The Shooting of Alexander Linn in Galloway in 1685
Remote and isolated, the tomb of Alexander Linn is another reminder of the Killing Times…
Linn’s death was first recorded by Alexander Shields in 1690:
‘At the same time [as the shooting of John Murchie, and Daniel McIlwraith in 1685], his Souldiers [i.e., those of Lieutenant-General William Drummond] did shoot dead Alex. Lin.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 37.)
As usual, Cloud of Witnesses reprinted Shields’ text. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 545.)
A slightly different version of the death appears in the inscription on Linn’s grave. It claims that Linn ‘was surprised and instantly shot to death on this place by Lieut General Drummond’, rather than that Linn was shot by Drummond’s soldiers.
However, it is almost certain that Linn was shot by Drummond’s soldiers, as it is not likely that the general was present at such a remote spot.
The circumstances in which Linn was killed are not clear. However, Shields’s account and the inscription both imply that Linn was in some way involved in struggle against the Restoration regime, rather than an innocent bystander.
When Was Linn Shot?
Linn’s death is linked to that of Murchie and McIlwraith at Drummond’s hands. He was probably shot when soldiers led by Drummond were present in nearby Colmonell and Barr parishes in Carrick at some point in June or early July, 1685.
Where Was Linn Shot?
Linn was shot at a remote location on the slopes of Craigmoddie Fell in Kirkcowan parish, Wigtownshire.
The only nearby dwelling on old maps was Craigairie, which lay halfway between Craig Airie Fell and Loch Derry, and directly to the north of Linn’s Grave.
In October, 1684, James Strayan in Craigarie was summoned to a circuit court at Wigtown ‘for conversing with George Strayan, rebell [and fugitive], upon the Carrok Road in the moneth of June last ;’ (RPCS, IX, 380.)
The two men were probably related.
A Later Tradition About Linn
In the later half of the nineteenth century, Thomson recounted a local tradition about Linn, which is of fairly standard form:
‘According to the tradition still lingering in the district, he was a shepherd, and belonged to Laris, New Luce [parish], and consequently would be a parishioner of Alexander Peden’s, and good sowing had produced a good harvest. Drummond’s soldiers were crossing from Colmonell to Glenluce, and had come as far as Craigmodie. They saw the peesweeps (lapwings’) gyrating, and always sweeping down at one particular spot, as they are wont to do when anyone comes near their nests or their young. This aroused the suspicion of the soldiers that some Covenanter was in hiding at that spot. They hastened forward, found Alexander Lin concealed, and at once shot him dead.’ (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 406-7.)
I have looked for ‘Laris’ in New Luce parish, which was part of Glenluce parish in the 1680s, but I cannot find it on any map. If anyone knows where ‘Laris’ was, or is, please get in touch.
It is possible that Laris is a contraction of ‘Low Airies’, a farm which lies to the south of Lin’s Grave. It, too, lies in Kirkcowan parish, but close to the parish boundary with New Luce parish at the Tarf Water.
The nearby farm or shepherd’s dwelling at Overairies, aka. High Airies, may be connected to traditions about another “shepherd” Covenanter named Andrew Forsyth.
Was Linn from Wigtownshire?
It is unusual to be able to test a tradition’s claim that an individual was from a specific parish, however, that is possible in Wigtownshire, as the parish lists for every parish in the shire of September/October, 1684, survive. The parish lists named all residents aged over twelve and were submitted by the local ministers to the authorities to highlight individuals who did not attend the church.
Of the fourteen individuals named Linn recorded on the lists in all of Wigtownshire, none of them lived either in Glenluce parish (which incorporated New Luce parish in the 1680s), or in Kirkcowan parish. Two individuals named Alexander Linn do appear on the list for Inch parish – one at Dunbee and another, the son of a laird, at Meikle Larg – however, both of them were not declared ‘irregular’ by the local minister. (Parish Lists of Wigtownshire, 1684, 15, 19.)
Linn also does not appear anywhere on the Fugitive Roll of May, 1684.
Taken together, the evidence of the parish lists and the Fugitive Roll suggests that Linn was not from Wigtownshire.
Was Linn A Fugitive?
Although he does not appear on the Fugitive Roll, it is possible that he had fled to the area from another shire as a result of the administration of the Abjuration oath in early 1685. (The neighbouring areas of Carrick or Kirkcudbrightshire would be good candidates for a place of origin.)
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.
The inscription is as follows:
Here lies the Body of Alexr
Linn who was surprised
and instantly shot to
death on this place by
Lieut General Drummond
for his adherence to
covenants national and
solemn league 1685’
[Below a further inscription has been added]
‘A commemoration service
was held on the 31st July
1927 and thereafter this
Memorial was restored’
The latter part of the inscription was clearly added alter, however, the date of 1927 is said to be a mistake for 1972.
Above the gravestone is an oval stone which was erected in 1827:
Here lies the body of Alexr Linn
who was surprised and instantly shot to death
on this place by Lieut General Drummond for his
adherence to Scotlands reformation covenants national and
solemn league 1685
in 1827 in consequence of a sermon preached on this
spot by the Revd William Symington of
contend for the faith’
A third stone was added to the enclosure which has two or three separate inscriptions:
in consequence of a sermon preached here
The Revd A. F. Mitchell.
Minister of Kirkcowan.
On the 14th August 1887.
Text 144th Psalm, 15th Verse.
“Happy is that people whose
GOD is the LORD.”
This Tomb was Rebuilt after a Service
Here in 1911
Was Rededicated on the 29th May 1912
By the Revd R. L. Johnstone Kirkcowan’
Thomson also recorded a story about the grave, which I reproduce for your entertainment:
‘There is another tradition. It is not about the martyr but about his gravestone, and wears rather an apocryphal appearance, although it goes in the direction of proving the certainty of the martyrdom, had it, like the drowning at Wigtown, been called in question. A man engaged for mowing was passing by the grave. He had no stone with which to sharpen his scythe, for there is no freestone found in Galloway. As he passed by the grave he saw the old gravestone. What a fine scythe-stone could be made of that stone, he thought to himself. The temptation prevailed. The opportunity made the thief. He broke off as much of the stone as made a scythe-stone, and went on his way. When he reached the farmhouse at which he was engaged to mow, the master asked him where he had got his scythe-stone. “Oh,” said he, “I just took it off Sandy Lin’s headstone.” “If that,” said the master, “is the way you have got your scythe-stone, you shall not mow any hay for me; you can go home as you came.” On his way home, as he was climbing a dyke he fell, and so hurt one of his legs that he mowed none that year.” My informant, said Dr Inglis, from whom we received the story, “is an intelligent and reliable United Presbyterian elder.” But as we saw no appearance of breakage about the old gravestone [of Lin] at Craigmodie, the story is somewhat improbable. Still, if the old stone had been lying on the ground, the basement might have been broken off. There is no basement on the old stone, and the tradition may be the explanation of its present appearance.’ (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 407.)
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.