Shot by Highlanders: Two Covenanters Buried at Cumnock

There is a mystery about what happened to two Covenanters, David Dun and Simon Paterson, in the summer of 1685. That they were killed is almost certain, but where did the killing take place? …

Water of CoyleThe Water of Coyle © david johnston and licensed for reuse.

Shields’ Version
Their deaths were first recorded by Alexander Shields in 1690: ‘A party of Highlanders killed Joseph Wilson, David Dun, Simeon Paterson, and other two, near the Water of Kill, in a Moss in Kile, Anno 1685.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 38.)

Shields’ brief account provides an excellent clue as to the time frame for their deaths, as the involvement of Highlanders indicates that Dun, Paterson and the others were killed at some point between mid May and late June, 1685.

However, there are also problems with Shields’ account.

He names both Dun and Paterson among five Society people who were ‘killed’ in a moss near the Water of Coyle. The other three were Joseph Wilson, John Jamieson and John Umphray who are buried some distance away from the Water of Coyle at Carsgailoch Hill. It is clear that they were not killed with Dun and Paterson. It is not clear where Dun and Paterson died.

Shields does not name the moss where the Covenanters were killed, except that it lay somewhere near the Water of Coyle. As discussed below, later sources disagreed with Shields on the location for Dun and Paterson’s deaths. However, for the moment, it is worth trying to identify which moss Shields meant, as he may have pinpointed the correct location for their deaths.

Whig Hole Martyrs MossThe Whig Hole on Martyrs’ Moss © Leslie Barrie and licensed for reuse.

There are several locations close to the Water of Coyle which are associated with the Covenanters. However, the most obvious candidate by its name and location is Martyrs’ Moss and the Whig Hole, which fundamentally refer to the same location. Martyrs’ Moss lies just over a mile east of the Coyle. Today, it is in New Cumnock parish, but in 1685 it lay in Cumnock parish.

Map of Whig Hole/Martyrs’ Moss

The placename Martyrs’ Moss does suggest that Covenanters were killed there. Robert Guthrie has claimed that the Martyrs’ Moss may be named after two traditional martyrs, Margaret Dun and Margaret Cameron. Margaret is said to have been David Dun’s sister. It is possible that the moss is named after them.

However, it may also be named after David Dun and Simon Paterson whom Shields states were killed in a moss near the Coyle. The entries in the OS name book do not shed much light on the place names Martyrs’ Moss and Whig Hole.

Martyrs’ Moss is described as ‘ A large Moss, where it is said the Covenanters used to take refuge’.

The Whig Hole is described as ‘A hole in a moss where it is said The Whigs or Covenanters used to hide from pursuit of the Kings troops’.

A further problem with Shields’ brief account is that later sources claim that Dun and Paterson were executed at Cumnock, rather than in a moss near the Coyle, and that the other three martyrs were shot at Carsgailoch Hill. In both cases, the later sources place where the Covenanters were killed at locations which are several miles to the north-east of the Coyle.

There are two ways of interpreting the differences between Shields and the later sources.

One interpretation is that Shields’ brief account was only as good as his source for it and that in this case his location for the deaths in a moss/near the Water of Coyle was not accurate.

A different interpretation would embrace Shields’ account as accurate and dismiss the later accounts as inaccurate. There are substantial differences between them, as discussed below, but first, let us examine what Shields wrote.

Shields Carsgailoch

There is something unusual about Shields’ description of the location of their deaths as ‘near the Water of Kill, in a Moss in Kile’. It may be that a transcription or typesetting error has occurred. Could an ‘and’ or ‘&’ be missing between the two locations? We do not know. It is just a troubling form of words.

What is clear is that Shields did know the names of Dun and Paterson, but did not know the names of all of those who were killed. That suggests that Shields’ source had limited knowledge about what had taken place.

The existence of two separate gravestones for each sets of martyrs (one at Cumnock and the other at Carsgailoch) suggests that Shields, or his source, elided two sets of summary executions together into one paragraph.

The separate gravestones almost certainly indicate that Dun and Paterson were not killed at Carsgailoch with Joseph Wilson. If Shields was correct in stating where they were killed, it is possible that Dun and Paterson were killed near the Water of Coyle, rather than where their grave stands at Cumnock.

One would hope that the evidence of Dun and Paterson’s gravestone would clarify matter of where they were killed. However, on its own, it does not.

David Dun Simon Paterson Covenanters Grave

Grave of Dun and Paterson. Photo Copyright Robert Guthrie and reproduced by his very kind permission. You can see his New Cumnock Covenanter Website here.

The Gravestone in Cumnock
The gravestone to Dun and Paterson lies in Cumnock. Today, their grave is in Barrhill Road Cemetery, but in 1685 the cemetery was the site of the gallows where executed criminals were buried. It was known as the Gallowsfoot or Gallows Knowe and like other gallows sites lay outside of the village connected with it. The gallows site continued in use long after their executions.

