Cornet Dundas and the Killing of Edward McKean in Carrick

The early sources for the Killing Times caused considerable confusion when it came the killings of Cornet James Dundas. However, he was responsible for the deaths of two Covenanters in Carrick, Edward McKean and John Semple….

The origin of the confusion over the role of Dundas in both killings reaches back to the first sources. According to Alexander Shields in 1690:

‘James Dowglass Coronet of Dragoons, commanded to shot John Semple, Essaying to escape out of his Window, in the Paroch of Dellie, Anno 1685. Kilkerron shot him.
Item. The said Coronet Douglass Apprehended Edward Mckcen, and by search finding a Flint stone upon him, presently shot him without any further Tryal, Feb: 1685.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 36.)

As usual, Cloud of Witnesses reproduced Shields’ text with minor corrections. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 544-5.)

Cornet Douglas or Cornet Dundas?
It is clear that almost all of the sources misidentified the cornet involved in both killings.

Shields tells us two pieces of information about him. First, that he was ‘James Douglas, Cornet of Dragoons’. Second, that he was active in Carrick in February, 1685.

The gravestones of Edward McKean and John Semple agree that Cornet Douglas was responsible. The inscription on the grave of McKean calls the officer ‘Corn[et]. Dougllas’. The inscription on the grave of Semple at Old Dailly follows Shields in calling him ‘Cornet James Douglas’. (Campbell, SW, 44, 155.)

However, Wodrow identifies the officer involved in the killing of Semple as ‘Cornet Dundas’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 244.)

Wodrow also names the officer involved in McKean’s death as the ‘lieutenant, or cornet James Douglas’ who was the ‘governor of the garrison at Balwhan’. However, in his account of Semple’s killing Wodrow states that the ‘Blawhan garrison’ was ‘commanded by Dundas’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 241.)

The garrison at Blawhan, now Blairquhan, lay in Staiton parish in Carrick, Ayrshire. It was based in a castle that belonged to John Whiteford of Blairquhan. The old castle was demolished and replaced in the early nineteenth century.

Map of Blairquhan

The records for the Scottish Army help to clarify the name of the cornet. There is no record of a Cornet James Douglas in His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons. However, there are records for a Cornet ‘James Dundasse’ of the dragoons who was based in Carrick.

It appears that either Shields or his source or his printer made an error in which the name Douglas, rather than Dundas, was recorded as the cornet’s name. That error was then transmitted through Cloud of Witnesses to the inscriptions on the graves and into Wodrow’s account of McKean’s death. In correctly identifying Cornet Dundas, Wodrow’s source for Semple’s killing revealed the error, but Wodrow did not resolve the contradictory names used by his sources.

It is clear that the Cornet Douglas recorded by most of the sources was Cornet James Dundas of the His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons.

Cornet Dundas is first recorded in the troop Major James Turner on 25 November, 1681. The captaincy of the troop later passed to John Wedderburn of Gosford (1657-1688) and on 30 March, 1685, Dundas is recorded as Gosford’s cornet. (Dalton, Scots Army, 122, 144, 145.)

In late March, 1685, Dundas was commissioned under Colonel James Douglas to suppress disorders in the southern and western shires. (RPCS, X, 205.)

At some point between February and November, 1685, the privy council ordered ‘Cornett Dundas to continue his partie of sojours at the house of Balqhane [i.e., Blairquhan] till further ordor, the principall ordor being transmitted to him.’ (RPCS, XI, 21.)

On 7 November, 1685, he was promoted to the lieutenancy of a different troop of dragoons. (Dalton, Scots Army, 144, 145.)

It is time to turn to the first killing by Cornet Dundas.

McKean’s Grave in Barr Kirkyard © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

The Killing of McKean
Dundas shot Edward McKean in Barr parish, Carrick.

‘The said Coronet Douglass [i.e., Cornet Dundas] Apprehended Edward Mckcen, and by search finding a Flint stone upon him, presently shot him without any further Tryal, Feb: 1685.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 36.)

