An apocalyptic movement in the 18th century led by a woman who was expected to rise from the grave

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Scottish Presbyterianism
Founder: Elspeth Buchan
Founded: 18th century
Ended: 19th century
Location: Scotland
Other Names: The Buchanites, The Society of Believers in the Second Appearance of Jesus Christ

The Buchanites were a new religious movement that took root in Lowland Scotland during a period marked by significant social, economic, and religious transformations. Founded by Elspeth Buchan in the late 18th century, the group emerged during a time of rising urbanization, agrarian change, and an increased focus on commercialization. Buchan, born Elspeth Simpson near Banff, Scotland, in 1739, declared herself to be “the woman clothed with the sun” from the Book of Revelation 12:1 after moving to Glasgow and meeting the Reverend Hugh White. White and Buchan’s collaboration led to the formation of a community that stood apart from societal norms, opting for communal living and eschewing established practices of marriage and labor​​​​.

The Buchanites’ religious beliefs and practices placed them in stark opposition to the prevailing moderate Presbyterianism of the time, which was being influenced by the rationalism of the Scottish Enlightenment. Their communal lifestyle, rejection of earthly marriage, and lack of conformity to established respectability created local fears of social disorder. Moreover, the leadership of an uneducated woman who lived independently of her husband was viewed as a significant threat to the social order. Despite the general atmosphere of religious diversity and the rise of more liberal sects like the Relief Church from which many Buchanites originated, Buchan’s teachings and the group’s practices drew considerable hostility​​.

The narrative of the Buchanites is preserved through the historical accounts of Joseph Train, who compiled the most comprehensive early study of the movement. Train’s “The Buchanites from First to Last,” published in 1846, draws upon both published sources and first-hand accounts, including that of the last surviving member of the sect, Innes. Despite Train’s own biases and the limitations of his sources, his work provides a critical perspective on the Buchanites, balancing the narrative between historical documentation and the prevailing views of religious enthusiasm of his time​​.

Elspeth Buchan’s death in 1791 did not immediately dissolve the community. Instead, the Buchanites continued to exist until the early 19th century, even after many, including Reverend White, emigrated to the United States. The group’s end finally came after a failed prophecy of Buchan’s resurrection in 1841, which led to the dispersal of the remaining adherents​​.

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