Who Shot William Graham? Claverhouse, the Killing Times and Crossmichael parish

The killing of William Graham is a puzzling and complex case that has divided historical opinion for centuries. According to some early sources he was shot by John Graham of Claverhouse, or his troop, in 1682. Another source claims that Claverhouse was not involved at all and that the killing took place in 1684. And an argumentation of historians have failed to reach a verdict on it. Was William Graham killed? You decide…

Shields William Graham Crossmichael

Shields’ Version
The earliest sources for his death are all based on the first source, Alexander Shields’ A Short Memorial of 1690:

‘John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee, in the Year 1682, with a party of his Troup, pursued William Graham in the parish of ——– in Galloway, making his escape from his Mothers house, and overtaking him, instantly shot him dead.’ (Shields, A Short Memorial, 34.)

According to Shields, William Graham was shot while escaping from his mother’s house by John Graham of Claverhouse and his troop of horse.

In 1682, Claverhouse was the captain of an independent troop of horse. His lieutenant was Andrew Bruce of Earlshall, his cornet was William Graham of Balquhaple and quartermaster, David Graham, his own brother. Claverhouse was not raised to the rank of colonel until the end of 1682 when His Majesty’s Regiment of Horse was created. (Dalton, Scots Army, 110-112.)

Shields does not specify, either a date, or a month, in 1682 for when the killing is said to have taken place. Claverhouse was active in quelling dissent in Galloway throughout most of 1682. He took with him his own troop of horse and half of Captain John Strachan’s troop of dragoons garrisoned at Dumfries when he entered Galloway in February.

Shields also failed to specify in which Galloway parish Graham was killed. However, the evidence of his grave, family connections and later sources all point towards Crossmichael parish as the location for his mother’s house.

Covenanters Grave William Graham Crossmichael frontWilliam Graham’s Grave at Crossmichael © James Bell and licensed for reuse.

Graham’s Grave at Crossmichael
Graham’s gravestone in Crossmichael churchyard was almost certainly erected between 1702 and 1714, as it is listed in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses.

Map of Crossmichael            Street View of Crossmichael Churchyard

The inscription on it is heavily indebted to Shields’ text. However, while it follows Shields, it narrates the events of Graham’s death with one subtle, but crucial, difference. It does not record that Claverhouse was present at the killing.


[On Reverse]

LEAGUE 1682’. (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 365-6; Thomson (ed.), CW, 586.)

The unusual step of correcting Shields’ text by removing the accusation that Claverhouse was responsible may reflect local knowledge. (For a similar case of where a gravestone corrected Shields’ text, see the case of Robert McWhae.)

The inscription at Crossmichael is contradicted by the next source.

Damiel DefoeDaniel Defoe

Defoe’s Version
In 1717, the journalist and writer Daniel Defoe published his version of the death of ‘Graham of Galloway’. Like the gravestone, his version of events was also based on Shields’ text:

‘John Graham, Laird of Claverhouse, … was a Furious Persecutor, and an implacable of these poor innocent People upon all Occasions: He had, among the rest of his Cruelties, barbarously muther’d several of the persecuted People with his own Hands, as after this Action he did several more, particularly one of his own Name, (viz.) [William] Graham of Galloway, who fled from him out of a House where the said Claverhouse had persu’d and beset him: The young Man being forced to quit the House, and run to save his Life, Claverhouse rid after him and overtook him; and tho’ the young Man offer’d to surrender, and begg’d him to save his Life, he shot him dead with his Pistol.’ (Defoe, Memoirs of the Church of Scotland, 194.)

Defoe’s journalism transformed the incident from one in which Claverhouse and his men killed Graham into one in which Claverhouse was personally responsible for shooting Graham with his pistol. While it agrees with the broad thrust of Shields’ text, it contradicts the inscription on the grave, which makes no mention of his involvement. Defoe almost certainly made an error when he claimed that Claverhouse personally shot Graham. It may have made good propaganda in 1717, but it was bad history.

Those early sources present a reasonably coherent picture of the killing of Graham. However, they have different views on whether Claverhouse was personally present at the death or not. As will become clear from the discussion below, it is a possible that Claverhouse’s troop of horse, but not Claverhouse, were responsible for it.

After Defoe, the story of Graham’s killing takes an intriguing turn.

Wodrow’s Failure to Mention Graham’s Death
Wodrow does not mention the killing of Graham in his History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, even though he held information about it.

Wodrow certainly used copies of both Shields’ A Short Memorial and Cloud of Witnesses as sources for other killings, but in his description of the repression in Galloway in 1682 he does not allude to Graham at all.

That omission is made all the more curious by the fact that Wodrow had a different source for Graham’s death in his collection of manuscripts and wrote about Graham’s death in a manuscript.

According to Wodrow’s manuscript, ‘Scotia Sub Cruce’, i.e., Scotland under the cross, Graham was killed on 15 March, 1684. He does not mention the involvement of Claverhouse.

Wodrow also held a letter to him which detailed the stories of William Graham and his brother, James Graham, who was executed in December, 1684. However, while he used the letter as the source for the story of the capture of James in his published history, he failed to mention William Graham.)

