The Killing of William McKergur at Blairquhan Mill in 1685

In the light of experience and potential new evidence, it is well worth taking a second look at the killing of William McKergur, one of the most obscure martyrs of the Killing Times of 1685. Almost nothing was recorded about him beyond the bald fact that he was killed by Sir Archibald Kennedy of Culzean and the heritors of the Ayrshire militia at Blairquhan Mill at some point in 1685.

IBlairquhan Straiton Bennan
Blairquhan Castle (called Whiteford), Blairquhan Mill to the east, Straiton Kirk south-east of the mill and the farm of Bennan to the south of the kirk.

His case was discussed in a previous post, but let us take second look.

Unlike nearly all the other martyrs of that time, McKergur’s grave is not known and no tombstone was erected to him. Today, almost uniquely, he still does not have a monument to his death.

The only source that recorded his death was Alexander Shields in 1690:

‘The Laird of Culyean, for that time Captain of a Troup of Militia and Heretors, killed William McKergur at Blairquhan Milne, Anno, 1685. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 38.)

In 1691, the journalist, George Ridpath, recycled Shields’ text, but he also altered it: ‘The laird of Culyan, with a troop of horse, killed William Mckergour, at Blairquhan-mill, anno 1685’. (Ridpath, An Answer to Presbyterian Eloquence, 42.)

Ridpath probably meant the mounted militia and heritors commanded by Culzean, rather than an army detachment of horse.

The site of his killing at Blairquhan Milne, is Milton, a water mill that belonged to the Blairquhan estate in Straiton parish, Carrick.

Map of Milton

He was probably killed between late May and mid July, as Culzean, with John Reid of Ballochmyle who probably served in the militia force of heritors, also killed Gilbert MacAdam in neighbouring Kirkmichael parish in July. Once mustered, the irregulars of the militia usually only stayed in the field for a few weeks, but the emergency over the Argyll Rising may have extended that period.

The castle or tower at Blairquhan, which lies just to the west of the mill, had been the home of John Whiteford, younger of Blairquhan, who had been involved in the Bothwell Rising in 1679.

For much of early 1685, Blairquhan Castle was a garrison under the command of Cornet James Dundas of Gosford’s troop of dragoons.

In mid 1684, Dundas and his detachment of dragoons had been based at Sorn Castle, but by early 1685 the garrison had been taken over by Inglis’ troop of dragoons under Lieutenant Lewis Lauder.

It appears that Dundas was redeployed south to garrison Blairquhan. Later, at some point between February and November, 1685, the privy council ordered ‘Cornett Dundas to continue his partie of sojours at the house of Balqhane [i.e., Blairquhan] till further ordor, the principall ordor being transmitted to him.’ (RPCS, XI, 21.)

During the Killing Times in Carrick, Dundas was involved in the deaths of Edward McKean in February, John Semple in April and, perhaps, Thomas (or John) McLorgan at around the same time.

He then disappears from the sources until he received a promotion to lieutenant of a different company of dragoons on 7 November. (Dalton, Scots Army, 144, 145.)

It is possible that the further order to redeploy Dundas and his detachment away from Blairquhan arrived as a result of the Argyll Rising, that began in mid May. The arrival of Lieutenant-General William Drummond in around June in the area where Dundas operated my have been a factor in the redeployment of Dundas. In late May, Carrick was said to have offered significant support for Argyll if he landed there. The local intelligence held by Dundas may have been of use to Drummond as he quelled Carrick. However, it is not known where Dundas went. What is perhaps clearer is that Culzean and the militia may have filled the void once Dundas had left Blairquhan, as they killed McKergur on the doorstep of Blairquhan and MacAdam in the neighbouring parish


Bennan © Oliver Dixon and licensed for reuse.

New Evidence
The recent transcription of the Hearth Tax records of Carrick for 1695 may offer a new insight into the killing of McKergur. The Hearth Tax rolls recorded the names of head of households, usually men. Fortunately, the surname McKergur, or McKergour, was a rare one in Carrick. There are only three individuals called ‘McKergour’ listed on the rolls.

Two of them are listed under Kirkmichael parish, which lies beside Straiton parish were McKergur was killed: ‘John McKergour In balochrone’ and ‘David McKergour In Walkmilne’. The other victim of Culzean, Gilbert MacAdam, was shot in Kirkmichael parish.

The other is ‘Petter McKergour th[e]r[e] [i.e., in Bennan]’ in Straiton parish. Bennan lies next to the Miln of Blairquhan were ‘William McKegur’ was killed.

Map of Bennan in Straiton parish

That may mean that McKergour was from Straiton parish, or perhaps from Kirkmichael parish. He appears to have been from the locality, rather than a wandering fugitive. He was killed near Bennan, which was occupied by one of his probable kin. Fugitives were often killed near their homes. McKergur may have lived at Blairquhan Mill or somewhere else nearby. The link between the McKergour name and the parishes of Straiton and Kirkmichael, and the claim that Culzean and the militia killed men in the same parishes, may indicate that the deaths of Gilbert Macadam and William McKergur were connected events.

There is an interesting gravestone in Kirkmichael churchyard, the Waulk Miller’s Stone, to a John McKergor (d.1737), who shared a similar name and potentially trade with the dead Covenanter.

For more on the Covenanters in Straiton parish, see here.

Return to Homepage

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or other social networks or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine


~ by drmarkjardine on July 16, 2015.

3 Responses to “The Killing of William McKergur at Blairquhan Mill in 1685”

  1. […] For an update on McKergur’s case, see here. […]

  2. […] The killing of MacAdam may be linked to that of William MacKergur. […]

  3. […] McKergur was killed at Blairquhan Mill by Archibald Kennedy of Culzean and his militia troop probably at some point between late May and July, 1685. The killing of McKergur by Culzean was […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: