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…
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.
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.
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.)
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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