Perdita woman: Katherine Ross


The writings of Katherine Ross (nee Collace) provide little information about her family connections and early life, focusing instead on the author's spiritual relations and growth. Of her childhood Ross mentions only that she was religiously educated in Edinburgh from a young age, and began the process of conversion in her fourteenth year (NLS, MS Adv.32.4.4, fol.29r). This was followed by a long period of doubt and backsliding until sometime around 1650, when she moved north to the "wilderness" of Tain [Highland, Scotland]. Here she "entered into an everlasting Covenant" with God (fols.30r-v).

Although Ross records having a "Heaven in [her] soul for three days" immediately following this moment, most of her life was characterised by hardships, including continued spiritual struggles, bodily sickness and persecution for her bold stance as a Covenanter, "sworn to the Extirpation of prelacy" (fol.36v). After almost four years of living in Tain "like a Hermit without being one night all the time out of the house", she went for a visit in Moray County and became seriously ill (fol.32r). Ross records that the sickness only left her once she accepted God's call to stay and work in Moray, which she did for twenty years, living in both Auldearn [now Highland, Scotland] and Forres [Moray, Scotland]. Her move was approved by the minister Thomas Hog (1628-92, DNB), with whom Ross enjoyed a close friendship. A fellow Covenanter, James Nimmo (1654-1709), writes approvingly of Hog's relationship with "that eminently pious woman, Mistress Ross" (Narrative, p.26). Yet Ross's prominent position among the Covenanters appears to have won her enemies as well as friends, for she mentions the troubles caused by a jealous acquaintance (fol.34v).

In February and March of 1672/3, two of Ross's children died. Ross was convinced that God had "taken them to himself, that [she] might be at liberty to follow his call", this time southward to Falkland in Fife (fol.65r). There is a gap in her memoirs at this point, but she appears to have moved to Fife only to return to Moray around 1675. In the following years she seems to have corresponded frequently with the covenanting minister John Welwood (see MS Adv.32.4.4, fols.1-26). Welwood's letters to her repeatedly mention persecution of the Covenanters, and in 1677 Ross was "driven away" from Moray back down to Fife (fol.66r). Following Welwood's death in 1679, Ross then moved to Edinburgh. Around this time, Ross wrote her "general remarks" on the spiritual state of Scotland, and possibly her memoirs as well (fol.70v). She also composed a short, undated "Speech" (included in the 1735 printed edition of her memoirs), praising Christ for freeing her from earthly ties.

Although Ross's writings tend to gloss over any personal ties that do not relate to her work as a Covenanter, the Register of Marriages for the Parish of Edinburgh records the marriage of a Katherine Collace to John Ross on 31 January 1650. Ross never explicitly mentions her husband, but she may be alluding to him when she notes that she had "many crosses from nearest relations" (fol.32r). Her sister, Jean Collace, records that her brother-in-law was "a wicked man", and describes his death, shortly before Ross's move to Fife, as an instance of "Zion's deliverance" (fols. 83r, 86v). A biographical note in Ross's printed memoirs claim that she taught sewing, and it is possible that she began this employment in order to support herself and her remaining children after being widowed (Memoirs, p.88). The same note also mentions that she had twelve children, all of whom died young. Aside from recording the birth of twins as a special blessing from God and discussing her reasons for practicing infant baptism, Ross mentions her children almost exclusively in connection with their deaths. Ross herself died on 10 July 1697. Writing about Ross's death, Collace claims, "This loss to me none on earth can make up but the Lord Jesus can" (fol.79r).

See also the Perdita biography of her sister Jean Collace.

There is a new ODNB entry for 'Ross (nee Collace) Katherine (1635-1697).'

Biography by Faith Lanum.

National Library of Scotland: MS Adv. 32.4.4
The autobiographical writings and meditations of Katherine Ross and Jean Collace. (c. 1704)
(Author)Katherine Ross
(Author)Jean Collace

National Library of Scotland: MS Adv. 34.5.19, fols. 184-284
The autobiographical writings and meditations of Katherine Ross and Jean Collace. (after 1704)
(Author)Katherine Ross
(Author)Jean Collace