A Bullet From The General: The Shooting of Adam Macquhan by a Hero of the Battle of the Boyne

Adam Macquhan was shot at New Galloway in Kells parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, in 1685. According to tradition, he was dragged from his sick bed and shot. However, history hints at different story in which Macquhan may have been part of a violent and bloody shootout in the Galloway hills that killed nine men…

Macquhan’s death was first recorded by Alexander Shields in 1690:

‘Item, The said Col: or Liev: Gen: James Douglas caused take Adam Macquhan out of his bed, sick of a Fever, and carry him to Newtoun of Galloway, and the next day shot him dead, the foresaid year, 1685.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 35.)

Shields did not give a specific date for Macquhan’s death.

Cloud of Witnesses reproduced Shields’ text with minor corrections. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 539.)

He was executed on the orders of Colonel James Douglas of His Majesty’s Regiment of Foot Guards. Later, in 1690, the by then General Douglas commanded part of William of Orange’s army at the Battle of the Boyne.

New Galloway © Malcolm Morris and licensed for reuse.

Where Macquhan was discovered by Douglas’s foot is not clear, but it was presumably somewhere in the Glenkens area in northern Kirkcudbrightshire. After he was captured, Douglas took him to New Galloway, a village attached the house of Alexander Gordon, Viscount Kenmuir, who was commissioned to press the Abjuration oath in Galloway in January and February, 1685.

Map of New Galloway

Shields did not mention that Macquhan was probably a fugitive who had fled from Kirkcudbright. An ‘Adam Macwhan, there [i.e., in Kirkcudbright]’ is listed on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 219.)

Macquhan was possibly executed after he refused all oaths. From the manner of his execution – shot on Douglas’s orders – it likely that he refused the Abjuration oath that renounced the Society people’s war on the state.

The Grave
He was either buried, or reburied post-1688, in Kells parish churchyard, which lies just to the north of New Galloway. It was recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1714: ‘In the churchyard, Kells’ where ‘lyes Adam Macwhan’.

Map of Kells parish churchyard

The inscription on his grave recycled the text of Shields:


[On Reverse]

LEAGUE. 1685.’
(See also Thomson, Martyr Graves, 389-90.)

In 1832, the original stone was re-erected in a monument that frames it.

[Above the front of the stone:]
‘The righteous shall be in ever
-lasting remembrance
Psl: CXII.6’

[Below the front of the stone:]
‘The above stone originally
erected to the Memory of
was placed in this granite
monument A.D. 1832’

[On the Reverse. Above Stone:]
‘Be thou faithful unto death and I
will give thee a crown of life
REV: II.10’

[Below Stone:]
‘The expense defrayed by
the inhabitants of Kells
after Sermon by the Rev
minister of the Parish.’

Wodrow’s Account
In the second decade of the eighteenth century, Wodrow’s account of Macquhan, which appears to have been partially based on Shields’ account, specifically dated Macquhan’s death to 11 May, 1685.

Wodrow also referred to him as Andrew, rather than Adam, M’Quhan. As noted above, the evidence of the Fugitive Roll suggests that Macquhan/Macwhan was named Adam.

Wodrow’s account is as follows:

‘The seventh person murdered this day, I cannot give so distinct account of as of the preceding. Only I find lieutenant colonel [James] Douglas upon the 10th of May 1685 came into a house in some of the neighbouring parishes to the Newton of Galloway, found a religious good man, Andrew M’Quhan, lying very ill of a fever, and putting his questions to him, which he not being able, or it may be, unwilling to answer, he caused the soldiers who were with him take him out of his bed, and carry him with them to the Newton [of Galloway], and next morning shot him there, without any process or assize.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 251.)

Wodrow’s date for the killing may not be as secure as it seems.

Colonel Douglas was called into the field following the appearance of armed rebels in Ayrshire in March.

As a result, he was issued with a wide-ranging commission to extirpate rebels that ran between 27 March and 20 April, 1685.

During that time, he was involved in cases at Cumnock in Ayrshire on 4-5 April and appears to have granted a commission to hold a court at Wigtown in mid April.

At the end of his commission, Douglas attended the privy council in Edinburgh on 21 April, 1685. He next attended the council on 24 June. (RPCS, XI, 24, 78.)

In the key period for the shooting of Macquhan, the movements of Douglas are not clear. After being in Edinburgh on the 21 April, he appears to have gone to Nithdale in Dumfriesshire.

On 28 April, he is said to have been involved an intelligence-led raid which resulted in the shooting of five Society people at Lower Ingliston in Glencairn parish, Dumfriesshire. Glencairn parish lies to the north-east of Newton of Galloway and on the opposite side of Kirkcudbrightshire.

Map of Lower Ingliston

At some point, possibly before his judicial commission expired on 20 April and certainly before 5 May, he was in Dumfriesshire, as he, Robert Grierson of Lag and John Graham of Claverhouse sat on an assize in Dumfries which questioned Euphraim Threpland, aka. Mistress Macbirnie, about assassinations. (Wodrow, History, IV, 327.)

However, Douglas then vanishes from the record until 23 May, when he was at or near Ayr with the forces of the Scottish Army arrayed against the Argyll Rising.

It is possible that Douglas was in the vicinity of New Galloway on 10/11 May. However, Alexander Shields also claimed that Colonel Douglas was involved in the drowning of the two women at Wigtown, an event which Wodrow dated to 11 May:

‘The said Col: or Liev: Gen: James Dowglas, together with the Laird of Lag and Capt: Winram, most illegally condemned, and most inhumanly drowned at stakes within the sea-mark, two Women at Wigtoun, viz. Margaret Lauchlan, upwards of 60: years, and Margaret Wilson, about 20: years of age.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 35-6.)

The contradictory narrative accounts for the Wigtown Martyrs certainly create challenges when it comes to identifying the officers involved and when, or if, they were present. At first, there appears to be no simple way of resolving Colonel Douglas’s presence in both New Galloway and Wigtown, which lie about 24 miles apart. However, Shields’ text is a compound entry that bundles together both the trial (mid April) and execution (11 May) of the two female martyrs. Colonel Douglas was involved in some way the trial of the Wigtown case in mid April, but was probably not party to their execution on 11 May.

It is possible that Wodrow manufactured the 11 May, 1685, as, what he calls, ‘a black, and very remarkable day for blood in several places’, to create a bloody crescendo for the Killing Times. At the beginning of his entry for MacQuhan, he states that he was the ‘seventh person murdered this day’ – according to Wodrow, the other people killed on that day were the two Wigtown martyrs, Andrew Hislop and three men at Polmadie – however, Wodrow is the source for most of the dates for the killings attributed to 11 May.

If, as the evidence suggests, Douglas was not involved in the Wigtown executions on 11 May, then Wodrow’s date may well be correct. However, there is a second possibility. Macquhan may have been executed earlier in 1685.

A New Date For the Shooting of Macquhan
In my opinion, historians should consider the accuracy of Wodrow’s date for Macquhan’s death. I have no doubt that Colonel Douglas did summarily have Macquhan shot, but it is possible that he did not execute him on 11 May, 1685.

The reason for that opinion is that other fragmentary historical evidence suggests that Macquhan’s death happened in late January, rather than in May, 1685.

Colonel Douglas was certainly at New Galloway on 24 January, 1685.

After he attended the privy council in Edinburgh on 12 January, he and two hundred of his men were sent to Galloway. (RPCS, X, 103.)

According to Fountainhall:

‘The few handfull of phanatick rebells left in the West turning very insolent [after the Societies’ Apologetical Declaration against Intelligencers], the Hy Treasurer [William Douglas, duke of Queensberry] (to put a rub on Claverhouse, who had been – lately ther [in Galloway] in December last, and could not wholly suppresse them,) causes his brother, Collonell James Douglas, select out of his wholle regiment [of Foot Guards] 200 of his prettiest men, and by order from the Privy Counsell sends him against these rogues, that the glory of defaiting them might fall to his share.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Observes, 146.)

