Attack! Attack! Attack! The Covenanters Storm Kirkcudbright in 1684

In mid December, 1684, the Society people in the South West conducted a series of attacks…

Isle TowerIsle Tower

The attacks are revealed in a letter of Sir Robert Dalyell of Glenae and other commissioners at Dumfries to William Douglas, duke of Queensberry:

‘Dumfries, [Thursday] 18th December 1684.

May it please your Grace:—In pursuance of the account we gave your Grace by one of the [Wednesday] 10th instant, the Commissioners, under subscribing, with the most part of the heritors of Nithsdale, met here this day, and agree to the three months supply for a year; and beg that your Grace may receive the trouble to make a tender thereof in their names to the Council. And as to the garrisons, we have spoken with Captain [John] Strachan [of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons], in order for accommodating them. But for the third garrison, in place of Newtown we humbly conceive that Laight were a convenient place, if your Grace thinks fit; or if your Grace think Dalswinton more proper.

Though your Grace may have received it from other hands we esteemed it our duty to acquaint your Grace, that the rebels have, since our former to your Grace [of 10 December], broke into Portract Isle, and several other places; and upon Tuesday morning last [16 December] invaded the town of Kirkcudbright, to the number of an hundred and eight, broke open the prisons, and carried away such prisoners as would go with them, with the town drum, and such arms as they could seize on. So, as we think, whatever other forces be designed for this country, a company of foot were very necessary for Dumfries. We shall give your Grace no further importunity, but attend your commands to, may it please your Grace, your most humble and faithful servants, &c.’

The letter was subscribed by Robert Dalyell of Glenae, Thomas Kilpatrick of Closeburn, Thomas Charteris of Amisfield and the other commisioners at Dumfries. (Napier, Memorials of Viscount Dundee, II, II, 428.)

The Attack on Isle Tower
The letter reveals that between 11 to 16 December, 1684, the Society people had attacked the Isle Tower and ‘several other’ unspecified locations in both Dumfriesshire and Galloway.

The Isle Tower, which lies in Kirkmahoe parish in Dumfriesshire, was held by Alexander Ferguson of Isle. The reason for the attack is not known, but it may have been either to rescue a small number of prisoners taken in that area of Nithsdale, or to seize arms.

Map of Isle Tower                  Aerial View of Isle Tower

Kirkcudbright TolboothKirkcudbright Tolbooth

The attack on Kirkcudbright was probably a far-more significant event. According to the letter, 108 Society people ‘invaded’ Kirkcudbright, rescued prisoners in the Tolbooth and stole arms.

Street View of Tolbooth

According to Lord Fountainhall:

‘They came a company of them to Kirkcudbright and killed 2 men, and caused a minister called Mr. [James] Shaw, to swear he should never preach again in Scotland; and the Bishops offering to louse him from this oath as unlawfull, he refused their absolution, alledging, it would have been unlawfull to have sworne never to preach again, but he had only bound up himselfe from preaching in Scotland, and tho extorted by fear of liffe, yet it was safest to keep it.’ (Historical Observes, 146.)

Anwoth KirkAnwoth Kirk © Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse.

The humiliated minister was James Shaw from the nearby parish of Anwoth. On 17 January, 1685, the privy council ordered his parishioners punished for the affront done to him. Although he was clearly shaken by his experience, Shaw returned to his parish. He was rabbled out of his charge at the Revolution in 1689. (Fasti, II, 386.)

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

~ by drmarkjardine on November 16, 2013.

7 Responses to “Attack! Attack! Attack! The Covenanters Storm Kirkcudbright in 1684”

  1. Thank you for this story Mark- I have just been looking and I haven’t found the Kirkcudbright incident mentioned in local / Galloway histories. It is certainly not an incident that I am familiar with. Is it likely that the 108 Society people were from the Stewartry? Or might they have been from further away?

    • Hi,
      I think they were mostly from the Stewartry and at least some from Glencairn parish. An action on that scale was probably provoked by the capture of ‘high value’ members of the Societies. I think it took place a few weeks after a circuit court in Kirkcudbright. The transfer of prisoners to Edinburgh was probably on the cards. The attack is larger than the number involved in the Enterkin pass rescue a few months earlier. An if accurate, as large a number as those involved in the ‘battle’ of Airds Moss in 1680. Four (or Five) of those involved in some way in the attack on Kirkcudbright were shot by Claverhouse a few days later at Auchencloy. A further two people involved (Hunter and Smith) were executed at Kirkcudbright, probably a few days later. The government responded to the disorder by sending in Colonel James Douglas and 200 of his ‘prettiest’ soldiers to Galloway. More blood flowed …

  2. […] The raid on Kirkcudbright did bring Claverhouse into the field, as a few days later he shot several Society people at Auchencloy. However. the claim that Graham was captured in relation to the raid on Kirkcudbright is not accurate, as James Graham was on a list of prisoners sent to Edinburgh from the circuit courts in which Claverhouse had sat in mid October, 1684, and was executed at Edinburgh’s Gallowlee over a week before Terry’s date for his capture. James Graham was almost certainly captured by Claverhouse in mid October, and not in mid December. […]

  3. […] the fields after the Black Loch preaching, the conventions near Auchengilloch and Glengaber, and to storm Kirkcudbright tolbooth in 1684, but their appearance had not led country ministers to desert their […]

  4. […] was almost certainly imprisoned in Kirkcudbright Tolbooth. It was stormed by over a hundred armed Covenanters to release prisoners in mid December, 1684, but it appears that she was not in the Tolbooth at that […]

  5. […] in operations in Galloway in late 1684, when he was involved in the killings at Auchencloy after a raid on Kirkcudbright Tolbooth. However, the debacle of the raid and its aftermath led to him being replaced in the field by his […]

  6. […] between the beginning of January to 1 March, 1685. Prior to that, on 18 December, 1684, he wrote to Queensberry about an attack on the Isle Tower in Nithsdale and other locations in Dumfries and Galloway. Finding the men behind those attacks was the top […]

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