Cargill’s Preaching at Largo Law and the Assassins’ Cave
On 24 October, 1680, Donald Cargill preached near Largo Law in Fife.
‘On the penult Sabbath of October 24 , he came over to Fife to keep a field conventicle, bringing with him several persons, both men and women of his persuasion or rather distraction, from Glasgow, Borrowstounness, Edinburgh, &c. He was directed to Hill Toarse, [Hill Teasses] in the parish of Ceres, supposing, as seems, that James Ness, one of the tenants there, had been seduced by John Henderson, (an ignorant, proud, presumptuous, crack-brained sectary), who now was Mr Cargill’s servant and armour-bearer, after [Hamilton of] Kinkell had rejected him because of his wildness and folly. This man [Cargill] made it his work, compassing sea and land, to make proselytes, and had seduced some few ignorant and simple well-meaning persons in the east end of Fife, especially in the moors, mostly women, as he had seduced such persons about Borrowstounness, Linlithgow, &c.’ (William Row in M’Crie (ed.), Life of John Blair, 581.)
Cargill’s contact for the field preaching was James Ness in Hill Teasses, in Ceres parish, Fife.
Ness had a long track record of attending field preachings and participated in the planning of an attack on Sheriff William Carmichael in Fife which led to the assassination of archbishop James Sharp on 3 May, 1679.
On 27 February, 1679, the case of James Ness was brought before the Council ‘to answer to the charge of being at house and field conventicles since the year 1674’, however, he did not compear (i.e. appear) and was ‘denounced and put to the horn’. (Wodrow, History, III, 5.)
‘James Ness in Tesis’ was also listed on proclamation of against conventiclers since 1674 as one of the residents of Fife who was ‘denounced but not intercommuned’. (A List Of the Persons Intercommuned and declared Fugitives, since the year 1674. for not compearing before the Council, or Commissions of Council, to answer for Conventicles and such like Disorders (1679).)
According to James Russell in Kingskettle, one of the assassins of archbishop Sharp, on 8 April, 1679, ‘James Ness in Hillteses’ attended a meeting at the house of Alexander Balfour in Gilston which asserted the Fife Covenanters right to defensive arms to maintain the free preaching of the Gospel in response to Carmichael’s repression and ‘visible hazard’ it presented to field preaching. (Kirkton, Secret History, 403.)
Ness was rounded up after the assassination of archbishop Sharp and on 18 December, 1679, the Privy Council decided ‘that Alexander and James Balfours [in Gilston], and James Ness, in prison for presumed accession to the archbishop’s murder, be further tried’. (Wodrow, History, III, 175-6.)
However, Ness was released and clearly returned to active involvement in field preaching with Cargill.’s field preaching.
John Henderson, servant to Kinkell
According to William Row, the presbyterian minister of Ceres parish until c.1697, Ness had been ‘seduced’ into that role by John Henderson, ‘an ignorant, proud, presumptuous, crack-brained sectary’, who was Cargill’s ‘servant and armour-bearer’. From the later interrogation of Cargill, we know that John Henderson was ‘about thirty years of age’. (Wodrow, History, III, 280.)
As a moderate presbyterian minister, Row was hostile to the activities of Cargill and his followers, however, if he was correct about Henderson’s connection to Cargill, then Henderson performed a protective function in Cargill’s entourage in 1680.
According to Row, Henderson had been ‘rejected’ by Alexander Hamilton of Kinkell ‘because of his wildness and folly’, but the evidence suggests that Kinkell may have rejected Henderson for more that his views.
Henderson was Kinkell’s servant, as he is almost certainly the ‘John Henryson, servant in Kinkel[l]’ who was listed on the Fugitive Roll of May 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 189.)
Hamilton’s home at Kinkell Castle lay in St Andrews parish, Fife. Today, the castle, which had been in ruins for some time, has vanished, but it lay close to what is now the site of the clubhouse of the Castle Golf Course and was situated above Kinkell Harbour, a natural break in rocks around Kinkell Ness.
Hamilton of Kinkell may have had good reasons to distance himself from Henderson. On 11 July, 1679, a warrant to proceed with the forfeiture Hamilton of Kinkell for his role as an accessory to the Bothwell Rising was granted. (RPCS, VI, 277.)
