One Word, Two Covenanters and the Killing Times of 1685 #History #Scotland #Newmilns

Killing Times

One word can make all the difference when it comes to identifying the Covenanter martyrs of the Killing Times of 1685. If there is a transmission error in the evidence of a name, then one dead Covenanter can easily become two. Was that the case with John Smith and John Law who both died at Newmilns? Do we have 92, rather than 93, field deaths? If Smith has no gravestone to commend his memory to posterity, then Law’s gravestone is one without a past in earlier historical sources. Were they the same man?

Let’s investigate. Who was John Smith?

The First Historical Source
In 1690, Alexander Shields was the first to record John Smith’s killing: ‘Peter Inglis, his son [i.e. the son of Captain Inglis partly based at Newmilns], killed one John Smith in Cunningham, 1685’. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 37.)

George Ridpath used Shields as the only source for his list of the dead in 1693:
‘His son [Cornet Peter Inglis] killed one John Smith in Cunningham, in 1685;’

The list in Cloud of Witnesses in 1714, as ever, directly recycled Shields’ text:
‘Peter Ingles his son killed one John Smith in Cunningham, 1685.’

All of those sources are derived from Shields in 1690, but they do not tell us much beyond that Smith died somewhere in the Cunninghame district of Ayrshire at the hands of Cornet Peter Inglis.

Hardhill and Newmilns

The Second Historical Source
The only other historical source for John Smith’s death is James Nisbet’s spiritual autobiography, which was penned in the early years of the Eighteenth Century but not published for well over a century. Nisbet was from Hardhill by Newmilns and was hunted as a fugitive in 1685. He remembered Smith as one of those who was summarily executed even though he pass:

‘they shot severals to death who had that pass, lest they should come short in their measure of Cruelty; towit a Beggar in Galloway John Barry in Evandale, John Smith in Newmills, a young lad of 14 years of age near to Cumnock, and two others whose names I have forgot.’ (‘Narrative of James Nisbet’, 61.)

Nisbet is the first and only historical source to place Nisbet’s death ‘in Newmills’, i.e., Newmilns. It lies in Loudoun parish and is part of the district of Cunninghame in Ayrshire.

Nisbet’s Smith killed in Newmilns is Shields’ Smith killed in Cunninghame. It is not known if Nisbet had read Shields’ list of the dead. His recounting of those he remembered for being killed with a pass appears to be from memory, but that does not mean he had not read Shields. Shields only claimed that John Barrie, rather than John Smith, had a pass.

After Nisbet, there is a problematic silence about Smith in the historical sources. He was not mentioned by Wodrow in 1722, perhaps because he had no more information about him than Shields.

No Grave for John Smith
There is also a second problem. Smith had no gravestone erected to him by the “Continuing” Society people after 1702. They used Shields or, post 1714, Cloud of Witnesses as a source for the inscriptions on martyrs’ graves, sometimes tempered by local information to correct errors in the historical sources. It appears that the only historical sources they had was Shields’ claim that he was killed somewhere in Cunninghame, as they probably did not have access to Nisbet’s text.

The absence of a gravestone makes Smith one of only four out of ninety-three historical field deaths between 1682 and 1688 without a stone erected to them by the “Continuing” Society people.

The other three without a known grave may hint at potential reasons for why Smith does not have a marker.

The body of James McMichael was exhumed from a grave and exhibited on a gallows in 1685. The subsequent loss of McMichael’s body may account for the absence of a grave marker. He had also murdered a minister and was later, apparently, disowned by the Society people, which may well also account for why he had no stone erected by the “Continuing” Society people post 1702.

William Auchenleck was an innocent deaf man who was shot on the road. As Auchenleck was probably not engaged in the Society people’s struggle, he was not honoured with a grave marker by the “Continuing” Society people after 1702.

Little was known about William McKergour when the gravestones were erected. We know a little bit more about him today. However, it was not unusual for a gravestone to be erected even when there was little information available. There is probably enough detail in his entry in Shields’ list for it to have been used in an inscription. Why he does not have a gravestone is not known. It is possible that the location of his grave was not known. It is also possible that he was missed out when the gravestones were put up.

