found more “Renwick”s in different families, I then began to think that perhaps it was a boy’s name that had become very popular at one time but whose popularity had waned and that that was why I had not ever heard of it.

Once I started reading more about these Scottish Covenanters, I had my answer.

*During the English Civil Wars, tolerance for the Covenanters’ staunch adherence to their own church doctrine and their opposition to the changes being made by Charles I to the Scottish Church (or “Kirk”) waxed and waned depending upon who was in power at any one time and the rule of Parliament. But with the restoration of English rule in 1660, the Episcopal denomination was reestablished, and the Covenants upon which the sect based its faith and from which its name was derived were denounced as unlawful oaths. Ignoring these mandates, Covenanters were initially subject to fines, arrests, punishments, and brandings. But the retaliation for their continued defiance of the Church of England and their refusal to recognize the ruling monarch as the head of their church eventually led to what came to be known as the “Killing Times” in Scotland.

The 1643 Solemn League and Covenant

Scottish leaders of the faith and their congregants continued to worship and hold secret “Conventicles.” The consequences of those caught in these clandestine gatherings became more serious, particularly with the ascension of James VII to the throne. Eventually, those who tracked down Covenanters were authorized to kill scofflaws on sight.

Hundreds of worshippers were hunted down and killed by the Episcopalians, but those who were made an example of and publicly executed–about a dozen or so men and two women–were designated as martyrs by the church.

Statue of Rev. James Renwick by Alexander Handyside Ritchie – Valley Cemetery, Stirling, Scotland. Photo @Kim Traynor

The last Covenanter to be publicly executed was one Rev. James Renwick. From what I have read about this Scottish man of faith, he was a particularly charismatic orator, and he was a cherished leader of the church, especially with so many ministers and church leaders having been killed.

He was hung in Gardenmarket in Edinburgh on February 17, 1688–three days before his twenty-sixth birthday. His fearlessness and resolve were apparently due in part to his having witnessed the execution of a previous martyr–Donald Cargill–when he was eighteen years of age.

So then, “Cousin Ren” (the designation written in my maternal grandmother’s exquisite cursive on the back of the photo above) was named for not one but TWO Covenanter martyrs!

Renwick Monument – Moniaive, Dumfriesshire, Scotland

Renwick Cargill Curry was not only named for the martyrs James Renwick and Donald Cargill, but he was also the direct descendant of two other Covenanter martyrs executed a few months apart in 1681: Walter Smith and David Farrie, the latter being my 8th great-grandfather!


Renwick Cargill Smith was born in Bloomington, Indiana. He was one of eight children born to Thomas A. Smith (1804-1886) and Jane Curry (1803-1876). His family were members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, and Renwick’s brother Rev. John Calvin Smith was pastor of several Reformed Presbyterian congregations. During the Civil War, Renwick fought for the Union Army in the 54th Indiana, 145th Indiana, and 117th Indiana Infantry regiments . He lived out his life in Bloomington. He and his wife, Christian “Chrissy Jane” Hunter (1845-1910) had three children that lived to adulthood. He is my 1st Cousin 4X removed.

Renwick Cargill Smith, later in life.

Besides the subject of this post, I have about thirty additional ancestors who also have Renwick as either a first or a middle name.


*A very abridged description of the Covenanters’ involvement in the Protestant Reformation at large can be found here, and a more detailed account can be found here.

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