Street View of Dun and Paterson’s Grave

Their gravestone stone has been recently replaced. Next to their stone are those of Alexander Peden, who died in January, 1686, and is said to have been reburied at the gallows, and Thomas Richard, who was hanged at Cumnock in April, 1685.

The inscription on the grave is as follows:


[and on the reverse]

TION 1685.’ (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 328-9. & Canmore.)

There is no doubt that the Covenanters’ gravestones are sited where the gallows were. However, it is not clear when those gravestones were erected. The problem with all three of them is that none of them were recorded in early editions of Cloud of Witnesses. For example, the 1794 edition makes no mention of them. That is problematic for Dun and Paterson’s story, as it is difficult to prove that the stone was always located at the gallows. However, it is clear that the gravestones were there at the time of the New Statistical Account in c1840 and that they had recently been renewed at that time. That would indicate that they were almost certainly in situ in the early eighteenth century. (NSA, V, 482.)

The style of inscription on Dun and Paterson’s stone certainly appears to be of a form which dates to the early eighteenth century. It is similar to the one found at Carsgailoch and was probably erected at the same time.

The inscription follows Shields in stating that they were killed by ‘Highlanders’, but adds that they were ‘shot in this place’, which certainly implies they were shot at Cumnock. It is possible that they were shot elsewhere, as Shields records, and their bodies brought to Cumnock for burial. As criminals, they would not have been allowed to be buried in the parish churchyard, which may account for why they lie at the gallows site where Thomas Richard had previously been buried. How reliable the claim that they were ‘shot in this place’ is, is not known. The gravestone was placed over their grave at least two decades after they were buried at the gallows.

It is possible that the stone was previously sited elsewhere and moved to Cumnock early in the eighteenth century. However, that explanation is unconvincing.

The next source, Wodrow, both clarifies some issues and adds to the problem of contradictory evidence.

Wodrow’s Version
‘Upon the same day [as the killings at Carsgailoch], the same party of dragoons took Simon Paterson and David Dun, for any thing I can find, upon their being at the same sermon [by James Renwick], and carried them with them to the gallows that was standing at Cumnock, and, without any trial, witnesses, or jury, hanged them the very same day.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 252.)

Like Shields, Wodrow links the deaths of the two sets of martyrs. However, his version of events is different from both that of Shields and the gravestone.

Wodrow claims that both groups of martyrs were taken by dragoons, rather than Highlanders.

He also states that they were hanged, rather than shot as the inscription on the grave claims.

Unlike Shields, Wodrow thought that Dun and Paterson were killed at Cumnock’s gallows. Perhaps the simplest explanation for Wodrow’s belief that they were ‘hanged’ at the gallows is that Wodrow knew that their gravestone lay at Cumnock gallows, but did not know that the inscription claimed that they were shot, as Cloud of Witnesses, a source he used, did not record them. That would date the erection of the stone to the very early eighteenth century, even though it was not recorded in early editions of Cloud.

The information in Wodrow’s account, which conflicts with that of both Shields and the gravestone, highlights that Wodrow probably did not know much about the events which led to Dun and Paterson’s deaths, and perhaps made the best fist he could of the limited and contradictory information he had at his disposal.

In the context of Wodrow’s uncertainty about what happened, it is probably best to take his claim that they were killed ‘the same day’ as the Carsgailoch martyrs and that they had attended one of Renwick’s preachings ‘in Galloway’ with a pinch of salt.

Like Shields, Wodrow connected the two sets of martyrs on the grounds they were seized by the ‘same party of dragoons’ as killed the Carsgailoch martyrs. The evidence weighs in favour of both sets of martyrs having been killed by Highlanders, but that does not mean that they were, either killed on exactly the same day, or as a result of the same event, i.e., Renwick’s preaching. The Highlanders were in the area for some time in mid 1685.

Where does that leave us? It seems likely that Dun and Paterson were captured by Highlanders somewhere near the Water of Coyle and, either shot there and brought to Cumnock for burial at some point soon after that event, or they were brought alive to Cumnock and shot.

If they were alive when they were brought to Cumnock, it would have been to be interrogated by an officer, who is not named in any source, and then shot, either after failing to take the Abjuration oath, or after some other summary military process.

In my view, it is best not to dismiss the earliest record of them. Shields account of 1690 may have been correct in placing their deaths in a moss. After they were killed by the Highlanders, their bodies could have been brought to Cumnock, where they may have been displayed at the gallows before they were buried there like criminals. Two decades later, both Wodrow and the erectors of gravestone may have assumed that the two men, about whom little was known, were killed at the gallows as they were buried there. That version of events does make sense of some of the features of their story. First, Martyrs’ Moss did lie in Cumnock parish and it was to the gallows of that parish that they were taken. Second, if they were killed in the moss and brought to Cumnock, it would account for why no source mentions any officer interrogating them. Accounts of the martyrs usually mention who ordered their execution, but in this case, only the Highland irregulars are mentioned. Third, when the gravestone states that they were ‘shot in this place’ it may mean Cumnock parish, rather than Cumnock.

