Mysterys of the Carsgailoch Covenanters Shot in 1685
Three Covenanters were shot at Carsgailoch hill near New Cumnock, but who were they? And where were they from?
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 records five deaths as part of the same incident, but names only three of them: David Dun, Simon Paterson and Joseph Wilson. He did not name John Jamieson and John Umphrey who were killed at Carsgailoch.
He 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 eastern extremity of the hills and mosses where the Coyle flows. Carsgailoch lay in Cumnock parish in 1685.
His statement that they were killed by ‘a party of Highlanders’ in 1685 narrows down the time frame for their deaths.
The Highlanders were sent into the West in the summer of 1685. A party of them under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse first appeared in Ayrshire near Muirkirk on 1 May, where they were involved in the dramatic events at Priesthill.
By 5 May, Lieutenant-General William Drummond, commander of the Highland force, was at Mauchline where he hanged five Society people on 6 May.
On 6 May, the Highlanders had also penetrated beyond Carsgailoch and Cumnock parish, as on that day, Drummond’s Highlanders disrupted the deliberations of the Societies’ nineteenth convention which probably met somewhere near the Crawick Water in Sanquhar parish, Nithsdale. (Shields, FCD, 164.)
With the Highland irregulars present at both Mauchline to the north of Carsgailoch and in Sanquhar parish to the east of Carsgailoch, it is a reasonable presumption that they reached the Carsgailoch area at around that time. They appear to have remained in that quarter of Ayrshire for some time.
After their time in Ayrshire, the Highlanders were encamped at Leadhills in Lanarkshire on 16 June.
They departed from Leadhills and the West at the beginning of July.
The movements of the Highlanders in the area around Carsgailoch indicates that the five men mentioned by Shields were killed at some point between mid May and mid June, 1685.
It is possible that a reference by Michael Shields to the Highlanders killing Society people relates to the Carsgailoch and Water of Coyle killings:
‘Among other means made use of at this time by the enemies to accomplish their wicked designs, the sending for many of the savage and wild Highlanders was one, who coming to the west, were very cruel and vigorous in robbing and spoiling and hunting of poor people, some of whom fell into their hands and were barbarously murdered. And by them (especially) and others ranging up and down the country, severals were hindered from coming to this Meeting [i.e., the Societies’ nineteenth convention].’ (Shields, FCD, 164.)
The Grave at Carsgailoch
The inscription on the grave is as follows:
‘HeRe. LyeS. IOSePH
WILSON. IOHN. IAMI
SON. ANS IOHN WM
PHRAH. WHO. WAS.
SHOT. IN. THIS. PLACE.
By. A. PARTY. OF HIGHL
[and on the reverse]
TO. THe. WORD. OF
GOD. AND. THe COV
eNANTED. WORK. OF
(Thomson, Martyrs Graves, 338.)
With the exception of the names, the inscription is exactly the same as that of Dun and Paterson’s grave at the gallows of Cumnock. Both stones were almost certainly erected at around the same date in the early eighteenth century. The original Carsgailoch stone was joined by a second monument in the nineteenth century. The stone gradually degraded and recently a surviving fragment of it has been removed to the Baird Institute in Cumnock for preservation.
Today, the site of the martyrs’ grave is difficult to approach due to opencast coalmining both to the north and the south of Carsgailoch, but it can probably be approached via Dalgig farm.
In many ways the Carsgailoch killings suffer from the same narrative problems as those of Dun and Paterson at Cumnock. Both sets of martyrs were elided together in Shields’ A Short Memorial in 1690. Both gravestones follow Shields’ text in claiming they were killed by Highlanders, but add that they were ‘shot’, rather than using Shields’ phrase of ‘killed’. Both gravestones are generic in the text they use and it is not clear how much the erectors of them knew about what had taken place. Wodrow also presents a different version of events for both sets of martyrs from than that found in Shields and the gravestones.
Wodrow’s Version of Carsgailoch
‘Some time this summer, four men were coming from Galloway, where they had been hearing Mr [James] Renwick in the fields, to the shire of Ayr, Joseph Wilson, John and Alexander Jamisons, and John Humphrey. A party of soldiers overtook them at Knockdon-hill, and upon their confession they had been hearing a sermon, they immediately shot three of them. What were the reasons of sparing Alexander Jamison I know not.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 252.)
Wodrow is the first source to place the men shot at Carsgailoch on a journey from Galloway into Ayrshire. He specifically mentions that they were returning from a preaching by the Societies’ minister, James Renwick. The implication of that is that Wilson, Umphrey and the Jamiesons were en route to some other location or locations further to the north, rather than local fugitives in hiding on Carsgailoch. In contrast, Dun, and perhaps Paterson, were local fugitives.
The earliest potential date for Renwick’s preaching, when both he and the Highlanders were possibly present in the area, is Sunday 10 May.
Wodrow does not refer to the Highland irregulars mentioned by Shields and the gravestone. Instead, he mentions ‘a party of soldiers’, which in his account of Dun and Paterson he refers to as ‘the same party of dragoons’, i.e., the regular forces of His Majesty’s Regiment of Dragoons.
The soldiers ‘overtook them at Knockdon-hill’. Knockdon was the name of a farm just to the west of Carsgailoch.
According to Wodrow, ‘upon their confession they had been hearing a sermon [by Renwick]’ three of the four men were ‘immediately shot’. If discovered in transit from Galloway, the men would have been expected to have produced a pass/testificate which proved that they had taken the Abjuration oath that renounced the Societies’ war. We do not know if they possessed passes, or not. Frankly, we do not know what actually led to the three men being ‘killed’ or ‘shot’ dead at Carsgailoch. Wodrow, who was not beyond spinning an event, made it sound like a summary execution, but they may have resisted, attempted to escape or been interrogated and shot.
A fourth man in the party, Alexander Jamieson, was not killed: ‘What were the reasons of sparing Alexander Jamison I know not’. Whatever happened in the encounter between Jamieson’s party and the soldiers, he was spared death and taken prisoner. As discussed below, he was banished at a later date.
Who were the four men at Carsgailoch?
Surprisingly, very little is known about the Carsgailoch martyrs. With four individuals involved in the one incident, one would expect that at least one, or some, of them could be identified in some way. However, almost nothing is known about those who were killed. None of the main sources reveal any details about them beyond their names, that they were killed and that they had heard Renwick preach. Often, those who were summarily executed were fugitives. Were any of the men at Carsgailoch fugitives? Perhaps they were.
It is possible that the Alexander Jamieson who was captured at Carsgailoch was the same individual as ‘Alexander Jamieson, servitor to Matthew Alexander in Croft-foot’, i.e., Croftfoot in Sorn parish, who appeared on the published Fugitive Roll of 1684. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 210.)
It appears that an Alexander Jamieson was captured and brought to Edinburgh after the Presbyterian prisoners there were marched to Dunnottar in mid May, i.e., at around the time of the incident at Carsgailoch. In the aftermath of the Argyll Rising, he was banished to the plantations on 28 July and had his ears cropped on 4 August. On 7 August, he was given to Robert Barclay of Ury for transportation to East Jersey. (Wodrow, History, IV, 218, 220, ‘as Archibald’ 221.)
The fact that Jamieson was banished and had his ears cropped, suggests that he was either quite belligerent before the privy council in refusing all oaths, or that he had taken part in resistance to government forces. If he was the same man as recorded at Carsgailoch, and he probably was, then Alexander Jamison appears to have been one of the Society people, rather than an casual hearer of Renwick caught up unfortunate circumstances. Alexander Jamieson had worked and lived in Sorn parish in mid 1683, but we do not know where he was from or where he hid before his capture.
The three men who died at Carsgailoch are more mysterious.
John Jamieson was probably kin to Alexander Jamieson, as he was travelling with him. If Wodrow was correct about the party heading north from Galloway, probably via Carsphairn parish, then one would expect that he lived somewhere to the north of Carsgailoch. Sorn parish is a possibility, but he could have been any of the parishes in the surrounding area. Robert Guthrie points out that the Jamieson surname appears most often – five times – in Muirkirk parish in the hearth tax records of 1691, including an Alexander Jamieson. He also reveals that the registers of the privy council record in October, 1684, that ‘Joanet Andersone’, spouse of John Jamieson in Middlefield, ‘keepes not the church’.
Almost nothing is known about Joseph Wilson. However, a tradition recorded in 1832 claimed that the Joseph Wilson killed at Carsgailoch was from Lesmahagow parish, Lanarkshire.
If John Umphray was a fugitive, he may be the same individual as ‘John Umphrey, merchant’ in Lanark, who appears on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684. Umphray, under the name of ‘John Pomphray, there [in Lanark]’ had been forfeited with other Lanarkshire heritors in 1681 for his part in the Bothwell Rising of 1679. His forfeiture was reversed in 1690. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 199; Wodrow, History, III, 247; RPS, 1690/4/80.)
The significance of those potential identifications is that all three parishes possibly connected to the Carsgailoch martyrs – Muirkirk, Lesmahgow and Lanark – lie one after another on a route to the north-east of Carsgailoch.
