The Covenanters of the Killing Times and Their Graves: Part 1 #History #Scotland

When were the gravestones to the martyrs of the Killing Times erected? Or more accurately, when were they first recorded in a historical source?

This study looks at the recording of the gravestones of those who were summarily executed in the fields between 1682 and 1688 in historical sources.

Tables of Killing Times Graves in PDF format

It does not list all the graves published in tomes such as Cloud of Witnesses or The Martyr Graves of Scotland. It does not include the graves of minsters and others who either died in prison, or of natural causes. It does not include memorials to those who were subject to execution after a formal judicial process in Edinburgh or Glasgow. It does not include gravestones dedicated to those who died as a result of the Pentland Rising in 1666, the Bothwell Rising of 1679 or at Airds Moss in 1680. Why? Because this study targets the relationship between the historical sources for the Killing Times, in particular Alexander Shields’s A Short Memorial of 1690, and when the gravestones for the dead of the Killing Times were recorded.

This study will be posted in two parts. This first part deals with the two main historical sources for the Killing Times and when the gravestones for the dead were recorded. The second part examines what the relationship between the historical sources and the graves tells us about those sources.

This study adopts a fairly broad definition of what constitutes “The Killing Times”, a period that has several possible definitions and time frames. In a previous post, I listed 85 deaths with historical evidence for the Killing Times using a time frame between 1682 and July 1685. If one adopts a stricter definition for the Killing Times, i.e., that it was the intense period of summary field executions and shootings between December 1684 and July 1685, then four of those deaths are removed from that tally on the grounds that they were not killed in the fields or fall out with the period. That leaves 81 field deaths which can be attributed to the “classic” phase of the Killing Times.

In this post, I have expanded the time frame to 1688, as my previous list had excluded sporadic deaths in the fields that took place after the “classic” phase of the Killing Times, i.e., later in 1685, 1686, or 1688. Those deaths are numbered 86 to 91 in this post.

I have also added two deaths to the list, those of William Harvie in 1682 and John Nisbet in 1683, as they were not hanged in Edinburgh or Glasgow. Whether they count as field deaths may be doubtful, but as they had gravestones erected to them, they have been included as numbers 92 and 93 in this post.

As usual, I have excluded the “martyrs of tradition”, i.e., those for whom there is no historical evidence as they were only recorded in unreliable nineteenth-century traditions. A handful of them have memorials, but every one of those memorials was erected in the mid Nineteenth Century or later.

In total, 93 “field” deaths were recorded, either in published Presbyterian sources, or on gravestones, for the period between 1682 and 1688.

The vast majority, 92 (or 99% of the 93) were recorded either in the list published by Alexander Shields in A Short Memorial (1690), or in the second volume of Robert Wodrow’s History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland (1722). In a few cases, their listing in those sources was in an indirect fashion, i.e., it was reference to the numbers who died at a location or contained naming errors.

When broken down by the two key historical sources, Shields listed 80 deaths (or 86% of the total) and Wodrow identified 78 deaths (or 84%). In three cases marked with a “○”, Wodrow listed them, either under the wrong name, or possessed evidence in manuscript that he did not use, or mentioned them in Analecta. The only death which was not mentioned by Shields and Wodrow was that of John Law (49), who died attacking the Ducat Tower in Newmilns. His grave was first recorded in 1741.

It is clear that both Shields and Wodrow are not comprehensive sources for all the deaths of the Killing Times when looked at in isolation. It is only when those sources are brought together and compared with the record of known graves that a comprehensive picture of the Killing Times emerges.

Of the 93 deaths, 89 (or 96%) either have, or had, a grave marker. The four martyrs without any record of a marked grave are:

James McMichael (4), whose body is said to have been exhumed and exhibited on a gallows in 1685.
William Auchenleck (18), an innocent deaf man who was shot on the road.
John Smith (52), whose death near Newmilns has often been confused with other martyrs with a similar name.
William McKergour (82), about whom very little was known.

All four of those deaths were recorded by Shields.

Between 1702 and 1714, the “Continuing” Society people, aka. the McMillanites, erected gravestones on a number of martyr graves. When their Cloud of Witnesses was first published in 1714, 52 (or 57%) of the 93 deaths were recorded as having a dedicated gravestone. By the third edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1730, the recorded total had risen to 58 (63%) with a gravestone. By the fourth edition in 1741, only two more, or 60 (65%), had been listed.

