The Double Life of Thomas Richard

Appearances can be deceptive. From the evidence of Shields’ account, pictured above, the death of this martyr looks like a relatively simple affair. However, there is little that is simple about the story of the capture and death of Thomas Richard.

Who Was Thomas Richard?

According the local minister, James Gray, ‘Thomas Ritchard in Greinockmaynes’ had previously been a deacon or elder in Muirkirk parish. Gray does not give a date for Richard’s role on the kirk seesion, but he does say that he had not constituted a session in the twelve months he had been in the parish. The other names on Gray’s list of church officers confirms that Richard had recently held a post, probably in the early 1680s.’ (RPCS, IX, 541.)

On 17 October, 1684, another former elder/deacon of the parish, William Aird, stated before the circuit court at Ayr that ‘Thomas Ritchert in [Greenock] Maynes’ did not go to church. (RPCS, IX, 542.)

Thomas Richard lived in the same location as the banished James Edward, but at the time that he was captured the farm was probably inhabited by the mysterious heritor, ‘——- Campbell.

Greenock Mains lies in Muirkirk parish, Ayrshire.

Map of Greenock Mains

The First Record

The execution of a Thomas Richard was first recorded by Alexander Shields in 1690:

‘Item, The said Col: or Lieu: Gen: Dowglas commanded Thomas Richard, an old Man of 70: years, to be shot in the time of prayer; (he was betrayed and taken by Peter Ingles) anno 1685. at Cumnock in Kyle’. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 35.)

As usual, Cloud of Witnesses follows Shields’ formula:

‘The said Colonel or Lieutenant-General James Douglas commanded Thomas Richard, an old man of seventy years, to be shot in time of prayer (he was betrayed and taken by Peter Inglis), Anno, 1685, at Cumnock, in Kyle.’ (Thomson (ed.), CW, 539.)

Wodrow recorded two versions of Richard’s capture and death based on sources which were collected in the early decades of the eighteenth century.

Wodrow’s First Account of Thomas Richard

The first version states that at:

‘About this time, a very barbarous murder was committed upon Thomas Richard in Greenock-mains, in the parish of Muirkirk, a good man near eighty years of age. Peter Inglis cornet, son to captain [John] Inglis, with some soldiers, pretended they were friends, and some of the remains of Argyle’s men. One of my informations bears, that the better to carry on the cheat, they had bibles with them, and pressed and prevailed with Thomas to pray with them; and when at prayer, some of them took notes of some expressions, and afterwards they advised with him upon a designed attack which they pretended they were about to make upon a neighbouring garrison. (Wodrow, History, IV, 252-3.)

Simpson’s Later Tradition

Wodrow’s first version of Richard’s capture and death roughly accords with, and perhaps influenced, a ‘tradition’ recorded by Simpson in the middle of the nineteenth century:

‘Tradition mentions that a Covenanter of the name of Richard was in concealment on the heights between Burnfoot and Evan [now Avon] Water, and that he was apprehended by stratagem. The plan taken to circumvent him was the following: A number of individuals, in the guise of Covenanters, came upon him in his hiding-place. They pretended to be very serious persons—each had a Bible; and they requested Richard to read the Scriptures with them, and to pray. The good man, suspecting no deceit, rejoiced to meet with a number of religious friends whom he had never seen before, and gladly complied with their request. As the sky sometimes assumes a very serene and beautiful aspect immediately before the gathering of the storm, so these men assumed a devout and friendly demeanour, which was soon to issue in that of deceivers and murderers. To the blank astonishment of the simple-minded Covenanter, he soon found that he was their prisoner; and that, instead of their being devout worshippers, they were ruthless persecutors. He was carried to Cumnock, where he suffered martyrdom’.

Simpson was in no doubt that ‘this anecdote, with some circumstantial variations, is substantially the same with the account of Thomas Richard of Greenock Mains, given by Wodrow’. (Simpson, Traditions, 96-7; Wodrow, History, IV, 252-3.)

However, it is worth pointing out that Simpson’s tradition does not actually say that Richard was from Greenock Mains. There are also differences between Wodrow’s image of Richard and that of the tradition collected by Simpson.

The claim of Simpson’s later tradition that Richard was a fugitive hiding in the hills for some reason is not plausible if it was Thomas Richard. What is also clear is that reading the Bible was not the cause of Richard’s capture or execution.

The latter also portrays ‘——- Richard’ as a fugitive in hiding in heights to the north of Burnfoot and south of the Avon Water, i.e., the heartland of the Societies in Muirkirk, Lesmahagow and Evandale parishes. Wodrow portrays Richard as an innocent old man at the hearth of his farmhouse.

