The Covenanters and Scottish Football

James White Fenwick Bobby Guthrie

It was the strangest game of Scottish football ever played. It is certainly one of the earliest ever recorded in the annals of the game. In 1685, James White became the first martyr to football when his head was used as a ball in a match at Newmilns during the ‘Killing Times’. It sounds like one of those bizarre bits of football lore, but on this occasion, it just happens to be true…

The First Record

Alexander Shields was the first to record James White’s death in Ayrshire in 1690:

‘Item. The said Peter or Patrick Inglis killed one James White, struck off his head with an Ax, brought it to Newmills, and plaid at the Foot ball with it, he killed him at Little-blackwood, the fore-said year, 1685’. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 37.)

The farm at Little Blackwood no longer exists. Its exact location is difficult to locate, even when comparing its location on General Roy’s map with old and new OS maps, but it appears to have been situated somewhere in the vicinity of Dykescroft farm in Kilmarnock parish.

Little Blackwood

The farmer at Dykescroft is said to be able to pinpoint the traditional location of Little Blackwood.

Map of Approx Location of Little Blackwood          Streetview of Dykescroft farm

Cloud of Witnesses followed Shields’ text with one signifcant later change: ‘The said Peter or Patrick Inglis also killed one James White, struck off his head with an axe, brought it to Newmilns, and played at football with it. He killed him at Little Blackwood, the foresaid year [May] 1685’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 546.)

Cloud’s claim that White died in ‘[May]’ was inserted by Thomson in late-nineteenth century editions of Cloud of Witnesses on the basis of that date being used by Archibald M’Kay in his History of Kilmarnock of 1858. However, earlier historical evidence points towards a date in March for White being shot, as the privy council recorded that James Finlay in Dykes was wounded in the March raid on Little Blackwood.

Fenwick Kirk

James White’s Grave

White’s gravestone was erected in Fenwick kirkyard between 1702 and 1714, as it was recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses (1714). The inscription appears to have been based on the information contained in Shields A Short Memorial (1690). The present gravestone almost certainly replaced the original stone in 1822, as it was ‘renewed’ in that year:


[On reverse]

The Martyr was By PETER
By birth a Tyger rather
[t]han a Scot
Who that his monstrous
Extract might be Seen
Cut off his head & kick’t it
o’er the Green.
Thus was that head which
was to wear a Crown
a football made by a profane

(Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 96; Thomson (ed.), CW, 591-2.)

Map of Fenwick Church            Streetview of Fenwick Church

The 1709 Source

The theme of White’s head being used as a football recurs in all of the early sources from 1690 onwards. In 1709, before Cloud was published and perhaps before the gravestone was erected, Wodrow obtained the following information which clearly related to White, even though he misdated his death:

‘About the year 1686 or 1687, ther was a party of souldiers quartered in Neumills, and abode in ane old castell of my Lord Loudon’s in Neumills. If I forgett not, it was one [Peter] Inglish that commanded them. Some of these souldiers went out to the country about, and gote a man at family worship, and he did not answer their querys. Upon which they barbarously murdered him, and cutt off his head; and ane souldier, in particular, putt it upon a stick, and brought it to the court of the castle, wher they wer, and plaid at the foot-ball with it!’

Wodrow was interested in providences and, of course, the soldier with the stick allegedly soon met with a bad end:

‘Within a day or two, that souldier in the morning was found in the same court with his neck brocken, and his brains dashed out. Noe accompt could be given of it, but it was supposed he either threu himself, or fell over a high wall of the castle. This my relatour tells me is most certain, and he had it from good hands in the place’. (Wodrow, Analecta, I, 150-1.)

Streetview of Newmilns Tower

Although Wodrow held that material in his manuscript collection, he did not use it in his well-known History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, perhaps because of the fact that the information was not attached to a named martyr.

It took until 1842 for Wodrow’s information to appear in print in his Analecta. Ten years later, in 1852, James Paterson republished it in his History of the County of Ayr. (Paterson, History of the Country of Ayr, 318.)

A Later Tradition in the New Statistical Account, 1845

In 1845, three years after the publication of Analecta, the Reverend Norman Macleod of Loudoun parish gave the following account of the raid on Little Blackwood in the New Statistical Account:

‘In one of the expeditions of [Captain John] Inglis’s troops in the search of conventicles, eight men, who were discovered praying in the Black-wood, near Kilmarnock, were taken prisoners. One of them, it is said, was immediately executed, and the soldiers in mockery kicked his head for foot-ball, along the Newmills public green!’ (NSA, V, 838.)

Image from A Hind Let Loose (1687)Summary Execution in the Killing Times

Macleod’s account, with some very minor variations, was plainly based on the evidence of the early sources for White’s death (i.e., Shields or Cloud of Witnesses), White’s gravestone in Fenwick and John Law’s grave in Newmilns (that mentions eight prisoners). It is worth noting that General Roy’s map of the 1740s does not show any woodland near Little Blackwood.

