The Strange Case of the Covenanter Who Died Twice #History #Scotland


James Smith’s execution is a historical “fact”, but the fragmentary evidence for where and when he was killed and buried contains contradictions.

One strand claims that he was killed at Burn Anne and buried nearby at East Threepwood in Galston parish in 1684. An other strand says that he was wounded at Burn Anne and died in prison in Mauchline in 1684. A third strand claims he was shot returning from a field preaching. A close examination of the historical sources indicates that he probably died in 1684. However, Thorbjörn Campbell has also claimed that he died in 1685.

The simplest solution to the conflicts in the evidence is to accept that each of those pieces of evidence points to an aspect of Smith’s story and combine them into a narrative in which Smith was returning from a field preaching when he was wounded at Burn Anne, taken to Mauchline, and died in 1684.

However, there may be a crucial typesetting error in the evidence, which would place his death in 1685.

The killing of James Smith over three-hundred years ago is not a major historical question, but for me, after a decade of study, when he died is a matter of some importance if we are to have a clear understanding what happened in the Killing Times. Did he die in 1684 or 1685?

In this post, I want to discuss Campbell’s claim that he died in 1685. In a later post, I have put forward additional evidence which may support that claim.



When Did Smith Die?
Until recently, the time frame of James Smith’s death seemed secure. The records of Shields, Cloud of Witnesses and Smith’s gravestone dated his death to 1684. However, as can be demonstrated in the case of other graves, simple typesetting errors in the text of Shields have been transmitted down the centuries. As discussed in a previous post, a 1684 date for his death seems robust, but it is possible that he was killed in 1685.

If we adopt a 1685 date for his death, it contradicts all the early sources which date his death to 1684. That is a big step to take based on a possible typesetting error for the date of his death, even though all the early sources for him are based on one line in a single text, Alexander Shields’ A Short Memorial published in 1690.

A 1685 date for Smith’s death appeared in Thorbjörn Campbell’s Standing Witnesses in 1996.

Campbell’s Case for 1685
Campbell linked Smith’s end to the aftermath of the attack on Newmilns Tower and suggested a date in April. (Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 139, 140-1, 151, 195.)

It was certainly a bold move. Campbell clearly had doubts about how accurate the typesetting was in Cloud of Witnesses and how accurate the inscriptions on the tombstones were about dates.

Under his entry for Mauchline, Campbell transcribed the inscription on Smith’s grave:

intered the corpse of JAMES
SMITH who was wounded by
Captain Ingles, and his Drag-
oons, at Burn of Ann in kyle,
and there after died of his wounds
in Mauchline prison for his adhe
arance to the word of GOD and
scotland’s Covenanted Work
of reformation, A.D. 1684’

He then briefly describes his fate:

‘If this is the same James Smith who was shot as described in the aftermath of the prison break at Newmilns, the date should read 1685; the source of error is perhaps the hagiography A Cloud of Witnesses, whose first edition may antedate this gravestone.’ (Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 140-1.)

The date for the erection of that gravestone is not known. It was certainly put up at some point between 1702 and when its existence was first recorded in 1852. The source text for the inscription may have been an early edition of Cloud of Witnesses after 1714, but Cloud merely recycled the same text which was published by Shields in 1690. The latter certainly predates the establishment of the stone by at least twelve years, as the famous Covenanter gravestones were first put up in 1702.

Campbell’s Mauchline entry, above, refers to a more detailed entry of his on Smith under Galston parish.

In that entry he began by giving the text of a memorial from 1823 at Galston parish church. The memorial was replaced three years before Campbell published, so it is not clear which stone he viewed. Among those listed on it is James Smith:

East Threepwood
Who was shot near Bank on Burn Ann 1685
By CAPT INGLIS and his Dragoons
And buried there.’ (Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 103.)

Today, the 1993 replacement monument reads ‘Bank of Burn Ann 1684’, not 1685. Curiously, Thomson in his late-nineteenth-century Martyrs Graves of Scotland did not record a date at all. (Thomson, Martyr Graves, 124.)

It is clear that a transcription or typesetting error has been made. The 1823 memorial probably dated Smith’s death to 1684, as all the earlier sources did and the present-day 1993 version of the memorial does.

There are no historical primary sources or grave inscriptions that claim that Smith died in 1685.

Campbell: ‘James Smith of Wee or East Threepwood is rather mysterious. He appears to have been caught up in the aftermath of the prison break at the Ducat Tower [in April 1685]… The tradition is that he was shot on his own doorstep for having given food to escapees.’

Campbell cited a traditional story in the New Statistical Account of 1845 for what happened to James Smith. However, that story – of giving food to escapees after the Newmilns prisoner rescue– was actually about a different Covenanter, John Smith in Cronan. It was not about James Smith, whose name does not appear in the New Statistical Account story.

Campbell appears to have followed a long line of historians from Wodrow who have hopelessly confused the various John and James Smith who died in the Killing Times. They left such a mess behind them, that it is hardly surprising that Campbell mixed up the two Smiths.

He continued: ‘Yet this stone [the 1823 Galston memorial] says he was shot “near Bank on Burn Ann … and buried there”. Bank in some distance away from Wee Threepwood.’

Map of East Threepwood

Campbell cited J.A. Hendrie’s History of Galston Parish Church (1909), 84-5 as the source for that information. Bank lies about 500m to the north of East Threepwood. It has been a ruin since at least the 1840s.

Here there is a second transcription or typesetting error. The 1823 Galston memorial actually recorded was that he was shot ‘near Bank of Burn Ann … and buried there’, which probably meant buried the near the bank of Burn Anne.

What is interesting about the 1823 Galston memorial is that it is the earliest traditional source to specifically link James Smith to East Threepwood. (Thomson, Martyrs Graves, 124.)

Campbell: ‘Another tradition is that his tombstone [at East Threepwood] was dislodged and thrown into Burn Ann by a frolicsome herdboy, and that it was broken into several pieces. One fragment, marked JS 1684 (or 1685) was recovered and built into the steading at Wee Threepwood. No such stone is evident nowadays at Wee [/East] Threepwood which for about two hundred years has been merely a pile of rubble on the lands of Threepwood Mains. A much later tombstone, unconnected with Smith, is discoverable in the thick grass under a large tree just beside the site. A tombstone to Smith might yet turn up there.’

I have discussed the “lost” East Threepwood gravestone in a previous post and concluded that it probably marked where he was shot. It almost certainly did not mark the site of his grave.

Campbell, too, spotted a problem with the lost Threepwood stone: ‘A tombstone to James Smith does exist at Mauchline. The epitaph on that stone states that he was “wounded by Captain Ingles, and his Dragoons, at the Burn of Ann in kyle, and there after died of his wounds in Mauchline prison.” This tombstone looks authentic.’

Campbell was one of the first to point out the existence of Smith’s Mauchline gravestone, that was recorded in 1852 but curiously missed out of later guides to the martyrs’ graves. The fact that it was missing from books such as Thomson’s Martyr Graves has probably added to historians’ confusion over the James Smith and the two John Smiths who died in the Killing Times.

Image Copyright The Glebe Blog

Campbell made a connection between Smith’s Mauchline grave and hangings at Mauchine in 1685:

‘The fact that five men, one of whom [John Brounen] is known to have participated in the Newmilns prison break in April 1685, were hanged at Mauchline on 6th May, 1685 seems to indicate that that Mauchline was the centre to which all the suspects implicated in the affair were transferred. It looks as if James Smith, grievously wounded, was carried to Mauchline perhaps for interrogation, but died before he could be hanged.’

A very interesting point. Smith is buried in Mauchline and it was where prisoners were sent to be tried in early May, 1685. If Smith was wounded in the time frame of late April/early May of 1685 then he probably would have been sent to Mauchline, where he did die. However, As Campbell points out:

‘The Mauchline tombstone is dated 1684, and we know that the Newmilns attack took place in April, 1685, but this need not invalidate our surmise, since tombstone dating can be very unreliable; some of the epitaphs were not composed until nearly forty years after the events they commemorate; this date may have been derived from that published in A Cloud of Witnesses, which is full of printing errors.’

A good point. The list of those killed in the fields produced by Shields in 1690 and reprinted in Cloud of Witnesses (1714) does contain typesetting errors.

However, Shields corrected the proofs for A Short Memorial and published his corrections in the errata. He listed several minor changes to his list of the dead which were not corrected when the list was republished in Cloud of Witnesses. The compilers of Cloud did not check the errata.

Shields did not correct the 1684 date for Smith’s death. It is possible that he missed that typesetting “error”, but any claim that Smith’s death should be dated to 1685 relies on a hypothesis that Shields did not spot the error in this particular case. That said, we also know that Shields did not correct some errors on his 1690 list. For example, he failed to spot the obvious contradicton in his listing of Daniel MacMichael and William Adam.

Campbell: ‘If, however, this [i.e., a printing error] has happened to James Smith, how do we explain the tradition of the vanished tombstone at Bank or Wee Threepwood?’

It is quite easy to answer Campbell’s question. We can dismiss the vanished tombstone at East Threepwood. There is no credible historical evidence for it ever having been a tombstone. It was probably a marker for where he was shot. The first evidence for Smith being allegedly buried at Threepwood only appears in 1823. It is unreliable traditional evidence.