Shields calls him ‘Edward Mckcen’, Cloud of Witnesses names him ‘Edward Mackeen’, Wodrow as ‘Edward Kyan’ and his grave as ‘Edward McKeen’. In the registers of the privy council for 1685, the surname McKean was transcribed as M’Kean, M’Keane, M’Ken, M’Kian, M’Cean.

McKean’s grave is in Barr parish churchyard, which is separate from the kirk.

Map of Barr Kirkyard               Street of Barr Kirkyard

The inscription on the gravestone is based on Shields’ text:

‘1685
HEAR ⋅ LYES ⋅ EDW
ARD ⋅ McKeeN ⋅ W
HO ⋅ WAS ⋅ ShoAT ⋅ IN
THIS ⋅ PARISh ⋅ BY ⋅ C
ORN: DOUGLLAS ⋅ F
Or ⋅ AdherANCE ⋅ TO
The ⋅ WoRD ⋅ OF ⋅ GOD
AND ⋅ SCOTLLANDS ⋅
COUENATED ⋅ WorK
OF ⋅ ReFOrMATION.’

Three decades after Shields, Wodrow published his version of McKean’s death. According to Wodrow, McKean/Kyan was shot on Saturday 28 February, 1685:

‘I have before me an attested account signed by persons present, of a very barbarous execution in the parish of Bar[r], upon the 28th of February. That day very late, about eleven at night, lieutenant, or cornet James Douglas [i.e., Cornet Dundas], with twenty four soldiers, surrounded the house of Dalwin, in the foresaid parish, having got information that there were whigs there.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 240-1.)

Dalwyne (on the right-hand edge) © Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse.

In Wodrow’s account, Dundas had embarked on an intelligence-led raid on the farm of Dalwin, now known as Dalwyne, in pursuit of suspected dissenters.

Map of Dalwyne            Street View of Dalwyne

The first people that Cornet Dundas seized were the occupants of the house.

‘They apprehended David Martin, brother to John Martin of Dalwhairn, who dwelt there [at Dalwyne] with an old woman his mother:’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 241.)

Martin’s brother lived at the neighbouring farm of Dalwhairn, now Dalquhairn, that lies across the Dalquhairn Burn from Dalwyne.

Map of Dalquhairn           Street View of Dalquhairn

However, Dundas and his dragoons also found McKean hiding in the darkness:

‘And finding Edward Kyan a pious good man from Galloway, lately come thence to buy corn, who had fled in betwixt the gavel of one house, and the side-wall of another, they dragged him out, and took him through a yard. He was asked where he lived, and told them, upon the water of Menock.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 241.)

The Water of Minnoch © Andy Farrington and licensed for reuse.

The Water of Minnoch flows south from Barr parish in Carrick and through Minnigaff parish in Kirkcudbrightshire, Galloway, before it joins the River Cree to the south of Glentrool. For its entire course in Galloway the Water of Minnoch runs through Minnigaff parish.

Map of the head of the Water of Minnoch

There is no trace of Edward Kyan or M’Keen, or of his surname, on the parish list from Minnigaff submitted to the authorities by the minister in October, 1684, or on the Fugitive Roll of May, 1684.

Wodrow’s account of McKean’s end is graphic and appears to be the report of at least one eyewitness:

‘When one of the soldiers had him by the arm dragging him away, without any warning, further questions, or permitting him to pray, the said lieutenant [i.e., Cornet Dundas], who was governor of the garrison at Balwhan, shot him through the head, and presently discharged his other pistol, and shot him again in the head, when lying on the ground struggling with death; and one of the soldiers of the party coming up, pretended he saw some motion in him still, and shot him a third time’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 241.)

Wodrow’s version contradicts Shields’ version which had claimed that ‘a Flint stone’, a knapped piece of flint that was used to ignite powder in a flintlock mechanism of a musket or pistol, had been found on McKean. For a similar case of the same date where the discovery of suspected lead shot ammunition led to summary execution, see the shooting of Mowat in Galloway.

Wodrow pressed home his caricature of the brutality of the dragoons:

‘Thus they delighted to mangle the poor people that fell in their hands, and to abuse their very bodies. He was but a youth, and could not have been at Bothwell, or any of the risings, and they had indeed nothing to charge him with but his hiding himself.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 241.)