From then on, the list in Cloud did not receive a major update until Thomson’s mid-nineteenth century edition made a leap forward by listing 78 (85%). Thomson probably knew that more gravestones existed, as his edition of Cloud was a carefully edited version of the published text, rather than a fully updated record of graves. The publication of his Martyr Graves of Scotland, which in its final form was compiled from articles he had published in the decades up to 1894, nearly brought an end to the process of recording Covenanter graves by listing graves for 88 “field” deaths between 1682 and 1688. However, Thomson had missed one, that of James Smith (55) in Mauchline which had been recorded in 1852.

There is not a simple correlation between a gravestone being erected and it being recorded in published sources.

It is clear that those gravestones which were recorded in the early editions of Cloud of Witnesses were erected prior to either 1714, 1730 or 1741. However, many other gravestones were not recorded until the Nineteenth Century.

Seventeen gravestones (covering twenty-eight deaths) were recorded by Thomson in the Nineteenth Century, but most of them had clearly survived from the Eighteenth Century.

Two gravestones recorded by Thomson were certainly erected before the third edition of Cloud was published in 1730, i.e., the grave of William Shillilaw (32) erected in 1727 and that of John MacGeachan (90) in 1728.

Seven other gravestones recorded by Thomson can be approximately dated to the first half of the eighteenth century by the survival of an original stone next to a new monument erected in the early nineteenth century. The six martyrs at Caldons (9 to 14) had a ‘small monumental stone’ that Walter Scott mentions in Old Mortality (1816) as previously having had the lettering of its inscription restored. A new memorial was added at Caldons in 1827. Edward McKean (27) had a new stone erected next to his original stone in 1824. Semple and McClorkan (48, 50) had an old stone that lay flat on the ground before a new obelisk erected to them in 1825. The three Carsgailoch martyrs (70-72) had an old stone that sat before the new monument to them erected in 1827. George Wood (91) had an old, single-sided stone that was later built into a wall next to a new memorial stone erected in 1827. The old stone to Gilbert MacAdam (81) was built into a new memorial in 1829. (The Scottish Journal of Topography, Antiquities, Traditions (1848), 278.)

Alexander Linn’s Grave © Mark McKie and licensed for reuse.

In one case, Thomson makes it harder to tell when the gravestone was erected. The inscription on the stone for Alexander Linn (85) looks old, but Thomson claimed that ‘it was erected in 1827 in the place of an older one’. In other words, that a new stone had replaced an older stone in 1827. (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 406.)

The original stone to Linn? © Mark McKie and licensed for reuse.

However, Thomson was almost certainly mistaken. According to a second oval stone erected to Linn, which is mounted in the enclosing wall around the grave, the original stone was ‘renewed in 1827’. What ‘renewed’ appears to have meant in practice was that the original stone was lifted from the ground in 1827 and mounted in the new enclosing wall. It is worth noting that the chisel marks at the base of the stone appear to indicate that it had a different setting in the ground prior to its present one in the enclosing wall. Intriguingly, the inscription on it also does not follow the text of Shields/Cloud, which only claimed that the soldiers of Drummond, rather than ‘Drumand’ himself, ‘did shoot dead Alexander Lin’, rather than ‘Alexr Linn’. If the stone dates to 1827, why are there such curious differences in spelling and attribution that probably indicate an earlier origin?

All seven of the gravestones above, had, presumably, existed for many decades prior to the addition of new memorials beside them in the early Nineteenth Century.

Most of the remaining nine gravestones, eight of which were recorded by Thomson, certainly appear to be of an eighteenth-century origin. In each of the cases below, I have given the earliest source I could find via web searches for the existence of the gravestone. There may be earlier nineteenth-century sources that mention some of the stones.

One stone firmly existed in the Eighteenth Century. George Short (80) has an old upright stone inscribed on two sides that is similar in style to those of William Graham, erected in 1702 to 1714, and Andrew McRobert. His gravestone is plainly alluded to in the Old Statistical Account published in 1794. (OSA, XIII, 651-2.)

The Martyrs’ Graves at Wigtown © Lairich Rig and licensed for reuse.

