O Lucky Man!: The Galloway Drover, the Covenanters and the Killing Times

The story Andrew Forsyth from Kirkcowan parish, Wigtownshire, is fascinating, but the only evidence of him are traditions about his numerous escapes in the Killing Times collected by Simpson and published in 1846. Most of the stories of Forsyth relate to the area around Glenlee.

Glenlee © Mark Nightingale and licensed for reuse.

‘Andrew Forsyth, the subject of the following interesting anecdotes, belonged to the parish of Kirk[c]owan in Galloway. His father was a respectable farmer, whose property consisted chiefly in sheep, which he reared on the dark heathy mountains. […] Andrew Forsyth was at first no Covenanter; he regarded the Nonconformists as a class of fanatics, and as an association of rebels, of which it was the duty of their country to rid itself as soon as possible. But though he cherished a decided aversion to their principles, he was never known to aid in persecuting them, nor in lodging in any instance information against them. It was his occupation to drive his father’s sheep to market, and in this way he acquired the name of the “Galloway drover.”

His father, it would appear, was of a different mind respecting the persecuted people, though he never fully adopted their views, and was never considered as belonging to their society. He was, on the whole, a kindly man, and often harboured the wanderers as they came his way, seeking a retreat among the hills. Andrew often remonstrated on the impropriety of his extending hospitality to a set of people whose principles, as he thought, ought to be strenuously opposed. The old man tried to reason with his son, but in vain.

A conventicle [held by James Renwick] had been dispersed in the neighbourhood of Newton-Stewart, and three men in their flight came to Forsyth’s house for refuge, one of whom was the preacher [, Renwick].’

From the flow of the narrative, Renwick’s preaching near Newton Stewart appears to date to 1684.

Map of Area of Newton Stewart

The historical evidence of his preachings at Clayhills (January), the Garpel Burn (September) and Garcrogo (October) suggests that Renwick was present in Galloway in January and September/October of 1684. Renwick also preached in the Galloway in August and September, 1685, and doubtless on other occasions up to the end of 1687.

‘They had been harboured here for some days, when Andrew was absent at the market. On his arrival he was much displeased on finding that his father had been so incautious as to shelter the fugitives, and he pointed out to him the extreme hazard to which the household was exposed on account of his imprudence. His father replied, that the appearance of the men was such that he could not find it in his heart to put them away, and he was sure that they would make the same favourable impression on him if he once saw them.

Accordingly, through solicitation, Andrew at last consented that they should be brought into what is called the spence, or family apartment, that by means of a brief interview he might for once judge for himself, having no doubt but that his unfavourable opinion of the party with which they were connected would be confirmed. When the men came in, Andrew was struck with their grave and pious aspect, and he felt considerably embarrassed. The demeanour of the youngest of the three especially arrested his attention. His countenance was fair, and suffused with a sweet placidity; his voice was soft and plaintive; his conversation cheerful, and full of heavenliness. No man could look on him without loving him. The gentleness of his manners, his contentment with his lot, and his fervent gratitude for the least attention shown him, deeply impressed Andrew’s heart, and put to flight, in a few brief minutes, a whole host of prejudices which had been for a long time collecting and festering in his breast. Can such a meek, and harmless, and saintly-looking man, be a rebel? thought Andrew. There was nothing wild, fanatical, or ferocious about the men; they were quiet, modest, timid, and fearful of giving offence, and in every point entirely the reverse of what Andrew had depicted to himself of the class to which they belonged. But when he heard Mr Renwick pray—for he it was whose youthful aspect and Christian bearing had so peculiarly struck him—a change came over his sentiments, and before they parted for the night Andrew felt himself another man.’

The setting for the story now moves to Glenlee, a very remote farm right on the northern boundary of both Carsphairn parish and Kirkcudbrightshire.

Map of Glenlee

Water of Deugh near Glenlee © Mark Nightingale and licensed for reuse.

Times passes…

‘It was not till some months after this that Andrew determined to unite himself to the persecuted people. It was in the end of autumn that he set out to the north with a drove of his father’s sheep to dispose of them in the market, and in his slow and weary progress he reached Glenlee, a place on the banks of the Deuch, a stream which flows through the parish of Carsphairn.

