The Covenanter Killed at The Devil’s Beef Tub in 1685

Devil's Beef TubThe Devil’s Beef Tub © Sarah Charlesworth and licensed for reuse.

John Hunter was shot escaping from a house at Corehead in Annandale in 1685.

Hunter 1685

His death was first recorded by Alexander Shields in 1690: ‘Item, the said Col: James Douglas and his party, shot to Death John Hunter for no alledged Cause, but running out from the house at Corehead, the same year, 1685.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 35.)

The officer held responsible for Hunter’s death by the Society people was Colonel James Douglas, the commander of His Majesty’s Regiment of Foot Guards.

Lieut Gen DouglasColonel James Douglas

When Was Hunter Shot?
Shields only dated Hunter’s death to ‘1685’, which from other cases suggests that he was shot between January and July of that year. That time frame can be narrowed down when the movements of Colonel Douglas are taken into account.

At the beginning of the year, Douglas was in Galloway where he was involved in the shootings at Caldons and that of Adam MacQuhan. In March, he was allegedly involved in a raid in Ballantrae parish, which lies next to Galloway.

Where he went after Galloway is not clear. However, on 27 March, he was granted a wide-ranging commission to pursue fugitives and Society people in the Southern and Western shires which lasted until 20 April. (Wodrow, History, IV, 207n.)

During that commission, Douglas executed Thomas Richard at Cumnock in Ayrshire on 5 April. At the end of his commission, he briefly attended the privy council in Edinburgh on 21 April (RPCS, XI, 24.)

At some point, probably before his judicial commission expired and certainly before 5 May, he was in Dumfriesshire, as Douglas, Robert Grierson of Lag and John Graham of Claverhouse sat on an assize in Dumfries which questioned Euphraim Threpland, aka. Mistress Macbirnie, about assassinations. (Wodrow, History, IV, 327.)

On 28 April, he was also involved an intelligence-led raid which resulted in the shooting of five Society people at Lower Ingliston in Glencairn parish.

It is probable that Hunter’s death took place at around the time of the assize and the raid on Ingliston, as a few weeks later, on 23 May, Douglas was with the Scottish army when it was stationed about Ayr to oppose the Argyll Rising. A month later, on 24 June, he was once again in Edinburgh at the privy council. (RPCS, XI, 78.)

Hunter was probably shot between mid April and mid May, 1685.

Hunter’s death was not recorded by Wodrow.

CoreheadCorehead © Colin Kinnear and licensed for reuse.

The House at Corehead
Hunter was killed escaping from a house in Corehead, which lies by the Devil’s Beef Tub in Moffat parish, Annandale, Dumfriesshire.

Map of Corehead          Aerial View of Corehead

The estate was held by James Johnston of Corehead. In 1678, he was appointed a commissioner for raising the Cess Tax. In 1689, he was commissioned as a captain of the militia to defend the Revolution. (RPS, 1678/6/22; 1689/3/82.)

Corehead had a history of hiding fugitives. A ‘George Hunter, in Corehead’ was listed under Peeblesshire on the published Fugitive Roll of May 1684 for resetting fugitives. It is possible that John Hunter and George Hunter were kin. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 223.)

According to a parish list compiled in September, 1684, the residents of ‘Corhead’ were ‘John Williamsone; Bessie Hunter, James Broune; James Williamsone, Janet Johnstone, Margaret Blacklock; Grizell Laidlaw; Christian Hunter.’ (RPCS, IX, 401.)

It is possible that Hunter was sheltering with his kinsfolk, Bessie and Christian Hunter.

The meeting point of the boundaries of Dumfriesshire, Lanarkshire and Peeblesshire lies a little way to the north-west of Corehead.

Map of the meeting point of the three shires

The nodes where shire boundaries intersected were often used by the Society people as meeting points. Nearby sites associated with the Societies can be found at Talla Linn, which was used as a convention site, and Peden’s Pulpit in Gameshope.

John Hunter 1685 TweedsmuirJohn Hunter’s Grave © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

Hunter’s Grave in Tweedsmuir
In 1726, a stone was erected on his grave in Tweedsmuir churchyard.

Map of Tweedsmuir Churchyard        Aerial View of Tweedsmuir Churchyard

The inscription on it is of a fairly standard form and adds no new information about his death. The opening lines of it are based on the text of Shields/Cloud:

‘Here lyes John Hunter
Martyr who was cruely
Murdered at Corehead
By Col James Douglas and
His party for his adherance
To the Word of God and
Scotlands covenanted
Work of Reformation
Erected in the year 1726.

[on reverse]

When Zions King was robbed
of his right
His witnesses in Scotland
put to flight
When popish prelats and
Combin’d gainst Christ to
Ruin Presbytrie
All who would not with
their idols bow
They sought them out and
whom they found they slew
For owning of Christs cause
I then did die
My blood for veangeance on
His en’mies did cry.’ (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 474.)

The inscription on the reverse was first recorded in the third edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1730.

The historical sources indicate that Hunter was shot by Colonel Douglas’s troops when he attempted to escape from a house at Corehead in Dumfriesshire, probably between mid April to mid May, 1685.

His burial in Tweedsmuir parish kirkyard suggests that he was possibly connected to the parish.

In 1837 an obelisk dedicated to Hunter was erected in front of the the original parish church at Tweedsmuir. The original church, which was built in 1648, was replaced by the present building in 1874.

‘In Memory of
John Hunter
is in
the lower part
of this
1837.’ (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 446-7.)

FinglandFingland © frank smith and licensed for reuse.

Later Traditions.
In the nineteenth century, local traditions were recorded by Simpson and Thomson which interwove Hunter’s story with that of a companion, ‘——‘ Welsh, the ‘Babe of Tweedhopefoot’. The traditions were primarily about the story of Welsh, rather than that of Hunter. How reliable a guide they are to the history of John Hunter’s death is not known.

Simpson’s tradition claimed that Hunter was a ‘native of the same place’ as Welsh, i.e., that he was a resident of Tweedsmuir parish. An ‘Adam Hunter, in Fingland’, Tweedsmuir parish, was listed under Peeblesshire on the published Fugitive Roll of 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 223; Simpson, Traditions, 113.)

Map of Fingland              Aerial View of Fingland

Fingland lies just to the north of Tweedhopefoot, which also lies in Tweedsmuir parish.

Map of Tweedhopefoot          Street View of Tweedhopefoot

There is a Tweedhope Burn beside Corehead, but the tradition refers to the location in Tweedsmuir parish.

Map of Tweedhope Burn

According to Simpson’s tradition, Hunter and Welsh fled to ‘the solitudes of Corehead, near the source of the Water of Annan’, in order to evade capture by Colonel James Douglas. The River Annan rises at Annanhead, above the Devil’s Beef Tub and beside the location where Hunter was allegedly shot. Their flight was betrayed:

‘[Colonel] Douglas, however, having got notice of their flight, pursued them with his troop, and soon gained ground on the fugitives. When they saw that there was a likelihood of their being overtaken, they directed their course to a place called the “Straught Steep,” which, being difficult of access to the dragoons, they expected would afford them a safe retreat.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 113.)

Strait StepAbove the Strait Step © Chris Heaton and licensed for reuse.

The Strait Step lies south of both Tweedhopefoot and Fingland, and just over the shire boundary in Dumfriesshire. It also lies directly on a path to the north-west of the house at Corehead.

Map of Strait Step

‘By this time the horsemen were very near, and began to fire upon them. Hunter, who it seems was fully within the reach of the shot, was struck by a ball which proved fatal. He fell among the stones over which he was scrambling, and his life’s blood oozed forth upon the rocks, where he expired. His body was removed, and interred in the churchyard of Tweedsmuir.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 113.)

A second version of the tradition recorded in a letter to Thomson of 1892 tells a slightly different version of events. According to the letter, ‘Hunter was visiting the Welshes at Corehead when it was reported that Colonel Douglas and his troops were coming up the glen.’

They then ‘fled on foot up the hill at the back of the house. When two-thirds of the way up Hunter was seized with a violent pain in his side, and could run no farther. So, telling Welsh to go on and save his own life, he waited there to meet his fate. Up came the dragoons and shot him down like a dog.’ (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 448.)

John Hunter Martyr's Stone

The place where Hunter was shot is, or was, marked by the Martyr’s Stone. The location was first recorded on the original Six Inch OS map in 1857. The modern OS map places the stone in a slightly different position.

Map of the Martyr’s Stone

John Hunter Monument 1685 1955John Hunter Covenanter Monument at the Devil’s Beef Tub © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

Another Monument
In 1955, a further monument to Hunter was erected beside the A701 at the Devil’s Beef Tub. The view from it looks towards the area of the Martyr’s Stone mentioned above. The inscription on it is as follows:

‘On the hillside
was shot
Douglas’s Dragoons

Map of the 1955 Monument

To help resolve a mystery concerning the site of Hunter’s death, see here.

For the escape of Welsh after Hunter’s death, see here.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on February 5, 2013.

4 Responses to “The Covenanter Killed at The Devil’s Beef Tub in 1685”

  1. […] The Martyr’s Stone marked the traditional location of the shooting of John Hunter by Colonel James Douglas in 1685. He is buried in Tweedsmuir churchyard. You can read Hunter’s story in full, here. […]

  2. […] to traditions recorded in the nineteenth century, after John Hunter was killed above the Devil’s Beef Tub in 1685, his companion, ‘——-‘ Welsh, the ‘Babe of Tweedhopefoot’ escaped from Colonel […]

  3. […] is also a suggestive cluster of sites in the area around where the shires of Lanark, Peebles and Dumfries […]

  4. […] was involved in judicial matters. For example at some point, probably in April, he sat on an assize in Dumfries that questioned Mistress MacBirnie about assassinations. (Wodrow, History, IV, […]

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