We do not know why Wodrow omitted the killing of William Graham in his published work. It is possible that when he was faced with the contradictory evidence of his source and that of Shields/Cloud/Defoe, that he may have decided to avoid mentioning Graham in his history. However, there is no evidence for why he failed to mention him.

Wodrow’s failure to put the story of William Graham into print ensured that the story of his killing in 1682 went unchallenged until the mid nineteenth century when it became embroiled in the historical debate over the reputation of Claverhouse and the veracity of the Killing Times.

Mark Napier HistorianNapier Gazes at Montrose

Napier, Graham and the Fabrication of the Killing Times
In 1862, Sheriff Mark Napier claimed that there were no authenticated cases of Claverhouse carrying out killings or summary executions in the fields, except for the ‘military execution’ by firing squad of John Brown in Priesthill. The latter case could not be dismissed by Napier, as a letter from Claverhouse detailed how he ordered Brown’s death. (Napier, Memorials and Letters, II, 410n.)

Napier’s defence of Claverhouse has a direct bearing on the case of William Graham, as he claimed that there was no evidence to authenticate the killing beyond the unreliable evidence of Shields, the gravestone and Defoe. If he had known that Wodrow also had a source for the killing, he would almost certainly have claimed that it was also unreliable.

As noted above, all three pieces of evidence derive from Shields. It is. then, Napier’s case against Shields which is of particular interest. Why did he dismiss the evidence of Shields?

Napier’s case, that the Killing Times were largely a historical myth, rested on the assumption that Shields, Cloud and Wodrow were all inveterate liars and that their evidence could be dismissed as malicious anti-Jacobite propaganda. Having dismissed the evidence which contradicted his argument as unreliable, he proclaimed that the remaining historical evidence vindicated his view.

The many weaknesses in Napier’s case against the veracity of the Killing Times would require a heavy tome to refute them all. For the sake of brevity, it is probably best to focus on a couple of points.

First, his gerrymandered evidential test approach relies on a mass conspiracy in which thousands of people tacitly agreed to, or actively took part in, the fabrication of the martyrs of Killing Times and against which no one spoke up. Many early defenders of the fallen Stewart regime disputed Presbyterian claims that the killings were either illegal, or a ‘persecution’, but none of them disputed that the summary executions of ‘the Killing Times’ had taken place. Napier’s gerrymandered test contradicts the evidence of those who disputed the presbyterian version of events after the Revolution.

Napier’s evidential test was also flawed in the categories of evidence he used, as he mainly relied on letters, pamphlets and books from the government side to prove his point. He did not generally include other government sources, such as the enormous volume of evidence about presbyterian dissent found in the registers of the Privy Council, which provides crucial contextual evidence for the killings. About twenty of the eighty or so historical deaths attributed to the Killing Times are corroborated in someway or other in government sources. Of the remaining sixty or so cases, which do not have direct corroboration in government sources, a substantial number fit very well within the contextual evidence of the flow of events, the perpetrators being in the area and the victims often being fugitives.

If Shields and Wodrow did fabricate the martyrs, then they achieved the astonishing feat, given the limited sources and resources they had to hand, of generally placing people with the right names in the right locations at the right time to be killed by the right units. Such a feat either required tremendous luck on their part, or an amazing and detailed knowledge of the distribution of presbyterian dissent and government forces.

Another argument against the fabrication theory is that Shields and Wodrow did not distinguish between deaths corroborated in government sources and those which were not. They recorded both kinds of case in the same way, as they were not using government sources to compile their lists of those killed in the fields. Remarkably, they managed to record all of the corroborated killings without reference to government sources.

The core document which lists those killed in the fields, Alexander Shields’ A Short Memorial of 1690, holds up remarkably well to scrutiny. A Short Memorial was originally drafted as an address, or remonstrance, to King William in 1689, but its publication was delayed while the Society people sought redress for their grievances by less confrontational routes with the monarch. The failure to achieve their public goals led to its publication a year later as an address to both the King and the Country with an additional list of their ‘present grievances’ about what was ‘wrong in the CHURCH, STATE, ARMY and COUNTRY’. Within in its sixty pages are just over four pages (p34-38) which briefly listed those who were killed in the fields between 1682 and 1688 and the officers or units said to be responsible. Shields compiled that list, but he did not invent it. All the surviving evidence indicates that the list was the product of a long-term project within the Societies to gather records their martyrs, which had begun soon after the Killing Times in late 1685 and was intended for publication in a comprehensive martyrology that that was due to be published in 1688, but never appeared.

Shields William Graham Crossmichael

The entry on William Graham in A Short Memorial is entirely typical of the brief accounts of each killing given by Shields.

One curiosity of Shields’ list is that it was more concerned with who did the killing, how and where, rather than recording details about those who were killed.

The entry for William Graham is a classic example of that. Shields tells us who killed him, roughly when and where, but he mentions no details about William Graham other than indirectly that his mother’s house lay at an unknown location in Galloway. Notably, he does not tell us anything about Graham’s background. Was Graham a fugitive? Had he been at Bothwell? Shields is silent on those issues. In most cases, A Short Memorial simply tells us the names of the martyrs and leaves us to guess who they were.

The silence surrounding the identities of the martyrs or what they had done is hardly surprising given that the purpose of the list was to highlight what was wrong in ‘the state, army and country’ after the Revolution. The Societies clearly believed that those with the blood of the martyrs on their hands had no place in the flawed post-Revolution order.

To that end, Shields’ list identified officers said to have ordered killings who served both King James and King William after the Revolution, many of whom were still alive and in the service of King William. In that respect, Shields list was balanced in its criticism of those involved, rather straightforward than anti-Jacobite propaganda.

A Short Memorial was also a published public document and open to challenge. The list was not challenged, but the idea that the summary executions in the fields had been illegal was challenged.

The evidence suggests that Shields’ list was not a fabrication. Napier did not like Shields’ politics, as he justified assassinations, but dislike of what Shields stood for is no basis for dismissing his evidence.

There is no doubt that Shields and Wodrow put their own spin on the events, but the same contextual evidence that undermines Napier’s high-handed case against the Killing Times also undermines Shields and Wodrow’s spin. It is clear that many of those killed were fugitives or had been involved treasonable or violent activities, or both. Shields, Cloud of Witnesses, Defoe and Wodrow often neglected to mention inconvenient truths about the martyrs in favour of presenting a simple picture of the martyrdom event.

For example, Shields did not reveal that some of those killed were believed to be guilty of murder. In particular, he did not mention that several of the martyrs were alleged to have killed the minister of Carsphairn. It was not Shields’ job to supply his opponents with reasons to justify the policy of summary executions.

The Master of StairThe Master of Stair

Despot’s Champion
Napier’s argument that the Killing Times were largely an invention of Shields and Wodrow were recycled in Clavers, the Despot’s Champion by the anonymous “A Southern” in 1889, which accepted Shields’ date for the killing of William Graham in 1682, but argued that Graham’s death was a fiction as Sir John Dalrymple, younger of Stair, did not mention the killing in his high profile case against Claverhouse’s activities in Galloway initiated in that year. (Anon., Despot’s Champion, 206.)

Despot’s argument is appealing, but it is not correct. Graham’s death would have been excellent evidence for Dalrymple to use against Claverhouse if he decided to mention it and if it was relevant to his case. However, Dalrymple may have had, and did have, good reasons not to mention Graham’s death in support of his case.

As a moderate presbyterian and member of the social elite, Dalrymple was almost certainly horrified by, and opposed to, the treasonable platform of the militant-presbyterian Society people, as they rejected what Dalrymple would have seen as legitimate authority. In 1687, Dalrymple served as Lord Advocate to King James and continued the repression of the Society people. If William Graham shared his brother’s politics, which are discussed below, then he was one of the Society people.

Dalrymple’s case took place in the context of fears about recent events in Clydesdale and was viewed in the light of them. At the beginning of 1682, the Societies’ Lanark Declaration had cast off the authority of the King, Council and Parliament. Sixth months later, in mid June, the discovery of a secret convention of them at Talla Linn by Claverhouse had caused considerable concern about what militant rebels in Clydesdale were planning.

In that context, Dalrymple’s case against Claverhouse was viewed as both a political and an insurrectionary threat by some at the highest reaches of government. On 2 October, George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, the Lord Advocate, wrote that ‘Claverhouse has broke a cabal that was designing in Galloway, to undertake for the peace of the country, as Clydesdale did’. The cabal Mackenzie had in mind was Dalrymple’s attempts to get heritors in Galloway to join him in complaining about Claverhouse’s repression. On 10 October, George Mackenzie of Tarbat, Lord Clerk Register, also pondered the prudence of Dalrymple’s course of action: ‘We have little to say from this, all being at peace; only, the business ‘twixt Clevres and Sir John Dalrymple seems to grow. I wonder of Sir John’s prudence.’. Queensberry, too, appears to have believed it was absolutely necessary for Claverhouse to quell Galloway, as did James, Duke of York, who shared Queensberry’s view and wrote that Claverhouse ‘need not fear anything Stairs can say of him, his Majesty being so well satisfied with him’. (Napier, Memoirs and Letters, II, 296.)

Claverhouse also raised the stakes in the case when he countered Dalrymple with his own bill of complaint. Among Claverhouse’s complaints was that Dalrymple had returned to Galloway to ‘stir up sedition’ in the same way as had been done before the Pentland Rising of 1666.

According to Claverhouse,

‘[Had he not acted] before that time and reclaimed the body of the people [in Galloway], and kept the rest in obedience and awe by the assistance of the forces, it is probable Sir John might have brought his pernicious designs to have their wished effect [i.e., led to a rising]; it being certain that the fanatics had their heads aloft; as witness that rebellious rendezvous at Tulliallin [i.e., Talla Linn], which happened to be about the said time’. (Napier, Memoirs and Letters, II, 298.)

Given Dalrymple’s probable hostility to the Societies and his position of effectively being accused of encouraging the ‘fanatics’ of the Societies, Sir John certainly had reasons not to mention the treatment of William Graham.

What we know is that Graham’s death was not mentioned in Dalrymple’s case. However, that was because it was impossible for Dalrymple to mention it.

