Little Sparta: Donald Cargill’s Last Preaching at Dunsyre

On Sunday 10 July, 1681, the Covenanter Donald Cargill preached what proved to be his last sermon on Dunsyre Common, between Lanarkshire and Edinburghshire.

Footpath above Stonypath in Dunsyre parish © Eileen Henderson and licensed for reuse.

Cargill had preached at Auchengilloch on 3 July and spent the week before his Dunsyre preaching hiding in the Lee Wood near Lanark.

Patrick Walker was an eyewitness to Cargill’s Dunsyre preaching:

‘I had the Happiness to hear blest Mr. Cargill preach his last publick Sermons, (as I had several Times before, for which, while I live, I desire to bless the Lord) in Dunsyre-Common, betwixt Clydsdale and Lothian, where he lectured upon the 1 Chap, of Jer. [1-10] and preached upon that Soul-refreshing Text, Isa. 26. two last Verses [20-21.], Come, my People, enter into your Chambers, &c. Wherein he was short, marrowy and sententious, as his Ordinary was in all his publick Sermons and Prayers, with the greatest Evidences of Concernedness, exceeding all that ever I heard open a Mouth, or saw open a Bible to preach the Gospel, with the greatest Indignation at the Unconcernedness of Hearers. He preached from Experience, and went to the Experience of all that had any of the Lord’s gracious Dealing with their Souls. It came from his Heart, and went to the Heart; as I have heard some of our Common Hearers say, That he spake as never Man spake, for his Words went through them.’ (Walker, BP, II, 42.)

The precise location of the field preaching at Dunsyre Common is not known, but its approximate location can be narrowed down.

Walker provides two clues as the approximate location of the preaching. First, he described the location of it as ‘Dunsyre Common’, i.e., the common grazing within the parish. Second, he stated that the preaching took place between ‘Clydsdale and Lothian’, i.e., close to the boundary between Lanarkshire and Edinburghshire.

Dunsyre was a small parish on the eastern tip of Lanarkshire that only touches the boundary with Edinburghshire (i.e. the Lothians) at a point immediately to the north of White Craig on the South Medwin Water. (Henshaw Hill, which lies in Carnwath parish separates Dunsyre from the Lothians.) Its bounds lie along the Dry Burn to the north, then along the Darbay Burn, around the east side of Seat Hill and the west side of Horse Law until the boundary reaches its southern limit at the South Medwin Water just to the west of Walston Mills. The South Medwin forms its southern and eastern boundary all the way back to White Craig.

Map of White Craig

Left Law towards Bleak Law  © Richard Webb and licensed for reuse.

The common grazing almost certainly lay in the hills and moors of northern portion of the parish at the end of the Pentland Hills, rather than in the populated, narrow, low-lying southern strip of the parish above the South Medwin Water. Preaching on the common land shared the blame around. When Cargill had preached at Coulter Heights a few weeks earlier, he had retreated to the common grazing in the hills in order to avoid bringing fines down on the local landowners. He also preached on Devon Common. It is possible he followed a similar policy at Dunsyre.

Walker, who lived not far from Dunsyre, was usually reasonably accurate when he described locations. It is possible that the preaching took place near White Craig, as it lies exactly between ‘Clydsdale and Lothian’ as Walker claimed. However, the extent of the common grazing is not clear. One earlier source, referring to a dramatic escape after the Pentland Rising of 1666, suggests that at least part of the common grazing lay further from the shire boundary and within a mile of the minister William Veitch’s house at Westhills in the parish:

‘Mr. Veitch falling in among a whole troop of the enemy, they turned his horse violently in the dark, and carried him along with them, not knowing but that he was one of their own; but as they fell down the hill in the pursuit of the enemy, he held upward till he got to the outside of them, and the moon rising clear, which made him fear he would presently be discovered, he saw no other way of escape but to venture up the hill, which he did, being well mounted; which, when the enemy perceived, they cried out, “Ho! this is one of the rogues that has commanded them.” Several pursued him up the hill a little, and shot at him sundry times; but their horses sunk and were not able to ascend the hill so that he escaped, and came that night to a hird’s house in Dunsyre Common, within a mile of his own dwelling. Giving the hird his horse to carry home to his own stable, and to tell his wife, who was entertaining several of the officers that had fled, but weeping for fear her husband should have been killed, he lurked several nights thereabout, till he got ready things to go for England.’ (M’Crie (ed.), Memoirs of Veitch, 44.)

