The Cambusnethan Covenanter Killed at Airds Moss in 1680

Very little is known about ‘Paterson in Kirkhill’, one of the Covenanters who was killed alongside Richard Cameron in the battle of Airds Moss on 22 July, 1680. However, with a little research more about this obscure martyr can be discovered.

Paterson on a memorial at Ayrsmoss © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

Bing OS Map of Airds Moss

The earliest, and probably most reliable, source about Paterson is a decreet of forfeiture against Thomas Steuart of Coltness of 27 May 1685. It refers to a ‘Walter Peatersone in Kirkhill, who was therefter killed at Arssmos’ as one of a number of fugitives from the Bothwell Rising of 1679 that Coltness had sheltered.

It also identifies the landowner at Kirkhill in Cambusnethan parish, as it describes Paterson as being ‘recept, herbaured and intertained by the said Thomas Stewart [of Coltness] as his tennants and servants since the said late rebellione [i.e. June 1679] till the justice air [i.e mid 1683?], and wer conversed and intercomuned with by him’. (RPS, A1685/4/12.)

In other words, Paterson in Kirkhill was probably a tenant of Steuart of Coltness. Another tenant of Coltness was the James Stewart who was executed in October, 1681.

Map of Kirkhill           Google Streetview of Kirkhill

The Graveyard of the Old Kirk of Cambusnethan © Robert Struthers and licensed for reuse under this reuse.

Kirkhill lies just above the old ruined parish kirk Cambusnethan in the Clyde valley and close to the boundary with Dalziel parish. The site of the old kirk was in use from before the tenth century to 1657. If you are down at the ruined kirk, look out of the replica for the Cambusnethan cross slab.

In Paterson’s time, the old kirk had already been abandoned for over twenty years for a new church at Greenhead. (The “new” kirk at Greenhead is now confusingly known as the “Old Kirk of Cambusnethan” as it was replaced in the nineteenth century by another ‘new’ church at Greenhead. For more on the kirk see here).

Site of “new” kirk at Greenhead       Aerial view of kirk at Greenhead

At the time of Airds Moss, the minster of Cambusnethan parish was William Vilant, an indulged moderate presbyterian, who was deeply opposed to Cameron’s Sanquhar Declaration. In 1681, Vilant added a long attack on the principles behind the Sanquhar Declaration to the end of his A review and examination of a Book, bearing the Title of the History of the Indulgence.

About thirty years after the decreet, Wodrow gathered information on Paterson in Kirkhill for his mammoth History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland. According to Wodrow, Paterson’s christian name was Robert, rather than Walter:

‘Robert Paterson in Kirkhill, in the parish of Cambusnethan, … was killed … at Ayrs-moss,.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 253.)

Wodrow did not mention that Coltness owned Kirkhill, perhaps because the information was of no relevance in Paterson’s case. However, in case of James Stewart who executed in 1681, Wodrow does appear to have been careful to avoid mentioning the involvement of Coltness.

The Steuarts of Coltness had rapidly risen to become one of the larger landholders in Cambusnethan parish. The founder of their family and fortune was Sir James Steuart (b.1608-1681), a banker to the Covenanting regime and twice Lord Provost of Edinburgh. Sir James was the younger brother of Steuart of Allanton, whose estate dominated the eastern upland portion of the parish. The rise of the Coltness Steuarts started with the purchase of the Kirkfield estate. In the early seventeenth century, the estate of Wester Carbarns or Kirkfield had belonged the Somervilles of Cambusnethan. Due to financial and legal woes, Cambusnethan sold Wester Carbarns to Sir James Steuart in the early 1640s. (Sir James Steuart was then styled as ‘of Kirkfield’.) The further acquisition of the larger Coltness estate followed and soon after he purchased Overtown and Pather from Cambusnethan. Steuart also exchanged his initial purchase at Wester Carbarns/Kirkfield for Cambusnethan’s lands at Easter, or Upper, Carbarns as part of a wider scheme to consolidate his holdings in the parish and purchase the remainder of Cambusnethan’s estate. However, in the end, only the exchange (or excambation) of the Carbarns lands took place, as Somerville, highly disgruntled at his treatment by the Steuart family, sold the rest of the Cambusnethan estate to Sir John Harper. (Coltness Collection, 24-25.)

The Restoration in 1660, brought a less favourable political climate for Coltness and his family. Sir James was imprisoned for a period and the authorities suspicions about the moderate presbyterian connections of his eldest son, Thomas, were confirmed when he fled into exile in 1684.

As the decreet of 1685 shows, when Paterson resided at Kirkhill, the Coltness estate was already being run by Sir James’s eldest son, Thomas Steuart of Coltness. The latter would formally succeed his father in 1681, but since 1654, when he moved into the family home at Coltness Tower, he had effectively been in charge of the estate. Nicknamed “Gospel Coltness”, he added a large portion of the [common?] pasturage of Cambusnethan Muir to the Coltness estate when it was divided between the heritors of the lower part of the parish.