That may not be a coincidence. The hill of Carsgailoch stands above a natural gap between the hills and moors which stretch back into Galloway and those to the north-east which straddle the Ayrshire/Lanarkshire boundary. Today, that gap is filled with the A76, B-roads and a rail line, but in the seventeenth century it was filled small farms and a road which connected the upper valley of the Nith to the rest of Ayrshire.
If one wanted to avoid government forces and prying eyes when returning from Galloway in 1685, then crossing that gap meant briefly leaving the relative safety of a hills. On the other side lay the heights of Avisyard and a route through the hills and muirs to the three parishes of Muirkirk, Lesmahagow and Lanark. If the Jamiesons, Umphray and Wilson were heading home from a Galloway preaching, then they were on the natural route for fugitives to take.
A Fifth Source?
If we push the evidence to the limit of historical analysis, a fifth source for the Carsgailoch killings may exist. In James Nisbet’s spiritual autobiography, which was written around c.1700, he claims that government troops ‘shot severals to death who’ had a ‘pass’ following the pressing of the Abjuration oath in 1685. Among those he named were ‘a young lad of 14 years of age near to Cumnock, and two others whose names I have forgot’. (Narrative of James Nisbet, 61.)
It is not clear from Nisbet’s narrative if the killing of the young lad and the two others are connected. However, at least with the young lad we have a location, ‘near Cumnock’, which may help to identify who he was.
There are ten male martyrs of the Killing Times connected with Cumnock parish. Four of them are traditional martyrs, for whom there is no historical evidence. Six more are found in the early sources for the Killing Times. One other grave site is probably a mapping error.
Among the traditional martyrs, the young lad could have been either George Corson, or John Hair, or it could be one of the two unnamed others who were allegedly killed with Margaret Dun near Dalgig/or Margaret Cameron, but there is absolutely no historical evidence for any of those killings.
The boy is also probably not in the “missing martyrs’ grave” to the east of Cumnock, as it is probably a mapping error for the grave of John McGeachan/Mackechan in Meikle Auchengibbert who was killed in 1688.
That leaves the six historical martyrs in Cumnock parish. It cannot Thomas Richard, as he was an old man. It also cannot be the fugitive, David Dun, as he would have been eight years old when he fought at Bothwell in 1679. The remaining possible martyrs are either Simon Paterson, about whom nothing is known, or one of the dead at Carsgailoch.
The best fit with Nisbet’s record of a killing ‘near Cumnock’ with two other deaths is the three people who fell at Carsgailoch. The hill of Carsgailoch certainly fits Nisbet’s description of ‘near Cumnock’.
If the above identifications of the Carsgailoch martyrs are correct, and it is an ‘if’, then the boy cannot be John Umphray, as he was a fugitive who fought at Bothwell. That leaves Joseph Wilson and John Jamieson as possible candidates.
In his narrative, James Nisbet generally recorded members of his kin, friends and local people (John Smith and John Barry) who had died, rather than attempting to create a wider picture of the martyrs. With the exception of a beggar in Galloway and the boy near Cumnock, those he named were from his home area around Newmilns in Loudoun parish.
As discussed above, John Jamieson and Joseph Wilson may have come from Muirkirk and Lesmahagow parishes. Did Nisbet have any connection to those parishes? Yes, he did. Nisbet claimed that he was kin to John Brown in Priesthill, in Muirkirk parish, and Brown had strong connections through both marriage and the Society people to Lesmahagow parish. Nisbet also hid at Priesthill with Alexander Peden, allegedly on the morning that John Brown was summarily executed on 1 May, 1685. He also fled from John Graham of Claverhouse’s force of three-hundred Highlanders and a hundred horse in the same area at almost exactly the same time.
Brown, a former elder in the parish, was both a fugitive and a leading dissenter in the parish. He probably knew his fellow farmer, John Jamieson in Middlefield, who was about the same age as Brown, and his wife, Janet Anderson, who refused to keep the church in October, 1684. Middlefield lies a short way down the valley of the Greenock Water from Priesthill.
As discussed above, Robert Guthrie has suggested that the Jamieson family in Middlefield were close kin to the two Jamiesons at Carsgailoch. Was the John Jamieson killed at Carsgailoch the son or younger brother of Alexander Jamieson? Were they close kin of John Jamieson and Janet Anderson in Middlefield? We do not know.
The circumstantial evidence of a connection between Nisbet, Brown and the Jamiesons in Muirkirk parish suggests that it is possible that Nisbet was relaying information about a killing of a boy from an area he knew. The possible connection between his story of a killing ‘near Cumnock’ and the Carsgailoch martyrs is also intriguing. However, there is no direct evidence to prove that Nisbet’s boy killed ‘near Cumnock’ was one of the Carsgailoch martyrs.
