Daniel Defoe’s Enterkin Pass Rescue of Covenanters in 1684 #History #Scotland


In 1717, Daniel Defoe published a dramatic account of the rescue at Enterkin Pass of Covenanter prisoners on 30 July, 1684. Defoe claimed that thirty-seven men conducted the rescue after their minister and prisoners were seized at a field preaching. The historical sources record that twenty to forty men took part in the rescue, but that there was no minister and that the prisoners, taken at different locations, were being brought from Dumfries. The field preaching at the beginning is almost certainly fictional. Defoe probably used it as a shorthand for what he saw as happening in the Killing Times.

‘There had been a Meeting in the Fields, in Nithsdale not far from Drumanrig Castle, the Seat of the late [second] D. of Queensberry [d.1711, aka. Lieutenant-Colonel James Douglas]. The Assembly was very numerous, and there were about sixty Men with Fire-Arms, who placed themselves at convenient Distance, so as to keep off their Enemies, if they should come to disturb the Assembly, ‘till the People might disperse: These also had Scouts out every Way at great Distance to discover, and give Notice &c. It was not long before an Alarm was given, that They were betray’d and that two Parties of dragoons were marchimg to attack them. Upon this, the poor People, as was always the Method, separated, and went every one their own Way; so that the Soldiers found them entirely disperst, and no Meeting in Appearance, except of about 300, who were gotten together, where their men were posted that had Arms; who presenting their Pieces at the Dragoons from the side of a steep Hill, where their Horses were useless, they did not think fit to dismount, and attack them.

The Soldiers however grown furious, and enrag’d, spread themselves over the Fields, in Pursuit of the poor straggling People, and seiz’d several of them: And amongst the rest, they unhappily fell upon six Men naked and unarmed; one of whom was the Minister: These they took, and after having abused them, bruised, and wounded them, tho’ they offered no Resistance, they bound, and dragged them along with them, making the poor Men go on Foot at their Horse-Heels, as fast as they rode. They carry’d these Prisoners directly for Edinburgh, where also they were sure to be put to Death as soon as they arrived.

As the Ministers, on these Occasions, were very free to hazard their Lives in the Work of their Office, and for the Comfort and Edification of their People: So the People again were remarkable for their Love to their Ministers, and their Concern for their Preservation: No sooner therefore was it known among them, that their Minister was taken, but the Men began to gather together in several Parties with their Arms, reso1v’d, whatever it cost, to rescue their Minister; To this End they disperst themselves into all the Ways by which they thought the Dragoons might march, by which it happened, that the smallest Number of them not being above 37 Men, who lay on the side of Entrekein Hill, met with them, that being the Way the Enemy really went with the Prisoners.’

Map of Enterkin Pass

‘This Entrekein is a very steep, and dangerous Mountain; nor could such another Place have been easily found in the whole Country for their Purpose; and, had not the Dragoons been infatuated from Heaven, they would never have entred such a Pass, without well discovering the Hill above them. The Road for above a Mile goes winding, with a moderate Ascent on the side of a very high, and very steep Hill, ‘till on the latter part, still ascending and the Height on the left above them being still vastly great, the Depth on their right below them makes a prodigious Precipice, descending steep and ghastly into a narrow deep Bottom, only broad enough for the Current of Water to ran that descends upon hasty Rain: From this Bottom the Mountain rises instantly again steep as a Precipice on the other side to a stupenduous Height. The passage on the side of the first Hill, by which, as I said, the Way creeps gradually up, is narrow; so that two Horsemen can but ill pass in Front: And, if any Disorder should happen to them, so as that they step but a little a-wry, they are in Danger of falling down the said Precipice on their right, where there would be no stopping ’till they came to the Bottom. And the Writer of this has seen, by the Accident only of a sudden Frost, which had made the Way slippery, 3 or 4 Horses at a Time, of Travellers or Carryers, lying in that dismal Bottom; which slipping in their Way, have not been able to recover themselves, but have fallen down the Precipice and rolled to the Bottom, perhaps, tumbling 20 Times over, by which it is impossible but they must be broken to pieces, e’er they come to stop.

In this Way the Dragoons were blindly marching 2 and 2 with the Minister and 6 Countrymen, whom they had taken Prisoners, and were hauling then along to Edinburgh; the Front of them being near the Top of the Hill, and the rest reaching all along the steep part; when on a sudden they heard a Man’s Voice calling to them from the side of the Hill on their left a great Height above them.

It was misty, as indeed it ia seldom otherwise on the Height of that Mountain; so that no Body was seen at first: But the Commanding Officer hearing some Body call, halted, and call’d aloud, What d’ye want, and who are ye ? He had no sooner spoke, but 12 Men came in sight upon the side of the Hill above them, and the Officer call’d again, What are ye? and bad Stand: One of the 12 answered, by giving the Word of Command to his Men, Make ready; and then calling to the Officer, said, Sir, Will ye deliver our Minister? The Officer answer’d with an Oath, No, Sir, and ye were to be damn’d. At which the Leader of the Countrymen fir’d immediately, and aim’d so true at him, tho’ the Distance was pretty great, that he shot him thro’ the Head, and immediately he fell from his Horse; His Horse fluttering a little with the Fall of his Rider, fell over the Precipice, rolling to the Bottom, and was dash’d to pieces.