As he lay here with his flock, he heard in the moorlands, at some distance, a sweet and heavenly sound wafted on the gentle breeze, now swelling full on the ear, and again dying away into a faint melody. He rose to seek the party, for he was convinced that a company of worshippers were concealed in the heath; and being guided by the sound, he came to the edge of a deep moss-hag, in the seclusion of which he found a handful of persons engaged in devotional exercises. He listened, and was edified, and was more and more convinced, from the contentment and happiness which they seemed to experience amidst all their privations and their perils, that God was with them, and that their cause was righteous. He discovered himself to the company, and desired to hear from them a full statement of their principles, in which he wished to be more perfectly indoctrinated. From what he witnessed, and heard, and felt on this occasion, he came to the full determination to become one of the witnessing remnant, and to follow his honest convictions, regardless of all consequences.’

Like his earlier encounter with Renwick, the story Forsyth and the prayer meeting in the moss near Glenlee is a kind of conversion narrative. The action now moves back to Kirkcowan parish where Forsyth’s resolution to join the Society people is tested by worldly interests…

‘When Andrew returned from the market, he communicated his resolution to his father; but instead of gaining, as he expected, the old man’s concurrence, he met with a severe reprimand. The truth is, Andrew’s father had by this time become a suspected person, and whispers were loud and frequent of his having harboured the intercommuned [i.e., fugitive outlaws].’

From other sources, it is clear that considerable pressure was brought to bear on those who harboured fugitives between late 1683 and 1685.

‘The laird on whose lands he resided had given him to understand, that unless he desisted from these practices, he must submit to a speedy and unceremonious ejection. This roused his fears, and he began to calculate his worldly interests; and not being altogether persuaded of the justness of the principles of the persons whom, contrary to the existing laws, he had dared to entertain, he deemed it expedient to withdraw his countenance from them, lest he should be brought into trouble, and probably to ruin. He, therefore, raised very serious objections to his son’s proposal, and showed the danger to which this step would expose not only him, but all his father’s household. Such considerations prevented many from joining the persecuted people, whose leanings might otherwise have disposed them to unite with them. Andrew listened to his father’s remonstrances with all the respect which a child owes to a parent, and felt fully inclined to obey him in everything but what regarded the conscience. The laird had threatened to eject the father, and now the father in turn threatened to eject the son, unless he resiled from his determination.

Andrew was sorely pained at the resolution expressed by his father respecting his banishment; for he loved his father with a strong affection, and this affection was increased by the gracious principle that had now taken possession of his heart. His resolution, however, was taken, and it was a matter of principle and of conscience, and whatever might be the result, he was determined to obey God rather than man. But then, Andrew could not bear to witness the ruin of his father’s house, nor could he endure the thought of bringing down his honoured head with sorrow to the grave; and therefore he resolved to withdraw from under the domestic roof, and to remove to a distance, that no injury might, on his account, come upon his kindred. These were times when a man’s profession of religion obliged him to forsake father and mother, sisters and brothers, wife and children, and houses and lands, that he might retain a good conscience and an honest reputation.’

Andrew Forsyth does not appear in the historical records. It may be significant that the list of people resident in Over Airies in Kirkcowan parish in 1684 roughly matches the description of Andrew’s family in the story.

‘Overairies
John Forsyth.
Janet Meiklevrick.
Helen Forsyth.
Mart[in]. Forsyth.’

Over Airies, is also known as High Airies.

Map of High Airies

Kenmure © David Baird and licensed for reuse.

The Fugitive Roll for Kirkcowan parish lists four or five fugitives in the parish:

William Macjarrow, servant to [William Gordon of] Culvennan.

James Macyacky in Kenmuir [Kenmure]

John Mackilhaffy in Craichley’s Land [Craighlaw]

James Macyacky, there [in Craichley’s Land. He may be a duplicate entry of the above James Macyacky]

George Stroyen in Kirkcowan parish

Barnearie © Copyright David Baird and licensed for reuse.

In October, 1684, James Christie, the minister of Kirkcowan, submitted a complete list of parishioners aged over twelve to the authorities. Several Forsyths did reside in Kirkcowan parish, but no Andrew Forsyth is listed, either as a resident or as a withdrawer from the kirk. You can see parish list here.

