Martyrs in the Moss: Marion Cameron and Margaret Dun near Cumnock
The martyrdom of Marion Cameron is first mentioned in a tradition published by Simpson in 1846. His story of Cameron has an essentially religious message.
‘There is a melancholy story related of Marion Cameron, said to be sister to the celebrated Richard Cameron [and Michael Cameron], who fell at Airs-moss.’
Simpson claimed that it was ‘said’ that she was Cameron’s sister. It is highly unlikely that the killing of someone so close to the famous field preacher would not have been recorded by Shields or Wodrow.
‘Marion Cameron, it appears, was the pious young woman, and sincerely attached to the cause of the persecuted. […] It appears that Marion Cameron, with two other individuals, had been surprised by a party of dragoons, and had fled for their lives in the direction of Daljig.’
Simpson did not state where Cameron’s party were surprised, only that they fled towards ‘Daljig’, now called Dalgig. The area is now subject to opencast mining.
‘They hid themselves in a moss in the vicinity [of Dalgig], and, being overpowered with fatigue, they cowered down to rest. In this situation, helpless and exposed, they engaged in prayer, and resigned themselves entirely to the disposal of Him in whose cause they were suffering, and for whose sake they were willing to lay down their lives. Having been refreshed with the consolations of that gracious Spirit by whose influences they were enabled to approach the mercy-seat with the voice of supplication, they rose from their knees, and raised to heaven the serene and melodious sound of praise, by chanting one of the psalms of the sweet singer of Israel, which seemed to be adapted to persons in their situation. And many are the psalms that are suited to God’s Church in affliction; for he who wrote them was himself one who suffered persecution, and who had often to betake himself to the dens and caves of the earth for safety.’
‘The troopers, who on this occasion followed them, could not fail to be guided by the plaintive and hallowed sound, which issued from the little company of worshippers in the morass, to the very spot where they had hid themselves. On their approach they offered them their lives, on condition, it is said, that they would burn their Bibles. Such a proposal, revolting to their holiest feelings, they rejected with abhorrence, and were willing, far more willing, to part with their lives, than to desecrate the Word of God—that Word of grace by the consolations of which they were supported in their sufferings, and by the faith of which they hoped to be saved. The troopers well knew that this proposal would be rejected, but then it served as an additional pretext, on their part, to proceed to extremities. Accordingly, they avowed their intention to shoot them on the spot, as persons who refused to obey the king’s authority in this as well as in other respects.’
It is extremely unlikely that the troops ordered the Cameron party to burn their bibles. To the seventeenth-century mind, bible burning was not only blasphemous, but treasonable as it involved burning the king’s name. See the case of Christopher Miller for examples of militant presbyterians tearing the king’s name out of the bible.
‘There was no alternative; the defenceless company in the moss could not yield, and they could not escape, and therefore instant death was inevitable. The dragoons, then, without the slightest feeling of compassion, immediately prepared the instruments of death; they fired, and all the three fell prostrate on the heath, and the warm purple stream of life mingled with the dark moss water in the moor, and their redeemed spirits were conveyed by angels from their mangled bodies to the mansion of eternal blessedness.’
‘[…] They suffered martyrdom in a place where there were no earthly spectators present to sympathize with them, and they were buried in their clothes in the moss where they fell’.
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.
In 1896, Dryerre stated that ‘Marion Cameron, sister of Richard Cameron with two others were martyred on the moss-hags near Dalgig’. (Dryerre, Heroes and Heroines of the Covenanters.)
Dryerre’s claim that Marion Cameron was martyred was based on Simpson’s published tradition, rather than any other evidence. He also dropped Simpson’s ambiguity about Marion being Richard Cameron’s sister.
In 1891, a few years before Dryerre wrote, another individual who was allegedly killed with Marion Cameron, Margaret Dunn, or Dun, came to public notice.
‘Margaret Dunn: martyred in the moors along with Marion Cameron, sister of the famous leader of the persecuted party. The bodies of the two young women were interred in the moss of Daljig and more than a century after were discovered in a good state of preservation: shot 1685. Born Glass, Cumnock.’ (Scottish Notes & Queries, (January 1891), 159.)
In 1899, John Warwick in his History of Old Cumnock claimed that Margaret Dun was the sister of David Dun of Closs in Ochiltree parish. David Dun ‘in Closs’, Ochiltree parish, was listed on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 209.)
It is a reasonable assumption that the Margaret Dun from ‘Glass’ in Cumnock parish in Scottish Notes & Queries was from Closs in Ochiltree parish.
However, in Standing Witnesses, Campbell suggested that Margaret Dun was possibly from Glenglass, a remote farm on Euchan Water in Sanquhar parish, Dumfriesshire. According to one of Simpson’s traditions, the house contained an ingenious hideout for Covenanters within a double gable. (Campbell, SW, 63; Simpson, Traditions, 202-3.)
There is no evidence for a connection between Dun and Glenglass. All of the fragmented sources for Dun link her to Closs and Cumnock.
The remains of Closs are still visible.
Today, it is a ruin which does not appear on the OS map, however, the outline and some ruins are clearly visible at both ground level and from the air.
David Dun in Closs was one of the Society people. According to tradition, he and Simon Paterson had escaped capture at Cogshead.
Dun and Paterson were either executed on the moors near the Water of Coyle, or killed at Cumnock after they were both captured. Three other Society people, John Jamieson, John Umphrey and Joseph Wilson, were shot at Carsgailoch. Dun is buried at what was the Gallows Knowe in Cumnock.
According to Warwick, Margaret Dun was shot on her way to Cumnock when she was trying to find out about her brother’s fate. (Warwick, History of Old Cumnock (1899), 167-8.)
In 1921, Warwick’s story of Margaret Dun was recycled by Alexander Murdoch in Ochiltree: Its History and Reminiscences:
‘David Dun was born in Closs, a small farm steading near Auchlin. When returning from a conventicle held by [James] Renwick at Dalmellington, Dun and Simon Paterson were captured near Corsegellioch. The two were led to Cumnock and put to death with scant ceremony. The story is rendered even more tragic when it is learned that his sister, while walking from Closs to Cumnock, to make enquiry as to her brother’s fate, was herself waylaid and shot.’
Warwick’s version of the death of David Dun is based on Wodrow.
According to Warwick and Murdoch, Margaret Dun was shot enroute from Closs to Cumnock. Neither Warwick, nor Murdoch, mentioned that Marion Cameron was killed with her. However, that version of events contradicts the earlier version found in Scottish Notes & Queries, which states that Margaret Dun was ‘martyred in the moors along with Marion Cameron’ and their bodies ‘interred in the moss of Daljig’
The route from Closs to Cumnock does not pass through Dalgig or the moss, which lie to the south-east of Closs. (See the route from Closs/Auchlin, bottom left, to Cumnock, top right, here.)
The Scottish Notes & Queries version of events appear to be based on another claim by Simpson that relics of Marion Cameron had been found near Dalgig.
According to Simpson in 1846:
‘About seventy years ago, [i.e., in around 1775,] while some cattle were trampling in the moss exactly over the graves of those worthies [Marion Cameron and two unnamed others], their feet turned up part of the clothes of Marion Cameron, which were then in a tolerably good state of preservation, owing to the antiseptic quality of the moss in which they were imbedded; and a large common yellow pin, which she was accustomed to wear in her raiment, was found and cherished as a precious relic of one whose memory was held so dear. The pin came into the possession of Mrs Gemmel of Catrine, a niece of Thomas Hutchison of Daljig, by whom it was retained all her days, as a precious memorial of the original proprietor. It is now [in 1846] in the possession of a daughter of Mrs Gemmel’s, who at present resides in Stranraer, by whom it is preserved with equal care.’
According to Scottish Notes & Queries in 1891: ‘The bodies of the two young women were interred in the moss of Daljig and more than a century after were discovered in a good state of preservation’.
In Simpson’s version only relics, rather than bodies, were discovered. The attribution of the pin and cloth turned up by the cattle to Marion Cameron is very dubious. The pin was last heard of in the possession of one of the Dalgig family in 1846.
It appears that the entry in Scottish Notes & Queries confused Simpson’s story of the discovery of relics in c.1775 with another story, which was also recorded by Simpson, of the exhumation of the three Carsgailoch martyrs in 1827.
Simpson recorded how the Carsgailoch bodies were ‘in a state of good preservation’:
‘It is worthy of notice here, that when the monument alluded to [at Cargailoch] was reared, about twelve years ago, the following discovery was made :—In digging down and levelling the place for the foundation, the workmen came upon the bodies of the martyrs, imbedded in the moss. They were lying in their clothes, which were undecayed—the identical apparel in which they were shot. The raiment was a sort of strong home-made cloth of the colour of the moss, and appeared in some parts as if originally dyed with heather. The bodies themselves, in a state of good preservation, were of a dull, sallow appearance. Part of the garments, and a lock of long yellow hair, were preserved as relics by the labourers. The hair was obviously that of a young man—very fine and soft. The bodies of these Christian patriots and martyrs were thus seen, after the lapse of nearly one hundred and sixty years [actually nearly 150 years], shrouded in their hosen, in their coats, and in their bonnets, exactly as they fell by the murderous hand of their persecutors. Their resting-place is in the dreary solitude and in the wilderness, where no man dwells’. (Simpson, Traditions, 132.)
According to Thompson in Martyr Graves:
‘In 1827 a new monument was erected on the spot; […] When the foundations were being dug, the bodies of the martyrs were found a few feet below the surface, in a state of wonderful preservation, owning to the antiseptic properties of the moss in which they lay. They had been buried just as they were shot; and a piece of a woollen glove and a lock of yellow hair were taken from them, and are preserved in the family of the farmer of Dalgig, on whose land the monument stands.’ (Thompson, Martyr Graves, 339.)
The evidence suggests that the bodies of the two women were not discovered in the 1770s and that later sources confused them with the exhumation of the Carsgailoch bodies in 1827. The story of the pin and cloth, which were dubiously attributed to Marion Cameron, also appears to be a duplicate of the story of the items taken from the Carsgailoch bodies. It is a remarkable coincidence that both sets of items were held by owners of Dalgig.
According to Campbell, the lock of yellow hair and ‘a fragment of knitted’ material found at Carsgailoch were held by Donald Smith of Skerrington farm, Cumnock, and had recently been put on display at the Baird Institute in Cumnock in 1992. (Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 62.)
The unreliable evidence of the entry in Scottish Notes & Queries is the only link between the traditions of Margaret Dun and Marion Cameron. On closer examination, the traditions appear to refer to separate women.
Cameron, Dun and Gracie
In 1996, Campbell speculated in Standing Witnesses that Marion Cameron was possibly the same person as Margaret Dun and that Dun was possibly the same individual as Margaret Gracie, on the basis that the shooting of a woman ‘was a very rare occurrence indeed’, that they had similar Christian names, that the traditions of Dun and Cameron were linked by relics and that the killings took place relatively close together. (Gracie’s grave at Allan’s Cairn is ‘within 20 kilometres’ of Dalgig.)
That theory is built on a number of leaps. It ignores the fact that all three deaths are traditions, rather than historical events. It also ignores the distinct traditions which relate to each woman. It is certainly true that all three traditions appeared in the mid-nineteenth century when there was a drive to include female Christian exemplars within the Presbyterian martyr tradition. (The Cameron tradition was published in 1846, the Gracie tradition in 1855 and the Dun tradition in 1891.) Beyond the connection between the traditions about Cameron, Dun and Gracie, to the spirit of the age, there is very little to connect them to each other. The tradition about Gracie has no connection to either the Cameron or the Dun traditions beyond their Christian names, in the came of Dun, and all three allegedly being shot. The Christian name of Margaret is not a sound basis to make a linkage between Gracie and Dun, as it was a very popular name in the seventeenth century. It is possible claim that all three women were shot, but there is no historical evidence that any woman was shot in the Killing Times. As discussed above, the connection between the Cameron and Dun traditions is based on an unreliable source. In my view, they are three separate traditions which grew in response to the needs of the late-nineteenth century.
The Whig Hole and Martyrs’ Moss
A final element in the developing story of Marion Cameron/Margaret Dun is the location of the moss in which they were shot. Recently, the Scottish Covenanting Memorial Association has linked their deaths to Martyrs’ Moss, which lies in Cumnock parish right on the boundary with Ochiltree parish. The moss lies about two miles west of Dalgig and two miles south of Closs.
As discussed above, it is unlikely that both traditions are connected to the same location. The tradition about Dun connects her death to a journey to Cumnock, rather than any moss. However, the tradition about Cameron identifies the location of her death as either ‘a moss in the vicinity [of Dalgig]’, ‘the moss-hags near Dalgig’, or ‘the moss of Daljig’. Is Martyrs’ Moss the moss near Dalgig?
The placename makes it very tempting to connect Martyrs’s Moss to the death of Marion Cameron, however, that impulse should probably be resisted for a number of reasons.
The placename Martyrs’ Moss appears to be of late coinage. On General Roy’s map of the 1750s the location is called ‘Beach Moss’, i.e., Beoch Moss. The area was first recorded as Martyrs’ Moss on the map surveyed by the OS in 1857. That does not mean that the area was not known Martyrs’ Moss at the time of Roy’s map, as Roy placenames, especially in in the hills, are not in any way comprehensive.
Martyrs’ Moss appears to have been part of the lands of Beoch or Craigman, rather than situated on the lands of Dalgig. A ‘Crichton in Craigman, son to Robert Crichton there’ is listed on the Fugitive Roll of 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 205.)
If the relics of Cameron were found on the lands of Dalgig, as the tradition seems to indicate, that would mean that the alleged site of her martyrdom lay close to Dalgig, rather than at Martyrs’ Moss.
The martyrs after whom Martyrs’ Moss is named are probably some of the five Society people who are said to have been captured or killed in the area returning from one of James Renwick’s preachings.
According to Alexander Shields and Cloud of Witnesses, Highlanders killed David Dun, Simon Paterson and Joseph Wilson ‘and other two, [John Jamieson and John Umphrey] near the Water of Kill [i.e., Coyle], in a Moss in Kile’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 38; Thompson (ed.), CW, 555.)
The Water of Coyle lies just to the west of Martyrs’ Moss.
Two of those martyrs, David Dun and Simon Paterson, appear to have been captured or killed near the Water of Coyle, i.e., near Martyrs’ Moss. The other three were killed further to the east at Carsgailoch Hill.
The OS name book simply records Martyrs’ Moss as ‘a large Moss, where it is said the Covenanters used to take refuge’.
In the centre of Martyrs’ Moss is natural depression called the ‘Whig Hole’, which may be connected to the martyrs. It was also first recorded on the OS survey of 1857, as ‘a hole in a moss where it is said The Whigs or Covenanters used to hide from pursuit of the Kings troops’.
The evidence suggests that Martyrs’ Moss is most likely named after David Dun and Simon Paterson, rather than after Marion Cameron.
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