The Life of Alexander Reid, Covenanter. in Uphall

•October 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

East MainsEast Mains

Alexander Reid was the son of a tenant farmer at East Mains in Uphall parish, Linlithgowshire. The farm lay between what is now Westerton Road and Dunnet Way in the East Mains Industrial Park in Broxburn. Reid appears on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684, as ‘Alexander Reid, in Strabrock parish under [Lord] Cardross’. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 232.)

Map of East Mains

Reid was born in 1646 in Kirkliston parish. He may be related to an ‘Alexander Reid, in Humbie’, who appears under Kirkliston parish on the 1684 fugitive roll. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 230.)

Reid survived the repression of the 1680s and died in 1706. His widow, Margaret Storie, lived for thirty-six more years after his death.

At some point after 1693 and before his death, Reid wrote a spiritual autobiography of the providences he had met with from the Lord. The text was later published as Life of Alexander Reid, Scottish Covenanter in 1822.

This post aims to use selected extracts from Reid’s autobiography to place the story of Reid and his wife in the context of the Society people’s struggle in the 1680s.

Bothwell BridgeBothwell Bridge

Reid and the Battle of Bothwell Bridge
From his youth, Reid was influenced by Presbyterian ministers, but lay by from active participation in the struggle until he attended field preachings and communions in the run up to the rebellion in 1679. He was briefly imprisoned in Linlithgow Tolbooth and fined for attending conventicles and baptising his children before Bothwell (Reid, Life of Alexander Reid, 30.)

Once the rising was underway in June, 1679, Reid went to join the Presbyterian army in the West:

‘I went, having a good will to that cause, with some of my neighbours, and joined the people, being conscious that it was my duty to assist that party, according to my power, in the defence of the presbyterian principles:’

Reid says little about his experience of the rising. However, he does mention that John King, the chaplain of Lord Cardross, was captured and rescued before Reid arrived. Cardross was Reid’s feudal superior.

He does not identify who his neighbours were who went with him to Bothwell. In 1679, he and Margaret lived in Uphall parish. Two high-profile Society people, Robert Hamilton in Broxburn and John Potter, a servant to Lord Cardross, came from the same parish. It is likely that Alexander and Margaret either knew, or knew of, both men, but Reid does not mention them in his spiritual autobiography.

The 1679 Rising was defeated:

‘The cause of the break was the difference amongst them, which discouraged many; and their horses were untrained. And although one would have thought they had a good opportunity at the bridge, yet it seemed good to the Lord that they were defeated upon a sabbath-day [22 June], to the effusion of the blood of many of that godly people, especially of the foot; for many of the horsemen escaped. But many of the foot-men that were not killed, were taken prisoners, and were very harshly dealt with; but I escaped on horseback.’

Reid does not indicate whether he backed the militant or moderate presbyterian faction at Bothwell.

‘… A little after the break at Bothwell-bridge, there was an indemnity given for a time to those that had escaped. A time was set to them to come in, and sign a bond; and during this time of the indemnity [in late 1679], I came home to my own house, and was thinking of no hazard till the time of indemnity was over, wherein we were to advise about the signing of the bond: but they treacherously sent out a party of soldiers from Blackness [Castle], to apprehend William Carmichael and me. William Carmichael was not at home: I was at my own house; but by the good hand of Providence, I arose hastily after dinner, and went to a neighbour’s house: and when I was got in, there came twenty soldiers, running in all haste, past the house where I was, and went to my own house, and made a search there, and round about the yards. I escaped their hands at that time, which I thought was very remarkable; and I withdrew, and was on my keeping till after harvest, when that cruel tyrant, the Laird of Carlowrie, after our corn was shorn, and put in the barn-yard, seized upon it, and put my wife out of the house, and closed the barn-doors; and she was obliged to go to a neighbour’s house, with a child sucking on her breast.’

‘Old Major’ William Carmichael was recorded as present at the Bothwell Rising on 7 June, 1679. He presumably lived somewhere in the vicinity of Reid’s home.

George Drummond, laird of Carlowrie, came from Kirkliston parish. In 1685, he was appointed a commissioner of supply. (RPS, 1685/4/33.)

Reid returned to Margaret and the fermtoun:

‘One day I came to see her, when that cruel man [, Drummond of Carlowrie,] came with some of his servants; so that I was surprised, and could not escape. He caused his men to seize upon me, thinking to carry me to prison. Two of his men took hold of me, to lead me away prisoner, I essaying if possible to escape: my wife earnestly desiring one of them, who was an acquaintance and related to me, to let me go; but he would not. His name is John Samuel. Another of Carlowrie’s men, who was my own cousin, would not lay hands on me; but that John Samuel, and another of the laird’s men, held me fast; and I essaying if possible to escape, my wife flew to the men, to loose their hands from me, but could not; and that terrible man threw her down many times on the ground, cruelly, without mercy. He, with a staff in his hand, struck her many times; he likewise broke my head with it, that the blood ran. I put my hand to my head, and in striking again he crushed my thumb, and almost broke it. Several women in the town came, beseeching him to let me go, but he would not; but seemingly he would have killed us, and then taken our possession, but some other women came, and violently loosed these two men’s hands, my wife doing her utmost to hold the laird. I escaped their hand at that time. He took possession of all our barn-yard, in which was corn and straw, which would largely be worth 1000/. Scots. My wife and her child were driven cruelly out of the town, under cloud of night, so that we had little, of all we had, left. For at that time we had taken a farm [at East Mains], under that noble lord, my Lord Cardross; and, notwithstanding all that Carlowrie took from us, that public oppressor of the Lord’s people, Hallyards, (who was made donator by the council, to seize upon those people’s goods that were at Bothwell, in three shires; Linlithgow, Clydesdale, and Dumbarton); he also would have seized upon our cattle, had not my father-in-law agreed with him, and given him 100 merks.’

Alexander Shields described John Skene of Hallyards as an oppressor who ‘uplifted more then 8400 pounds [Scots]’ in Clydesdale. Hallyards also lived in Kirkliston parish in Edinburghshire.

Reid was bailed out by his wife’s father, perhaps out of the understandable concern of his father-in-law for his daughter and her new baby. Margaret continued to occupy the farm, while Reid hid in the vicinity of their home. Their economic future and survival depended on Margaret:

‘My wife, with some servants, laboured that farm at the east end of Broxburn for three years [i.e., until 1682/3?]; I wandering to and fro, in daily hazard. One night these troopers were sent out to apprehend some that were in hazard; but I, providentially, went from home that same day, before the troopers came; who made a narrow search; yet I escaped their hands, going to the Queensferry.

On that same night [at Queensferry] there came a party to seek a comrade of mine, whose house I went to at near twelve o’clock at night. He told me he had a way to escape if there was any hazard. I resolved to stay with him all that night; but we were scarcely laid down, when the troopers came to the door, and we hastily escaped out at a window, three stories high, and slid down the wall, without hurt, and mercifully and wonderfully escaped their hands.

There is one thing that deserves to be taken notice of, and recorded. When we were thus hardly dealt with, as is mentioned before, Mr. Walter Smith, who was an intimate Christian friend of ours, heard in Holland of our trouble and cruel usage with that cruel man, Carlowrie; both violently driven out, and forced to go under cloud of night with a young child. He wrote to us, he was persuaded the Lord would raze that man and his posterity from their habitation, (which came to pass shortly after) but wonderfully provide for us and ours, which we cannot deny but he hath done in a wonderful manner.’

Drummond of Carlowrie’s son, Samuel, appear to have emigrated to America in the first decade of the 1700s.

Walter Smith had been the clerk of the Covenanters’ council of war in the Bothwell Rising of 1679. He was a close confidant of Donald Cargill and escaped with the wounded Cargill after the defeat at Bothwell into exile in the United Provinces. Smith is known to sent letters to Janet Filmerton, a widow in Edinburgh, in late 1679.

It appears that Reid and Storie were also among Smith’s correspondents. Alongside Cargill, Smith was pivotal in establishing societies for prayer and spiritual correspondence, particularly in Lanarkshire, in early 1681. It is also clear that a network of militant presbyterians existed in Linlithgowshire during the period that Cargill preached in that area from 1680 until the execution of both Smith and Cargill in July, 1681. Given the connections Hamilton in Broxburn and Potter had with Cargill and the Society people, it is possible that either Alexander Reid, or Margaret Storie, were involved in one of those prayer societies in Linlithgowshire. It appears that Smith’s letter from Holland to Reid or Storie must date to late 1679 to mid 1680, as in late 1680, Smith returned to Scotland in time for Cargill’s excommunication of Charles II at Torwood.

Westquarter HouseWestquarter House

‘After this, my wife lived for a time in this farm at Broxburn; but persecution going on, ay, the longer the greater, one Westquarter got a commission from Lord Linlithgow, to hold courts, with instructions not to permit any to stay in the bounds, but those that would go to hear curates; so that my wife was put to it, if she would go?’

James Livingstone of Westquarter was later involved in the capture of Peter Gillies in 1685.

Lord Linlithgow was the earl of Linlithgow, He was the Colonel of His Majesty’s Regiment of Foot Guard until 13 June, 1684, sat on the privy council and played an active role in the repression of the 1680s.

The Loss of East Mains
The farm at East Mains worked by Margaret Storie and her farm servants was held from Henry Erskine, third lord Cardross, a moderate presbyterian. Cardross frequently appears in the famous journal of his half-brother, John Erskine of Carnock. In mid 1684, Lord Cardross went into exile in Carolina. Prior to that, Cardross was under considerable legal pressure for his debts and Presbyterian sympathies.

There is an accusation in Reid’s autobiography that Margaret was not fairly dealt with either by Alexander Higgins, Lord Cardross’s chamberlain, or Thomas Russell, who took over their farm. Reid does not give any date for when his wife lost the farm. Earlier in the narrative, he says she and some servants worked the farm for three years, but it is not clear from what point in time that arrangement began or ended. Presumably, it was after the indemnity expired in early 1680. There may be a second clue as to the time frame for the attitudes of the Cardross estate in the pursuit of Reid, as although he was suspected and sought for his part in Bothwell, he was not legally declared a fugitive until 10 July, 1683. It may have at around the latter date, that Margaret Storie came under intense pressure from Cardross’s chamberlain to abandon the tack on the farm, which was probably in Reid’s name. Margaret Storie would also have been suspected for the reset of her husband, as plainly that was the case. However, from Reid’s narrative, it appears that the main concern was over her nonconformity, i.e., her refusal to attend the parish church. It is clear that Margaret was determined to uphold her Presbyterian views, but that that would come at a considerable cost. John Moubray, the minister of Uphall, would have been expected to inform the authorities of Presbyterian nonconformists at some point. (Fasti, I, 233.)

Their predicament left them vulnerable to unscrupulous operators:

‘She asked my counsel what she should do: I said I would not bid her do the thing I would not do myself; she could not stay without being apprehended. Taking to consideration there was no staying without hazard; and [Alexander Higgins] the chamberlain [of Lord Cardross] pretending that my Lord Cardross and he were in great hazard for setting his land to us, (which indeed was true, according to their law) and having one Thomas Russel that was related to him, who offered that if we would go away peaceably from the farm, he would pay us for any thing of our goods we left behind; and seeing there was no staying, without going along with their sinful courses, in going to hear those perjured curates, my wife made a bargain with Thomas Russel; he promising to pay us for all he got, and she thinking to stay till our victual was threshed; so she bargained with that person, the chamberlain pressing to the bargain, and pretending all favour if we did it peaceably. The time when this was done was very near Yule: our wheat seed was all sown. There was a bargain made for the wheat, and several other things, which amounted to 420 merks, for which they were to lay down present money, and my wife and some servants were to stay till the rest of the victual was threshen, to pay the farm, and what was over, a boll to ourselves. But when that treacherous man, Thomas Russel, was entered in possession, he would pay none of it, pretending we were rebels; and also when that was done, that cruel man, Alexander Higgins, who was [Cardross’s] chamberlain, threatened and compelled my wife to leave all, threatening to bring soldiers out of Blackness to take her; and would not suffer any of the servants to stay; so she was forced to leave all amongst their hands, corn in the barn and barnyard, and did not so much as get our household plenishing, nor the clothes out of the beds; so that our family was driven away unmercifully in the midst of the winter; and those cruel men took possession of nearly all our corn, cattle, and plenishing; all we got away was about 300 merks of all we had, at the time of the spoiling of our goods. …’

Nor Loch Edinburgh 1690Edinburgh

Reid and Storie in Edinburgh and the Carolina Banishments of 1684
For the next year or two, Reid and his family lived in Edinburgh. Reid does not mention that he was declared a fugitive on 10 July, 1683, and that his name appeared on the published roll in May, 1684:

‘After we were driven from our possession in Broxburn, we went to Edinburgh, and retired into quiet places, because of the cruelty of the enemy;…Many countrymen that were taken were banished to Carolina and New Jersey; and others that were not taken, went away willingly, with some ministers, having the sad apprehension of the Lord’s departure from the land, and seeing no way of escaping the cruel enemy’s hands, without dreadful compliance, and taking dreadful bonds; so many concluded the Lord was to leave Scotland, and set up his tabernacle in another place.’

Reid meant the Carolina Scheme in which Lord Cardross took part.

Canongate TolboothCanongate Tolbooth

‘At this time I was in hazard, put to wanderings and hidings, being driven away from any thing we had, as is told before. But this one thing I must declare, there was an honest man who was taken prisoner, James Clarkson by name, a Linlithgow man; my wife, who went into the Tolbooth at Edinburgh several times to see him, asked his advice concerning me, knowing my daily hazard.’

By leaving their farm, Margaret Storie had avoided the attentions of the authorities. She was free to visit Clarkson, whom she and Alexander probably knew from their time in Linlithgowshire.

On 27 May, 1684, Robert Malloch, an Edinburgh merchant whose ship lay in Leith Roads, was given six prisoners for banishment: “James Clerksone, David Jameson [one of the Sweet Singers], Alexander Montgomery, William Andrew, George Higgins and William Grieve in Linlithgow, prisoners in the tolbuit of the Cannogate’ to banished to the plantations’. (RPCS, VIII, 526-7.)

Reid was not the only Presbyterian source to draw attention to the banishment of James Clarkson. In his lives of leading Covenanters, Patrick Walker, who was involved in the Society people in Linlithgowshire in the early 1680s, also mentions Clarkson’s banishment by Malloch in 1684. Walker was to be banished with Clarkson, but was continued in prison. Clarkson left a letter to his wife when he was banished. (James Clerkson, Copy of testimony letter to his wife when banished to America, NLS MSS. Wod.Oct.XXIX, f.302.)

Walker wrote:

‘Merchants, such as Gibson in Glasgow, and Malloch in Edinburgh, Pitlochie a Laird in Fife, and many others got Gifts of them (and, as the old Saying is, Cocks are free of other Folks Corn) who transported them to Carolina, NewJersay, Jamaica, and Barbadoes, to be their Slaves; but none of them made their Plack a Babee with trading in such Wares, which confirms what that singular Christian James Clarkson Merchant in Linlithgow, whom the foresaid Malloch got a Gift of with other Thirteen, said, when banish’d on Ship-board on the Roads at Leith, to which I was a Witness, We are the best baddest Wares that ever Malloch had in his Pack-sheet; and if Malloch, Or any other that trade in such Wares, be not great Losers, I am far mistaken.’ (Walker, BP, II, 39.)

Lord Fountainhall also records the Malloch banishments on 5 August, 1684:

‘15 prisoners, for being in Bothuel-Bridge rebellion, are delivered up to Robert Malloch, merchand, to be transported away in his ship to Carolina; where he will get 10 Ife. Sterling for each of them. And to which place they say my Lord Cardrosse is gone, not being able, for debt and cautionries for my Lord Kincairne, and his bigotrie in the Presbyterian persuasion, to keip his oune country.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, I, 547.)

That Reid’s wife visited Clarkson in the Canongate Tolbooth prior to his banishment in the summer of 1684 once again hints at connections between her and Society people in Linlithgowshire. However, it is at this point in Reid’s narrative that he clarifies where he and his wife stood on the spectrum of Presbyterian dissent. Alexander and Margaret received an offer to go into voluntary exile in Carolina. The Society people were opposed acceptance of such terms as a desertion of the testimony in Scotland. At the same time as the Malloch banishments, several Society people held in Glasgow offered a joint testimony against their banishment and those who accepted voluntary exile to Carolina. James Renwick, the Societies’ minister, also preached against the banishments.

