Bruce, James (1660/61–1730), presbyterian minister, was the eldest son of Michael Bruce (qv), presbyterian minister of Killinchy, Co. Down, and Jean Bruce (née Bruce) of Kinnaird. His parents were grand-nephew and granddaughter of Rev. Robert Bruce who crowned Anne of Denmark as James VI's queen at Holyrood (1590). Educated at Edinburgh University (MA 1678) and licensed to preach by Down presbytery, Bruce was called to Carnmoney, Co. Antrim, but declined in favour of Killyleagh, where he was ordained in late 1684 or early 1685. After the ‘break of Killyleagh’ (1689) he retreated to Scotland, but returned to Ireland c.1691. He played a significant part in establishing Killyleagh's ‘philosophical school’ in 1697. Run by James McAlpin primarily as a seminary, it was constantly attacked by the established church, and was closed in 1714. Bruce was said to have a large congregation, and a new meeting-house was built during his ministry. In 1699 the synod chose him as a trustee for receiving and distributing the regium donum; he held this office until his death. He was appointed moderator of the general synod in 1703. During the non-subscription controversy Bruce, who signed (1721) the Westminster confession, was a moderate; he was instrumental in forming the presbytery of Killyleagh, with subscribing members who opposed any disassociation from non-subscribers in the church. These events darkened his later years and divided his own family. He married (September 1685) Margaret Trail of Tullychin (d. 1706). They had ten children; three sons and three daughters survived him. Having performed his last recorded baptism (23 January 1730), he died (17 February) and is buried in Killyleagh. Of his sons William Bruce (qv)(1702–55), a Dublin publisher, was active in Dublin presbyterian circles, while Michael Bruce (qv) (1686–1735) and Patrick became ministers; Michael succeeded his father as minister of Killyleagh.
Alexander M'Creery, The presbyterian minister of Killyleagh (1875); C. Porter, ‘The seven Bruces’, Northern Irish Whig, 16 Apr. 1885; DNB; McConnell, Fasti ; A history of congregations in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, 1610–1982 (1982); A. T. Q. Stewart, A deeper silence (1993)