The Sanquhar Declaration of 1680 was the explosive moment at which a new radical and militant presbyterian movement was born. Composed by Richard Cameron, it was proclaimed by an armed band at Sanquhar’s mercat cross on 22 June. It was an unwelcome surprise to the authorities and they threw all the resources that they had into tracking down the traitors behind it.
Like a meteor lighting up the firmament, Cameron’s campaign was brief. One month later he was dead, but the shockwaves from the Sanquhar event have reverberated for centuries.
Monument to the Sanquhar Declaration of 1680 © kim traynor and licensed for reuse.
When Cameron’s campaign began and how it developed is difficult to unravel. It appears to have begun at a field preaching with no fixed date at a mysterious location known as Swine Knowe in New Monkland parish, Lanarkshire.
Establishing a date for the Swine Knowe field preaching is not a simple task. It requires some historical detective work.
Patrick Walker gave the first and earliest account of the Swine Knowe preaching in his life of Richard Cameron in the 1720s:
‘After their Parting [post the Auchengilloch fast], Mr. Cameron had a publick, desirable, confirming and comforting Day (to the sweet Experience of some yet alive) at the Swineknow in Newmunkland in Clidsdale, upon that sweet, Soul-refreshing Text, Isa. 32. 2. And a Man shall be an hiding Place from the Wind, and a Covert from the Tempest, as Rivers of Waters in a dry Place, and the Shadow of a great Rock in a weary Land. In his Preface that Day, he said, he was fully assured, That the Lord, in Mercy to this Church and Nation, would sweep the Throne of Britain, of that unhappy Race of the Name of Stewart, for their Treachery, Tyranny, Leachery, but especially their usurping the royal Prerogatives of King CHRIST: This he was as sure of, as his Hand was upon that Cloth, yea more sure; for he had that by Sense, but the other by Faith.’ (Walker, BP, I, 199.)
What were Cameron’s movements before Swine Knowe?
The fragmented sources for where and when Cameron was before Swine Knowe are challenging to interpret, as the dates for the two key events in that period, the fast days at Darmead and Auchengilloch, are not completely secure. The key date for the Swine Knowe preaching is that it took place after the fast at Auchengilloch, which of the two key events mentioned appears to have the most reliable dating evidence. It also took place after Cameron and Donald Cargill had parted.
The Auchengilloch Fast
Maurice Grant’s biography of Cameron links the Auchengilloch fast to a letter from Cameron to Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun of Saturday 22 May that mentions a meeting on the Friday following, i.e., Friday 28 May. It was word of that rendevous, after it had taken place, that led to General Thomas Dalyell to write to the Earl of Airlie that he should ‘strive to get intelligence what the enemy’s rendezvous has been for’. (Letter from Dalyell to Airlie, Saturday 29 May, 1680. Quoted in Grant, Lion of the Covenant, 217, 319n.)
The date of Friday 28 May for the Auchengilloch fast day is relatively secure. However, what happened next is not clear.
Howie’s Shawhead or Walker’s Hyndbottom?
Grant states that Cameron immediately left the area around Auchengilloch for a field preaching at Shawhead on 30 May. However, some evidence clearly suggests that that preaching (which was at Hyndbottom in Walker) took place later on 11 July. In his discussion on the conflicting sources for the Shawhead and Hyndbottom preaching or preachings, i.e., those given by John Howie and Patrick Walker, Grant favours Howie’s date which was based on the internal evidence of the sermon, but suggests that there is ‘no compelling reason’ to discount Walker’s account as Cameron may have preached on the same text on two separate occasions. In my view, contextual evidence and a different reading of the evidence in the sermon favours Walker’s later date. An intelligence report from Robert Cannon of Mardrogat to Airlie of 11 July, also placed Cameron between Crawfordjohn and Roberton. Both Hyndbottom and Shawhead lie in Crawfordjohn parish. (Grant, Lion of the Covenant, 323n. Cannon’s intelligence quoted in Grant, 274, 323n.)
The Dating of Swine Knowe
Grant also places the preaching at Swine Knowe ‘on the Lord’s day after the publication of the Sanquhar Declaration’. The declaration was on Tuesday 22 June, placing the Swine Knowe preaching on Sunday 27 June, a week before the Gass Water preaching on 4 July.