Map of Westhills in Dunsyre parish           Aerial View of Westhills

The above indicates that the Hird’s house lay ‘in Dunsyre common’ and that the common lay within a Scots mile of Westhills. Although no direction is given for the Hird’s house from Westhills, the topography suggests that a likely location for part of the common grazing lay by the track/old road north of Stonypath (aka. Little Sparta). Today, the area above Stonypath and towards Left Law is still rough grazing and moorland.

Sheepfold near Little Sparta (aka. Stonypath) and Easthills © Callum Black and licensed for reuse.

The old road/path running north from Stonypath was extant before 1706, as George Lockhart of Carnwath obtained an act in favour of enclosing his lands at Anston in the parish despite the presence of a ‘private road’ which acted as a shortcut from Dunsyre to Lanark. (RPS, 1706/10/94.)

Map of old road and Anston

If anyone has information about the traditional location for the preaching or the extent of Dunsyre Common please get in touch, either via a comment or the contact details here.

Cargill’s Sermon at Dunsyre Common

Walker also described the content of Cargill’s sermon on Isaiah 26.20-21:

‘He insisted what Kind of Chambers these were of Protection and Safety, and exhorted us all earnestly to dwell in the Clifts of the Rock, to hide ourselves in the Wounds of Christ, and to wrap ourselves in the believing Application of the Promises, flowing therefrom; and to make our Refuge under the Shadow of his Wings, until these sad Calamities pass over, and the Dove come back with the Olive-Leaf in her Mouth. These were the last Words of his last Sermon.’ (Walker, BP, II, 42.)

The full text of Cargill’s lecture and sermon at Dunsyre can be found here:

Donald Cargill Dunsyre Common Sermon 10 July 1681

Walter Smith, James Boig and Lady St John’s Kirk were also present at the preaching. Cargill, Smith and Boig were captured at Covington Mill the next day.

The Society people did not hold another field preaching until James Renwick preached at Brounrigge in October, 1683.

If you are in the area, a visit to the garden at Little Sparta is absolutely essential!

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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 27, 2011.

9 Responses to “Little Sparta: Donald Cargill’s Last Preaching at Dunsyre”

  1. […] Heights (12 June), Benry Bridge (19 June), Devon Common (26 June) Auchengilloch (3 July) and Dunsyre Common (10 […]

  2. […] to the written sources, Cargill’s last field preaching was at Dunsyre Common. Share […]

  3. […] again on 3 July, 1681, however, immediately after that day he returned to the Clyde and preached for the final time at Dunsyre Common on the following […]

  4. […] Read more and view the area photos here:… […]

  5. […] area of Lanarkshire did see several field preachings in the following years, one of which, by Donald Cargill, took place very close to Newholm on 10 July, 1681. It is not known if Learmont attended Cargill’s preaching, as his later statements suggest that […]

  6. […] must have taken place on either on Sunday 5 June or on Sunday 12 June. The second is Cargill’s final preaching at Dunsyre Common which took place on Sunday 10 July […]

  7. […] (26 June) and Auchengilloch (3 July) before he preached his last sermon before he was captured at Dunsyre Common on 10 July. (Walker, BP, II, […]

  8. […] the Lee Wood, Cargill went to Dunsyre Common, where he preached on 10 July. It would be his last field […]

  9. […] considerable significance, as it was the first field preaching in Scotland since Donald Cargill’s preaching at Dunsyre Common on 10 July, 1681. The “rendezvous of rebellion” were back in […]

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