On one level, Nisbet’s possible story of the boy and two others who were ‘shot’ by government forces does make sense in the context of the Carsgailoch killings. If the Carsgailoch party were travelling north from Galloway and were not from Cumnock parish, then they would have required a testificate/pass to travel. Anyone found out with their own parish would have been of interest to government forces, especially if found in the hills. We do not know if any of the Carsgailoch martyrs had a pass, or not. If they were fugitives, it is unlikely that they did, unless they had fake passes.
Nisbet also contradicts his own story of the shooting of pass holders. If the boy was fourteen years old, then he would not have had, or required, a pass, as the Abjuration oath which led to a testificate/pass only applied to those over sixteen years old. The implication of the Nisbet’s age claim is that the boy was unlawfully executed in the field as he could not have held a pass in the first place. (Wodrow, History, IV, 161n.)
Tradition and the Carsgailoch Martyrs
A later tradition collected by Simpson contains details of events before and after the killings, but does not tell us a great deal about the Carsgailoch martyrs. Traditions are unreliable sources, as they record how the Covenanters and the Killing Times were later remembered, rather than what actually took place.
In many ways, Simpson’s traditions about Carsgailoch contradicts the historical evidence. He begins his account by rehearsing Wodrow’s version of events. He then inverts the rules of historical analysis with his claim that the tradition is ‘much more valuable than the meagre outline of the historic narrative’. (Simpson, Traditions, 129.)
It is obvious from reading Simpson, that his tradition is in fact about the many escapes of Hugh Hutchison of Dalgig, rather than about the Carsgailoch martyrs, who only feature as the cause of Hugh’s troubles. Simpson reinforces the dubious tradition of Hugh Hutchison by using Wodrow.
The tradition about Hugh Hutchison transforms the Carsgailoch martyrs from Wodrow’s passing wanderers into local fugitives. Simpson begins with a description of Carsgailoch:
‘Crossgellioch is an oblong hill on the farm of Daljig, situated on the western boundary of the upland parish of New Cumnock. The ascent on three sides is very steep, but on the north the declivity is gentle. The top of the hill is generally flat, and interspersed with deep and rugged moss-hags, which were frequently occupied as hiding-places by the worthies of the suffering period. It was in the broken morass on the summit of this mountain that the individuals above mentioned sought, about the time that they were slaughtered by their enemies, a hiding-place.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 129.)
He then places the Carsgailoch Covenanters in the context of another tradition that John Paterson in Pennyvenie, Dalmellington parish, hid at the Tod Fauld. His claim that they hid there for some time contradicts Wodrow’s claim that they were returning from one of Renwick’s preachings in Galloway when they were killed.
‘They had formerly sought a retreat in a place called Tod Fauld, below Benbeoch Craig, where they lay for some time; but, being informed by one Paterson [in Pennyvenie], who was himself a refugee, that a reward was offered for their apprehension, they retired to the more secluded locality of Crossgellioch.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 129.)
If some of those killed at Carsgailoch were fugitives, as they appear to be, then they already knew that they were sought by government forces. Anyone attending one of Renwick’s preachings, especially in the summer of 1685, could not be unaware of the risks they were taking.
‘It was in this place [at Carsgailoch] that they were ultimately found, after having one day returned from a conventicle at Carsphairn.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 129-30.)
Again, Simpson emphasises that they had been in hiding locally and journeyed to attend Renwick’s preaching. The available historical evidence suggests that they were not local people. Simpson is the first source to identify where Renwick’s preaching was held, i.e., in Carsphairn parish, rather than just in Galloway. Carsphairn parish is the closest part of Galloway from where they were killed.
‘[John Graham of] Claverhouse, it appears, had been in pursuit of the wanderers in that neighbourhood; and they, in order to elude his search, took up their accustomed abode among the dark and shaggy heath on the mountain.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 130.)
Claverhouse is the bogeyman of the Covenanters in popular tradition. He had spent a good deal of time pursuing the Covenanters in 1684, but he was generally absent from the West in 1685, until the beginning of May when he entered Ayrshire with a force of 300 Highlanders and 100 horse.
‘In this seclusion they remained for several weeks in comparative safety, because, from their lurking-place, they had a view of all around, and therefore they could easily perceive the approach of the enemy. This shelter became to them a place of encampment, from which they sallied out at convenient times to visit their brethren in the country around. In this way they could occasionally hold intercourse with their fellow-sufferers, and also furnish themselves with provisions, on which to subsist in their solitude.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 130.)