However, Walker does not place the Swine Knowe preaching immediately after Sanquhar. He places it after Cameron and Cargill had parted post the Auchengilloch fast of 28 May and does not say if the Gass Water preaching on the 4 July was the next Sabbath: Walker only states that ‘He preached at the Grass-Water, near Cumnock, upon the Fourth Day of July’.
One reason why the Swine Knowe preaching is thought to be on the Sabbath after the declaration is that Howie of Lochgoin, writing in the late eighteenth century, placed it there. He told the same story about Swine Knowe as Walker, but framed it in a different context. Howie’s biographies were sometimes cut-and-paste jobs, rather than original source material. It was Howie, not Walker, who placed Swine Knowe in the context of the declaration and the proclamation issued after it.
Here is Howie’s version:
‘After several meetings among themselves, towards forming a declaration and testimony, they at last agreed upon one, which they published at the market-cross of Sanquhar, June 22, 1680; commonly called the Sanquhar Declaration. After this they were obliged to separate one from another, and go to different corners of the land: and that not only upon account of the necessity of the people, who were then in a starving condition, with respect to the faithfully preached gospel, but also on account of the indefatigable scrutiny of the enemy, who for their better encouragement, had, by proclamation, 5000 merks offered, for apprehending Mr. Cameron, 3000, for Mr. Cargill and Mr. [Thomas] Douglas, and 100 for each of the others, who were concerned in the publication of the foresaid declaration.’
He immediately followed that with an almost verbatim, recycled, version of Walker’s Life of Cameron text on Swine Knowe, which implies that Swine Knowe took place after the declaration or proclamation:
‘After parting, Mr. Cameron went to Swine-knowe, in New Monkland, where he had a most confirming and comforting day, upon that soul refreshing text, And a man shall be a hiding plact from the wind and a covert from the tempest. In his preface, that day, he said, he was fully assured that the Lord in mercy to this church and nation, would sweep the throne of Britain of that unhappy race of the name of Stuart, for their treachery, and tyranny, but especially their usurping the royal prerogatives of Christ; and this he was as sure of as his hands were upon that cloth, yea, and more sure, for he had that by sense, but the other by faith.’
Almost immediately after that, Howie inserted a passage based on another story found in Walker’s later ‘Vindication of Mr Cameron’s Name’, rather than from the Life of Cameron, the source for the Swine Knowe preaching. The story was about a Cameron house preaching in Cumnock parish. While Walker correctly placed in the story in early 1680, Howie set it after the Sanquhar Declaration of 22 June and before Cameron’s Gass Water field preaching ‘near Cumnock’ on 4 July. Howie effectively linked the Cumnock events together. In fact, the Cumnock house preaching and the Gass Water preaching took place months apart.
The end result of Howie’s cut-and-paste approach to the narrative is that the reader finds the Sanquhar Declaration is followed by the Swine Knowe preaching and then followed by the Gass Water preaching. Howie then confirms that chronology.
His account of the Gass Water preaching of 4 July was copied Walker’s Life of Cameron, but with one crucial difference. Howie adds the word “following” to the opening line of it, which implies that the Swine Knowe preaching took place on Sunday 27 June, a week before the Gass Water preaching:
‘Upon the 4th of July following, being eighteen days before his death, he preached at the Grass-water side near Cumnock…’
Howie’s patchwork narrative altered the context in which the Swine Knowe preaching had taken place from mid 1680 to 27 June, 1680. It is not a reliable source for the date of the Swine Knowe event.
When did Cameron field preach at Swineknowe?
In his account, Patrick Walker provides little in the way of direct dating evidence for when Cameron was at Swine Knowe. He simply informed his readers that after the fast day at Auchengilloch in Evandale parish with Cargill and Thomas Douglas at the end of May, ‘they were obliged to separate, and preach in different Corners of the Land’ due to the demand for their preaching. (Walker, BP, I, 198.)