Clarkson had advice for her:

‘He declared to her, that he saw nothing but seemingly the Lord was to leave the land and desired her to tell me, and advise me, to go with them that were going away [to Carolina]. She signified we had little to carry us over. He offered great encouragement in that particular. When she told me, I had an aversion to leave the land, but my wife seemed to be more willing than I was; yet the honest man offering such encouragement, I had some thoughts it might be a call of Providence. He sent word again by my wife, desiring me to seek the Lord’s mind, and then do what I had liberty to do; and being in a retired place in the country, I did set a day for this end as single as I could, to seek counsel of the Lord, what to do in this matter; and when I was about that work, that passage of scripture was suggested to me, Jer. xlii. 2. “And the people desired Jeremiah to pray for them, that the Lord might shew them the way wherein they might walk, and the thing they might do;” which the prophet did, and gives them the answer, verse 9–“And said unto them, thus saith the Lord the God of Israel, unto whom ye sent me to present your supplication before him, If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down; and I will plant you and not pluck you up; for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you. Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the Lord: for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand.” This scripture I got, as I thought, from the Lord, to answer my suit, and from this time I resolved not to set my face to go abroad to the plantations for safety or bread.’

Reid then leaps forward in time to the period of the Revolution in 1688:

‘This I remembered, when I heard that my worthy Lord Cardross was driven from his plantation by the Spaniards [in the late 1680s], because the Lord had work to do with him here, in his own native land. He was a zealous forward instrument for the overturning of that cursed prelacy, and the establishment of presbyterian government [in 1689]; and thus the Lord brought him back to be a famous instrument before his removal by death [in 1693];’

Hangings Alison and Harvie

Back in 1684, Reid continues:

‘so I resolved to stay in our land. Our persecution grew ay the hotter and hotter, the devil raging in wicked men, for his time was to be but short. Searches were made through all the country, whenever they heard where any of those whom they called rebels haunted: many falling in their hands, and they taking their lives in a cruel manner, not suffering them to speak on the scaffold; yea, some not to read, pray, or sing psalms: some of their lives were taken soon in the morning, some late at night, and some taken away to the scaffold as soon as ever they got their sentence.

Great searches were made in Edinburgh, the ports closed, and guards set round about the town several times, because many persecuted people came, lurking privately in the town; for their cruelty went so on, that they took men’s lives for their opinion, although they had been in no action; and not only men’s lives, but women’s also, for their opinion. Two young women [Isobel Alison and Marion Harvie] suffered in the town of Edinburgh [in January, 1681]; for they raged more and more.’

In many ways the above is a potted “history” of “persecution” in Scotland in the early to mid 1680s. Alison, and especially Harvie, who was from Bo’ness, were dedicated followers of Donald Cargill. Reid’s narrative probably reflect his experiences in Edinburgh in 1684, when many Society people were executed. He then moves on to the searches which were conducted in Edinburgh, probably in late 1684.

West Kirk EdinburghThe West Kirk, Edinburgh.

‘There was one great search, in which I narrowly escaped from the enemy’s bands. I went to an uncle’s house, near the West Kirk [now St Cuthbert’s], and continued there all night. In the morning when we arose, there was a guard standing at the door. My aunt cried, that we should all be ruined, which was true according to their law; for those that haunted them were in danger, as well as those that haunted with them. I desired her to hold her peace; and putting on a meally-coat of my uncle’s, got safely without the guard, and went to the country.’

The West Kirk, now St Cuthberts, lay outside of Edinburgh and below the north-western side of the castle rock. Reid follows his account of the ‘great search’ with the story of the assassination of two soldiers at Swine Abbey in Livingston parish, Linlithgowshire. Although Reid places the ‘great search’ before his account of the killings of the soldiers in his narrative, it is likely that the those events took place in the reverse of that order. Hanna Keir was also caught up in the searches of Edinburgh after Swine Abbey.

‘After this there was one Thomas Kennoway, a cruel persecutor of the people of God. He haunted at the Swine-abbey; he lived at [West] Calder before he took on to be a trooper. He was a most wicked instrument in these places, about [West] Calder, Livingstone, and Bathgate parishes. Many days he watched the field-meetings, and led out parties upon them, knowing the ground; and after the break of Bothwell, he oppressed all honest men that were in hazard in these places, and got money from many; oppressing the country-side mightily. His cruelty was so great against his countrymen, that one James Nimmo, a Bathgate parish man, when in hazard, fled to the north for safety.’

James Nimmo appears the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684, as ‘James Nimmo, son to William Nimmo [factor] of Boghall’. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 230.)

Nimmo also wrote a narrative of his life.

Boghall farm has been demolished for housing.

Street View of former site of Boghall Farm Steading

‘This Kennoway got notice of it, and went to the north to search him out; and having found him serving a gentleman, he attempted to pannel him; but the young man escaped his hands. [Kennoway failed to find him, as Nimmo was near Berwick, but he did find and Nimmo’s father and brother-in-law.] Kennoway immediately came home again, and was at Swine-abbey, with one Duncan Stewart, another trooper, a comrade of his: upon a night they were both slain. This occasioned a great persecution and search in that part of the country, and no man could travel without a pass, but was challenged and counted a rebel if he had not one, and bonds and oaths were put to the country people, and those that were apprehended. The persecution going on in this manner, some of my acquaintances went to the English border for safety; I, hearing of this, went thither also, and was very kindly dealt with by Christian friends in that country; and in a little time after I went there, I was employed to be grieve to a gentleman; for I had skill in husbandry, and continued about half a year in that service.’

Reid spent at least the first half of 1685 in England. The editor of Reid’s narrative adds that his wife fled to Bo’ness for ‘some time’ while Reid was in England:

‘During his absence his wife resided some time in Borrowstounness. She was a woman of great beauty, and the neighbours seeing her in a manner unconnected with relatives or friends, charitably chose to consider her as secretly the kept mistress of some cavalier. But she owed her safety to this misrepresentation. For it was not the profane and the profligate, but the religious and pure in heart that then suffered. When it was discovered who she was, she felt the necessity of seeking safety in flight, and exclaimed, with bitter indignation, as she was leaving the house in which she had resideed, “Oh, sirs, it is a sad time for Scotland, when a woman is safe, as long as she is thought to be a strumpet, and has to flee for her life whenever it is found out that she is an honest woman!” She slept that night in a coal-pit.’

While Reid was in Northumberland, the Argyll Rising broke out. Reid did not join the rebels, but was briefly seized and held prisoner at Wooler:

‘At the time when these worthy men came over from Holland, I was in Northumberland, where I was a grieve to a gentleman. In that country the militia horse were raised, to apprehend all that they suspected as friends to Monmouth or Argyle. The country was searched for any they suspected, especially Scotsmen. I being in that country, and they supposing me a stranger, I was taken prisoner at Wooler; but the captain, getting notice on the morrow that I was a servant to such a gentleman in that country, and had resided there for some time, let me go in the morning after I was taken.’

Reid and the Revolution
After his brief capture in 1685, Reid’s narrative reflects on the times up to and beyond the Revolution in 1688 to 1690, but he gives very few details about his, or his wife’s, activities. That suggests that he and his wife probably took no part in the ongoing campaign of the Society people against Restoration regime. At no point in his narrative does Reid express any approval for the actions of the Society people, their preachers or mention attending their field preachings.

However, it appears that he did notice them after the Revolution when they arrived in Edinburgh in 1689 to protect the convention of estates that deposed James VII. It appears Reid did not approve of their methods, but saw the hand of God in their actions:

‘There is one thing I may notice ag very remarkable:— In the time of the convention there were a set of men, commonly called the rabble, who, in a warlike posture, cast out the curates in many parts of the land, as soon as they got any access, although their practice was not approven of by many honest people. These men came, in a warlike posture, to the town of Edinburgh, in the time of the convention, and offered themselves to defend and assist our well-affected noblemen and gentlemen who sat in the convention; and though there were many ill-affected in the town, yet they were received into it in a warlike posture, and guarded the men who might be in hazard. This is the more remarkable, that the town of Edinburgh used not to let any soldiers enter the city, but the citizens themselves guarded it.’

