The ‘Levelling Fury’ of William Young in Strathaven

Strathaven CastleStrathaven Castle

They said he was distempered and much crazed in his judgment, but William Young, a tailor in Strathaven who was executed in 1684, evaded Claverhouse, attacked Strathaven castle, escaped from prison and may have been a companion of James Renwick. The ‘Levelling Fury’ he represented also struck fear into the Scottish establishment…  

William Young was executed with James Nicol on Wednesday 27 August, 1684. No martyrs’ testimony from him has been handed down.

Neither Young’s name, nor his execution, appear in the early edition of Cloud of Witnesses. That is a curious silence which is made all the more curious by Cloud’s detailed recorded of his fellow martyr on the scaffold. Was Young executed at all? Yes, he was. Contemporaries were in no doubt. Lord Fountainhall observed ‘And one called Young was hanged with him’. (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, II, 552.)

The presbyterian diarist John Erskine of Carnock also recorded Nicol’s execution with that of ‘——-‘ [i.e., Young]who was executed, having on ——- last, escaped out of the Canongate Tolbooth with the other ten, he only being apprehended.’ (Erskine, Journal, 80.)

Wodrow, too, recorded Young. According to him, neither ‘The Cloud of Witnesses, nor any other paper I have seen, take notice of William Young, but the registers [of the privy council] putting him and James Nicol together, I see no ground to doubt that they underwent the same fate.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 69.)

Unlike the other sources, Wodrow knew Young’s back story: ‘The circumstances of William Young in Evandale were very singular, and I shall add a hint at them from a good information before me.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 69. See William Young, Account of his trial, 1684 NLS MSS, Wod.Fol. XXXIII. item 90.)

Wodrow framed Young’s death for a particular ideological purpose: ‘I have been the larger on this man’s circumstances, because much of the power of God, and rage of man, must be observed about him’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 70.)

I have reordered Wodrow’s account into chronological order and added comments and other information to place Young’s life and death in a historical context.

The evidence suggests that William Young was in his mid teens in 1679. His later confession indicates that he was not old enough to have participated in the presbyterian rising at Bothwell in that year, even though Young believed that those that were involved ‘were at their duty’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 69.)

Young also had a condition to deal with. For Wodrow,‘this good man was distempered, and much crazed in his judgment, for five years before he was taken [i.e., since 1679], through a sharp and severe exercise of spirit he had been under.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 69.)

What Wodrow appears to have been alluding to was law work, a process where young presbyterians tried to train their minds to think only godly thoughts. It was intended to give those who undertook it a perceived spiritual “hotline” to God, but on occasion that process went spectacularly wrong. Some, like the son of Archibald Johnston of Wariston, were overwhelmed by it and came to believe that their ‘bad’ thoughts were signs of demonic possession. Today, we might call it mental illness and reason that it was an unforseen byproduct of such an obviously stressful and mind-altering process inflicted at a tender age. In the late seventeenth century they took a charitable view of it. Those who became ‘distempered’ were not rejected as given over to Satan, but encouraged to recovery through prayer and spiritual exercise. Young did not fall into demonic possession. He sought relief from his particular form of distemper in the Society people. According to his confession, he had ‘heard Mr Donald Cargil at field-conventicles since Bothwell’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 69.)

Cargill Preaching in the FieldsCargill Preaching

Young could only have attended Cargill’s preachings prior to Cargill’s death in July, 1681. According to Wodrow, he was from Evandale, aka. Avondale or Strathaven, in Lanarkshire.

Young’s origin, confession and the detailed record of Cargill’s field preachings between mid 1680 and his death suggest where and when Young may have heard Cargill preach, unless as a youth he travelled considerable distances to hear him. One interesting detail in his confession is that he did not confess that he had heard Cargill preach with Richard Cameron. That suggests that he heard Cargill after Cameron’s death in mid 1680, as prior to that Cargill did not field preach on his own near where Young lived. With the exception of Cargill’s preaching at Starryshaw in Shotts parish on 25 July, 1680, his preachings which were close to Strathaven parish all took place April to July, 1681. That suggests that Young may have attended either one, or some, of Cargill’s preachings in 1681, which were held at Darmead (24 April), Underbank Wood (1 May), Loudoun Hill (5 May) or at Auchengilloch (3 July). The latter two preachings are probably the strongest candidates, as Young lived near both locations.

