Captain Douglas, the Killing Times in Galloway and the Mysterious Martyrs known as Mowat and M’Whae

An excellent case can be made from the historical evidence that the Covenanter martyrs ‘Mowat‘ and Robert M’Whae both refer to the same individual.

Mowat’s entry in A Short Memorial

The death of Mowat was recorded for the first time by Alexander Shields in 1690:

‘Captain Dowglas [i.e., Douglas] finding one —— Mowat, a Taylor, meerly because he had some pieces of lead belonging to his Trade, too him, and without any further trial shot him dead, between [the Water of] Fleet and [the River] Dee in Galloway.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 36.)

Shields’ account is the only source of information about Mowat.

Captain Thomas Douglas

Captain Dowglas was Captain Thomas Douglas of the Earl of Mar’s Regiment of Foot. He was described as the brother german (i.e., half brother) to the deceased laird of Cavers, which indicates he was close kin of William Douglas of Cavers. Thomas was commissioned as a captain of a company on 15 October, 1679, to replace James Murray of Philiphaugh. On 17 June, 1682, he is recorded as Captain ‘Thomas Dowglas’ on a regimental muster roll. He was still a captain on 30 March, 1685, when the Killing Times were underway and the following year he was promoted to major (while retaining the captaincy of his company) on 21 August. He was still a major in Mar’s regiment in 1688. At the Revolution, he changed sides and served in Flanders where was raised to the rank of Lt-Colonel at some point before the command of his company was given to William Murray on 1 September, 1693. (Dalton, Scots Army, 113, 117n, 130, 154, 155, 156.)

According to Shields, Captain Douglas ‘committed much outrage and spoil’ in Galloway. In addition to the killing of Mowat, Captain Thomas Douglas is said to have been involved in the executions of William Hunter and Robert Smith at Kirkcudbright after the Auchencloy incident in December, 1684. His name is also attached to the shooting of Robert M’Whae in Borgue parish in 1685. His company of foot are also said to have mistakenly shot William Auchenleck in Buittle parish in 1685. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 31.)

It is not known if Mowat was one of the Society people. However, those involved in the cloth trade – tailors, litsters and weavers – were prominent in the ranks of the Societies. John Dempster, who was shot in nearby Carsphairn parish, was also said to be a tailor.

Why was he shot?
The claim that Mowat was shot ‘meerly because he had some pieces of lead belonging to his Trade’ may be Shields’ spin on events. The authorities were concerned about the supply of lead shot to the Society people. On 15 January, 1685, additional instructions were issued to those commissioned to press the Abjuration oath which asked them to find caution from all ‘packman, cadgers and drovers’ within each shire ‘not to carry letters of intelligence to the rebels, or to sell to them, or give them ammunition, or supply them any other manner of way’. Specifically, they were take solemn oaths from all merchants who had ‘any powder, lead, or any sort of ammunition, or were in use to sell the same’ as to the ‘quantity and quality thereof’ and find caution that ‘the same shall not be given or sold to rebels’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 165.)

At this remove from events, we will never know for sure what took place when Captain Douglas met Mowat. It is possible that Douglas suspected that the lead found on Mowat was destined for the Society people or that Mowat had broken the privy council’s strict prohibition on lead. The only way that Douglas would have been legally entitled to order an immediate execution in the field was if Mowat had failed to take the Abjuration oath that renounced the Societies war against the state. If Douglas suspected Mowat after the discovery of the lead, then the next logical step for Douglas would have been to proffer him the Abjuration oath.

Where was he shot?
The area between the rivers Fleet and Dee encompasses the parishes of Borgue, Twynholm. Tongland, Balmaghie and Girthon. No specific location has been linked to Mowat’s death.

When was Mowat shot?
The presence of Captain Douglas and the manner of Mowat’s death almost certainly indicate that he was shot between mid January and mid May, 1685.

Whoever provided Shields with his information about Mowat knew about the circumstances of the shooting, but does not appear to have been able to identity Mowat’s Christian name or where or when he was shot.

The Covenanter’s Grave at Kirkandrews © Colin Brown and licensed for reuse.

It is worth noting that Shields did not record another martyr in the same area, Robert M’Whae, who was also shot by Captain Douglas in 1685. Nothing is known about him except what is recorded on his grave. The original stone was replaced in 1855 after it broke. The inscription is as follows:

‘Momento Mori

Here Lyes
Robert M’Whae
Who Was Babarously
Shot To Death By
Captane Douglas In
This Paroch For His
Adherence To Scotlands
Reformation Covenants
National And Solemn
League 1685.

Erected by the inhabitants
of this parish 1855’

There is no doubt that the original gravestone was of an early date, as the inscription on it was recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1714. For a martyr with such an early provenance, it is remarkable that no account of M’Whae’s killing was recorded by Shields, Wodrow, Cloud or later presbyterian tradition.

Could the answer to the mysterious silence over M’Whae in the historical sources be that Shields’ ‘—– Mowat’ is the same person as the grave’s ‘Robert M’Whae’? Perhaps.

M’Whae is buried in the graveyard at Kirkandrews in Borgue parish, which, like the location for Mowat’s death, lies between the Water of Fleet and the River Dee in Galloway.

Map of Kirkandrews in Borgue parish       Google Street View of Graveyard.

Both men were shot on the orders of Captain Douglas in 1685. No specific locations are associated with the death of either Mowat or M’Whae. The name Mowat may be a recording error for M’Whae. Wodrow does not mention either Mowat, or M’Whae.

According to Thomson in the late nineteenth century, M’Whae was allegedly shot in his own ‘garden’ in Borgue parish. However, the use of the term garden sounds anachronistic in a seventeenth century context and no garden, or even a vague location in Borgue parish, is connected with M’Whae’s killing. (Thomson, MGoS, 398.)

Another problem is that Shields’ spin seems to claim that Mowat was an innocent tailor who was executed when going about his business. The inscription on the grave does record that M’Whae was ‘barbarously shot’ by Douglas, but it also states that he was killed for his adherence to the Covenants. The latter is a standard form of words frequently used on martyrs’ graves, but those words may also contradict Shields’ account, as they appear to indicate that M’Whae was one of the Society people and that he was executed after he had either refused to recognise royal authority when questioned by Douglas, or refused the Abjuration oath. However, as discussed above, it seems likely that Mowat did refuse the Abjuration and was shot as a result.

Shields’ account of ‘——- Mowat’ and the evidence of Robert M’Whae’s grave may refer to the same individual. That is a good solution to the problems discussed above, but it may not be the right solution.

Text © Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on January 27, 2012.

5 Responses to “Captain Douglas, the Killing Times in Galloway and the Mysterious Martyrs known as Mowat and M’Whae”

  1. […] of William Hunter and Robert Smith at Kirkcudbright in December, 1684, and the shooting of Robert M’Whae and/or —— Mowat in […]

  2. […] the same date where the discovery of suspected lead shot ammunition led to summary execution, see the shooting of Mowat in […]

  3. […] good candidates for the beggar are Robert M’Whae and Mowat – M’Whae may be recorded by Shields as Mowat. Almost nothing is known about M’Whae except for the record of his gravestone which says that he […]

  4. […] of a ‘James McQhae’ in Plunton is possibly the first link found to a mysterious martyr called Robert M’Whae, who was summarily executed in 1685. (M’Whae may have been inaccurately recorded by Alexander Shields under the surname of […]

  5. […] my posts on the connection between two martyrs, Mowat and McWhae, and the responsibility of Cornet James Dundas for the killings of John Semple and Edward McKean, I […]

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