The Three Deaths of David Steel in Lesmahagow: Part One, The Society People

David Steel was one of the most significant members of the Society people, but in December, 1686, his luck ran out. Remarkably, there are three different versions of his death…

Version One: The Society People.

In 1690, Alexander Shields of the Society people was the first to record Steel’s execution:

‘Liev[tenant]. Crichton, now prisoner in Edinburgh, did most barbarously after Quarters, shoot David Steel, in the parish of Lesmahego, Decem[ber]: 1686.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 37.)

The officer involved in Steel’s summary execution was Lieutenant John Crichton of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons. Steel may have attempted to assassinate Crichton at some point in either late 1685, or 1686, and Crichton had been in pursuit of Steel for some time.

Lesmahagow Church © Pari Passu and licensed for reuse.

A gravestone to Steel was erected in Lesmahgow parish churchyard prior to the death of Queen Anne in 1714, probably by the heirs to the Society people.

‘HERE LIES
the Body of DAVID STEEL Martyr
who was Murdered by Chrichton for his
Testimony to the Covenants and Work
of Reformation and because he durst
not own the Authority of the
Tyrant destroying the same. He was
shot at SKELLYHILL the 20th of Dec[embe]r
1686 in the 33d year of his age

Be thou faithful unto Death and
I will give thee a Crown of Life

David a Shepherd first and then
Advanced to the King of Men
Had of his Graces in this Quarter
This Heir, a Wand’rer now a Martyr
Who for his Constancy and Zeal
Still to the Back did prove true Steel
Who for Christ’s Royal Truth and Laws
And for the Covenanted Cause
Of SCOTLANDS famous Reformation
Declining Tyrant’s Usurpation
By Cruel Chrichton Murder’d lies
Whose Blood to Heaven for Vengeance cries.’
(Thomson, Martyr Graves, 275)

Map of Lesmahagow Church              Street View of Lesmahagow Church

A few years later, Wodrow based his account on Shields and Steel’s grave at Lesmahagow kirk:

‘In December this year [1686], David Steel in the parish of Lesmahago, was surprised in the fields by lieutenant Crichton, and after his surrender of himself on quarters, he was in a very little time most barbarously shot, and lies buried in the church-yard there.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 357.)

Taken together, the early sources for Steel’s death suggest that he was captured and offered quarter before he was shot somewhere in Lemahagow parish on 20 December, 1686. The gravestone, alone, offers the explanation that Steel had refused to acknowledge James VII’s authority, which suggests that he may have refused the Abjuration oath.

For the second version of his death, see here.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on July 5, 2012.

7 Responses to “The Three Deaths of David Steel in Lesmahagow: Part One, The Society People”

  1. […] The Second Death The early sources for Steel’s death suggest that he was captured and offered quarter before he was shot somewhere in Lemahagow parish, Lanarkshire, on 20 December, 1686. See Part One. […]

  2. […] etc’. While it built on the short version of Steel’s killing found in the earlier sources (see Part One), it challenged the version found in Jonathan Swift’s Memoirs of Lieutenant John Chreichton of […]

  3. […] On 20 December, 1686, David Steel, a leading member of the Societies, was shot at Skellyhill. […]

  4. […] originally farmed Cumberhead. He was shot at the nearby farm of Skellyhill in late […]

  5. […] Steel was shot near his home in Lesmahagow parish in December, […]

  6. […] David Steel, who may have been the preses of the convention, was a significant figure on the United Societies. After the schism in the Societies at the beginning of 1686, he continued to support Renwick. He was summarily executed in Lesmahagow parish in late 1686. […]

  7. […] late 1685 and the end of 1687, only two incidents, the one at Midland and an other involving the killing of David Steel, resulted in deaths. Both incidents were raids on farmhouses in which high-profile Society people […]

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