We know that they had parted at the latest a day or two before the ‘Queensferry Incident’ on 3 June, in which Cargill was wounded and Henry Hall died of his wounds. A bandaged-up Cargill was barely fit enough to preach at Cairnhill (probably at Wolf Craigs) on 6 June, but then he disappears from the record, probably recovering from his wounds, until he preached with Cameron at the Kype Water on 18 July and, again, after Cameron’s death, at Starryshaw on 25 July.
After Auchengilloch, Cameron’s movements are also obscure. Possibly after Cargill and Cameron had parted at the end of May, Cameron and Douglas subscribed the bond before Sanquhar, as Cargill’s signature is missing from the bond. The bond probably hints at the general area where Cameron was in June, as it was mainly subscribed by individuals from the South West.
Cameron, Douglas and some who subscribed the bond were present at the proclamation of the Sanquhar Declaration on 22 June.
The action at Sanquhar brought the full force of the state down on them. On 30 June, a proclamation was issued that left no doubt that those behind the declaration would be pursued to death.
Soon after, military units were deployed into the area to capture Cameron. It was probably the pressures the proclamation unleashed that led to an acrimonious schism with the ranks of Cameron’s followers over whether they should confront their enemies like Gideon’s three hundred or not. As a result of those disputes, Douglas departed from Cameron’s band in early July and preached alongside John Hepburn, a more moderate preacher.
After the proclamation, Cameron and some followers – the size of his band appears to have varied – continued in the fields. He preached at the Gass Water on 4 July, in Carluke parish on 8 July, at Hyndbottom/Shawhead on 11 July and by the Kype Water with Cargill on 18 July, the latter just days before his death at the battle of Airds Moss.
The chronology, above, and Cameron’s movements clearly suggest that he probably preached at Swine Knowe at some point after Auchengilloch on 28 May and before the end of June. Five Sundays fell in that period: 30 May, 6 June, 13 June, 20 June and 27 June.
It is clear from what Walker reports about Swine Knowe that it was a significant event in the preaching of a new militant platform. Cameron was explicit in a way not seen before about foreseeing the downfall of Stuart monarchy:
‘In his Preface that Day, he said, he was fully assured, That the Lord, in Mercy to this Church and Nation, would sweep the Throne of Britain, of that unhappy Race of the Name of Stewart, for their Treachery, Tyranny, Leachery, but especially their usurping the royal Prerogatives of King CHRIST’.
The Swine Knowe preaching is clearly related to the Sanquhar Declaration, which forfeited Charles II and declared ‘war’ on the persecuting regime. Whether Swine Knowe was a prelude to, or a postscript to, the Sanquhar Declaration is not clear, but it obviously links in a direct way to developments after the Auchengilloch meeting and Cameron’s drafting of the Sanquhar Declaration.
It is tempting to imagine that Cameron had a draft manuscript of the Sanquhar Declaration in his pocket when he preached at Swine Knowe. Was Cameron giving his followers a sign of what was to come in the next few days or weeks? The evidence suggests that is a possibility, as it may have been preached before the Declaration. In that scenario, the historical significance of Swine Knowe increases, as it was the first public signal of a new militant platform. However, it also possible that it took place in the week after the Declaration, in which case, it was the first public preaching heralding the Declaration’s new militant platform.
Near Little Drumbreck © Raymond Okonski and licensed for reuse.
A Final Mystery: Where was ‘Swineknowe’?
One other frustrating mystery about Swine Knowe is that we do not know where it lay in New Monkland parish, Lanarkshire? The problem is that Swine Knowe does not appear on any recorded map of the parish, even though the placename was recorded (at least twice) in the early eighteenth century. If the habits of field preaching are any guide to its whereabouts, it probably lay in the east of the parish, where there is evidence of field preachings taking place close to the bogs around Caldercruix and the shire boundary near Black Loch. (See Little Drumbreck, Arnbuckle and Black Loch.)
Swine Knowe would remain a significant site for the Cameronian Society people. When John MacMillan launched his ministry among the “Continuing” Society people in late 1706, one of the first places he preached at was at Swine Knowe.
If anyone knows were Swine Knowe lay, please get in touch.
For more on the Covenanters in New Monkland parish, see here.
For more on Richard Cameron, see here.
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