The Discovery of Bog Bodies and the Killing of Mary McClymont in 1684 #History #Scotland


Was Mary McClymont a victim of the Killing Times? Was her body and that of her husband the bog bodies unearthed in Carsphairn parish in the Nineteenth Century? It is a mystery worth exploring that will take us on a journey across the landscape and back in time…

The story of the killing of the Covenanter martyrs Mary McClymont and William Smith was first recorded by Reverend Robert Simpson in “The Martyrs of Glen-Deugh” in the 1850s, but is any of his traditional story history?

William Smith
According to Simpson’s ‘tradition’,William Smith was the son of ‘Robert Smith of Deughside’, the ‘of’ of which implies William was the son of a laird. Deughside was said to be a small farm in Carsphairn parish, Kirkcudbrightshire. At the time the story is set, Smith’s mother had been dead for several years. She was said to be one of the Boyds of Penkill in Daily parish, Ayrshire.

Simpson claimed that their property at Deughside ‘was built on an eminence near the Bridge of Deugh, from whence it derived its name’. That appears to be the ‘Bridge of Deugh (Ruins of)’ recorded in the mid-nineteenth-century OS name book for Carsphairn parish:

‘The ruins of an old cot house on the farm of Dundeugh, and situated near to Deugh Bridge hence the name.’

The ruins are of a cottar’s cottage and had a romantic setting, as they lay by Deugh Linn, a ‘waterfall of about 20 feet in height’ on the Water of Deugh. Today, the site of both the farm and the falls has been drowned by the twentieth-century Kendoon Loch hydro scheme.

Map of the Ruins at Deugh Bridge

Mary M’Clymont
The other alleged martyr of the story is Mary M’Clymont. She is said to be the daughter of ‘Gavin M’Clymont of Dalmellington, whose great sufferings about this period are recorded by Wodrow the historian’. Wodrow recorded that Gavin Maclymont in Carsphairn parish had seven cows taken off him by quartering soldiers for refusing to pay the cess and that he, and others, had escaped pursuit by soldiers and dogs ‘at Cairns-hill-muir’, [i.e., Cairnsmore of Carsphairn] in 1684. (Wodrow, History, IV, 170, 174.)

Map of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn

Another historical Covenanter, John Stevenson in Camregan (or Stevenson’s father), was said to be Mary’s maternal uncle.

No historical evidence for the existence of William Smith or Mary M’Clymont has been discovered. They “exist” in gaps in the historical record. They are “Martyrs of Tradition” that lie out with the bounds of history.

The Problem with Simpson’s Traditions
Traditions are not reliable sources of evidence for history. Simpson’s traditions are made up of some oral testimony for the 1840s, historical sources, pious exemplars, adventure stories, his religious agenda and his own imagination. One problem with them is that we do not have direct access to the oral testimony that he said he collected. That makes it almost impossible to sort out where Simpson’s influence begins and ends. It is also impossible to determine the veracity of most of what he reports.

He had a remarkable ability to discover martyrs that do not appear in the historical sources. He was not the only nineteenth-century author to do so and the OS name books of c.1850 also reveal some unrecorded martyrs of tradition. However, Simpson became an influential source on later Presbyterian accounts of the martyrs which fused history with his traditions. Their influence continues to confuse accounts of the martyrs to the present day. In the end, many later writers preferred the good versus bad simplicities of Simpson’s traditions, to the complexities of history.

Simpson’s traditions are the origin for the stories of three female martyrs that are not mentioned in the historical sources. Besides, Mary M’Clymont, Simpson also found the story of Marion Cameron, which was also related to the possible discovery of bog bodies, and the patently flawed story of Margaret Gracie.

His discoveries were often focussed on particular parishes. Simpson is the source for the stories of two other traditional martyrs from Carsphairn parish, John Dempster and —– M’Roy.

He was also the source for similar discoveries in, or near to, his own parish at Sanquhar, which were not recorded by history, i.e., the deaths of Corson and Hair, the two Craignorth Martyrs, and the martyr of Chapman’s Cleuch.

Simpson also had a capacity to mention “in passing” the deaths of anonymous martyrs, such as a Covenanter by the banks of the Nethan. He repeats that pattern in his account of Smith and M’Clymont, which briefly mentions a killing at the Cave of Corrie and others killed at a field preaching.

Simpson told the stories of Smith and M’Clymont in two sources. One was published in the second volume of the ‘Original Secession Magazine’ (1852 to 1854), i.e. after he published his Traditions in 1841/46, and in an unpublished manuscript held by Stranraer Museum, ‘The Martyrs of Deugh Glen – Or a few gleanings from the trials and suffereings of William Smith and Mary Maclymont, in 1684’, which refers to the discovery of bog bodies.

What does his published article say?

“The Martyrs of Glen-Deugh”
Rather the reproduce every word of Simpson’s article, which you can read here, I will highlight selected “facts” (which may not be facts at all) and elements of the article, and comment on them.

William Smith and his father, Robert, are said to have been present at the Battle of Drumclog on 1 June, 1679, and Bothwell, on 22 June. In the latter action, his father Robert is said received a severe sabre wound, was found by his son, and after nine days returned to Deughside on c.1 July.

His father is said to have died within ‘a few days’ of returning home. Simpson states that the Privy Council offered a large reward for them as rebels, but their names do not appear on any historical list of rebels. At that point, William Smith ‘resolved to leave, for a time, his farm and home, after providing for his brother and sisters, who were of tender age’.

While Smith was said to be making arrangements to leave, his neighbour, Robert Cannon of Mardrogat, i.e, of Muirdrochwood, allegedly was visited by some of John Graham of Claverhouse’s “dragoons”. Claverhouse actually commanded a troop of horse, rather than dragoons.

Map of Muirdrochwood

Presbyterian histories of the Covenanters have not been kind to Cannon. In July 1680, the moderate presbyterian Cannon (aka. Cannan) was an informant against the militant presbyterian Richard Cameron and his followers. However, in 1684, ‘Robert Cowand of Mardrogott’ was called before the circuit court at Kirkcudbright on 7 October for conversing with several fugitive from Carsphairn parish, including one ‘William McMillane in Marshalloch’ who lived next to him. It appears that Cannon actually helped local fugitives, but that is not the story which Simpson told:

‘Canon was visited by some of Claverhouse’s dragoons. The commander of the party asked him whether he had anything in his way, when, drawing out a spy-glass, he pointed to a man passing along the ridge of a neighbouring farm, “There’s William Smith,” exclaimed Canon, “and I have secured the prize.” The troopers at once darted forward in the direction pointed out, eagerly hoping, that within the next short hour, their victim would be secured. Smith, however, had observed their movements, hasted over the mountain, and soon found shelter from his pursuers, under a small bridge covered with turf, and so close on the stream it spanned, as hardly to be visible. Being accompanied by his dog, he felt almost certain that the faithful animal would now be the means of his discovery and ruin; but strange to tell, it fled over the mountain, and did not return till the dragoons had disappeared, after a fruitless search.’

According to Simpson, the soldiers were based in a garrison at Carsphairn. There is no evidence of a ‘garrison’ at Carsphairn, as troops were generally garrisoned in burghs or in the castles/towers. However, small parties of troops were quartered there to collect unpaid cess tax and most of the farms in the parish were raided by government troops.

The next episode in the story, which involves Mary M’Clymont, is probably invented:

‘While the soldiers were returning to the garrison at Carsphairn, they accosted a young woman [i.e., Mary M’Clymont] on the way, believing she must have seen Smith on his flight across the moors. They also charged her with being at a conventicle; but she had neither been at the one nor had seen the other. The lawless ruffians endeavoured to extort some confession from the helpless maiden; and though subjected to the torture of the thumbikins, she had none to make, nor could they extract from her a single word that would betray either the people or the cause of Christ.’

Many presbyterians doubtless suffered a host of brutalities, especially when their property was confiscated by soldiers, but the thumbkins were not used in the field. They were introduced to Scotland by General Thomas Dalyell, but they were used for authorized judicial torture. In the mid 1680s, there were incidents of torture in the fields – lighted matches between fingers and mock executions etc. – but they did not involve the use of judicial torture items. A classic example of how tradition misrepresented the use of judicial torture is the story of James Gavin in Douglas, whom Simpson’s Traditions claimed had his ears cut off with shears personally by Claverhouse in the field. In fact, the historical sources are clear that James Gavin had his ears clipped by the hangman in Edinburgh as part of his sentence of banishment.

On the evening after Mary’s torture, Smith is said to have returned to Deughside and evaded capture again when the troops allegedly assaulted ‘other members of the family’ and destroyed their furniture.

The historical sources record the extraction of money and removal of stock, possessions and even clothes by government forces was experienced by presbyterians in Carsphairn parish. (Paper by Louise Yeoman)

After that, Simpson claims that the troops turned their attention elsewhere, to the Duns of Benquhat in neighbouring Dalmellington parish and others who lived in Carsphairn parish.


Claverhouse Kills Another Martyr
It is at this point in the story, that Simpson mentions in passing that:

‘the same day, an aged wanderer was shot by Claverhouse, at the Cave of Corrie, on the mere supposition that he belonged to the proscribed race. But these are only specimens out of hundreds of similar instances of horrid cruelty.’

The alleged site of Claverhouse’s killing of the ‘aged wanderer’ was the Cave of Corrie, which may have been somewhere on Currie Rig, at the north end of Cairnsmore of Carsphairn.

Map of Currie Rig

William Smith fled both his home and locality for Carrick in Ayrshire:

‘While these scenes of blood and military despotism were being transacted, William Smith was seeking a hiding among the clifted wilds of Craigdow. This rocky eminence is one of the most barren and inaccessible to be found among the rugged scenery of the west of Scotland, and excepting to the eagle and the wild goat, offered little shelter even to the brute creation.’



Craigdow is a hill in Kirkoswald parish and close to Dailly parish, Ayrshire.

Map of Craigdow

Simpson did not mention that Craigdow was where a large field preaching was held by John Welsh in August, 1678. Among those who attended it was John Stevenson of Camregan, who soon makes an appearance in his account.

At Craigdow, Smith quickly discovered that four other fugitives had taken refuge on the hill. However, increasing searches forced them to abandon it and part.

The Linn at Camregan in Dailly parish
‘He directed his course westward [from Craigdow], with a view to take up his abode at a deep Linn on the farm of Camreggan.’ i.e., the home of John Stevenson in Cameregan, a historical Covenanter. Stevenson finally fled his father’s home at Camregan about the beginning of 1685.

‘When approaching the Linn [at Camregan], he met the young woman who, we have seen, had already been made to suffer severely on his account’, i.e., Mary M’Clymont, whom, Simpson explains, had ‘found protection’ at Camregan under the roof of her ‘maternal uncle’.

I am not sure if there is a linn at Camregan, at least not a large one, but there is a glen with a burn.

Map of Camregan

It is worth noting that in the tradition, that Camregan lies beside Penkill Castle, to whom Smith is said to have been related via his deceased mother. The Boyds had seized Penkill Castle in the Sixteenth Century. Tradition, via a very curious route, claims that a Covenanter hid in a cave there in the 1680s.

However, when their hiding place at Camregan was discovered, Smith and M’Clymont were parted: Mary ‘fled to her relatives at Glenmuick [i.e., Glenmuck in Dalmellington parish], others to the [nearby] deep woods of Barganey [i.e, Bargany in Dailly parish], and some were believed to have fallen into the hands of their merciless pursuers.’

Here Simpson may hint at the story of a unknown Covenanter that was allegedly killed at Killoup Wood, which lies by the Camregan Glen.


