Daniel Defoe on the Killing Times of 1685

Damiel Defoe

In 1717, Daniel Defoe, the journalist, novelist and spy, published a partial list of Covenanters summarily executed in the Killing Times. Defoe’s “list” was based either on the list found Alexander Shields’ A Short Memorial (1690), or on the transcription of that same list found in A Cloud of Witnesses (1714). A similar list derived from Shields was produced by George Ridpath in 1693.

It is clear that Defoe’s “list” was a rapid copy and summary of the Shields/Cloud list. It was a work of journalism and propaganda, rather than a work of scholarship. It is a problematic historical source for the Killing Times of 1685.

However, when one is familiar with Shield’s list, it is possible to identify which entries Defoe used and to fill in the names of the martyrs and military officers that he did not provide. That allows us to connect Defoe’s text back to the original events that he describes.

Defoe copied some of the errors found in Shields/Cloud. He also made some of his own.

His “list” does not include the two female Wigtown Martyrs, but in the same text he also published an account of their drowning. That may indicate that he used Cloud of Witnesses (1714) as his source text.

I have reformatted and added titles, dates and names etc. to Defoe’s text to make it easier to understand.

His text is as follows:

‘[John] Graham of Claverhouse, the same who was afterwards Viscount of Dundee, and was kill’d at the Fight at Gillicranky [in 1689], in King William’s time, was at this time a most furious Persecutor of these poor People; it was his Rage in falling upon one of their Field Meetings, where he met with a Repulse, was the Occasion and beginning of which the rising at Bothwell as have been shewed already. This Man is said to have kill’d above 100 Men in this kind of cold blood Cruelty; making it his business to follow, and pursue poor People thro’ the whole Country, and heaving at his Heels a Crew of Savages, Highlanders, and Dragoons, whose sport was in Blood, and whose Diversion was to haul innocent Men out from their Houses or hiding Places and Murther them; his Companion in this Work was Colonel James Douglass, since call’d Lieutenant General Douglass [under King William]. These two with their Men kill’d 28 Men in a very few Days, and at several places in the Shire of Galloway, most of them without the least Evidence of their being Guilty, all of them without any legal Prosecution, and some without so much as Examination.

[Mauchline parish, May, 1685.]
At their first coming down they found five Men in several Prisons, who had been committed by other Persecutors before their coming [i.e., Peter Gillies, John Bryce, William Finnieson, Thomas Young and John Brounen]: It seems somebody had maliciously told this Graham [of Claverhouse] that they were of the Whiggs that used the Field Meetings; upon which without any Oath made of the Fact, or any Examination of the Men, without any Trial or other Sentence, than his own command, his bloody Soldiers fetch’d them all to Mauchlin, a Village where his Head Quarters were, and hang’d them immediately, not suffering them to enter into any House at their coming, nor at the Entreaty of the poor Men. would permit One to lend them a Bible who it seems offered it, nor allow them a Moment to pray to God.

[Auchencloy, Girthon parish, December, 1684.]
Four more Men who were betray’d to him [i.e., to Claverhouse], being hid in a House at the Water of Dee and were at the Time his Men came praying together, he caused them to be drag’d just to the Door, and shot them Dead as they came out, without any Enquiry whether they were the Persons that he came to apprehend; their being found praying to God was it seems sufficient Testimony of their Party and Offence; after this, coming to the same Place, at two or three Days distance, and understanding the People of the Town had buried the Bodies, he caused his Men to dig them up again, and commanded that they should lye in the Fields: The Names of these four were John Grier, Robert Ferguson, Archibald Stuart* and Robert Stuart.

[* Defoe is the only source to name Archibald Stewart. Other sources name James McMichael as one of the dead.]

[Colmonell parish, 1685.]
At Camonel in the County of Carrick, he [i.e., Claverhouse,] saw a Man run hastily cross the Street before his Troop, and as he might suppose did it to escape from or avoid them, tho’ as the People of the Place related it, the poor Man had no Apprehensions of them, but as he took all Occasions for his bloody design, he commanded his Men to shoot this Person, without so much as Examining him, or asking who be was, the poor Mans Name was Matthew Mekellurat.

[Ingleston, Glencairn parish, April, 1685.]
The same Party having intelligence, that there were several of the Whiggs hid in a great Cave among the Hills of Glencairn, that the People resorted to them to pray together, and that several Women carry’d them Provision and Coal to bum to warm them, Col. [James] Douglass sent a small Party who surrounded the Hill, and drew five Men out of the Cave, it seems there had been near Fifty there just before having met to pray, but were separated again; had they been all there, Douglass had not had them so cheap, for being all Arm’d, it was likely they would have sent him back faster than he came, heaving but 18 Dragoons with him ; these five however, who it seems were betray’d by one Watson*, [>p87.] this Col. Douglass dragg’d out of the Cave and immediately shot them dead, not giving them time so much as to recommend their Souls unto God. The Names of the murther’d Men were, Robert Grierson, Robert Mitchel, James Bennoch, John Edgar, and John Gibson.

* Note, After the Revolution [at the end of 1688] this Watson who betray’d them was seiz’d by some of the Relations of these poor Men, and put in Prison at Drumfries, but they did not put him to Death as he deserved.

