The Wigtown Martyrs: The Pamphlet Duel of 1703 Begins #History #Scotland

•November 28, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Toleration's Fence Removed 1703

In the decade after 1693, the 1685 drowning of the Wigtown Martyrs, Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson, passed without comment in any source. Then in 1703, what happened to them became embroiled in an exchange of pamphlets between Episcopalian and Presbyterian authors over the merits of toleration. What had taken place in the Killing Times two decades earlier was drawn into public debate.

One pamphlet from the Episcopalian side, Toleration Defended (1703), made no mention of the Wigtown case, but it drew a riposte from a Presbyterian author, James Ramsay, who had been the minister of Eyemouth since 1693. As Ramsay was born in 1672 and had completed his degree at St Andrews in 1687, he had lived in Scotland during the Killing Times, although his East-Coast background almost certainly indicates that he had no direct experience of it. (Fasti, II, 45, 72.)

Toleration’s Fence Removed (1703)
Ramsay’s riposte was Toleration’s Fence Removed, which did mention the execution of women, including that of the Wigtown drownings:

‘It is well enough known that poor women were executed in the Grassmercat [i.e.,Isobel Alison and Marion Harvie who were hanged in 1681]: sure it was not for rising in arms against the King: others of them were tyed to stakes within flood-mark till the sea came up and drowned them, and this without any form or process of Law. How many were by souldiers taken up by the way, or while they were about their Employments, examined on this or the other head, and if the common souldiers were not satisfied with their answers, they shot them dead on the spot:’ (Ramsay, Toleration’s Fence Removed, 7-8.)

It is clear from the stock phrases that Ramsay used in his description of the drowning that his information on the Wigtown case was recycled evidence found earlier published sources. In particular, he probably drew on two works by Alexander Shields, and/or one by Gilbert Rule, which recycled Shields.

Wigtown Martyrs

In A Hind Let Loose (1687), Shields stated that ‘some were hanged, some drowned, tied to stakes within the sea-mark, to be devoured gradually with the growing waves’ and in the frontispiece illustration that ‘women hanged others drowned at stakes in the sea’.

In A Short Memorial of the Sufferings and Grievances (1690), Shields also noted that two women were ‘most illegally condemned and most unceremoniously drowned at stakes within the sea-mark’. While Rule in 1691 reported that ‘two women, […], and caused them to be tied to a stake within the sea-mark of Wigtown, and left them there till the tide overflowed them; and this was done, without any legal trial’.

Ramsay did not impart any new information about the Wigtown case. Other earlier sources had named the two women, confirmed one was old and the other young, and identified those said to be responsible for their deaths. Nearly all of the Presbyterian sources before Ramsay followed Alexander Shields’ lead that the women had been tied to stakes and drowned and that their execution was illegal. That was because all of the other writers on the subject – Rule, Ridpath and Alexander Shields’ brother, Michael – drew directly on Alexander Shields’ works. In 1703, Ramsay followed the same lead in Toleration’s Fence Removed.

However, unremarkable though it was in terms of content, Toleration’s Fence Removed proved to be significant as it kick started a debate over what actually happened at Wigtown. Ramsay intended to use the case of the Wigtown Martyrs to make a point about the illegal nature of the persecution. It was his questioning of the legality of what was done that drew forth a truly remarkable reply from an Episcopalian author which admitted that they were drowned. That will be the subject of the next post.

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

Witch Hunt Podcast #History #Scotland

•November 8, 2019 • Leave a Comment

This is a truly fascinating and ground-breaking podcast on the Witch Hunt in Scotland. Six wonderful episodes are just starting here. This will go into the Witch Hunt as never before …

Devils Witches Dance

Rediscovered for #History: The Covenanter of Carlin’s Cove in Galloway #Scotland

•October 13, 2019 • 3 Comments


Carlin's Cove in Kirkcudbright Bay

Yet again, the excellent historical research of Nic Coombey and the Solway Firth Partnership has uncovered a lost Covenanter’s cave. Located on the west side of Kirkcudbright Bay in Galloway, the story of Carlin’s Cove had slipped from memory.

It is remarkable discovery. At first sight, it seemed to be an unreliable traditional story of a Covenanter in the cave, but then, as we dug a little deeper, it connects to real historical events in the Killing Times of 1685 in Borgue parish…

The Tradition of Carlin’s Cove
Let us begin with the tradition that the Solway Firth Partnership revealed found in a work published in 1824:

‘Carlines Co’ — A very small cove on the west side of the river Dee, and one of the most lonely and romantic any where to be seen. When the bloody Grier o’ Lagg and the Douglass’s [i.e., Colonel James and Captain Thomas] hunted the Covenanters over hill and dale, a poor man of the name of Dixon took up his abode in Carlines Co’, and lived the whole of the time that foul persecution lasted, on the shell-fish he gathered on the seashore beside him, the which he found means to broil on a fire by night: thus he eluded the foes of his clan, the foes of God and man.

The mouth of the cave is quite covered with brush-wood; at the farther end or benmost bore of it, remains yet his seat — a square sea-stone: on it I expected to find an inscription of some kind or other, but was deceived. The Assmidden [i.e., ash pit], and other remains of fire, to be met with, together with the general appearance of the cave, left no doubt on my mind but that it had been once inhabited, and for a considerable time.’ (Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 115.)

Map of Carlin’s Cave

Carlin's Cove Senwick Bay

The Cove is found on the first OS map and shown a little more clearly on the later 25-inch map, but it does not appear on the modern OS map.

The nineteenth-century OS name book for Borgue parish lists the Cove under Senwick Bay, but it makes no reference to the tradition of “Dixon” at all: “On one side of the bay is a natural cavity called “Carlin’s Cove” beyond [it?] there is no interest attached to [the] bay.”

Back in late 1684, there were several fugitives in hiding in Borgue parish. One of them is of particular interest in relation to the tradition of “Dixon” and the Cove.


The Fugitive John Richardson in 1684
It appears that the tradition of “Dixon” is based on a local fugitive called John Richardson. Dixon should probably be rendered as the Scottish surname Dickson, and Dick is, of course, the short form of Richard. It seems that tradition remembered Richardson as Dixon.

There is strong evidence that tradition changed the name. ‘John Richardson, there’ is listed on the published Fugitive Roll of 5 May, 1684. We know that he was still a fugitive in late 1684, as according to a summons to a circuit court held in Kirkcudbright, ‘Mareon McKie in Over Sennick’ was brought before the court ‘for conversing with and resetting John Richardsone, rebell;’ (RPCS, IX, 375.)

Reset means hiding and suppling a fugitive.

Carlin's Cove Upper Senwick

Over Sennick, now Upper Senwick, lies right next to Carlin’s Cove and Senwick Bay.

Map of Upper Senwick

Richardson may well have had good reasons to hide in Carlin’s Cove during the Killing Times. As a fugitive in hiding, he almost certainly evaded taking the Abjuration oath in January, 1685, that renounced the United Societies war of assassinations against known state “persecutors”.


A close neighbour and fellow fugitive, Grizel Fullarton, the good wife of Balmangan, was threatened with execution by drowning at Kirkcudbright by the Abjuration court there for evading exactly the same oath. Execution by drowning only applied to obdurate militant women who refused the oath. Richardson, as a man. would have faced hanging, banishment or summary field execution, if discovered and he failed to take the oath. He apparently took to the Carlin’s Cove.

There is also a Scots poem on “Dixon” in the Gallovidian Encyclopedia:

“There sat the lanely trimmling wight,
Fear hardly let him draw his breath,
For every hour by day and night,
He dreaded that he’d meet his death.

A day o’ storm — a night fu’ black,
War seasons whan his soul had ease;
Light e’er flung him on the rack,
Grim terror did poor Dixon tease.

He lang’d na for the brade bright moon,
But wish’d her ay ahint a clud;
When morning came he griend for noon.
The darker — less his heart did thud.

Gif that the heron ga’e a scraigh,
While staging on the saunie shore;
Or shelldrake ‘mang the craigs, a squaigh,
His cauld sweat gush’d frae every pore.

He’d shade the binwud door aside,
And through the wunnock sleely peep;
And whan he saw nought but the tide,
He hurkled ben, and hauflins fell asleep.”

For more on the Covenanters of Borgue parish, see here.

For more on the Solway Firth Partnership, see here.

Photograph of Carlin’s Cove © Copyright the Solway Firth Partnership and reproduced by kind permission.

Five Covenanters Hanged at the Gallowlee near Edinburgh, 10 October, 1681 #History #Scotland

•October 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Edinburgh Tolbooth Street View

All other historical sources state the execution of five Covenanters took place on 10 October, 1681, however, the records of Edinburgh Tolbooth places their hanging at the Gallowlee between Edinburgh and Leith on 17 October. The latter date is probably in error.

October 17th 1681:
Patrick forman Robert Garnock Alexander Russell David fferies and James Stewart all hanged at the Gallowlee for high treasone and denying the Kings authoritie’ (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, VIII, 117.)

The Wigtown Martyrs: Historical Narrative Sources #History #Scotland

•September 27, 2019 • 2 Comments

A diagram of the historical narrative sources for the summary execution by drowning of the Wigtown Martyrs, Margaret Wilson and Margaret McLachlan, in 1685.


Five Covenanters Escape From the Canongate Tolbooth in late 1685 #History #Edinburgh #Scotland

•August 18, 2019 • 2 Comments

Canongate Tolbooth

On 24 November, 1685, five Covenanters broke out of the Canongate Tolbooth in Edinburgh. Their stories link to intriguing events, including an attack on a castle, about which little is known…

Lauder of Fountainhall recorded their escape under 24 November 1685: ‘At night, the Canongate Tolbuith was broke, and 5 of the Privy Counsell’s prisoners, who ware in for conventicles, &c., escaped.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, II, 679.)

1. John Sloss, portioner of Dalfarson, Dalmellington parish, Ayrshire.
At some point, probably too late for the mass banishments at the end of July in 1685, John Sloss was captured, brought to Edinburgh and imprisoned in the Canongate Tolbooth.

He was probably the ‘John Sloas, portioner of Dalharfrow’ in Dalmellington parish, Ayrshire, who was listed on the fugitive roll published in May, 1684. Dalmellington parish witnessed significant military activity during the summer of 1685 and it is possible that it led to the capture of Sloss.

Dalharfrow is now called Dalfarson.

Map of Dalfarson

We will return to the story of John Sloss, below.

He and four others escaped …

When Did They Escape?
After the escape, General William Drummond held ‘examinationes anent the escape of the prisoners furth of the tolbooth of the Cannogate’ on 27 November. According to his list, ‘James Templetoune; Gilbert McIlwrick; John Sloch [Sloss or Sluce]; John Strang, Hugh McMaisters[, smith]’ had escaped on 6 October [which is probably a recording/transcription error for the date of the escape as an inquiry into the escape would have immediately followed it]. (RPCS, XI, 368, See also XI, 571.)

24 November is probably the date they escaped.

Who escaped with John Sloss?

2. James Templeton ‘in Lesmahagow’, Lesmahagow parish, Lanarkshire.
A ‘John Templeton, in Threpwood [i.e. Threepwood]’, Lesmahagow parish had appeared on the fugitive roll published in May, 1684.

Map of Threepwood

Whether James ‘in Lesmahagow [parish?]’ was related to John Templeton in Threepwood is not clear.

On 15 October, 1685, the privy council allowed ‘James Templeton in Lesmahagow, to consider the oath of allegiance till the next meeting.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 223.)

3. Gilbert McIlwraith in Daljarrock, Colmonell parish, Ayrshire.
‘Gilbert MacKilwrath, in Dalwharroch [i.e., Daljarrock]’ appeared on the fugitive roll published in May, 1684.

Map of Daljarrock

He was examined before the privy council on 15 October. ‘Gilbert M’Ilwrick in Colmmonel [parish]’, a prisoner in Edinburgh, was brought before the privy council and ordered to be tried for ‘not owning the king’s authority, and refusing to take the oaths of allegiance and abjuration’, as council remitted ‘James Patrick indweller in Kilmarnock, Alexander M’Millan born in Nithsdale, and Gilbert M’Ilwrick in Commonel, to be tried before the justices, for their not owning the king’s authority, and refusing to take the oaths of allegiance or abjuration.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 223.)

Gilbert was possibly kin to Daniel McIlwraith, who was summarily executed in 1685.

Gilbert was remitted to the justices with James Patrick, who was possibly the ‘James Patrick, in Wardlaw’, now West, or East, Wardlaw, in Kilmarnock parish who was also listed on the published fugitive roll in May, 1684.

The fourth prisoner to escape was from Kilbride parish.

4. John Strang of Crosshill, Kilbride parish, Lanarkshire.
‘John Strang, of Corshill [i.e., of Crosshill]’ appeared on the fugitive roll published in May, 1684.

Map of Crosshill

The final prisoner to escape is intriguing, as his story records an attack by Covenanters on a castle in Wigtownshire.

Wigtown List Balneil

5. Hugh McMaster in Balneil, Glenluce parish, Wigtownshire.
McMaster appears on parish list for Glenluce in October, 1684, under Balneil, as an irregular attender of church.

On 15 October, 1685, the privy council appointed that ‘Hugh M’Kinasters, who has made discoveries of several persons rebels in Galloway, and who were accessory to the attack of the castle of Stranraer, whereof some are taken, to be further examined upon oath by the earl of Balcarras and [John Graham of] Claverhouse.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 223.)

McMaster was a blacksmith who probably ran a smithy in New Luce, which is next to Balneil.

Map of Balneil

As a blacksmith, McMasters had a particular skill set, either in relation to arms, or horses, which was of use for the attackers at some point in their armed attack on St Johns Castle. He had vital intelligence of who was involved.


