The Pentland Rising and the Killing of David Finlay at Newmilns in 1666 #History

At the beginning of his spiritual autobiography, James Nisbet recalls how his father, John Nisbet of Hardhill, took part in the Pentland Rising and what impact that had on his mother, Margaret Law, at their home near Newmilns in Ayrshire.

Hardhill and Newmilns

‘I was born in the month of Feberuary, 1667, of parents both of them realy and eminently religious; but the times were extreamly unhappy, because of ane ilegal, tyrannical, prelatical persecution, begun and carried on by Charles the Second, Middlcton and Lauderdale, in the state, and treacherous, perfiduous Sharp, and some others, in the church. Because of which, though my parents were persons of considerable worldly substance, yet they could not get the benefit of school education for their children, and so I got little or none but what I acquired at mine own hand when under my hideing. For before I was bom, my father, with others, being set on by the enemy at Pentland-hills, [in November] 1666, when they wore standing up in defence of the gospel, and was by the enemy routed, and many of them slain, and my father received wounds, but, lying close among the dead till night, got of with life.’

General Thomas Dalyell

General Thomas Dalyell, Government Commander in the Pentland Rising.

‘The enemy came to his house in quest of him, but missing him, they held a drawn sword to my mother’s breast, who had me in her belly, threatening to run her through unless she would discover her husband. She weeping, told them, that for any thing she knew, he was killed, (for she had heard that it was so,) and that she had not seen him; so they took what made for them in the house, and went off. But some days after, getting notice that he was still alive, they returned with greater fury then before, and threatened her with present death, first with a drawn sword at her breast, and also with a bended pistol; and, contrair to all law divine and humane, they dragged her alongst with them with a burning candle in her hand, through all the rooms of the maine house, and then through all the office-houses, they still rageing with their drawn swords and bended pistols; but, after all their search, they missing my father, beat the servants, to strike the greater terrour on my mother to tell where her husband was; but she could not. Then they took a young man, called David Finlay, alongst with them to where their chief commander lay, called General [Thomas] Dalziel. He caused the said David Finlay to be shot to death in less than half anc hour’s warning, and carried away all my father’s stock of moveablc effects, which was considerably great; and for half a year there was hardly a day ever passed but they were at the house, either in the night or day, in search of my father.’ (Extract in McCrie, Lives of the Scottish Reformers, 501.)

James Nisbet’s spiritual autobiography is not the only source for Finlay’s death.

In 1680, Donald Cargill delivered up to Satan, ‘[Thomas] Dalziel of Binns, for his leading armies, and commanding the killing, robbing, pillaging, and oppressing of the Lord’s people, and free subjects of this kingdom; for executing lawless tyrannies and lustful laws; for his commanding to shoot one [David] Findlay at a post at Newmills, without any form of law, civil or military (he not being guilty of anything which they themselves accounted a crime);’

In 1693, George Ridpath stated that ‘One [David] Finlay shot at Belmoynock, by General Dalzel’s orders, because he could not discover who was in arms at Pentland, Anno 1666.’

It is not clear where ‘Belmoynock’ lay, but the other sources all state that Finlay was shot at Newmilns.

In 1717, Daniel Defoe, who had an eye for good propaganda, also produced an account of Finlay’s death:

‘Lest I may be thought to do this General Dalziel an injury, and record of him any thing, which was not suitable to the rest of his practice; who, if fame belies him not, was a man as void of humanity;, as most that ever heaven permitted to live. I say, that I may not wrong him, I shall give the following brief account of an action of his, or a specimen of his compassionate temper, by which the character of the man may be guest at without breach of charity. It was soon after the rising at Pentland [in 1666], when he had been sent into the Shire of Air, to make search for, and put to death such of the poor people as he could find were in the said rising. He sends a Lieutenant with a party of men to New Mills, and order’d them to seize and bring to him an honest poor man, whose name was [David] Finlay, and who was peaceably living in his own house, nor had he been at all in arms.- When his men brought the prisoner to him he examin’d him privately, no witness being by; and with a kind of civility, unusual to him, whether he had been at Lanerck with the Rebels? The Man answer’d, he was at Lanerck upon his private business when their army came thither; and told him what his business was, offering to prove the truth of it; and declared, that he was not in arms, or had any weapon with him: Neither did he go among them: Then he ask’d him if he remembred any of those he saw among them, and who they were? The man declar’d he did not;. whereupon he calls for the Lieutenant, and order’d him to carry that man to the gallows, and have him shot to death: For that he had confest he was with the Rebels. The poor man being brought to the place in a great hurry and surprize asks the Lieutenant, if the General was in earnest; the Lieutenant said he feared he was. However being a civil man, and loth to execute such a cruel commission, and the poor man protesting his innocency, and entreating him as a Christian, that at least he might have a reprieve for that night, that he might prepare for death and eternity. The Lieutenant, I say, upon this goes back to the General, and laying before him the poor man’s case, entreated him to grant him a few hours time to prepare for death: But the General flying out in a rage at the Lieutenant, and with horrid oaths and blasphemies commands him to return, and tells him he would teach him to obey his orders after a better manner, than to come back and make himself an advocate for rebels: Upon this, the Lieutenant went back directly to the man, and immediately shot him dead upon the spot.’ (Defoe, Memoirs of the Church of Scotland, 215-17.)

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.

5 Responses to “The Pentland Rising and the Killing of David Finlay at Newmilns in 1666 #History”

  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] in both the latter stages of the Thirty Years’ War and the British Civil 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. […] Shields’ A Short Memorial of 1690, which did not record Davie’s death. Ridpath also added the death of David Finlay (d.1666) in a similar way. The deaths of Davie and Finlay both predate the 1682 start date of the list in […]

  4. […] M’Kay’s account of Finlay’s death has also, on occasion, caused later histories to confuse Finlay’s alleged death with the earlier shooting of ‘[David] Finlay’ by General Thomas Dalyell at Newmilns. The execution of ‘—— Finlay’ was mentioned by Donald Cargill in 1680, Daniel Defoe in 1717 and James Nisbet. It plainly took place 1666, rather than 1685. […]

  5. […] David Finlay was shot ‘at Belmoynock’ near Newmilns, Loudoun parish, in December, 1666. No grave is known. General Thomas Dalyell, who is said to have […]

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