Although Macleod did not name the Covenanter involved, he was obviously alluding to the death of James White. His use of the phrase ‘it is said’ was somewhat tentative in stating that White was ‘immediately executed’ and his head used as a football at Newmilns, when all of the early sources are emphatic on those two points. It appears Macleod had not read the version in Wodrow’s Analecta, as he places the football game at the public green of Newmilns, rather than in the court of the tower where Wodrow had placed it. It is possible that the public green had become the traditional site for the football game, when it was at the tower.

Macleod, too, states that White was executed, rather than killed in action.

The Journalist’s Version, 1848

1848 was a year when revolution swept across Europe. In London, Marx and Engels published The Communist Manifesto in German; it would take two more years before a Scot, Helen MacFarlane, translated it in English. In Kilmarnock, too, a minor revolution in White’s story of far less consequence was unleashed with the publication of Archibald M’Kay’s History of Kilmarnock.

In a breathless narrative which almost reads as if one were there, M’Kay added an incredible amount of detail about the Little Blackwood raid. His narrative contains a long list of firsts: it was the first to increase the number present at Little Blackwood to twelve; the first to identify James Paton as the farmer of Little Blackwood; the first to mention Mrs Paton and that she was from Darwhilling; the first to place White’s killing inside the house and describe the scene in detail; the first to place John Gemmel, who was banished in 1685, at White’s side; the first to mention Captain John Inglis threats to shoot all of the prisoners and to claim that White’s body was trampled by cattle!

M’Kay transformed the image of White’s end. Instead of the pious White being captured, interrogated and shot by the dragoons, M’Kay’s White reached for his musket and was killed after he tried to shoot the dragoons.

Is it a reliable source? Amost certainly not. Later traditions like that are not reliable guides to the events of the Killing Times. Many of the details in M’Kay’s narrative are uncorroborated by any other source. However, it was possibly based on a local story about White’s death, perhaps handed down through the Paton or Gemmel families who appear to be key protagonists in it. As historical evidence it is of dubious veracity, but it does tell us how some people later explained the Killing Times. It is literature, rather than history, but faction, rather than fiction. Here is the full text:

In the beginning of May, 1685, a small band of Covenanters, consisting of twelve men, met one night for religious purposes in the house of James Paton, farmer of Little Blackwood, on the estate of Grougar. The place was lone and secluded, and they had assembled there in the hope that they would be undisturbed by any intruder; but when sitting by the hearth, in the interval of devotion, a noise was heard without, and, fearing the enemy was near, they all hurried to another apartment. One of them, named James White, availed himself of the only gun in the house; and just as he was crossing the passage a party of soldiers, commanded by Patrick Inglis, forced open the doors.

In the way of defence White at this moment made use of his musket; but the powder only flashed in the pan, and the light it emitted discovered his person to the soldiers, who shot him dead on the spot. Nine of the sufferers were in the spence endeavouring to make their escape, which two of them effected by forcing their way through the thatch.

The other seven were arrested. John Gemmell and James Paton had fled for safety to the byre, and on their way thither were attacked by one of the party, who drew his bayonet to stab them. Gemmell wrested it from his grasp, thrust it into his body, and, hastening out by the door, knocked down a guard who was stationed outside, and made his escape amid the darkness of the night. The soldier thus stabbed by his own weapon was lifted by his companions and thrown, while yet streaming with blood, into the bed among Mr. Paton’s children.

William Harris, ‘The Covenanters’, 1887. For more of his work see here

The other sufferers were still in the spence along with Mrs. Paton, who had a babe at her breast. Calling Inglis by name she pled with him for the sake of God to give them quarter, which he consented to do in consequence of knowing her some years before at her father’s house of Darwhilling, where he had been some time stationed; but this indulgence was granted on the condition that the sufferers should approach him one by one on their bare knees.

The first that ventured into his presence was an aged man, named Findlay, who was instantly bound like a felon; and, in despite of quarter being given, one of the soldiers barbarously plunged his bayonet so deep into his thigh that its point came out behind; and all the consolation the unfortunate man received was hearing a volley of curses poured forth by Inglis upon the inhuman perpetrator of the act. The rest of the prisoners came from the spence in the same way, and also were bound.

The whole of the premises were then narrowly searched. James Paton being found in the byre, was fettered like the others. A scene of plunder now ensued; and, after pillaging the house of every thing valuable, they seized the cows and horses and recklessly drove them over the body of White, which still lay in the passage. But their cruelty seems to have had no bounds; for with an axe they cut the head from the dead man, and used it next day as a foot-ball in their sports at Newmilns, to which place they conveyed the prisoners and the booty they had obtained.

When proceeding on their journey, the old man who was wounded signified his unfitness to walk; but Inglis, regardless of his sufferings, ordered him to be shot as soon as he appeared to retard their progress. At length they reached Newmilns, where they were imprisoned.

Next day Captain [John] Inglis (father of Patrick Inglis), who kept a garrison there, commanded the whole of the sufferers to be shot, and they were brought forth immediately for that purpose. But a friend of the captain, who happened to be present, advised him against such rash procedure, as he might be called to account for such a deed if a change took place in the government of the country. At this suggestion the captain paused in his work of blood. He sent his son, however, to the Council at Edinburgh for an express order to shoot them, and they were again imprisoned.