As we can see, John Smith’s death may fall into the latter category. The only published source available when the gravestones were erected simply gave his name, that he was killed by Cornet Inglis and, rather unhelpfully for locating a grave, that it took place somewhere in Cunninghame.

Thanks to Nisbet’s evidence which was published over a century later, we know that Smith was from Newmilns in Loudoun parish.

It was is there,160 years after his death, that a later tradition emerged that painted a vivid picture of Smith’s end and revealed to the world where his grave lay …


The Later Traditions of John Smith
Norman MacLeod, the minister of Loudoun parish, writing in the New Statistical Account in 1845, placed his death in the context of an attack to rescue prisoners on Newmilns Tower:

‘The dragoons soon went in pursuit of the prisoners, but they had reached the heather, and there no cavalry could pursue them. The soldiers, however, having ascertained that John Smith of Croonan had given the runaways food, went to Smith’s house, and, meeting him at his own door, shot him dead! Within a short period [before 1845] his grave was to be seen in the garden of the old farm-house [at Cronan].’ (NSA, V, 838.)

MacLeod was clear that Smith was shot dead after the rescue on the grounds that he had helped the rescuers escape.

Cronan Newmilns

More remarkable by Macleod was his revelation that there was a grave at Cronan in Loudoun parish. The garden of the old farmhouse there is still extant. It appears on the first OS map of c.1850, and its outline remains in situ today.

Map of Cronan

The mystery of the missing grave was solved. Or was it?

Later tradition is not a reliable guide to the history of the Killing Times. It is unreliable tradition that connects John Smith to Cronan and to a grave that had apparently vanished by 1845. Of course, it is possible that he was buried there, however, we have been here before with later traditional evidence … and not far away.

James Smith Grave

Later tradition is emphatic that another historical martyr known as James Smith was buried in a marked grave at Wee Threepwood in neighbouring Galston parish. However, it turns out that James Smith already had a gravestone in Mauchline, where he had died of his wounds. He may be “the fellow” Claverhouse sent on to Mauchline. It was probably erected by the “Continuing” Society people in the early Eighteenth Century, as the inscription claims that he died for ‘Scotland’s Covenanted work of Reformation’, a stock phrase they used in all their gravestones. Like several other martyr graves, it was not recorded in Cloud of Witnesses, which was never comprehensive in its coverage of martyr graves. The first record of it, as far as I can find, was in 1852, soon after the Cronan story appeared. However, the Mauchline grave continued to languish in obscurity as it was missed out of all the later catalogues of martyrs graves until it was finally recorded by Campbell in Standing Witnesses in 1996. The evidence we possess is fairly clear that James Smith may have been shot near Wee Threepwood, but that he died of his wounds in Mauchline.

The story of the two graves of James Smith leaves an obvious, if perhaps surprising, question: does John Smith already have a gravestone that is not the alleged traditional grave at Cronan which is lost? In my view, the answer to that question is yes.

The Graves of Newmilns and Loudoun parish
Is Smith’s grave one of the Covenanter graves in Newmilns where he died? The church at Newmilns has a collection of memorials and Covenanter graves.

As well as an obelisk dedicated to local Covenanters, it has a late, collective memorial to local Covenanters erected in 1822 (and recently renewed). It gives details of Matthew Paton who was executed at Glasgow in 1666, David Findlay who was shot near Newmilns in 1666, James Wood who was executed at Magus Muir in Fife in 1679, John Nisbet in Glen who was hanged at Kilmarnock in 1683 and James Nisbet in Highside who was hanged in Glasgow in 1684. None of them are buried at the church. Paton and John Nisbet are buried in Glasgow. Woods is buried in Fife. James Nisbet is buried in Kilmarnock. Only where Findlay (d.1666) lies is not known.

It also has a monument to John Nisbet of Hardhill, who was executed in Edinburgh in late 1685.

It also is said to have two Covenanter graves.

