The Most Militant Document in Scottish History: Where the Covenanters Agreed the Apologetical Declaration of 1684

What connects the highest village in Scotland to the most militant document in Scottish history?…

One of the mysteries of the Society people is where they agreed one of the most militant documents in Scottish history, the Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers. The declaration, which was drafted by James Renwick on 28 October, 1684, had been agreed to at the Societies’ sixteenth convention on 15 October. On the night of Saturday 8 November it was secretly posted on church doors across the West and South of Scotland, and on the mercat cross of Linlithgow, Bo’ness and other places.

The declaration was remarkably militant in its tone, as it threatened those they judged to be notorious persecutors with assassination and bluntly threatened those who collaborated with the authorities in their hunt for the Society people.

Glengaber BurnView down the Glengaber Burn © Iain Thompson and licensed for reuse.

Where did the meeting that agreed to the Apologetical Declaration take place?

In Faithful Contendings Displayed, Michael Shields’ history of the Society people, he does not record where the convention was held that agreed to the Declaration. (Shields, FCD, 149-50, 154-5.)

His account of the sixteenth convention is quite odd. Not only does he not record the convention’s location, he also placed a later letter from James Renwick about the Abjuration oath in the midst of his account of the convention. That appears to be a case of deliberate misdirection by Shields, as the Abjuration oath was issued in response to the Societies’ Apologetical Declaration, rather than the other way round.

He also curiously refers to his brother’s biography of James Renwick for an account of the declaration, but it, too, does not identify where the declaration was agreed to. (Shields, Life of Renwick, 66-77.)

However, the same convention also sent a letter to John Flint in the United Provinces. That letter does record that it was sent from ‘Glengaber’. (‘The Protestation of the Contending and Suffering Remnant of the true presbyterian Church of Christ in Scotland Against Mr John Flint pretended minister of the Gospell, and all joyners and Compliers with him’ aka. ‘Societies Protestation agt Mr Flint. Oct. 15. 1684’, EUL MSS. La.III.350. No. 141.)

Where was Glengaber?
There are three places called Glengaber in the south of Scotland. One of them, which is in Yarrow parish, is renowned for being the source of the gold used in James V’s Scottish crown in the sixteenth century.

Map of Glengaber in Yarrow parish

However, it was not the site of the sixteenth convention.

A second Glengaber is found in Kirkconnel parish beside two other Societies’ convention sites at Friarminnan and Blackgannoch.

Map of Glengaber near Friarminnan

However, it, too, is not the site of the sixteenth convention.

Above the Glengaber BurnGlerngaber near Wanlockhead © Graham Horn and licensed for reuse.

The evidence of government records confirms that the sixteenth convention took place at a third Glengaber. That Glengaber was located in Sanquhar parish in Nithsdale, Dumfriesshire, which in the seventeenth century lay next to the new lead-mining settlement of Wanlockhead. Today, the site of the convention lies beside the Southern Upland Way.

Map of Glengaber

The evidence for that comes from depositions taken at Sanquhar on Saturday 18 October, 1684, about a series of incidents on Wednesday 15 October, i.e., the day of the Societies’ sixteenth convention.

‘Katherine Cou[l]tart spouse to the said Thomas Marsh, being sworn depones, That, as she was looking for her own ky on the marsh betwixt Cleury and Glengaber, there came four men to her, and two women and took her to the house of Glengaber, where they kept her prisoner till daylight was gone; but she neither knew the men, nor heard their names; and that the men named the two women, the one, Bessie Weir, and the other Margaret Weir, who lately dwelt in or about Crawford-John.’

When Katherine Coultart was looking after her cattle, she was near ‘Cleury’, aka. ‘Clenry’. Today, the site of Cleury has vanished, but it lay near the lower reaches of Wanlock Water, which runs down the valley from Glengaber.

Map of Cleury

The two women Coultart identified, Bessie Weir and Margaret Weir, were both from the neighbouring parish of Crawfordjohn parish in Lanarkshire. They and the four men with them appear to have been heading from Crawfordjohn to Glengaber.

Map of Crawfordjohn

The presence of women at the convention was probably not unusual, but they are generally not recorded in the sources. What role they performed in it is not known. The patriarchal nature of seventeenth century society makes it unlikely that they sat in the convention’s decision-making body. If the Societies’ had allowed women into the convention, one would expect that their opponents to have condemned the presence of women. However, it is possible that they either attended a preaching by Renwick which accompanied the convention, or assisted in the practical organisation and running of the event.

What is clear is that both women were committed to the Societies’ cause, as they were later captured, probably in 1686, denied the authority of the King and were banished to Barbados in April, 1687. Their fate in not known.

Another local man was held by the Society people. Like Coultart, he, too, was apprehended near the Wanlock Water travelling from his home at Duntercleuch upstream to Wanlockhead.

Map of Duntercleuch

The exact location of the house where he was held at Glengaber is not known, but it presumably lay near the Glengaber Well and close to the valley of the Wanlock Water.

Map of Glengaber Glen and Well

‘Thomas Umphray, servitor to James Wilson in Dunlercleach, being deeply sworn and interrogated, depones. That, upon Wednesday last [15 October], as he was going to Wanlockhead with butter to John Brown, servitor to Allan ———– he met with two men that came from Glengaber House, that took him prisoner from the sunrising till daylight closed; and all day long they guarded him and ———- Wilson, in Glengaber House, and relieved their guards by six after six; and that all the men he saw had pistols, swords, and carabines; and that Ninian Steill, sometime in Glengar, was one of them that was there in arms; and the deponent further declares, that he is informed by James MacMoran, in Som’s Water [i.e., the Sowen Burn], that there was a party of these men in Glendorch yesternight [i.e., on Friday 17 October], who designed to apprehend James Cou[l]tart, Chamberlain of Crawford-John; and this is true, as he shall answer to God.’

Umphray’s deposition indicates that the convention lasted all day and that it was guarded by armed men. He identifies Ninian Steel, ‘sometime in Glengar’, as one of the Society people involved. Ninian Steel, aka. Ringan Steel, had taken part in the Enterkin Rescue near Wanlockhead in July 1684. (Ford, ‘Enterkin and the Covenanters’, Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway natural History and Antiquarian Society, 3rd Series. No. 36., 136.)

Steel was a fugitive from Penpont parish in Nithsdale, Dumfriesshire, and is listed on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684, as ‘Ninian Stell, in Glengar in the parish of Penpont’. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 222.)

Map of Glengar               Aerial View of Glengar

Steel evaded capture. After the Revolution in 1689, he became a captain in the Cameronian Regiment. He was killed in the battle of Dunkeld of August, 1689.

‘James Thomson, in Glengaber, married, sworn, depones, That, as he was going out to grass a naig, early on Wednesday morning, he was apprehended by fourteen of the rebels, and brought back to his house, where they kept him all night, but knew none of them, except one called William Chapman, who dwelt upon Clydeside; and thereafter a fresh party came, and relieved those who attacked. And farther, that he saw them coming over from Crawford mnir in twenties and thirties to the glen above Glengaber House, where he heard one call extraordinarily loud, upon a call that gave advertisement to all near that place to come to them; and that thereafter he heard them twice sing psalms, but could not get liberty to see their number; only he saw their scout-watches upon the top of the hill above the place where they kept their conventicle. And further, he informs, that upon Friday night they were at Stonieholm, belonging to Elderschaw, where they took said Elderschaw prisoner all that night; and this is all true, as he shall answer to God.’

Thomson’s deposition is intriguing as it gives some idea of how a convention was organised and guarded. He also identified William Chapman, as one of the Society people present. The William Chapman ‘who dwelt upon Clydeside’ is probably the same individual as the ‘William Chapman, merchant in Sandielands’ in Douglas parish who appears on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 196.)

Sandielands, now Sandilands farm, lies near the Douglas Water and the Clyde.

Map of Sandilands                  Street View of Sandilands Farm

GlendorchRuins of Glendorch Tower © Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.

Both Umphray and Thomson alleged that after the convention groups of Society people were active in the area.

According to Umphray, some were in nearby Glendorch who intended to ‘apprehend’ the chamberlain of Crawfordjohn.

It is not clear from Umphray’s deposition whether Glendorch refers to the area around Glendorch Tower in Crawfordjohn parish, or to the Glendorch Burn and Rig beside the Sowen Burn, where his informant appears to have lived.

Map of Glendorch Tower and Burn             Map of Glendorch by Sowen Burn

According to Thompson, on the same day a party of Society people took ‘Elderschaw’ prisoner at Stonieholm. ‘Elderschaw’ was John Hamilton of Eldershaw (d.1704?), a commissioner of supply for Lanarkshire in 1685. (RPS, 1685/4/33.)

He had a house in Crawford parish, which possibly lay near Nunnrie and Allershaw, and held land by the Daer Water. Stonieholm presumably lay on Eldershaw’s lands.

Map of approximate location of Eldershaw

If the Society people did either take, or attempt to take, prisoners on 17 October, then it may have been an attempt to deter local officials from hunting too hard for the Society people involved in the convention. The sixteenth convention had agreed to issue the Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers which plainly threatened those who were involved in the hunt for the Society people. It is possible that the capture of Eldershaw was the first sign that the Societies intended to directly target their oppressors.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post, but do not reblog without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

~ by drmarkjardine on October 29, 2013.

3 Responses to “The Most Militant Document in Scottish History: Where the Covenanters Agreed the Apologetical Declaration of 1684”

  1. I really enjoy the amount of detail you unearth in these posts and the different angle they therefore take. .

  2. […] According to one witnesses, many of those who had come to the convention had attended in large parties of twenty or thirty that came over the hills from Crawford Muir in Crawfordjohn parish. […]

  3. […] The Most Militant Document in Scottish History: Where the Covenanters Agreed the Apologetical Declar… ( […]

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