Given the date for the shooting of 28 February and the claim that McKean was too young to have fought at Bothwell in 1679, it is possible that McKean was a fugitive from the Abjuration courts in the first two months of 1685. Wodrow does not mention if McKean held a pass, a testificate that proved he had taken the Abjuration oath that renounced the Societies’ war against the state. As a resident of a parish in ‘Galloway’, he would have required a pass to travel to Barr parish in late February, 1685. The failure to carry a pass would only have been sufficient legal grounds for Dundas to apprehend McKean, rather than summarily execute him, unless McKean refused to take the Abjuration oath when captured.

The available evidence is too ambiguous to clarify whether McKean was a fugitive or refused the Abjuration oath, but it does suggest that he was discovered attempting to conceal himself from Dundas and his dragoons, and was carrying a key component of a firearm.

‘When they had thus despatched this man, the soldiers brought out David Martin to the same place, and after they had turned off his coat, they set him upon his knees beside the mangled body. One of the soldiers dealt with the lieutenant [i.e., Dundas] to spare him till tomorrow, alleging they might get discoveries from him, and stepped in betwixt him and six soldiers who were presenting their pieces. Thus the Lord sometimes makes the earth to help the woman. The lieutenant was prevailed with to spare him, and bring him into the house. However, David, through the fright and terror, lost the use of his reason in a great measure, and fell into a palsy, and continued bed-fast, and much useless for near four years, till his death [in c.1688].’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 241.)

Restoration soldiers did not operate under the strictures of the Geneva Conventions. For other cases where mock executions were used to obtain information, see the Mauchline martyrs and John Brounen.

‘The soldiers [also] beat and wounded terribly two other men who lived hard by, against whom they had nothing, Thomas Abercromby father and son. They [also] beat and abused the women most barbarously, and carried away David Martin, and one of the Abercrombies, prisoners with them to Colmonel next morning, being the Lord’s day [i.e., on Sunday, 1 March].’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 241.)

There is no record of David Martin in the registers of the privy council, but the elder Thomas Abercrombie was taken to Edinburgh, imprisoned in the tolbooth and sentenced to banishment in the American plantations. On 31 July, 1685, Abercrombie’s banishment was delayed on the grounds of his ‘old’ age and at around the same time the privy council ‘allowes Thomas Abercrombie from Carrick to consider on the oath of allegiance’. (RPCS, XI, 129, 330.)

Abercrombie took the oath and was ordered to be liberated on 22 October, 1685:

‘The saids Lords haveing called and examined Thomas Abercrombie, prisoner in the tolbooth of Edinburgh, and haveing owned the King [i.e., James VII] and his authority and prayed for him and acknowledged they ryseing at Bothwellbridge and all such rysings to be rebellion against the King and a sin befor God, and there being nothing informed against him, the saids Lords, in respect of his povertie and old age, doe hereby grant ordor and warrant for his libertie, he haveing found caution under the penalty of five hundred merks [or £333 Scots] to compear when called and in the meantyme he shall live regularly and orderly.’ (RPCS, XI, 204.)

Thomas Abercrombie may not have survived long after the order for his release. (Thomas Abercrombie, ‘Account, of 1711, by daughters, Anna, Grizel and son Thomas, of the murder their father in 1685’, NLS MSS. Wod.Qu.XXXVII, f. 250.)

For the role of Dundas in the killing of John Semple, see here.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on April 21, 2012.

4 Responses to “Cornet Dundas and the Killing of Edward McKean in Carrick”

  1. […] Shooting of John Semple As noted in the post on Edward McKean, the some of the sources mistakenly attributed Semple’s death to the fictional Cornet James […]

  2. […] Mowat and McWhae, and the responsibility of Cornet James Dundas for the killings of John Semple and Edward McKean, I argued that historical errors had been made in the transmission of the information about their […]

  3. […] of the troop under Cornet James Dundas were garrisoned at Blairquhan in Straiton parish in Carrick. Dundas executed Edward McKean in February, 1685 and John […]

  4. […] January, 1685, it was the scene of the killings at Caldons. The Edward McKean summarily executed in Carrick in 1685 was probably from the […]

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