Only three people were listed as constant withdrawers from the kirk:

Margaret Chalmers, spouse to David Gordoun in Barneary [now Barnearnie]
Agnes Bryan, servant to the s[ai]d. David [in Barnearnie]
Robert Mahaffie in Gargary. [i.e., Gargrie, a vanished farm at the junction with the track to Drummurrie]

The Gargrie © David Baird and licensed for reuse.

‘In pursuance of his determination, then, Andrew cast himself on Providence, and betook himself to the wilds. It was, however, his design to obtain the situation of a shepherd in some moorland farm, where he might live in obscurity, and cherish the views he had recently adopted. In his progress northward among the mountains, he came to Glenlee, in the vicinity of which he formerly met with the worshippers in the moss-hag, and having made himself known to the tenant; he engaged to become his shepherd.’

Map of Glenlee

‘The farmer of Glenlee was a Covenanter, a man of decided principle, and with him Andrew enjoyed every advantage, both in reference to instruction, and example, and encouragement. Here he could vent the free expression of his sentiments without offence or fear of discovery, as the family were all of one opinion on these matters. During his stay at Glenlee, Andrew made great proficiency in his knowledge, in utterance, and in zeal, so that in a short time the shepherd was spoken of in the district, and his fame began to spread abroad. In this lay his chief danger. The curate of Carsphairn, who appears to have been the incumbent who succeeded Peter Pearson, whose tragic end has already been detailed, heard of the shepherd of Glenlee, and sent him notice that certain offensive reports were circulated respecting him.’

Peter Peirson, the minister of Carsphairn, was killed by local Society people in November, 1684. However, the Fasti of the Church of Scotland do not list a replacement minister in post until ‘about 1688’, when Alexander Stephen held the charge. (Fasti, II, 401.)

Back to the tradition:

‘It is probable that this curate, remembering the fate of his predecessor, did not wish to proceed to extreme measures, lest the hand of retribution should reach him in his turn; for, doubtless, the incidents of this nature which might occasionally befall, tended to teach some men moderation in their dealings with the Nonconformists. The curate advised him to escape, as he could not be answerable for the consequences, should the military become acquainted with the circumstance. After this, Andrew was in daily expectation of meeting with trials from the persecuting party, and it was not long till a company of troopers were sent to apprehend him.

The day on which the soldiers were sent in quest of him, he happened to be absent, having gone to a place called Fingland, a short distance from his residence.’

Old Sheepfold by the Fingland Burn © david johnston and licensed for reuse.

Fingland probably lay to the west of Glenlee in the valley of the Fingland Burn to the south of Finglandfoot.

Map of Finglandfoot

Back to the story, again:

‘On his return [to Glenlee from Fingland] he encountered the troopers in the moor. He guessed their errand, but found it impossible to escape. He resolved, therefore, to accost them in such a way as was likely to prevent suspicion. Accordingly, when he met them, he assumed a great deal of frankness, and asked if they were in quest of the drover. Being answered in the affirmative, he seemed to take an interest in the matter, and informed them that he saw him a short time ago at Fingland, and entreated them not to lose a moment, but to gallop to the place with all speed. The horsemen, without making further inquiries, hurried on, in the expectation of finding him before he had time to escape. When he parted from them, he retired to a place of concealment till they left the neighbourhood.

He now found that he must either depart from Glenlee, or act with greater caution. He was unwilling to leave so excellent a family, and hence be thought on some plan by which he might secure himself, and yet remain in the place. Accordingly, he sought out a retreat in the heart of a solitary moss, where he formed for himself a chamber in the soft peat ground, the entrance to which was overhung with shaggy heath and the green crawberry bushes. Here he could repose in perfect concealment, and without the least risk of discovery.’

To this retirement he betook himself when danger was apprehended; and many a time were the soldiers scouring the bent in quest of him, when he was snugly hid in his mossy bed. As the visits of the military to Glenlee were now frequent, he was under the necessity of spending the greater part of his time among the hills, not daring to venture home [to Glenlee] till night.

One day, in his absence, the soldiers came to Glenlee, with the intention of apprehending the drover. The farmer and his wife were strictly questioned respecting him, but no satisfactory information being obtained, they, in their madness, bound the honest couple with ropes to the stakes in the cow-house, and then left them. When Andrew came home in the evening he found the house empty, and everything in a state of confusion. Dreading that some mischief had befallen the inmates, he was greatly concerned, and on making search he found his master and mistress bound beside the cattle. On inquiry he found that this had befallen them on his account, and therefore he came to the resolution of leaving Glenlee, that the family might not henceforth be exposed to further molestation for his sake.

