Muirkirk’s Martyr: No Jist John Smith

© Copyright Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.

John Smith (d. 12 February, 1685)

In 1690 Alexander Shields was the first to publish details of his killing: ‘Col. [Thomas] Buchan, with [Cromwell Lockhart] the Laird of Lee, and their men shot John Smith in the Paroch of Lesmahago[w], [in Lanarkshire,] Feb: 1685’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 37.)

Cloud of Witnesses recycled Shields’ text: ‘Colonel Buchan, with the Laird of Lee, and their men, shot John Smith, in the parish of Lesmahagow, February 1685’.

Hallbar Tower purchased by the Lockharts of Lee.

Cloud also reproduces the inscription of his gravestone erected in 1731 at Muirkirk parish church in Ayrshire.

OF LEE FEB             1685
YEAR 1731

[on reverse]


(Thomson (ed.), CW, 548, 599; Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 142-3.)

Smith’s grave lies behind Muirkirk Church.

Streetview of Muirkirk Church

Wodrow recorded a ‘_____ Smith’ shot in February 1685 but did not connect the evidence to the John Smith buried at Muirkirk, probably because his gravestone had not been erected. Although his published version omits Smith’s full name, it is clearly based on Shields text:

‘Not a few others were thus killed in cold blood, without any indictment or process, this month, of who I have scare any other account but their names. … Colonel Buchan, with the Laird of Lee, and the soldiers under their command, without any process despatched _____ Smith, in the parish of Lesmahago. We heard of one of this name formerly killed by the soldiers.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 241.)

The Smith formerly mentioned in Wodrow’s History is John Smith who is said to have been killed after one of Renwick’s conventicles in 1684. However, Wodrow made an error over his name, as the passage clearly refers to James Smith in Threepwood. Recently, Campbell, appears to have conflated the Muirkirk John Smith with James Smith in Threepwood. (Wodrow, History, IV, 171; Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 143.)

As Thomson commented: ‘little else is known of John Smith save what is recorded on his tombstone’. (Thomson, MGoS, 143.)

However, a detailed picture of the circumstances of John Smith’s killing can be revealed. Remarkably, the evidence for this has been in print for at least one or two centuries and in one case for nearly three centuries, but it has not been previously connected to Smith’s burial at Muirkirk.

Wodrow recorded a letter of 12 February 1685 in which thanks were given to Colonel Thomas Buchan for his ‘activity against rebels lately in arms’ and he recorded the Privy Council’s thanks of the next day, 13 February, ‘to those for defeating eighty rebels in arms, and killing one of them, and sending in three prisoners under guard’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 204.)

The action where eighty rebels were defeated and in which one was killed and three captured, must be the same as the attack that Michael Shields records on those Society people going to the eighteenth convention at Auchengilloch on 12 February:

‘the rage, malice and cruelty of enemies was in a peculiar manner manifested against them. Some of whom, coming to this meeting [to be held at Auchengilloch on 12 February] were discovered, and notice sent to the enemy. About two companies of foot, commanded by one [Thomas] Buchan, marched out of Glasgow, to search after them, who (with some horsemen, among whom was [Cromwell Lockhart] the Laird of Lee) having found out these poor people, pursued after them very vigorously the most part of a day. But though they all, (except one man [John Smith], who after apprehending was immediately shot) escaped from these bloody men, yet they were thereby hindered from going to the meeting’. (Shields, FCD, 162-3.)

Map of Auchengilloch

Among those fleeing Buchan and Lee’s forces was James Renwick, who recorded his experience in a letter to Robert Hamilton of 28 February 1685:

‘I must tell you a pretty passage. Upon a certain night, after the dimission of a market [Renwick’s conventicle at Moor of Evandale, ‘near Loudon Hill’], there went about forty of our merchants [delegates to the convention] forward a little before me, upon the way that I was going, with whom I trysted to meet the night following [at the eighteenth convention at Auchengilloch on 12 February].

But after little sleep [on the night of the 11?], sickness so possessed me that I was not able to keep my tryst. [at Auchengilloch]

Whereupon I sent away some merchants [other Society people with Renwick] that were with me to go forward to the rest about their business [at the eighteenth convention]; who, upon the day following [Friday 12 Feb 1685] were assaulted with a great multitude of our antagonists [Buchan and Lee’s forces], who were six for one, so that our merchants were not able to stand; whereupon they took retreat [probably south from Auchengilloch across the moorland hills towards Muirkirk parish], and outstripped their antagonists without any skaith [hurt], save the loss of one [John Smith].’ (Houston (ed.), Letters, 170.)

Renwick’s conventicle at the Moor of Evandale was attended by James Smith in Threepwood and John Brounen. It is mentioned in Simpson, Traditions, 29, 124-5.)

Auchengilloch Monument © Copyright Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.

However, perhaps the most remarkable account of Smith’s death appears in the fragmentary diary of Colin Alison. Under his entry for 9 February, 1685, Alison recorded:

‘We being upon the edge of the moor, we ralied and formed ourselves in a body. And we marched little more than a mile when one of our number, John Smith, took a most violent choolick and was not able to goe any further. So we were forced to leave him in a hagg of the moss, where we thought he might not be observed. And thereupon we altered our course a little to bring the souldiers off that place; yet some of them, who were upon a high ground behind us, it seems perceived him, and came straight upon him and shot him dead. The foot pursued us clossly the whole day till about three in the afternoon, when they lost sight of us; so fearing they would be benighted, they retired. The souldiers went that night to Cummerhead [i.e., Cumberhead], and in the night time they recevied the news of King Charles II his death. And so they returned in all hast to Glasgow. Laus soli Deo [, i.e., ‘Praise be to God alone’].’ (Diary of Colin Alison, EUL. Laing MSS, La.III.542. Quoted in Mullan, Protestant Piety, 74-5.)

Map of Cumberhead

John Smith was a member of the United Societies. After Renwick’s field preaching at Moor of Evandale, he and others had attempted to go to the Societies’ eighteenth convention on 12 February 1685. After becoming violently ill, he was left in a moss hagg where he was spotted and summarily executed by elements of Buchan and Lee’s foot and horse. Although Smith was shot, most of the Society people retreated in good order and managed to avoid another disaster like that at Airds Moss.

Where was the John Smith buried at Muirkirk from? We may never know. Smith could have been a local man in Lesmahagow or Muirkirk parishes. He could be one of the kin of James Smith in Lesmahagow parish who was executed in 1683 for his part in the Inchbelly Rescue. Since there is no John Smith listed on the Fugitive Roll of 1684 for Muirkirk or Lesmahagow parishes, Smith could also be one of the five John Smiths listed on the Fugitive Roll, as he was possibly one of the delegates to the Societies’ convention at Auchengilloch. However, the complete lack of evidence of a local context for him in the narrative sources will probably always present a significant obstacle to his identification. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 286-7; Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 190, 213, 220, 225, 226.)

At least we know a lot more about him.

Text © Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on September 19, 2010.

10 Responses to “Muirkirk’s Martyr: No Jist John Smith”

  1. […] form of the inscription is similar to that used on the gravestone of John Smith at Muirkirk. That may suggest that the original stone was of a similar kind to the Muirkirk stone, i.e. one […]

  2. […] and the Societies’ delegates when on to attend the eighteenth convention at Auchengilloch. (See John Smith and John […]

  3. […] February 1685, the Laird of Lee and Colonel Buchan’s troops shot John Smith near Auchengilloch, and in April 1685, his ‘foot men’ were involved in the capture of Thomas […]

  4. […] was an officer in the government forces in the West. In February, 1685, Lee and Colonel Buchan shot John Smith near Auchengilloch. (Walker, BP, I, […]

  5. […] For more on Smith’s execution in the fields, see here. […]

  6. […] Smith in Newmills’ must be John Smith “in Cronan”, rather than the John Smith buried at Muirkirk. Very little is known about Smith’s story. Shields simply records that he was shot by Cornet […]

  7. […] troops under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Buchan and Cromwell Lockhart of Lee killed John Smith on his way to the Societies’ eighteenth convention at Auchengilloch. Smith was shot somewhere in the hills in Lesmahagow […]

  8. […] soldier. He had been involved in the Abuscade at Auchengilloch in the summer of 1684 and had killed John Smith in the hills between Muirkirk and Lesmahagow parishes on 12 February, […]

  9. […] after, he and his men were active in the vicinity of Galston. In mid February, he was involved in the killing of John Smith in the hills between Muirkirk and Lesmahagow parish, and on c.6 May, he almost captured James […]

  10. […] the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Buchan and Cromwell Lockhart of Lee killed John Smith on his way to Auchengilloch. Smith was shot somewhere in the hills around Auchengilloch and is buried in Muirkirk […]

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