At the beginning of 1685, the rivalry between the two colonels, Claverhouse and Douglas, was not just between two ambitious soldiers. It also reflected the regimental rivalry between their respective regiments, His Majesty’s Regiment of Horse and His Majesty’s Regiment of Foot Guards. Douglas had an advantage in the political game of advancement, as his brother, the Duke of Queensberry, viewed the Scottish Army as his domain. Not only was Queensberry’s brother the colonel of His Majesty’s Regiment of Foot Guards, his first son was the lieutenant-colonel of His Majesty’s Regiment of Horse and his second son held a captaincy in the same regiment. In other words, Claverhouse, who held no great title but did have political favour, may have suspected that his hopes for advancement were being undermined by the Douglas family at the highest level, by his rival’s command of the Guards and within his own regiment.

The perceived failure of Claverhouse to suppress the Society people in Galloway led Colonel Douglas to boast that he, rather than Claverhouse, could handle the increasingly violent situation in the South West. However, Douglas got more than he bargained for.


‘And accordingly [Colonel] Douglas, being on[e] day in the fields in Galloway, with a small party of 8 or 10, he meits with as many of the rebells at a house, who kill tuo of his men and Captain [Alexander] Urquhart, Meldrum’s brother, and had very near shot Douglas himselfe dead, had not the Whig’s carabine misgiven, wheron Douglas pistoled him presently. [Captain] Urquhart is the only staff officer this desperat crew have yet had the honor to kill; he was brought in to Edenbrugh, and buried with much respect.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Observes, 146.)

There is no doubt that the incident that Fountainhall recorded in his journal was Douglas’s involvement in the shooting of six Society people at Caldons in Minnigaff parish on 23 January, 1685. Minnigaff parish lies directly to the west of New Galloway on the western boundary of Kells parish.

The most intriguing part of the evidence with regard to Macquhan’s death, is that Colonel Douglas was certainly at New Galloway on 24 January, 1685.

On 28 January, the privy council wrote a letter to Colonel Douglas. The privy council thought fit to ‘acquaint yow … that a letter direct by yow [i.e., from Colonel Douglas] from New Galloway of the twentieth and fourth instant to the Lord Chancellor was communicate to them, giveing ane account of the late insolent attacque made by some desperate rebells on some of his Majesties forces, where Captaine Urquhart was killed and others of them killed or wounded, and of three houses where they wer suspect to have been resett; and to shew that they are very well satisfyed with your great care and dilligence on this occasione, they have ordered yow and the other commissioners immediatlie to prosecute these rebells now prisoners, and to burne the houses of such as are malitious and willfull resetters of rebells and the materialls thereof’. (RPCS, X, 115.)

On the same day, the privy council also wrote to the justices of Kirkcudbrightshire (including Kenmuir?) appointing Colonel Douglas as a commissioner in the area. In particular, Douglas was ‘to conveen and be present at the tryall of these traitors who wer accessory to and in company with these other rebells who killed Captaine Urquhart and wounded some of his Majesties sojours’. (RPCS, X, 114-15.)

It is possible that Douglas was at New Galloway on both 24 January and 10-11 May. His presence there on 24 January questions the accuracy of Wodrow’s date, but does not undermine it. However, when Douglas’s presence at New Galloway on 24 January is placed in the contexts of the events surrounding the Caldons killings and the geographic location of a stone linked to Macquhan, the case for Wodrow’s date looks less certain.

Probably the best way to understand the case for Macquhan’s connection to the Caldons incident, is to follow links to the maps provided below.

The Caldons incident, in which a captain, two foot guards and six Society people were killed, took place at a remote farm deep in the Galloway hills on 23 January. The grave of the six Society people killed lies at the west end of Loch Trool.

Map of Caldons

Given the violent nature of the encounter, there is little doubt that Douglas was compelled to both treat his wounded and immediately inform the privy council about it. From the evidence of the registers of the privy council, it is clear that Douglas wrote to them about the incident on the following day from New Galloway. The latter location lies directly to the east of Caldons through the hills.

Map of New Galloway

It is a reasonable assumption, given the remote location of Caldons, that Douglas headed directly for a good point of communication with Edinburgh. The evidence suggests that he went to New Galloway, which lay on the road from Newton Stewart to Drumlanrig (Queensberry’s house) and Edinburgh.

Douglas’s march from Caldons to New Galloway is of particular interest. We do not know what his route of march was, but the hills and necessity probably dictated the general direction of travel.