As the soldiers had been so recently at the place, Andrew thought that there would be no risk in remaining in the house during the night, and then to take his departure at the early dawn. The little company drew round the hearth, and commenced the devotional exercises of the evening. In this exercise they engaged with sorrowful hearts, for they knew that it was the last time, at least for a season, and perhaps for ever, that they would meet all together in the domestic group, for worship in the house of Glenlee.

When prayer was ended and when they were conversing on various topics before they retired to rest, the trampling of a multitude of horses was heard at the door. The hasty approach of the enemy precluded all possibility of escape; and Andrew, afraid to expose the worthy people of the house to danger a second time on his account, resolved to sit by the fire, and to abide the consequences. – When the soldiers rushed into the apartment, Andrew rose up and asked what they wanted. “We want”, said they,“the Galloway drover; and you are the man we suppose.”
“I am not a drover,” said he, “but a shepherd.”
“No matter, you are our prisoner.” Andrew was instantly overpowered and bound on the spot. He was placed on horseback behind one of the troopers, and his feet tied below the horse’s belly with a straw rope, which was twisted for the occasion.

The night was dark, and the track extremely rugged, and Andrew suffered greatly from the springing and plunging of the heavy horse in the morasses. The pain occasioned by the tight binding of his ankles was frequently very great, but then the cause of his uneasiness was ultimately the means of his release. Owing to the violent motions of the animal in leaping the mossy furrows, the straw rope gave way, and the prisoner’s feet were disengaged. The horse on which Andrew and the trooper were placed was, owing probably to the double weight which he carried, thrown considerably into the rear. At last the animal lost his footing on the uneven ground, and fell prone in the moss, and the two riders were violently precipitated on the bent. The soldier was stunned by the fall, and lay in a state of insensibility. The murkiness of the night prevented the others from readily seeing what had befallen. Andrew sprung to his feet, and seeing his opportunity, flew along the heath, and was in a few seconds beyond their reach.

He escaped to a glen on the Water of Deuch, where he remained during the night. The soldiers halted to ascertain the nature of the occurrence, and were beyond measure chagrined at the accidental release of their captive, whom they could not find in all the moor. They proceeded to their garrison, knowing it was in vain to return to Glenlee to seek him a second time.

In the morning, Andrew called on his worthy friends [at Glenlee] to inform them of his escape, and to tell them that he intended to retire to Fingland in the meantime, and to keep himself in as much secrecy as possible. The worthy couple were delighted beyond measure on finding Andrew safe, for they had mourned all night on his account, knowing that either death or banishment would be his lot. But Providence had rescued him, and they mingled their cordial greetings on account of the deliverance, and they thanked God and took courage.

At Fingland, which is about a mile from Glenlee, Andrew found a retreat, but not a retreat without molestation. Some time after this Mr Renwick held a conventicle at this place, on which occasion a number of children were baptized.’

Simpson also refers to a field preaching ‘at a place called Fingland, near the source of the Water of Ken’, which probably refers to the same location as one tributary of the Ken, the Holm Burn, does rise to the south on the opposite side of the hills from the Fingland Burn. (Simpson, Traditions, 143.)

‘Information of the meeting had been communicated to one of the garrisons in [nearby] Carsphairn [parish]—for even this upland parish was supplied with two—and a party of soldiers were sent to disperse the worshippers.

The services were ended just as the dragoons came up, and Andrew fled to his seclusion in the moss. Two of the horsemen pursued, and when they were within musket-shot, they fired and wounded him severely in the left arm. He escaped, however, to his cavern, where he continued alone in a very weakly and distressed condition, and must have died had not Providence sent him relief.

It was a misty day, and a drove of sheep, coming across the wilderness, had lost the direct path and come in a body into the moss where the wounded man was secreted. He heard the bleating of the sheep, and, moving aside his heathery curtain, shouted as loudly as his strength would permit, and the two shepherds who conducted the flock were attracted to his cavern. He made known his situation, and the men administered what relief they could, and supplied him with part of the provisions which they carried with them.

