Death at Dalveen: The Killing of the Covenanter Daniel MacMichael in 1685 #History #Scotland


The Covenanter Daniel MacMichael had a price on his head … one thousand merks, dead or alive. He was shot in summary execution in Durisdeer parish, Nithsdale, on 31 January, 1685.

The reward was offered for his subscription of the treasonable bond before the Sanquhar Declaration and for being present when the declaration was proclaimed on 22 June, 1680.

He is said to have born at Dalzean in Penpont parish, Dumfriesshire. In 1680, he lived at Lorgfoot in Dalry parish, a remote location which lies on the boundary between Kirkcudbrightshire and Dumfriesshire. MacMichael was active in both shires. He was listed on the published fugitive roll of May, 1684, under Dumfriesshire as ‘Daniel Macmitchel, in Lurg-foot’.

Today, Lorgfoot is called Lorg.

Map of Lorg

Daniel McMichael

A Short Memorial, 1690
As usual, Alexander Shields was the first to record his death in A Short Memorial (1690). However, with a simple slip of the pen, he caused confusion. Why? Because he linked two executions in a clumsy fashion:

‘Sir Robert Dalzel and liev: Stratoun, having apprehended Daniel Mackmichel, and detained him 24 hours Prisoner, took him out and shot him at Dalveen, in the parish of Durisdeer in Nithsdale, Jan: 1685:
Item, The said Captain Dalzel and Lieu: Stratoun, with their men, found William Adam hiding in a Bush, and instantly killed him, at Walwood in Kyle, Feb: 1685’. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 36.)

The ‘Captain Dalzel’ who killed William Adam in Kyle, Ayrshire, was Captain John Dalyell of Mar’s Regiment of Foot. He was not the same individual as his close kin Sir Robert Dalyell of Glenae, who Shields claimed summarily executed MacMichael at Dalveen in Nithsdale.

Lieutenant Alexander Straiton, also of Mar’s Regiment of Foot, was involved in both deaths.

Sir Robert Dalyell of Glenae was not a military officer. He was in receipt of judicial commission to press the Abjuration Oath and deal with other cases of dissent in Dumfriesshire between the beginning of January to 1 March, 1685. Prior to that, on 18 December, 1684, he wrote to Queensberry about an attack on the Isle Tower in Nithsdale and other locations in Dumfries and Galloway. Finding the men behind those attacks was the top priority for government forces in the winter of 1684 to 1685. Six Society people died as a result of that hunt, including Daniel’s brother, at Auchencloy. At least six more were killed at Caldons as the result of an assassination on 23 January. More groups of Society people connected with violent acts were killed soon after Daniel’s death.

However, the error in Shields was repeated. According to Ridpath in 1693:

‘Sir Robert Dalzel and Lieut. Straten, shot Daniel Mac Michel at Dalveen, in the Parish of Durisdeer in Nithsdale, Jan. 1685. The same men killed William Adam, hiding himself in a bush at the Walwood in Kyle, Feb. 1685.’

Cloud of Witnesses (1714) also recycled the error in Shields:

‘Sir Robert Dalziel and lieutenant Straton, having apprehended, Daniel M’Michael, not able to flee, by reason of his being sick, and detained him twenty four hours prisoner, took him out and shot him at Dalveen, in the parish of Durisder in Nithsdale, January, 1685.
Item, The said captain Dalziel, and lieutenant Straton, with their men, found William Adam hiding in a bush, and instantly killed him, at the Walwood in Kyle, February, 1685.’

Shields 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 other. However, it is not clear which way round the error is. When Shields published his list in 1690, Sir Robert Dalyell had died and been succeeded by Captain John Dalyell to the title of Glenae. Which of ‘Sir Robert’ or ‘The said captain’ is not correct? One of them is an error that Shields did not correct.

From the evidence of two other historical source, ‘Sir Robert’ is not correct.

Daniel MacMichael’s Gravestone
The next major piece of evidence in the death of Daniel MacMichael is his gravestone, which was erected between 1702 and 1714, and included the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses. As his gravestone predates the publication of Wodrow’s History, the inscription on it cannot have been influenced by it.

The first wave of gravestones erected by the “Continuing” Society people between 1702 and 1714 sometimes made minor factual corrections to the evidence found in Shields’ 1690 list. The inscription on MacMichael’s grave claims he was killed by Captain John Dalyell, NOT Sir Robert Dalyell.

PRELACY 1685 REV 12:11

[and at a right angle to the above]


His grave is located in Durisdeer parish churchyard by the church.

