James Renwick at Muirkirk in 1686
Two fascinating prisoners taken in May, 1686, provide new information on a shooting before the attack on Newmilns Tower, on the John Brounen taken at Priesthill and executed at Mauchline, and a field preaching held by James Renwick in Muirkirk parish, Ayrshire.
On 15 July, 1686, James Browning, who was taken after a conventicle held by Renwick either in the parishes of Muirkirk or Cumnock, was brought before the council:
‘James Brouning in the paroch of Galstoun, taken as being at the conventicle at Cumnock, which he denyes; denyes he wes ever in armes against the King; declares he will pray for the King as for himselfe; declaries he will never ryse in armes against the King, but scruples to give ane oath; acknowledges the King as his lawfull soveraing against whom he thinks it unlawfull to ryse in armes upon any accompt quhatsoever, and this he declaires as in the sight of God and heartily prayes for the King in the sight of the Comittee, and offers to inact himselfe to live regularly and keep the church. (Signed) James Brouning. (On the margin) ‘Lib.” (RPCS, XII, 325.)
‘James Browning, son to James Browning in Ritchardston in Galston parish, who was at Both[w]ell brig and was takin in May last  havin bein at a conventickell held be Mr Renie [i.e., Renwick] in the Mowrkirk parish, being sent [as prisoners] to Edinburgh is now retwrnd; liberate upon report of a committee made to the Council 15 July 1686, signd by M. C.’ (RPCS, XII, 342.)
The entry does not give a specific site for Renwick’s preaching is given, but it may have been at the Long Stone of Convention, which is reputed to have been a preaching site in 1686.
James Browning lived at ‘Ritchardston’, i.e., Richardton.
He was almost certainly kin to the John Browning in Richardton who was captured by Claverhouse at Preisthill in Muirkirk parish and executed at Mauchline on 6 May, 1685. John Browning, or Brounen, had provided intelligence about local society people when he was captured, but he was still executed, probably on account of his leading role in the attack on the Ducat Tower in Newmilns in late April, 1685. Like John Browning, James Browning may have been kin to John Brown of Priesthill who was shot 1 May, 1685.
James Browning would also probably have known his close neighbour, John Richmond of Knowe, who was another member of the Society people who was executed in Glasgow on 19 March, 1684.
The second prisoner brought before the council in 1686 was James Finlay:
‘James Finlay in Dyks in Kilmarnock parish was taken in Martch ‘85 by Cornet Ingles and wounded, was prisoner in Newmils and was reliwed be thes of his partie, was taken May last coming from the abovwnamed conventickell [at Muirkirk parish], was sent to Edinburgh, is now retwrnd; liberated 3[r]d August last , signd by G. B.’ (RPCS, XII, 342.)
The farm at Dykes has now vanished, but it appears on General Roy’s map of the 1750s and on the late nineteenth-century OS map. Dykes lay between Little Blackwood and the Polbaith Burn, i.e., just east of Dykescroft on modern OS maps.
The Polbaith Burn was the site of the United Societies’ twenty-fourth convention in October, 1685.
The Date of the Little Blackwood Raid
The date for the capture of James Finlay in March, 1685, adds a further key detail to the chronology of the Society people’s attack on the Ducat Tower in Newmilns in April. It appears that Finlay was wounded when he was apprehended, i.e., almost certainly when Peter Inglis raided the meeting at Little Blackwood, or soon after it. The raid on Little Blackwood also resulted in the death of James White, whose head was used as a football by the dragoons based at Newmilns. If the entry in the register of the privy council on Finlay is accurate, then White’s shooting can be firmly dated to March, 1685, and a few weeks before the attack on the Ducat Tower.
However, the March date in the register of the privy council is contradicted by two later sources.
First, the grave of John Law who took part in the attack to liberated Finlay and was shot at Newmilns appears to date the raid on Little Blackwood to April:
‘Here lies John Law
Who was shot at Newmilns. At
The relieving of 8 of Christ’s
Prisoners, Who were taken at A meet[in]g
For Prayer at Little Blackwood, in the
Parish of Kilm[arnoc]k in April 1685, by Capt[ain]
INGLIS and his Party’.
It is possible that the eighteenth-century gravestone’s date for the raid on Little Blackwood was made on the basis of the date of the attack on the Ducat Tower, which a contemporary letter from Claverhouse suggests took place on Saturday, 25 April.
Second, in 1848, the journalist Archibald M’Kay published an account of the action at Little Blackwood and Newmilns that was the first to specifically mention the wounding of ‘—— Finlay’. His dramatic and probably unreliable account misdated White’s killing and Finlay’s wounding to May, 1685:
‘In the beginning of May, 1685, a small band of Covenanters, consisting of twelve men, met one night for religious purposes in the house of James Paton, farmer of Little Blackwood, on the estate of Grougar. The place was lone and secluded, and they had assembled there in the hope that they would be undisturbed by any intruder; but when sitting by the hearth, in the interval of devotion, a noise was heard without, and, fearing the enemy was near, they all hurried to another apartment. One of them, named James White, availed himself of the only gun in the house; and just as he was crossing the passage a party of soldiers, commanded by Patrick Inglis, forced open the doors.
In the way of defence White at this moment made use of his musket; but the powder only flashed in the pan, and the light it emitted discovered his person to the soldiers, who shot him dead on the spot. Nine of the sufferers were in the spence endeavouring to make their escape, which two of them effected by forcing their way through the thatch.
The other seven were arrested. John Gemmell and James Paton had fled for safety to the byre, and on their way thither were attacked by one of the party, who drew his bayonet to stab them. Gemmell wrested it from his grasp, thrust it into his body, and, hastening out by the door, knocked down a guard who was stationed outside, and made his escape amid the darkness of the night. The soldier thus stabbed by his own weapon was lifted by his companions and thrown, while yet streaming with blood, into the bed among Mr. Paton’s children.
The other sufferers were still in the spence along with Mrs. Paton, who had a babe at her breast. Calling [Patrick] Inglis by name she pled with him for the sake of God to give them quarter, which he consented to do in consequence of knowing her some years before at her father’s house of Darwhilling, where he had been some time stationed; but this indulgence was granted on the condition that the sufferers should approach him one by one on their bare knees.
The first that ventured into his presence was an aged man, named Findlay, who was instantly bound like a felon; and, in despite of quarter being given, one of the soldiers barbarously plunged his bayonet so deep into his thigh that its point came out behind; and all the consolation the unfortunate man received was hearing a volley of curses poured forth by Inglis upon the inhuman perpetrator of the act. The rest of the prisoners came from the spence in the same way, and also were bound.
The whole of the premises were then narrowly searched. James Paton being found in the byre, was fettered like the others. A scene of plunder now ensued; and, after pillaging the house of every thing valuable, they seized the cows and horses and recklessly drove them over the body of White, which still lay in the passage. But their cruelty seems to have had no bounds; for with an axe they cut the head from the dead man, and used it next day as a foot-ball in their sports at Newmilns, to which place they conveyed the prisoners and the booty they had obtained.
When proceeding on their journey, the old man [called Findlay] who was wounded signified his unfitness to walk; but Inglis, regardless of his sufferings, ordered him to be shot as soon as he appeared to retard their progress. At length they reached Newmilns, where they were imprisoned.’ (Archibald M’Kay, The History of Kilmarnock (1858, 2nd edition), 53-5.)
According to M’Kay, Finlay was wounded when he surrendered at Little Blackwood and then shot on the journey to Newmilns. M’Kay does not specifically state that Finlay was killed, although that is the obvious implication of the text.
M’Kay was wrong about the date of the Little Blackwood raid for two reasons. First, the entry of 1686, which dates the raid to March, proves that James Finlay was wounded in some way when captured and that he was imprisoned in the Ducat Tower, rather than killed by Peter Inglis. Second, M’Kay illogically dates the raid to after the time of the attack on the tower at Newmilns to free the Little Blackwood prisoners. M’Kay clearly had the wrong date for the raid.
That error was later compounded in later editions of Cloud of Witnesses which followed M’Kay’s error in dating White’s death to May, 1685. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 546.)
M’Kay’s account of Finlay’s death has also, on occasion, caused later histories to confuse Finlay’s alleged death with the earlier shooting of ‘[David] Finlay’ by General Thomas Dalyell at Newmilns. The execution of ‘—— Finlay’ was mentioned by Donald Cargill in 1680 and Daniel Defoe in 1717, and plainly occurred around 1666, rather than 1685.
One interesting detail, not previously mentioned, is that the James Finlay captured in 1686 was possibly kin to the John Finlay who executed in December, 1682, as the executed John Finlay was from Muirside in Kilmarnock parish, which lies just to the east of Dykes.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.