The Revolution also restored Reid’s fortunes:

‘A great part of this time we were meal-makers; and we were provided for in this way, without being troublesome to others; our stock was very little when we set to that employment; but the Lord did prosper us in it, and it became better; but it was not my inclination to follow that employment, for having been brought up from my infancy in husbandry, it was my inclination, if I had my liberty, and the opportunity of taking a farm, to have taken it. The man that came to the possession which we were put wrongously out of [Thomas Russell], had taken a tack of nineteen years from my Lord Cardross and his chamberlain [Alexander Higgins], so that hopes were gone of our returning to it. Besides, our stock was so small, that we could not think of plenishing that farm; yet there was a break in the man’s tack at seven years, so that he came and quitted the farm to my Lord Cardross; who was unwilling that he should have done it, not knowing of a tenant to it. But, in the mean time, there was a man who was concerned in my lord’s interest, hearing that the man was to quit the farm, and knowing that I came out of that farm, inquired of me if I would take our own farm again? I said I would gladly, but our stock was too small to plenish it. He said, “Fear not that, for I will help you to plenish it.” I desired him to tell me when the man quitted it, and I would advise what to do; which accordingly he did, and I came in terms of the rent with him, and very nearly agreed.

My lord being but newly come home, I went to him, and told him I would take that farm. He said, “I am glad of it; there shall no man get it before you, if you can plenish it.” I said, we should do our utmost. So within a little time after, we agreed: but I had my own perplexity how to get it done; but that was not my greatest puzzle, thinking, if I should be able to plenish it, that I had been two times robbed already, and put out of two farms before this, and times seemed yet to be dangerous. What, if I should borrow from others, to lose their goods? which would be my great perplexity and trouble while in this condition. A door being opened to return again where we were wrongously and violently put from, I desired to seek counsel of the Lord how to do in this case, … After this I took courage, and ventured, and got the farm plenished by the favour of friends. And the Lord prospered us so, that at this time there is little or nothing owing to any: and we are even as well in the world as those that complied with the enemy, and went over the belly of their light-heard curates, and submitted to bonds and tests. This I say to the praise of the Lord’s goodness, even in providing temporal things. And this I commonly said of the Lord’s goodness to us, that we were among the first of the captives that returned to their own possession; and, as has been said, it was evidently the Lord’s hand that brought us back, and blessed our endeavours. Being settled here, the Lord mercifully provided the gospel in the place and congregation, and we got that eminent servant of the Lord, Mr. George Barclay, which was my very choice. Thus ye see the Lord’s good providence in providing both spiritual and temporal mercies to us, and to the church of God.’

Reid’s admiration of George Barclay, a former Argyll rebel, as the new minister of Uphall reveals his moderate inclinations. Throughout the mid 1680s, Barclay had been strenuously opposed to James Renwick and the hardline Society people. However, Reid also admired the martyrs, who were mainly Society people. Perhaps the key to unlocking Reid is his advice to this children to avoid “janglings”. Reid’s presbyterian principles could encompass both Walter Smith and George Barclay

Reid was contented with the post-Revolution established Presbyterian church. However, as he advised his children, he remained committed to the Covenants:

‘And truly I regret and lament, that these covenants seem to be buried, and, as I said before, little or no word of them, as though our fathers, the worthy reformers, had been fools, and our worthy martyrs who suffered at Pentland and Bothwell, yea, all who suffered during the bloody persecution, had been blockheads and madmen, who owned these covenants. Yet the Lord owned them, and they died in the faith, that God will own and raise up these covenants, and that buried work of reformation. I exhort you to be zealous and forward in your stations and generation, and the Lord will own you. Some may think there is some reflection here, upon both ministers and professors; but I cannot help it, for, indeed, it is my judgment, though I desire to reflect on none; but I must be free with you, expecting it will be my last advice in writ.

My children, I desire all of you that may be alive after my death, if your mother be alive, that ye be kind to her: for she hath been afflicted in all my afflictions since she and I met, and carried courageously in our sharpest trials.

As I have exhorted you to be zealous in joining with the zealous party, and purest means, I also exhort you to beware of excess, either to the right or left hand, to join with any party, that would unnecessarily rend the mystical body of Christ by divisions, not according to the word of God, or the example of the best reformed churches; for ye see the sad example in our own days, of the Lord’s wrath against such as those who followed that woful person [John] Gib, who pretended zeal; so that the Lord has given him up, and some with him, to work horrid wickedness; but has delivered some of them, who were simply led away with him, from the fowler s snare; so that here is a beacon to beware; so I shall add no more, but bid you all farewell, both my Christian and natural friends.’

At the end of his narrative, Reid, once again, returns to his Linlithgowshire background. His warning to his children was not to follow the path of John Gibb and the Sweet Singers of Bo’ness who had split from, or were ejected from, the Society people in 1681.

The editor ends Reid’s narrative:

‘Alex[ander]. Reid died in 1706. His widow [Margaret Storie] lived thirty-six years after his decease.’

Reid, and probably his wife, are buried at Uphall.

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A Horse Cures the King’s Evil in 1688

•October 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Charles II Kings Evil

Is this the story of a miraculous horse, an astute farmer or just a good joke?

In his diary, Alexander Shields recorded the following:

‘August [1688]. I was told, by ane eye witness, of a horse in or about the foot of Annandale, that cured the King’s evil by licking the sore, unto which many country people resort from all quarters.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 179.)

The King’s Evil, or Scrofula, is a skin disease which causes bluish-purple ‘cold abscesses’, or sores, on the neck. Today, the disease can be treated in most cases, but from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, English and French rituals promoted the idea that the disease could be cured the Royal Touch. When the Scottish Stewart dynasty took over in England in 1603 they continued to perform it. Although Charles II (d.1685) lived in a more sceptical age, the picture above shows that he, too, fulfilled his royal duties. Only with the last of the Stewarts, Queen Anne (d.1714), did the ritual cease to be part of the royal calendar of duties. What on Earth are we supposed to make of Shields’ report that a horse was curing the King’s Evil?

Gervase Markham

A Miraculous Horse?
On one level, Shield’s account is a straightforward record of an allegedly miraculous horse that could cure the King’s Evil. It appears that the horse had attracted a popular following in the South West of Scotland, as Shields claims that the ‘country people’ resorted to it ‘from all quarters’. Given that the folk of of the South West of Scotland had almost no change of ever encountering their king, it is plausible that the licking horse was an option.

However, there is little doubt that Shields, as a Reformed probationer minister and leader of the Society people, had a huge distain for what he would have seen as a “Popish” superstition among the country people.

An Astute Farmer?
It is entirely possible that the owner of the licking horse genuinely believed that it could cure the King’s Evil. There was also, almost certainly, money to be made from the ownership and promotion of a such horse. Was this a case of a farmer or packman using an old nag to fleece the gullible? We do not know.

A Satirical Joke?

Alexander Shields had a sense of humour. At times it can be difficult to imagine militant Covenanters enjoying a good joke, but that is one possible interpretation of Shields’ text.

The Royal Touch was a symbol, or sign, of the divine authority of the monarch. It illustrated their elevated status in what many in the seventeenth century saw as a divinely ordained hierarchy that placed monarchs above the People and below God. Shields, however, did not believe in the divine right of kings or that the soul of a monarch was any more special than that of any of the People.

Shields; record of the horse may well reflect his sense of humour, which is occasionally evident in his writings. However, Shields was also referring to reports of a licking horse in Annandale. That raises the possibility that the story of the horse reflects popular political satire of King James and his pretensions to absolute monarchy. Within months the Revolution of 1688 would break out in Scotland. Was it the King who was being compared to a nag? We do not know.

The ‘Eye Witness’
In the same entry in his diary, Shields also records that ‘in the parish of Dornoch, the Curat[e] is turned Popish.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 179.)

Shields had possibly received that information from the same eyewitness who saw the licking horse, as Dornock parish also lies at the foot of Annandale. The curate, or minister, of Dornock was Alexander Finnie, a minor poet who particularly enjoyed poking fun in verse at the extraordinary love life of the Presbyterian minister, David Williamson, aka. Dainty Davie. (Fasti, II, 245.)

Who the eyewitness was is not known, but they may have recently returned from England on Societies’ business. Dornock parish was used as an exit and entry point for some Society people crossing into England via the Sandy Wath, or Dornock Ford, a drove route across the sands of the Solway at low tide from Dornock to Drumburgh in Cumberland.