From Caldons he probably moved around Loch Trool. At the end of the glen two possible ways through the hills lay before him. Either he turned north-east up the Gairland Burn or south-east and ascended the Glenhead Burn. To my mind, the northern route was probably better suited to Douglas’s purpose of quickly getting to New Galloway. Although the southern route via Glenhead, which broadly follows the Southern Upland Way, is certainly possible.

Map of Glenhead

A northern route would have followed the Gairland Burn.

Map of Gairland Burn

The Gairland Burn above Loch Trool  © Tom Richardson and licensed for reuse.

Looking East along Loch Valley  © Anthony O’Neil and licensed for reuse.

The advantage to the northern route was that it met the Loch Valley which runs to the east before the way to New Galloway crossed the bogs around the Croonan Lane at the Ellergower Ford.

Map of Ellergower Ford

The Cooran Lane below the Ford © Leslie Barrie and licensed for reuse.

From there the way may have passed down the northern bank (i.e., the New Galloway side) of Black Water of Dee to join the road to New Galloway and Edinburgh somewhere to the east of Clatteringshaws. In 1685, the area of the modern Clatteringshaws Reservoir was a bog.

Map of Clatteringshaws

One site on the possible northern route to New Galloway is of particular interest.

McWhann’s Stone at the Curnelloch Burn  © Mark McKie and licensed for reuse.

Soon after the Ellergower Ford, and roughly halfway between Caldons and New Galloway, lies a site known as ‘M’Whann’s Stone’ beside the Curnelloch Burn in Kells parish.

Map of McWhann’s Stone

What role, if any, it had in Macquhan’s capture is not recorded, but its location appears to tie Macquhan into the Caldons Wood Killings in some manner.

McWhann’s Stone © Mark McKie and licensed for reuse.

Was Macquhan captured at Caldons or was he captured in the aftermath of the skirmish when Douglas rounded up those involved? We do not know. It is possible that he was one of the prisoners brought to New Galloway by Colonel Douglas following Caldons. The instructions to Douglas from the privy council on 28 January do indicate that he had taken prisoners in connection with Caldons and brought them to New Galloway:

‘they have ordered yow and the other commissioners immediatlie to prosecute these rebells now prisoners [at New Galloway?], and to burne the [three?] houses of such as are malitious and willfull resetters of rebells and the materialls thereof’. (RPCS, X, 115.)

The scenario of prisoners taken after Caldons may have involved Macquhan being taken from his sickbed and summarily executed.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on April 27, 2012.

8 Responses to “A Bullet From The General: The Shooting of Adam Macquhan by a Hero of the Battle of the Boyne”

  1. […] similar to the stories of two other Society people possibly connected to the killings at Caldons, Adam Macquhan and Thomas MacHaffie, were allegedly struck down with fever and dragged from their sickbeds by […]

  2. […] of the year, Douglas was in Galloway where he was involved in the shootings at Caldons and that of Adam MacQuhan. In March, he was allegedly involved in a raid in Ballantrae parish, which lies next to […]

  3. Hello Mark, Thanks again for a fascinating talk at the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association annual dinner, all the best, Bobby

  4. […] prominent natural boulders/stones, or a cairn of stones. For examples see, Dempster’s Stone, McWhann’s Stone, Smith’s Stone, the Preaching Stone and the Martyr’s […]

  5. […] McQuhan is said to have been taken from his sick bed and shot at New Galloway. However, he appears to have been involved in the incident at […]

  6. […] for his death, or who had sheltered the assassins, would have been intensive. Soon after, Douglas ordered the summary field execution of Adam MacQuhan in Kells parish. In March, he was on the boundary of Wigtownshire where he raided the house of John Macgill at […]

  7. […] no evidence to connect it to Adam Macquhan, a martyr of the Killing Times. When I speculated about the possible significance of the stone four years ago, there was still no evidence to connect the stone to Macquhan. However, at that time, there was a […]

  8. […] Kells parish and ordered the summary execution of Adam MacQuhan. It is possible that MacQuhan was either captured, or executed, soon after the Caldons incident in January, 1685, but the Stewartry source clearly dates his summary execution to 11 […]

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