When he and Claverhouse were brought before the Privy Council, Dalrymple’s case was restricted to his lands in the regality of Glenluce, rather than in the name of the Galloway, as others, perhaps out of fear or because they did not agree with him, did not want to commission him to complain on their behalf. The case of William Graham, which took place in Crossmichael parish, did not fall under the regality of Glenluce and therefore was not relevant to the restricted form of Dalrymple’s case. In that context, it is ridiculous to claim that Graham was not killed in 1682 as Dalrymple did not mention it. Also, as noted above, it is possible that Graham was killed in 1684, i.e., after Dalrymple’s case.

The council found for Claverhouse. It is hard to see how they could have supported Dalrymple given the political implications of his broader case had, especially when Claverhouse was widely credited by many leading figures with successfully pacifying Galloway’s rebels.

The Dalrymple case provides no evidence, either for or against, the killing of William Graham.

Charles Sanford TerryCharles Sandford Terry

Terry’s Version

In 1905, Professor Terry launched a further assault on the killing of William Graham, when he claimed that William was in fact his brother, James Graham, who was captured by Claverhouse and was executed near Edinburgh in December, 1684. There is no doubt that James Graham existed.

Terry’s case is flawed. He runs through the early sources for William Graham and concludes ‘so legend grows and establishes itself unblushingly as fact’. He then links William to James Graham. According to his footnote,

‘Wodrow gives his Christian name as James, but as he specifically calls him ‘tailor in the parish of Corsmichael,’ and includes the detail of his being on his way ‘to his mother’s house,’ there is no room to doubt his identity with the William Graham whose grave is in Crossmichael churchyard.’

Terry presumably decided William was James on the basis that both of them were linked to their mother’s house. They are similar stories, but the early sources are clear that William Graham was not James Graham – both are mentioned separately in Cloud of Witnesses, the former as a grave dating to 1682 and the later as executed in Edinburgh in 1684.

By making that link, Terry moved the story from 1682 to the period of the Societies’ war of assassinations in late 1684. He then substitutes Wodrow’s story of James Graham for the story of William Graham:

‘William Graham, it appears, was a tailor at Crossmichael. Returning from work to his home, he was overtaken on the highway by Claverhouse and a party of his troops. They stopped him, searched him, and finding a Bible in his pocket, took him with them for further examination to Kirkcudbright, thence to Wigton, and thence to Dumfries. Refusing to answer the questions put to him, he was placed in irons, transferred to Edinburgh, and passed out of Claverhouse’s jurisdiction. At Edinburgh he was questioned upon ‘the declaration of the society’ that is, Renwick’s Declaration and ‘refusing to answer’ Wodrow concludes, ‘was condemned and died most comfortably.’ The story of a lad pistolled on the highway in 1682 falls to the ground a palpable falsehood. To state the facts Claverhouse, during the renewed Whig activity in 1684, arrested and sent to Edinburgh a man whose demeanour roused his suspicion. His suspicion was not groundless. Offered the Oath of Abjuration and liberty, the prisoner refused it, and died bravely for conduct which proclaimed him a rebel at heart if not in fact.’ (Terry, John Graham of Claverhouse, 173.)

Terry then claims in a footnote that William Graham was captured in December, 1684:

‘The most probable date for William Graham’s arrest is about 17th or 18th December 1684 (see below, p. 176). Claverhouse was then in the neighbourhood of Crossmichael, and Graham’s arrest would connect naturally with Claverhouse’s search for the large body of Whigs who had recently raided Kirkcudbright.’ (Terry, John Graham of Claverhouse, 173-4n.)

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.

In essence, Terry argued that the presbyterian sources were confused and had made two martyrs out of one. Terry deleted the story of William Graham mentioned by Shields on the basis that it was a legend, while retaining and converting Wodrow’s story of James Graham. Why he preferred one presbyterian author to another, he did not explain. In short, Terry argued that William Graham was not shot in Crossmichael, because he was actually executed in Edinburgh. That may be convenient for Terry’s purpose of exonerating Claverhouse, but it is not accurate, as Wodrow’s source for the story James Graham also mentions William Graham as a separate individual.

James King Hewison, Wodrow and his Source
Terry’s assault on the story of William Graham probably forced James King Hewison to reexamine the Wodrow collection that provided the source material for the story of James Graham. Both he and Terry were in for a surprise.

According to Wodrow’s unpublished manuscript ‘Scotland Sub Cruce’:

‘The same day [as George Jackson, i.e., 9 December, 1684,] James Graham, taylour in the parish of Crossmichael in Galloway, suffered [execution]. This good man was Brother to William Graham who was so barbarously cut of by the souldiers ye 15 March this year [i.e., 1684].’ (Hewison, Covenanters, II, 378.)

Wodrow is unequivocal that William Graham was not the same man as his brother, James. However, Wodrow contradicts Shields, the gravestone and Defoe’s date for the killing of 1682 by dating William’s death specifically to 15 March, 1684.

The revelations do not stop there. According to Hewison, the letter to Wodrow which records that William Graham was killed, states that ‘John Maxwell of Miltoun caused soldiers to visit Graham’s mother’s house in search of suspects lurking there, and that the youth William tried to escape, staff in hand only, but was taken, and, without being allowed to speak, was shot before his mother’s eyes.’ (Hewison, Covenanters, II, 378.)

The letter to Wodrow was sent long after Shields’ A Short Memorial was published in 1690 and probably dates to around the same time as the gravestone was erected in the early eighteenth century. It predates Defoe’s version of events.

The scenario for Graham’s death in Wodrow’s source is more-or-less the same as that found in Shields, the gravestone and Defoe, i.e., that he was shot escaping from his mother’s house. It does contain a standard presbyterian story, that he was shot before his kin, in this case, his mother, but broadly the story is similar to the version found in Shields.

However, it also has crucial differences in its version of events.

Instead of Claverhouse, or his troop, being responsible for Graham’s death, the manuscript claims that it was John Maxwell of Milton and ‘soldiers’ who were involved. Maxwell was not a military officer and therefore not in command of the soldiers he directed to Graham’s mother’s house. He was probably an informant, as he does not appear to have held a judicial commission in the 1680s.

Maxwell of Milton/Milntoun lived at Milton of Buittle in Buittle parish, Kirkcudbrightshire. The small estate of Milton was situated beside the Mote of Urr and lay a little to the east of the probable area where Graham’s mother’s house was located.

Map of Milton of Buittle

He had been fined for his presbyterian sympathies in about 1662, but he became known for repression in the area around the Water of Urr, notably at the house of Corsock after the Pentland Rising of 1666. He is supposed to have been reduced to begging at Corsock after the Revolution and died at some point between 1698 and 1713. (Mackenzie, History of Galloway, 124; Wodrow, History, II, 51; Howie, Judgements, 41.)

The Robert Auchinleck shot in 1685 may have had connections to the Milton estate via the lost farm at Balgreddan.

If Wodrow’s date of for the killing of 15 March, 1684, is correct, then Claverhouse had no part in the killing. There is no evidence that Claverhouse was in Galloway in the first half of 1684, as he was present at the privy council in Edinburgh from after his return from court in 1683 until May, 1684. Hewison argues that Claverhouse was not present at the privy council in Edinburgh between 13 to 20 March, but it is extremely unlikely that Claverhouse rode to Galloway, joined his troop, shot Graham and returned to Edinburgh in such a short time span. (Hewison, Covenanters, II, 378.)

It is possible that Claverhouse’s troop of Horse, under the command of Andrew Bruce of Earlshall, were present in Galloway on 15 March. However, later, in mid June, 1684, Claverhouse’s troop were garrisoned at Dumfries, while Galloway was covered by Captain John Strachan’s troop of Dragoons based close to Crossmichael parish in the Glenkens.

The limited evidence we have suggests that Strachan’s dragoons may be a better candidate for the ‘soldiers’ sent to Crossmichael parish than Claverhouse’s troop, but there is no evidence that they were. At the same time, Captain Thomas Douglas’s company of Mar’s Regiment of Foot were operating to the south of Crossmichael parish. In 1685, they were responsible for the killing of Robert Auchinleck a little way to the south of Crossmichael parish. Wodrow simply does not supply enough evidence to identify which unit was responsible for Graham’s death if it took place in 1684. The only unit identified in the other early sources which share the same basic story is Claverhouse’s troop of horse.

The letter to Wodrow also contains specific details about the circumstances of Graham’s death which both mirror and go beyond Shield’s version of events.

First, it claims that the soldiers were directed to Graham’s mother’s house ‘in search of suspects lurking there’. Shields does not mention that the mother’s house was suspected of concealing fugitives or rebels.

Second, that ‘the youth William tried to escape’ when the soldiers were at the house. Shields also records that William tried to escape, but he does not mention his age. The term ‘youth’ usually implies either that he was in his late teens or a young man.

Third, that Graham was armed with a ‘staff in hand’. Shields does not record that Graham was armed. If he was armed, the soldiers would have been justified in resorting to their own arms.

Finally, that Graham was ‘taken, and, without being allowed to speak, was shot before his mother’s eyes’. Shields, too, claimed that ‘overtaking him’ the soldiers had ‘instantly shot him dead’. There is a subtle difference between being ‘taken’ and ‘overtaking him’. The former implies he was in custody, while the latter implies that in the course of the action he was shot.

The overall impression of the letter to Wodrow’s evidence is that Graham fled from a suspected house after the troops arrived there. That Graham was armed with a staff and shot when the soldiers caught up with him. We are not told if Graham either resisted, or surrendered. However, the impression left by the sources is that the events rapidly unfolded in the field and that William did not get far from his mother’s house.

The similar words and phrases used by both Shields/the gravestone and Wodrow’s source suggest that the latter account was influenced by the former. However, Wodrow’s source adds details to the story which may indicate that Graham was not the innocent victim which Shields and the gravestone portray.

Covenanters Grave William Graham CrossmichaelThe Reverse of William Graham’s Grave © James Bell and licensed for reuse.