Map of Burnfoot

Richard in Burnfoot

Simpson’s tradition also seems to connect ‘——- Richard’ to the farm at Burnfoot, rather than Greenock Mains.

If one did not know of Wodrow’s Thomas Richard in Greenock Mains, one could easily conclude that he was connected in some way to the John Richard in Burnfoot that is mentioned in another Muirkirk tradition collected by Simpson. (Simpson, Traditions, 94-5.)

John Richard of Burnfoot is also found in the historical records.

Like Thomas Richard in Greenock Mains, ‘John Ritchard of Burnfoot’ was listed as a former elder/deacon in Muirkirk parish prior to 1684. (RPCS, IX, 541.)

William Aird also listed ‘John Ritchert of Burnfoot’ alongside ‘Thomas Ritchert in [Greenock] Maynes’ as not keeping the church. (RPCS, IX, 542.)

Martin Mirrie, another elder/deacon who gave evidence at Ayr in Ocotber, 1684, went further when he  deponed that ‘John Ritchert in Burnfoot and his haill familie are absenters fra the ordinances’ (RPCS, IX, 543.)

The records of the court at Ayr show that both former elders/deacons known as Richard were called on 17 October: ‘John Ritchert in Burnfoot, calit and absent’… Thomas Ritchert in Greinockmaines, callit and absent’ (RPCS, IX, 543.)

Wodrow’s Second Account of Thomas Richard

Wodrow’s second version of Richard’s death sounds more plausible than his first version, however, it records a different set of circumstances surrounding his capture and execution:

‘Two other narratives before me omit these circumstances, and say, Captain [John] lnglis came into Thomas’ house with four or five men pretending to be whigs; and after some other discourse asked him, if he knew where any of the honest party were. The old man, in the innocence of his heart, suspecting no cheat, answered, he knew not of any at present, but that he had lodged some of them some days ago, and was not yet unwilling to give them any entertainment he had. Thus the jest was carried on for a little, till one of them bewrayed himself by an oath, and then they all cast off the mask, and carried the good old man to Colonel [James] Douglas then at Cumnock, who precisely upon this alleged confession, without jury or trial, next day executed him there. I am well informed from a reverend minister present, that his case was so favourable, that three ladies of the episcopal persuasion, upon bearing of it, went to the colonel to beg his life, but were not admitted; only they had a message sent them, that he could show no favour to these people’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 252-3. See also Thomas Richard, Account of his death in 1685. NLS MS. Wod.Fol. XXXIII. item 107.)

The Accounts of Richard Become One

Finally, Thomson amalgamates Simpson’s fugitive in the hills with both of Wodrow’s versions of Richard in his editorial note in late-nineteenth century editions of Cloud of Witnesses:

‘Thomas Richard was a farmer in Greenock Mains, a farm to the west of Muirkirk parish, Ayrshire. Wodrow calls him a good man, near eighty years of age. He had been in hiding in the high moorlands, to the north of the parish, where it touches Lanarkshire, when Peter Inglis, a cornet, and son to Captain [John] Inglis, of evil notoriety for his cruelties, and four or five others, came to him in his hiding place, in the guise of friends. They had each Bibles, and asked Thomas to read and pray with them. The good man, suspecting no deceit, readily complied with their request. After prayer, they talked with him about an attack they proposed to make on a neighbouring garrison. They asked him if he knew where any of the honest party were. Still fearing no guile, he told them he knew not of any at present, but that he had lodged some of them a few days ago, and was not unwilling to give them any entertainment he had. At last one of them betrayed himself by an oath, when all threw off the mask, and, to the astonishment of the old man, made him their prisoner, and carried him to Colonel [James] Douglas, then at Cumnock, who, on this confession, without trial of any kind, next day ordered him to be shot.—Ed.’ (Thomson (ed.), CW, 539-40.)

Thomson did create a satisfying story out of the evidence, but he failed to acknowledge or address the issue of the contradictory evidence of the sources. We will never know the precise circumstances of Richard’s capture, due to the differences between the versions.

Shields’ brief account may be the surest guide as to what happened to a man named Richard.

Agreement on the End of Richard

Nearly all of the traditions about Richard state that after he was captured in Muirkirk parish he was taken to Cumnock, either by Captain John Inglis or Cornet Peter Inglis, where he was summarily tried and executed by Colonel James Douglas, the brother of the duke of Queensberry.