In the mean time their friends had concerted plans for their liberation; and, as if directed by an all-wise Providence, they assembled on the night previous to that which they had appointed for the rescue; and it was fortunate they did so; for Patrick Inglis had then returned from Edinburgh, and was lying in the vicinity with the order in his possession for their execution on the following day. With cool, yet dauntless hearts their friends attacked the garrison, killed two of the soldiers, broke up the doors and liberated the prisoners, with whom they marched triumphantly out of town.

Next day the captain caused the whole of the place to be searched for the actors, and learning that they had fled to the country, he despatched his men in pursuit of them. They found not a single person, however, who had been engaged in the affair; but on the same day another and a darker deed of infamy characterised their proceedings; for, actuated by feelings of disappointment and revenge, they shot, it is said, two innocent men when returning from their bloody raid’. (Archibald M’Kay, The History of Kilmarnock (1858, 2nd edition), 53-5.)

Later Editions of Cloud of Witnesses Changed

Despite the obvious problems with M’Kay as a source, his account was quickly incorporated into the martyrs’ canon when Thomson recycled it in his editorial note on White in late-nineteenth-century editions of Cloud of Witnesses:

‘[Twelve men were met for prayer, a night in the beginning of May 1685, in the house of James Paton, a wright, and tenant of Little Blackwood, about two miles to the south-east of Fenwick, Ayrshire, when a noise was heard outside. They soon found they were surrounded. James White was the only one that had a firelock.

As Patrick Inglis entered the house, after he had broken the door open, James White pulled the trigger, but the priming burned, without the gun going off, and its light let the soldiers see where he was, when they fired, and he fell dead. Three of the rest escaped, but the others were soon overpowered, and were spared through the intercession of James Paton’s wife, who, before her marriage, had known Patrick Inglis, when he was quartered in her father’s house. The soldiers cut off the head of James White, and carried it to Newmilns, where next day they played with it as a football on the green. The eight prisoners were taken to Newmilns, and put in the prison there —now in ruins.

The next day they were brought out to be shot, when doubts were raised by one of the soldiers as to the legality of their proceedings, when it was resolved to send to Edinburgh for authority from the Council. Meanwhile, during the interval, the friends of the prisoners broke open the prison, and all escaped. […] —Ed.]’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 546-7.)

Why was White shot?
The later tradition recorded by M’Kay believed that White was killed during the raid at Little Blackwood, almost in kind of western-style shootout after the farm was surrounded. However, the early evidence collected by Wodrow indicates that Peter Inglis’ dragoons shot White after ‘he did not answer their querys’.

The latter version is based on early, and probably more reliable, evidence that than used by M’Kay and as such probably reflects what actually happened at Little Blackwood.

One of the questions which would have been put to White was almost certainly the Abjuration oath that renounced the Societies’ war against the Restoration regime. Was White shot directly after he refused the Abjuration oath? He possibly was, as the punishment for refusing to take the Abjuration oath was summary execution in the field. However, his decapitation after death, probably tells us that he was inolved in some treasonable act of violence against government forces.

Why was he decapitated?
The sources are clear that the dragoons deliberately decapitated White with an axe after he was killed and that they then took his head back to their headquarters at Newmilns on a stick. The removal of the head was probably not a casual act of barbarism by Cornet Inglis, but a deliberate act.

The actions of Inglis’ dragoons are remarkably similar to those taken by Earlshall’s dragoons in the aftermath of the skirmish at Airds Moss in 1680:

[Andrew Bruce of] Earlshall gave a guinea to cut off Mr. [Richard] Cameron’s head, and hands, which he hagged off with a durk, with John Fowler’s head in stead of Michael Cameron’s. Mr. Cameron’s body, with the other eight, were all buried upon the spot […] Earlshall marched to Edinburgh with Mr. Cameron’s head and hands, and John Fowler’s, with the foresaid three Prisoners. When they came to the city, he caused take them out of the sack into which they were carried, and put them upon a halbert, and carried them to the Council. The foresaid Robert Murray said, there’s the head and hands that lived praying and preaching, and died praying and fighting. The Council ordered the hangman to fix them upon the Netherbow-port. […] Mr. Cameron’s head was fix’d upon the port, and his hands close by his head, with his fingers upward. […] Some old men who were publick at that time assert, that Earlshall got 500 L. Sterling for that bloody action. (Walker, BP, I, 204-5.)

Covenanters’ Grave at Airdmoss © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

According to Wodrow: ‘Mr Richard Cameron was killed upon the spot, and his head and hand cut off by Robert Murray, and carried in to the council, who ordered them to be set up on the Nether-bow Port in Edinburgh’. (Wodrow, History, III, 220.)

