The Escape of John Ferguson of Craigdarroch
Simpson tells a traditonal story about an escape by John Ferguson of Craigdarroch from dragoons in Glencairn parish, Dumfriesshire.
There is no indication that the master of Craigdarroch was pursued by the Restoration authorities. In September, 1681, John Feguson’s father, Robert, had been granted additional lands of Dunreggan, Barbuie and Bardennoch in the parish. (RPS, 1681/7/164.)
John succeeded his father at some point between 1681 and 1687. He later supported the Revolution and was killed, aged 28, at Killiecrankie in 1689. William Smith in Hill, who was summarily executed in 1685, may have lived on Craigdarroch’s estate.
According to Simpson:
‘The attachment of the house of Craigdarroch, in Glencairn, to the principles of the Covenanters is well known; and many an outcast in the days of our forefathers, took refuge under its sheltering wings. The master of Craigdarroch[, John Ferguson of Craigdarroch,] was therefore a marked man, and his enemies were determined to show him no favour.
It happened on a fine summer morning when, after a heavy rain which fell during the preceding night, the rivers and burns were greatly swollen, that the laird, as he was termed, was under the necessity of travelling a short distance from home. Orders had been issued to a party of dragoons to watch his movements, and to embrace the first opportunity of seizing his person.
As he was ambling slowly along on a fine spirited horse, he was all at once confronted with a company of troopers. The place where they met was at the opening of a stone dyke, through which the road passed. The commander of the party, who seemed to know the laird, cried: “Guard the gap.”
“I’ll guard the gap,” replied the laird, who, at the same time turning the head of his swift and powerful steed, galloped off at his utmost speed.
The horsemen pursued, and Craigdarroch, seeing that there was but little hope of escape, directed his course to the River Cairn, which at the time was in full flood, and dashed into its foaming torrent, choosing rather to risk his life in the tumultuous waters than be captured by a savage soldiery. He reached the opposite bank, upon which the noble animal landed him with a bound. By the sudden spring two of the nine girths by which his saddle is said to have been secured, were ruptured.
The dragoons having noticed the circumstance, bawled out that now he was their prisoner.
“Not yet,” vociferated our hero, now on the safe side of the stream; “for though two of the bands be broken, there yet remain seven stout and firm; and now I dare you to the pursuit. Throw yourselves into that roaring tide and follow me.”
This, however, was a challenge which none of them were inclined to accept; for the conviction that they are engaged in a bad cause generally makes men cowards. In this way this worthy man, under the conduct of a gracious Providence, was rescued from the ruthless hands of those who would have shown him no mercy. It is reported that the identical saddle on which the honoured ancestor of the house of Craigdarroch sat on this occasion is still preserved by the family.
It was in Craigdarroch House where John Stevenson [in Camregan], the Ayrshire Covenanter, lodged in secrecy in some of the hottest days of persecution.’
Stevenson appears to have lodged at Craigdarroch in 1686, after the Killing Times.
‘His wife, who was nurse to Craigdarroch’s child, was greatly esteemed by the lady of the mansion, [Elizabeth McGhie,] and for her sake the husband was admitted under hiding, into a private apartment of the house. His abode there was known to none, not even to the laird himself; but the household was blessed for his sake, for his prayers were heard for them in the day of their distress. […]’
Stevenson tells a similar story about hiding in the house of Lady Castle Stewart in early 1685. Simpson had a high opinion of Stevenson’s A Rare Soul-Strengthening and Comforting Cordial For Old And Young Christians (1728):
‘The brief history of John Stevenson, written by himself, is well worthy of a perusal. It breathes throughout a spirit of genuine piety and zeal, and confidence in God. It records his religious experiences, the remarkable providences that befell him, the particular passages of Scripture that afforded him the subject of sweet meditation and comfort, and his last and best advice to his children. In the veritable history of such a man we have a practical commentary on the promises and providence of God, calculated to put Infidelity to the blush, and to reprove the unbelief of the Lord’s own people.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 24-25.)
Glencairn parish was a stronghold of the Society people.
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