Who Was William Graham?
At the heart of the story of Graham’s death are two mysteries. First, who was William Graham? And second, who was his mother and where did she live? The timing of Graham’s death makes those questions difficult to answer. The problem is that nearly all of the source material about presbyterian dissent in Crossmichael parish post dates both a killing in 1682 and on 15 March, 1684. That makes William Graham unique among the cases recorded by Shields and Wodrow, as all the other killings took place after the flood of parish and court records about presbyterian dissent in late 1684.

The name of William Graham does not appear on the published Fugitive Roll of May, 1684, which was published after the alleged date of his death. If he was a youth, as Wodrow’s letter claims, then he may not have appeared on the porteous rolls which led to the published roll as he was too young to have been at Bothwell in 1679.

As one would expect, William Graham does not appear on the parish list of October, 1684, or on the list of presbyterian ‘delinquents’ in the parish of the same month.

Evidence of William Graham may still await discovery in the genealogical, court and tax records of the period, but to date, as far as the government sources go, William Graham is a historical blank.

There is evidence, however, of his ‘brother’, James Graham, who was captured in October, 1684, and executed near Edinburgh on 9 December.

According to the records of the court at Kirkcudbright in mid October, 1684, he was‘James Graham in Crofts of Corsmichaells’/‘in Croftis of Crosmichell’, i.e., Crofts in Crossmichael parish.

Map of Crofts                  Street View of Crofts

In 1682, the lands of Crofts were held by Robert Inglis of Chapelerne.

In James Graham’s martyrs’ testimony, which includes very few personal details, he does not mention his dead brother, but he does briefly bid farewell to his ‘mother, brethren and sisters’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 424.)

It is obvious from James Graham’s martyrs’ testimony that he was a committed member of the Societies. In it Graham wrote he was indited for refusing to disown ‘that paper which is most agreeable to the Word of God’, i.e. the Apologetical Declaration which threatened assassinations, but that he had not part in its proclamation. Graham had was captured before it was drafted.

He adhered to the preaching of John Kid (d.1679), John King (d.1679), Richard Cameron (d.1680) and Donald Cargill (d.1681), and proclaimed James Renwick a faithful servant of Christ.

He also adhered to the Rutherglen Declaration, the Sanquhar Declaration, Cargill’s Torwood Excommunication, the Queensferry paper of 1680, the burning of the Test at Lanark when the Lanark Declaration was proclaimed, and the Apologetical Declaration Against Intelligencers of November, 1684.

Among the things he testified against was John Gib and the Sweet Singers. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 422-4.)

The letter to Wodrow mentions that Claverhouse was involved in the capture of James:

‘When [James was] coming home from his work to his mother’s house, He was overtaken by Claverhouse and a party upon the High road. They had nothing to lay to his charge but His having a Bible upon him.’ (Hewison, Covenanters, II, 378.)

Wodrow recycled and expanded the text of the letter as follows:

‘when coming home from his work to his mother’s house, he was overtaken in the high way by Claverhouse and a party of soldiers. They knew him not, and had nothing to lay to his charge, but searching him and finding a Bible in his pocket they took it and his tools from him; and, without asking any more questions, no doubt reckoning him a disloyal person, carried him with them to Kirkcudbright.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 167.)

Like his brother, James Graham was not listed on the published Fugitive Roll. However, Wodrow neglected to mention that his source had claimed that his mother’s house was where soldiers had been directed ‘in search of suspects lurking there’ and had killed his ‘brother’.

Crofts of CrossmichaelCrofts

Where was the House of Graham’s Mother?
It is not clear if James lived with his mother or where his mother’s house lay. It is possible that his mother, who was alive in late 1684, lived at Crofts. It is also possible that she lived elsewhere in the parish. The problem with identifying her is that at no point in any of the narrative sources is William and James Graham’s mother named and she probably did not share the same surname as her sons.

What is intriguing about the early sources is that the house where she lived in specifically referred to as their ‘mother’s house’, which implies, either that she possessed it in her own right, probably as a widow, or that she was a widow. In the stories of both William and James, it is their mother who is the significant presence and no mention is made of their father, who was, presumably, dead.

The letter to Wodrow claimed that their mother’s house was a place which was suspected of sheltering or resetting ‘suspects’ or fugitives. Neither William, nor James, were fugitives, which suggests that other Society people may have sheltered there, given the clear attachment of James to the Societies’ platform.

There is no doubt that James Graham was connected to Crofts at the time of his trial in October, 1684, and that in his martyrs’ testimony of December, that he bade farewell to his ‘mother, brethren and sisters’. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 424.)

That would suggest the following:

1. That James Graham had at least two other brothers, some of whom were possibly resident in Crossmichael parish.

The Graham brothers may appear on the complete parish list of 1684, if they were old enough. There are four individuals named Graham on the complete parish list. One, John Graham in Trowdale, lived with family of a fugitive called James Garmorie. (RPCS, IX, 582.)

However, it is probably the other three entries on the parish list which are of greater interest.

John Graham in Chapelerne, was a fugitive in May, 1684, but was later relaxed. He is described as absent from his wife and family at Chapelerne on the later parish list of 1684.