The first claims ‘Here lies John Gebbie in Feoch’, who died of wounds he had received at the battle of Drumclog in June, 1679. The inscription does not mention that he died ‘for Scotland’s Covenanted Reformation’, a formula the “Continuing” Society people used in nearly every inscription after 1702 to indicate that they claimed the martyr as one of their own. Instead, the inscription states that it was ‘according to the obligations our National Covenants & agreeable to the word of God’. That qualification probably means that the gravestone was not erected by the “Continuing” Society people. It was restored in 1929.

The second gravestone (which has been recently renewed, see above) claims that ‘Here Lies John Morton in Broomhill’, who was killed at Drumclog, It, too, uses the formula of ‘according to the obligations of our National Covenants and agreeable to the word of God’. It was restored in 1920.

However, there is a problem with the two ‘here lies’ graves at Newmilns. The church of Loudoun parish was moved from Old Loudoun to Newmilns in 1738. How are graves from 1679 at a church which was not there before 1738? Until evidence emerges that their remains or gravestones were moved to the 1738 church, or that there was a graveyard there long before the church was built, the veracity of these stones marking actual Covenanter graves is doubtful. (Fasti, III, 119.)

The other grave at Old Loudoun Church is on firmer historical ground.

The Grave at Old Loudoun
Thomas Fleming ‘in Loudounhill’ is buried at Old Loudoun Church. It lies outside of Newmilns and was the parish church in 1679. He, too, died of wounds received at Drumclog and his gravestone uses exactly the same formula as the two other Drumclog graves at Newmilns, i.e., ‘according to the obligations of our National Covenants and agreeable to the word of God’.

None of the above can be the gravestone of John Smith. What of the remaining grave?

John Law’s Grave
That is the grave of John Law. He was buried in a kailyard, i.e., a vegetable garden, of a house close by Newmilns Tower. Today, the present-day gravestone has moved a very short distance to lie next to Newmilns Tower in Castle Street.

Map of Newmilns Tower

Was John Smith the same individual as John Law? Let us explore who John Law was.

The Exception to the Rule
The grave of John Law is unique among all the stones erected to those who were killed in the fields between 1682 and 1688, as it is the only gravestone without a provenance for the martyr in the early historical sources. Law is one of the 89 martyrs that are recorded on gravestones. All the other martyrs with gravestones were either recorded by Shields in 1690, or Wodrow in 1722. Law is not recorded in any of those historical sources. That should give pause for thought for anyone interested in the history of the Killing Times. It is clear that there is an extremely strong correlation between the historical sources and the gravestones for the martyrs of the Killing Times. Why is Law’s gravestone unique in not fitting that pattern? Why is he the exception to the rule?

It used to be obvious that the gravestone of Robert McWhae, who is buried at Kirkandrews in Galloway, also had no provenance in the historical sources. However, it is now absolutely clear that a typesetting error in Shields’ list of 1690, which he picked up in his errata but almost nobody else did, means that McWhae is the same individual as a “Mowat” listed by Shields who had no gravestone.

The case of McWhae/Mowat highlights how errors in the transmission of evidence can produce two martyrs when only one existed. It shows that simple mistakes in the names of martyrs can result in duplication. It also demonstrates how the bond between the sources and the gravestone can be used to resolve problems in the historical evidence.

Is there a transmission error in the case of John Law? Were John Law and John Smith the same individual?

John Smith died in Newmilns, Loudoun parish, but has no grave.
John Law died in Newmilns, Loudoun parish, and has a grave.

What if one of those surnames was an error for the other? Given that the evidence that James Nisbet also named him as Smith, probably prior to the erection of the gravestone, it is possible that an error was made when the inscription on the gravestone was drawn up. However, the error may lie earlier in Shields’ list, especially if Nisbet had read it. We know that the grave inscriptions did occasionally correct errors in Shields’ list of 1690. In my view, there is a transmission error or correction somewhere in the chain of evidence that has not been detected.

What does John Law’s grave indicate?

The First Record of Law’s Grave
Law’s grave was first recorded in the fifth edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1741, which noted ‘upon the Gravestone of John Law, in a kailyard of Newmilns’ and then gave a copy of the poetic inscription. It did not give any details about what the historically informative, preceding part of the inscription recorded about Law. However, at least we know that Law’s gravestone was both extant and erected before 1741.

Law is the last of the martyrs to appear in a historical source, i.e., in the inscription on the pre-1741 grave. After Law, only “the martyrs of tradition” emerge in the Nineteenth Century and they are all of very doubtful veracity.

Unlike the other Newmilns graves, John Law’s is in a different league with regard to acknowledgment that it was erected by the “Continuing” Society people after 1702, who almost universally used either Shields (1690) or Cloud of Witnesses (1714), sometimes used Wodrow (1722), and local knowledge, as sources for their inscriptions.

Is this a case where local information that he was called Law, overrode Shields’ claim that he was called Smith?

It is worth noting that here we have John Smith who appears in historical sources prior to 1722 and then disappears before he reappears in later tradition in 1845. Before the records of the inscription in 1741, there is absolutely no historical evidence for the death of John Law. If the bond between the sources and the gravestone can resolve problems in the evidence, then Smith and Law fit together rather well. It looks like a transmission error in, or correction to, the surname.

But we can go further than a pattern in line with an evidence-based theory between two deaths in the same parish, with one in the historical sources and the other only recorded in an inscription. The inscription on his pre-1741 grave actually says he died at the same time as John Smith died according to later tradition.

What does the inscription record?
It is tricky to know precisely what the original form of the inscription on Law’s grave recorded, as the stone was renewed or replaced in 1822, 1930 and post 1996. The original stone, or that from 1822 or1930, has vanished. In 1996 which ever stone survived was described as being very badly weathered.

However, we do know that the original stone contained a similar inscription to the record of the inscription in 1996:

Who was shot at Newmilns AT
The relieving of 8 of Christ’s
Prisoners, Who were taken at A meet[in]g
For Prayer at Little Blackwood, in the
Parish of Kilm[arnoc]k in April 1685, By Capt
INGLIS and his Party, For Their
Adherence to the Word of God
And Scotland’s Covenanted Work
of Reformation

Cause I Christ’s Prisoners relieved
I of my life was soon beriev’d
By cruel Enemies with rage
In that Rencounter did engage
The Martyr’s honour and his Crown
Restow’d on me, O high Renown
That I Should not only believe
But For Christ’s cause my Life
should give.
in 1822 and 1930’
(Campbell, Standing Witnesses, 147.)

What can we tell about Law’s end from that? First, that he was ‘shot’ in Newmilns “at” the rescue of eight prisoners:

‘Who was shot at Newmilns AT
The relieving of 8 of Christ’s

However, being shot “at” the relieving of prisoners does not necessarily mean that he was shot during the rescue. That is clear from the poem that we know appeared on the earliest form of the gravestone:

‘Cause I Christ’s Prisoners relieved
I of my life was soon beriev’d
By cruel Enemies with rage
In that Rencounter did engage’

It is clear that the whole inscription implies that Law was killed ‘soon’ after he and others had rescued the prisoners, rather than before the rescue was completed. A later unreliable tradition by the journalist Archibald McKay in 1848 would claim that Law was shot from the top of the tower during the attack. That is satisfying in the dramatic sense, it is a story worthy of telling, but it is not the narrative that the inscription outlines.

The inscription claims that he was killed by ‘cruel Enemies with rage’ who in the ‘Rencounter’ at Newmilns Tower ‘did engage’. That sounds like he was killed at Newmilns soon after the attack by troops pursuing those responsible for the attack.

The grave shows that he was buried close to the tower at Newmilns. It does not indicate where he was captured. It is possible that Law was captured elsewhere in the locality and brought to the tower where he was summarily executed. Was he taken elsewhere in the parish without a pass and brought to Newmilns for interrogation and then summary execution? It is possible, but we do not know.

The Return of John Smith “in Cronan”
The historical sources only reveal that John Smith was killed by Cornet Inglis at ‘Newmills’ and had a pass. However, the unreliable tradition from 1845, given above, claims that Smith was killed after the prisoner rescue at Newmilns for aiding the rescuers at Cronan. It says that he was killed on his doorstep at Cronan and buried there, but as we saw in the case of James Smith at Wee Threepwood, the traditional claim that he was killed and buried there does not stand up.

John Law died soon after the attack and was buried Newmilns. Tradition claims that John Smith died after the same attack.

Nisbet’s claim that Smith was shot for having a pass at Newmilns only partially contradicts the traditional story that he was killed for assisting the rescuers at Cronan, as he may have been taken at Cronan and summarily executed close to Newmilns Tower. Is that why there is no credible grave to Smith at Cronan, but there is one to Law by Newmilns Tower?

We can go further than that potential link.

The Outsider Grave
Why was Law buried in a kailyard and remained interred there? Why was he not brought within the community of Loudoun parish and buried in the kirkyard of the local parish church? Was he an outsider to the parish community? Whether you go with Smith being buried at Cronan, or Law at Newmilns Tower, that issue has to be addressed.

Later unreliable tradition alleged that Law was from Loudounhill in Loudoun parish, which is the same location as Thomas Fleming, who died of wounds from Drumclog and is buried at Old Loudoun. is said to have been from. Why is Fleming, who had taken up arms in 1679 buried in the graveyard, but Law, who did the same in 1685, not?

Was it because Fleming was from the parish and Law/Smith was not? Law’s grave may be a classic case of a burial of someone from out with the parish. He was summarily executed in that parish, but not from it and thus not entitled to be buried in the parish kirkyard.

Smith is said to have been executed, even though he had a pass, in Loudoun parish. To have a pass to travel, one had to have publically taken the Abjuration oath in January or early February 1685 in your home parish that renounced the Society people’s war against the state. If Smith’s pass was an issue in his death, then he was probably not from Loudoun parish, where we know that he was executed. It appears that both Smith and Law were outsiders and not from Loudoun parish.

They also have “outsider” graves which are not in graveyards. Law was buried ‘in a kailyard’, i.e., a kitchen or vegetable garden, by Newmilns Tower. The unreliable tradition about John Smith claims he was also buried in the ‘garden’ of the farmhouse at Cronan.

In Summary
John Smith and John Law were both killed in 1685. Both were summarily executed/shot in Newmilns.

Smith was shot by Cornet Peter Inglis of Captain Inglis’s troop of dragoons. Law was killed by Captain Inglis’s dragoons from Newmilns Tower.

Law was probably shot ‘soon’ after the attack on Newmilns Tower of 25 April, 1685. Later tradition claims that Smith was shot after that attack by pursuing troops.

The later 1845 tradition of Smith’s grave at Cronan is not reliable evidence and there is no trace of it. John Law’s grave at Newmilns has a credible “Continuing” Society people stone which was erected prior to 1741 and certainly not before 1702.

John Smith appears in two historical sources. John Law is only named on his grave and does not appear in other historical sources. The inscriptions on the “Continuing” Society people gravestones did on occasion correct errors in Shields’ list of 1690.

John Smith is one of only 4 out of 93 named martyrs in the historical sources who do not have a gravestone dedicated to them. John Law is the only gravestone of those erected to 89 martyrs of the Killing Times which is not found in Shields or Wodrow.

Both Law and Smith appear to have been from outside of Loudoun parish, as they are both not buried in the parish churchyard. Both of them are said to have been buried in gardens.

The simplest explanation for all those parallels in the evidence is that there was a transmission error in, or correction to, the surname given for the martyr, either in Shields/Nisbet, or when the grave was inscribed.

If we accept that John Smith and John Law were the same individual, then we remove the only exception to the rule that the gravestones erected post 1702 to the victims of the Killing Times are derived from those specifically named in the early historical sources.

That also means that 92, rather than 93, individuals died in the fields during the Killing Times of 1682 to 1688.

We may finally have a definitive list …

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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 July 10, 2019.

2 Responses to “One Word, Two Covenanters and the Killing Times of 1685 #History #Scotland #Newmilns”

  1. Fascinating! That must have taken a fair bit if research.

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