The Hot Summer of 1684: Renwick’s Escapes at the River Clyde
The summer of 1684 was very hot. For the soldiers and Covenanters playing out a game of cat and mouse in the hills between Ayrshire and Lanarkshire it was especially so…
Following the ambuscade near Auchengilloch and the conclusion of the fourteenth convention on 12 June, perhaps at Airds Moss, James Renwick and a small party of Society people rode the east through Lesmahagow parish in Lanarkshire on Friday, 13 June. There they took refuge in a barn in a ‘woody place’ probably close to a ford on the Clyde below Lanark.
‘For, upon the Saturday night thereafter [14 June], there was a competent number of us met in a barn for worship, and had not well begun until we heard both the drums and trumpets of the enemy; but we thought it most expedient to set watches without, and continue at our work until we saw further.
Nevertheless, in all these tumults and dangers, the Lord’s goodness was so manifested to His people, that He not only hid them under His wings, and preserved them, but he also kept up their spirits from the least fear, confusion, or commotion; yea, the very sight of some of them would have made resolute soldiers amongst us. So after this hazard was over, some of us thought it convenient to stay where we were (it being a woody place) until the Sabbath day [15 June] was past.
But, ere the middle of the day [on the Sabbath], we got an alarm that the enemy was within two miles or thereabouts coming toward that airt; whereupon we went over the Clyde [to the north bank]. But so soon as that was, we, being in number about six or seven, had almost encountered a party of the enemy’s horse, who, at the crossing of our way, had inevitably met with us, if the Lord had not so ordered it, that a friend of ours had seen them ere they could see us; who thereupon came running towards us with a white napkin (because conspicuous to us) flourishing in his hand: whereupon we halted, and when he came to us, we lurked among some bushes until the enemy passed by.
Thereafter we setting forward two by two upon our journey, which was intended to be but short [from the crossing point], some two of us met with one of the adversary’s number upon horseback, who presently fled with all his might toward Lanark, we being within three short miles thereof; which forced us to take a desperate course, in running through that plenished country unto Darmead Moss, still expecting to foregather with that hostile town of Lanark, both horse and foot. But the Lord’s power and goodness was such toward us, that we escaped all their hands’ (Carslaw (ed,), Letters, 95-6.)
Where was the ‘Woody Place’?
Renwick does not name the location, however, his description of the events suggests that all of the locations were within a short distance of each other. At the end of the events by the Clyde, he was forced into the ‘desperate course’ of running through the ‘plenished country’ to Darmead.
The presence of the ford on the Clyde, the ‘woody place’ and an encounter with a government troop within ‘three short miles’ of Lanark that was followed by a flight to Darmead suggest that the barn lay near either Threepwood, Crossford or Underbank, which all lie close to each other on the south bank of the Clyde in Lesmahagow parish.
Near Threepwood a ford reached out to an island in the Clyde. The island has now been incorporated into the bank. The area was probably not a ‘woody place’, but it may have been were Renwick crossed. Threepwood was where five fugitives were from: John Forrest in Threepwood, his servitor John Muir, Threepwood’s son James Forrest, John Templeton and Robert Hamilton. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 199.)
At Crossford there was both a ford and a boat to ferry passengers across the river. However, Renwick may have avoided Crossford due to it being a popular crossing point. There were Society people in Crossford, On 22 February, 1684, a James Muir in Crossford Boat was executed in Edinburgh. In 1686, Crossford saw the emergence of three prophetesses.
Perhaps the most promising candidate for the location of the barn is somewhere near Underbank. It was the home of the fugitive John Stewart in Underbank, the Societies’ activist James Stewart in Underbank who was banished to Barbados in 1687 and the Archibald Stewart who had been recently executed in Glasgow on 19 March, 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 200.)
The ‘woody place’ where the barn was located may be Underbank Wood, which was where Donald Cargill hid after he preached at Darmead in 1681. Like Renwick’s hints about other locations in his letter to Robert Hamilton of 9 July, it is possible that Hamilton may also have understood where Renwick meant by a ‘woody place’ by the Clyde.
There was no ford at Underbank, but the hot weather that June and the presence of a large island in the middle of the Clyde may have allowed Renwick’s party on horseback to safely cross the river.
Where did they go?
