Clerk, Matthew (1659–1735), presbyterian minister, was born near Kilrea, Co. Londonderry; nothing is known of his family. He attended Glasgow University around 1679, and survived the siege of Derry (1689), where he held the rank of lieutenant and suffered a head wound; he afterwards wore a black patch over the site of the injury. After the siege he studied for the ministry, and was ordained (1697) in the congregation at Kilrea (known at that date as Boveedy). He strongly supported orthodoxy during the controversy over subscription: in 1721 he was the sole opponent of the ‘Charitable declaration’, in which the synod had enjoined forbearance of the non-subscribing ministers; he desired that his disapproval should be entered in the minutes. The following year, two other ministers joined his protest against compromise with the non-subscribers, and in June 1722 he published the vigorous pamphlet Letter from the country against the position adopted by the supporters of the Belfast Society. He followed up his attack in another pamphlet (1723), which was his reply to a letter from six members of the Belfast Society; he was the first author in the controversy on either side to use his own name on his publications.
On 29 April 1729 Clerk resigned from Kilrea; he emigrated to America and made his way to Londonderry, New Hampshire, where his old friend James McGregor (qv) had been minister. McGregor had died a few months previously, and Clerk, without being formally installed, became minister in his place. McGregor's widow became his third wife and he undertook the education of McGregor's son David, who became a prominent minister in New England. In his last illness Clerk requested that his body should be borne to burial by old comrades from the siege of Derry, who had accompanied McGregor from Aghadowey to New Hampshire. He died 25 January 1735. Anecdotes and a portrait are preserved in Parker's History of Londonderry, New Hampshire, which records that Clerk (unusually, in that period) refused to eat food of animal origin, and that he was always strongly moved by memories of his military service. While sitting as clerk of the Route presbytery, he was inattentive to those around him when a military band struck up outside; his reply to their urging was: ‘Nae business while I hear the toot o’ the drum’. His military instincts were also obvious when he averred that the apostle Peter had been remiss in the garden of Gethsemane: ‘swaggerin aboot wi a sword at his side an a puir han he mad o it when he cam to the trial for he only cut off a chiel's lug and he ought to ha split doon his heid’ (Witherow, 245–6).