Claverhouse’s Raid on Mitchellslacks
Simpson published the following traditional story in 1856, a few years after his Traditions of the Covenanters had been published. The story allegedly relates to a raid by John Graham of Claverhouse on Mitchellslacks in August, 1685.
‘Sufferings Of The Family Of Harkness, Of Mitchelslacks.
Notwithstanding all that has been done to resuscitate the memories, and record the sufferings of the Covenanters, there are still thousands of those who suffered and fell in the noble struggles of the seventeenth century whose names have been forgotten in the lapse of time, and over whose final resting-place no monument has been raised, not even the “rude cairn,” to tell that a saint and a patriot was buried there. With mingled feelings of emotion and delight, we have visited those scenes in the western shires, which still bear the marks of the bloody contests between truth and error, liberty and despotism; and participating in the sympathies of “Old Mortality,” we have sought to renew those time-worn memorials which the hands of some pious peasant may have raised to perpetuate the honourable fall of a departed sire. Nor have our sympathies been less awakened by the touching narrative of some hapless wanderer, but still to memory dear, who had perished amid the snows of winter, while hiding from the persecutor, or by the hand of some bloody dragoon.
It is with kindred feelings that we now devote a page in honour of one of those persecuted families who suffered in that dark period of Scottish history; and although at the risk of sharing with them the reproach of bigotry and fanaticism, we will never cease to venerate the memories and defend the principles of those who, under the blessing of God, were the means of preserving to our country those precious privileges, civil and religious, which we now enjoy.
The family of Harkness has been upwards of four hundred years tenants on the farm of Queensberry, and have occupied the residence known by the name of Mitchelslacks, on the banks of Caple, in the shire of Dumfries.’
‘The district is wild and mountainous, but rich in that species of grandeur which pleases most the student of nature, and furnishes abundant scope for the pencil of the artist. There the “Queensberry” raises its sombre majestic form, and constitutes a bold feature in nmny of the fine scenic views of the county; and while situated amid a congeries of noble heights, sovereign-like, it tops them all; hence its name, the “Queen hill of the district.” It was in such localities as these where the genuine sons of Scotland have been reared. Like the flowers on their native mountains, they grew up, happily, unacquainted with many of those evils which contaminate more refined society, and early and deeply drank from the fountainhead of divine truth, those precious principles which murk the true Christian and patriot here, and fit him for the enjoyments of heaven hereafter. And it was in these remote districts where multitudes of God’s persecuted people sought refuge from their enemies, and where they often heard with unutterable joy, the word of God
“By Cameron thundered,
Or by Rcuwick poured in gentle stream.”
It was on an afternoon in the month of August, that a troop of horsemen were seen crossing the Glassrig, a flat and heathy moor, and learing down with great speed on the house of Mitchelslacks. Mrs Harkness had been recently delivered of a child, and still occupied her bed, in what was called the “inner ch’amer.” Her husband, the object of pursuit, had been duly warned of the coming danger by one of those wonderful incidents of Providence, so apt to be attributed to chance or superstition, rather than to the orderings of Him who has all creation, animate and inanimate, at his call. Tradition has it, that a bird of singular plumage appeared at the window whenever danger threatened the family of Harkness by the approach of the merciless soldiery, and in this way his life was frequently preserved, and his enemies foiled in their wicked design. In this instance, he was duly warned by the little unconscious messenger, and he betook himself to his usual hiding-place in the neighbouring mountain. From a cleft in the brow of a rocky precipice, totally inaccessible save to a practised foot, he could see his own dwelling, and mark the movements of his bitter foes. The troopers, as usual, having surrounded the house, placing a guard at each door and window, besides a sentinel on an adjoining eminence to give alarm in case of escape, they proceeded to search the house, which they did with brutal rudeness and incivility. Even the children did not escape the barbarous treatment they bestowed on the inmates. After searching every corner and crevice of the house in vain, these monsters in human form had the cruelty to interfere with the bed in which the sick mother and new born child were laid. Privacy or infancy was nothing to them; and thrusting his sword in to the hilt, hetween mother and infant, [John Graham of] Claverhouse exclaimed, “The old fox is here ;” and such was the violence with which he struck, that his sword was transfixed in the floor below.