He remained under the threat of forfeiture until 16 February, 1680, when
‘the process of forfeiture against Alexander Hamilton of Kinkel[l], which since July 1679 hath been still in dependance, is deserted before the council. And upon the last of February [i.e. 29 February], Kinkel[l] appears before the justiciary, and produces an act of council bearing, “that considering, Alexander Hamilton of Kinkel[l] hath been long before the justiciary, and the advocate is not ready to insist, the council order him to be liberate, he giving bond to appear when called.” Accordingly the justice court desert the diet upon Kinkel[l]’s giving bond and caution to compear under penalty of ten thousand merks.’
According to Wodrow: ‘The great cause of this good man’s getting off thus, was, by former oppression, fines and hardships, his lands were brought so low, that they were scarce worth a donator’s while to seek after.’ (Wodrow, History, III, 251.)
The authorities may not have known that Kinkell had been involved in the plan to attack Sheriff Carmichael, which resulted in the assassination of Sharp, via John Henderson. According to James Russell, John Henderson, a servant to Hamilton of Kinkell, had attended ‘with his master’s commission’ a meeting at David Walker’s house in Leslie on 18 April, 1679, that decided to attack Sheriff Carmichael and appointed ten men to carry out the task. Among those appointed were David Hackston of Rathillet, James Russell in Kingskettle and William Dingwall. On 3 May, that same group of men assassinated archbishop Sharp. (Kirkton, Secret History, 408.)
The Assassins of Sharp in Kinkell Cave?
Kinkell may also have had more to worry about than his commission to Henderson. According to local tradition, Kinkell Cave, which lies just to the west of the castle and harbour at Kinkell was a refuge for Covenanters.
Intriguingly, two of the assassins of Sharp hid in a cave ‘at the sea side’ after the deed. The coastline around the East Neuk of Fife is dotted with caves, such as Constantine’s Cave at Fife Ness, St Fillan’s Cave in Pittenweem and the caves near Earlsferry, however, Kinkell cave is the only one with a known linkage to people involved in the planning for the assassination and, in Henderson’s case, to Cargill’s inner circle.
John Henderson remained at liberty and attended Cargill’s preaching at Devon Common on 26 June, 1681.
According to Russell, after the assassination, Andrew and Alexander Hendersons, the sons of old John Henderson in Kilbrackmont, went into hiding near their home:
‘Andrew and Alexander Hendersons …, who was hiding themselves at home, having gone openly about their affairs 5 or 6 days after the prelate’s death, but then was hiding with great difficulty, for the troupers were searching for them and the soldiers every day, so that they wonderfully escaped being surprised, for Andrew Henderson lay in a little hole, and the troupers and soldiers came to the hole side, but were so restrained of the Lord that they got not leave to look in, for the commander cried to him that was going up and down searching, Are you seeking hens? which word caused him to come away from the place where Andrew was lying, being within his own length to the place where he was, and so escaped, and then went away with his brother Alexander, and lay in a cave at the sea side until Mr James Boog came to them, and they two and George Flemane [another of the assassins] and Mr James Boog came away [until they joined the Covenanter army near Strathaven on 3 June.]’ (Kirkton, Secret History, 433.)
The Henderson’s farm at Kilbrackmont, in Kilconquhar parish, lies a little to the east of both Hill of Teasses and Gilston.
Mr. James Boig, a theology student and the son of an Edinburgh merchant, was another associate of Cargill. On 21 or 22 May, 1679, he was sent from a meeting at Arnbuckle in New Monklands parish, Lanarkshire, between Cargill, Rathillet and some of the assassins of Sharp, to bring the three assassins who remained in hiding in Fife to the relative safety of their militant brethren in Lanarkshire.
Arnbuckle is now known as Arbuckle. The lands of Arnbuckle lay around Wester Arbuckle, Midtown [of Arnbuckle], Arden Glen and Easter Arbuckle (now known as Easterton), near Caldercruix. The area to the north was an extensive bog which provided some security from government forces. It is not known where the meeting took place at Arnbuckle which lies in relatively open countryside, but the shelter of the Arden Glen between the two Arbuckles is a good candidate.
Boig was also with Cargill when he was nearly captured at Muttonhole near Edinburgh on his way to Fife in November, 1680, and he was executed alongside Cargill, Walter Smith, William Cuthill and William Thomson on 27 July, 1681.
