The Highland Host at Hardhill and the Second Sight in 1678 #History


In his spiritual autobiography, James Nisbet vividly records the appearance the Highland Host at his father’s house near Newmilns, Ayrshire. The Highland irregulars were sent to encourage the Western whigs into conformity with the church settlement. Their presence did have some effect, but it also bred deeper resentment. Nisbet’s father, John Nisbet of Hardhill, had rebelled in the Pentland Rising of 1666 and both he and his family had suffered for it. However, after the initial searches for him, the authorities appear to have largely left him alone and he returned to Hardhill. Without doubt, John Nisbet was the kind of Western whig the government wished to force into conformity.

‘In the year 1678, there was a great host of Highlanders came down in the middle of the winter to the westren shires. The shire of Air was the centre of their encampment or cantooning, where they pillaged, plundered, theeved, and robbed night and day; even the Lord’s day they regarded as little as any other. At their first coming, four of them came to my father’s house [at Hardhill], who was overseeing the making of his own malt; they told him they were come to make the Fig (so they termed the Presbyterians) to take with God and the king. This they came over again and again. They pointed to their shoes, and said they would have the broge off his foot, and accordingly laid hands on him, but he threw himself out of their grips, and turning to a pitch-fork which was used at the stalking of his com, and they having their broadswords drawn, cryed, “Clymore,” and made at him; but he quickly drove them out of the kilne, and chaseing them all four a space from the house, knocked one of them to the ground.

Hardhill and Newmilns

The next day about twenty of them came to the house, but he not being at home, they told they were come to take the Fig and his arms. They plundered his house, as they did the house of every other man who was not conform to the then laws; and such was their theevish dispositions, and so well versed were they at the second sight, that, let people hide never so well, these men would go as straight to where it was, whether beneath the ground or above, as though they had been at the putting of it there, search for it, dig it up, and away with it.’ (Extract in McCrie, Lives of the Scottish Reformers, 501-2.)

James Nisbet’s account is intriguing for recording the Highlanders alleged gift for the second sight, an da shealladh, a belief that appears to have increased in popularity from the 1680s onwards. It is worth noting that the outlawed field preacher, Alexander ‘Prophet’ Peden, was also said to share that gift, Peden’s main support base was in the  remote glens of Carrick and Galloway, an area which probably had a very diminished Gaelic-speaking culture from the early seventeenth century. One wonders if stories of Peden’s second sight are a ripple from that Galloway Gaelic culture, which by the 1680s had almost completely died out.

In the following year, John Nisbet rebelled again.

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 October 31, 2015.

6 Responses to “The Highland Host at Hardhill and the Second Sight in 1678 #History”

  1. I am very doubtful about the survival of Gaelic in Galloway and Carrick into the seventeenth century. I think it was close to extinction by the early sixteenth century and gone before the reformation. See

    • A case well made. I have changed the text to reflect more the ambiguity over the survival of Gaelic in Galloway into the seventeenth century. I guess what I am interested in, in Peden’s case, is if the remote Galloway and Carrick glens were the stories of him emerged from in c.1710 to 1720 were influenced by their former Gaelic culture, rather than the use of the language. I wonder if the stories of his second sight are a reflection or ripple from that. There will be no way of proving that, so I’ve left it as a question for the reader. It is curious how Peden was so strongly remembered for his prophetic powers, in a way that Cameron, Cargill and Renwick were not. Do you know of any other Galloway second sight cases that might shed some light on that? I guess I’m curious to know if the Galloway context had some influence on the nature of the Peden stories.


  2. […] Wars. He had been left for dead on the battlefield of the Pentland Rising in 1666 and lived through the depredations of the Highland Host in 1678. In 1679, he rebelled […]

  3. I can’t think of any examples of second-sight off hand, but there is a rather pagan style superstitious tale associated with Samuel Rutherford when he was minsiter at Anwoth. [Rutherford also had a well named after him.

    “”There is another tradition,” says Dr. Murray, “connected with this period which cannot be passed over in silence. Between the Church of Anwoth and Skyreburn there is a level piece of ground on the farm of Mossrobin, where the people, in Rutherford ‘s days, were wont to assemble after sermon on Sabbath, and play at football; a practice the minister is said not to have denounced and condemned from the pulpit only, but, following them to the scene of their amusement, solemnly to have reproved them there, calling on the objects around him, particularly three large stones, to witness between them and him, that, however they might continue to behave, he had done his duty. Two of these stones still remain, and are known under the name of ‘Rutherford’s Witnesses.’ The history of the removal of the third is curious, and savours much of the superstitious feelings of that time. A person employed in building a fence wished to avail himself of these stones, when a fellow-labourer remonstrated with him on the subject, and warned him of the danger of laying a sacrilegious hand on objects so sacred. This warning he scornfully disregarded, and he removed one of them, uttering expressions little respectful to the earnest piety which had given them distinction. The result is said to have been such as had been feared. The man soon after came to a violent end, which was viewed as a judgment from heaven, in consequence of the alleged unhallowed and profane act of which he had been guilty. One report says that the person having declared, in answer to the warning he had received, that he would remove the stone ere he broke his fast, was choked with the first mouthful he attempted to swallow.” These stones still stand in the situation described, and the inhabitants continue to hold them in veneration.” From

  4. […] my father’s house’ i.e., at Hardhill in Loudoun parish, Ayrshire. Nisbet records a search of Hardhill by the ‘Highland Host’ in […]

  5. […] much-enduring veterans, who had brought from their Westland homes a hatred of the Highlanders sharpened by memories of the Great Raid, when for months the most barbarous and savage clans had been quartered on the West and South, till […]

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