McWhann’s Stone and a Covenanting Martyr of 1685 #History #Scotland
Twenty years ago, Thorbjörn Campbell first drew the attention of historians to an obscure feature in the landscape, McWhann’s Stone.
‘Nothing is known of Adam MacQwhan or McWhan [killed in 1685] beyond what is inscribed in his epitaph [on his gravestone at Kells churchyard]; it is not known whether the remote feature called McWhann’s Stone (NX 492 804; between Clatteringshaws Loch and Loch Dee) has anything to do with the martyrdom.’ (Campbell, Standing Witnesses (Edinburgh, 1996), 120.)
Today, the stone lies a short distance off of the Southern Upland Way.
Campbell’s mention of ‘McWhann’s Stone’ was an intriguing loose end, but at that time there was no evidence to connect it to Adam Macquhan, a martyr of the Killing Times. When I speculated about the possible significance of the stone four years ago, there was still no evidence to connect the stone to Macquhan. However, at that time, there was a good chance that some new evidence would appear in the near future, as it was clear that the Scotlandsplaces website was going to publish a transcription of the OS name book entry for McWhann’s Stone.
Composed in the mid nineteenth, the OS name book not only recorded objects named on the first OS map, it also sometimes recorded why they were so named.
Does it connect the stone to the martyr? The wait is over and it has.
It records the following about ‘McWhann’s Stone’ in Kells parish, Kirkcudbrightshire:
‘About 2½ S[outh].W[est]. of Clints of Clenrie A large Granite Stone about  feet high & on the farm of Mid Garrary. This Stone was a resorting place of for a man called McWhann who was persecuted for his adherants to Scotlands reformation hence the name.’ (OS Name Book, Kirkcudbrightshire, Vol. 32.)
The text in the OS name book links McWhann’s Stone to the martyred ‘Adam Macqwhan’ whose gravestone also states that he was killed for ‘HIS ADHERENCE TO SCOTLANDS REFORMATION’.
Two of the informants for that entry in the OS name book were the Reverend John Murray and the Reverend James Maitland. A few years earlier in 1832, a new monument to Adam McQuhan was dedicated ‘after Sermon by the Rev JAMES MAITLAND’ the minister of Kells parish. Maitland also published an account of Macquhan’s death in the New Statistical Account, Vol. 4, p112.
It is possible that people in Kells parish were using tradition to lay claim to “their” local martyr. Traditions often pulled unusual or romantic features in the landscape, like McWhann’s Stone, into stories of the Covenanters. However, it is also possible that the tradition offers a glimpse into what Macquhan did. We simply do not know how that tradition evolved.
Does the connection of the stone to Macquhan advance historical knowledge of the events in 1685? The discovery that tradition claims that the stone was a place where Macquhan resorted to adds a new fragment to the story of the martyr. However, traditions are rarely of any historical utility when it comes to the events of 1685.
In some measure, the tradition connected to the stone does contradict Wodrow’s version of events. The OS name book appears to indicate that Macquhan hid in, or resorted to, Kells parish, but Wodrow claims he was taken in a neighbouring parish and then brought to New Galloway in Kells parish.
According to Wodrow, ‘[Colonel Douglas] came into a house in some of the neighbouring parishes to the Newton of Galloway, found a religious good man, Andrew M’Quhan, lying very ill of a fever, and putting his questions to him, which he not being able, or it may be, unwilling to answer, he caused the soldiers who were with him take him out of his bed, and carry him with them to the Newton [of Galloway], and next morning shot him there, without any process or assize’. (Wodrow, History, IV, 251.)
Wodrow also neglected to mention that Macquhan was a fugitive evading capture. The OS name book entry implies that Macquhan may have been hiding in the wilds of the parish.
Like the stories of many other martyrs in Wodrow, his account of Macquhan omits inconvenient information about the martyr. Everything that Wodrow reports is possible and may well be true, but it neglects to inform the reader that Douglas probably had good cause to capture, and probably had valid grounds to execute, Macquhan. What to our eyes may look like deliberate omissions in Wodrow’s story of Macquhan are because some of the accounts he collected and published were primarily concerned with sufferings and martyrdom, rather than accurately reporting the causes for a summary execution.
As noted in a previous post, it is possible that MacQuhan was captured earlier than the date given by Wodrow. It is of interest that the stone is on a route of march which may have been taken by Douglas on the one day that he is known from government sources to have been in New Galloway in January, 1685. Had the tradition claimed that the stone was where Macquhan was captured, that would have given serious pause for thought with regard to where and when Macquhan was taken, but it does not make that claim.
In the end, the story behind McWhann’s Stone does not change our understanding of what took place in 1685. However, a lost fragment of tradition in the long history of the martyr and the people of Kells parish has been recovered.
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