In the following years, Young’s was declared a rebel fugitive, his brother was captured and he took part in an attack on Strathaven Castle.

What is not clear is when the attack on the castle took place and whether Young was a fugitive before it. It is likely that his brother was a fugitive before his capture, but his identity is not revealed in the record of Young’s confession.

What is known is that Young was a fugitive when he was spotted by John Graham of Claverhouse on the moors at the head of Evandale parish on 11 June, 1684 and that Young was captured within the following two months.

To explore those chronological problems in the evidence we need to interrogate the sources.

ThreeplandThreepland © Steve woodward and licensed for reuse.

Does William Young appear on the published Fugitive Roll of 5 May, 1684?
There are three brief mentions of where Young was from which post date the published Fugitive Roll. When Claverhouse spotted the ‘rebel’ Young escaping across the head of Evandale parish he‘learned that the one was a fellow called William Young, born in the same parish’. (Claverhouse, Letter to Archibishop of Glasgow, 16 June, 1684 in SHS, Miscellany, 223.)

When Young was ordered to be processed for trial, the registers of the privy council referred to him as ‘William Young, tailzeor in Evandale’. (RPCS, IX, 108.)

Wodrow, who probably followed the privy council’s description, called him ‘William Young in Evandale’ in his account. (Wodrow, History, IV, 69.)

At first sight, it appears that William Young was a fugitive who was born and worked in Evandale parish. However, there is no record of a William Young under Evandale parish on the Fugitive Roll, which was published only a few weeks before the same ‘rebel’ was spotted by Claverhouse. Given that short time frame, one would expect that Young’s name would appear on the Fugitive Roll.

The reason why Young’s name is not immediately obvious on the Fugitive Roll is that his name was not listed under either Evandale parish, or Lanarkshire. When the Roll was published in May, 1684, twenty-four names were appended to it for ‘rebellion and treasonable crimes since November, 1683’. Those name were placed at the end of the roll, rather than added to the list of any particular parish or shire. Among the names appended were ‘John Young in Threpland’ and ‘Andrew and William Young, his sons’. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 196; Wodrow, History, IV, 28n.)

The farm at Threepland lay in Eaglesham parish on the Renfrewshire side of boundary with Kilbride parish in Lanarkshire. Kilbride parish in the northern neighbour of Evandale parish.

Map of Threepland               Street View of Threepland

There are several reasons to believe that the fugitive named William Young who was appended to the Roll was the same individual as the William Young who was a tailor in Evandale.

First, the ‘William Young’ on the Fugitive Roll is one of only two people of that name who appear on it. He is the only one of that name who lived near Evandale parish. The other William Young lived on the opposite side of the country in Stirlingshire.

Second, although the image of the wandering fugitives is entrenched in Covenanting tradition, it is clear that fugitives often hid near places they were familiar with, as they needed the support of friends and relations to sustain them.

The logical hiding place for any fugitives connected to either Evandale, or Threepland, was in the hills and moors with lies in both the north-west and south-west portions of the parish. The north-western area of hills and moors extends north to Threepland and is separated from the southwestern area of hills and moors at the head of Evandale parish by a narrow gap around Drumclog which leads into Ayrshire. William Young was spotted by Claverhouse on those moors at the head of Evandale parish.

Third, the evidence that William Young was born in Evandale parish and was a tailor there may not contradict the record of the Fugitive Roll. How reliable the information obtained by Claverhouse in the field about where Young was born in not known.

Fourth, William Young in Evandale had a captured brother who appears to have been a fugitive. The William Young named on the Fugitive Roll had a fugitive brother, Andrew, and a fugitive father, John.

