The Covenanters of the Killing Times and Their Graves: Part 2 #History #Scotland

Sometimes the labourious task of comparing data sets transforms our understanding of a how a historical source was constructed. This is one of those occasions …

The first part of this study looked at the connection between the historical sources and the gravestones for the dead of the Killing Times. The second part of this study, below, looks at what the gravestones of the Killing Times tells us about the historical sources for it.

The data this study is based on can be found here:

Table of Killing Times Graves in PDF format

The list of those killed in the fields contained in Alexander Shields’s A Short Memorial, a pamphlet which was published in 1690, is the foundation stone for understanding of the Killing Times. Without it, the other two key sources for the killings in that period, the second volume of Wodrow’s History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland (1722) and the gravestones erected to the martyrs would be poorer sources of information, as Shields’ list informed both.

The list produced by Shields was the basis for later lists produced by Ridpath in 1693, Cloud of Witnesses in 1714 and Defoe in 1717. Wodrow also used the list in Shields/Cloud as a source for his History.

Shields’s list, or recycled versions of it, were the core texts for many of the inscriptions on the martyrs’ gravestones. The interrelationship between Shields and the inscriptions is particularly clear in cases where typesetting errors found in Shields appear in later inscriptions.

Shields listed fourteen individuals in 1690 that were not recorded by Wodrow in 1722. They were:

Robert McQhae (17), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
Gabriel Thomson (53), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
Robert Lockhart (54), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
John Brounen (57), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
William Finneson (59), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
Thomas Young (61), grave erected 1702 to 1714.

In other words, six of the fourteen individuals not mentioned by Wodrow had been previously listed by both Shields in 1690 and on gravestones recorded in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses.

The historical record for a further four individuals owes everything to Shields and gravestones erected before 1730, but nothing to Wodrow:

John Hunter (51), grave listed in 1730.
Matthew McIlwraith (78) grave listed in 1730.
Daniel McIlwraith (83) grave listed in 1730.
John Murchie (84) grave listed in 1730.

Four more individuals were only named by Shields, but did not have their graves recorded in Cloud until the nineteenth century or never had a gravestone:

John McClorkan (50)
Alexander Linn (85)
John Smith (52), who has no grave.
William McKergour (82), who also has no grave.

Wodrow used the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses as a source. He had information about both their deaths and their graves in a published source at his finger tips, but he did not mention them in his History.

The above indicates that Wodrow was selective about which deaths of the Killing Times he included in his History. He clearly knew, or had evidence of, more deaths, but chose not to include them.

That raises an interesting question in reverse: Did the deaths that Shields failed to list appear on gravestones before Wodrow’s History was published? The surprising answer is that many of them did. Wodrow listed twelve individuals who were not recorded by Shields. They were:

William Hunter (6), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
Robert Smith (7), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
Andrew MacGill (8), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
James Algie (19), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
John Park (20), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
John Hallume (28), grave erected 1702 to 1714.
John Nisbet (93), grave erected 1702 to 1714.

Only one gravestone in this group clearly post dates the publication of Wodrow’s History:

John MacGeachan (90), whose grave was erected in 1728.

The dates for two remaining gravestones, which features three men hanged in Wigtown at the same time and William Harvie hanged in Lanark, are not clear:

William Johnston (75)
John McIlroy (76)
George Walker (77)
William Harvie (92)

Their stories were mentioned by Wodrow in 1722, but the two gravestones for them were not recorded before the Nineteenth Century.

Wodrow’s record of seven (or possibly eleven) deaths that predate his History that were not recorded by Shields raises two important issues.

First, it reveals that Shields had carefully selected his list. Shields recorded eighty deaths, but missed out thirteen of them in his list. There is a remarkably distinctive pattern connected with the missing thirteen deaths in Shields. Eleven of them involved hangings in burghs: Hunter and Smith were hanged at Kirkcudbright, as was Hallume; MacGill was hanged at Ayr; Algie and Park were hanged at Paisley; Johnston, McIlroy and Walker were hanged at Wigtown; Harvie was hanged in Lanark; Nisbet was hanged in Kilmarnock. Shields may not have viewed them as field deaths. Shields did record the deaths by hanging of five men at Mauchline and two at Halhill in Irongray parish, but those deaths had apparently taken place without due process.

The other death that Wodrow, alone, recorded was that of MacGeachan, who died due to wounds he had received while attacking government forces at Carbellow Path. The last death, which neither Shields, nor Wodrow, recorded was that of John Law, who was also killed in an attack on government forces.

The clear pattern in the omissions from Shields’ list indicates that he almost certainly chose to exclude them (or at least those he may have known about) as they did not fit his criteria of field killings committed by government forces. Shields’ list was published in a pamphlet that was designed to accuse government forces of killing people in the fields without due process. Including individuals in his list who had either clearly attacked government forces, or faced some kind of formal judicial process in a burgh, would have undermined his argument about field deaths. That Shields may have excluded thirteen deaths on the grounds of his criteria for field deaths, highlights the care and attention with which he created his list. It was not a list created at random or based on the only field deaths known about at that time. The list was deliberately crafted to make an argument about field killings. The consistent approach taken by Shields in constructing his list adds to his credibility as source for the deaths of the Killing Times.

Second, the fact that Wodrow listed at least seven deaths that were not recorded by Shields and who had gravestones erected at least eight years before Wodrow’s dead of the Killing Times were published in his History, demonstrates that the “Continuing” Society people did not rely on Shields alone as a source for the dead. It is clear that when those gravestones were erected between 1702 and 1714, that the “Continuing” Society people must have independently collected information about martyrs from local sources. Not one of those seven (or possibly eleven) martyrs were recorded in a published source before Wodrow’s accounts appeared in print. That fact clarifies that the list of graves appended at the end of early editions of Cloud of Witnesses in 1714, 1730 and 1741 is a distinct historical source from the list of those killed in the fields produced by Shields in 1690 (which was copied by Ridpath etc.) and Wodrow. Further posts will interpret the list of graves found in Cloud of Witnesses.

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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 May 6, 2017.

2 Responses to “The Covenanters of the Killing Times and Their Graves: Part 2 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] The evidence for the martyrdom of John Law before 1741 is extremely poor, as neither Shields, nor Wodrow, recorded his death. The reason that the former did not record his death was probably as Law was killed in the attack on Newmilns Tower and Shields appears to have omitted deaths that categgory of deaths. […]

  2. […] His death was not recorded by Alexander Shields in 1690, as Shieds did not list those killed who were executed after a judicial process in a burgh. […]

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