The rest of the 12 Men were stooping to give Fire upon the Body; when the next Commanding Officer call’d to them to hold their Hands, and desir’d a Truce. It was apparent, that the whole Body was in a dreadful Consternation; Not a Man of them durst stir a Foot, or offer to fire a Shot. And had the 12 Men given Fire upon them, the first Volley, in all Probability, would have driven 20 of them down the side of the Mountain into that Dreadful Gulph at the Bottom.

To add to their Consternation, their 2 Scoots who rode before, gave them Notice, That there appear’d another Body of Arm’d Cowntrymen at the Top of the Hill in thier Front; which however was nothing but some Travellers, who, seeing Troops of Horse coming up, stood there to let them pass, the Way being too narrow to go by them: It’a true, there were about 25 more of the Countrymen in Arms, tho’ they had not appear’d, and they had been sufficient, if they had thought fit, to have cut this whole Body of Horse in pieces.

But, the Officer having ask’d a Parley, and demanded, What it was they would have? they replied again, Deliver our Minister. Well Sir, says the Officer, Ye’s get your Minister, and ye will promise to forbear firing: Indeed we’ll forbear, says the good Man, We desire to hurt none of ye: But Sir, says he, Belike ye have more Prisoners: Indeed have we, says the Officer, and ye mon deliver them all, says the honest Man. Well, says the Officer, Ye shall have them then. Immediately the Officer calls to Bring forward the Minister: But the Way was so narrow and crooked he could not be brought up by a Horseman, without Danger of putting them into Disorder: So that the Officer bad them Loose him, and let him go; which was done: So the Minister stept up the Hill a step or two, and stood still: Then the Officer said to him, Sir, and I let you go, I expect you promise to oblige your People to offer no Hindrance to our March. The Minister promis’d them. He would do so. Then go Sir, said he. You owe your Life to this Damn’d Mountain. Rather Sir, said the Minister, to that GOD that made this Mountain. When their Minister was come to them, their Leader call’d again to the Officer, Sir, We want yet the other Prisoners. The Officer gave Orders to the Rear, where they were, and they were also delivered. Upon which the Leader began to march away, when the Officer call’d again. But hold, Sir, says he. Ye promised to be satisfied, if ye had your Prisoners: I expect you’ll be as good as your Word. Indeed shall I, says the Leader, I am just marching away; it seems he did not rightly understand the Officer. Well, Sir, but, says the Officer, I expect you call off those Fellows you have posted at the Head of the Way. They belong not to us, says the honest Man, they are unarmed People, waiting ‘till you pass by. Say you so, said the Officer, Had I known that, you had not gotten your Men so cheap, or have come off so free: Says the Countrymen, And ye are for Battle, Sir, We are ready for you still, if you think you are able for us, ye, may trye your Hands; we’ll quit the Truce, if you like. NO, says the Officer, I think ye be brave Fellows, e’en gang your Gate.

The Case was very clear, and the Officer saw it plainly: Had those 37 Men, for that was the most of their Number, fired but twice upon them, and then fallen in Sword in Hand, or with the Club of their Musquets; not a Man of them could have escaped: Nay, they most have destroy’d one another; for they would have thrust one another down the Hill with but the least Offer to move, or turn, or do any Thing but go forward: Nor could any Dragoon apply himself to any Thing but to govern his Horse, so as to prevent his falling over the Edge of the Way down the Hill: Indeed the persecuted had them all at Mercy, and had they commanded them all to lay down their Arms, and surrender themselves Prisoners at Discretion, they must have done it. But these testify’d by their Moderation, that they sought no Man’s Blood; and that they took Arms meerly for their own Defence, and yet four of these were afterwards Executed for this Fact.

This little Affair made a great Noise. The Officer of the Dragoons was threatened with a Council of War: And whether he was not broke for Cowardise I am not certain; but this I am certain of, that had the best of them been upon the Spot, they must have done the same, or have resolv’d to have made a Journey headlong down such a Hill, as would have chill’d the Blood of a Man of good Courage but to have thought of. As to the Mistake, of not discovering the place before they entred the Pass. That Fault lay upon the Officer who was kill’d, who had already paid dear for his Omission.’ (Memoirs of the Church of Scotland (1717), 72-3.)

For more on Daniel Defoe, see here.


~ by drmarkjardine on May 19, 2018.

2 Responses to “Daniel Defoe’s Enterkin Pass Rescue of Covenanters in 1684 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] Defoe’s Tour of Great Britain published in 1727. Defoe had previously described the rescue in an account published in 1717 and the Tour’s account is based on his earlier text. What his source for the story of the rescue […]

  2. […] Defoe left two accounts of the daring attack. One published in 1717 and the other in his Tour of Great […]

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