The problem with that account is that it all depends on which pieces of evidence the stress is put on. The evidence we have about Dun and Paterson is too fragmented to create a definitive account of what happened to them.

ACloss © Raymond Okonski and licensed for reuse.

Who were Dun and Paterson?
What little evidence we have about who Dun and Paterson were does suggest that they came from a different area from the Carsgailoch martyrs. It also suggests that they came from near the Water of Coyle.

The historical sources reveal nothing about the origin of Simon Paterson. His name does not appear on any surviving list of fugitives and there is no record of any Simon Paterson in the registers of the Privy Council between 1678 and 1685. As far as official records go, Paterson is a historical blank. However, a lack of information about him does not mean that he was an innocent man. Our knowledge of the courts which sat in October, 1684, and when the Abjuration oath was pressed in early 1685 is fragmented and patchy. It is possible that Paterson was a fugitive from those courts and that we simply do not have the historical records to identify him. Later traditions, as discussed below, do mention him and continually link him to Dun, about whom we know more.

David Dun was almost certainly the ‘David Dun, in Closs’ in Ochiltree parish, Ayrshire, who was listed on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 209.)

Closs lies on the northern edge of hills and mosses where Dun and Paterson are said to have been captured. Today, it is a ruin which does not appear on the OS map. However, the outline and some ruins are clearly visible at both ground level and from the air.

Map of Closs Burn                   Aerial View of Ruins of Closs

Closs also lies about two miles down the Black Water from Martyrs’ Moss.

Benquhat BenwhatBenquhat © david johnston and licensed for reuse.

David Dun may have been kin to the Dun family in Benquhat in Dalmellington parish, a family of Society people who also lived in the hills and moors where David Dun is said to have been found or killed. They were
James Dun in Benquhat, Quintin Dun, Robert Dun, and James Dun close kin who was killed in early 1685, and Roger Dun.

Dun and Paterson in Later Traditions
Both David Dun and Simon Paterson are recorded in unreliable later traditions.

Dun is sometimes linked to James Hogg’s story of Davie Din tackling the Devil at Dob’s Linn in Selkirkshire, even though Hogg did not claim it was the same man.

Hogg also indirectly links Davie Din to the killing of the curate of Yarrow in his ballad Mess John. The assassination of the curate is fictional.

According to Simpson, Dun was related to the Roger Dun, who was involved in the Caldons Incident in January, 1685, and the Duns in Benquhat.

David Dun and Simon Paterson are said to have fled from Douglasdale in Lanarkshire to upper Nithsdale at the beginning of the summer in 1685 where they hid in the Lowther Hills at Glenshalloch, close to Wanlockhead. The implication of that tradition is that both men were fugitives in early 1685. Dun certainly was a fugitive and Paterson may have been in flight from one of the courts in late 1684 to early 1685 for which we do not have records. There they are said to have been briefly captured by Lord Drumlanrig and his troops at the Martyrs’ Knowe before they escaped and fled to upper Galloway.

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, it was claimed that an alleged sister of David Dun, Margaret, was killed trying to visit him in Cumnock. However, that tradition is of dubious veracity.

Simon Paterson remains a mystery. The linkage in history and tradition of him to Dun may indicate that he came from the same area. Like Dun he may have had connections in Dalmellington parish. After the defeat of the Argyll Rising in mid June, 1685, Dalmellington was heavily quartered by dragoons. Among the farms upon whom troops were quartered were those of the Duns at Benquhat, the Dicks at Benbain/Benbeoch and a ‘John Patterson in Pennyvenie’, who were all suspected of harbouring fugitives.

According to tradition, John Paterson in Pennyvenie was one of the Society people and hid the Carsgailoch martyrs at the Tod Fauld on Benbeoch Craigs.

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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 February 21, 2014.

5 Responses to “Shot by Highlanders: Two Covenanters Buried at Cumnock”

  1. […] places their deaths near the Water of Coyle in a moss in the district of Kyle. Dun and Paterson were probably killed or captured by Highlanders near the Water of Coyle, but the other three appear to have been shot further away at Carsgailoch, which lies on the […]

  2. […] of those martyrs, David Dun and Simon Paterson, appear to have been captured or killed near the Water of Coyle, i.e., near Martyrs’ Moss. The other three were killed further to the east at Carsgailoch […]

  3. […] Martyrs’ Moss is probably named as David Dun and Simon Paterson, who were captured or killed in the area. […]

  4. […] similar pattern of gallows burials took place at Cumnock that also involved the same […]

  5. […] was the first Covenanter to be buried at the gallows site in Cumnock. He was soon joined by two Covenanters killed by Highlanders in the summer of 1685 and Alexander Peden in early […]

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