The Good Shepherd (1686)

From the Restoration regime’s point of view, the capture of a shepherd in Lesmahagow parish, Lanarkshire, in early February, 1686, was a great source of information about James Renwick’s preachings at Auchengilloch (October, 1685), Stonehouse Kirk (17 January, 1686) and a meeting at Cumberhead (26 January, 1686).

Details of the shepherd’s capture appear in a letter from Lt John Crichtoun of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons. It covers a sweep his dragoons conducted from Cumnock on 4 February, 1686, that resulted in the capture of the shepherd in Lesmahagow parish who turned intelligencer. The letter was sent from Lanark after Crichtoun had followed up the intelligencer’s information and apprehended five suspects.

‘Lanerik the 8 Februarie 1686.
May it please your Exselence, Upon Thursday last [i.e., 4 February] I sent out a partie to search severall places from Cumnoke and at last they came to Lismahegow [parish?] where they found one man, who the partie did examin if he had been at aney conventicles of leate, which he denied, but would not swear, upon which they brought him to Cumnoke to me.’ (RPCS, XI, 556.)

Crichtoun sent a partie of dragoons through the hills to the north-east of Cumnock in Ayrshire as far as Lanarkshire. The area they searched was a well-known haunt of the Society people and any individual they encountered in the bleak hills close to the western boundary of Lesmahagow parish, like the unnamed shepherd, would have been of interest to them as either a potential source of information or a potential suspect. Having failed to provide satisfactory answers, the shepherd was brought back to Crichtoun for questioning at Cumnock.

Map of Cumnock

Cumberhead © Becky Williamson and licensed for reuse.

‘When I had given him his oath when he was last at a conventicle, he confessed he was att one the Twesday befor Candlemas day last in Cumberhead.’ (RPCS, XI, 556.)

The meeting at Cumberhead took place on Tuesday 26 January, 1686. It was probably a meeting of Society people in preparation for the important conference between the Societies’s factions at Friarminnan on 28 January, rather than a formal preaching, that the shepherd attended.

Cumberhead was the home of David Steel, a key figure involved in the debates between the Societies’ factions in the run up to Friarminnan. Renwick’s presence at Cumberhead at that point, confirms that Steel chose to support Renwick. A ‘David Steel in Cummerhead’ is listed on the published Fugitive Roll of 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 199.)

Map of Cumberhead          Street View of road to Cumberhead

The Good Shepherd
Crichtoun thought that the shepherd he had captured was a promising source of information:

‘He is a poor, ingenious man who tould me to the best of his knouledge that there was about six score [i.e, 120] at the meeting and about twentie or four and twentie [of them] armed men which were the Stills [sentinals?] and severall of ther consorts which he could not well tell ther names. He gave me a list of severall countrey men which were there, of which I have gote five [taken prisoner], which I have sent prisoners to your Exselence. I have secured my informer hear [at Lanark] for a day or two for I expecke sum more service of him for he is veary honest. I am confident thos I have sent cane doe good service if they pleas, for ther is three of them great villans.’ (RPCS, XI, 556.)

The ‘veary honest’ intelligencer had probably been ‘secured’ for his own protection, as the Society people had publicly threatened all intelligencers in the Apologetical Declaration of November, 1684.

He was probably held in Lanark Tolbooth, which lay on the site of the present tolbooth.

Site of Lanark Tolbooth on left © Kevin Rae and licensed for reuse.

Crichtoun does not name the three ‘great villans’ that he had sent to Edinburgh.

He then introduces Lieutenant James Murray, who served under Captain John Wedderburn of Gosford in another company of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons:

Interrogation at Lanark
‘Levtenent [James] Murray and I did examin the other two [out of five prisoners] who gave a list of sum otheres that had been at the meating, which I hop wee shall give yow ane account of verry shortly, and the prisoner [who gave intelligence] I have keept if your Exselence have use for him. He was taken to the meating sore against his will in regaird he was keeping his sheep and they cam upon him and did not part with him till night, which is all, but that I am, as in deuty bound, your Exselences most faithfule and most oblidged servant. (Signed) Jo. Crichtone.
[p.s.] The minister was Rearry [, i.e. James Renwick].’ (RPCS, XI, 556.)

On the same day, Crichtoun also sent a report on the interrogation of two prisoners captured within the last day.

‘Att Lanerk the eight day of February … The which day, Lietennants James Murray and John Creichtoun haveing conveined befor them William Steil, sone to John Steill in Rodgerhill and Thomas Steill, sone to the deceased Thomas Steill of Skelliehill in order to ther examination anent the ther being present at or accessorie to the late conventicle holdin at Stanehouse church, or any other rebellious meitting;’

James Renwick had preached at Stonehouse Kirk on 17 January, 1686.

Map of Stonehouse Church      Street View of the ruins of Stonehouse Church

The Confession of William Steel
William Steel may have lived with father at Rogerhill, which lies just to the west of Blackwood and the M74.