‘Yet another tradition states that in his rage after the escape of his prisoners [from Newmilns Tower], Captain Ingles had two innocent men shot. If James Smith was one, who was the other?’

The tradition found in the New Statistical Account in 1845 named John Smith in Cronan, not James Smith, as one of the individuals killed after the Newmilns attack. It does not name the second alleged victim.

‘Could there have been two James Smiths of Wee Threepwood (perhaps father and son)? Martyrs of the same name were not uncommon. (Cf. The two David Hallidays buried in the same grave at Balmaghie.)’ (Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 103-104.)

That is probably a leap too far. It is true that there were martyrs of the same name, but there is no evidence at all for that conjecture in this case. The historical sources only discuss the death of one James Smith.

Campbell suggested that it was possible that there may have been two James Smiths; one buried at Mauchline and one buried at East Threepwood.

As discussed above and previously, there is no historical evidence for the tradition that a grave existed at East Threepwood. If their was a stone there marked ‘J.S. 1684’ it was almost certainly not from a grave. There is only one gravestone to Smith and that is at Mauchline.

There are significant weaknesses in Campbell’s case for a 1685 death. It is clear that in part his case relied on a transcription error of 1685, when the 1823 Galston memorial dated his death to 1684. It is also clear that James Smith was not the same person as John Smith in Cronan. Historians have confused those two different Covenanters. Campbell clearly used a tradition about John Smith in Cronan in the aftermath of the attack on Newmilns in April 1685 about James Smith. By confusing him with Smith in Cronan, it appears that James Smith was killed after the attack. However, while the tradition said two were shot after the attack, it only named John Smith in Cronan as one of those who were killed and did not name James Smith.

However, one should not be too hasty in dismissing Campbell’s case. Despite flaws in the evidence, there are also strengths in his argument. It is possible that Shields misdated his death to 1684, even though that date seems robust. All the early sources for his death, including the inscription on his gravestone, relied on Shields’s date and that source does contain typesetting errors. We know that the East Threepwood stone was almost certainly not a grave and that Smith was not buried there. Smith is buried in Mauchline under a stone with, what appears to be, an authentic Continuing Society people inscription from the early Eighteenth Century. That Mauchine gravestone dates his death to 1684, but it, too, draws on the same single line in Shields. Mauchline was definitely a place where prisoners were sent for trial in early May 1685.

Campbell’s case for a 1685 date can be refined as follows:

If there is a typesetting error for the date of Smith’s death in A Short Memorial then all the other historical sources – Cloud of Witnesses, Wodrow, the Mauchline gravestone and even the later 1823 Galston memorial – contain the same flawed date.

The context of his burial in Mauchline suggests that he may have died there in late April or early May 1685. That aligns with a later unreliable tradition that Captain Inglis shot two men after the Newmilns raid.

Is there any historical evidence to corroborate Campbell’s 1685 hypothesis? …

There is the question of “the fellow”, a mysterious prisoner held by John Graham of Claverhouse in early May, 1685. His story could fit the story of James Smith, if he died in 1685. Is he James Smith?

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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


~ by drmarkjardine on April 11, 2018.

6 Responses to “The Strange Case of the Covenanter Who Died Twice #History #Scotland”

  1. That was quite creepy to read, but interesting. Thank you

  2. Maybe we are talking about more than one person. A common enough name.

  3. […] At the root of this mystery is the possibility that a typesetting error misdated the death of James Smith to 1684, when it was 1685. That hypothesis first appeared twenty-two years ago in Campbell’s Standing Witnesses. Campbell never suggested that “the fellow” was James Smith, but he did claim that Smith died as a result of a raid on Newmilns Tower in April, 1685. […]

  4. […] did make errors in his 1690 list that he corrected. He may also have made errors which he did not correct. In this case, there is a clear error in his list, as the entries for both martyrs contradict each […]

  5. […] James Smith in Threepwood was wounded when he was captured in the raid on his farm at Threepwood, perhaps before 3 May 1685. While the badly injured Smith was sent to Mauchline, where he later died. […]

  6. […] There may be a problem with Shields’ original date for the killing of Smith. Shields arranged his list of those who were killed in the fields by officer responsible and broadly in chronological order, beginning in 1682 and ending in 1688. The entry for Smith occurs in the midst of a very long series of entries which are dated to 1685. It may have been a typesetting error that Shields failed to pick up. However, James Smith’s death is the first that Shields recorded under the actions of the dragoons of Captain John Inglis and his son, Cornet Peter Inglis. As such, a date of 1684 is possibly robust. If he was killed by Inglis and his dragoons in 1684, then it was probably in the latter half of the year, as his troop appears to have arrived in the area in August, 1684 […]

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