Simpson then follows that up with a conversion story about a ‘youth’, Hugh Hutchison, who did live at Dalgig, a farm below Carsgailoch. In late 1684, a local heritor reported that John and George Hutchison in Dalgig had ‘gone furth of the parish about ane yeire since’ and had been ‘disorderly persones’. At the same time, a George Hutchison, ‘age 85’ resided there. It would appear that Hugh had previously encountered Covenanters.
‘Their hiding-place, it would seem, was known to none in the vicinity, save to one young man of the name of Hugh Hutchison [in Dalgig]. This youth was their almost daily visitant, and from them he learned the nature of those principles for which they suffered; and he, who formerly sympathized with them from feelings of humanity, in a short time became one with them on religious grounds, and experienced the higher sympathy of Christian brotherhood. His heart being now knit to the sufferers in the bond of a common faith, he made their cause his own; and he conscientiously observed the sacred duty of visiting them in the day of their distress. It was his occupation to attend the horses and cattle that were grazing on the hill; and hence he had ample opportunity of meeting with them without interruption or suspicion.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 130.)
Fugitives were often supplied by local sympathisers, otherwise they would have starved. Dalgig was a location sympathetic to their cause. Simpson then cuts to Hugh Hutchison witnessing the aftermath of their deaths:
‘One day, as he was traversing the bent in the way of his calling, he heard the loud report of fire-arms on the top of the hill, in the distance; and not knowing what might be the matter, he hastened to the spot. When he reached the summit, and cast his eye along the mossy level, he saw a party of fierce dragoons on the spot where his friends used to conceal themselves; and Alexander Jamison (whom tradition names James Jamison) in full flight along the heath.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 130.)
According to Simpson, the tradition named Alexander Jamieson as ‘James Jamieson’. In other words, it named James as the survivor and Alexander as one of the dead. The historical evidence, including the gravestone which had stood locally for over a century, indicates that Alexander Jamieson survived. The tradition follows Wodrow in claiming that dragoons carried out the killings. The gravestone, just above Dalgig, states that Highlanders were responsible.
‘On observing the scene a little more narrowly, he saw the other three weltering in their blood, shot by the merciless troopers, the firing of whose pistols had drawn him to the place. As he stood gazing in mute astonishment on the tragic scene, he was observed by the soldiers. He instantly fled; and the dragoons called on him to stop, otherwise he should instantly share the fate of those whose lifeless bodies lay stretched on the heath.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 130.)
Simpson then follows the dramatic flight of the boy over several miles until he escapes the pursuing dragoons and returns to Dalgig. According to Simpson, ‘there is no doubt, though it is not mentioned, that Hugh Hutchison and his companions dug their graves where they fell’.
Simpson came to some conclusions, which blend Wodrow’s version of events with the implied claim of the Hugh Hutchison tradition that they had been in hiding locally for weeks, if not longer:
‘It is probable that the friends who were killed in the moss had issued from their concealment, to meet the conventicle convened by Mr Renwick, and that, in returning, they had been followed by the dragoons to the place where they fell. The individual who on this occasion escaped, namely, [Alexander] the brother of John Jamison, was afterwards seized by the enemy, and carried prisoner to Cumnock.’ (Simpson, Traditions, 132-3.)
Simpson’s tradition of Hugh Hutchison is the only source that mentions that Alexander Jamieson was taken to Cumnock. While there, Hugh Hutchison was, once again, involved in a series of narrow escapes before ending up in hiding at the Tod Fauld in ‘June’, 1685.
As a source for what took place at Carsgailoch, the tradition of Hugh Hutchison is of little historical value and should be abandoned as a credible account of what happened there.
The Second Monument at Carsgailoch
A second monument was raised at Carsgailoch in 1827, which was renewed and repaired in 1868 and 1896. The inscription on it is as follows:
JOSEPH WILSON. JOHN JAMIESON
WHO WERE SHOT
A PARTY OF HIGHLANDERS
FOR THEIR ADHERENCE
THE WORD OF GOD
COVENANTED WORK OF REFORMATION
THIS STONE WAS RENEWED IN
1868.’ (A different version is found in Thomson, Martyrs Graves, 329.)
After a sermon preached here by the
Revd. A. M. Rogerson, Darvel
From Rev. VII, 14
These are they which came out of
great tribulation and have washed their
robes and made them white in the
blood of the Lamb.
After a sermon preached here by
the Rev. Dr. McAllister
of Alleghany, Pittsburg, USA
28 th June 1896’
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