What would become Paterson’s home at Kirkhill had also been part of the Steuart plans for the parish. In the mid seventeenth century, Kirkhill had served as the manse of the nearby old parish church. At that time, the minister of the parish was James Hamilton, the brother of another local heritor, Hamilton of Belhaven. He was the parish minister from 1635 until probably 1668 and was appointed Bishop of Galloway in 1661. When Coltness managed to get a new parish church erected closer to his house in the 1650s, the relocation of the church left the manse and glebe lands at Kirkhill at a considerable distance from the new church at Greenhead. The Reverend Hamilton was, apparently, unwilling to give up on the manse glebe lands at Kirkhill, with their rich soil and fine prospect across Hamilton, for a bleaker location near Greenhead. However, Coltness eventually managed to persuade him to relocate a little closer to the church when he exchanged some of his lands at Croftlathead, which also had a fine prospect of Hamilton, for those at Kirkhill. (Fasti, III, 240; Coltness Collection, 60.)

The Paterson family appear to have taken up the tenancy at Kirkhill under Coltness. On the Cambusnethan parish communion roll of 1640, no Patersons are listed under Kirkhill, which was then the minister’s home, but the family may be connected to the two Patersons that are on the roll – William Paterson in Pather and Robert Paterson in Daviedykes.

The Other Walter Paterson
Wodrow also causes further confusion over the identity of Paterson when he mentions that a ‘pious youth’ from Cambusnethan parish called Walter Paterson was killed a year before Airds Moss in the Covenanters’ failed assault on Glasgow during the Bothwell Rising in early June 1679.

According to Wodrow’s narrative of the action on that day:

‘About ten of the clock the country men [i.e., the Covenanters] came to Glasgow, and divided themselves into two bodies. The one, under command of Mr [Robert] Hamilton, came up the street called the Gallowgate; and here their leader did not show that gallantry he had the day before discovered, and some question if he looked the soldiers in the face, and say he stepped into a house at the Gallowgate bridge till his men retired; the other party came in at the head of the town, by the wyndhead and college. The country men showed abundance of courage, but were under mighty disadvantages; their horses were of no use to them at all; they were perfectly open to the fire from the closses and houses, as well as that of the soldiers who lay behind the rails and barricadoes covered from their fire; yet so brisk were the country men in their attack, that, I am told, several of the soldiers gave way, and some of their officers saw good to retire behind the tolbooth stair. And it is not improbable if the country men had had officers to direct and lead them, they might have chased the soldiers out of their nest But after six or eight of them were killed in the attack, among whom I find Walter Paterson, a choice and pious youth in Cambusnethan parish, and two or three wounded, who were afterwards taken, the country men retired in order, finding the attempt too warm for them’. (Wodrow, History, III, 71.)

A century later, Sheriff-Substitute William Aiton mentions that the Walter Paterson killed in Glasgow in 1679 was from Carbarns in Cambusnethan parish: ‘Lord Ross had so completely barricaded the streets, and made such a resistance, that the Covenanters were soon compelled to retire, with the loss of Walter Paterson of Carbarns, and five of their party killed, and several wounded.’ (Aiton, History of the Rencounter at Drumclog (1821), 61; NSA, VI, 266.)

As discussed above, the lands of Carbarns were divided between two separate landowners. In 1679, Wester, or Lower, Carbarns (aka. Kirkfield) was owned by Sir John Harper of Cambusnethan and Easter, or Upper, Carbarns was effectively held by Coltness. It is not clear which farm Aiton was referring to. Both locations are adjacent to Kirkhill. For all things Carbarns related, see here.

Map of Carbarns           Streetview of Lower Carbarns

The confusion over Paterson’s identity in the sources is difficult to sort out. The most obvious solution, which may not be the right one, is to assume that the ‘pious youth’ Walter Paterson in Carbarns was killed at Glasgow in 1679 and that Walter or Robert Paterson in Kirkhill was killed at Airds Moss in 1680. Given the close proximity of names and locations a kin connection is quite possible.

Paterson in Kirkhill was a tenant of Thomas Stueart of Coltness, however, with his death, the connection between the Patersons and Kirkhill seems to have been severed. Walter or Robert Paterson had a son, named William Paterson who was shot at Strathaven in 1685. William does not appear to have taken over his father’s tenancy at Kirkhill, as a ‘John Baird in Kirkhill’ is listed on the Fugitive Roll of 1683. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 194.)

The story of the William Paterson who was executed at Strathaven and buried with John Barrie will be dealt with in a later post.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on January 21, 2012.

2 Responses to “The Cambusnethan Covenanter Killed at Airds Moss in 1680”

  1. […] was the son of the Robert Paterson in Kirkhill, a fugitive from Bothwell who was killed in a skirmish between Richard Cameron’s followers and […]

  2. […] in May, 1685. His name is associated with three dead Society people from Cambusnethan parish; Paterson in Kirkhill (killed 1680), James Stewart in Coltness (executed 1681), and William Paterson in Murrays (executed […]

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