The Enterkin Rescue of 1684 in Daniel Defoe’s Tour of Great Britain #History #Scotland

The following account of the rescue of Covenanters at the Enterkin Pass in 1684 comes from the third volume of Daniel 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 was in 1717 is not clear. It probably came from testimony he gathered in Nithsdale, but it may have appeared in an earlier printed or manuscript account.


The Enterlin Pass in Winter. Telegraph poles mark the path.

I am extremely grateful to Professor Pat Rogers for drawing my attention to this version of the Enterkin Pass Rescue.

Defoe’s Mysterious Journey
When Defoe made his journey through Nithsdale for the Tour is also not clear. The section concerning his visit to the Enterkin Pass appeared in Letter XII, which was published in the third volume in 1727.

However, his journey probably took place before 1711, as he mentions being at Drumlanrig at the desire of the second Duke of Queensberry who died in 1711. Defoe and Queensberry had both been involved in securing the Union in 1706. The Tour has a complex history of compilation prior to its publication. For example, Defoe adds historical details that post date the 1715 Jacobite Rising, as he mentions in passing earlier in the account Caerlavrock Castle and the forfeiture of the Jacobite Earl of Nithsdale in 1716. He also mentions the Duke’s tomb at Durisdeer kirk. Most important of all, for the purposes of this website, he describes seeing a field preaching by the Covenanter minister John Hepburn, which probably took place before the Duke’s death, although Hepburn continued field preaching until his death in 1723.

The key parts of Defoe’s account (slightly edited by me) are as follows:

‘While I was at Drumlanrig, being desir’d by the late duke [of Queensberry, d.1711] to make some observations on his Grace’s estate there, which is very great, in order to some English improvement, I, in particular, view’d some of the hills to the north of the castle, […]

Here we were surpriz’d with a sight, which is not now so frequent in Scotland as it has been formerly, I mean one of their field meetings, where one Mr. John Hepburn, an old Cameronian, preach’d to an auditory of near 7,000 people, all sitting in rows on the steep side of a green hill, and the preacher in a little pulpit made under a tent at the foot of the hill; he held his auditory, with not above an intermission of half an hour, almost seven hours; and many of the poor people had come fifteen or sixteen miles to hear him, and had all the way to go home again on foot. I shall say nothing to it, for my business is not to make remarks on such things; only this I may add, that if there was an equal zeal to this in our part of the world, and for that worship which we acknowledge to be true, and of a sacred institution, our churches would be more throng’d, and our ale-houses and fields less throng’d on the sabbath-day than they are now. But that also by the way.’

Hepburn’s Preaching
There are a number of problematic elements in Defoe’s report of Hepburn’s preaching.

First, his estimated size for the congregation seems rather high. In April, 1705, John Clerk of Penicuik reported that ‘most of all the Cameronians in Scotland, to the number of 3 or 4000’ had gathered at Sanquhar, a small burgh in the hills to the north-west of Drumlanrig.

Second, the place of field preaching in the text of the Tour occupies the same position as an apparently fictional field preaching of 1684 in the 1717 account, i.e., it appears just before a discussion of the perils of the Enterkin Pass and the Rescue in both texts. Is that a coincidence? Did Hepburn’s field preaching take place at all?

Third, if we accept that Defoe witnessed Hepburn’s preaching is not clear when his journey happened, although it was probably between 1706 and 1711.

Fourth, it is not clear where Defoe witnessed Hepburn’s preaching. The main clue in the Tour to the location of the preaching is that Defoe was viewing ‘some of the hills to the north’ of Drumlanrig. Intriguingly, he does perhaps point to the general location as he mentions lead mines:

‘having a Darbyshire gentleman with us, who was thoroughly acquainted with those things, we discover’d in several places evident tokens of lead-mines, such as in Darbyshire, and in Somersetshire, are said never to fail; and to confirm our opinions in it, we took up several small pieces of oar in the gulls and holes, which the rains had made in the sides of the mountains, and also of a plain sparr, such as is not found any where without the oar: But the duke’s death [in 1711] put an end to these enquiries’.

That may suggest the general location for the preaching was around Leadhills and Wanlockhead, which both lie in the hills to the north of Drumlanrig and were accessed from the latter via the Enterkin Pass. However, I am no expert on the distribution of ore for lead mines.

Map of Wanlockhead

Defoe continued:

‘From Drumlanrig I took a turn to see the famous pass of Enterkin, or Introkin Hill: It is, indeed, not easy to describe, but by telling you that it ascends through a winding bottom for near half a mile, and a stranger sees nothing terrible, but vast high mountains on either hand, tho’ all green, and with sheep feeding on them to the very top; when, on a suddain, turning short to the left, and crossing a rill of water in the bottom, you mount the side of one of those hills, while, as you go on, the bottom in which that water runs down from between the hills, keeping its level on your right, begins to look very deep, till at length it is a precipice horrible and terrifying; on the left the hill rises almost perpendicular, like a wall; till being come about half way, you have a steep, unpassable height on the left, and a monstrous calm or ditch on your right; deep, almost as the monument is high, and the path, or way, just broad enough for you to lead your horse on it, and, if his foot slips, you have nothing to do but let go the bridle, least he pulls you with him, and then you will have the satisfaction of seeing him dash’d to pieces, and lye at the bottom with his four shoes uppermost. I pass’d twice this hill after this, but the weather was good, and the way dry, which made it safe; but one of our company was so frighted with it, that in a kind of an extasy, when he got to the bottom, he look’d back, and swore heartily that he would never come that way again.

Indeed, there were several things this last time we pass’d it, which render’d it more frightful to a stranger: One was, that there had been, a few days before, a suddain frost, with a great deal of snow; and though, a little before the snow, I pass’d it, and there was nothing to be seen; yet then I look’d down the frightful precipice, and saw no less than five horses in several places, lying at the bottom with their skins off, which had, by the slipperiness of the snow, lost their feet, and fallen irrecoverably to the bottom, where the mountaineers, who make light of the place, had found means to come at them, and get their hides off.

Map of Enterkin Pass

But that which is most remarkable of this place is yet behind, (viz.) that noted story of the Whigs in the old persecuting times, in King Charles IId’s time, and which I must give you a short account of, for I have not room for the whole history.

A troop of dragoons had been sent, by order of their commanding officer, to disturb a field-meeting, such a one as I just now describ’d. These meetings were strictly forbidden at that time and the minister, if taken, was punish’d with death, without mercy: The poor people of this country being all what they then call’d Cameronians and Whigs, (for here, by the way, the word Whig began first to be known) I say, the people being zealous in their way, would, and did hold their field-meetings, notwithstanding all the prohibitions the court could make; upon which the Government quarter’d the dragoons upon them, with orders, on all such occasions, to disperse them, and what prisoners they took they were to carry to Edinburgh especially their ministers. Accordingly, at this time, there was an extraordinary meeting of many thousand people, and the dragoons march’d to disturb them.

As the whole country were their friends, the dragoons could not stir, but immediately notice would be taken, and the alarm given: The people at the meeting had always some stout fellows arm’d with fire-arms, to prevent a surprize, and they had so now, enough to have beaten off the dragoons, if they had attack’d them, but as they did not covet fighting and blood, otherwise than on necessity for their own defence, and that they had now timely notice given them, they chose to break up and disperse, and they were really dispers’d, when the dragoons came to the place.

However, the dragoons resolving not to lose their labour, pursued the straggling people, and ill used some of them, took others prisoners, and, among the rest, very unhappily surpriz’d their minister, which was a booty to them; and, as soon as they had him, they march’d off directly to carry him to Edinburgh where he might depend upon being hang’d.

The poor people, terribly alarm’d at the loss of their minister; for no people in the world love their ministers like them; the cries of the one part animating and exasperating the other part, and a small body of those who were the guard before, but chose peaceably to separate, rather than dispute it with the dragoons, resolv’d to rescue their minister, whatever it cost.

They knew the dragoons would carry him to Edinburgh and they knew, that to do so, they must necessarily go thro’ this narrow pass of Interken: They were but thirteen men on foot; but being nimble fellows, and knowing the private ways perfectly well, they reach’d the top of the hill long before the dragoons; eight of them therefore plac’d themselves in the head of the narrow way, where the dragoons were coming on one by one, or at most two by two, and very softly, you may believe, by the nature of the place.

The other five sliding down from the top of the hill, on the left of the pass, plac’d themselves, as they found to their advantage, being resolv’d to speak with the troop as they came by. It was a thick mist, as is often upon those hills, (indeed seldom otherwise) so that the dragoons could not discover them, till they were within hearing, nor then, so as to know how many they were.

When the dragoons came up within hearing, one of the five boldly calls to the commander by his name, and bids him halt with his troop, and advance no farther at his peril; the captain calls out again, who are you? and what would you have? They answer’d, deliver our minister; the captain damn’d them a little, and march’d on: The Cameronian called to him again with a threatning air-Will you deliver our minister? at which he reply’d as loud-No, you dog, and if you were to be damn’d; at which the man fir’d immediately, and shot him thro’ the heart, so that he fell from his horse, and never spoke a word, and the frighted horse, fluttering a little at the fall of his rider, fell down the precipice, and there was an end both of horse and man together.

At that very moment the eight men, at the head of the pass, shew’d themselves, though at a distance, and gave a shout, which put the whole body into a pannick fear; for had they fir’d, and the horses been put into the least confusion, half of them would have been down the precipice immediately. In short, the lieutenant that commanded next, being wiser than his captain, gave them better words, and desir’d them to forbear firing for a minute or two; and after a very short conference with his men (for they had no more officers to call a council of war with) resolv’d upon a parley, in which, upon their promising to march off and leave the pass free, they deliver’d their minister, and they carry’d him off; and glad the dragoons were of their deliverance; for, indeed, if they had been 500 instead of 50, the thirteen men might have destroy’d them all; nay, the more they had been, the more certain would have been their destruction.’

~ by drmarkjardine on May 22, 2018.

One Response to “The Enterkin Rescue of 1684 in Daniel Defoe’s Tour of Great Britain #History #Scotland”

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

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