Fifth, the Roll records that William Young’s father was ‘in Threpland’, not that his sons were there. John Young’s sons may, or may not, have been in Threepland. Andrew Young was later described as a tenant in Eaglesham parish, but he was seized in Kilbride parish.

Sixth, the evidence suggests that John Young in Threepland, Andrew Young and the William Young who was executed in 1684 were all Society people.

In 1684, Andrew and William Young’s father were captured, probably at some point after the publication of the Fugitive Roll, and banished to Carolina at the Glasgow circuit court in mid June. Their father subscribed a joint testimony of twenty-two Society people which was commended by James Renwick.

In 1687, Andrew Young was probably banished to Barbados after he refused to acknowledge the king or take oaths. It is reasonably clear that he, too, adhered to the Societies’ platform.

Munzie Burn Trevor LittlewoodMunzie Burn © Trevor Littlewood and licensed for reuse.

The Young family farm at Threepland also lay close to sites used by the Society people.

In the summer of 1680, Richard Cameron is supposed to have preached at Mungo Hill by the Munzie Well, which lies a short distance to the south-west of Threepland.

Map of Munzie Well

On 14 February, 1683, the Societies held their seventh convention at Myres, which lies a little further to the south-west of Threepland.

Map of Myres

And in October, 1685, James Renwick preached somewhere in the moors close to the boundary ‘betwixt Eaglesham and Kilbride’. Although not precisely identified, it is clear that the location of Renwick’s preaching probably lay somewhere in the area between Threepland and where the boundary between those parishes ends at Muir Hill.

The circumstantial evidence suggests that the executed William Young was the same individual as the William Young on the Fugitive Roll and that he was part of a family of dedicated Society people.

What is the significance of the description of Young as a tailor?
The cloth trade contained a disproportionate number of presbyterian militants. Tailoring was a trade which lay the top of the pyramid of the cloth trade. It demanded a degree of numeracy and literacy. The keeping of accounts and the details of clients requirements were a necessary part of a tailor’s life. It was also a trade which required an apprenticeship. As a youth in the early 1680s, William Young was probably apprenticed to a local tailor. We do not know which tailor he was apprenticed to or how many tailors there were in Evandale parish, however, a ‘Captain Thomas Young, tailor in Strathaven’ is the only tailor in the parish on the Fugitive Roll. The combination of a tailor and a captain is very unusual, as most of the captains recorded in the presbyterian army at Bothwell were lairds. Young presumably led a contingent of the Evandale men at Bothwell, which probably means that he was close to the top of the pyramid of presbyterian dissent in Evandale parish. Was William Young kin to the Captain? The answer is not known. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, I, 50-1, II, 196.)

PlewlandsPlewlands © Iain Russell and licensed for reuse.

Claverhouse’s Encounter with William Young.
While John Young in Threepland was preparing for trial in Glasgow, William Young was spotted at the head of Evandale parish.

Young was observed after John Graham of Claverhouse heard that a large body of Society people from James Renwick’s field preaching at Black Loch had fled south of the river Clyde. Claverhouse assembled a force at Newmilns to search for them. What Claverhouse did not know was that part of his force would later skirmish with the Societies’ fourteenth convention, which was held Auchengilloch on Thursday 12 June, 1684.

Map of Auchengillloch                    Aerial View of Auchengilloch

The day before the fourteenth convention, he and his men briefly pursued two fugitives near Plewlands, which lies on the opposite side of Dungavel Hill from Auchengilloch.

According to Claverhouse:
‘I sent immediately and ordered Colonel [Thomas] Buchan [on 10 June] to meet me at Newmills, with the half of Guards, [William] my Lord Ross’s troop, and thirty Fusiliers he had with him at Dalmellington, and I call[ed] out Captain [John] Inglis’s dragoons; and, on Tuesday night, and Wednesday all day [11 June], we came through the moors and over hills that lay betwixt Clydesdale and the shire of Air; and made exact search and enquiry for those rebels [from Black Loch], but could not hear the least of them. But only at Ploughlands, in the head of St[r]athaven [parish], we saw two men running to the hills; we followed them, but because of the mosses could not reach them.’ (SHS, Miscellany, 222-3.)