Map of Dornock                    Map of Drumburgh

For other wonders in Scotland of the 1680s, see here.

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The First Blow of a Revolution: The Felling of Mauchline’s Gallows in 1688

•September 30, 2014 • 4 Comments

Breugel Magpie on Gallows

Almost every revolution begins with an attack on the unpopular or hated symbols of the authority of the state. In Scotland, the felling of the gallows at Mauchline in Ayrshire probably signalled the beginning of the so-called ‘Glorious’ Revolution in 1688 in which a Dutch invasion led by William of Orange overthrew the regime of James VII & II…

On Thursday 8 November, 1688, ‘Jon Wilsone, [in] Spannoach.’ wrote from Kirkconnel close to the Ayrshire/Nithsdale boundary to James Johnstone of Westerhall, an official worried about the state of the kingdom after the Scottish Army had been sent into England:

‘As for that bussines at Machlleine anent the taking doun of the gallowes and that their sould have bein fourscore of armed men at the doing of it, I have spoken with verie honest men who was in Machline at that time and declares that their was noe armed men thair, and that the gallowes was sawen doune in the night time with a saw when no bodie knew of it, and that it is beleivit that it was some of thes peoplls friends who was hangit upon it that did saw it doun.’. (RPCS, XIII, 343-4.)

Westerhall appears to have been concerned by the events at Mauchline.

Map of Mauchline

There is no precise date for the felling of Mauchline’s gallows, but from Wilson’s tone it appears that the incident had taken place not long before 8 November, 1688. Wilson mentioned in the same letter that Alexander Shields, a leader of the Society people, had field preached at Upper Dalveen on 4 November.

It is clear that initial reports had blamed the Society people, aka. the Covenanters, the only group in opposition to the Restoration regime that could put 80 armed men into the field. The timing of the event and the mention that a large armed party had carried it out suggests that the felling of the gallows may have been linked to the movements of the Society people either before, or after, their forty-first convention at Glengaber near Wanlockhead on Wednesday 24 October. A date for the felling in late October broadly fits with the implicit chronology of when the event took place in Wilson’s letter, as it suggests that Westerhall had requested information about it based on reports that armed Society people had carried out the attack.

However, Wilson offers a second explanation for the felling of the gallows. According to Wilson’s sources, ‘honest men’ who had been in Mauchline, ‘the gallowes was sawen doune in the night time with a saw when no bodie knew of it’.

Wilson’s ‘honest men’ link the Society people to the act for a second time: ‘it is beleivit that it was some of thes peoplls friends who was hangit upon it that did saw it doun.’

That is a remarkable piece of testimony, as it may reveal the full significance of what took place at Mauchline gallows.


Who were the people ‘hangit’ upon the gallows?
Mauchline was not a place where the circuit courts of justiciary, which tried capital cases, met, as it was not the head burgh of Ayrshire. The circuit courts could, on rare occasions, order executions to be carried out at a different location from where they sat.

However, it is almost certain that those who were hanged at Mauchline were the five men condemned and executed there by Lieutenant-General William Drummond and a military assize on 5 to 6 May, 1685. They are the only recorded hangings at Mauchline in the Killing Times of the 1680s.

The five men hanged in May, 1685, were Peter Gillies, John Bryce, Thomas Young, William Finnieson and John Brounen, some of whom certainly were Society people.

Wilson’s report offers a degree of corroboration from an official government record that the gallows at Mauchline were connected to the execution of the Society people. The only Society people known to have been executed there are the five men listed above. Their deaths in the Killing Times are only directly recorded in Presbyterian sources. To some extent then, Wilson’s account of the felling of the gallows corroborates the Presbyterian version of events, which some historians have claimed were fabricated due to the lack of corroboration in government sources.

According to Patrick Walker, the five men at Muachline were ‘hang’d … all up upon one Gibbet’ with no time for prayers, bible reading or speeches. All five were then buried below the gallows, when ‘no coffins were allowed them, nor dead clothes; but the soldiers and two country men made a hole in the earth near by, and cast them all together in it.’ (Walker, BP, I, 260.)

Walker’s account, which was published decades after the hangings, probably indicates that the men were buried soon after their execution, rather than left on the gallows as a symbolic warning against treason.

Mauchline Martyrs

Gravestone of the Mauchline Martyrs

The site of the gallows and their execution was later marked by a gravestone and monumental obelisk, which still stand in Mauchline. Today, the gravestone to them is located in a covered shelter close to the obelisk.

Street View of the monuments to the Mauchline Martyrs

Mauchline Martyrs Obelisk 1885

The site of Execution

Who were the ‘friends’ of the Martyrs?
None of the executed men were from Mauchline or the surrounding locality, as they had been brought there as prisoners from either Muirkirk parish, Lanarkshire or beyond. That suggests that their ‘friends’ had political, rather than personal, motivations for carrying out the act. Mauchline parish was the setting for some activities by the Society people, but probabilty would suggest that those that sawed down the gallows did not personally know the martyrs.

According to Wilson’s letter, over three years after their execution and burial, their “friends” in the Society people had appeared at night and sawed the gallows down. Why did they cut down an empty set of gallows? And why then?

The Society people had previously attacked symbols of royal authority. In 1679, 1680 and 1685, they had imitated the theatre of royal proclamations when they proclaimed their declarations at Rutherglen and Sanquhar prior to military encounters. In 1682, they has burnt acts of parliament and smashed the mercat cross at Lanark with hammers when proclaiming their Lanark Declaration. Their attacks on symbols of authority were relatively rare, compared to their attacks on the more tangible expressions of the authority of the Restoration regime such as government forces and prisons. It is notable that their attacks on the symbols of royal authority took place prior to conflicts, such as before the Bothwell Rising in 1679, Cameron and Cargill’s open campaign of field preachings in 1680 or the Argyll Rising of 1685.

Was there a similar context in 1688? There was. The Societies’ forty-first convention at Glengaber on 24 October was where they had decided to assist, but not join, the expected invasion of William of Orange.

That William was about to invade had been known for well over a month and there was considerable expectation that his invasion force would set sail for somewhere in Britain when the prevailing westerly wind changed direction. Prior to the forty-fourth convention, Alexander Shields recorded in his manuscript memoirs that ‘the wind continoued westerly, contrary to the Prince of Orange expedition, for soe long as the like was rarely ever heard of.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 180-1.)

The expectation that William would sail led some Protestants to become amateur weathermen desperate to know which way the wind blew. As ever, the Lord’s hand was seen in the changing weather patterns. Protestant winds were prayed for. Popish westerlies were cursed.

Dutch Naval Port

The naval port of Hellevoetsluis

The battle of the “Popish” and “Protestant” Winds
Had the winds shifted direction when the gallows were felled? As there is no precise date for when the gallows were cut down there is no way of knowing for sure whether they had changed direction. The evidence suggests that the gallows were attacked, either in the latter half of October, or very early in November, which was when the prevailing westerlie winds that Shields complained of had changed direction. Ten days before the Societies held their forty-first convention, the wind, which had been from the south-west, turned favourably for William of Orange. His fleet departed on the 19 October, only to find that the wind changed again to the north-west and forced his invasion force back to the heavily-fortified port of Hellevoetsluis a couple of days later.

The failure of the initial attempt at invasion was almost certainly not known to the Societies when they met on 24 October, as any information about events in the United Provinces took at least several days with favourable winds to reached Scotland across the North Sea. Finally, on 1 November the wind shifted again in favour of William and the Glorieuze Overtocht, the ‘Glorious Crossing’, was underway. Four days later, he landed at Torbay.

William of Orange Landing Torbay

William of Orange landing at Torbay

The felling of the gallows was probably a symbolic act on the eve of William’s invasion connected with his expected landing. However, it may not have been a straightforward signal of support for William and his Scottish moderate presbyterian allies.

It is possible that Mauchline was deliberately chosen by the Society people for other reasons than that the gallows were a hated symbol of royal authority and the site of martyrdoms. Mauchline had also been the location for the battle of Mauchline Moor in 1648. Today, the battle site can be found in the fields next to the cemetery.