The Attack on St Johns Castle in Stranraer in 1685.
McMasters had apparently revealed important intelligence about which Covenanters had taken part in an attack on St Johns Castle in Stranraer. It is not clear when that attack took place, but given that James Renwick’s Society people attacked other castles, towers and tolbooths to rescue prisoners or acquire arms between late 1684 and the summer of 1685, that is probably when the attack took place.

Map of St Johns Castle

Street View of St Johns Castle

It appears that McMasters was captured at some point after the attack on St Johns Castle and that his intelligence had led to the capture of ‘several persons rebels in Galloway, and who were accessory to the attack of the castle of Stranraer, whereof some are taken.’

That probably points to the summer of 1685 as the time of the attack, as his case was dealt with in October.

However, McMasters, who was probably directly implicated in assisting the attack, chose not to remain in prison even though he had provided intelligence of it.

Escaping the Canongate
The Canongate Tolbooth seems to have had a problem with prisoners escaping. On 22 December, 1685, a summons was issued to Walter Young, the keeper of the Canongate Tolbooth. It lists the same five prisoners: ‘James Templetoun; Gilbert McIlwrick; John Sloch [Sloss]; John Strang, Heugh McMaisters’. According to the summons, the ‘fyve escapt … would neither oune us nor our authority and who being examined did adhere to their seditious principles and were thereupon sent strict prisoners to the said tolbooth’. (RPCS, IX, 420.)

Sloss and the four others were not the only militants who had escaped. According to the summons, Allan Currie, ‘incarcerat for being in arms against us, denying our [au]thority and approving of the Sanqwhar Declaration [of 1680], the Bishops murder [in 1679] and all the rest of the treasonable opinions’ had made his escape ‘in November last’, i.e., the same month that the others had escaped. (RPCS, IX, 420.)

The summons also mentions that a ‘Helen Frazer, incarcerat for denying of our authority and harbouring of rebells, made their (sic) escape’ in a unspecified month. On 26 January 1686, the keeper claimed that Frazer was released, as she was there on private business, not public account, and set at liberty by those who had imprisoned her. (RPCS, XI, 420, 512.)

John Sloss is Recaptured
Sloss was apparently still a liberty in late January, 1686, as the former keeper of the tolbooth could not produce him at that time to refute claims against him that he had let prisoners escape.

What happened next is probably found in an undated document found in the registers of the privy council:

‘John Sloss, prisoner in the tolbooth off Edinburgh, wes aprehended be Captain Strachans dragoons for being in arms with [James] Renek att field conventickells. He denyes the kings authoritie, and will not bidd God save the King. Its lykwayes informed he break the tolbooth off the Cannongatt [in November, 1685], and wes e[n]devoring to make his escape out of the tolbooth off Wighton. He had no armes when he wes taken.’ (RPCS, XI, 431.)

It is clear that when that document was written that John Sloss was a prisoner in Edinburgh Tolbooth, and that he had previously escaped from the Canongate in November.

What is not clear from the document is when he was armed at one of James Renwick’s field preachings and when he attempted to escape from Wigtown Tolbooth. It does appear that the latter events took place after he escaped the Canongate Tolbooth, but we cannot be sure of that.

He was recaptured by Captain John Strachan’s dragoons, who were based at New Galloway in the winter of 1685 to 1686.

Sloss had no arms when recaptured, although he was said to have been armed when he had previously attended one of James Renwick’s field preachings.

That is possibly rare evidence that Renwick preached in Wigtownshire, as Sloss was held in the Wigtown Tolbooth after the field preaching. Renwick did preach across Galloway, which includes Wigtownshire, in late 1685, although we do not have direct evidence that he specifically preached in Wigtownshire. It is, of course, almost certain that Renwick did preach in Wigtownshire, given the strength of support for the militant cause in the parishes of Penninghame, Kirkcowan and Glenluce.

After his recapture, Sloss apparently attempted to escape from Wigtown Tolbooth. He was later brought to Edinburgh Tolbooth, what happened to him next is not clear.

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


Major Johnston of Edinburgh’s Town Guard takes Prisoners to the Bass Rock #History #Scotland

•August 16, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Bass Rock

‘August 16th 1681
I Robert Johnstoun major to ye good toune of Ed[inbu]r[gh] grant me to have receaved fra ye hands of Mr John vans goodman of ye tolbooth of Edr the persones of John Spreull & W[illia]m Lin prisoners within ye s[ai]d Tolbooth who ar ordered to be transported from ye s[ai]d tolbooth to the Bass and that conforme to ane order of his Maties privie counsell granted for that efect Sic Sub Robt Johnstoune’ (Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, VIII, 114.)