Buried By Covenanting Tradition?

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James Smith (d.4-c.10 May, 1685)

Smith lived in Threepwood, also known as Threepod, Wee Threepwood or East Threepwood (NS 520 348) just south of the stream known as Burn Anne in Galston parish, Ayrshire.

Original location of East Threepwood on Multimap.com
Get directions to or from NS 520 348. Site details.

According to Alexander Shields in A Short Memorial (1690), ‘Captain Inglis, and his dragoons, pursued and killed James Smith at the Burn of Ann in Kyle, 1684.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 37.)

Cloud of Witnesses picks up on Shields and states that James Smith was ‘pursued and killed’ by Captain Inglis and his dragoons ‘at the burn of Anne, in Kyle, about two miles south of Newmilns, 1684’. Captain Inglis was based nearby in Newmiln’s Tower, the site of a prisoner rescue in late April 1685.

Smith is also commemorated on a later nineteenth century monument in the remains of a graveyard on Brewland Street, Galston, which contains an element of local tradition:

James Smith
East Threepwood
Who was Shot near bank of Burn Ann
By Captain Inglis and his dragoons
And buried there.

Thomson recorded the inscription, but knew little of him beyond the historical evidence that Smith was a fugitive. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 546; Thomson, MGoS, 125. Burn Anne is pronounced ‘Burn awn’.)

Brewland Street (A719) Galston on Multimap.com
Get directions to or from Brewland Street (A719), Galston

He is also commemorated on a modern monument near Threepwood. See here.

However, in the nineteenth century Simpson collected the following local tradition in the Galston/Newmilns area of Smith:

In Smith’s family there was an infant child, which it was the desire of the parents to devote, as soon as an opportunity offered, to the Lord in baptism. There was, it would seem, about the distance of fourteen miles from Threepod, a conventicle meeting, which was held in the night season. To this meeting Smith carried his child to be baptised by the officiating minister. After the rite was performed, he retraced his steps through the dreary moors in the dark night; and having arrived at his own house before the dawn, he, in order to prevent suspicion, betook himself to the barn, and was thrashing his corn at the early hour at which labourers generally commence that occupation. In spite of all his caution, however, he had been discovered, and information communicated to his enemies. When he saw that the circumstance was known, and that evil was determined against him, he withdrew from his house, and sought a hiding place in the fields. Here also his retreat was found out, and tow soldiers were sent to apprehend him. [Smith then fights back with a broadsword – not an item an innocent farmer normally has to hand] … When the soldiers found that he was entirely in their power, they hewed him down without mercy, and left him lifeless on the field.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 124-5.)

From the records of Shields, Cloud, Simpson and the Galston monument, Smith appears to have been killed or shot at Burn Anne. Simpson and the monument also claim that he was buried at Burn Anne. According to Simpson:

This martyr was buried on the spot where his blood was shed; a stone, with inscription, was laid upon his grave, which is now overgrown with moss; but a thicket of whins, the prickly guardians of this lonely sepulchre, marks the place where his ashes rest.’

A stone inscribed ‘J.S. 1684′, or possibly ‘1685′ according to Campbell, that was said to a be fragment of the gravestone was built into the wall of Threepwood farm. (It has now disappeared, according to Campbell.) If this was Smith’s actual gravestone, it was of an unusual and primitive type. (Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 103; Simpson, Traditions, 125. If you want to visit the Threepwood site see here.)

However, the evidence suggests that James Smith actually died of his wounds in Mauchline and was buried there. In Mauchline he is recorded on a gravestone in the parish kirkyard:

intered the corpse of JAMES
SMITH who was wounded by
Captain Ingles, and his Drag-
oons, at Burn of Ann in kyle,
and there after died of his wounds
in Mauchline prison for his adhe
arance to the word of GOD and
scotland’s Covenanted Work
of reformation, A.D. 1684

(Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 140-1.)

Image © Mauchline Parish Church

Mauchline Parish Church on Multimap.com.
Get directions to or from Mauchline Parish Church.

Streetview of Mauchline Church

A fascinating guide to Mauchline kirkyard, which contains the graves of many of those mentioned in the poetry of Robert Burns. can be found here. Inside the church is the Mauchline Covenanters’ flag.

How do we account for the discrepancy between the tradition in the Galston/Newmilns area and his burial in Mauchline?

We can dismiss any suggestion that the Mauchline gravestone is some kind of fabrication or mistake. The residents of Mauchline had no need to ‘create’ a martyr for their town, as they already had five documented martyrs of the Killing Times. The details in the inscription are specific to Smith, even though some sources, discussed above, do not connect him with Mauchline. However other sources, discussed below, do link him with Mauchline. In short, the Mauchline grave is an inconvenient fact for the Galston/Newmilns tradition that Smith was killed and buried at Burn Anne. In all likelihood, the stone from Burn Anne probably marked the spot where he was wounded, rather than the site of his burial.

It is also logical that Smith would have been buried in Mauchline churchyard, as since Smith had died of his wounds before any trial, his body was eligible for burial in the churchyard, unlike the Mauchline’s other martyrs of the Killing Times who were tried and executed and buried below the gallows.

Until recently, the time frame of James Smith’s death seemed secure. The records of Shields, Cloud, Smith’s gravestone in Mauchline and perhaps of the stone from Burn Anne seemed to date his death to 1684, until Campbell, in my view correctly, linked his end to the aftermath of the attack on Newmilns Tower and suggested a date in April 1685. (Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 139, 140-1, 151, 195.)

The problem with the dating of Smith’s death in Cloud and on the gravestones is that their dates were probably derived from a single source, Alexander Shields’ A Short Memorial published in 1690.

It is worth noting that Simpson’s local tradition does not give a date for Smith’s death, perhaps reflecting the doubts over a date of 1684. If Shields got the date wrong, then it is likely that the dates on the grave and perhaps on the stone at the spot where he was wounded are in error. The kind of action which caused Smith’s wounding and death are usually attributed to the Killing Times, i.e. mostly between December 1684 to May 1685, when the government had an express policy of dispatching fugitives in the fields if they refused the Abjuration oath. Smith’s death generally fits the pattern of raids in that period, although there are a few recorded deaths out with that time frame.

It is also possible to build on Campbell’s inspired linkage between James Smith’s death and the aftermath of the attack on Newmilns, as Smith’s death can be linked to a Renwick conventicle in April 1685 and to John Brounen’s betrayal of his fellow Society people to John Graham of Claverhouse on 1 May 1685. (See ‘Martyred in Mauchline’.)

Ironically, the crucial evidence which connects Smith to Brounen’s intelligence and dates Smith’s death to May 1685 comes from Simpson’s local traditions surrounding Smith’s death. Why should the Galston/Newmilns tradition be deemed to be accurate on some points when it inaccurately records his burial? The simple answer is that we cannot know if the other details in the local traditions about Smith are accurate, but where they correspond with other historical evidence, the specific details in the traditional account should be taken seriously.

To see the connections requires a little analysis of Simpson’s text (reproduced above) in the light of the recorded evidence of Smith and the evidence of Brounen’s intelligence.

Simpson’s somewhat homely account is primarily concerned with how the innocent Smith fought back when the troops caught up with him. However, it is quite clear that Smith was not so innocent as Simpson makes out and that he had not gone into hiding simply because of the discovery of irregular baptism of his infant, as James Smith in Threepwood had been declared a fugitive at the circuit court at Ayr on 19 June 1683 and was listed on the Fugitive Roll of 1684. As a fugitive, Smith was already a marked man if he was caught during the Killing Times. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 207.)

The local tradition only gives a vague time frame for Smith’s actions before his death. It also does not give a date or year when Smith died. However, some of the details about the field preaching that Smith attended are very specific and can be dated. We are told that Smith wanted his infant baptised ‘as soon as an opportunity offered’. The detail that he had to await the opportunity of baptism, suggests Smith was one of the Society people who could not take baptism from any other presbyterian minister in this period except from James Renwick or, in some cases, Alexander Peden.