Map of Site of Battle of Mauchline Moor           Street View of Battle Site

In that encounter, the moderate and militant factions of the Covenanters had clashed with each other over the Engagement by the Scottish Parliament to send an army in support of the Charles I. For the Society people, the militants at Mauchline Moor were the first of their people to decisively turn their backs on the authority of the Stewart kings and fight for their Covenanted Reformation. The felling of the gallows at Mauchline may have been designed to send a broader signal to the Society people of the struggle that would ensue after William landed, to arm themselves, and to hold fast to their Covenanted Reformation.

Westerhall was right to be concerned over the felling of Mauchline’s gallows.

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A Rain of Blood in Scotland, October 1688.

•September 27, 2014 • 3 Comments

Rain of Blood

A reign of blood ended with a rain of blood…

It seems too neat that the downfall of James VII, the king in whose reign the Killing Times had taken place, would be preceded by a blood rain. However, that is, apparently, what happened, but that was not how the rain of blood was interpreted at the time. Such prodigies were seen, by some, as warnings of impending events. What they foretold could only be guessed at, but in October, 1688, the blood rain was linked to the forthcoming conflict between King James and the invading William of Orange.

As the time of William’s invasion drew nearer, the kingdom was ‘full of commotions and rumours of war; everyone looking for changes and revolutions, some hoping for, and others fearing the same; and almost all were expecting the ensuing of these calamities that attend war, as its inseparable companion’. (Shields, FCD, 360.)

In the month of October, Alexander Shields, a leader of the Society people, recorded the blood rain in his diary:

‘A shouer of blood seen at Langhome on the Border, while the soldiers wer there going into England. They took away some of stones with the blood on them.’ (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 181.)

Langholm parish lies in Dumfriesshire bear the Border.

Map of Langholm

It does not really matter whether the blood rain actually happened or was a rumour. What matters is that people believed that it had happened and that it was a sign, a portent, of things to come.

The phenomenon of a rain of blood was occasionally recorded in different locations in the seventeenth century. It has also been recorded in the last few years. It is interesting that Shields uses the term shower, rather than rain, which presumably indicates it was believed to have been a short, relatively localised event. What caused it, if it ever took place, is not known, as there are different theories about the causes of such events.

Even aurora, the Northern Lights, have been linked in seventeenth-century sources and in modern journals to blood rain. For example, the Reverend Law who was based near Dumbarton records that ‘in Ireland, upon the 8th or 9th of January 1681, appeared a vision of men fighting in the air, and thereafter a showr that turned to lapered blood.’ (Law, Memorialls, 179.)

The soldiers crossing into England were the standing forces of the Scottish Army, as they headed south to boost the forces available to King James in defence of his kingdoms. Their removal left the unreliable militia forces in place to deal with any organised action by the Society people in Scotland.

Colonel James Douglas William of Orange

The Scots Army, under General James Douglas, a notorious figure of the Killing Times who soon switched sides to William of Orange, began to march south from near Edinburgh for Carlisle on Wednesday 3 October. On Thursday 11 October they were leaving Penrith and reached London at the end of the month and prior to William’s landing on Monday 5 November at Torbay. (Dalton, Scots Army, 81-2.)

The chronology of the march would suggest that the army covered the march to Penrith in about a week. That suggests that the main body of the Scots army crossed the border about four or five days after the march began, i.e., on about 7 or 8 October. If the soldiers belonged to the main body of the army, as seems likely, then the shower of blood probably took place on around those dates, as the soldiers are said to have taken some of the stones with them in England.

The entry in Shields diary is only dated to October, but presumably it was written a few days or a week or so after the shower, as his next entry on the forty-first convention can be securely dated to on, or just after, 24 October.

Alexander ‘Prophet’ Peden is also said to have preached in the Langholm parish.

For other wonders in Scotland of the 1680s, see here.

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On the Eve of the Glorious Revolution: Alexander Shields’ Field Preaching at Upper Dalveen

•September 25, 2014 • 1 Comment

On Sunday 4 November, 1688, Alexander Shields held a field preaching at Upper Dalveen in Durisdeer parish…

Upper Dalveen Covenanters

Upper Dalveen © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

The preaching is recorded in a letter sent on Thursday 8 November, 1688, from ‘Jon Wilsone, [in] Spannoach.’ to James Johnstone of Westerhall.

Kirkconnel, Thursday 8 November, 1688.
‘Right honnourabil, If I had found aney thing worthie of your troubell or Sir John Dalzells anent the saf[t]ie of his Majesties peace yow may assure your selfe I would have given you and Sir John [Dalyell of Glenae] nottice therof, for I did promise at pairting with Sir John to doe the samyne. One Sunday last [i.e., 4 November] thair was a conventiekell at Upper Dalweine within the Dewk of Queinsberies bounds, quhich is within fyve mylles of Thornhill; one Mr [Alexander] Sheills preacht; their was noe peopell thair of aney quallite and the most pairt of them that was thair was weomen; as for armed men thair was very few; they doe noe trowbill to aney bodie, but calls for meat in mure houses amongst the mountaines, and imediatlie after their preachings are over they dispers and are noe more sein.’ (RPCS, XIII, 343.)

The field preaching took place at Upper Dalveen, which lies in Durisdeer parish in Nithsdale, Dumfriesshire.

Map of Upper Dalveen

The field preaching followed soon after Shields had attended the Society people’s forty-first convention, which was held at Glengaber near Wanlockhead on Wednesday 24 October.

Shields’ preaching probably took place in the hills immediately behind Upper Dalveen. It is not known what Shields preached on, but his preaching took place immediately before a day of ‘fasting, prayer and supplication’ to the Lord among the Society people on 6 November for direction over whether they should join with William of Orange’s forces when they landed. William’s “invasion” force landed in England on the 5 November. (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 184.)

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Covenanter’s Secret Tunnel Discovered in Lanarkshire

•September 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Popular tradition is littered with stories of secret tunnels used by the Covenanters to escape capture in their houses. However, there is precious little evidence for them, except in one case, that of Major Joseph Learmont of Newholm captured in 1682…

Thirty years War Siege

Learmont appears to have been a veteran soldier, given the recognition of his rank of ‘Major’ by all of the sources.

He had been a tailor, who through ability, had forged a successful military career before he commanded the Covenanter’s horse on the left at the battle of Rullion Green during the Pentland Rising of 1666.

Since he was in his late seventies when he was captured in 1682, it is almost certain that he had served in the wars of the 1640s or 1650s, either in Britain, or on the Continent. However, his name does not appear either in Edward Furgol’s exhaustive list of the officers involved in the Scottish regiments during Covenanting Wars of 1639 to 1651, or in the documents relating to Scots Brigade in the United Provinces. Perhaps less surprising, is that his name also does not appear in the list of officers involved in the Scottish Army after the Restoration. The lack of evidence for Learmont’s presence in Scottish forces may indicate that he served elsewhere.

It is possible that Learmont had served in the Thirty Years’ War for a Continental power like Sweden. His apparent knowledge of tunnelling techniques may suggest that he was familiar with military mines used in siege warfare.


He purchased the compact estate of Newholm in Dolphinton parish, Lanarkshire, possibly after 1644. The estate lay by the boundary of Lanarkshire and Peeblesshire, and the sources occasionally confuse where the estate was as it lay in both jurisdictions. He was fined £1,200 under the title ‘of Newholm’ in 1662 for having complied with Cromwell’s occupation, which may indicate that he had served, like some other Scots, in the Cromwellian army in the late 1650s. (RPS, 1644/6/317.; History of Peeblesshire, 191; The Upper Ward of Lanarkshire Described and Delineated, I, 369-70.)

Map of Newholm            Aerial View of Newholm

Learmont was forfeited for his part in the Presbyterian Pentland Rising in August, 1667, and his sentence confirmed by Parliament in 1669. However, thanks to the efforts of his “brother-in-law”, William Hamilton of Wishaw, his family managed to regain his former estate from 1673, even though Learmont remained forfeited.

‘By an attested account under his son’s hand, I find that major Joseph Learmond was under a continued tract of hardships since his forfeiture after Pentland, and was sometimes obliged to go to Ireland, and other times was under hiding at his own house, which was frequently rifled and spoiled. This year he was taken prisoner.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 410.)

In 1679, he was a senior officer in the Covenanters’ army at Bothwell Bridge and is said to have led efforts to defend the bridge. (McCrie (ed.), Memoirs of Veitch and Brysson, 480n; History of Peeblesshire, 195, 195n.)

After the battle, Learmont was identified as a ringleader of the Bothwell rebels. He appears to have returned to hiding with his family at Newholm. The surrounding area of Lanarkshire did see several field preachings in the following years, one of which, by Donald Cargill, took place very close to Newholm on 10 July, 1681. It is not known if Learmont attended Cargill’s preaching, as his later statements suggest that he may not have agreed with the Society people.

The Secret Tunnel
He was captured by Lieutenant Adam Urquhart of Meldrum of the King’s Regiment of Horse in March, 1682.

The timing of his capture is significant, as it came immediately after the killing on 3 March of a Trooper Francis Gordon, who belonged to the same troop of Horse as Lieutenant Urquhart. Gordon was shot near Mossplat in Carstairs parish. Urquhart and his troop were based at Lanark. It appears that Learmont was captured in the searches conducted as a result of the trooper’s death.

Secret passages and tunnels are a standard feature of popular culture in Scotland, although there is little or no evidence of them. Even the tunnel at Loudoun Castle, found in 1942, may well be a drain or water conduit. However, in the case of Learmont, writers of the 1680s did mention his use of a purpose-built tunnel specifically designed for his escape.

According to Lord Fountainhall:

‘On the 10 of March 1682, was Major Joseph Lermont apprehended at his oune house, neir Peibles, by [Lieutenant Adam Urquhart] the Laird of Meldrum; he had been a commander of the rebells both at Pentland Hills and Bothuel bridge. Many attempts had been made to take him formerly, but he had frustrated them all by a secret subterranean cove he had digged under his house, which, like a mine, did lead him under the ground of his yairds, and thence away to a mosse, out at which passage he formerly escaped, but was discovered this tyme.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 63.)

A second source, recorded the tunnel in greater detail:

‘March 1682, Major Learmont, an old soldier, and now about 77 years, and a taylor to his trade, who was at Pentland Hills in the insurrection, 1666, and at Bothwell-Bridge insurrection, 1679, was taken in his own house within three miles of Lanerk, in a vault which he diged under ground, and penned for his hiding; it had its entry in his own house, upon the syde of a wall, and closed up with a whole stone, so closs as that non would have judged it but to have been a stone of the building; it descended below the foundation of the house, and was in length about 40 yards, and in the far end, the other mouth of it, was closed with faill, having a faill dyke [i.e., a wall of turf] builded upon it, so that with ease when he went out he shutt out the faill, and closed it again. Here he sheltered for the space of 16 years, by taking himself to it at every alarum, and many times hath his house been searched for him by the soldiers; but where he sheltered non was privy to it but his own domesticks, and at length he is discovered by his own herdsman.’ (Law, Memorialls, 216-17.)

A local tradition recorded in the New Statistical Account claimed that the Learmont was betrayed by a maid servant:

‘Tradition says that the man-servant was three times led out blindfolded to he shot, because he would not betray the secret. Learmont having again taken the field at Bothwell Bridge, exposed himself anew to the fury of the persecutors. By the treachery of a maid-servant, he was at last apprehended’. (NSA, VI, 57.)

The entry on Dolphinton parish in the New Statistical Account, which was written by the local minister in 1840, described the tunnel as running to an ‘abrupt bank’ of the South Medwin:

‘For sixteen years every endeavour was made to secure the major’s person,—but he had a vault dug under ground, which long proved the means of safety to him. It entered from a small dark cellar which was used as a pantry, at the foot of the inside stair of the old mansion-house, descended below the foundation of the building, and issued at an abrupt bank of the [South] Medwin, forty yards distant from the house, where a feal dike screened it from view. When the noise of the cavalry reached the major’s attentive ear, the blade of the tongs was applied to a small aperture fitted for the purpose of raising a flat stone, which neatly covered the entrance to the vault; and before a door was opened, the Covenanter was safe.’ (NSA, VI, 57n.)

The minister’s description of the tunnel appears to be based on Law. It is clear that the minister had no physical evidence for the tunnel in 1840:

‘As these accounts, handed down for a century and a-half, had become confused, this detail was submitted to an intelligent lady, who was born at Newholm upwards of ninety years ago [i.e., in the 1740s]. She states, that the stones of the vault were, at an early period, taken to build the garden wall; therefore no trace of the retreat was found when Newholm house was last rebuilt.’ (NSA, VI, 57n.)

Is the Tunnel Still There?
Although the New Statistical Account claimed that the tunnel had been removed, it appears that some elements of the tunnel might remain in situ.

The wider landscape around the house appears to been the subject of agricultural improvements at some point in the eighteenth century, which included altering the course of the South Medwin, but it is not clear how significant the changes to its course were near the house.

Learmont’s seventeenth house was either incorporated into, or replaced with a new house, probably in the eighteenth century. That house was, in turn, replaced by a further house. However, it is not clear from comparing Roy’s map of the 1750s with the first OS Map a century later, if Learmont’s house and the later houses shared the same site.

There are also reports that elements of the tunnel were discovered: “In the late 1960s a secret passage or hideaway was discovered at Newholm, believed to have been used by Learmont when hiding from the dragoons.” If anyone has any information about the discovery of the tunnel in the 1960s, it would be fascinating to hear.

The Trials of Joseph Learmont
On 13 March, three days after his capture, Learmont was brought before the council:

‘The Lords of his Majesties Privy Councill, considering that Joseph Leirmont is by sentence of the Justice Court, pronounced upon the fifteen of August, 1667, found guilty of high treason for being in the rebellion in the year 1666, which sentence is ratified in Parliament upon the fifteen of December, 1669, and the said Joseph Leirmont being brought to the Councill barr did judicially confess his being in the said rebellion, as also the last rebellion at Bothwell Bridge, doe therefore give order to the Lords Commissioners of Justiciary to meet and appoint a day for execution of the said sentence’. (RPCS, VII, 361.)

On 30 March, 1682, ‘The Lords of his Majesties Privy Councill, considering that Majour Leirmont, [Robert] McClellan of Barscobe, [Robert] Fleeming of Auchinfin, ———– Haddock of Easterseat [in Carluke parish] and [Hugh] McIlwraith [in Auchenflower] are brought in prisoners as being in the rebellion, against whom there are standing sentences, doe hereby give order and warrand to the Lords Commissioners of Justiciary to call the saids persons before them and to give order for execution of the saids sentences against the forsaid persons according to law’. (RPCS, VII, 373.)

Three of the four men mentioned with him were also forfeited lairds: Robert McClellan of Barscobe in Balmaclellan parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, Robert Fleming of Auchenfin in Kilbride parish, Lanarkshire and Hugh MacIlwraith of Auchenflower in Ballantrae parish, Carrick. The fourth, Haddow of Easterseat, was almost certainly brought in by Urquhart for suspected harbouring of some of those who killed Trooper Gordon.

‘When ever any of the forfeited persons were catched in their wanderings, the old sentence in absence took effect on them, and the lords of the justiciary named a day for their execution. Thus April 7th I find four gentlemen before the justiciary, and a day named for their execution; and it seems, in these cases, a warrant was necessary from the council, who at this time assumed the powers of parliament, justiciary, and every thing which made for the carrying on of the persecution. Thcir sentence runs.

“By virtue of a warrant from the lords of council, the lords commissioners of justiciary, having considered the dooms of forfeiture already passed on Robert Fleming of Auchinfin, Hugh Macklewraith of Auchinfloor, major Joseph Lcarmond, and Robert M’Clellan of Barscob, for crimes of treason and rebellion; and having examined them they acknowledged they were the same persons forfeited in absence, and against whom the sentence is pronounced, by which they are ordered to be executed to death, and demeaned as traitors when apprehended: ordain Robert Fleming, and Hugh Macklewraith to be hanged at the Grass-market, Wednesday next the 12th [of April] instant, and major Learmond and Barscob to be hanged on the 28th [of April] instant, and the heads of major Learmond and Robert Fleming to be affixed upon the Nether-bow Port, and that the magistrates of Edinburgh see to the execution.”’ (Wodrow, History, III, 410.)

The sentences of execution were not carried out. Robert Gray, a fellow prisoner who was executed on 19 May, takes up the story in his letter to John Anderson, a prisoner in Dumfries:

‘P.S.—Barscob and Major Learmont got their sentence on Friday last [i.e, 7 April], to die on the 28th, and Hugh Mucklewraith and Robert Fleming had their sentence that day too, and should have died this last Wednesday [i.e., 12 April]. But they got a remission to the 28th; and it is reported that Barscob and the rest have offered to take the Test, and they have sent up to the tyrant upon that account to save their lives. As for John M’Clurg [, smith in Minnigaff,] and Robert N., there is no word yet what is to be done with them. I shall give you an account afterwards. My soul is grieved to see the treachery that is used in the matters of God among the prisoners, and their seeking sinful shifts to shun the cross of Christ. Oh! dear friend, seek to be kept steadfast in the day of trial.’ (Thomson (ed.), CW, 228-9.)

According to Lord Fountainhall, Learmont:

‘ouned before the Privy Counsell all his actings, but seimed to disclaime the wild ungoverneable Cameronian principles. A little after this, another of the ringleaders of that party, on[e] [] Macclellan of Barscobe, was also seized and sent in prisoner to Edenbrugh. Being both sentenced in the criminall court to be hanged, they ware repreived; as also on [Robert] Fleeming [of Auchenfin], who was condemned for the same.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 63.)

Law claimed that Learmont was ‘carried before the council, and examined; confesses he was at Pentland Hills, and at Bothwell-Bridge fight, but came only there [to Bothwell] to advise the people to accept of the Duke of Monmouth’s offers he made them in the king’s name.’ (Law, Memorialls, 216-17.)

Learmont had in fact appeared among the Covenanter army with a body of Tweeddale men on 15 June, which was several days before discussions began in the council of war over whether to agree to Monmouth’s terms.

On 20 April, 1682, the council granted Learmont and the others a reprieve:

‘The Lords having considered the petitions of Robert McClellan of Barscobe, Robert Fleeming, sometime of Auchinfin, Major [Joseph] Lermonth, [Hugh] McIlvraith, sometime in Auchinflour, prisoners in the tolbooth of Edinburgh and under sentence of death for treason, they reprieve and continue in prison until 19 May next,’ (RPCS, VII, 394.)

According to Wodrow:

‘None of these four were executed, as far as I hear. Interest was made for them, and some of them got remissions, and Barscob made compliances, and was of some use to the managers afterwards. … April 20th I find a petition presented to the council, by Robert M’Clellan of Barscob, Robert Fleming some time of Auchinfin, Hugh Macklewraith sometime of Auchinfloor, and major Learmond, prisoners in the tolbootli of Edinburgh, and under sentence for treason and rebellion, for a reprieve. And the council reprieve and continue the execution of the sentence till May 19th.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 410.)

Unlike the three other prisoners before the council, Learmont failed to take the Test oath. It would also appear that the council suspected that Learmont was more deeply involved in the rebellion than he had confessed, as they did not return him to an ordinary prison.

Bass RockThe Bass Rock

On 13 May, 1682, the council sent word to General Thomas Dalyell to transport Learmont from Edinburgh Tolbooth to the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth ‘to keep him in sure firmance till further order’. At the same sitting, the council also read the petitions of Barscobe and Fleming of Auchenfin and granted them a remission. Learmont remained on the Bass until his release in 1687. (RPCS, VII, 427.)

According to Wodrow:

‘May 13th major Learmond is sent to the Bass, and reprieved till further orders. Barscob and Auchinfloor appear at the council-bar. The duke of York declares his majesty hath pardoned them. … By interest made for him [i.e., Learmont], at this time near eighty years of age, his sentence of death was turned to a perpetual imprisonment in the Bass, though, if he would have taken the test, he might have prevented this. There he was close prisoner five years, till falling indisposed, upon the declaration of physicians that he was in a dying condition, he was let out on bail. Next year the happy revolution came about, and he returned to his own house of Newholm, where in a little time he died in peace, in the eighty eighth year of his age.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 410.)

Learmont was ordered to be set at liberty from the Bass on 9 December, 1686, after giving bond under the penalty of 5,000 merks to re-enter prison on 9 March, 1687. The bond by John Hamilton W. S. for him was received on 18 December. Learmont was almost certainly immediately released. (RPCS, XIII, 65.)

After the Revolution, Learmont was an elder in Dolphinton parish. He died, aged eighty-eight, in 1693 and is almost certainly buried at Blacklaw Church, formerly Dolphinton parish church: According to the New Statistical Account, ‘near the door of our church, under a rustic flat stone, without even the initials of his name, the mortal remains of the pious soldier now sleep’. A modern plaque was erected at the church by the Scottish Covenanter Memorial Association in 2007.

Map of Dolphinton/Blacklaw Churchyard    Street View of Dolphinton/Blacklaw Churchyard

His estate passed to his son, ‘John Learmonth of Newholm’, who was a commissioner of supply in 1704. (RPS, 1704/7/69.)

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Edinburgh’s Hangman Executed, January, 1682

•September 3, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hangings Alison and Harvie

Lord Fountainhall recorded the end of Edinburgh’s hangman in January, 1682:

13 January, 1682. ‘Alexander Cockburne (Cowban), hangman of Edinburgh, killed on[e] John Adamson, alias M’Keinzie, a blew-goun beggar, in the hangmans oune houfe, and under night laid him at his door. The magistrates of Edinburgh judged him within three suns as Shirefs within themselfes. The probation resulted upon strong presumptions against him of his guilt, as his denying that the beggar was in his house that day, the contrare wheirof was proven; the finding bloody cloaths in his houfe; the hearing groans from that place, &c. The Assise found him guilty, and he was hanged up in chains [at the Gallowlee] between Leith and Edinburgh; but never confessed the fact. He was peffimæ famæ, and had perpretrat it for greed of the poor beggar’s money. On Mackeinzie (whom Cowburne had undermined at Stirling, and got him thrust out of his place of hangman at Stirling), officiated bourreau [as executioner] upon him. It was reported, that the hangman of London having murdered his wife, was execute to death for it about the same very tyme with our’s.’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 58-9.)

In his law manuscript, Fountainhall also noted the fate of Cockburn’s wife, Bessie Gall:

‘The Provest and Bailzies of Edinburgh, as Shireffs within themselves (having called me as ther Assessor, to sit with them, and assist them), doe judge Alexr Cowburne, ther hangman, or lockman, within 3 suns (the Earle of Errol as Constable, nor his deputs entring no protestation, on the pretence of its being a current Parliament), for murdering in his oune house one of the licenced blew-goun beggars, called John Adamson, alias Mackeinzie. The probation was slender, and most of it by weemen; (which is not so usuall, unlesse it be in some excepted priviledged crimes, and that they be domestick servants: …;) and was only presumptions against him. Yet the Assise found him guilty, and referred his wife, Bessie Gall, to the Judges. The Bailzies caused hang him in chains, betuen Leith and Edinburgh, on the 20 of Januar; for it leimes they are not bound to execute, but only to pronunce sentence within 3 suns after the delict; his wife they banished.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, I, 346.)

Cockburn had been responsible for the executions of several Covenanters in Edinburgh. His duties, however, went well beyond hanging the condemned. He had mounted Richard Cameron’s head on a halberd in July, 1680.

He was also responsible for torturing prisoners suspected of treasonable plots in the boots: ‘Then the hangman put his foot in the instrument called the boot, and, at every query put to him, gave five strokes or thereby upon the wedges.’

At the execution of Donald Cargill and four others in July, 1681, Cockburn had ‘hash’d and hagg’d off all their Heads [upon the Scaffold] with an Ax.’.

And in October, 1681, he had officiated at the Gallowlee where he was alter executed at the execution of five Covenanters. According to Patrick Walker:

‘The never to be forgotten Mr. James Renwick told me, that he was Witness to this publick Murder at the Gallolee, betwixt Leith and Edinburgh, where he saw the Hangman hash and hag off all their Five Heads, with Patrick Foreman’s Right-hand: Their Bodies were all buried at the Gallows Foot; their Heads, with Patrick’s Hand, were brought and put upon five Pikes on the Pleasance-port. Some honest old Men told me of late, that they were Witness to the same, and saw the Hangman drive down their Heads to the Foot of the Pike, and thereby broke their Sculls.’

The Gallowlee lay beside Shrub Place Lane, just off Leith Walk and on the boundary between Edinburgh and Leith.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine