Traditions of the Capture of the Covenanter Daniel MacMichael #History #Scotland

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.

The Refuge at Blairfoot
Simpson noted that MacMichael appeared on the published fugitive roll of May, 1684 as “Daniel M’Michael in Lurgfoot.”, but claimed that Lurgfoot was ‘now called Blairfoot, and belongs to the farm of Burn, in the parish of Morton, in Nithsdale.’

The historical sources place MacMichael at Lorgfoot, now Lorg, in Dalry parish, rather than at Blairfoot.

The farm at Blairfoot by Burn had vanished just before Simpson visited the location probably prior to the mid 1840s:

‘The house in which Daniel lived at Blairfoot is now razed from its foundation. It was demolished only the other year, when the ploughshare was made to pass over its site, and a solitary tree is left to mark the spot where this honest worthy lived’.

Map of former location of Blairfoot

The ‘solitary tree’ that Simpson probably observed was the Judgment Thorn, which lay close to Blairfoot.

The OS name book for the parish in the 1850s describes the Judgment Thorn as

‘A thorn tree probably the last representative of a group of thorns which had marked the spot where some execution or murder had occurred. — Within sight and at a short distance to the north-west there is a small conical hill encircled by a natural amphitheatre which might formerly have been used for judicial purposes.’

And that

‘Mr. Nevison [i.e., Thomas Nivison], of the Burn [farm], recollects the Ancient Thorn tree being standing, and says, this [Thorn] is growing from the old root’.

Map of former site of Judgment Thorn

It is an intriguing intersection between traditions that the Judgment Thorn was said to have been ‘where some execution or murder had occurred’ and that Simpson may have believed that the executed MacMichael lived by it.

The Capture of MacMichael
Simpson claimed that Blairfoot was where Covenanters took shelter:

‘One day a company of these pious persons met at Blairfoot, for the purpose of engaging in religious exercises, and they adopted the common precaution of stationing a friend as a warder, to give notice in case of danger.

At this time, Dalziel of Kirkmichael and Lieutenant Straiton, with a party of fifty soldiers, were ranging the country in quest of fugitives. Muncie of Durisdeer, the informer, having received notice of the meeting that was being held in Daniel’s house, lost no time in communicating information of the circumstance to the commander of the troops, who led his company without delay to Blairfoot.

The watchman, however, observed their approach, and hastened to the house with the unwelcome tidings. The party within instantly prepared for flight, but in their haste to be gone they forgot not their sickly brother. They knew that if he were left alone his sickness would procure him no exemption from the ill usage with which the soldiers might be disposed to treat him, and therefore they determined to remove him from his bed, and carry him along with them. Accordingly they wrapped him in the warm bed-clothes, and conveyed him with all speed, and unobserved, to the cave.’

Simpson claims that MacMichael was removed from Blairfoot to a cave. He had described the cave earlier in his story, but did not identify where it was:

‘In this locality there was a cave by the margin of a mountain stream, to which, in those days, the Covenanters often resorted. It was a hallowed retreat to many, not only as a place of refuge from their foes, but as a sanctuary for heavenly fellowship.’

The cave, if it existed, lay somewhere in the hills to the east of Blairfoot.

According to Simpson there was an intelligencer among those with Macmichael:

‘But there was another informer beside Muncie, and one who pretended to belong to their party, and who, under the mask of friendship and of piety, had connected himself with them, with a view to accomplish his own nefarious designs. This individual (whose name we do not deem it prudent to mention) left the cave to give certain information to the party that was in quest of the fugitives.

Another of the company having left the hiding-place shortly after the departure of the traitor, and having occasion to call at a smithy in the neighbourhood, was informed that their nameless associate was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and that he would to a certainty conduct the troopers to their place of concealment.

On receiving this report, the man hastened back to his companions in the cave to expedite their retreat before the soldiers should arrive. The friends in hiding agreed instantly to vacate the cavern, and to separate themselves into two companies, the one party conveying Daniel, who was unable to walk, to move in the direction of Durisdeer; and the other party to flee towards the dark moss hags of Kirkhope.

It was the design of the latter party to act as a decoy to the dragoons, and to draw them away from the party that was conveying their friend Daniel towards Durisdeer. The dragoons, however, having observed the movement, divided themselves also into two parties, the one pursuing the fugitives that were hastening to the wilds of Kirkhope, and the other following in the route of the company that were moving more slowly with their sickly charge.’

The two parties different direction of travel allow us to roughly locate where the traditional cave allegedly lay in the hills to the east of Blairfoot.

The Decoy Party
The decoy party apparently headed to ‘the wilds’ or ‘moss hags’ of Kirkhope.

Kirkhope lay across the hills to the east of Durisdeer and in Crawford parish, Lanarkshire. Today, the farm lies by at the southern end of the Daer Reservoir.

Map of Kirkhope

The Party with MacMichael
According to the tradition, MacMichael’s party headed towards Durisdeer, which lies on the western edge of the hills and directly to the north of Blairfoot.

From the location of Durisdeer, it is clear that the party with MacMichael were headed either in a westerly, or north-westerly direction through the hills for Glenaggart which leads to Durisdeer.

It is also clear that the decoy party were heading either in a northerly or north-easterly direction towards Kirkhope.

The Covenanter’s Cave
The Covenanter’s Cave at Earn Craig lies in that rough area. It lies directly to the south of Kirkhope close to the head of the Daer Water and Daer Hass. It also lies to the east through the hills of both Durisdeer and Blairfoot.

The Covenanter’s Cave is located in Closeburn parish, the neighbouring parish to Morton parish, and very close to march boundary with Crawford parish in Lanarkshire.

The Cave lies by the source for the Capel Water which flows directly to Locherben and Mitchellslacks, where the fugitive James and Thomas Harknesses lived. Both men had taken part in the rescue at Enterkin along with MacMichael’s brother, James. It is possible that Daniel MacMichael had also taken part in the rescue. He may have had some connection with them, which later led to his execution at the entry to the Enterkin Pass.

Map of Covenanter’s Cave at Earn Craig

Simpson’s remarkably detailed and unreliable tradition continues:

‘The company that fled to the moss [towards Kirkhope] expected to secure themselves in its deep trenches from the approach of the soldiers. In some of the messy parts of the hills and moors there are deep gullies, worn by the impetuous streams that descend from the heights after the melting of the winter snows, or during the gushing of a great thunder spate. These water courses are in some places covered above with the tufted heather, which, decked with its purple blossoms, waves on each margin of the narrow ditch. It was into one of these slippery conduits that an individual of the fleeing party was endeavouring to creep, when the troopers came in view of the dark and rugged peat ground. This circumstance was observed by one of the dragoons only, who, being unwilling, it would seem, to expose the life of the poor man, fell to the rear of his party, and allowing them to proceed, advanced cautiously to the mouth of the mossy outlet, and seeing the cowering fugitive stretched at his full length in his murky hiding-place, accosted him in a suppressed and gentle tone, saying: “Friend, I know you are one of the party whom we are pursuing; I have no desire, however, to reveal you; creep further into the hole, and stir not till the danger be overpast.” He then rejoined his companions in the pursuit, but how the affair ended with this branch of the fugitives tradition has not said.

Meanwhile, the party who were carrying Daniel [MacMichael] were pushing westward in the direction of Durisdeer. On this company the dragoons easily gained ground, as their motions were necessarily impeded by means of the burden with which they were charged. It was obvious to every one, and to none more than the sick man himself, that escape was nearly impossible, and it was his urgent request that they should leave him, and provide for their own safety. This they were unwilling to do, but finding that their remaining would endanger their own lives, and could not save his, they, at his earnest desire, concealed him in a cave under the projecting brow of a mountain stream, in hopes that the foe would not find his retreat, while the pursuit would be directed chiefly after themselves. How long, and with what success, the troopers pursued the fleeing party is not said, but had anything of a tragic nature occurred, it is likely that tradition would have preserved it.’

Simpson has MacMichael left in an unspecified cave ‘under the projecting brow of a mountain stream’.

‘Daniel, however, was soon discovered. The soldiers, as was common, were accompanied with dogs, which were often found very useful in leading to a discovery of persons in concealment, and these animals scented out the place where he was hid. The dragoons laid hold on their victim, and mercilessly dragged him from his retreat.’

The historical sources agree that MacMichael that was captured in Morton parish, but at a shiel, rather than in a cave behind a waterfall. If one was feeling generous towards the tradition, one could note the shiels in the area beyond Kettleton Byre and Garrochshiels. Garroch was the neighbouring farm to the Harknesses at Locherben.

MacMichael’s Execution
According to Simpson:

‘Among the spectators who were present witnessing this atrocious murder [of Daniel MacMichael], was a boy named John M’Call, from Dalveen, the place of Daniel’s nativity.’

Earlier in his Traditions, Simpson had claimed that MacMichael was born at Dalzean, which lies deep in the Scaur Valley in Penpont parish, Nithsdale. Dalveen was where MacMichael was executed.

Map of Dalzean

John McCall, the lad from Dalzean, just happened to be at Dalveen?

‘There happened to be lying on the grass, near the bleeding body of the martyr, a small wooden basin, yclept by the peasantry a luggie. The captain commanded the boy, who was standing by, to take the vessel and run to the well to fetch him water, to wash from his hands and clothes the blood that had spurted from the wounds of the slaughtered man, whom, in his contemptuous style, he denominated a dog. The boy, with the mingled feelings of terror and indignation, seized the luggie, and ran towards the well; but instead of fetching water, he dashed it into the limpid fountain, and fled to the hills. The insulted commander ordered the troopers to pursue, and fire on the fugitive. They did so, but he was young and agile, and like the fleet roe, he bounded away, and left the dragoons far behind in the hopeless pursuit. This boy was the greatgrandfather of the venerable person who at present occupies the Holm of Drumlanrig.’

Holm of Drumlanrig, aka Holm, lies in Penpont parish. In the OS name book 1848 to 1858, it was occupied by a George Dalziel.

Map of Holm of Drumlanrig

If you want to read what history says about Daniel MacMichael, see here.

For more on Daniel MacMichael, 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

~ by drmarkjardine on June 5, 2018.

One Response to “Traditions of the Capture of the Covenanter Daniel MacMichael #History #Scotland”

  1. […] 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 […]

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