“Toss out the whelp,” cried out “Red Rob,” one of the leaders, always forward on such occasions, and suiting the action to the word, he dragged the unconscious babe down on the floor.
“The Lord preserve my poor child,” was the instinctive exclamation of the agonized mother, and at the same moment sprung from her bed to shield it from the violence of the ruffians; but thanks to a kind providence, it had sustained no injury.
The mother then gave vent to her impassioned feelings, forgetting how much she and her family were at the mercy of these merciless dragoons: “Agents of Satan and enemies of God,” she exclaimed, “begone! he whom ye seek is not here, nor will the God whom he serves, and whom ye defy, ever suffer him, I fervently trust, to fall into your unhallowed hands.”
At this instant, a boy about twelve years of age was dragged into the room, and questioned as to the place of his father’s concealment; but neither coaxing nor threats could extract a word that would lead to the capture of his parent; to every interrogation he presented a determined silence.
“Have the bear’s cub to the croft,” said Claverhouse, “and shoot him on the spot.”
The boy was immediately carried off by the soldiers, leaving the mother, happily for herself, in a state of insensibility. There was then growing in the garden of Mitchelslacks a Rowan tree, and which is standing to this day. To this tree was the boy fastened with cords, his eyes bandaged, and there told, that if he did not reveal his father’s hiding-place, a ball would instantly pass through his brain.
The boy shivered, attempted to speak, sunk, and gathered strength alternately, but remained silent.
“Do you wish to smell gunpowder,” vociferated Red Rob, firing a pistol immediately under his nose?
The boy uttered a loud and unearthly scream, and his head sunk on his breast, although uninjured by the shot. At this moment, the aroused and horrified mother was seen on her bended knees, with clasped hands and staring eyes, in which distraction rioted, at the feet of the destroyers. But nature, which had given her strength for the effort, now deserted her, and she fell as dead at the feet of her apparently murdered son.
This touching scene seemed to produce a shade of remorse even in the breast of Claverhouse himself, and he had just given the order to march, when the husband and the father rushed into the circle, under the influence of mingled emotions of the utmost intensity. He had observed from his hiding-place the deeds of that fearful hour, and believing that he was purchasing his own safety at the cost of the lives of his whole family, he had therefore issued from his “cave,” hurled himself down the dangerous precipice, and was now in the midst of those whom he deemed the murderers of his wife and children.
“Ye bloody and heartless fiends, and agents of the wicked one,” exclaimed Harkness, “would not the life of one sacrifice to Moloch satiate your thirst, that you must also imbrue your hands in the blood of a helpless and infirm woman? And O! thou man of blood,” turning to Claverhonse, “think, think ye not that the blood of godly John Brown [in Priesthill], of my beloved wife and darling child, besides that of many more of the saints of God, will be fearfully required at your hands?”
Having uttered these words with awful energy, he was on the point of drawing his sword, which was concealed under his coat, determined to sell his life as dearly as possible, when his wife, being now restored to her consciousness, flew to restrain him, and crying, “O Thomas! beware; why are you here? We are all alive; but oh! you, into what hands yon have fallen, and to what an end you are now reserved!”
“Unloose the band,” vociferated Claverhonse, “make fast your prisoner, and in the devil’s name have done with this drivelling!”
There was at that time a small public-house at Closeburn Mill, in the immediate neighbourhood, to which Claverhouse and his party at once repaired with their prisoner, and to get refreshment.’
‘Harkness was secured in an adjoining barn, till the dragoons were ready for their march. Being thus loft alone, he began to devise means for his escape. A sentinel had been placed on the door, which prevented all egress by it, without incurring the almost certain risk of being captured. The construction of the barn was, however, providentially known to him, and, favoured by the gloom of the evening, which was now setting in, he commenced to perforate the gable wall, the upper part of which was built of turf, as was frequently the case at that period, and working with that desperation which a man will do when his life is at stake, in a short space of time he effected a sufficient breach to permit him to pass. A “peat-stack” had been built to the gable wall, which aided his descent; and in a few minutes Harkness was bounding over the rugged country towards Crichope Linn, with which, alas! he was too well acquainted.’
On the OS map the waterfall is called “Chrichope Linn”, but it is nearly always named Crichope Linn.
‘From some cause, his escape became almost immediately known to Claverhonse. The party was turned out to the chase; stones were rolled over the adjoining precipices; but all in vain. Under the covert of the shades of night, and favoured by the broken ground, he soon reached a place of safety.
The following day, Claverhouse was called off to Lanarkshire on similar business. In a short time, Thomas Harkness returned to his family and home, and although long kept in a state of deep anxiety for his personal safety by the emissaries of a persecuting government, he lived to see happier days for Scotland, and finished his earthly pilgrimage surrounded by a happy and affectionate family, and deeply beloved by a large circle of pious friends.
The godly man of whom we have given this brief account, had many honourable companions to share and sympathise with him in his tribulations. Among these were John Brown, the Christian carrier, [in Priesthill] whose tragic end by the hand of Claverhouse [on 1 May, 1685] is well known to all the readers of ecclesiastical history; Daniel M’Michel of Dalzien, on the water of Scarr, who was dragged from a cave in a fever, and shot by Captain [John] Dalzell in Dalveen Pass, near Durrisdeer; James Harkness of Locherben [actually Thomas Harkness in Locherben], Andrew Clerk of Leadhills, and Samuel M’Ewing of Glencairn, who were apprehended by Claverhouse and his soldiers when scouring thc district of Nithsdalc [in 1684]. Worn out by exposure and fatigue, these threc worthy men had laid themselves down to sleep on the lands of Sorgfoot, in the parish of Closeburn, and in this helpless state did these “beasts of prey” fall upon them. They were immediately carried off to Edinburgh, tried and condemned to death, and on the same day [15 August, 1684] scaled with their blood the noble testimony they had given for the public cause of Christ.
We count it an honour to record the names and the sufferings of these worthy men, as we account it our high privilege to be witnesses with them in the same cause. There are many, however, of whom no memorial has been preserved to call up our sympathy and gratitude; but the loss is ours, not theirs. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance, and in the great day they will be found among those “who came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”’ (Original Secession Magazine 1854-1856, II, 156-60.)
Simpson’s story was based on Wodrow, who told the same story without identifying who was involved. Wodrow’s version dates the story to earlier in the year. The letters of Claverhouse prove he was in the general area between May and 3 July, 1685.
According to Wodrow, the boy confessed what information he knew to Claverhouse:
‘In the parish of Closeburn, [John Graham of] Claverhouse with a party came to a country man’s house, upon some information given him against the man. It was little wonder people fled at this time, when by any means they could. Thus the whole family, getting some notice that the soldiers were near by, fled, leaving a child of eight or nine years of age in the house. Claverhouse finding he was the man’s son, and that by fair means he would answer no questions, shot one of his pistols at some distance from him. The child stood firm, and would answer no questions. Then he shot another pistol very near his head, which terribly frighted him; and at length he told them all he knew anent his father, the family, and neighbours. According to the informations thus gotten, he sent his parties up and down the country in quest of such as escaped him. Thus he continued until [the Earl of] Argyle’s defeat [in mid June, 1685], exercising all manner of severities, driving thousands of kine and sheep from Eskdale, and the adjacent country. After the earl was taken, he went into Edinburgh to the council, and boasted of the mighty feats he had done in the south.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 256.)
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