John Graham in Chapelerne is also mentioned in connection with Thomas Graham in Ernfillan. Both had been relaxed as fugitives by September/October, 1684, but several people were still summoned to court in Kirkcudbright for conversing with both of them. John and Thomas were probably close kin.

Thomas Graham in Ernfillan also appears with a further possible brother/member of his close kin and fellow fugitive, Robert Graham in Ernfillan. Robert, like Thomas, was listed as a fugitive under Ernfillan in May, 1684, and both he and Thomas are later found living on the farm of Ernambrie Murray on the parish list of 1684.

Ernfillan GlenErnfillan Glen from the north © James Bell and licensed for reuse.

Ernfillan is located next to Crofts. Ernambrie is located next to both Crofts and Ernfillan.

Map of Crofts, Ernambrie and Ernfillan

It is possible that John, Thomas and Robert were the brothers of William and James.

William, who was described as a ‘youth’ may have been a younger sibling, He was shot at the time that John, Thomas and Robert were active in harbouring others or had been proclaimed as fugitives (June, 1683), as the dates for his death, either in 1682, or 15 March, 1684, fall before John, Thomas and Robert were relaxed.

All three, John, Thomas and Robert, appear on the published Fugitive Roll in May. All three of them were relaxed from their fugitive status after May and before the summons to the Kirkcudbright court was drafted in September. All three of them were also sought for ‘reset and harbour’ of fugitive Presbyterians, which is what the letter to Wodrow claimed that their mother’s house was suspected of.

2. That James and his brothers had a mother who was alive in December, 1684, probably a widow and had a different surname.

It is possible that James Graham’s mother was a dissenter, as she may have influenced her children’s dissenting views. The evidence of potential brothers who were dissenters, above, does make the scenario of maternal transmission of dissent more likely.

The obvious place to look for her would be at Crofts with James Graham. However, there is no trace of James Graham anywhere on the complete parish list of 1684, even though he existed and was described as being ‘in’ Crofts in October, 1684. That may suggest that the complete list of parishioners of 1684 was not so complete, or that it was composed after the capture of James Graham in early October.

On the list of dissenters in the parish of October, 1684, a ‘Margaret Mackharge in the Crofts’ is listed as one who ‘sometymes keep within the parish’ and as ‘altogether disorderlie’ by Alexander Burnett, the parish minister. (RPCS, IX, 574.)

Margaret McHarge was a dissenter and is found in the right location, However, her name does not appear on the complete parish list of 1684: On that list, the names of three women are listed without husbands as living at Crofts – Grisel and Janet Gordon, and ‘Marion Horrel, widow, ab[sent]’. It is possible that McHarge was married to one of the named men with unnamed wives on the complete list:

‘Robert Gordon and his wife and daughter, William MackComb, William Herning and his wife, ex.; John Hannah, Girsel Gordon, Janet Gordon, Marion Horrel, widow, ab[sent].’ (RPCS, IX, 583.)

It is possible, then, that the widow named Marion Horrel was the mother of James Graham. Or it is possible that McHarge does not appear on the complete list as she fled after the capture of James Graham?

Was Graham’s mother living with her other potential sons? On the complete list of 1684, there is no trace of a widow living with John Graham at Chapelerne.

Ernfillan, were two other possible sons had lived in May, 1684, may have evidence of a widow. A ‘Mareon Wilson in Ironphillan,’ and ‘Rosie Bel and her daughters in Ironphillan’ were listed there as disorderly in the Crossmichael parish list of dissenters of October, 1684. However, it is also possible that these women were the wives of the Grahams listed on the Fugitive Roll, or the unnamed wives and sisters of the other named residents of Ernfillan found on the complete parish list of 1684. When Thomas and Robert Graham appear on the complete list at Ernambrie Murray, their wives were with them, but there is no evidence of a widow in the household. (RPCS, IX, 574, 582.)

A further possible candidate for their mother’s house is Clarebrand. The phrase, ‘mother’s house’ may imply that she held the rights to the property. According to the fugitive roll of May, 1684, a ‘Mary Chalmers, liferentrix of Clairbrand’ had been declared a fugitive for ‘reset and harbour’. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 217.)

Map of Clarebrand               Street View of Clarebrand

In 1682, the lands of Clarebrand, like those of Crofts, were held by Robert Inglis of Chapelerne.

Clarebrand lies east along the road from Crofts. It is possible that James and William’s mother was the fugitive in Clarebrand.

However, on the complete list of parishioners of late 1684, ‘Clachbraine’ was occupied by ‘Archibald Charters and his wife, and good mother and good sister’. The Fugitive Roll’s ‘Chalmers’ may be the ‘good mother’ of Archibald Charters on the complete list, rather than the mother of Graham.

At present, it is not possible to identify the mother of the martyred Grahams.

Where does the contextual evidence of dissent leave us?

The evidence from Crossmichael parish suggests that James Graham, and by implication William Graham, if they were brothers, did have brothers who were fugitives and active in presbyterian dissent. Those brothers lived close to Crofts in 1684 and probably lived near their mother.

The implication of that information for the cases of William and James Graham, is that they came for a dissenting family in Crossmichael parish which was suspected of the reset and harbour of fugitives.

The raids on the Graham family appear to have killed William, forced John, Robert and Thomas to comply, and led to the capture and execution of James. The evidence suggests that those raids were probably targeted and not random acts of violence.

The family context also helps to challenge both the spin of Shields and Wodrow, and Napier’s claim that Shields and Wodrow had fabricated the evidence for the Killing Times.

The contextual evidence reveals Shields and Wodrow did not inform their readers about the activities of the brothers of the two martyrs or that those activities may have been why their mother’s house was targeted.

The contextual evidence also challenges Napier’s view. If Shield fabricated the evidence for the killing of William Graham, then he managed to place the killing in the context of a family of that surname in Crossmichael parish which took part in presbyterian dissent and did suffer the judicial execution of James Graham.

Was William Graham killed by government forces? Was the killing fabricated by Shields and Wodrow? And who was responsible for his death? You decide.

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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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 April 7, 2014.

6 Responses to “Who Shot William Graham? Claverhouse, the Killing Times and Crossmichael parish”

  1. oh for ten minutes in a time machine. You’ve looked at all the sides so brilliantly, everything that’s coming to the table here fabrication v fact, fact v fabrication) down to who was William Graham exactly… Just because a name draws a blank does not necessarily mean that person didn’t exist, given all the slips that way where names go. And there’s Queensberry coming into the mix. SO really, it’s ‘killing’ to say. But a great post.

  2. A minor point on Wodow’s date. Hewison gives it as 15th March, but the text above gives it variously as 15th, 17th, and 27th. Is 15th correct?

    My inclination would be to follow Wodrow’s version of events and to assume either that the soldiers were Claverhouse’s troop without Claverhouse, or that Claverhouse’s involvement in the capture of his brother James led to the confusion that Claverhouse was involved in William’s capture. One wonders with these accounts, how the people knew who the soldiers were anyway. Some soldiers turn up at a house, shoot the son of the house who is running away, and then disappear. A few eye-witnesses are then left to describe what happened, who fired the fatal shot, etc. There are no ballistics experts, and the witnesses saw things slightly different anyway. Then people like Defoe and Wodrow’s correspondent are reliant either on these eye-witnesses, or on people who have spoken to them, or on more remote sources, for their version of events. One can only go on probabilities in these circumstances.

    I would also favour Wodrow’s date of 1684. The gravestone looks like an ‘Old Mortality’ re-cut, and ‘Old Mortality’ may have amended a date of 1684 back to 1682 to fit in with ‘Cloud of Witnesses’. Shields is the main source for 1682, and he seems to have had fairly minimal information about the event, and may have been misinformed over the date or there may have been a copying mistake along the way.

    I think that it is a bit unfair on Shields to say that ‘The contextual evidence reveals Shields and Wodrow did not inform their readers about the activities of the brothers of the two martyrs or that those activities may have been why their mother’s house was targeted.’ Shields may not have known any more about the case than what he recorded. The fact that William was fleeing shows that he knew that the Government would regard him as guilty, and Shields does not hide this from the reader, with all its other possible implications. Surely Shields’ basic point, which the likes of Napier and Terry were so reluctant to concede, was that when soldiers are summarily executing their fellow countrymen in the fields, there is something fundamentally wrong with the government and judicial system of that country. Passing a law to make the executions legal does not really make them any better!

    • Enjoyed this, will think on it tomorrow. M

    • Thanks, I’ve corrected the dates to 15 March.

    • Hi Douglas,
      The problem with the date for the killing is that it comes before any possible corroborating sources post mid 1684. Shields placed it as the first death in the fields under a list entitled from 1682, so he dated the event to 1682 on two occasions. I guess that the implication of that is that Shields did not make a typographic error. He did not correct the date in his erratta.

      I am not really committed to either 1682 or 15 March, 1684, as a date. In some ways it does not matter, as it is still the first killing in the fields. However, if pressed, I would probably go for 1682, as Wodrow’s date is only recorded once, is mentioned in relation to a events in 1684 (‘this year’) and may be a slip of the pen.

      I can see your point about the recutting of the gravestone to read 1682, rather than 1684. However, in my view, the original stones nearly always closely followed Shields’ text, so it probably originally dated the killing to 1682.

      The early date for Graham’s death does impact on the legality of the killings, as it took place before the government approved the field killings.

      One other minor puzzle, is why Thomson’s later edition of Cloud added that William Graham was killed in ‘[Kells]’ parish.

      Earlier editions do not mention Kells so it must be an error.

      I suspect that 1682 may be the correct date, perhaps even on 15 March. That would place Claverhouse in the area, but not in charge of his troop. His surviving correspondence from that time does indicate that he sent out his troop to find fugitives, sometimes with his brother. William Graham may have been killed fleeing from the house when armed. The house was suspected of harbouring fugitives. The troops would have been justified in strking him down. The broad commission to Claverhouse to quell Galloway probably gave him the power to make sure the matter went no further.

  3. […] James Graham was hanged at the Gallowlee on 9 December, 1684. George Jackson, Thomas Wood and Thomas Robertson were hanged with him. James Graham’s brother, William Graham, was killed by Claverhouse’s troop of Horse in 1682. […]

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