David Hackston of Rathillet also gave an account of the reception of the prisoners from Airdsmoss:

‘They were commanded by [Captain-lieutenant Andrew Bruce of] Earlshall. We were horsed, civilly used by them on the way, and brought to Edinburgh, about four in the afternoon, and carried about the north side of the town to the foot of the Canongate, where the town magistrates were, who received us; and setting me on a horse with my face backward, and the other three bound on a goad of iron, and Mr Cameron’s head carried on a halbert before me, and another head in a sack, whose I knew not, on a lad’s back, we were so carried up the street to the Parliament Close, where I was taken down, and the rest loosed. All was done by the hangman. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 47.)

The similarities between the actions Cornet Peter Inglis and Earlshall may suggest that the dragoons decapitated White in expectation of a financial reward and/or to put his head on public display as a warning to the Covenanters in the area around Newmilns. The fact that White’s head was treated in that way, probably indicates that the dragoons believed that White was guilty of some treasonable act, such as attacking government forces.

When was White Shot?
None of the early printed sources for White’s death, including his gravestone, narrow down the time frame for it beyond the year 1685. Also, none of the early printed sources portray White’s killing was anything other than a summary field execution after he was captured at Little Blackwood.

However, we know that the Little Blackwood raid took place in March, 1685, as James Finlay in Dykes, who was wounded in the raid, was recorded in the Registers of the Privy Council as being wounded in March, 1685.

Three later sources date the shooting of White by the capture of prisoners at the raid on Little Blackwood.

The earliest of those later sources is the inscription on John Law’s grave in Newmilns which was erected prior to 1741. It does not mention the shooting of White at all, but it does mention the capture of eight prisoners:

‘Here lies John Law who was shot at Newmilns. At the relieving of 8 of Christ’s Prisoners, who were taken at a meeting for prayer at Little Blackwood, in the Parish of Kilm[arnoc]k in April 1685’.

The problem with Law’s gravestone, pictured above, is that it has been renewed or replaced on at least three occasions and the inscription my not have been accurately transposed from one stone to another. A comma instead of a full stop or a missing comma makes all the difference to when the Little Blackwood incident took place.

Law was killed in a raid on Newmilns Tower that rescued the prisoners. From a letter of John Graham of Claverhouse of 3 May 1685, we know that the attack on the Tower occurred on Saturday 25 April. (Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 207; Thomson (ed.), CW, 599.)

Law’s death was in April, but the Little Blackwood incident in which White died took place in March.

The second later source, which was also from Newmilns, is Reverend Norman Macleod’s account in the New Statistical Account of 1845 which used the inscription on Law’s grave as a source. According to Macleod, ‘eight men’ were ‘discovered praying in the Black-wood’ and ‘one of them, it is said, was immediately executed, and the soldiers in mockery kicked his head for foot-ball, along the Newmills public green!’ (NSA, V, 838.)

Macleod did not give a date for White’s execution, but he did link it to the capture of eight prisoners at Little Blackwood, which was in March.

The final later source is M’Kay’s account of 1848, which also links White’s death to the prisoners taken at Little Blackwood and the later attack on Newmilns Tower, but he places all of those events in May 1685. M’Kay’s explicit mention of ‘May’ as the time when those events took place, i.e. after the attack on Newmilns on 25 April, contradicts the  historical evidence. (M’Kay, History of Kilmarnock, 53.)

Newmilns Tower

What was the wider context of White’s death?
Probably the best way to understand White’s shooting is to place it in the context of the local situation in Kilmarnock parish, rather that to see it as the first of a series of events which led to the attack on Newmilns Tower.

Little Blackwood lay on the eastern upland area of Kilmarnock parish. For the Society people, Kilmarnock parish had a reputation as a centre of persecution and was particularly reproached in several martyrs’ testimonies, unlike other parishes.

In December 1682, John Finlay, from Muirside in Kilmarnock parish, had bitterly inveighed against the people of the parish who had led to his capture in his martyrs’ testimony:

‘I leave my testimony against that bloody murderer, John Reid, which murdered a woman in the town of Newmilns, and now is carrying arms against Christ and His followers, who took me, and confessed to me that he had not an order for it’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 260, 263.)

John Reid ‘sometimes’ belonged ‘to [Sir William Wallace of] Craigie[’]s Troup’ of dragoons. Alexander Shields accused Reid of shooting George Wood in Sorn parish in June 1688 ‘without asking one question at him’. Shields also accused Wallace of Craigie of being a ‘great persecutor and oppressor’ in Ayrshire. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 38. Craigie was based at Newton Castle, near Ayr.)

Finlay also testified ‘against that party that carried me to Edinburgh; and especially Alexander Gemmil, my neighbour, for he vexed me more than all that party, for he said I married folk, and baptized children, and mocked me most dreadfully’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 263.)

He also offered testimony ‘against these men called elders, in my own parish, because of their complying with every course of defection and abomination that comes alongst through the country: they being first thought to be faithful elders in the time of the Presbyterian government, and then turned elders to the Curate Carnegie, and then turned elders to Mr Wedderburn, that indulged minister ; and now are sessioners to this curate [George Pollock]. And seeing this is true, that they have showed themselves to be men of no principles, and the Spirit of God saying expressly, ‘Meddle not with them that are given to change’; who can blame me to disown them? (Thomson (ed.), CW, 264.)