Street View of Grave and former gallows site in Cumnock

One of the more interesting details shared by all of the accounts is that Richard was not immediately executed, but sent up the chain of command to Cumnock. By implication, Richard may have taken the Abjuration oath renouncing the Societies’ war or he could have been summarily executed in the field by Captain Inglis.

Captain John Inglis nor Peter Inglis were under the command of Colonel John Graham of Claverhouse and Lieutenant-Colonel Buchan, but Colonel Douglas had been given a wide ranging commission a few days earlier following reports that 260 rebels had mustered in Ayrshire, probably on 22 March. Inglis and his dragoons may well have had a good reason to take Richard directly to Douglas at Cumnock, rather than back to their own garrisons. (Wodrow, History, IV, 33.)

Richard’s possible agreement to the Abjuration accords well with Wodrow’s second account of Richard, which states that the decision of Colonel James Douglas to sentence him to death was taken on the grounds of his confession, rather than due to his refusal of the Abjuration.

Whatever Richard was possibly hoodwinked into confessing appears to have been the key determinant in sealing his fate. Wodrow suggested that he either divulged details of a forthcoming attack or that he confessed to reset of known fugitives. Greenock Mains was one location where the fugitive James Nisbet claimed that he escaped capture.

Whatever he confessed to, it was severe enough for Colonel Douglas to act under the powers of his commission to administer justice, rather than send him on to Edinburgh as a prisoner. On the day before the date for his execution, Colonel Douglas tried and condemned three other men for ‘concealing, and not revealing, the Rebells who went through some Western shires in armes some few days before’, but he did not execute them.

It was probably his decision to execute Richard that may have caused the attempted intervention by local ‘ladies’, possibly as they believed that Richard’s age or social-status connections merited greater leniency by Colonel Douglas. For his part, Douglas appears to have held the view that the evidence of Richard’s confession left him with no choice other than immediate execution.

Thomas Richard Covenanter Grave

Grave of Richard, Photgraph Copyright Robert Guthrie and reproduced by his very kind permission.

The Grave of Thomas Richard

Cloud of Witnesses records the inscription on his gravestone in Old Cumnock Graveyard:

‘Here lies the corpse of Thomas Richard, who was shot by Colonel James Douglas, for his adherence to the Covenanted Work of Reformation, on the 5th day of April, anno 1685.

Halt passenger! this stone doth show to thee
For what, by whom, and how I here did die,
Because I always in my station
Adhered to Scotland’s Reformation
And to our Sacred Covenants and laws,
Establishing the same, which was the cause,
In time of prayer, I was by Douglas shot,
Ah! cruelty never to be forgot.’

(Thomson (ed.), CW, 608.)

The inscription is the only source which specifically states that Richard was executed on the fifth of the month. If true, then that suggests that Richard was captured at the beginning of April, 1685.

Streetview of Richard’s Grave in Cumnock

Richard was the first Covenanter to be buried at the gallows site in Cumnock. He was soon joined by two Covenanters killed by Highlanders in the summer of 1685 and Alexander Peden in early 1686.

A later memorial mentioning Richard was also erected at Glenbuck Church (NS 749 295), but has now been moved to Muirkirk parish church. (Horne & Hardie, In the Steps of the Covenanters, 17, 19.)

Streetview of Muirkirk Parish Church

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please 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

~ by drmarkjardine on October 5, 2010.

7 Responses to “The Double Life of Thomas Richard”

  1. […] capture and execution of Thomas Richard in Greenock in late March or early April 1685 may also be connected to the Campbell group of […]

  2. […] and southern shires. A month before the Mauchline executions, on 5 April, Colonel Douglas executed Thomas Richard at Cumnock. (Wodrow, History, IV, […]

  3. […] lies about three miles from Greenock Mains, the site where Thomas Richard was supposedly captured in 1685 and within half a mile of the Greenock Water on Burnfoot […]

  4. […] Richard was possibly the fugitive John Richard in Burnfoot, Muirkirk parish, Ayrshire, who had eluded […]

  5. […] to his role in Barrie’s death, Cornet Inglis is recorded as having captured, but not shot, Thomas Richard, and killing James White in an action at Little Blackwood and John Smith in Cronan. Inglis was a […]

  6. […] that commission, Douglas executed Thomas Richard at Cumnock in Ayrshire on 5 April. At the end of his commission, he briefly attended the privy council in […]

  7. […] execution of Richard has been dealt with in a previous post, but the evidence in the pardon adds to understanding of his […]

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