A Nameless Covenanter Killed near Lesmahagow

According to a tradition, an anonymous Covenanter was killed near the River Nethan in Lesmahagow parish, Lanarkshire. There is no historical evidence for that killing, which exists at the very edge of the martyr tradition…


The killing is mentioned as an aside in a story about a fugitive called Thomas Brown, which was first published in the American edition of Simpson’s Traditions in 1841:

‘Of the confessors of Lesmahagow, however, there are yet some gleanings which have not hitherto been made public, one of which shall be given here. Thomas Brown of Auchlochan, in the parish of Lesmahagow, was a good man and a steady Covenanter.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 122.)

Map of Auchlochan          Street View of Auchlochan

‘He was present at Drumclog, where the fierce [John Graham of] Claverhouse sustained a signal defeat by a handful of worshippers, who had been holding a conventicle near the place, on Sabbath the 1st of June 1679. He fought also at Bothwell Bridge, where the power of the Covenanters was lamentably broken, and their army scattered. If, prior to the rising at Bothwell, the furnace of persecution glowed with an intolerable heat, it was now kindled seven times; and the clouds that lowered over the afflicted Church grew darker and more portentous, and threatened to discharge its ominous contents in one full and vengeful tempest on the defenceless heads of those who had hitherto outbraved the fury of the storm, in the support of their civil and religious privileges.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 122.)

According to Greenshields, a later minister in Lesmahagow, Thomas Brown’s mother was imprisoned in Dunnottar Castle in 1685:

‘Jean M’Ghie, widow of William Brown of Auchlochan, was imprisoned at different times in the castles of Dunotter and Blackness. Her son Thomas was fugitived during the persecution.’ (Greenshields, Annals of Lesmahagow (1864), 116.)

Jean McGhie was listed among the prisoners at Dunnottar. On 18 August, 1685, she was given to Pitlochie and banished to the plantations, but the privy council stopped her banishment on the grounds that she was married on 25 August. (Wodrow, History, IV, 222, 223.)

“Bluidy Clavers”

In common with many other traditions, the tradition about Brown erroneously depicts John Graham of Claverhouse as a ‘blood-thirsty’ persecutor:

‘At this period, Claverhouse was ravaging the west, and, like a beast of prey, was tearing and devouring on all sides; for that reckless and infatuated Cavalier would not have scrupled to ride, even to the bridle reins, in the blood of the populace, to serve the vindictive purposes of his military employers; and much and precious was the blood which, with unsparing hand, he shed in the fields and moorlands, and loud was the cry which his oppression made to ascend from many a cottage in the land.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 122.)

The tradition does not provide a date for the incident near Auchlochan which follows. According to the published Fugitive Roll of 1684, there were four fugitives at Auchlochan, one of whom was called Thomas Brown:

Thomas Brown, son to William Brown in Town-foot of Auchlochan,
Thomas Steel of Auchlochan,
John Carscallan in Auchlochan,
Thomas Weir in Auchlochan. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 199.)

‘Two of the troopers under the command of this blood-thirsty adventurer, came suddenly upon Thomas Brown, on the banks of the Nethan, a few yards above the house of Auchlochan. Brown stood on his defence, and, with his sword drawn, warded off for some time the blows of his antagonists. At length, however, he was overpowered, and falling under the heavy strokes of the two powerful troopers, he was left for dead on the field. At this juncture, the appearance of another Covenanter on the opposite side of the stream attracted their notice, and, leaving their victim bleeding on the ground, they crossed the river in pursuit. This man, whose name is not mentioned, was speedily overtaken, and killed on the spot.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 122-3.)

No grave exists.

‘Thomas Brown, however, though severely wounded, was not dead. He was stupified by the loss of blood, and stunned by the blows he had received; but, by the kind attention of his friends, he gradually recovered. He was at this time in the flower of his age, and he lived till he became an old man. The present proprietor of Auchlochan is his lineal descendant. It is no small honour to be sprung from those who, in their day, were distinguished as Christ’s witnesses, and counted worthy to suffer for his sake. The worth of ancestry, however, will not save us; we must ourselves become followers of them who, through faith and patience, are now inheriting the promises.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 123.)

In 1864, Greenshields recycled Simpson’s tradition:

‘Thomas Brown of Auchlochan Townfoot was a steady Covenanter, and led a party to victory at Drumclog. He also fought at Bothwell Bridge, where the Covenanters were sorely discomfited. On one occasion two of Claverhouse’s troopers came upon Brown a few yards from his own door. He bravely defended himself with his sword (which is still carefully preserved at Auchlochan by his descendant, James J. Brown, Esq.), but being overpowered, he was left for dead by his persecutors. At that moment, another Covenanter, whose name is not known, appeared on the Blackreckoning side of Nethan, and was immediately pursued and put to death. Thomas Brown was not killed but only stunned. He revived and lived to a good old age.’ (Greenshields, Annals of Lesmahagow, 116.)

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

~ by drmarkjardine on June 19, 2012.

3 Responses to “A Nameless Covenanter Killed near Lesmahagow”

  1. […] 2. An anonymous Covenanter who was killed Claverhouse’s men by the banks of the River Nethan in Lesma… […]

  2. I read the story of the Nameless Covenanter but did not see where the name Jean McGhie was mentioned or any connection….is there one?

  3. […] also had a capacity to mention “in passing” the deaths of anonymous martyrs, such as a Covenanter by the banks of the Nethan. He repeats that pattern in his account of Smith and M’Clymont, which briefly mentions a killing […]

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