‘Ploughlands’, now Laigh Plewland and High Plewland, lies at the western end of Evandale parish, aka. Strathaven parish, close to the boundary of Lanarkshire with Ayrshire.

Map of Plewlands               Street View of High Plewland

Claverhouse then set about establishing who the two men were:

‘We examined all the people about [Plewlands] upon oath, and learned that the one was a fellow called William Young, born in the same parish, and the other was one Leit[c]h, born about Newmills, both rebels, and was in arms at that time.’ (SHS, Miscellany, 223.)

Newmilns lies directly to the west of where the two fugitives were spotted and is located in Loudoun parish, Ayrshire.

Map of Newmilns

A ‘John Leitch, shoemaker at Newmills’ in Loudoun parish, Ayrshire, is listed on the Fugitive Roll of May 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 208.)

It is possible that Young and Leitch were in the area and armed as they fled from the Black Loch preaching. However, it is more likely that they were there for the fourteenth convention. It is also possible that both men were in hiding after the publication of the Fugitive Roll. The allegation that they were armed may indicate that they were prepared to resist. It may also indicate that they were intending to attend the convention, as the Societies’ expected delegates to bear of arms.

Soon after the skirmish with the convention, a George Smith in Evandale parish was captured in connection with the meeting and banished to Carolina in the same shipment which transported John Young. Smith also subscribed the joint testimony of the banished Society people.

Strathaven Castle 2Strathaven Castle © Rob Farrow and licensed for reuse.

The Attack on Strathaven Castle
After his capture, Young confessed that ‘he was present with James Dykes a forfeited person, at the attack upon Evandale Castle, to rescue his brother’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 69.)

Young’s accomplice James Dykes, or Dycks, was a portioner of Hallburn in Evandale parish.

Map of Hallburn              Street View of Hallburn

Dykes had been declared a fugitive, forfeited and sentenced to death in absentia in March, 1681. (CST, XI, 253, 258, 296-7.)

According to the evidence at his trail, he had been in arms with the rebels in 1679:

‘William Jamieson, in Dewishill, aged fourtie years maried, purged and sworne, depons he sawe James Dycks, portioner of Halburn, in armes in company with ten or twelve of the rebells, about a mile from Hamiltoun, the tyme of the late rebellion, betwixt the first and twentie second dayes of June 1679; depons he cannot wryt.’ (CST, XI, 288.)

Andrew Leper in Strathaven ‘depons he sawe James Dykes, portioner of Halburn, in company with the rebells, in armes near Hamiltoun’. (CST, XI, 289.)

‘John Robertson in Little Earnock, aged twentie sivin years, unmaried’ may also have testified against Dykes: ‘depons he sawe William Park, fewar of Lairfield, John Cochran, of Craig[ie], John Cochran, of Chappell, and James Dykes of the Rulzeonnall [i.e., Ryeland/Roundhill beside Hallburn?], in armes with the rebells in Hamilton Muir, in June 1679.’ (CST, 285.)

Dykes was proclaimed a forfeited fugitive on 8 October, 1681. (CST, XI, 249n; Wodrow, History, III, 247-8.)

By September, 1686, James Dykes had submitted to the authorities and obtained a safe conduct. (RPCS, XII, 475.)

Strathaven Castle belonged to the Duke of Hamilton. It had been mooted as a government garrison since mid 1680, however, on 17 October, 1683, Hamilton  wrote to Queensberry that:

‘I have lately been at my house in Avendale, where I was not this 6 year befor, and found it in a much worse condition then expected. I have ordered some repairs to the roofe, but am affreyed ether that, or what you think to bestowe on it for the conveniency of a garrison, will hardly be gote done before the spring [of 1684].  I hear Captain [William] Clelands troope [of dragoons] is to be there this weeke, where i thinke they may lay in the toun [of Strathaven] with as little hasard as they did in Douglas.’ (Manuscripts of His Grace the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry, I, 258.)

The express purpose of the garrison was to quell presbyterian dissent and patrol the local area.

Street View of Strathaven Castle

Neither the date of the attack, nor the scale of it, are clear. Young indicates that the attack was motivated by a desire to rescue at least one prisoner, his brother.

Later, in April, 1685, the nearby garrison at Newmilns was also attacked. In that case, the local Society people conducted a prisoner rescue a few weeks after a raid on a farm at Little Blackwood resulted in the death and beheading of James White, the wounding of James Finlay, and the imprisonment of several others. The attack succeeded in its aim to liberate the Little Blackwood prisoners.

There is no indication that the attack on Strathaven Castle was orchestrated after a notorious incident like that which took place before Newmilns. However, like Newmilns, the Strathaven attack was probably intended to liberate a number of prisoners. The attack may have succeeded in freeing Young’s brother, as Andrew Young appears to have been at liberty in c.1686.

The most likely time frame for the attack is between the spring of 1684, when the castle was in a state of repair, to July, 1684. The publication of the Fugitive Roll on 5 May, which gave considerable impetus to the efforts to apprehend fugitives, may have been a factor.

The Capture of William Young.
The winter of 1683 to 1684 had been cold, dry and unpredictable. Snow had fallen at the beginning of April, but as May turned to June, the temperatures soared. What had previously been difficult terrain for government forces became more accessible as the bogs and muirs in the hills became parched. At the same time, government forces flooded into the hills. Fortunately, from the fugitives point of view, rainy weather returned before July, but the troops did not leave and were joined in the hunt for fugitives by the militia. (Erskine, Journal, 53, 65, 69, 70, 71.)

At some point, probably in late July or early August, Young was captured in Evandale parish:

‘He was brought in prisoner from Evandale to Hamilton, and met with great severity, when carried from thence to Edinburgh, from the soldiers, who took from him his wig, and he rode most of the way with his bare-shaven head, and his feet tied beneath the horse’s belly.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 69.)

Young was probably initially taken to Hamilton Tolbooth, which was built in 1642. It lay at the top of Castle Street, but was demolished in the twentieth century. An image of the tolbooth was painted by James Grimson in c. 1832.

Aerial View of former site of Hamilton Tolbooth          Street View of former site of Hamilton Tolbooth

Young’s ownership of a wig may indicate that he did not remain in hiding on the moors. It is difficult to understand of what use a wig would have been in the muirs in the hot or wet summer of 1684. Was he travelling in disguise?

His rough treatment at the hands of the soldiers, which recalls that of David Hackstoun of Rathillet, may reflect the fact that he had attacked a garrison. However, two other prisoners who were taken to Edinburgh at around the same time, John and William Campbell in Over Wellwood, were also carried into Edinburgh ‘with their legs tied together very straight beneath the horse belly’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 49.)

Glengavel WaterAt the Foot of Dungavel © Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.

Was Young Captured at Dungavel?
The time frame for Young’s capture in Evandale parish coincides with the capture of three of James Renwick’s companions in the same parish on 30 July.

On that day, Renwick and his companions had run into around two dozen dragoons, probably near Plewlands. At the time, Renwick was heading for the Societies’ fifteenth convention, which was probably held somewhere near Auchengilloch on the following day, 31 July. Renwick escaped by running up Dungavel hill, but his three brethren, who remained at the foot of the hill, fell into the dragoons’ hands, one of them received ‘eleven wounds’.

The identities of the three men taken at Dungavel are not revealed either in Renwick’s correspondence, or in the records of the privy council. Was William Young one of Renwick’s companions at Dungavel? It is a remarkable coincidence that the scene of Renwick’s escape took place in the same location as Young escaped a month earlier. It is also a remarkable coincidence that both events took place on the day before Societies’ conventions at Auchengilloch. It is possible that William Young was with Renwick at Dungavel and somehow involved in the conventions.