On the Opposite Bank of the Clyde
It would appear that it had been arranged for someone to meet Renwick’s party on the opposite bank of the Clyde, as the ‘friend’, a term for a member of the Societies, rushed to warn them of the approaching government soldiers.
After he crossed the Clyde, Renwick probably entered Lanark parish and certainly did enter Carluke parish when he fled to Darmead Moss. His flight to Darmead was unexpected, as he had intended only to make a ‘short’ journey, apparently in the direction of Lanark, after the crossing of the Clyde. It is possible that he and his brethren were heading for the Lee Wood where Cargill had sheltered after he had preached at Auchengilloch in 1681.
The horse troops Renwick nearly encountered were possibly dragoons from garrison at Lanark, which was commanded by Lieutenant John Crichton of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons.
The encounter with a mounted soldier within three miles of Lanark made that plan impossible. Instead, Renwick and his companions were forced to break from the cover of the wooded Clyde Valley and dash north through the small farms of the open ‘plenished country’ to Darmead Moss, a well-known meeting place for the Society people.
In the space of a few days Renwick had preached near Black Loch, narrowly eluded both the soldiers of Winram in Cambusnethan parish and those of Claverhouse in the hills above Strathaven. He had also taken part in the ambuscade at Auchengilloch, attended the fourteenth convention at Airds Moss, and nearly encountered government troops three times down by the Clyde.
He was lucky to still be at liberty. At Darmead Moss and in the days that followed he contemplated what it had all meant:
‘[Our escape] was great matter of admiration unto us all, and made me to wonder no little; that scripture, Psal. cxxvi. 2, 3, being my companion “Then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad.” And also, that other Psalm, (cxi. 6). “He hath shewed his people the power of his works, that he may give them the heritage of the heathen.”
O! all these things that he did to us and for us, were matter of great rejoicing in Himself: But as I thought I saw them to be pledges of greater things, whereby His attributes might be more manifested, they were made matter of double and greater joy unto me. He hath given us proofs of what he can do for His people in the day of their strait, and gives us good cause to commit unto His faithfulness the management and raising up of His seemingly buried work, and the carrying through of His people. And ever since, it hath been my chief exercise, yea, and a while before that, the deep and abiding impression, of His unexpected, sudden, and glorious appearing for His name and people.
I think we are like unto a poor helpless, despicable, dead-like company, lying depressed in a valley; and He, as it were, by His word and works discovering Himself upon a hill top in our view, stretching out His arms, and all fluttering to be at us, calling unto us that we would join our hearts and voices together, and cry Him down unto us; offering that His power and love meeting together, shall tread down and dissipate unto nothing our dreaded obstructions of one sort and another; yea, I fay, if I know any thing of the mind of the Lord, that this is his special call unto all his sincere followers this day, Isa. Ixii. 6, 7. “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence; and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.”
O! let us all join together in this exercise, and let us be sincere, fervent and constant in it. Let us be at no manner of ease while Zion is in trouble: for though we should be content with our calamity, yet we should in no ways be content with our sin procuring the same, nor with the preservation of enemies in their insolence and rebellion against the Lord, whereby His name is daily blasphemed; and this has been procured by our backsliding. I say, let us join in this exercise, in crying to the Lord for His appearing; His people’s delivery shall be so glorious, that it shall abundantly make up for all the cost, wrestling, and suffering that they can be at; and though many of them with their bodily eyes may never see it, and though some of these that, in their places and stations, are employed about the building, many never see the copestone put thereupon, for as short a work as the great Master-builder will make of it, yet what’s the matter? They are about their duty; and their delivery shall be more complete and more glorious.
And, for mine own part, though the enemy should not get me reached, seemingly this tabernacle of clay will soon fall; for I am oftentimes variously and greatly distempered in my body. But while the Lord hath anything to do with me, I shall continue, and I desire to continue no longer; though many live longer than the Lord hath work for them. Howbeit, I many times admire the Lord’s kindness toward me, for I never find any distemper of my body but when I am so circumstanced, as, in many respects, I may dispense with it; and, through His grace, this is all my desire to spend and be spent for Him in His work, until my course be ended. And for seeing better days with my bodily eyes (though I am persuaded they are near at hand) I am not in the least anxious, neither was that desire either soon or late my exercise; for though they will be a happy people who will be so privileged; yet I count them more happy who are altogether without fear, care, sinning, or sorrowing.’ (Carslaw (ed,), Letters, 96-8.)
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.