The Killing of an Intelligencer in 1685

One of the most remarkable traditions recorded by Simpson is about the Society people killing a spy, or intelligencer, named Grier in late May 1685. It is not known whether the story reflects historical events, but it does highlight that popular memory recalled that murder was committed by both sides in the Killing Times …

View Down the Water of Ken from Lorg © Sue King-Smith and licensed for reuse.

The murderer, McClurg, was one of the Society people. If he existed, he may have been John McLurg, a ‘smith in Minnigaff’, who appears on the published Fugitive Roll of 1684 under Wigtownshire. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 219.)

Minnigaff parish is in Kirkcudbrightshire, but was listed under Wigtownshire in the parish lists and fugitive roll of 1684.

Map of Minnigaff

According to Simpson, ‘the slaughter of the informer took place not far from the Holm of Ken—a most delightful spot near the upper extremity of the glen’ which the minister in Simpson could not resist describing as ‘a kind of Eden in the midst of the wilderness, and far removed from the busy haunts of men.’

The location appears to refer to the glen around Holm of Dalquhairn which lies on the boundary between the parishes of Carsphairn and Dalry in Kirkcudbrightshire.

Map of Holm          Aerial View of Area

Water of Ken towards Ewe Hill © Chris Wimbush and licensed for reuse.

Simpson:
‘The following anecdote has a relation to the publishing of the [Second] Sanquhar Declaration, by Mr [James] Renwick and his friends, 1685, on the occasion of the accession of the Duke of York to the throne. It appears that this celebrated Declaration was countenanced by a convention of Covenanters from all parts of the west and south.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 36.)

Blackgannoch Cleuch © Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.

The Society people met to proclaim the Second Sanquhar Declaration at their twentieth convention at Blackgannoch on 28 May, 1685.

Map of Blackgannoch

Renwick and his armed followers proclaimed at the mercat cross in Sanquhar on the same day.

Map of Sanquhar

‘[…] Among the many who took an interest in this matter, were the men of Galloway, than whom sturdier Covenanters existed not in the country. A deputation from this district, then, or else a company of well-wishers, on their own account, proceeded northwards, to meet Mr Renwick at Sanquhar. Their route lay along the beautiful banks of the Ken. As they were proceeding on their journey with little suspicion, in the heart of a wild and hilly country, they were informed that a spy, lurking in the neighbourhood, was watching their movements.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 36-7.)

In November, 1684, Renwick and the Society people had threatened intelligencers and declared war on their persecutors in the Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers.

‘On receiving this notice, they betook themselves to the more mountainous tracks, to escape observation. The name of the spy was Grier. He was formerly one of the Covenanters, and was well acquainted both with them and their hiding-places. He had renounced the covenant for a bribe; and, being well paid by his employers, he was very assiduous in his vocation. These informers were, especially if they were apostates, peculiarly detested. Their employment was a degradation to humanity; and even those in whose service they were engaged could not but despise them. These active agents of evil were always on the alert, for their temporal interests were combined with success in their infamous calling.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 37.)

Simpson’s hostility to Grier and other spies does not take into account the situation many former Society people turned intelligencer found themselves in when they were captured. Faced with death some brethren did agree to provide information in return for their lives. Compare the experiences of a Lesmahagow shepherd and John Brounen.

‘One of the covenanting brethren, named M’Lurg, happened to be journeying on the west side of the river, not having yet joined his company; and, observing the spy [Grier], he hid himself behind a rock. In this situation he had ample opportunity of subjecting the man to his scrutiny, as he happened to be near him. As he passed the hiding-place full in his view, he discovered that he was an old acquaintance, and the very man who had deserted their cause, and become their vengeful and insidious enemy; that he was the informer who was the cause of so much anxiety and distress to the Nonconformists in the neighbourhood; and that he was at that very moment tracing the steps of him and his friends, with a view to do them mischief.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 37.)

The west side of the Water of Ken lies in Carsphairn parish.

‘It now occurred that he had a fair opportunity of avenging the wrongs which this unhappy man had been the means of inflicting on the distressed remnant, who were subjected to the incessant harassings of their persecutors. He imagined that by shooting him on the spot, he would perform a righteous deed, and be the praiseworthy instrument of ridding the district of an intolerable nuisance. Accordingly, he lifted his musket to a level with his eye; and levelling the fatal tube at the man’s breast, he fired. The ball, entering under the left arm, passed through the heart, and he fell dead on the heath. […] When M’Lurg saw that the man was slain, he left his station behind the rock, and proceeded to strip him of his armour—an article of great account in those days. Among other warlike implements, he found in his possession a weapon called the Galloway flail.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 37, 38.)

Simpson goes on to discuss the Galloway flail in detail and its use by McClurg in a brief skirmish with Robert Grierson of Lag’s troops soon after the murder of Grier. He also expressly condemns the murder and attempts to distance the Society people from such acts. (See here.)

Like Simpson, the presbyterian historians Wodrow and Hewison were quick to point out that the murderers of the curate of Carsphairn were publicly disowned by the Societies, but that did not happen until six months later in the Second Sanquhar Declaration, by which point all the perpetrators had either been killed or turned informer. Even then, only the murder of the curate of Carsphairn was disowned and that in a highly-qualified fashion, as they suggested that there had been insufficient deliberation before his killing and that it was ‘not materially murther’ as he was ‘a man of death, both by the law of God and Man’.

Throughout the Killing Times and beyond, the Societies did not disown their war against their persecutors. Rather, they continued to justify what they termed the enactment of ‘righteous judgement’ on known persecutors in specific circumstance in works such as Alexander Shields A Hind Let Loose (1687).

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on June 16, 2012.

3 Responses to “The Killing of an Intelligencer in 1685”

  1. […] He appears to have escaped from prison and is later said to have been involved in the killing of an intelligencers in Dalry parish in 1685. (Wodrow, History, III, […]

  2. […] James Renwick may have preached at the Preaching Howe in the parish and that the Society people may have killed an intelligencer from the […]

  3. […] to Simpson, the flail was used against troops under Robert Grierson of Lag soon after the owner of the Galloway Flail had shot an intelligencer in neighbouring Dalry parish in […]

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