Cairntable © (Chris Wimbush) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Simpson records that Smith took his child ‘fourteen miles’ to a ‘night’ conventicle across ‘dreary moors’ to be baptised by ‘the officiating minister’. Simpson did not identify the location or date of the conventicle, but there are very good reasons to believe that the conventicle which Smith attended must have been one of two conventicles, either at Evandale Moor near Loudon Hill on 11 February 1685 or at the back of Cairntable Hill in April 1685, that John Brounen gave an ‘acount of the persons were at both and what childring wer baptised’ to John Graham of Claverhouse in early May 1685.

First, the minister at the conventicle must be James Renwick or Alexander Peden, as they were the only ministers field preaching between 1684 to 1685, with the latter only field preaching from the spring of 1685. Renwick was the preacher at Loudon Hill/Auchengilloch and Cairntable. It is not known if Peden field preached in this area at this time, although he was nearby at Priesthill on 1 May 1685.

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Second, from the evidence of Renwick’s letters and sermons, he is known to have frequently preached at night during this period, often at some cost to his own health. (Houston, Letters, 167, 170, 206, 234. Houston’s Letter XXXIV actually dates to around mid August 1685.)

Third, the site of Renwick’s conventicle at the back of Cairntable is about fourteen miles from Threepwood, while his preaching at Evandale Moor was about half that distance. The Cairntable site is also certainly across miles of ‘dreary moors’ to the south-east of Threepwood.

Area behind Cairntable on Multimap.com
Get directions to or from NS 730 232

Fourth, we also know that Brounen provided Claverhouse with ‘particular’ intelligence about those who had attended, or had their children baptised at, the Cairntable preaching. The local tradition states that ‘information’ was ‘communicated to his enemies’, although it does not name Brounen or give a date for the information beyond it being after the night conventicle. Given that the Cairntable preaching was in mid April 1685, this suggests that he was informed against in late April or early May.
(Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 207-8; Simpson, Traditions, 124-5.)

Fifth, Wodrow confirms that Smith had attended one of Renwick’s conventicles, although he mistakenly refers to him as John Smith. Under an entry for 1684, the supposed date for James Smith’s death, he records that:

‘No small severities were exercised this year upon the account of house-conventicles, and there were none in the fields but what Mr Renwick kept. John Smith, who had been at a conventicle, in his return falling sick, sat down in the fields. A party of soldiers coming that way, without any probation or process, or any further ceremony, shot him in the fields where they got him.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 171. Wodrow must refer to James Smith in Threepwood, as the two John Smiths are recorded as being shot in 1685.)

When the evidence above is taken into account, it is highly likely that Smith attended Renwick’s conventicle at Cairntable in April 1685 that Brounen gave intelligence of to Claverhouse and that he was connected to the United Societies. The local tradition also relates that Smith was armed with a broadsword, as was expected of Society people, and that he fought with the troops sent to take him prisoner, which is possibly not the actions of someone suspected of irregular baptism. The evidence that Smith was armed may also indicate that he was present at the attack on the tower at Newmilns.

However, there is a far more intriguing possibility. Brounen confessed that ‘he had ane halbart and told who gave him it about a month agoe, and we have the feleou prisoner’. It seems likely that the individual who provided Brounen with a halberd would have attended the mustering of Society people at Cairntable. Claverhouse does not say that he had personally captured him, just that ‘we’ have him prisoner. From Claverhouse’s letter it is clear that he was not referring his other local prisoner, the ‘good man’ of High Plewlands (NS 658 346), who had been taken on Brounen’s information that he had assisted John Brown of Priesthill.

High Plewland with Dungavel Hill behind © (Chris Wimbush) / CC BY-SA 2.0

Claverhouse’s ‘feleou’ could well be James Smith. It is entirely possible that acting on Brounen’s intelligence, Claverhouse would have ordered the local garrison, Captain Inglis and his dragoons, to capture Smith. Interestingly, Simpson does not record who was in command of the soldiers sent to apprehend Smith, but other sources clearly state that it was Captain Inglis and his dragoons. Claverhouse was certainly very close to Smith’s home on 3 May, by which time he had ‘the feleou prisoner’, as on that day he wrote to Queensberry from Galston, which is less than two miles north-west of Threepwood.