[Kirkconnel Martyrs, Tongland parish, February, 1685.]
The same wretched Gang [led by Robert Grierson of Lag?] coming to a House where they had been inform’d one Welch a Field preacher was harboured, or was to be found, they rushed violently into the House; but found not the Man they sought, neither indeed was he there; but they found five Men together, with the Women and Children of the Family all on their Knees at Prayers; whereupon without Examining any farther, they said it was a seditious Meeting which was forbidden by the Council, and thereupon instantly dragged out the Men and shot them to Death before the Door. [This entry probably describes the killings at Kirkconnel Moor of John Bell of Whiteside, James Clement, David Halliday in Mayfield, Robert Lennox of Irelandton and Andrew McRobert.]

[Lesmahagow parish, February, 1685.]
John Smith, was shot to Death by two Soldiers at Lismehago [i.e., Lt-Colonel Buchan and Cromwell Lockhart of Lee].

[Tarbolton parish, 1685.]
William Skillilaw, was shot by one Lieutenant Saunders in the River Air.

[Fenwick parish, November, 1685.]
John Ferguson, George Whiteburn, and Patrick Gemmil at Finnick by two Soldiers.

[Kelton parish, 1685.]
That murthering Persecutor Graham of Claverhouse [, an error by Defoe for Captain Thomas Douglas], seeing a Man riding by him on the way, called after him, and the Man not making answer, nor stooping his Horse, Graham caused one of his Soldiers to shoot him dead, as he rode along, whereas, upon Enquiry into the matter, it was found that the poor Man was Deaf and could not hear him call to him; the murthered Man’s Name was Robert Auchinleck.

[Muirkirk parish, 1685.]
William Adams, at the Wallwood in Kyle, going along the way, and seeing some Soldiers at a Distance, hid himself in a Thicket thinking to shun them, but being discover’d by the Soldiers, they instantly shot him without so much as asking his Name, or enquiring after any other Guilt, than his shunning to meet them.

[Borgue parish, 1685.]
Capt. [Thomas] Douglass seized a Taylor [called Robert M’Whae] and shot him dead, only because he had some small Pieces of Lead about him, such as the Taylors put in the Sleeves of Women’s Clothes;

[Barr parish, February, 1685.]
and another of that persecuting Family of the Douglass [an error for Cornet James Dundas, who was listed as Douglas in a typesetting error in Shields], shot [Edward McKean] on no other pretence than because he had a Flint in his Pocket; these things it seems they call’d Ammunition:

[Dailly parish, 1685]
At another House he [i.e., Cornet Dundas] shot a Man [i.e., John Semple] because he attempted to escape from him, tho’ he had no Knowledge of the Man or any Charge against him.

[Dailly parish, 1685; Evandale parish, 1685.]
Several were kill’d in the dark, being shot by they knew not who, or for what; [e.g. John McLorgan and William Paterson]

[Cumnock parish, Summer, 1685; Eaglesham parish, 1685.]
the Highlanders shot Men for their Sport without asking them any Questions, and answer’d that they could not mistake for all the Country were Rebels. [They were Joseph Wilson, David Dun, Simon Paterson, John Jamieson and John Umphrey. Also Robert Lockhart, and Gabriel Thompson.]

Most of these mentioned above, were massacred in the Year 1685, and in one Count, besides many more in all parts of the West Country; the Dragoons patrol M all over the Country, by Night as well as by Day, so thut the distressed People who lay hid in the Mountains, could not come down to the Houses of their Friends in tiie Night, as they usually did for Succour, and so retreat again in the Morning before Day; but now they got no Liberty to come down, but at the utmost hazard; so that their Wives and Children, or Relations, and sometimes Charitable and Compassionate Christian Friends, jirent to them to the Hills, and to the Caves and Holes in the Earth, where they were harboured, to carry them Necessaries and Relief, and without which they must have perished, for meer want of Food; and notwithstanding which they endured in those vast and desolate Hills, inexpressible hardships, extremities of Cold, without Covering, without Shelter, without Fewel in the deepest of Winter, and often without Food and without Light: A List of Threescore and Eighteen Men by Name has been published [by Alexander Shields in A Short Memorial (1690) / Cloud of Witnesses (1714)], who were massacred by the Persecutors named above, and of whom some of those named here were a Part, but the Number who were thus hunted down and Murther’d by the Highlanders, and the Dragoons, in the whole Country, is not to be reckoned up, and is indeed Incredible.’ (Defoe, Memoirs of the Church of Scotland, 86-7.)

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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

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~ by drmarkjardine on September 18, 2015.

4 Responses to “Daniel Defoe on the Killing Times of 1685”

  1. […] * Mark Jardine – Mostly about the Covenanters, but again, a good place to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. He finds items of historical interest in unglamorous places such as Shotts and Lesmahagow. Not quite in the range of this blog, but certainly some of the material deals with the Old Town and the Pentlands too. See -> Jardine’s Book of Martyrs […]

  2. […] It was not based on George Ridpath’s list of 1693. Cloud was probably the source for Daniel Defoe’s list of 1717. […]

  3. […] 1717, Daniel Defoe recycled Shields’ account to create a longer version of the […]

  4. […] Shields’ list was more or less reproduced by the Cameronians in Cloud of Witnesses in 1714. It was also recycled by George Ridpath in An Answer to the Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence of 1693. Shields and/or Cloud of Witnesses were also the source for Daniel Defoe’s “list” published in 1717. […]

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