The Wolf’s Craig near Glenmuck
Smith, too, had apparently headed for Dalmellington parish, which borders Carsphairn parish:

‘Among the rocky cliffs which bound the Muick, the river from which the locality took its name, was the “Wolf’s Craig,” a place of very remarkable formation. A huge portion of rock had, by some sudden convulsion of nature, been dislodged from its base, a cavity was formed in the centre sufficient to contain a full-grown man, yet so concealed, as to put the keenest search to defiance. To the “Wolf’s Craig” was William Smith providentially directed; and his entrance having been observed by the shepherds of Glenmuick, the circumstance reached the ear of Mary M’Clymont [at nearby Glenmuck], to whose ardent attachment he was again indebted for his preservation.’

The Wolf’s Craig does not appear on maps of the area, but presumably lay somewhere in the glen of the Muck Water downstream from Glenmuck.

Map of Glenmuck

At Glenmuck, Mary was immediately in peril from the dragoons:

‘One evening a party of dragoons called at Glenmuick. Mary M’Clymont was the first person they encountered. They began to question her about the concealments of the wanderers, and whether any of them had been seen that day in the neighbourhood. Mary returned no answer, but darted past them into a crooked path which led into the adjoining copse. The troops rushed after her, and just as she entered the darkening path, the foremost made a desperate thrust with his sword, which slightly grazed her shoulder; but the sword flew out of his hand, and losing his balance, he tumbled over a rocky precipice, and in an instant lay a mangled corpse at the bottom. On the following morning, Mary found the weapon by which she had so nearly lost her life, and conveyed it to her friend [Smith] in the cave, as it might serve him in time of need.’

The death of a soldier was usually brought the authorities down on a locality, but in this case the opposite is said to have happened as Claverhouse and Robert Grierson of Lag, another notorious persecutor of popular legend, held circuit courts ‘in other parts of the country’. Both sat on circuit courts in Galloway (which covered Carsphairn parish) in October 1684.

According to Simpson, that moment in late 1684 encouraged field preaching to flourish:

‘A number of large conventicles were held in the district. Hundreds flocked to hear once more the Gospel at the lips of Christ’s commissioned servants; children were baptised; and the sealing ordinances of the Church administered to many of the devoted followers of the Lamb.’

James Renwick was only field preacher active in the fields in 1684. His field preachings at that time were sporadic – they took place about once month – and were dotted around the western counties. He did preach at least twice in Galloway at that time, at Barscobe Wood in September and Garcrogo in October.

In another of his traditions, Simpson recorded that Andrew Forsyth attended two preaching by James Renwick at Fingland, where children were baptised, and near the head of the Water of Deugh. It is clear that Renwick preached at least once in Carsphairn parish at some point between 1684 and 1687, as a document in the Wodrow Collection, which probably dates to 1689, has scribbled on it that he had baptised twenty-five children there. (Paper by Louise Yeoman)

The upswing in field preaching and foreknowledge that they would soon fall ‘to their inveterate enemies, at one of these meetings’ led to their marriage.

Simpson recorded that ‘it is believed that the famous Donald Cargill presided on this interesting occasion; and although record does not say’.

Cargill had been executed three years before the setting of the story.

They are said to have been ‘publicly declared ringleaders in rebellion and sedition …[and] a party of dragoons were ordered specially to avenge the death of their comrade, which was laid to the charge of Mary M’Clymont, and she had therefore to betake herself to the hills, and William Smith to his cave.’

There is no historical proclamation that names them. Of course, a field preaching is betrayed and the inevitable takes place:

‘In the neighbourhood of Glenmuick, there lived a violent persecutor, of the name of M’Millan. He had been the occasion of the death of not a few of the people of God, by discovering their places of concealment. One day he was waited on by Canon of Mardrogat, his companion in iniquity, in breathless haste, with the information that a conventicle of the most desperate rebels had met, armed, in a woody dell, on the march between Dundeugh and Moorscalloch. They at once hasted to the garrison, and the soldiers, equally eager for blood, were ordered on the march on the instant, and in little more than an hour were surrounding, not an assemblage of armed rebels, but a congregation met for the worship of God. Some of the worshippers were indeed armed, and William Smith had the very weapon which had been sent to him at the Wolfs Craig. The dragoons at once commenced their work of destruction; and as numbers had neither the means nor ability to escape, they were taken prisoners, or killed on the spot.

William Smith and his wife, with some other trusty friends, stationed themselves around the minister. M’Millan, the informant, came up to Smith, when a deadly conflict ensued. For a time the issue was doubtful; but M’Millan, taking off his military cap, dashed it in his opponent’s face, and at the same moment ran him through the heart. When the husband had fallen, the agonising wife seized his sword and struggled with his murderer; but, alas! his strength was superior to that of the generous and pious Mary M’Clymont, and with a single blow he deprived her of life. This fiend in human form gazed for a moment on his prostrate victims. The heart’s blood of the godly William and his beloved partner was saturating the mossy heath, and crying for vengeance; but their ransomed souls had departed to the mansions of glory.’

Simpson placed the field preaching in a ‘woody dell, on the march [i.e., boundary] between [the lands of] Dundeugh and Moorscalloch’.That appears to be somewhere near the alleged site of Deughside.

There is no historical evidence for the attack on the field preaching or for the deaths of William Wilson and Mary M’Clymont.

Or was there?

The Bog Bodies Discovered
At the end of his unpublished manuscript, ‘The Martyrs of Deugh Glen – Or a few gleanings from the trials and suffereings of William Smith and Mary Maclymont, in 1684’, Simpson recorded the discovery of two bog bodies:

‘About twenty years ago the farmer’s people were cutting peats at a breast in Moorscalloch Moss, they came upon two human skelitons, imbedded in the moss, and in a good state of preservation. When it became known in the neighbourhood what had been found in the moss, some very aged persons, even some of those from whom the writer gathered up these traditions [in the 1840s?], and who had been in the habit of teaching, and telling them to their younger brethern for four score years [i.e., since circa the 1760s], firmly believed that these skelitons, found in the moss, could be none other but William Smith and Mary Maclymont, who fought with McMillan and who fell by the stroke of his hand in 1684.’

Simpson knew that ‘animal matter’ was preserved in peat bogs:

‘Indeed it seems to be a well known fact that Animal matter is preserved in the finest Moss for ages. Geologists have affirmed that in certain states, Animal matter may be preserved in moss for 500 years.’

However, Simpson framed the story of the bodies in a religious agenda:

‘But let this theory be as it may and let the Laws of nature work as they will, there is ample security afforded to every believer that their dust, and the dust of God’s Martyerd people shall be raised up at the last day.’

Today, we know that bog bodies can be thousands of years old, but in Simpson’s time it was common to attribute them to the Covenanters who lurked in moss hags. Simpson knew that the bodies of Covenanter martyrs had been previously discovered at Carsgailloch near New Cumnock when a new monument was erected in 1826 to 1827. He also discussed surviving artifacts, allegedly from dead Covenanters, that may have come from bog bodies, discovered in a moss near Dalgig in c.1775.

When were the Moorscalloch Bog Bodies Discovered?
It is not clear when Simpson’s unpublished manuscript was composed. As Simpson died in 1867 and the excavation of the bog bodies ‘about twenty years’ earlier is mentioned in the manuscript, the discovery of them probably predates Simpson’s published magazine article in 1852 to 1854, which does not mention the bog bodies at all. That suggests the latest possible date for the bog bodies being discovered is c.1847.

However, Simpson probably composed his manuscript before his article was published in 1852 to 1854, as the latter may be an edited version. He also probably composed it after his collected traditions were published in 1846. As the manuscript probably dates to the 1840s, it is possible that the bog bodies were found in around the mid 1820s.

A further factor is Simpson’s claim that stories of Smith and M’Clymont had allegedly been circulating for 80 years when he wrote his manuscript. That suggests that the stories date back further, perhaps to the 1760s.

