Renwick’s ‘lost’ preaching in Eaglesham

The Munzie Burn © Trevor Littlewood and licensed for reuse.

When John Nisbet of Hardhill was brought before the Privy Council on 30 November 1685, part of the charge against him was that he had been present at a field preaching ‘within these two months, betwixt Eaglesham and Kilbride [parishes]’ on the boundary between Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire. (Wodrow, History, IV, 237.)

The historical sources are frustratingly silent on the identity of the field preacher responsible for the conventicle that Hardhill attended, but in the context of late 1685, it could only have been James Renwick or Alexander Peden. Hardhill’s testimony, which was written just before his execution in Edinburgh on 4 December 1685, provides strong evidence that it was Renwick, rather than Peden.

In late 1685, the Societies were embroiled in a bitter dispute between those who favoured reunion with the earl of Argyll’s faction and the presbyterian ministry, and those who supported Renwick’s isolationist stance for the Societies and were opposed to reunion with moderate presbyterian “backsliders”. The former faction were supported by Peden, who stated that he would make Renwick’s name ‘stink above ground’. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, I, 142-53.)

In mid 1685, Hardhill and his son, James Nisbet, had associated with Peden, but after the dispute over reunion broke out, Hardhill supported Renwick’s isolationist faction. In his martyrs’ testimony Hardhill clearly expressed support for Renwick’s hard-line ideological platform:

‘I own all the appearances in arms that have been at Pentland, Drumclog, Bothwell, Airsmoss, and elsewhere, against God’s stated enemies, and the enemies of the Gospel, as it hath been preached by all Christ’s faithful ambassadors in Scotland since the Reformation, and now by that faithful servant of Christ, Mr James Renwick; and the testimony of the day as it is stated and carried on by him and his adherents at home and abroad’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 466. The editor’s note of 1718 that listed ministers in exile is in error, as Hardhill was plainly referring to Renwick’s adherents abroad, such as Robert Hamilton who was based in Leeuwarden in the United Provinces.)

He also attacked Renwick’s presbyterian opponents, which included Peden:

‘I leave my testimony against … all ministers and professors, who are any way guilty of any of the woeful defections and sinful compliances with the enemies of truth, or any way guilty of condemning, reproaching, and ridiculing Mr James Renwick and his correspondents, or the testimony which they are carrying on. And let all such ministers and professors know that this their practice, at the best, is a denying of Christ, and a shifting of His cross’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 467.)

Furthermore, Hardhill also stated that he conversed with ‘no other’ minister in the fields, except Renwick. (Howie, Scots Worthies, 572.)

Given Hardhill’s hardline stance and statement, the preacher at the conventicle in Eaglesham parish must have been James Renwick.

Where was Renwick’s field preaching between Kilbride and Eaglesham parishes held?
Judging by the Privy Council’s vague description of the location and the Societies’ preference for remote upland preaching sites, it is a reasonable assumption that Renwick would have preached in the relative safety of the hills and moorlands along the southern portion of the boundary between Eaglesham and Kilbride parishes, rather than in the more densely populated northern part of the boundary which was dotted with farms.

The boundary between the parishes was also the boundary between Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire, and at its southern tip, near the farm of Myres, it was where three shires – Lanark, Renfrew and Ayr – converged. Border locations like those were often used by the Societies, not only for the cover that the hills and muirs provided against detection by government forces, but also as convenient meeting places for Society people from multiple shires.

The southern portion of the boundary between the parishes of Eaglesham and Kilbride more-or-less lies between the farms of Threepland and Myres in Eaglesham parish. Both farms were connected to presbyterian militancy in Eaglesham parish.

Threepland © Steve woodward and licensed for reuse.

Threepland (NS 601 491) was the home of John Young and his sons, Andrew and William, who accounted for three out of the five fugitives listed in Eaglesham parish on the Fugitive Roll of 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 202.)

Map of Threepland

Myres Hill © Iain Thompson and licensed for reuse.

Myres was where the Societies held their seventh convention in February 1683. The seventh convention is one of the most intriguing meetings in the Societies’ history, as it saw one of the rare attempts by the Societies to reach out to other dissenters across the British Isles.

Map of Myres

At the convention at Myres the Societies had backed proposals for joint insurrection between Scottish presbyterians and English whigs to overthrow Charles II’s Restoration regime, and sent a formal call to Alexander Peden and a handful of other presbyterian ministers to preach to the Societies. Both resolutions opened the way for the cooperation of the Societies with other dissenting groups opposed to the Restoration regime.

However, the seventh convention’s attempts to reach a “political” compromise or understanding with other parties was quickly undermined on all sides. Within weeks, James Renwick and the Societies’ leadership rejected the convention’s resolutions, Peden and the ministers rejected the Societies overtures, and delegates from the Scottish moderate presbyterian faction persuaded the English whig leadership that the radical constitutional change supported by the Societies made them unsuitable partners for orderly regime change in Britain. (Shields, FCD, 49-64; Jardine, ‘United Societies’, I, 93-103.)

High Overmuir © Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.

To the south of Myres lay the remote farm of Overmuir in Loudon parish, Ayrshire, which was almost certainly the home of John Campbell of Overmoor. Campbell was captured at some point in 1683 or 1684 and was plainly suspected by the Privy Council of significant involvement in the United Societies.

Map of Overmuir

Low Overmuir © Greg Morss and licensed for reuse.

In November 1684, after word of the Societies’ Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers reached the Privy Council, Campbell and four other imprisoned Societies’ activists – John Hodge, an armourer in Glasgow, John and Peter Russell in Muirhead, Shotts parish and James Tennant in Letham, Mid Calder parish – were immediately brought before the Council to answer questions on the Declaration which had threatened government officials with assassination.

Map of Former location of Muirhead (NS 890 640)

Map of Approximate former location of Letham (below Livingston)

Campbell and the other prisoners were condemned to death, but their execution was not carried out and the sentence hung over their heads for months until Charles II died in February 1685. Soon after, Hodge, the Russells and perhaps John Campbell were handed over to George Scott of Pitlochie for banishment aboard the Henry & Francis to New Perth in East Jersey, now Perth Amboy in New Jersey, in James VII’s English North American colonies. (Wodrow, History, IV, 151; Whitehead, History of Perth Amboy, 28; Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 232.)

Renwick preached in an area which was a focus of militant activity. Can the location of his preaching be identified?

The Munzie Gorge © Iain Thompson and licensed for reuse.

Myres is a strong candidate for the preaching site, given its previous use by the Societies, but another good candidate, which lies nearby, is ‘Mungo Hill’ where Richard Cameron preached in the summer of 1680. Mungo or Munzie Hill is not marked on the OS map, but it lies near the Munzie Well, which is also known as St Mungo’s Well, on the Munzie Burn.

Map of the Munzie Well

The mineral waters of the Munzie Well were renowned for their ‘laxative’ properties. Given its association with St Mungo, the site was probably a holy well in the pre-Reformation era. The site is recorded by the RCAHMS.

The Munzie Burn is a tributary of the Ardoch Burn and it lies near Ardoch, the farm of one of the few other fugitives in Eaglesham parish, William Jackson. He may also have been banished aboard the Henry & Francis in 1685. (Thomson, ‘Travels’, 357; NSA, VII, 385; Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 202; Wodrow, History, IV, 217, 219, 234, 235; Whitehead, History of Perth Amboy, 28.)

When did Renwick preach?
The Privy Council’s description of the time frame of the conventicle as ‘within these two months’ on 30 November suggests a date in mid October. It is probably not a coincidence that the possible timing for Renwick’s conventicle coincides with the United Societies’ twenty-fourth convention, which was held nearby at Polbaith Burn on 21 October 1685. (Shields, FCD, 169-86; Houston, Letters, 244.)

The exact site of the eighteenth convention is not known, but it was presumably somewhere on the upper reaches of the Polbaith Burn which lies across Eaglesham Moor to the south-west of Myres and the Munzie Burn.

Map of possible area for Convention at Polbaith Burn

Renwick’s conventicles were sometimes the prelude the general convention. The conventicle and the convention were not always in the same location, e.g. after Renwick held a conventicle ‘near’ Loudon Hill in February 1685, he and the Societies’ delegates when on to attend the eighteenth convention at Auchengilloch. (See John Smith and John Brounen)

The conventicle and the convention seem to have produced a wave of prisoners who were brought before the Privy Council in late November and early December 1685.

It is likely that some of the men taken in Eaglesham parish who were tried for attending conventicles and banished to Barbados on 26 November 1685, were captured after Renwick’s preaching, as Hardhill was charged with attending the Eaglesham conventicle just a few days later. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 530; Wodrow, History, IV, 223; Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 101.)

The capture of the men in Eaglesham was also probably connected to the Lieutenant Robert Nisbet’s raids on Midland and Darwhilling in Fenwick parish on the other side of Eaglesham Muir, which resulted in the capture of Hardhill, John Gemmel, Thomas Wylie and William Wylie, as both 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. According to Howie, Thomas Wylie, the father of William Wylie, died at before William Wylie was banished at Edinburgh, however, the registers of the privy council clearly state that Thomas, rather than William Wylie, was banished. Howie also claims that John Gemmel and William Wylie returned to Scotland in 1689.)

Map of Midland

Map of Darwhilling

The evidence suggests that the conventicle, the convention and the capture of the Eaglesham men and those in Fenwick parish were connected. Michael Shields also hints that the events around Eaglesham Moor were connected:

‘However, the persecution was not so incessant, yet still their rage did many times exert itself in bloody murders of such as they could catch of the Wanderers, several of which they butchered in the fields where they found them [i.e. at Midland], and others on scaffolds [i.e. Hardhill], and in filling prisons with them [i.e. the prisoners from Fenwick and Eaglesham parishes], while the enemy had no other to persecute and pursue but them [i.e. the Societies]’. (Shields, FCD, 225.)

After the failure of the Argyll and Monmouth Risings in July 1685, the intensive repression of the western and southern shires and the use of summary field executions had subsided. In that context, the sudden upsurge in captures and killings around Eaglesham Moor in late 1685 was an isolated outburst of intensive repression. That context and the narrow geographical spread of the events suggests that the repression of the Societies around Eaglesham Moor was due to specific local circumstances, rather than part of a general pattern of repression.

A tentative chronology of events can be reconstructed. At some point in October 1685, Renwick held a conventicle on the boundary of Eaglesham and Kilbride parishes, probably on Eaglesham Moor and perhaps at Munzie Hill, which was attended by Nisbet of Hardhill. Renwick’s preaching would have been organised by Society people in the surrounding parishes of Fenwick, Kilmarnock, Loudon, Eaglesham and Kilbride and word of it spread through the local network of prayer societies.

At about the same time, the Societies held their twenty-fourth convention on 21 October near the Polbaith Burn which lies across the hills and moor to the south-west of the conventicle site. The convention, too, would have been hosted by the same local societies. The twenty-fourth convention was organised at short notice to resolve disputes from the previous convention on 1 October. That suggests that either the Polbaith Burn convention was bolted on to Renwick’s planned conventicle for Eaglesham parish or that both events were organised in tandem and in a hurry.

At some point after the armed conventicle and the convention, word of them reached the local dragoons and they captured some of the Society people involved. Judging from the chronology of the appearances of the Eaglesham men, Hardhill and John Gemmel and Thomas Wylie before the Privy Council, it seems that the men in Eaglesham parish were the first to be seized and delivered to Edinburgh. Their appearance on 26 November was followed by that of Hardhill on the 30 November, who was probably brought to Edinburgh by Lieutenant Robert Nisbet in person in order to obtain the reward from his capture. The final group to appear, on 3–9 December, were Gemmel and Wylie who were taken at Darwhilling on the same day as Hardhill was captured at Midland.

That chronology suggests that the raids in Eaglesham parish occurred before Lieutenant Nisbet conducted his raids in Fenwick parish.

Lieutenant Robert Nisbet’s raids on the farms at Darwhilling and Midland appear to have been intelligence led operations, rather than part of a general sweep through the area. It is possible that Lieutenant Nisbet had received intelligence of who was sheltering Hardhill, perhaps from some of those captured after Renwick’s conventicle, as the two Gemmel brothers were discovered by Nisbet in separate raids in Fenwick parish on the same date. However, Hardhill’s own evidence of the surprise at his capture, makes it far more likely that Lieutenant Nisbet only captured Hardhill in the process of following up on general intelligence about those who had attended Renwick’s conventicle and that Nisbet’s list included both of the Gemmel brothers. (Howie, Scots Worthies, 570.)

Hardhill is said to have been captured in November. In his account, he stated that he was captured at Midland and taken directly to Kilmarnock on a Sunday, before being moved to Ayr tolbooth on a Monday. There he was interrogated by Lieutenant-Colonel Buchan over his attendance at ‘the conventicle’, the Societies’ conventions and where the Society people went afterwards.

According to Howie of Lochgoin, he was then returned to Kilmarnock before he was taken to Edinburgh, where he appeared before the Privy Council on 30 November. The sources point out that Lieutenant Nisbet was keen to collect a 3,000 merk reward for Hardhill and escorted his prisoner to Edinburgh for that purpose. That suggests that Hardhill was captured in the middle of the month, possibly on Sunday 8 or 15 November, which was two or three weeks after the convention. (Howie, Scots Worthies, 569-73.)

Who triggered the capture of the Eaglesham men is not known. However, Alexander Hume, who was based in Eaglesham, may well have played a pivotal role, as both Alexander Shields and Cloud of Witnesses described him as ‘a most violent and vigilant persecutor’. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 32; Thomson (ed.), CW, 560.)

Another possible trigger for the raids was the interception of a letter sent by James Renwick from Eaglesham.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All rights reserved.


~ by drmarkjardine on November 14, 2010.

19 Responses to “Renwick’s ‘lost’ preaching in Eaglesham”

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

  2. […] around the same time, Renwick preached somewhere in Eaglesham parish. His preachings were often located in space and time close to a Societies’ convention. For […]

  3. I am trying to identify the origins of a Thomas Wyllie, a Covenanter, imprisoned in Edinburgh Tolbooth, and transported from Leith to Barbados on the John and Nicholas (master Edward Barnes), December 1685 and then to New Jersey (per Passenger and Immigration Lists Index 1500 – 1600’s). Do you have any information on him?

    • I think I will be able to do that for you. It may take a few weeks, but I do have information on Thomas Wylie. Mark

      • Just checking back with you. Any information on Thomas Wyllie? Thanks, Dorothy

      • Dr. Jardine,
        Should I look for your reply here on the blog or will you be sending an email to me? Didn’t want to miss it. Again, appreciate any help you can provide. Thanks, Dorothy

      • I think I spotted him today. I will get back to you via a comment and email once I’ve had time to work on it.

      • Thomas Wylie

        Thomas Wylie and his son, William, probably lived at ‘Derwholling’, i.e., Darwhilling, Ayrshire.

        Map of Darwhilling

        Thomas and William Wylie, and John Gemmel, were captured at Darwhilling by Lieutenant Nisbet in a raid on the area which resulted in the capture of John Nisbet of Hardhill at the nearby farm of Midland in November 1685. Nisbet’s raid followed James Renwick’s preaching at Eaglesham and the United Societies’ convention at Polbaith Burn in mid October, 1685. I have posted on those events above.

        According to John Howie of Lochgoin in Scots Worthies (1780), Nisbet took Thomas and William to Ayr with Hardhill and John Gemmel. Howie states that Thomas Wylie died in prison. (See the footnote in Howie, Scots Worthies, 570n.)

        However, the registers of the privy council clearly state that Thomas, rather than William, was banished. It appears that William Wylie, rather than Thomas, died in prison in Ayr, as he did not appear before the privy council in Edinburgh.

        3 December, 1685, ‘Thomas Wylie, Robert Montgumrie, Robert Smith, John Hogg, John Gemle, John Hunter, William Hunter, William Walker, Christian Gemle, Marion Gemle, Agnes Howie, Margaret Wylie and Margret Hope’…, ‘now prisoners in the tolbooth of the Canongate’ were brought before the privy council and banished for frequenting house and field preachings held by Mr James Renwick, Mr John Flint, Mr Thomas Douglas and Mr George Barclay. The charge against Thomas Wylie was a compound charge which mixed up the accusations against all of the prisoners. He had probably attended at least Renwick’s field preachings.

        He and the others were also accused of having ‘harboured, resett, entertaened and corresponded with them and others of their stamp to the great disturbance of his majesties peace and of the quiet of the kingdome’. Wylie had certainly reset (harboured a fugutuve) John Gemmel, who had been found sick at his house.

        They had also refused to take the Abjuration oath, which renounced the Society people’s war against their persecutors, and the oath of allegiance to the king.

        The privy council decided that ‘Thomas Wylie, Jon Hog, John Gemle and John Hunter, four of the defenders, haveing refused to suear and signe the oath of allegiance, doe, conform to the seventeenth act of his Majesties current Parliament, hereby banish them to his Majesties plantations in America and ordains them to be delivered to Mr Fearne to be by him transported in the ship belonging to him now lying in the road of Leith bounding thither’. All of the other prisoners were given their liberty after owning the King’s authority. (RPCS, XI, 242-3.)

        A few days later a second document names Thomas Wylie, after he appeared before the Lord Advocate:

        ‘Forasmuch as the persones underwritten, viz.:– David Paterson, James Somervell, William French, James Rae, John Park and John Anderson, prisoners in the tolbooth of Edinburgh; Thomas Wylie, John Hog, John Gemle, and John Hunter, James Patrick, Edmond Gomorchan, Alexander McMillan, John Arbuckles and James Mack, prisoners in the tolbooth of the Canongate, being conveened befor the Lords of his Majesties Privy Councill at several dayes bypast and this day at the instance of his Majesties Advocat to have ansuered and underlyen the law for refuseing to own the King [James VII] or his authority or to take the oath of allegiance, the saids Lords have therfor (conform to the said act of Parliament) banished and hereby banish the haill fornamed persones to his Majesties plantations in America, and discharges them ever to return to this kingdome under pain of death to be inflicted upon them without mercy; and ordaines them to be delivered to Mr Alexander Freane and by him transported to the saids plantations in the ship belonging to him …in regaird the said Mr Alexander Fearne, merchant, and Edward Barnes, commander of the said ship [i.e., the John and Nicholas], have obliged themselves for transporting the saids persones to the saids plantations and to report a certificat from the governour of the place there where they shall land of their being landed betuixt and ——– under the penaltie of one thousands merks [c.£666 Scots] for ilk one of them in caice of failze, sea hazard, mortalitie and other ineviteable accidents being alwise excepted.’ (RPCS, XI, 254.)

        Another similar document states that the privy council give warrant to Captain Graham of the Town Guard ‘to allow Mr Alexander Fearne such parties of the toun guard of Edinburgh as he shall think fitt for being assisting to him in putting aboard the persones underwritten’, i.e., Thomas Wylie and the other prisoners. One prisoner, John Anderson, was specifically to be taken ‘through the streets untill he be putt aboard the said ship in shakles’. (RPCS, XI, 254-5.)

        According to Howie of Lochgoin, John Gemmel and William Wylie were banished to the sugar island of Barbados in December 1685 and remained there under forced indentured servitude for three years until they returned home after the Revolution. As noted above, William Wylie was not banished.

  4. Thank you so much. To be clear (since there were 3 Thomas Wyllies), I understand that the two from Ayrshire are presumed drowned on the Crown of London. But the third Thomas, transported on the John and Nicolas in 1685, shipped to New Jersey. There is a Thomas Wildee & wife Elizabeth with six children on the 1698 Flushing NY census. Trying to verify if he is the same man, and if so, where he come from exactly. Your expertise on the subject of covenanters is impressive and I would be grateful for your assistance. Dorothy

  5. […] 1685, and before his field preaching at Eaglesham in mid October. For the Eaglesham preaching see here and […]

  6. Amazing information. We are very grateful for your work and your reply. I did find a record of young William’s death, although it was listed as January 1687–perhaps a transcription error–or he lived for a little more than a year after his father was banished in Dec 1685. The record is from Midlothian Parish Register of Internments, Greyfriars, 13 Jan 1687, “List of Burials exceperted from Register” in possession of the Register of the Canongate.

    Do you know if there is a list of Covenanters who settled in the United States? I am going to be in Washington soon and could check the Library of Congress records. Or is there an expert here who I could consult?

    I noticed on the info you provided that a Margaret Wylie was also arrested. This is probably Thomas’ mother as young William’s mother was probably Jean Mare.

    Towards the end of the information you provided, it says that they were under “indentured servitude for three years until they returned home after the Revoution.” Does a list exist of those who returned home. Would like to verify somehow that Thomas did not return and instead went to New Jersey in America.

    Thanks for your work to bring these courageous men “back to life” in history.

  7. […] In late 1685, James Renwick preached near Threepland. […]

  8. […] United Societies’ twenty-fourth convention at Polbeith burn on Wednesday, 21 October, and held a preaching in Eaglesham parish, probably on 18 October. Prior to that he appears to have preached at Auchengilloch in Evandale […]

  9. […] Renwick preached near Young’s family home in late […]

  10. […] Sites with a known connection to the Society people do lie close to the Covenanters Preacher Stone. It is possible the stone was used for field preaching in connection with the Societies’ convention site at Myres. […]

  11. […] in October, 1685, James Renwick preached somewhere in the moors close to the boundary ‘betwixt Eaglesham and Kilbrid…. Although not precisely identified, it is clear that the location of Renwick’s preaching probably […]

  12. […] Society people’s twenty-fourth convention at Polbaith Burn on Wednesday 21 October and attended James Renwick’s field preaching in Eaglesham parish, which was held at around the same time as the […]

  13. […] interruption on thirteen occasions in the South West and in October he preached at Auchengilloch, Eaglesham Moor and Cambusnethan. At the same time, the number of field shootings dramatically tailed off. Between […]

  14. […] In late 1685, James Renwick preached near Threepland. […]

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