A Side Light on the Covenanter Martyr Edward MacKean of 1685 #History #Scotland

William Harris Covenanters 1887

Wodrow tells the story of Edward McKean’s killing at Dalwyne in February, 1685, but he also has a second story about the same farm in the same time period which he leaves the reader to connect.

That a second narrative in Wodrow’s History is related to the killing of Edward McKean, raises some interesting questions about what went on. The place in question where Wodrow’s stories converge is at Dalwyne in Barr parish in Carrick, Ayrshire.

Map of Dalwyne

According to Wodrow, Thomas Abercrombie, elder, in Dalwyne, Barr parish, ‘underwent’ great sufferings ‘for mere nonconformity’, i.e., refusing to attend worship at his local church. However, the causes of his later sufferings appear to be more complex than that. It is clear that Edward McKean was shot at Dalwyne when Abercrombie and his family were present. In other words, Abercrombie had a militant presbyterian and probable fugitive found on his farm which increased his sufferings.

Wodrow’s account of Abercrombie’s sufferings up to 1683, reveals that he was suspected of being a long-term Presbyterian sympathiser and fined and quartered for that:

‘I set down from an attested relation, chiefly, that the reader from its particulars may be able to guess at the losses of honest people in this period, not only from their fines, but the circumstances of their finings, and the trouble they were necessarily obliged to before they got rid of them. This will appear from the case of Thomas Abercrombie in Dalwyne, in the parish of Bar. For dry quarters in the year 1678, at the incoming of the highland host, he expended a great sum. In the year 1679, he suffered a great loss from the quartering of dragoons for some time upon his house, and they spoiled it when they went off. In the year 1683, he paid a hundred pounds to [James Crawford of] Ardmillan, for alleged hearing of presbyterian ministers, many years ago, with fifteen pounds to his son James Crawford, and fifteen pounds to the soldiers employed against him by Ardmillan.’

Ardmillan was a notorious profiteer from repression. Abercrombie looks like he was a profitable target. It is worth noting that Abercrombie did not take part in rebellion at Bothwell and that he and his son of the same name were not fugitives.

The Raid on Dalwyne in November, 1684
However, in November, 1684, his story takes a different turn, when Abercrombie was apprehended, allegedly, ‘without any reason given’:

‘Upon the fifteenth of November last year [1684], at midnight, in his own house, he was apprehended, without any reason given, and carried away prisoner, and he had money largely to give before he got off. Besides, the soldiers spoiled his house, turned down his corn-stacks, and abused his victual.’

We do not know why a midnight raid to capture Abercrombie took place. However, we can draw parallels with what happened to other nonconformists at the same time.

His capture may have been as a result of parish lists drawn up by ministers in Ayrshire that listed nonconformists in each parish. Those lists have not survived. However, similar lists were drawn up right across neighbouring Galloway in October. (Only those from Wigtownshire have survived.) If that was the case, Abercrombie’s name would have appeared on the list drawn up by his local minster, Hercules Lindsay, as a constant withdrawer from the kirk.

Those lists were drawn up in advance of the circuit courts held in the main burgh of each shire in mid to late October.

The main aim of those circuit courts was not to try fugitives, but to deny them a support base. The circuit courts had a remit to deal with those suspected of reset and converse with fugitives, and to seek out nonconformists from the parish lists, e.g. see nearby Penninghame parish where the nonconformist Margaret Wilson first came to the attention of the authorities via her parish list.

After the October circuit courts, nonconformists were sought out. It appears that Abercrombie fell into that category and was captured and imprisoned in November, 1684. According to Wodrow, Abercrombie ‘had money largely to give before he got off’ and out of prison. Wodrow does not specify what else Abercrombie had to commit to beyond making payment, but it is clear that he would have had to promise to live regularly, attend church and not to assist fugitives in any way. It was the latter which got Abercrombie and his family into deeper trouble when McKean was discovered at Dalwyne.

The Second Raid on Dalwyne in February 1685
The reason why Cornet Dundas appeared at Dalwyne in February was that he had intelligence ‘that there were whigs there’, i.e., he had information that fugitives, either from Bothwell or the Abjuration courts in January, 1685, were at Dalwyne. (Wodrow, History, IV, 241.)

The overturning of the corn stacks during the November raid, is an interesting detail, as according to Wodrow, Edward McKean, he had ‘lately come thence to buy corn’ when he was discovered by Cornet Dundas at Dalwyne in February, 1685. Why McKean allegedly wished to purchase corn was not specified in Wodrow’s account of his death, but presumably McKean needed corn to sustain himself or others close to him when winter passed.

Dundas was probably based at a newly established garrison at Blairquhan in Straiton parish when raided Dalwyne. At that time, he was probably seeking out those who had evaded the Abjuration oath in Carrick after it was pressed in mid to late January, 1685. It appears that McKean had evaded taking the Abjuration oath.

It also appears that both Thomas Abercrombies, elder and younger, were present when McKean was summarily executed:

‘The soldiers [under Dundas] beat and wounded terribly two other men who lived hard by [where MacKean was captured], against whom they had nothing, Thomas Abercromby father and son. They [also] beat and abused the women most barbarously, and carried away David Martin, and one of the Abercrombies, prisoners with them to Colmonel next morning, being the Lord’s day [i.e., on Sunday, 1 March].’

Presumably, it was Thomas Abercrombie, the younger, who was taken away as a prisoner to Colmonell parish, as Wodrow does not mention that incident in his account of the sufferings of the elder Abercromie. The latter remained at Dalwyne.

Further Sufferings and his Death
‘In May and June this year [1685], the soldiers, in coming and going, took of his sheep at their pleasure, and killed and ate them.’