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Get directions to or from Galston, East Ayrshire

It seems likely that Smith was captured by Inglis and his dragoons on Claverhouse’s orders on 2-3 May. Claverhouse is also the obvious candidate to have dispatched Smith as a prisoner to Mauchline, as he sent at least one other prisoner to Mauchline at that time. In his letter of 3 May 1685, he states that ‘I, having no commision of justiciary myself, have delyvered him [Brounen] up to the Lieuetenent Generall [Drummond, who was based at Mauchline less than six miles from Galston,] to be disposed of as he pleases’. Since, Smith was wounded when he was captured, he may not have been in a fit state to take the Abjuration oath and, as a result, was sent on to Drummond at Mauchline.

This raises the fascinating possibility that Smith and his betrayer were either sent to Mauchline together or at least imprisoned together there. From his letter of 3 May, it appears that Claverhouse moved from Priesthill on 1 May via High and Laigh Plewland and then on via Newmilns to Galston. Clearly, Brounen, Smith and the ‘good man’ of High Plewland were not sent as prisoners to, or did not arrive at, Mauchline with Peter Gillies who was later executed there, as on 4 May Gillies left a letter at Midwellwood farm, which lies on a more southerly route to Mauchline. (Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 207-8.)

The fact that Smith was not tried and executed with the other Mauchline martyrs seems to indicate that Smith died before they faced trial on 6-c.10 May. This gives a probable date of death for Smith of 4-c.10 May, 1685.

The sufferings of James Smith may also shine an interesting sidelight on his betrayer’s end. If Smith, Brounen and the ‘good man’ of High Plewland were imprisoned, or travelled as prisoners, together, as the evidence suggests, then Brounen was directly faced with the consequences of his confession to Claverhouse. This may have some bearing on why Brounen was executed, especially if Smith died before Brounen’s trial. In that context, it may well be that Brounen had a change of heart over his cooperation with Claverhouse or his agreement to take the Abjuration oath.

The death of John Smith in Cronan may be linked to John Brounen’s betrayal of the Societies and the death of James Smith. See my next post for a full discussion.

Text © Dr Mark Jardine


~ by drmarkjardine on September 13, 2010.

8 Responses to “Buried By Covenanting Tradition?”

  1. […] The elision of John Smith in Cronan with other martyrs of a similar name may have come from a desire to bring some order to the Killing Times. However, there is no need to rub out Smith from the list of martyrs for the sake of neatness. In fact, the historical records are absolutely correct when they identify John Smith in Cronan as a separate individual from John Smith in Muirkirk (forthcoming) and James Smith in Threepwood. […]

  2. […] is highly probable that Brounen’s information directly led to the deaths of two Society people, James Smith in Threepwood and John Smith in Cronan, as discussed in following […]

  3. […] Letters, 170. Renwick’s conventicle at Moor of Evandale, attended by James Smith in Threepwood and John Brounen, is mentioned in Simpson, Traditions, 29, […]

  4. […] That Barrie was shot by Peter Inglis, the son of Captain John Inglis, is entirely consistent with Inglis’ dragoons track record of other killings in Ayrshire in April or early May 1685. (See also James Smith in Threepwood.) […]

  5. […] the two Campbells was also to some extent directed by Brounen’s information. (See John Brounen, James Smith in Threepwood and John Smith in […]

  6. […] If M’Kay’s tradition is correct that two men were later ‘shot’ in May by Captain Inglis’s dragoons in revenge for the attack, then the death of Law may be directly connected to that of James Smith in Threepwood. […]

  7. […] Several Society people were killed as a result, including John Brown of Priesthill (1 May), James Smith in Threepwood (4-c.10 May?), John Smith in Cronan (4-c.10 May?), John Brounen or Browning (c.6-10 May?) and […]

  8. […] For similar three shire sites used by the Societies, see Mungo’s Well, the preaching at the back of Cairntable and Black […]

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