Two stones to the martyrs in Wigtown also appear to be of a far earlier date than the first record of them. Johnston, McIlroy and Walker (75 to 77), have an eighteenth-century style stone inscribed on one side. Margaret McLauchlan (66), also has a eighteenth-century style stone with an inscription on two sides. Both stones were first recorded in the New Statistical Account in 1845, at which point the parish minister reported they were of considerable antiquity. They sit next to the gravestone of Margaret Wilson that was erected before 1730. (NSA, IV, 4.)

Grave of William Adam © Copyright Mary and Angus Hogg and licensed for reuse.

William Adam (29) has an old, upright stone with an inscription on one side which was mentioned in ‘Hogg’s Weekly Instructor’ in 1847. His also grave appears in the OS Name Book as ‘Martyrs Grave’ in 1852-1855.

Andrew McRobert’s (26) old, two-sided stone at Twynholm was also mentioned in the same edition of ‘Hogg’s Weekly Instructor’ in 1847.

Gravestone of Thomas Richard. Photo Copyright Robert Guthrie and reproduced by his very kind permission.

Judging by its style, the present gravestone of Thomas Richard (42) may be of a later date than the early eighteenth century. The inscription only appears on one side, but is divided by a line where one would expect if the text was taken from an earlier, possibly inscribed on two-sides, stone. Richard’s grave and inscription were recorded at some point before 1847. (Knight, The land we live in, a pictorial and literary sketch-book of the British empire, 175.)

Gravestone of Dun and Paterson. Photo Copyright Robert Guthrie and reproduced by his very kind permission.

Dun and Paterson (73, 74), who lie next to Richard, have an eighteenth-century style stone with a two-sided inscription that was recorded in 1861. (Murray, Songs of the Covenant Times. By an Ayrshire Minister, 207.)

The gravestones of Dun, Paterson and Richard (42) all lie at the former site of the gallows in Cumnock. It is clear that at least one, if not both, of those graves were known about in the 1720s, as Patrick Walker recorded Alexander Peden as being ‘in the grave, beside other martyrs’. The only other martyrs buried there are Dun, Paterson and Richard. Although Walker did not specifically identify other gravestones, it is possible that Dun and Paterson’s stone, and perhaps that of Richard, or an earlier version of it, existed in the 1720s. (Walker, BP, I, 84.)

Original Photo Copyright The Glebe Blog

The gravestone of James Smith (55), which was missed by Thomson when he was in Mauchline, was recorded in 1852. The inscription on it includes a typographic error found in Shields, that misdated his death to 1684, which was transmitted through all editions of Cloud of Witnesses. However, the inscription is not directly based on Shields/Cloud, as it contains different information about where he died, i.e., in prison, rather than at Burn Anne. (Wilson, Guide to Dumfries and surrounding neighbourhood, 14; CW, 279.)

The Grave of William Harvie © Lairich Rig and licensed for reuse.

On stylistic grounds, the gravestone of William Harvie (92) appears to be of an early date, but it also appears to he been renewed or replaced at some point in its history. It was not recorded until 1862. (Rankine, Biography of William Symington, Civil Engineer, 5.)


The gravestones for 52 of the dead from the Killing Times certainly date to before 1714. They were probably erected after 1702. The gravestones for a further ten deaths were erected before 1730 and three were erected prior to 1741. In total, the gravestones which were erected and recorded before 1741 list 65 deaths of the Kiling Times.

What of the remaining 24 deaths with gravestones?

Fifteen of those deaths were recorded on gravestones that predate nineteenth-century memorials erected to them. Those stones were probably erected in the first half of the Eighteenth Century.

The gravestones for the remaining nine deaths were not recorded before 1794 at the earliest and mainly in mid nineteenth-century sources. Many of those stones appear to be of early eighteenth-century origin.

Return to Homepage

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine


~ by drmarkjardine on April 21, 2017.

4 Responses to “The Covenanters of the Killing Times and Their Graves: Part 1 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] the 93 known “field” deaths between 1682 and […]

  2. […] for the 93 field deaths refer to the number they had in previous lists I have published, here and here, for ease of cross […]

  3. […] first part of this study looked at the connection between the historical sources and the gravestones for the dead of the […]

  4. […] for the 93 field deaths refer to the number they had in previous lists I have published, here and here, for ease of cross […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: