The Covenanter Donald Cargill’s Narrow Escape at Watersaugh near Wishaw #History #Scotland

Watersaugh c1750

Near Wishaw is a ruined house where the Covenanter Donald Cargill is said to have escaped. Between mid 1679 and mid 1681, Cargill was probably the “Most-Wanted” fugitive in Scotland. Not only had he begun a rebellion against King Charles II in 1679, he had also done the unthinkable in 1680 and excommunicated the King and leading members of his regime close to the Wallace Oak at Torwood in Stirlingshire.

Cargill is famed for his narrow escapes from his pursuers, particularly at an inn at South Queensferry and at the Muttonhole near Edinburgh, before he was captured and executed in July, 1681.

However, according to later local tradition, Donald Cargill also escaped from his sister’s house at Watersaugh near Wishaw. Watersaugh, aka. Watershaugh, lies in Shotts parish, Lanarkshire. Today, what is left of Watersaugh is an over-grown ruin on the banks of the South Calder Water near Coltness, Wishaw.

Map of Watersaugh

According to the Reverend Peter Brown’s Historical Sketches of the Parish of Cambusnethan (1859), Cargill had many connections to the locality:

‘[Cargill] had rather an interesting connection with the parish of Cambusnethan, frequently visited it, preached in it, and found refuge in it. Darngavel, and Benty-rig [perhaps] near Stanebent, are two of the places in Cambusnethan which Mr. Cargill frequently visited, and at which he preached. It was during his last visit to Darngavel [in March, 1681] that he had an interview with the leaders of a sect which had been originated at Borrowstounness, who, after the name of their principal leader, were called “Gibbites.” […] Reference has already been repeatedly made [earlier in this work] to John Miller, in Watersaugh, who built Cambusnethan kirk in the year 1650, and who suffered a long imprisonment for alleged correspondence with rebels. Mrs. Miller, the worthy spouse of the occupant of Watersaugh, was the sister of Donald Cargill, and Watersaugh thus became one of the haunts and hiding-places of Cargill.’ (Brown, Historical Sketches of the Parish of Cambusnethan, 146.)

In fact, John Miller of Watersaugh had served in the King’s army that crushed the Covenanters at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on 22 June, 1679. The fact that he served in the King’s army almost certainly indicates that Miller of Watersaugh was a moderate-presbyterian gentleman who did not share his brother-in-law’s militant beliefs. On the eve of the battle, the laird of Watersaugh went on a secret mission to the rebel camp to persuade them to lay down their arms in return for good terms of surrender. The secrecy surrounding his mission to the Covenanters would get him into considerable trouble over the next few years.

‘John Miller of Wattershaugh’ was later recorded in a libel along with many other Lanarkshire heritors who were forfeited for treason and rebellion in March, 1681. Curiously, Miller ‘of Watershaugh’ and a handful of others – including John Gray, son to James Gray elder in Chryston, who was dead and John Spreul, who was already imprisoned for plotting to blow up the Duke of York – were not forfeited with the others. (ST, XI, 253, 265.)

However, two years later in May 1683, Watersaugh was imprisoned in the Canongate Tolbooth and interrogated for his correspondence with rebels at Bothwell. On 2 January, 1684, he petitioned the privy council for his release. According to Wodrow:

‘January 3d [1684], John Millar of Watershaugh petitions the council, that he hath been in prison these nine months for alleged correspondence with rebels at Bothwell, and no proof brought against him, craving to be liberate. The council order him to be liberate from the Canongate tolbooth, upon his giving bond and caution, under the penalty of five thousand pounds sterling, that he shall answer to any crime laid to his charge, upon six days’ citation at his house; and that in the meantime he shall live orderly and frequent ordinances at his own parish-church. I have no more concerning this gentleman; but five thousand pounds sterling was a most exorbitant sum, upon mere suspicion of correspondence.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 41.)

Cargill’s Escape
The Reverend Brown recorded Cargill’s escape at Watersaugh as follows:

‘The late Mr. James Paterson, who long tenanted Watersaugh, and died there, was thoroughly conversant with the antiquities of the parish, and to him the author was much indebted for the information which he obtained regarding Mr. Cargill, and other incidents recorded in this volume.

On one occasion, when Mr. Cargill was under hiding in Watersaugh, his enemies got notice, of it, and were in the court, before the door, before any of the inmates were aware of the danger in which the servant of God was thus placed. From the under-flat of this old mansion there is a door-way leading to the river, which flows past it at the distance of only a few yards. From this doorway Cargill managed to escape; and, dashing through the river, found refuge in the adjoining woods, till his pursuers, finding they had lost their prey, had withdrawn.

The old house of Watersaugh has many interesting historical and local associations, but, on passing it, the association ever uppermost in the writer’s mind is, that under its hospitable roof Cargill often found shelter and repose, and that from the low door-way, facing the river, he escaped on the occasion referred to.’ (Brown, Historical Sketches of the Parish of Cambusnethan, 147-8.)

Today, Watersaugh is a ruin. From Brown’s description, it appears that the “old mansion” was almost certainly a stone building and relatively close to the river. It was, apparently, part of a set of buildings around a court/courtyard of some sort. The description of an “under-flat” means that a floor or storey of the old mansion lay below the level of the main floor of the house. If anything survives of the old mansion, it may be the under flat, as that was the lowest storey of the building. The under flat was close to the river, as doorway from it led to the South Calder Water, which flowed past it ‘at the distance of only a few yards’.

It was through that doorway that Cargill is said to have escaped, dashed across the river and hid in the woods opposite Watersaugh.

For more on the Covenanters of Cambusnethan parish, see here.

For more on Donald Cargill, see here.

For James Stewart, a Covenanter martyr from Coltness, see here.

I am extremely grateful to @grahambuttis for renewing my interest in this site and making me look again at the Covenanter story connected with it. If it was not for people like him and others exploring and revealing local historical sites, all this would be lost.

Photos of Watersaugh reproduced by the very kind permission of @grahambuttis

~ by drmarkjardine on October 17, 2018.

One Response to “The Covenanter Donald Cargill’s Narrow Escape at Watersaugh near Wishaw #History #Scotland”

  1. […] The advantages that John Miller of Watersaugh offered was that he was a moderate presbyterian who is said to have been married to one of Donald Cargill’s sisters. Cargill was probably familiar with sister’s household. He was lived in Lanarkshire from the mid 1650s until he retired to his native Perthshire after the Restoration. From the late 1670s, when to took up field preaching in the area around Glasgow, he may well have stayed there and at some point, probably after the Bothwell Rising, he is said to have escaped soldiers searching…. […]

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