That probably indicates the following broad sequence of events. That some kind of traditional stories of Smith and M’Clymont’s deaths circulated first, that the discovery of the bog bodies influenced those traditions and that, finally, Simpson wrote up two versions of their story based on oral testimony from those who had lived through the discovery of the bog bodies.

Where were the Marscalloch Bog Bodies Found?
Simpson’s ‘Moorscalloch Moss’ lay somewhere near Marscalloch, which is close to the alleged site of Deughside. What is called Marscalloch on the OS map today, is not the site of the farm at Marscalloch at Simpson’s time in the mid Nineteenth Century. It lay further up the hill above the Water of Deugh and close to Muirdrochwood. Marscalloch had been the home of the fugitive ‘William McMillane in Marshalloch’ before 1684.

Map of the site of Marscalloch in the mid nineteenth century

It is not clear where ‘Moorscalloch Moss’ lay in relation to the farm. Presumably the peat moss lay on the Marscalloch side of the Water of Deugh on the lands of Marscalloch. Those lands clearly extended up to the area around Marscalloch Hill. It is possible that the peat digging which revealed the bog bodies was done in that area.

However, at the end of his published article in 1852 to 1854 he gave a different location for where the bodies of the Covenanters were buried, which is apparently not where the bog bodies were found in 1820 between 1847:

‘Tradition has it that M’Millan deeply repented this deed of blood when it was too late for recall. He engaged some of the soldiers to assist him in burying the remains of these two faithful martyrs of Jesus, and bound them by an oath never to divulge by whose hands they were buried. There is no evidence, however, that he was ever led to true repentance and the blood of sprinkling, which can wash away even the sins of those who have dipped their hands in the blood of the saints. William Smith and Mary M’Clymont were laid in the same grave in the moors of Dundeugh. No sculptured tablet marks out their resting-place, to tell the traveller of their persecuted lives and bloody end;’

Is the ‘moors of Dundeugh’ that same location as ‘Moorscalloch Moss’? William Gordon of Dundeugh was forfeited in 1680 for his part in the Bothwell Rising. In c.1689, the widow of Dundeugh, reported her sufferings:

‘Item the factor to my Lord Livingston after my husband’s death threw me and all my family out of doors, not suffering my nurse (though the day was very stormy) to stay within doors with my sick child new taken off the breast. Threatening to sett her on a hot girdle till I was forced to ingadge to pay the rent of the lands to him 300 marks yearly and was like to be poinded for 50 marks more a year’. (Quotation in a paper presented by Louise Yeoman)

The lands Dundeugh lay to the south of those of Marscalloch and on the same bank of the Water of Deugh, but they refer to a different set of lands.

Map of Dundeugh Castle

There were real sufferings in Carsphairn parish during the Killing Times and perhaps those are more deserving of memory than Simpson’s doubtful tradition of Mary McClymont and William Smith.

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Additional 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 August 19, 2018.

4 Responses to “The Discovery of Bog Bodies and the Killing of Mary McClymont in 1684 #History #Scotland”

  1. […] 27, 28 & 29. The Killing of Mary McClymont, William Smith and an aged wanderer in Carspahirn parish, Galloway. […]

  2. I thoroughly enjoy reading’s from your ‘Book of Martyrs’ & hope you luck for the future.

    Frankie Baxter.

    On Sun, 19 Aug 2018 at 13:37, Jardine’s Book of Martyrs wrote:

    > drmarkjardine posted: ” Was Mary McClymont a victim of the Killing Times? > Was her body and that of her husband the bog bodies unearthed in Carsphairn > parish in the Nineteenth Century? It is a mystery worth exploring that will > take us on a journey across the landscape and back ” >

  3. Have you seen this Mark?

  4. […] Plays with Fire 113. gaillovesgod: God Made You To Be You! 114. jardine’s book of martyrs: The Discovery of Bog Bodies and the Killing of Mary McClymont in 1684 #History #Scotland 115. simple Ula: Our Date Around Nature 116. The Pondering Kitten: Weddings 117. The Heathen Poet: […]

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