The Killing of the Covenanters Corson and Hair near New Cumnock

Two Covenanters, George Corson and John Hair, were allegedly shot by the same party of “dragoons” that conducted the summary executions at Carsgailoch and pursued Hugh Hutchison of Dalgig in the summer of 1685…

Monument to Corson Hair © Chris Wimbush and licensed for reuse.

Their deaths were first recorded in Simpson’s Traditions of the Covenanters of 1841:

‘The dragoons pursued their way over the hills towards the farm of Cairn, beautifully situated on the slope of the range of mountains that line the sweet vale of the Nith on the north. (Simpson, Traditions, (US edition, 1841), 173.)

‘Cairn’ is probably the farm at Over Cairn/Nether Cairn, then in Cumnock parish, Ayrshire. The farm lies right beside the shire and parish boundary with Kirkconnel parish in Nithsdale, Dumfriesshire.

Map of Over Cairn

‘At this place they came upon two men in a hollow among the green and flowery braes, engaged, it is supposed, in devotional exercises. The sound of their voices employed in prayer, or in the singing of Psalms, probably attracted the notice of the soldiers, and drew them to the spot.’ (Simpson, Traditions, (US edition, 1841), 173.)

The alleged discovery of Covenanters either singing psalms, at prayer, reading the Bible or engaged in worship are classic features of many traditional stories of the martyrs.

‘The names of the individuals were Hair and Corson.’(Simpson, Traditions, (US edition, 1841), 173.)

Simpson does not give their first names.

‘The circumstances in which they were found were enough to ensure their death, and therefore, according to the custom of the times, and the license of the troopers, they were without ceremony shot on the spot.’ (Simpson, Traditions, (US edition, 1841), 173.)

Neither singing psalms or bible reading were punishable by death.

Glenwharrie © Chris Wimbush and licensed for reuse.

Who Were Corson and Hair?
Nothing is known about the origin of Corson.

According to Simpson, ‘Hair was one of five brothers who occupied the farm of Glenquhary, in the parish of Kirkconnell, of which they were the proprietors.’ (Simpson, Traditions, (US edition, 1841), 173.)

‘Glenquhary’, or Glenwharrie, lies in Kirkconnel parish and three miles to the east of the monument.

Map of Glenwharrie            Aerial View of Glenwharrie

‘They were ejected from their patrimony, however, on account of their nonconformity, and forced to wander in the desolate places of the country. One of the five brothers was at the battle of Pentland, which circumstance would doubtless render the whole family more obnoxious to the dominant party. It is probable that Hair of Burncrooks, mentioned in a former chapter, and who effected his escape from the dragoons at Glen Aylmer, was one of the same family; and it is equally probable that Hair of Cleuchfoot [see here], and William Hair of Southmains [see here] were, if not of the household of Glenquhary, at least related.’ (Simpson, Traditions, (US edition, 1841), 173-4.)

Map of South Mains           Street View of South Mains

Cleuchfoot is also known as Gateside.

Map of Cleuchfoot/Gateside        Street View of Cleuchfoot/Gateside

Monument to Corson and Hair © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

The Grave of Corson and Hair?
In 1841, Simpson wrote that their bodies ‘lie interred on the south side of the great road between Sanquhar and New Cumnock, where a rude stone pillar points out their resting place.’ (Simpson, Traditions, (US edition, 1841), 173.)

The alleged location of their deaths was close to an old drove road which ran close to Glenwharrie and then alongside Glenaylmer to the Societies’ convention sites at Blackgannoch.

In 1843, or 1845, a monument was erected ‘near’ to the alleged location of their shooting. The monument to them lies on Waistland farm in what was Cumnock parish, Ayrshire.

Map of Monument              Aerial View of Monument

The inscription is as follows:

‘IN MEMORY OF
GEORGE CORSON
AND
JOHN HAIR
WHO WERE SHOT NEAR THIS PLACE
IN 1685, FOR THEIR ADHERENCE TO
DIVINE TRUTH,
AND ATTACHMENTS TO THE
COVENANTED REFORMATION
OF 1638–50.
“They lived unknown,
Till persecution dragged them into fame,
And chased them up to heaven.”
1845’
(Campbell, SW, 181-2; Thomson, Martyr Graves, 339-40.)

The monument is the only evidence for their Christian names. In the late nineteenth century, the editor of Thomson’s Martyr Graves recorded the disappearance of the stone pillar.

‘[ … three miles below the village of New Cumnock, there is another martyr monument … [which] commemorates two men who were killed on the same day; and by the same party, as the martyrs of … [Carsgailoch]. They were caught, it is said, reading their Bibles, and were shot without ceremony. The present monument was erected in 1843, in place of an older one that had been destroyed, … Nothing is known of these men: their names are not found in Wodrow; but the fact of their murder, of the circumstances and the cause of it, are undoubted.—ED.]’ Thomson, Martyr Graves, 339-40.)

There is no historical evidence for their deaths. Corson and Hair are only recorded in Simpson’s tradition.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on August 6, 2012.

5 Responses to “The Killing of the Covenanters Corson and Hair near New Cumnock”

  1. Thank you for posting ~ Jamie Corson

  2. […] 7 & 8. George Corson and John Hair who were killed by Highlanders in the summer of 1685. […]

  3. Hi There,
    I seem to remember in the early 80’s when I worked at the Baird Institute, Cumnock that a sword had been discovered when the new (existing) monument was erected…

  4. […] the traditional martyrs, the young lad could have been either George Corson, or John Hair, or it could one of the two unnamed others who were allegedly killed with Margaret Dun near […]

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