A Glimpse of the Radical Cotmuir Folk in the Poll Tax of the 1690s #History #Scotland

The Cotmuir Folk were an obscure, radical group influenced by women and prophetic revelations that were based in Dalmeny parish. They produced Smoaking Flax Unquenchable (1706), a wonderful, little read and deeply radical anti-Union of 1707 tract. In this post, I will reveal a few new facts about them that I have discovered in recently digitised records, including those of the Poll Tax in the 1690s. Yes, there was a Poll Tax back then … and what a mine of information it is, where it survives.

We know that the group emerged after the Revolution in 1689 to 1690, featured at its core Grisell Spiritt and her sister, Margaret Park and the brothers Andrew and John Harley/Harlaw.

We know that the group had connections to the Sweet Singers in Bo’ness of the early 1680s.

The recently digitised Poll Tax records of the 1690s, contain more clues. In the Poll Tax Roll for Dalmeny parish of November, 1694, we find ‘William Harlaw tennent in Standing Stain & his wife [and] Robert Harlaw his sone’.

The farm occupied by the Harlaws/Harleys at Standing Stane lay directly to the west of Cotmuir, the farm the Folk were later associated with. William Harlaw was almost certainly kin to, perhaps the father of, Andrew Harlaw of the Cotmuir Folk.

Map of Standing Stane         Street View of Standing Stane (today)

It is curious that Andrew Harlaw/Harley does not appear on the 1694 Poll Tax roll for the parish, but that may be because children under sixteen were exempt from paying the tax. William Harlaw’s son Robert does appear as he was over sixteen.

At that time, the Poll Tax record reveals that Cotmuir was occupied by ‘Robert Syme in Coatmure & his wife’ and Jonet Gray there & her daughter’ etc.

Map of former site of Cotmuir       Street View of former site of Cotmuir

However, less than a year later, Andrew Harlaw does appear in the Hearth Tax Record for Dalmeny parish of 1695 apparently under Cotmuir. It lists:

‘William Harlaw [in Standing Stone] … 2’
above
‘Robert Syme [in Cotmuir] … 2’
and directly below Syme:
‘Androw Harlaw children [i.e., in Cotmuir] … 7’.

It appears that Andrew Harlaw, although a young man, had more hearths than his probable kin William and Robert Harlaw in Standing Stone. However, it is possible that the hearths at Cotmuir included kilns, which were also included in the total for the Hearth Tax. Were the Harlaws involved in brewing, whisky production or blacksmiths? Cotmuir lay right beside the highway between Edinburgh and the ferry at Queensferry, an ideal location for producing beer or whisky for thirsty travellers. Later, in the mid nineteenth century, a smithy was located at Cotmuir, which perhaps may help to explain the large number of hearths recorded in 1695.

It is clear that Andrew Harlaw was a young man. When he was interrogated by the privy council in 1696, he and his brother, John, were described as ‘Coatmuir lads’ who were ‘very insolent and extravogant against the Government of Church and State’.

The above suggests that Andrew Harlaw/Harley was a teenager in c.1695. If we are to believe the history of the Folk, they submitted a paper to Hew Kennedy and the General Assembly in 1690. As Andrew Harlaw may have been around ten years old in 1690, it seems very doubtful that he was behind that paper. (See Raffe in Apetrei (ed), Religion and Women in Britain, 73.)

It seems more probable that adults, probably the Spiritt women, Margaret Park and/or perhaps William Harlaw, were behind it and a protest in Bo’ness in 1691. It is here that the identification of William Harlaw may be pertinent. According to Wodrow in his brief report of 1710, “The Spritts wer part of John Gibb’s follouers [around Bo’ness in the 1680s], and they wer marryed to the Harleys; the father to one of them, and the son, I think, to the other.”

Was the father William and the son Andrew?

For more on the Cotmuir Folk, see here.

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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

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~ by drmarkjardine on October 29, 2017.

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