James Carnegie was the minister (or “curate”) of Kilmarnock between 1663 to 1669. He was succeeded by Alexander Wedderburn, an indulged presbyterian minister, in 1670, who was said to have died from the blow of a Highlander’s musket when the Highland Host were present in the area in November 1678. Despite his death, the local Society people seem to have had little good to say about Wedderburn. He was followed by George Pollock, the ‘curate’ that Finlay referred to, and then by Robert Bell, in 1687. The latter was publicly stripped of his gown at Kilmarnock’s mercat cross and expelled from his parish charge by an armed troop of Society People at the Revolution. (Fasti, III, 105.)

Finlay also singled out ‘John Boyd, called Bailie of Kilmarnock, for his bloody courses in many things, and especially in his uplifting of the cess and bloody fines, and in oppressing the poor in their consciences, and laying on of dragoons upon them most cruelly, which he did upon me four times. I wish God may forgive him for what he has done in that matter’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 264.)

He also offered the following advice ‘to you that are old professors and Covenanters … especially in Kilmarnock parish’:

‘What are ye doing? Where are ye now, by when [i.e., since] ye swore the Covenant, and swore against Popery and Prelacy, and all that faction, side, and party? How are ye prosecuting the ends of that Covenant, now in the sight of God, and the oath of God, that ye swore with hands lifted up to the most high God, and before heaven and earth, sun and moon? Oh! my soul trembles to think what bad example ye are to the young generation, ye who should have been as the he goats before the flock, to train them up in the way of God, and the way of holiness and righteousness, and now ye are leading them just the contrary’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 263.)

James Robertson, who was executed on the same time as Finlay, also testified against the people of Kilmarnock parish:

‘I give my testimony against all the hearers of these abominable Tested curates throughout the land; so in particular against that comer of the land, viz., Kilmarnock and the country thereabout, where I was apprehended; which I was then persuaded of, and yet am, that it was so ordered that I might in particular witness against them for their compearing at courts, subscribing bonds, paying fines which includeth in it an acknowledgment of a fault, building that which formerly they did destroy, and destroying that which formerly they builded, and that according to God’s Word; and these who formerly were leaders in the way of truth, elders and old professors, are now as active by example and advice in the present course, and so are a stumbling-block to others. Offences must come, but woe to them by whom they come; better it were that a millstone were hanged about their necks, and they were cast into the midst of the sea. Oh! that ye who have formerly known the way of truth, would study more stability, and let not your liberty become a stumbling block to others’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 253-4.)

John Nisbet, younger of Knowe in Loudoun parish, who was executed at Kilmarnock in April 1683, made a similar condemnation of the parish:

‘I leave my testimony against the hearers of these perjured curates throughout the land; but especially in that corner of the land, to wit, Kilmarnock; for their going to kirks, subscribing of bonds, paying of fines; which includeth in it the acknowledgment of a fault, which I deny we have done, but they have done it to us, and that never a watchman to testify against it’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 298.)

Kilmarnock continued to be a centre for the repression of the Covenanters. In April 1684, John Paton of Meadowhead in Fenwick parish was carried to Kilmarnock prior to his execution at Edinburgh, and in August, the prisoners captured near Upper Wellwood in Muirkirk parish were held in Dean Castle, which lies just outside of Kilmarnock. Dean was the home of the earl of Kilmarnock who was noted by Shields as extracting £1,000 (Scots) from Ayrshire. (Thomson, (ed.), CW, 357; Shields, A Short Memorial, 31.)

In November 1685, the Society people captured in raids on the farms at Midland and Darwhilling in Fenwick parish were also taken to Kilmarnock Tolbooth. (Howie, Scots Worthies, 569-70, 570n.)

Kilmarnock parish was clearly contested ground between the Society people and the local parish establishment. The struggle in Kilmarnock parish was perhaps most keenly felt in the area around Little Blackwood.

Muirside Farm © Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.

Little Blackwood lay very close to Muirside, the home of John Finlay who was executed in 1682.

Map of approximate location of Muirside

On Roy’s mid eighteenth-century map, Muirside lay in a slightly different location from that of Muirside farm today, as it was situated directly on the north bank of the Polbaith Burn.

On 21 October 1685, the United Societies held their twenty-fourth convention somewhere on the Polbaith Burn. Given the Societies use of remote moorland sites at that time, the convention was almost certainly held on the upper reaches of the burn beyond Muirside. (Shields, FCD, 169-86.)

Entry to Meadowhead © Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.


Little Blackwood also lay not too far to the home of John Paton of Meadowhead, who was captured in nearby Mearns parish at the beginning of April 1684 and executed in Edinburgh on 9 May. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 352.)

Map of Meadowhead

Darwhilling Farm © wfmillar and licensed for reuse.

A Fugitive Connection to Little Blackwood

Little Blackwood was also the suspected refuge of a fugitive, as ‘William Wylie, in Little Blackwood or Groudar [i.e. Grougar]’ appears under Kilmarnock parish on the published Fugitive Roll of May 1684. At the time of White’s shooting, Wylie was still on the run. It was perhaps the possibility of Wylie’s capture which drew Cornet Inglis and his dragoons to Little Blackwood in May, 1685. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’ II, 207. Little Blackwood lay on the Grougar estate.)

William Wylie was the son of Thomas Wylie, who probably lived at the nearby farm of Darwhilling. Both he and his father were captured at Darwhilling by Lieutenant Robert Nisbet in November 1685, along with John Gemmel.

Map of Darwhilling             Streetview of Darwhilling

According to M’Kay’s later account of White’s shooting, John Gemmel was present when Inglis raided Little Blackwood, but managed to escape. Both John Gemmel and William Wylie were banished to the sugar island of Barbados in November or December 1685 and remained there under forced indentured servitude until they returned home after the Revolution.

John Gemmel was probably the ‘John Gemmil in Netherblackwood’ who was listed in Kilmarnock parish on the Fugitive Roll of 1684. Nether Blackwood or Laigh Blackwood, now simply known as Blackwood, lies a short distance from the site of Little Blackwood. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 208.)

Map of Nether Blackwood

Entry to Midland Farm © Peter Bond and licensed for reuse.

On the same day as John Gemmel and the Wylies were captured, Gemmel’s younger brother, Peter or Patrick Gemmel, was killed in another raid led by Lieutenant Nisbet on the nearby farm of Midland in Fenwick parish. (Howie, Scots Worthies, 570n.)

Map of Midland

Horsehill © Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse.

Peter Gemmel was described by Howie of Lochgoin as ‘a younger brother of the house of Horsehill’. Both Peter and John Gemmel were sons of the ‘David Gemmil in Horsehill’ who was listed on the Fugitive Roll of 1684. (Howie, Scots Worthies, 569-70, 570n; Jardine, ‘United Societies’ II, 206.)

Map of Horsehill              Streetview of Horsehill

In the action at Midland, two others, John Ferguson (aka., Fergushill) and George Woodburn, of Loudoun parish, were also killed. However, the main prize for the dragoons from the Midland raid was the capture of John Nisbet in Hardhill, one of the leading members of the United Societies in the local area.

Hardhill lay close to Newmilns in Loudoun parish. Today, Hardhill has all but disappeared. It lay in the Glebe through which runs the Huggincraig Burn. Judging from the ruin visible on the old OS Six-inch maps and from the description of it in the John Mair Newmilns Photograph Collection, Hardhill lay on the west bank of the bend in the Huggincraig Burn to the north of Loudoun Road.

Map of Hardhill                Streetview from Loudoun Road towards Hardhill

The George Woodburn who was killed at Midland was from Loudoun Mains, which lay just north of Hardhill.

Map of Loudoun Mains                   Streetview of Loudoun Mains

Where was James White from?
The local connections between the Society people in Kilmarnock and Fenwick parishes suggests that White may have been from the area. None of the early sources claim that White was from Little Blackwood, as they only claim that he was killed either at Little Blackwood or at a spot nearby. The burial of White in Fenwick parish, when he was killed in Kilmarnock parish, probably indicates that he was from Fenwick parish. A strong contender for one of his kin is John White in Hareshawhill in Fenwick parish, who was listed on the Fugitive Roll of 1684.

The Hareshawhill has now disappeared, but it does appear on the first OS map.

It lay just beyond Darwhilling and Horsehill, and to the north of Little Blackwood.

Map of former location of Hareshawhill          Streetview of former site of Hareshawhill

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Photograph of Kirko’s original and later gravestones are © Copyright Bobby Guthrie @AftonKillie and are reproduced by his very kind permission.

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

~ by drmarkjardine on October 31, 2010.

27 Responses to “The Covenanters and Scottish Football”

  1. Yes, but what was the score?

    • It was clearly Covenanters 0 Dragoons, 1 after White was shot, but the prisoner rescue at Newmilns in time added on before at the end of the first half brought hope to the home side. In the dragoons team talk Claverhouse urged his men to up their game and go on the attack and play dirty. The “old firm” reasserted their dominance in the second half by pummelling the Covenanters with shots from all angles and taking down their opponents all over the field. By the end, the dragoons had a clear 86 goal lead, although that score is disputed by some Covenanters who said it was more like 101 goals against them. With its cut-and-thrust style and general disrespect for the laws of the game, some credit the Newmilns match with the invention of Scottish Junior Football.

      • I’d be a little surprised if Claverhouse gave “the Jambos” a half time team talk, as I’d like to think he was playing for “the Red Lichties” myself… 😉 Anyway, in 1685 he was too busy with crowd control duties, trying to stop an invasion by the Cardiff City firm and later in the year he was sitting on SFA Executive Council in Edinburgh.

        Surely it was a high scoring game? With both “the Gers” and “the Jambos” sides getting in quite a few cheap shots each. Or, don’t the Curate of Carsphairn, Cornet Graham and many other troopers count?

        Does this early weird “ball” go some way to explaining Frank Haffey?

  2. […] Smith in Cronan, whose shooting in the aftermath of the attack was recorded by Macleod, or perhaps James White, who may have been shot and beheaded in revenge for the […]

  3. […] Gemmel and William Wylie were banished to Barbados on 9 December for attending conventicles. (See James White and Wodrow, History, IV, 223; Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 101. Thomas Wylie died before he […]

  4. […] May?), John Smith in Cronan (4-c.10 May?), John Brounen or Browning (c.6-10 May?) and perhaps James White and John Law. It is possible that the capture of William Campbell in Upper Wellwood and John […]

  5. […] Were Hay and Pitilloch testifying in general terms about the betrayal of the Lord’s cause by the ministers and professors of Fife or where they making specific accusations about betrayal? It was not unusual for martyrs to condemn the an area were they were captured and those responsible for their capture. For example, see the series of testimonies directed against the people of Kilmarnock parish. […]

  6. My family of James Ritchie and his wife Margaret Highet lived at Laigh Blackwood in the 1841 Scottish Census. When James died in 1848 Margaret and her family contiued to live there until 1861. I am unsure but is Laigh Blackwood is the same farm as Little Blackwood. I have photos of what I have been told is Laigh Blackwood. It would be great if any researcher could clear up this problem

    • Hi Alan,

      Laigh Blackwood lay next to High Blackwood (i.e., to the west of Berryhill.) Today, both locations are known simply as Blackwood on the map. In other words, Little Blackwood is not Laigh Blackwood.

      Little Blackwood only appeared on General Roy’s map of 1747 as a fuzzy set of buildings. That probably indicates that it did not amount to much more that a few farm buildings. Using the OS maps etc with Roy is quite frustrating, as the layout of the surrounding farms in Roy doesn’t quite match the layout today. According to this website,

      Those Cuthbertsons are the last entries I can find for the farm. It looks Little Blackwood was a victim of agricultural improvement in the eighteenth century. You might find others people who lived there on the Scotlandspeople website – it has wills which are searchable for ‘Little Blackwood’, but you have to pay for credits at some point.

      As I mentioned in my blog, the farmer at Dykescroft (at least a few years ago) was able ot point out its precise location. That, apparently, did not quite tally with the documentary evidence for its location. (At least according to this web page, near the bottom of the page:

      If you are looking for maps which show Laigh Blackwood, try using the National Library of Scotland Online Maps – counties section – Ayrshire. At least you will get images of Laigh Blackwood!


  7. […] Lieutenant Lauder served in His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons. He was listed as an ensign in Inglis’s dragoons on 25 November, 1681. In April, 1684, the privy council issued a £20 reward to Lauder for his part in apprehending Col. John Paton of Meadowhead. […]

  8. […] 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 cornet, the lowest rank of […]

  9. Peter Gemmell of Horsehill or Patrick Gemmil of New Cumnock

    The traditional account of the killing of three Covenanters at Midland Farm in the parish of Fenwick is taken from John Howie’s essay on John Nisbet of Hardhill in ‘The Scots Worthies’ (1775).

    ‘Whereupon, in the month of November 1683, [John Nisbet of Hardhill] having retired from, amongst his lurking-places, unto a certain house called Midland, in the parish of Fenwick, where were assembled for prayer and other religious exercises, on a Saturday’s night, other three of his faithful brethren, viz., Peter Gemmell, a younger brother of the house of Horsehill, in the same parish; George Woodburn, a brother of the Woodburns, in the muirs of Loudon; and one John Fergushill from Tarbolton. Upon notice that Lieutenant Nisbet, and a party of Colonel Buchan’s dragoons, were out in quest of the wanderers, they resolved on the Sabbath morning to depart. But old John Fergushill not being able to go by reason of some infirmities, they were obliged to return back with him, after they had gone a little way from the house, and were the same day apprehended; the way and the manner of which, stand in an old manuscript given under his own hand while he was prisoner, is as follows: ‘

    An earlier account of the Midland Farm killings appears in ‘The Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, 1686’. It is given by William Bruce, sergeant to Lieutenant-Colonel Buchan during his petition for a reward for the apprehending of notorious rebells.

    ‘In November 1685 years….. being commanded with others upon a partie in the West, having gott notice of some rebels lurking in ane house at Phinick Kirk, he with another souldier entered the house, where there wer foure of the rebells, viz, Nisbet of Harthill, John Fergusone, portioner of Milburne, Patrick Gemmell and Georg Woodburn, who were knowne to be notorious rebells and ring-leaders in that countrie, and particularly the said Patrick Gemmell against whom your Lordships emitted ane act for apprehending of him, promiseing reward to the apprehender, these rebells, after a long conflict in which your petitioner was sore wounded.
    The committee having considered the petition find that the supplicant hes been very active in his Majesties service againest the fugitive rebells, particularly at the takeing of Nisbit of Hardhill, where thre other desperat rebells were killed, particularly one Patrick Gemmill upon whose head there wes a reward promised in a publict proclamation. The committee having considered the petition find the representation to be true and in regard of his service and his sufferings he ought to be rewarded and 251 sterling at least ought to be allowed him.’

    Signed Mar; Livingstoune; W.Drummond, J.Grahame, Edinburgh 18th February 1686.

    Patrick Gemmell of Old Castle Cumnock was at Sanquhar with Richard Cameron and a price of 1000 merks on his head through a warrant issued on the 30th June 1680 for the apprehension of these ‘notorious Traitors and Rebels against Us and Our Authority’.

    ‘Mr Richard Cameron and his brother [Michael], Mr Thomas Dowglas, John Valang, brother in Law to Robert Park, one of the baillies of Sanquhar Daniel MacMitchell in Lorgfoot Thomas Campbell, sone to Campbell late of Dalblair in Auchinleck Parish John Moodie brother to the miller at Cubsmilne in the same parish,John Fouller, sometime servant to the deceased Lindsay of Covingtoun, Patrik Gemill, sone in law to Charles Logan, messenger at Cumnock-maines, James Stewart, sone to Archibald Stuart at Calseyend , near to the Earl of Galloway’s house Alexander Gordown, called of Kilsture, Francis Johnstoun , Merchant in Clidisdale, __ Creichton, sone to Robert Creichton of Auchtitinch, now in Waterhead .’ ‘And for the better encouragement all such as shall apprehend and bring in the said traitours dead or alive, the apprehender of Mr Richard Cameron shall as a reward, have five thousand merks, and for Mr Thomas Dowglas, Mr Donal Cargill and the for the said [Michael] Cameron, brother to Mr Richard , who read and affixt the said traiterous declaration at Sanquhar, three thousand marks for each of them, and one thousand merks for each one of the rest of the traitours above mentioned, to be instantly payed to them by the Commissioners of our Thesuary’

    On the 5th May, 1684, Charles II issued a proclamation ‘for the apprehension of persons, who were supposed to have been under arms, or to have harboured those who were’ . The names of those appearing in the proclamation from the parish of Cumnock included Patrick Gemmil , Old Castle, Cumnock.

    N.B. In 1650 the parish of Cumnock was divided into the two new parishes of Old Cumnock and New Cumnock. The original parish church served the parish of Old Cumnock and was located in the heart of what is now the town of Cumnock. A new kirk was built for the parish of New Cumnock and this was erected adjacent to the site of Cumnock Castle, the ancient seat of the barons of Cumnock, on the hill overlooking the confluence of the Afton Water and River Nith at the heart of what is the village of New Cumnock. Nearby stood Cumnock Maynes (home to Patrick Gemmil’s father in law Charles Logan) and Cumnock Mill. The name Cumnock may come from Gaelic comunn achadh ‘meeting place’ – meeting of Afton and Nith.

  10. New Cumnock/ Cumnock

  11. Thanks Mark, I appreciate the Earl of Dumfries had the decision to divide the parish of Cumnock annulled in 1667, I was just clarifying that references to Cumnock Castle and Cumnock Maynes are references to what is now New Cumnock. As a member of the SCMA we are hoping to have a Covenanter memorial at the Auld Kirk , New Cumnock some time next year. (p.s. I am run the newcumnock wordpress site , all the best, Bobby)

    • Hi Bobby,
      I thought that you ran the site! Delighted to hear from you.

    • Hi Bobby,

      If you spot any errors on the site or think of anything that might be useful please don’t hesitate to get in touch. This blog is a continual work process. I’m open to suggestions, improvements and new information.

      I have a request for you. Do you have a list of those who subscribed Cameron’s bond in 1680 and a source for that? If so, could you send it to me?

      jardinesbookofmartyrs [at]

      All the best,


  12. Thanks Mark, I am a regular visitor to this remarkable resource. I hope to rebuild my ‘old’ New Cumnock site and update the Covenanters pages … eventually!

  13. Cameron Bond Subscription source e-mailed

  14. […] of Nisbet of Cartin. Lieutenant Nisbet was also said to be a relative of John Nisbet of Hardhill, who he captured with three others in November, 1685. In 1689, he married a daughter of the laird of Hillhouse from Dundonald parish, Ayrshire. Nisbet […]

  15. […] at Little Blackwood in Fenwick parish. Of the twelve members of a society seized in the raid, one, James White, was shot dead and later decapitated with an axe, John Gemmel and two others escaped, James Finlay, who had been wounded in the raid, Paton and six […]

  16. […] in April, 1685, the nearby garrison at Newmilns was also attacked. In that case, the local Society people conducted a prisoner rescue a few weeks after a raid on a […]

  17. […] Covenanters in Edinburgh. His duties, however, went well beyond hanging the condemned. He had mounted Richard Cameron’s head on a halberd in July, […]

  18. […] were taken prisoners [in March, 1685]. One of them, it is said [called James White], was immediately executed, and soldiers in mockery kicked his head for foot-ball, along the Newmills public […]

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