Allan’s Cairn: Tales of Two Martyrs

This is the story of an amazing seventeenth-century woman, Margaret Gracie, who bravely helped fugitives hiding in the hills, spurned her sweetheart, escaped five times from the dragoons and notorious persecutors, was captured at a field preaching, rescued by armed farmers and had her ears cropped before she, and mysterious martyr called George Allan, were cut down in a volley of musket fire. It is a remarkable story, but is a word of it true?

In 1857, a monument was erected at the alleged site of their burials at Allan’s Cairn…

Allan’s Cairn © Leslie Barrie and licensed for reuse.

The Early History of Allan’s Cairn
Long before the monument was erected, the site was marked by a cairn of stones of unknown antiquity. The name of Allan’s Cairn, to denote the hill and almost certainly the cairn, first appears on William Crawford’s map of Dumfriesshire in 1804. The name is probably considerably older than Crawford’s map, as General Roy did not record any name for the hill on his map of the 1750s.

It also appears in more detail on the OS Map for Kirkcudbrightshire, Sheet 3, which was surveyed in 1850 and published in 1853, and on the OS for Dumfriesshire, Sheet XX, surveyed in 1856 and published in 1861, as ‘Allan’s Cairn’ as the name of the hill and ‘Cairn (Remains of)’.

The cairn lies precisely on the boundary between the two shires and where three parishes meet, Penpont and Tynron in Dumfriesshire, and Darly in Kirkcudbrightshire. Its location suggests that it may have been a boundary marker long before George Allan was killed, perhaps marking the boundary of Galloway, i.e., Kirkcudbrightshire and Wigtownshire. It is perhaps possible that the cairn was originally associated with Alan of Galloway (d.1234), the last Lord of Galloway.

Fundamentally, it is not known if the placename is older that the connection of the cairn to the tradition of Covenanter called George Allan. In other words, it is possible that the Allan of the tradition was named after the cairn/hill.

In 1856, the following short account of the cairn was recorded in the OS Name Book:

‘A small cairn, nearly defaced, said to have been the spot where John Allan was slain during the persecution times. (The name “Allan’s Cairn” is applied to the hill, on the summit of which the cairn is situated.)’ (OS Name Book, 1856)

The Ordnance Survey’s record of the cairn uniquely names the Covenanter killed as John, rather than George, Allan. However, given that there are only three sources for the Covenanter’s name and that two of them, Simpson’s tradition (1855) and the monument (1857), appear to based one upon the other, it is not clear if he was called either John or George.

Until the publication of the tradition about Margaret Gracie, the cairn appears to have been only connected to a martyr named ‘Allan’ who died during the ‘persecution times’ of the Restoration era. Whether that phrase meant that Allan was killed in the Killing Times between December, 1684 and July, 1685, is not known, but in statistical terms, the overwhelming majority of executions in the field date to that time frame.

It is remarkable how little information about Allan is contained in Simpson’s tradition. (See below.) He is mentioned on only two occasions. First, when Gracie is killed, Allan and ‘several others’ are said to have been cut down in the same volley of musket fire. Second, when Gracie is buried, ‘the body of George Allan was interred at the same place’. It appears that Simpson, or his informants, knew very little of the circumstances of Allan’s death beyond the tradition that Allan was killed at the cairn.

Without Simpson’s tradition of Gracie, Allan’s Cairn would be a Covenanting site similar to Gibb’s Corse, which the OS Name Book stated was ‘said to commemorate the death of a martyr named Gilbert who was killed on this spot at the time of the persecution’. In my view, the Gracie tradition has eclipsed an older tradition about Allan’s Cairn.

It is unfair to measure a tradition against history, as the former record how history was recounted at some remove from the original events, if those events happened at all. However, in comparison to many other traditions recorded by Simpson, the historical veracity of the Gracie tradition is particularly challenging to interpret as potentially it is a complete fabrication.

The Wigtown Martyrs

One problem with the Gracie tradition is that the execution of women in the fields in the Killing Times was the subject of considerable later controversy, especially in the case of the two women executed at Wigtown. Alexander Shields, the Society people and Wodrow recorded and propagandised the Wigtown martyrs in the decades after their execution in the field, but none of them mentioned Gracie’s death even though it would have been a propaganda gift for them. It is possible that they all missed the story of Gracie’s death. However, it is more likely that the story of Margaret Gracie, at least in the form published by Simpson, never took place. In the nineteenth century, the story of the Wigtown martyrs was often retold in Christian works and depicted in art. It is possible that the emergence of the Gracie story was connected to the increasing interest in Covenanting women as Christian exemplars.

Nonetheless, the value of the Gracie story is that it is a rare example of a women at the heart of the Covenanting martyr tradition.

Simpson’s Tradition of Margaret Gracie
The tradition first appeared as an article entitled ‘The Sufferings And Martyrdom Of Margaret Gracie’ in the November edition of the Original Secession Magazine in 1855.

‘[…] George Gracie, father of the subject of this brief sketch, was, at the period of which we write, farmer at Marmollock, on the estate [Wilson] of Croglin, in the parish of Tynron, on the northern boundries of Dumfries-shire.’

Magmalloch Burn © Sue King-Smith and licensed for reuse.

Marmallock is probably the location known as ‘Margnaroch’ on Blaeu’s map of Nithsdale of 1654, which lay on the opposite side of the Shinnel Water to Craignencoon, somewhere between the Kirkconnell Burn and Appin. It almost certainly refers to a location known as Magmalloch/’Margmelock’ by the Magmalloch Burn, which flows from Markreach Hill to Fairy Craig by Appin.

Map of Magmalloch Burn           Aerial View of Magmalloch

According to the Tynron Glen website:
‘Magmalloch and Markreach
These lands lie opposite Appin on the south-west side of Appin Burn. […] There is still a Markreach Hill and Magmalloch Burn, but these are now under forestry. They are land holdings mentioned on old documents and they are marked as the settlements of Markraigoch and Margnaroch on Pont’s map of 1590. At one time they held houses too, as the 1691 Hearth Tax shows: Margmelock, James McCall and Mercroch, James Wilsone. They are in the most remote and god-forsaken part of Tynron Glen. […] By 1770 Magmalloch and Markreoch belonged to Wilsons of Croglin, […] Someone was still at Magmalloch in 1765, but any houses up there were abandoned soon afterwards. Where folk lived exactly may be difficult to find now that forestry has buried any evidence. Magmalloch was probably on [the] Magmalloch Burn, almost opposite Appin.’

The presence of James McCall in Magmalloch in 1691 proves that the farm was not held by the Gracie family at that date.

According to Simpson, Wilson of Croglin is said to have been sympathetic to the Covenanters and aided those hiding on his property. (Simpson, Original Secession Magazine, 350; Traditions, 259-61.)

‘George Gracie had a family of two sons, Robert and John, and a daughter, Margaret. It was his anxious care to train up his children in the fear of the Lord, and in the knowledge of the precious but persecuted principles of the Church of Scotland, and his parental prayers and solicitude did not pass unrewarded. On their coming to the years of knowledge, he had the satisfaction to see them all publicly espouse the cause of Christ, and cast in their lot with his oppressed heritage. Whether his sons, Robert and John, fell into the hands of the enemy, and sealed their testimony with their blood, or lived to see the dawn of happier days, neither history nor tradition has recorded, and the fact is now hid from our view by the lapse of years. No such doubt hangs over the history and fate of Margaret.’

There is no historical evidence for Margaret Gracie.

‘This noble-minded woman made arrangements for supplying with provisions the fugitive Presbyterians who had sought refuge from the dragoons in the neighbouring mountains and valleys, and many a dark night and early morning might she have been seen threading her way over rugged steppes, through mosses or barren wastes, or groping for the intricate and dangerous entrance to some lonesome cave on her errands of mercy; while the hapless occupant would bear with joy her feet approach, and ejaculate a prayer to the throne above for the promised blessing,—“ Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water, only in the name of a disciple, he shall in nowise lose his reward.” For a considerable period did Margaret continue this labour of love in ministering to the suffering people of God. Nor were her labours confined to the distribution of what her father’s house could afford; some pious neighbours were also acquainted with her plans, and contributed of their substance to their needy brethren; and it cannot be doubted, that by these means, many of their lives were preserved.’

The hills around the head of the Shinnel Water were the kind of area in which fugitives often hid. Most fugitives resorted to locations close to their homes.

Cormilligan © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

The published Fugitive Roll of 1684 lists over a dozen fugitives in the parish:

Robert Fergusson in Fore-mulligan [i.e., Cormilligan].

Map of Cormilligan        Aerial View of Cormilligan

If you are walking in the area, Cormilligan has fascinating family connections and graffiti inside.