The prisoners processed with Young also suggest that he was captured in the weeks before 17 August. Most of them had been recently captured. Gabriel Thomson was captured in the summer of 1684. He, too, may have been with Renwick at Dungavel. James Nicol was taken at an execution on 15 August. The Campbell brothers in Over Wellwood had been captured by a party of Lord Ross’ horse in Muirkirk parish at the beginning of August. Their cousin, John Campbell, tennent in Muirkirk and brother of the heritor of Midwellwood, was also captured at around the same time, but where and by whom he was taken is not known.

Two other prisoners ordered processed on the same day as Young, John McIlvie, a shoemaker in Kilmarnock, and John Urie, a maltman in Glasgow, were probably brought to Edinburgh with the Campbells in Over Wellwood, as the latter were held in Kilmarnock and Glasgow before they were taken to Edinburgh.

Canongate TolboothThe Canongate Tolbooth

Young in the Canongate Tolbooth
After his capture, Young was imprisoned in the Canongate Tolbooth in Edinburgh. According to Wodrow’s account, which may be based on a source hostile to the Society people, Young’s psychological problems were exacerbated by his capture:

‘This good man was distempered, and much crazed in his judgment, for five years before he was taken [i.e., in 1679], through a sharp and severe exercise of spirit he had been under. However, when upon any serious conversation, or at reading or prayer, his distemper was scarce any way observable; but when out of these exercises, he was perfectly restless, wrote letters and threw them out at the windows, and cast them to the keepers; so that all in the prison observed it.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 69-70.)

Young’s letter writing was intended to communicate some form of message to others. It may, or may not, have been a form of offering testimony. However, what is fairly clear from Wodrow’s account was is that Young’s fellow prisoners, many of whom were Society people, apparently thought that Young’s attempts at communication were ill advised and that he should be more cautious in the information he revealed.

‘His fellow-prisoners cautioned him, as much as possibly they could, when he was called before the council. When there, his answers were not out of the road; and when he came back from the council and justiciary, he was very sensible of the Lord’s goodness to him, and said to his fellows, it had been given him in that hour, who was a poor foolish creature, who had much lost the use of his reason.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 70.)

It is possible that Young’s fellow prisoners were concerned that he would either offer the wrong form of testimony, or divulge information, that would be damaging to the Societies’ cause. Within the confines of the tolbooth, the composition of martyrs’ testimonies was policed by other prisoners who were responsible for transmitting testimonies to their brethren on the outside.

The paradox of Young’s position was that if the council believed that he was “crazed” or “distempered”, they may have been more merciful towards him. For example, When John Gibb of the Sweet Singers produced a seditious paper which renounced all authority in the world, the council released him. It appears that Young performed reasonably well in the view of his fellow prisoners when he was before the council.

What did Young Confess to Before the Council?
Young’s confession before the council formed the basis of the case against him. According to Wodrow, Young confessed:

‘that the king [Charles II] is king, or not king, as he keeps the covenants; that he cannot say he is now king; confesseth that he heard Mr Donald Cargil at field-conventicles since Bothwell; that he thinks those who were at Bothwell were at their duty; that he was present with James Dykes a forfeited person, at the attack upon Evandale Castle, to rescue his brother; that if he had been old enough he would have been at Bothwell; that he would disown the king or any body else, before he would disown the covenants.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 69.)

Lord Fountainhall was more explicit about what Young had owned: ‘Bothuel-Bridge [as no rebellion], [the] Lanrick Declaration, the [Torwood] Excommunication of the King, and all ther other extravagancies;’. (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, II, 552.)

On Tuesday 19 August, 1684, the council ordered ‘William Young, tailzeor in Evandale’ and several other Society people were to ‘be processed and indicted before the justices, that they may be proceeded against according to law’.

The council gave warrant to criminally process ‘Robert T[h]om in Carmanock paroch, William Campbell, tennent in Muirkirk, Gabriell Thomsone in [Gallow hill in] Carmanock parish, John Urie, maltman in Glasgow, John McIlvey, shoemaker in Killmarnock, James Nicoll in Peebles and William Young, tailzeor in Evandale’ before the justiciary for refusing to acknowledge the king etc

They also decided that’ John Campbell, tennent in Muirkirk, and John Campbell, sone to William Campbell in Over Wellwood’ should be processed before the privy council ‘in order to ther banishment for ther refuseing to take the oath of alleadgeance.’ (RPCS, IX, 108; Wodrow, History, IV, 34-5.)

