John Howie, the author of The Scots Worthies, lived almost all his life in relative obscurity on his ancestral farm at Lochgoin in Ayrshire, which had been a noted place of refuge in Covenanting times.
He was born at Lochgoin on 14th November 1735, but as a child was placed in the care of his maternal grandparents at their farm of Blackshill, in the parish of Kilmarnock, with whom he lived till he reached the age of manhood. When old enough for the purpose, he was sent first to a school at Whirlhall, taught by an uncle, and afterwards to another at Horsehill, where he obtained only a very ordinary education, but where he probably acquired those studious habits, which he retained through life, and turned to such good account. And yet it cannot cease to be a matter of surprise and admiration, that one in his position, and with his imperfect education, should have been able to attain that literary eminence which he afterwards reached as a chronicler and biographer.
He was married twice – first to Jean Lindsay, who died soon after, leaving behind her an infant son; and then to his cousin, Janet Howie, a woman of eminent piety, by whom he had five sons and three daughters. It is from the time of this second marriage that he dates his thorough consecration to God; and from this time, also, he became more assiduous in prosecuting those literary labours, which have done so much to keep alive the memory of our persecuted forefathers. His book was to become a standard part of the library of many a pious Scottish household by the early nineteenth century.
Howie’s own library consisted of several hundred volumes, and he succeeded in collecting many interesting relics of the Covenanting times, to see which large numbers of people would annually come from a distance. After much domestic affliction, and after a painful and protracted illness, induced probably by the damp and unhealthy apartment in which he studied, John Howie died on 5 January 1793, and was buried beside his ancestors in the churchyard of Fenwick.[Adapted from W. H. Carslaw’s ‘Editor’s Preface’ to the 1870 edition of The Scots Worthies, reprinted by the Trust.]