In July, the [soldiers’] camp being near his house, his loss cannot be estimated. Thomas [Abercrombie, elder,] himself was taken prisoner [on] July 18th. His house was spoiled, and he sent into Edinburgh. There he was threatened with [banishment to] the plantations, when the rest of the prisoners were sent thither [at the end of July]. To prevent this, he made some interest, and gave Sir George Mackenzie ten crowns, to Sir William Paterson five crowns, to the underclerks and other servants twelve crowns.’

On reason why soldiers may have been camped in the vicinity, was that a night preaching by Alexander Peden by Pingerrach was betrayed to the authorities. Field preachings were investigated and troops sent to capture the preacher and discover who had attended. That field preaching took place at some point after 16 June, as Peden was near Wigtown on that date.

After his capture on 18 July, Thomas Abercrombie, elder, was imprisoned in Edinburgh tolbooth. On 31 July, 1685, Abercrombie’s banishment was delayed on the grounds of his ‘old’ age and at around the same time the privy council ‘allowes Thomas Abercrombie from Carrick to consider on the oath of allegiance’. (RPCS, XI, 129, 330.)

Wodrow continues:
‘After this paving of the way [for his release through payments], he petitioned the council for his liberation; which was granted upon his paying a hundred pounds fine, and giving bond to compear when called; and at his removal he had thirty pounds to pay to the keepers.’

Abercrombie took the oath and was ordered to be liberated on 22 October, 1685:

‘The saids Lords haveing called and examined Thomas Abercrombie, prisoner in the tolbooth of Edinburgh, and haveing owned the King [i.e., James VII] and his authority and prayed for him and acknowledged they ryseing at Bothwellbridge and all such rysings to be rebellion against the King and a sin befor God, and there being nothing informed against him, the saids Lords, in respect of his povertie and old age, doe hereby grant ordor and warrant for his libertie, he haveing found caution under the penalty of five hundred merks [or £333 Scots] to compear when called and in the meantyme he shall live regularly and orderly.’ (RPCS, XI, 204.)

‘After he came home from Edinburgh [to Dalwyne], he was attacked by Hugh Muir, bailie of Carrick, for not hearing the episcopal minister, and paid him fifty pounds, and five pounds to his officers.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 339-40.)

Thomas Abercrombie, elder, appears to have died soon after in the last months of 1685. His son and daughters considered it murder. (Thomas Abercrombie, ‘Account, of 1711, by daughters, Anna, Grizel and son Thomas, of the murder their father in 1685’, NLS MSS. Wod.Qu.XXXVII, f. 250.)


A Link to the Barrhill Martyrs?
An intriguing detail in Wodrow’s account of the sufferings at Dalwyne is that fact that soldiers were camped near Abercrombie’s house at Dalwyne in July, 1685:

‘In July, the [soldiers’] camp being near his house, his loss cannot be estimated. Thomas himself was taken prisoner July 18th.’

Dalwyne lies close to Barr Kirk where Lieutenant-General William Drummond interrogated Gilbert McIlroy at some point between June and mid July, 1685. Barr Kirk was probably the location for the soldiers’ camp.

Map of Barr Kirk

The betrayal of a field preaching by Alexander Peden at Pingerrach (post 16 June) possibly led to Drummond and his men camping at nearby Barr Kirk.

At around the same time, Drummond and his men killed the two Barrhill martyrs, John Murchie and Daniel McIlwraith, and Alexander Linn in Kirkcowan parish.

As Thomas Abercrombie, elder, was ‘taken prisoner’ on 18 July, it is probable that Lt-General Drummond’s men were also responsible for his capture.

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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 November 24, 2018.

4 Responses to “A Side Light on the Covenanter Martyr Edward MacKean of 1685 #History #Scotland”

  1. I would be very glad for your thoughts on any connection between Covenanters and the significant Scottish contingent on the Patuxent in Maryland during these times. The overall driving force was Lord Baltimore’s thirst for settlers to rival the larger Virginia. The Scottish community there began with about 150 Scottish prisoners of war that arrived on a “Guinea frigate” via Barbados in early 1651/2. Thereafter, Scottish indentured servants or prisoners brought first to Barbados would often move on to Maryland when they got their freedom. John Bogue or Boage and William Mills were the agents, bankrolled by Thomas Cornwalleys, a close friend of Lord Baltimore and a Catholic. Mills owned tracts called Haddington, Dunbarre and Trenent. The trade between Barbados and Maryland was conducted by John Horne (a Roundhead) and his protege, John Edmondson, who became a Quaker. Early leaders of the Scottish colony included Alexander Beall, Ninian Beall and Alexander Magruder who were Presbyterians. The Bealls (Bells) were from Largo, Fife. Another important family were the Thompsons, merchants of Edinburgh with a base at Shaftesbury, Dorset. These all gave names to their land patents such as Pentland Hills, Rock of Dumbarton, Dundee, The Nock, Fife’s Largo, and Barbadoes. Ninian Beall transported a large number of Scottish settlers to Maryland in the 1680s and sold them land. At his death, his estate included “Works of Bishop Cooper,” “Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland,” and “Chronicles of Charles I and Charles II.” I don’t know enough about Scotland to place these people firmly within the milieu there, so any advice you can give would be much appreciated. Please feel free to contact me at my email address.

  2. I have M(a)cKean ancestry from that area. It would be interesting to know if we’re related. The name used to be pronounced “MacKain” much like “MacLean” is still today. It is unclear whether the name is originally MacIain (which may link it to the MacDonalds of Glencoe), MacCathain (which would link it to Ireland) or MacFhionn (which seems to give rise to McKeand in the area).

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