Cargill’s Preaching near Largo Law
Row also gives a hostile account of Cargill’s preaching:
‘Mr Donald [Cargill] kept his field conventicle near to the town of Hill Toarse, with the company he brought with him, and some few seduced persons in the moors. Their number was not a little augmented through a mistake of several persons that were going to hear a sermon in Letham barn, who seeing Mr Cargill and his company, supposed that they had been going to hear sermons in James Ness’s barn. Not knowing who they were, they followed them; but when they perceived their mistake, and offered to withdraw, Mr Cargill’s armed men, whom he brought with him, compelled them to go with them, and forced them to stay and hear him; yea, they roving about in the fields, forced all they could apprehend, even some that were going to kirks, to go and hear Mr Cargill, holding loaded pistols to their breasts. Mr Cargill, in his confused rhapsody of —————, uttered and denounced many woes and judgments against all the ministers and professors in Fife, which made some of those that were constrained to come and hear them withdraw from him in the afternoon’ (Row in M’Crie (ed.), Life of John Blair, 580-1.)
Cargill’s preaching against ‘all of the ministers and professors in Fife’ may have helped to generate the circumstances which resulted in James Russell’s Protestation, Lawrence Hay and Andrew Pitilloch’s ‘Sixth Month’ and events and executions around his field preaching at Devon Common in June 1681.
The exact site of Cargill’s field preaching is not known, but the authorities later referred to a preaching at Largo Law, which does lie a little to the south of Hill of Teasses.
Covenanters Captured After Largo Law
Robert Hamilton and Christopher Miller, who were followers of Cargill and present at Largo Law, were seized soon after the preaching.
Hamilton appears to have been captured with others who were rounded up at or after Cargill’s near capture at the Mutton Hole, near Edinburgh on 12 November, 1680. On the 14 November, ‘Robert Hamilton, sone to the chamberlain of Borrowstounness (or Kinneil, according to Wodrow,) being delated to have been at [Cargill’s] conventicles at Torwood, Largo Law, etc., and examined thereupon and severall other interrogatours, made answer as is in his examination’. (RPCS, VI, 574; Wodrow, History, III, 229.)
Robert Hamilton lived at ‘Broxburne’ or Broxburn in Uphall parish, Linlithgowshire. (Lauder, Historical Observes, I, 8; Law, Memorialls, 168n.)
The Privy Council suspected that Hamilton of Broxburn had knowledge about the ‘Phanaticks’ intentions to murder Charles II, his brother, James, Duke of York, who had recently arrived in Scotland, and those ‘doeing his majesties service’, such as the privy councillors which Cargill had excommunicated at Torwood. Two days later, on 16 November, a commission was granted by the Privy Council for Hamilton of Broxburn and his fellow prisoner John Spreull to be tortured:
‘Edinburgh the sexteint day of November 1680. The lords of his majesties privie council having by several clear testimonies found that they have verie good reason to believe that there is a principle of muthering his majestie, and those under him for doeing his majesties service, and a desing of subverting the government, both of church and state, intertained and caryed on by the Phanaticks, and particularly by Mr. Donald Cargyll, Mr. Robert Macquhair and others ther complices, and that John Spreull and Robert Hamilton have bein in accession thereto. They ordane the said John Spreull and Robert Hamilton, nowe prisoners, to be subjected to the torture upon such interogators as relate to these three points, to which they give much light and discovery, first, by what reason and meanes this murthering principle is taught and caryed on, who wer accessorie to the contrivance of muthering, and who wer to be murthered, and also as to the lord St Andrews [i.e. archbishop Sharp] murther.
2do. If there was any newe rebellion intendit, by what meanes it was to be caryed on, and who was to bring home armes, or if any alreadie be bought, or to be bought, and by whom, or who wer the contrivers and promoters of the late rebellion at Bothwell bridge.
3to. Who wer ther correspondents abroad and at home, partlie at London or else wher, and what they knowe of bringing home books or pamphlets, and such particular interogators as relate to these generall:—and the saids lords doe hearby give full power and commission to the earles of Argyle, Linlithgow, Perth, and Queinsberie, the lords Rossie, Thesaurer — deput, Register, Advocat, Justice Clerk, Generall Dalzell, Colintoun and Haddo, to call the saids John Spreull and Robert Hamilton, and to examine them in the torture upon the interogators forsaids, and such other particular particular interogators as they shall think pertinent relating to the forsaids generall heads, and to report to the council. Extract by me. Sic Subscribitur. W. Paterson.’ (CST, X, 770-1.)
The other follower of Cargill captured after the Largo Law preaching was Christopher Miller, a weaver in Gargunnock parish, Stirlingshire, who was tried before the Justiciary on 2 March 1681 and executed on 11 March. According to Miller, after hearing Cargill’s sermon at Largo Law, ‘I durst not but oun to the lossing of my life in the quarrell’.
Soon after his capture, Robert Hamilton was interrogated over suspected assassination plots.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.