He recovered, by this means, a little strength, and was at length, with much difficulty, enabled to find his way to Fingland. It was long before he fully regained his vigour, but he strove to keep himself out of the way of the enemy—a thing which was not easily done by a man confined through weakness to one spot, and more especially as there were constantly strolling parties of troopers passing between Cumnock and Carsphairn along the line in which Andrew had his places of concealment.

When he recovered sufficient strength to move about, he left the higher parts, and came down to the glens of Afton, where he met with friends; but, as [Colonel John Graham of] Claverhouse was scouring these parts, he was still obliged to hide himself in the dens and caves of the earth.’

Map of Glen Afton

After he left the area around Fingland and Glenlee, Forsyth’s network of support appears to have broken down.

‘He was, accordingly, reduced to a state of great destitution, and at one time he was forced to subsist for some days on the eggs of the wild fowls, which he found in considerable abundance in the lowly nests among the bushy heather and in the tufted bent. As he was one day wandering solitary and pensive on the hill, he met with the shepherd of Montquharow, to whom he made himself known.’

Montraw © Robert Guthrie and licensed for reuse.

Montquharow (aka. Menquhraw, Monthraw) is now Montraw and lies just to the east of Glenlee on the side of the Afton Reservoir.

Map of Montquharow/Montraw

‘The man took him to his house, a place which had never been suspected, and not hitherto visited by the soldiers, and here he continued in comparative safety and comfort. In this place he might have remained for a considerable time in concealment, but having heard of a conventicle that was to be held near the head of the Water of Deuch, he left his retreat to assemble with the worshippers.’

Near the head of the Water of Deuch © Chris Wimbush and licensed for reuse.

The Water of Deuch above Glenlee to its head formed the boundary between Carsphairn parish in Kirkcudbrightshire and Cumnock parish in Ayrshire.

Map of the Head of the Water of Deuch

‘On his return he was pursued by a party of soldiers; but he escaped from them by ascending the steep sides of the hills, and, pursuing his course to the east of Montquharow, descended on the banks of the Scar.’

The Scar or Scaur Water © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

The Scaur Water lies to the east of Glenlee in Penpont parish in Dumfriesshire.

Map of the Scar/Scaur Water

‘When he reached this secluded valley he laid himself down on the bent, and fell asleep. As he lay here he was found by a shepherd of the name of Ker, who was himself a Covenanter. He was taken to his house and kindly entertained, and here he resided till the Revolution [in late 1688].

After this he returned to Kirk[c]owan, where he lived for many a long year, and having reached an advanced age, he died in peace. His descendants are still resident in that district, and maintain a respectability of character worthy of their honoured ancestor.’

For similar tradition about another Covenanter associated with Carsphairn parish, see John Dempster.

The area along the boundary between Galloway and Carrick also gave birth to traditions surrounding the killing of a Covenanter from Black Clauchrie.

Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on March 13, 2012.

5 Responses to “O Lucky Man!: The Galloway Drover, the Covenanters and the Killing Times”

  1. […] The nearby farm or shepherd’s dwelling at Overairies, aka. High Airies, may be connected to traditions about another “shepherd” Covenanter named Andrew Forsyth. […]

  2. […] The above is probably the correct location, but it is also possible that Simpson’s ‘Craignew’ refers to a hill called Craignane in Carsphairn parish. It, too, lies close to the site of an alleged field preaching by James Renwick at Fingland. […]

  3. […] tradition about Andrew Forsyth also mentions Fingland as a field preaching […]

  4. “Robert Mahaffie in Gargary. [probably Craigairie aka. Craigarry or Craig Airie, which lay half way between Craig Airie Fell and Loch Derry and directly north of Alexander Linn’s Grave. It now lies close to the Southern Upland Way]”

    Gargrie was a (now disappeared) farm about 2 miles northwest of Kirkcowan village, on the road to Dirnow. There is little to see there now apart from some faint outlines of walls in a field next to the road, but travelling this stretch of road is still known locally as “going over the Gargrie”. (From gaelic ‘garg-cheathramh’ meaning ‘rough quarterland’ – an old Scots land measurement).
    http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/615177
    There is another abandoned farm in Mochrum parish by the same name, but a John McHaffie (also a covenanter) is known to have come from the Gargrie in Kirkcowan parish.

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