Young was on track for trial and potential execution.

The Great Escape
However, soon after they were ordered processed, Young and some of his fellow prisoners escaped from the Canongate Tolbooth.

Wodrow gave a detailed account of the escape from the perspective of John Campbell in Over Wellwood. Wodrow dated the escape to Thursday 21 August, but the days he mentioned in his account appear to point towards the night of Monday 25 August. The following summary of Wodrow’s account of the escape uses the days he used. I have added the days and dates which accord with the date given by Wodrow and Fountainhall, the night of Thursday 21/Friday 22, August.

According to Wodrow, on the night of Saturday [23 August, or Tuesday 19 August], the iron house prisoners began to use tools they had acquired and by the night of Monday [25 August, or Thursday 21 August] they had made a hole in the floor above and a passage through the loft above the Women’s house. Using cords and sheets which had been conveyed to them, thirteen of them escaped from below the palm of the steeple.

Lord Fountainhall dated the escape to Friday, 22 August:

‘The Tolbuith of the Cannogate is broke; and 8 or 10 prisoners, on suspition of ther accession to rebellion, escapes. The Toune of Edinburgh was threatned for it by the Privy Counsell; and he who stood sentinell was, in a Counsell of War, sentenced to be shot, tho ther escape was out at a window, and by passing throw the riggings of many houses; and so might be without his knowledge.’ (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, II, 552.)

John Erskine of Carnock also noted that Young was executed after ‘having on ——- last, escaped out of the Canongate Tolbooth with the other ten, he only being apprehended.’ (Erskine, Journal, 80.)

The confusion in the sources over precisely when the Tolbooth was broken and the number of prisoners who escaped does not change the basic narrative of events. However, the earlier date of the night Thursday 21 or Friday 22 does challenge Wodrow’s assertion that Young was executed within a day or two of his recapture, as Young was executed five days after he was recaptured.

Between eight and thirteen prisoners escaped, including John Campbell in Over Wellwood, his cousin, John Campbell in Midwellwood, Gabriel Thomson and William Young. It is also possible that Robert Thom, John Urie and Peter Aird were among them. Immediately after they escaped from the tolbooth, the prisoners separated.

The Campbell cousins made their way back to Muirkirk parish and went into hiding. (Wodrow, History, IV, 51.)

John Campbell in Over Wellwood remained at liberty until the Revolution. His cousin, John Campbell in Midwellwood was recaptured in May, 1685, sent to Dunnottar and banished to New Jersey. He and his family illegally returned to Scotland, either in late 1686, or early in January, 1687, but were not recaptured.

Peter Aird in Cronan, Loudoun parish,also remained at liberty and was later recorded as a contact of James Renwick. In May, 1685, John Smith was shot at Cronan in the aftermath of the attack on the tower at Newmilns.

A Robert Thom and John Urie were summarily executed by Major Balfour at Polmadie on 11 May, 1685. It is not clear if they were the two Society people who may have escaped from the Canongate. However, the appearance of the same names together and the fact that they were discovered in an intelligence-led raid on Polmadie less than a week after another escapee John Campbell in Mid Wellwood was captured in Muirkirk parish, may hint that they had escaped from the Canongate Tolbooth and assumed the role of weavers at Polmadie. The diary of Colin Alison, which mentions that after the preaching at Black Loch he left his arms at Polmadie before he returned to Glasgow in mid 1684, possibly indicates that the weaving hamlet of Polmadie was an established refuge for Society people prior to 1685.

Two of the escapees did not evade the authorities for as long as some of the others. Gabriel Thomson was recaptured, possibly in Lanarkshire, and executed in Edinburgh on 14 November, 1684.

William Young was on the run for a much shorter time, as he failed to get out of Edinburgh. He was recaptured soon after he escaped, either on Friday 22 August, or Tuesday 26 if one follows the days named in Wodrow’s account.

Wodrow offered two reasons for his capture. First, that when Young was ‘essaying to break prison in the Canongate, [he was] was lamed by a fall, and retaken.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 69.)

Second, ‘he was one of them who escaped out of the Canongate tolbooth, and would not have been known, if he had not himself told to the soldiers who were ranging up and down, that he had broken the tolbooth’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 70.)

Afterwards, Young ‘was most barbarously used when sent back to prison, and his arms were tied, and his whole body miserably racked: this he bore with great patience. He said, that extreme pain would be intolerable, if eternal, but he was now near the crown, and rejoiced in the full assurance of it.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 70.)

The Trial of William Young
Young was tried and executed on 27 August. Fountainhall gave a summary of the trial and the Lord Advocate’s remarks about the kind of ‘levelling fury’ which he believed the Society people represented:

‘one called Young was hanged with him [Nicol, on 27 August], for ouning Bothuel-Bridge, Lanrick Declaration, the Excommunication of the King, and all ther other extravagancies; and they objected against any of ther Assizers that had tane the Test [oath]. The King’s Advocat [George MacKenzie of Rosehaugh] represented, that the anabaptisticall boors of Germany, just such cattell as thir, in a levelling fury rose up both against the nobility and gentry to murder them; and that Luther, and the other Protestant Divines being consulted, they ware clear that they ware to be hunted and killed as wolves and other ravenous beasts of prey, teste Sleidano. [according to the testimony of Sleidanus]’. (Fountainhall, Historical Notices, II, 552.)

Mackenzie’s rhetoric compared the Society people to the sixteenth-century Peasants’ War in Germany and the Anabaptists. His statement that Martin Luther had said the followers of that Radical Reformation ‘ware to be hunted and killed as wolves and other ravenous beasts of prey’ was a portent of things to come. When he spoke, the Society people were being hunted down, but they were not being killed in the fields. However, by the end of the year the government would respond to the Societies’ campaign of assassinations by initiating the summary field executions of the Killing Times. The Lord Advocate’s views probably represents as escalation of the rhetoric against the Society people, rather than a change of government policy, but it was symptomatic of the increasingly bitter and bloody struggle between the Societies and the supporters of Restoration establishment.

The Execution of William Young
The assize found Young guilty of treason and the lords of justiciary sentenced both Young and Nicol to be forfeited and ‘taken to the Grass-market, this present Wednesday, August 27th, betwixt two and four, and hanged’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 69, 70.)

According to both Wodrow and Fountainhall, Young was subject to a new rapid form of trial and execution, which the latter described as following ‘French custom’.

The first executions of Society people on the same day as they were condemned had taken place only a fortnight before Young’s execution when Andrew Clark, Thomas Harkness and Samuel McEwen were executed on 15 August. The speed of Young’s execution, the injuries he sustained, the form of his confinement and perhaps the doubts of his brethren over whether he would offer acceptable testimony are all possible reasons for the absence of a surviving martyrs’ testimony from Young.

Young’s forfeiture was rescinded by an act of Parliament in 1690 which identified him as ‘William Young in Lanarkshire’. (RPS, 1690/4/80.)

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on June 26, 2013.

3 Responses to “The ‘Levelling Fury’ of William Young in Strathaven”

  1. […] were William Young, a tailor in Evandale parish, and John Leitch, a shoemaker from Newmilns. Young was captured about six weeks later. He escaped imprisonment, but was recaptured and executed at the end of […]

  2. […] was made ready. On 22 April, 1684, Captain William Cleland’s troop of dragoons, which had been quartered in the village of Strathaven in October, 1683, was moved into both Blackwood and Covington. On 22 July, Cleland’s troop was […]

  3. […] On Tuesday 19 August, 1684, the privy council ordered several Society people to ‘be processed and indicted before the justices, that they may be proceeded against according to law’. Among them were ‘Robert T[h]om in Carmanock paroch’ and ‘John Urie, maltman in Glasgow’. Both men possibly escaped with a group of prisoners within a week. […]

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