Strathmilligan © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

John Macmillan, servitor to James Wilson in Straithmilligan [Strathmilligan].

Map of Strathmilligan            Aerial View of Strathmilligan

John Paterson in Macquithen [Macqueston].

Map of Macqueston         Street View of Macqueston

Bennan © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

James Harper in Bennan.
John Harper in Bennan, reset and converse.
John Glencorse in Bennan.
John Glencorse ‘in the parish of Tinran’, reset and converse. [Probably a duplicate of above.]

Map of Bennan          Aerial View of Bennan

Killiewarren © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

Andrew Ferguson, late servant to the Laird of Stenhouse [at Killiewarren].

Map of Killiewarren

James Turner in Auchingibbet [Auchengibbert], reset and harbour.
John Collin in Auchingibbet [Auchengibbert], reset and harbour.

Map of Auchengibbert            Aerial View of Auchengibbert

Auchenhessnane © Bob Peace and licensed for reuse.

Gilbert Gilkerse in Auchinhastning [Auchenhessnane].
John Hunter, elder in Chapeland, now in Auchinhastning [Auchenhessnane], reset and converse.
William Hunter in Auchinhastning [Auchenhessnane], reset and converse. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 222.)

Map of Auchenhessnane        Street View of Auchenhessnane

Laight © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

Also possibly present was one of the leading Society people, Thomas Harkness, who was either in Locherben in Closeburn parish or Laight in Tynron parish. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 220.)

Map of Laight         Street View of Laight

A Lovers’ Tryst Gone Wrong
The lovers’ tryst, often accompanied by bible reading, was a popular element in nineteenth-century traditions of the Covenanters. In the Gracie tradition, that element was given a new twist with Gracie rejecting a childhood sweetheart due to his ‘irreligious and profligate character’. It is Gracie as virgin Christian exemplar:

‘An incident occurred about this time, however, which, alas I brought to a close this work of mercy—an event attended with consequences peculiarly painful and trying to herself, and of loss to those who almost depended on her for their preservation. The neighbouring farm to Marmollock was that of Tenleigh, the tenant of which was a young man [named —– Welsh] of irreligious and profligate character.’

Tenleigh, aka. Tonluoch or Tenlaight, is marked as ‘ruins’ on the mid-nineteenth century OS map.

Map of Tenleigh         Aerial View of Tenleigh

‘From circumstances, Margaret and he had been acquainted from their childhood, and on his part, acquaintanceship had generated into a deep and ardent attachment. Margaret, however, felt constrained to refuse his offers, till he should become another man; but assured him that her prayers would follow him to a throne of grace. These words had scarcely been uttered, when Welsh (that was his name) broke out in a rage, threatening he would be avenged on her ere long. The heartless villain kept his word. Within two days thereafter, some soldiers called at Tenleigh, when he informed them that the family of Marmollock were strongly suspected of disloyalty, and that Margaret Gracie was well known to be in tho habit of carrying victuals to several outlaws who were skulking in the neighbourhood. But no sooner had he betrayed the amiable and generous maiden, than a guilty conscience shot her poisoned arrow through his heart. Shortly afterwards he fell into severe bodily distress, and seemed to be on the point of the grave. He earnestly implored an interview with her whom he had lately professed to love, but whom, in the spirit of revenge, he had betrayed into the hands of her mortal enemies. When on the brink of despair, he sent a messenger entreating the injured Margaret to come and see him, that he might ask her forgiveness for his treachery and cruelty, before he closed his eyes in death. She received the message, and was greatly perplexed as to the course of duty, but putting her trust in Him who had kept her feet from falling hitherto, she resolved to obey the call. On a calm summer evening she set out, like an angel of mercy, and soon reached the bedside of her betrayer, whom she found writhing in mental and bodily distress. Time has drawn a veil over the particulars of this singularly interesting meeting; but tradition has it, that Welsh and some of his partners in wickedness were eventually led to abandon their evil courses, and to join in the good cause which at one time they sought to destroy.’

White’s Dragoons Raid Magmalloch
‘… On the following day, White, a well known leader in the persecution, with a party of dragoons, made his first visit to Marmollock, for the special purpose of criminating, if possible, Margaret Gracie.’

The officer named ‘White’ appears to refer to either Major Andrew White or Lieutenant White, both of Mar’s Regiment of Foot rather than the Dragoons.

Major Andrew White, the eldest son of White of Markle, had been was in the Scots Guards from 1666 to 1667 and then in Douglas’s Regiment in France. He was commissioned as a major in Mar’s Regiment on 23 September, 1678. He did command dragoons in a confrontation with Robert Hamilton’s militant field conventicle at Lesmahagow parish in March, 1679. If White was involved, then it was almost certainly before 21 September, 1682, when the major was commissioned as Lieutenant-Governor of Edinburgh Castle and captain of the company of foot there. He died still in the latter post in 1686. (Dalton, Scots Army, 46, 37, 38, 113, 114, 115, 162.)

Lieutenant William White was commissioned in the grenadier company of Mar’s regiment on 19 June, 1682. He was briefly promoted to the rank of captain before he was killed at Steenkirk in 1692. (Dalton, Scots Army, 78, 115, 117, 156.)

‘On entering the house, they found her busy baking cakes, a suspicious circumstance in the eyes of White, who instantly cried out “So, ho, it’s true what we have heard of you, my fair shepherdess; what are you to do with these cakes?”
“They are for the family,” she replied.
“Yes, and for the use of the rebels, too, which are skulking in this locality,” rejoined the rough cavalier. “Do you ever carry provisions to persons in the mountains above the glen?”
“I have done so many times,” was the reply.
“How often have you done so?”
“In the first of the season, I carry them to the people casting peats; next, at the clipping of the sheep; and also at the time of sprett hay-making.”
Finding he was on the wrong tack, White got into a violent rage, and peremptorily asked, “Can you swear that you never carried victuals to outlaws and rebels harbouring about this farm?”
“I can,” was her ready and truthful reply; for the hiding-places of the wanderers were far beyond the boundries of her father’s farm.
Her enemy, on this occasion, was foiled, finding nothing on which he could accuse her; but giving vent to his feelings of disappointment, he brandished his sword over her head, and swore, “He had no doubt but her veins were full of rebel blood, and that some day he would have the pleasure of drawing it off.” He then ordered his men to take the cakes and throw them to the horses, and after they were devoured, the party rode off.’

Margaret Gracie felt the perilous position in which she was now placed, and with feelings of deep submission to the will of God, would sometimes adopt the language of the persecuted David, “I shall perish one day by the hand of Saul.” She did not, however, desert the path of duty when it became a path of danger; she had put her hand to the plough, and, in the strength of divine grace, she had resolved not to turn back.’

From Markreach Hill towards Magmalloch and Appin © Sue King-Smith and licensed for reuse.

Gracie Outwits the Dragoons Again
In Covenanting traditions, the quarry of the dragoons often escaped by the use of a cunning stratagem:

‘Not long after the occurrence above described, she bad set out [form Magmalloch] on the grateful task of supplying some of the concealed sufferers with a morning meal. She had ascended the sloping side of a beautiful glen on her way to the Torrs of Lamgirroch, and had sat down to rest at the “Juniper Well,” when, to her sad dismay, she espied in the distance a party of soldiers making for her father’s farm.’

The hill of Lamgarroch lies close at the head of the Appin Burn glen.

Map of Lamgarroch

‘Missing the object of their search, they soon left Marmollock, after discharging a volley of curses at the other members of the family. Having espied some persons on the hills in the direction where Margaret was, she now saw with deep grief her merciless persecutors fast approaching. Flight, she well knew, was vain, and the plain open country before her afforded no place of concealment. One way of escape only seemed to remain, which was, to assume the character of a wool-gatherer, an occupation common to females at that season of the year. The stratagem of Margaret happily succeeded. The troopers, contrary to their general practice, passed close by without speaking, little knowing that their prize was so near. The other parties they had seen from the distance, and who actually bore on them a scroll of the Covenant, escaped to the neighbouring mountains, and were soon in a place of safety.’

Margaret Gracie Encounters the Returning Dragoons
Once again, Gracie’s stratagem works:

‘The soldiers, after a fruitless search among the rugged peaks of the mountain, descended by the way they came, and again passed Margaret without challenge, busy plying her assumed vocation of gathering wool. She anxiously watched their movements, till out of sight, when she resumed her journey with the means of repast to her suffering friends. She reached the Torrs in safety; but what tongue can tell, what pen describe, what heart conceive, the expressions of gratitude which were then offered to tho God of mercies for such timely deliverance. The cravings of the hungry were supplied; the bleeding sores of the wounded were dressed; and the desponding hearts of the downcast were soothed and cheered by the presence of the welcome visitor. These duties performed, the little company joined in the worship of God; and the sweet sounds of praise and prayer ascended like incense to the skies. Wrapt in devotion, their dangers and sufferings were forgotten, and for a brief space they enjoyed a foretaste of the happy land where sin and sorrow shall never be known.

Margaret Gracie returned home conscious of having only discharged a duty; but the prayers of the righteous followed her steps. She had been the bearer of temporal mercies to the needy children of God in this wilderness, and “the blessings of them who were ready to perish” were invoked on her in far greater abundance.’

Margaret Gracie’s Providential Escape
‘The persecutors, finding that many of their plans to capture the poor Presbyterians were either anticipated, or by some means divulged, formed a resolution about this time of dividing the country into districts, according to their knowledge of the different localities, with a determination of exterminating those they were pleased to call “rebel whigs.”. For this purpose, the dragoons were divided into parties, under [Sir Robert] Grierson of Lag, White, and Coupland. Grierson of Lag was reckoned among the sufferers as another Claverhouse, for barbarity and unrelenting cruelty.’

Lag was connected to a series of summary executions in the Killing Times recorded in history – Kirkconnel Moor, the hangings at Irongray, the Wigtown martyrs, David Halliday and George Short – but he was also connected to several killings which are only recorded in Simpson’s traditions – John Dempster, McRoy and, of course, Gracie and Allan.

The identity of ‘Coupland’ is a mystery. Although Simpson connects him to a party of soldiers, there is record of an officer named Coupland in the Scottish Restoration Army. However, if he existed, he may have been an officer in the militia.

‘The district assigned to him [i.e., Lag] was chiefly among the moss-hags, where it was believed the greater number of the wanderers were concealed. One day, while engaged in his usual raids, like Judge Jeffrey [of the Bloody Assizes in England in 1685], he “smelt some Presbyterians” in the distance, and gave immediate pursuit. He had not proceeded far when a mossy “ bog” stopped his progress. One of his troopers, however, declared he would “search the hags in spite of the devil,” and dashed forward into the mire. Tho object of attraction was none other than Margaret Gracie, who had been pursuing her usual vocation of Christian benevolence. Little knowing that danger was so near, every step was bringing her closer to those who sought her life; and as she reached one of the openings among the “ hags,” the trooper came full in view. Determined that she should not escape, he spurred his horse forward, and prepared his musket, and to every human appearance, there seemed but a step between her and death; but He who delivered his servant David from the mouth of the lion and from the paw of the bear graciously interposed, and overthrew both the horse and his rider in their mad career. At this moment a brace of moorfowl took wing with their usual whirring noise, and so terrified tho warrior’s horse, that he plunged backwards into one of the pits, burying the infatuated dragoon under his ponderous weight. Margaret went on her way rejoicing, not at the overthrow of her enemy, but on account of the deliverance which the Lord had vouchsafed to her.’

St Connel’s Chapel, near Kirkconnell © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

The Conventicle At Kirkconnell
[…] One of these meetings, called conventicles, was arranged to be held in a deep scroggy dell, on the farm of Kirkconnell, in the uplands of Tynron.’

Kirkconnell farm lies close to the ruins of St Connel’s chapel and Cormilligan in Tynron parish, Dumfriesshire.

Map of Kirkconnell

‘Several hours before the appointed time, there might have been seen wending onwards to the sacred spot, old and young of both sexes; and a glorious sight it was, to witness the power of truth and the triumph of faith over the malice and opposition of man. The name of the preacher on this occasion has not been preserved in human records, but that is of little importance. […] The solemn proceedings of the day were commenced. The praises and prayers of the assembled multitude ascended in unison to the throne above; and now they hung upon the lips of the preacher, as if it were the last occasion they would enjoy in the Church below. The greatest secrecy having been observed in arranging the meeting, it was hoped they would escape for once unmolested; but in this they were disappointed. While engaged in their parting song of praise, [John] Douglas of Stenhouse and a party of dragoons dashed through an opening of the hills, and were among the worshippers before any preparations could be made for their safety.’

John Douglas of Stenhouse, a sheriff in Nithsdale, was not an officer in His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons. However, he was involved in the execution of William Smith in March, 1685.

‘The congregation were wholly defenceless, and therefore resistance was in vain. Douglas ordered his men to seize the minister first, and then the ringleaders of the conventicle. While this struggle was going on, a considerable portion of the congregation effected their escape to an adjoining copse; but the minister and a number were secured, among whom was Margaret Gracie; and to complete the scene, they carried, on the instant, one of the company who offered some resistance to the Lea of Kirkconnel, and shot him.’

According to the story the congregation escaped into a nearby copse, one of the woods around Kirkconnell, but the minister, Margaret Gracie and others were captured. One of their number was shot near Lea of Kirkconnell. The shooting of this anonymous individual is not recorded in any other source and no grave is recorded.

‘It being towards evening, Douglas ordered the prisoners to be conveyed to a farm-town near at hand, and there had them locked into a barn, barring the doors and setting a watch; and the farmer was ordered to have carts ready by the morning to convey them to Drumlanrig dungeon.’

Drumlanrig was the home of the Duke of Queensberry.

Map of Drumlanrig

Near Duddiestone Hass © Bob Peace and licensed for reuse.

The Duddiestone Hass Rescue
‘One of the farm servants, a worthy Presbyterian, hearing the imperative commands given to his master, determined, if possible, to effect the release of the prisoners. Accordingly, when night had dropped her sable curtains over this scene of wickedness and blood, he set out in search of those who had escaped to the copse, and by sounds well understood soon collected a number of his brethren. He communicated his purpose of releasing the prisoners; and proposed that, after being supplied with such weapons as the farm could afford, they should proceed to a certain spot where the troopers would pass in the morning, and there intercept them. The proposal was agreed to. They had only a few muskets; but they were furnished with scythes, hay-forks, &c., weapons with which they were better acquainted. At an early hour in the morning they took up their position on the sides of Duddiston Hass, a narrow pass between the [glens of the] Shinnel and the Scarr, and commanding the road which the dragoons were likely to take on their march to Drumlanrig.’

Duddiston Hass is now known as Duddiestone Hass, way between Bennan (which lies near Kirkconnel) on the Shinnel Water and Auchenhessnane on the Scar Water where two paths nearly connect.

Duddiestone Hass

According to the tradition one trooper was killed in the action and the anonymous minister, Margaret Gracie and the others freed.

‘They had not waited long when the heavy tramp of the war-horses, and the hoarse sounds of the warriors, told them the critical moment was come. As the soldiers entered the narrowest part of the pass, several of the Covenanters on each side arose from the heather, and demanded the delivery of the prisoners. Douglas gave the command to push forward; but in one instant a volley was fired, and one of his troopers fell to the ground. On this be commanded a halt, and when he saw the superior numbers of his antagonists, he at once consented to comply with their request, provided they would offer no further opposition. They declared they wanted nothing more than the prisoners; upon which they were unshackled and set at liberty. The minister and his friends returned with grateful hearts for their unlooked fur deliverance; and the soldiers returned to their rendezvous with their wounded companion.’

There is no historical evidence for the Duddinston Hass Rescue. The description of it resembles the historical prisoner rescue at Enterkin Pass in mid 1684.

Enter Claverhouse
Although this courageous exploit was attended with success, and caused much joy among the Presbyterians generally, as well as to the liberated prisoners, it was followed by its natural consequences of retaliation and revenge. [John Graham of] Claverhouse, on hearing of the defeat of his men, proceeded at once to that part of the country, and wherever the semblance of a Presbyterian was found, there his wrath got full vent. George Gracie and his family were proclaimed rebels, and severely harassed by the soldiery; but excepting “fining and quartering,” by his prudent conduct, he escaped further cruelty.

His daughter, however, had now become a noted ringleader in rebellion, and was frequently obliged to leave the house for personal safety. But while she used all proper means of evading her enemies, she never neglected the sacred duty of ministering to the wants of her friends in the moors, although the presence of Claverhouse and his men rendered her journeys doubly perilous.’

There is no historical evidence of the Gracie family being proclaimed rebels.

Glenjaan © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

Margaret Gracie Has Her Ear Cropped at Glenjaan
‘One day, while returning from Lamgirroch, a favourite resort of the wanderers, a party of horsemen suddenly crossed her path, as she groped her way through the rocks of Glenjaun, and without a moments warning she was surrounded by her deadly enemies.’

Glenjaun, is now known as Glenjaan.

Map of Glenjaan        Aerial View of Glenjaan

‘The commander of the party immediately accosted her, when the following conversation passed.
“Where have you been?” was the first question.
“On a visit to some friends.”
“Where do your friends reside?”
“At some distance from this.”
“Tell me, on your peril, what is your name and where you reside.” Margaret held down her head and was silent.
Without more ado, he issued the order to his soldiers, “ Have her immediately to that shepherd’s cote, and burn her on the right cheek, and slit her right ear, for a rebel.”
The sentence was promptly executed by these barbarians, who, after adding insult to cruelty, left their bleeding victim, to pursue their course of wickedness. The godly maiden reached home lacerated and torn by those ruthless villains, to the deep grief of her parents and friends. It was a considerable time before she recovered the mental and bodily injuries she sustained at the hands of the soldiers; but she bore her afflictions with a degree of Christian patience and submission to the will of her heavenly Father, as became a follower of Him who suffered cruel Blockings and persecutions even unto death for His people’s sake.’

This event almost certainly did not take place. The marking of faces with hot irons and cropping of ears was not conducted in the field, as it followed judicial proceedings. Some female prisoners were branded and some male prisoners had one ear cropped after they were sentenced to banishment in the summer of 1685. A similar fictional tradition about James Gavin in Douglas having his ears cropped by shears in the field was also recorded by Simpson, when Gavin had an ear cropped at Edinburgh after he was sentenced to banishment.

The James Gavin Stone

Gracie as Prophetess?
‘On regaining strength, Margaret resumed her wonted course of ministering to the persecuted children of God, being more concerned about the maintenance of the public cause of religion than of her own personal safety. As public ordinances among the Presbyterians were forbidden, either in the house or in the fields, by the unrighteous enactments of that period, under the severest penalties, the wanderers held meetings for prayer as often as circumstances gave them opportunity. Margaret Gracie was a faithful attendant at these meetings, and by her godly conversation, as well as by her unwearied exertions to provide for tho temporal wants of her brethren, was eminently instrumental in sustaining the fainting hearts of the sufferers. Her own strength, however, sometimes gave way under the unbroken cloud of indignation which seemed to hang over the Church and the land, and reviewing her past experience at the close of one of these social meetings, she gave expression, in something like prophetic tones, to the conviction that the hour of her departure was near at hand. “I am persuaded,” she said, “now after a long period of daily afflictions and trials, that my earthly pilgrimage is drawing near to a close. I will be delivered from this scene of trouble; but the cup of the suffering remnant in Scotland is not yet full, and bonds and afflictions doth abide them.” The words were in a short time remarkably verified.’

For other prophetesses, see the Crossford Prophetesses and the Sweet Singers of Bo’ness. In foretelling her death, Gracie yearns for martyrdom in a similar way to Richard Cameron.

The Killing of Gracie and Allan at the Whigs’ Hole
‘The godly John Semple, ousted minister of Carsphairn, having sent intelligence to this part of the country that he earnestly desired to hold a last meeting with his friends to bid them farewell before his ministry on earth should be brought to a close.’

John Semple, who had accepted indulgence, died soon after he preached in Carsphairn parish at some point after 1677. (Fasti, II, 400; Wodrow, History, II, 347-8)

Patrick Walker published a hagiographic Life of Semple in 1727.

If John Semple was the preacher, then the killings do not belong to the Killing Times.

Simpson continues:

‘The intelligence was wafted as on the wings of the wind, from mountain to mountain and from valley to valley, till the wilderness seemed to cry, “ Come to the banquet which the king hath prepared.” The number that attended on this occasion was truly amazing; as many believed that the seed of the godly had been almost cut off from the land. The conventicle was held in a very secluded spot called the “Whigs’ Hole,” on the lands of Altry, between the Scarr [Water] and the [Water of] Ken.’

The Whigs’ Hole sits on Altry Hill at the northern tip of Dalry parish, Kirkcudbrightshire.

Map of the Whigs’ Hole          Aerial View of Whigs’ Hole

‘It was earnestly hoped that the enemy was ignorant of their assemblage, but to prevent surprise, they placed a sentinel on a neighbouring height to give timeous notice in case of danger. With deep solemnity did these persecuted children of Zion unite in the praises of God, which with one heart and tongue ascended like sweet incense to the skies. Their devotion, too, was of the most intense description; both the worthy servant of Christ, and those whoso hearts he led in earnest prayer before the throne on high, felt as if it was the last communion they would enjoy on earth. The venerable Mr Semple opened the Word of God, and proclaimed to the assembled multitude the riches of divine grace through Jesus Christ, and the word was accompanied by remarkable evidences of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

The season was sweet but short. Before the sermon was drawn to a close, the sentinel fired the well-known signal that the enemy was at hand. It was at once agreed that flight was the only course of safety. The minister and a few of the aged people were assisted in reaching a deep moss-hag that lay near by. A number of the young ran off in an opposite direction, to divert the enemy, towards the “flow” of the moss, through which horsemen dare not pass. In a few minutes the dragoons, headed by Coupland and Lag, made their appearance, and reached the scene before many could effect their escape.

Our heroine, as was her usual, displayed more concern for the safety of others than for her own, and was overtaken before she could reach the broken ground. So soon as the dragoons came within gun-shot of the fugitives, they discharged a volley with fatal aim, for in an instant George Allan, Margaret Gracie, and several others, lay dead on the moor. A number more were wounded, and left bleeding and helpless on the waste, till their friends returned and carried them away.’

Allan and Margaret’s Cairn?
‘Thus lived and thus died the godly Margaret Gracie, a faithful witness and follower of Jesus Christ, who sealed her testimony with her blood in the flower of her age, and now wears the martyr’s crown. Her two brothers, and some of those whose lives she had preserved in the mountains, stole to the place next evening and took up the body and buried it near to the spot where she fell. The body of George Allan was interred at the same place. A stone was placed at the head of each grave, which still remain; and the pious hands of the shepherds, who now feed their flocks in peace there, have marked the hallowed spot by a heap of stones, which is known as Allan and Margaret’s cairn until this day.’

The Allan’s Cairn Monument
Just over a year after Simpson published the Gracie tradition, a sandstone monument was erected at Allan’s Cairn in 1857. Today, it lies on the route of the Southern Upland Way.

Map of Allan’s Cairn

The inscription on it is almost certainly influenced by Simpson’s tradition:


Erected by the proceeds of a Sermon preached here
by the Rev. Peter Carmichael Scarbridge, Penpont
on 2nd Sabbath of July 1857.

Ye ministering spirits who are hovering over
Guarding the dust neath its mossy cover
We raise not this stone to relieve your cares
Or discharge you from keeping your vigils here.

When all that are in the graves
shall hear his voice and shall come forth
It is expected that this spot
Shall yield up their dust.

They were shot by the Dragoons of
Coupland, and Lagg, near fawns of
Altry, in the days of the Covenant.

Watch, till the trumpet peal aloud
Watch, till the Judge appear with the could:
Then guide your charge to the gathering throng
When the judgement is set to avenge their wrong.

A. D. 1857’
(Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 29-30.)

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

~ by drmarkjardine on June 13, 2012.

8 Responses to “Allan’s Cairn: Tales of Two Martyrs”

  1. […] For Simpson, ‘the case of Marion Cameron was not a solitary one; there are other instances of young and timid females who exhibited the greatest firmness and moral heroism, in enduring sufferings for Christ’s sake.’ For a similar tradition involving a woman, see Margaret Gracie. […]

  2. […] Grierson of Lag Lag was based at Lag Tower in Dumfriesshire. He is associated in later tradition with a number of deaths in the Killing Times. See John Dempster, M’Roy, and the pursuit of Margaret Gracie. […]

  3. […] 13 & 14. George, or John, Allan and Margaret Gracie who were killed at Allan’s Cairn. […]

  4. […] was only in 1855 that Simpson referred to the Whig’s Hole as the place where Margaret Gracie and George Allan were killed. Prior to that, the OS Name Book had only recorded the death of ‘John Allan’ at Allan’s Cairn […]

  5. […] Whig’s Hole is said to be the traditional location for the killing of Margaret Gracie and George Allan in 1685. However, the earliest surviving traditions about the Whig’s Hole, or ‘Whighole’, do not […]

  6. […] also supposed to be the spot where two Covenanters, Margaret Gracie and George Allan, were killed, however, those stories are almost certainly made up. The earliest surviving traditions about the Whig’s Hole, or ‘Whighole’, do not mention their […]

  7. […] Simpson’s traditions are the origin for the stories of three female martyrs that are not mentioned in the historical sources. Besides, Mary M’Clymont, Simpson also found the story of Marion Cameron, which was also related to the possible discovery of bog bodies, and the patently flawed story of Margaret Gracie. […]

  8. […] […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.