Map of Durisdeer         Street View of Durisdeer Church

Wodrow’s Version of MacMichael’s Death
A few years later, Wodrow, using a different stream of evidence from both Shields and Cloud, also alleged that Captain John Dalyell killed MacMichael:

‘Upon the 30th of the same month [January, 1685], a party of fifty soldiers commanded by John Dalziel, son to Sir Robert Dalziel of [Glenae in] Kirkmichael [parish], and lieutenant Straton, fell in with some of those who were upon their hiding, asleep in a shiell in the parish of Morton, in Nithsdale.’

In the 1840’s Simpson claimed in his later traditions that MacMichael lived at Blairfoot in Morton parish, Nithsdale. Morton parish lies immediately to the south and east of Durisdeer parish. The farm at Blairfoot, which vanished in c.1840, lay close to the confluence of the How Gill, which flows down from the ruins of Morton Castle, and the Kettleton Burn (i.e., just to the east of the Burn Point Plantation). As the lands of Blairfoot had been purchased by William Douglas, Duke of Queensberry, in 1673, it seems highly improbable that MacMichael was his tenant.

Map of former location of Blairfoot

Simpson claimed that Blairfoot was ‘Lurgfoot’ and that it was where MacMichael lived. However, it is clear that he lived at Lorgfoot in Dalry parish in Kirkcudbrightshire, and was associated with that location until at least mid 1684. If he lived at Blairfoot, he was only there on a temporary basis, perhaps in hiding with the unnamed others that Wodrow mentioned. MacMichael was a high-profile fugitive wanted dead or alive, for his part in the Sanquhar Declaration of 1680.

Simpson’s later unreliable traditions would also romantically claim that MacMichael was captured in a “cave” behind a falls on a stream somewhere in the hills east of Durisdeer.

However, Wodrow used the term ‘shiel’ to describe where MacMichael was taken in Morton parish, i.e., a temporary or roughly-made house or shelter, hut or bothy for sheep or cattle and their shepherds, which was used when the animals were moved to higher pastures in the summer. As MacMichael was taken in mid winter, a shiel would have been deserted and an ideal hiding place from the cold. The area around Blairfoot and the hills to the north of it are probably the only part of Morton parish where a shiel would be found.

‘My information bears, they all made their escape, but Daniel M’Michael who was sickly, and not able to flee. The soldiers wounded him at his being taken, and he was that night carried to the parish of Durisdeer. The captain put many interrogatories to him, which he declined to answer, and laid many things to his charge, which he denied, and said he knew nothing of.’

We are not told where in Durisdeer parish he was taken to on the night of 30 January. He may have been taken straight to Dalveen, where he was executed the next day. He may have been taken elsewhere in the parish before being taken to Dalveen. If MacMichael and the fifty men from Mar’s Regiment of Foot went directly from where he was allegedly captured at Blairfoot to Dalveen, they covered just over six miles, less than half of a day’s march in summer.

MacMichael was not the only victim of the Killing Times who was allegedly sick when captured. Adam MacQuhan and Thomas McHaffie were also taken from their sick beds. Being a fugitive was gruelling, especially in the cold of winter when provisions were in short supply.

MacMichael had good reasons not to answer Dalyell’s questions as a traitor and fugitive. He also had good reasons not to name those who were with him or who had kept them supplied. However, the Captain had a new weapon in his armoury:

‘At length he was told, that unless he presently submitted unto, and owned the government both in church and state, and as an evidence of this, sware the oath he offered him the benefit of, the law made him liable to present death.’

That oath was clearly the Abjuration Oath introduced in mid January. Swearing it renounced the United Societies’ ‘war’ of assassinations against known persecutors. MacMichael refused to swear the oath. It would have contradicted his actions at the Sanquhar Declaration of 1680, which proclaimed ‘a war’, and the United Societies’ Apologetical Declaration of November,, 1684, that launched a wave of assassinations against known persecutors.

Wodrow, of course, managed to downplay MacMichael’s commitment to a war:

‘Daniel was a very sedate sensible country man, and said, ‘Sir, that is what in all things I cannot do, but very cheerfully I submit to the Lord’s disposal as to my life.’
The commander replied in some pet, ‘do you not know your life is in my hand?’
the other modestly replied, ‘No, Sir, I know my life is in the Lord’s hand, and if he see good, he can make you the instrument to take it away.’
Then Daniel was ordered to prepare for death to-morrow; all he said, was, ‘If my life must go for his cause, I am willing, my God will prepare me.’
That night he enjoyed a sweet time of communion and fellowship with God, and great outlets of joy and consolation, so that some of the soldiers desired to die his death, and not a few convictions were left in their bosoms.’

Daniel McMichael Martyr's Monument Dalveen

The Summary Execution at Dalveen
MacMichael had been captured in Morton parish (perhaps at Blairfoot) and was brought north to (Nether) Dalveen in Durisdeer parish. The latter lay on the way to two passes through the hills, the Dalveen Pass and the Enterkin Path or Pass. It appears that the party of soldiers were heading from Dalveen over the Bught Hass to the Enterkin Path, the road to Wanlockhead and Edinburgh.

Map of Dalveen

However, it is possible that like his brother, James MacMichael (d.1684), Daniel had taken part in the Enterkin Rescue on 30 July, 1684. It is possible that he was deliberately brought to, and symbolically executed at, an entry to the Enterkin Pass.

‘Tomorrow, January 31st, he was brought out to the fields at Dalveen, [a farm] in the parish of Durisdeer. He had the liberty granted him, which many of his fellow-sufferers had not, to pray, which he did to the wonder of the by-standers. He sang part of the forty-second psalm, and read over the sixteenth chapter of John, and spoke with much gravity and solidity to captain Dalziel.’

It appears that Captain Dalyell was doing his job in accordance with the law. He permitted MacMichael time to make his peace with his maker. Not all officers were so patient.

MacMichael sang Psalm 42. In the Scottish Metrical Psalter it begins:

‘Like as the hart for water-brooks
in thirst doth pant and bray;
So pants my longing soul, O God,
that come to thee I may.

My soul for God, the living God,
doth thirst: when shall I near
Unto thy countenance approach,
and in God’s sight appear? …’

He also read from John, Chapter 16. It begins as follows: ‘These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. …’

Dalyell offered him a blindfold:

‘And then after the napkin was put upon his head, he said, “Lord, thou brought Daniel through many straits, and hast brought me thy servant hither to witness for thee and thy cause; into thy hands I commit my spirit, and hope to praise thee through all eternity.”

And then gave the sign to the soldiers to do their work; and four of them who were appointed, shot him dead.

So convincing was this man’s carriage and death, that some of the poor soldiers were for some time after in confusion, for their obeying commands in this matter; but a little money, and some more ravages, quickly calmed their convictions.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 239-40.)

The confusion ‘for some time after’ among Dalyell’s company may reflect a genuine psychological impact on the men. The orders under which MacMichael was shot were new and Dalyell’s company had not previously conducted a summary execution. The ‘little money’ they received and shared was due to the 1,000 merks on MacMichael’s head, dead or alive. The ‘some more ravages’ that followed the shooting included the killing of William Adam within weeks.


The Dalveen Martyr’s Monument
In 1836, a monument was erected on the traditional location for his summary execution at Dalveen. According to the OS name book:

‘A monument erected to MacMichael by the masons who built [the new] Dalveen Steading’

The inscription is as follows:

To the memory of
who suffered martyrdom here
by Sir James Dalziel, A.D. 1685.
Erected in 1836.’

On Sunday 9 October, 1842, a large preaching was held ‘nigh to the spot of
Daniel McMichaels martyrdom’ at Dalveen that paid for a memorial stone by his grave at Durisdeer Church.

To find out about later traditions about MacMichael’s capture and death, see here.

For more on Daniel MacMichael, see here.

Return to Homepage

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 May 26, 2018.

4 Responses to “Death at Dalveen: The Killing of the Covenanter Daniel MacMichael in 1685 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] 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 some errors on his 1690 list. For example, he failed to spot the obvious contradicton in his listing of Daniel MacMichael and William Adam. […]

  2. […] In the 1840s, Simpson published “traditions” that he had collected about the Covenanter Daniel MacMichael. Quite a significant portion of Simpson’s “traditions” of MacMichael were based on Wodrow’s account of his death over a century before. However, there were areas where Simpson diverged from the historical sources for MacMichael’s death. […]

  3. […] with Lieutenant ‘Straton’ when they were both involved in the shooting of Daniel McMichael at Lower Dalveen in Nithsdale on 31 January 1685. (Wodrow, History, IV, […]

  4. […] Daniel McMichael, a covenanter with a considerable price on his head whether dead or alive, had been captured and was being transported to Edinburgh for trial. While en route, on the 31st January 1685, at the foot of the nearby Dalveen Pass amongst the Lowther Hills, he fell ill and to save the problem of dealing with him, the soldiers shot him dead. A monument marks the spot. His grave is in Durisdeer churchyard. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: