Kirkpatrick, James (1676–1743), presbyterian minister, was son of the Rev. Hugh Kirkpatrick, and was born probably in Scotland. His father was minister in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, from 1686, but with his family took refuge in Scotland from 1689 to 1695, when he went as minister to Ballymoney, Co. Antrim. There he died (1712), to be succeeded by Robert McBride, son of John McBride (qv). James Kirkpatrick entered Glasgow University in 1691, was licensed by the presbytery of Route, and on 6 August 1699 was ordained as minister of Templepatrick, Co. Antrim. While ministering there, he was a founder member (1705) of the Belfast Society, along with John Abernethy (qv). This group of ministers and laymen met for mutual improvement through study and discussion, and came to be regarded as the seedbed of the radical ‘New Light’ views, which eventually resulted in refusals to subscribe to a man-made code such as that embodied in the Westminster confession. Kirkpatrick was called (1706) by the congregation at Belfast, whose minister John McBride had fled to Scotland, and he ministered there for a few months as assistant, until it became clear that the congregation, then numbering over 3,000 members, should be divided. This was done amicably, and in 1707 a second meetinghouse was built on the same site. Kirkpatrick was minister of Second Belfast officially from 1708 until his death.
In 1712 he was moderator of the synod of Ulster, and in the following year, at the request of synod, published Historical essay upon the loyalty of presbyterians in Great Britain and Ireland. This was written as a rebuttal of an attack by William Tisdall (qv), rector of Belfast, on dissenters; Kirkpatrick's work was clearly intended to reassure government that presbyterians in 1713 were not the same as those radicals who had signed the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and who had held political beliefs inimical to the monarchy. By way of rebuke to Tisdall and his denomination, however, Kirkpatrick noted that presbyterians' aversion to tyranny and oppression was a natural development of their much more democratic church government. Though lacking a narrative structure, Kirkpatrick's book included much material which has been useful to historians. After 1721 Kirkpatrick and Samuel Haliday (qv), McBride's successor, were regarded as leaders of the non-subscribing element in the church; a congregation that supported subscription to the Westminster confession was formed, after much dissension, out of the two existing Belfast churches. Kirkpatrick is said to have blocked its erection in every way possible. Haliday and Kirkpatrick were turned away when they attempted to take communion in the new church, and in 1724 Kirkpatrick published a pamphlet appealing in vain for the restoration of inter-communion. He made speeches to synod on the rights of non-subscribers, one oration lasting (it is said) nine hours, but in 1725 the non-subscribers were grouped together in the presbytery of Antrim. Kirkpatrick was delegated to present the elaborate address of the new presbytery to synod in 1726, but synod chose to regard it as insufficiently conciliatory, and Kirkpatrick and his colleagues were henceforward barred from participation in the judicature of the presbyterian church.
Late in life Kirkpatrick, who was already a doctor of divinity, studied medicine and became MD; he published (1739) a pamphlet on a new treatment for the stone. He died in 1743 in Dublin, whither he had gone with his wife on business. His burial place and his wife's name are not recorded. He seems not to have had any children, since some of his possessions, including a portrait, were inherited by a sister. There may have been family relationships of some sort between Abernethy and Kirkpatrick, and between Kirkpatrick and McBride. An unfinished Defence of Christian liberty was published posthumously in 1743.