Map of Rogerhill          Street View towards Rogerhill

‘the said William Steill [in Rogerhill] being reqyred to give oath refused, but acknowledged he wes at the said conventicle [at Stonehouse Kirk?] and in armes with anne gunn, and that he wes informed of that conventicle by Margaret Lockhart, sister to James Lockhart in Midtoun of Blaikwood;’

Map of Midtown (of Blackwood)        Street View of Midtown

‘[William Steill] refused to declair who went alongst with him but sayes he found David Steill and his wife and on[e] Margeret Curro, a stranger woman who hes no residence, in the house of Thomas Hog in Braikenhill in Lesmahago parish, which house belongs to [Cromwell Lockhart,] the Laird of Lee,’ (RPCS, XI, 555.)


Braikenhill, later Brackenhill, has vanished, but it lay in the woods to the west of the industrial estate on the southern tip of Lesmahagow, i.e., at the end of Goldcrest Crescent on Google maps. Thomas Hogg had attended Renwick’s preaching at Stonehouse Kirk on 17 January, 1686.

Map of Brackenhill       Aerial View of Brackenhill

‘[William Steel] refused to answer or give accompt where his armes wer or what other persones wer present with him as the said conventicle; and being interrogat when he wes in his fathers house [in Rogerhill], he confessed he wes ther yesterday being Sunday the seventh [February] instant; and being interrogate anent the Kings authoritie or whither he thought the King his laufull soveraign or not, hee anusered he thought not, and being interrogat whither or not he looks upon thir conventicles to be rebellious, he answers he thinks them nothing lyke nor tending therunto.’ (RPCS, XI, 555.)

David Steel’s Grave at Skellyhill © Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.

The Confession of Thomas Steel
Next, Crichtoun and Murray examined Thomas Steill, son of the deceased laird of Skellyhill.

Map of Skellyhill           Street View of Skellyhill

The exact familial relations among the Steel family are not clear, but a ‘William Steel in Skellihill’ is listed on the published Fugitive Roll of 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 199.)

On 20 December, 1686, David Steel, a leading member of the Societies, was shot at Skellyhill.

The Auchengilloch Glen © Chris Wimbush and licensed for reuse.

Crichtoun continues:

‘The said Thomas Steill, sone to the deceased Thomas Steill of Skelliehill in the parish of Lesmahago, being suorn and examined, depons he wes in armes at Bothwellbridge [in 1679], and evir since hes not givin obedience to the Kings laws; being interrogat when he wes in church, he anusers within these thrie years [i.e., since 1683], and being interrogat which wes the last conventicle he wes at, he sayes he wes at non[e] since that which wes keipt at Auchingilloch in hervest last [i.e., late summer 1685], which wes in the parish of Lesmahago; and being interrogat what he thinks of thir conventicles, he sayes he thinks them in some cases laufull and in some not; and this is true as he shall answer to God.’ (RPCS, XI, 555-6.)

Auchengilloch was a site frequently used by the Society people. The preacher at the harvest conventicle was almost certainly James Renwick. He probably preached there after he had held 13 field preachings in the South West in August and September, 1685, and before his field preaching at Eaglesham in mid October. For the Eaglesham preaching see here and here.

Map of Auchengilloch

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on February 28, 2012.

12 Responses to “The Good Shepherd (1686)”

  1. […] Linn’s alleged employment as a shepherd may hint at how he maintained himself in the hills. For a fugitive, working as a shepherd was a useful way of gaining bed and board with the minimum of human contact in a remote location. However, shepherding did have its dangers. as soldiers did question shepherds for intelligence. See the posts on the Galloway Drover and a shepherd who turned intelligencer. […]

  2. […] brethren did agree to provide information in return for their lives. Compare the experiences of a Lesmahagow shepherd and John […]

  3. […] The officer involved in Steel’s summary execution was Lieutenant John Crichton of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons. Steel may have attempted to assassinate Crichton at some point in either late 1685, or 1686, and Crichton had been in pursuit of Steel for some time. […]

  4. […] out of Lanark. The claim that he was ‘well acquainted’ with Lesmahagow parish is reinforced by his activity in that parish in February, […]

  5. […] Lieutenant Crichton of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons had been in pursuit of Steel for some time. […]

  6. […] and held a preaching in Eaglesham parish, probably on 18 October. Prior to that he appears to have preached at Auchengilloch in Evandale […]

  7. […] fortnight after he was in Stonehouse parish, Murray was involved in the capture and interrogation of William Steel, the son of John Steel in Rogerhill, and Thomas Steel, the son of the deceased laird of […]

  8. […] possible event which may be connected to their capture before 9 December may be James Renwick’s preaching at Auchengilloch in autumn of […]

  9. […] preach without interruption on thirteen occasions in the South West and in October he preached at Auchengilloch, Eaglesham Moor and Cambusnethan. At the same time, the number of field shootings dramatically […]

  10. […] 1686, Murray operated with Lieutenant John Crichton before the killing of David Steel in Lesmahagow parish. Both Murray and Crichton were imprisoned in Edinburgh for their Jacobite sympathies in […]

  11. […] were interviewed by army officers for the information they held about fugitive Society people/Covenanters. However, the background to Hogg’s story was […]

  12. […] by John Nisbet of Hardhill. That field preaching probably took place on Sunday 18 October, as Renwick preached at Auchengilloch before he preached in Eaglesham Moor and after he had returned from thirteen preachings the South […]

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