Rediscovered for #History near Shotts. The Site of Cargill’s Preaching on Cameron’s Death in 1680 #Scotland

Gregor Steele Traditional Preaching Camerons Death 1680

Is this where Donald Cargill preached on the death of Richard Cameron in 1680? Is this the Deer Slunk of Covenanter tradition? Are they the same place? The photograph, above, is of a traditional Covenanter preaching site identified by Brian Hughes in a comment on this blog, which Gregor Steele then kindly found and photographed for all of us to see.

According to Brian, this is the Deer Slunk. Local tradition claims that the Deer Slunk was where Cargill preached on Cameron’s death.

However, as is often the case, the historical sources and later tradition do not agree with each other.

Gregor Steele Starryshaw 2 2020

History, Tradition and the Deer Slunk
Later tradition from Shotts appears to claim that the Deer Slunk lay somewhere close to Starryshaw, which lies in Shotts parish.

A monument erected near Starryshaw in 1925 declares that ‘near this spot, where the Covenanters worshipped, Richard Cameron‘s funeral sermon was preached by Donald Cargill on 25, July, 1680.’

‘This spot’ is close to Starryshaw farm.

Map of Starryshaw Monument

According to a newspaper report of the unveiling ceremony for the monument: “It stands near The Deer Slunk, where Richard Cameron’s funeral sermon was preached by Donald Cargill.”

What makes that claim interesting is that the only historical source for the preaching, Patrick Walker, does not say where the sermon on Cameron’s death was preached beyond it being in Shotts parish:

‘Mr. Cargill preached upon the 25th [July, 1680] in the parish of Shot[t]s, upon that Text, Know you not that there is a great Man and Prince fallen in our Israel? [2 Samuel 3.38.]’. (Walker, BP, II, 9-10.)

He does not mention the Deer Slunk as the location for the preaching.

Walker was not present at the sermon on Cameron’s death. His informant for Cargill’s actions that day was probably one or two of the Russell brothers who lived at Starryshaw in 1680, as he often refers to them in relation to Cargill’s actions in that area. If Walker had been there, his account of the sermon on Cameron’s death would almost certainly have been more detailed. He would not have wanted to miss that “moment” in his published lives of Cargill and Cameron. What Walker reported was his memory of conversations he had with the Russells forty-five years before he published his life of Cargill.

We have been here before with Walker, who is usually accurate about placenames and locations. One or two of the Russell brothers were also his informant/s for Cargill’s actions at a place called Benty-rig in June, 1681. On that occasion, Walker stated the location was ‘very near’ Starryshaw. However, wherever Benty-rig was, it was, apparently, some distance from Starryshaw (It possibly lay in Carluke parish, i.e., on the other side of the moor, which is not ‘very near’ to Starryshaw.)

Patrick Walker’s Deer Slunk
Patrick Walker did mention the Deer Slunk in his account of where the Sweet Singers lay one morning in 1681. He was quite precise about where it lay, as he states it was ‘about a mile’ from the Darmead field preaching site and, importantly, lay “in Midst of a great flow Moss betwixt Clydsdale and Lothian”. Walker had grown up nearby, so presumably he was familiar with the landscape. There is only one landscape feature on the moor that fits Walker’s description of where the Deer Slunk lay. This is it, as found and photographed (again) by Gregor Steele.

The Deer Slunk Gregor Steele 3

It lies three miles to the south of the Starryshaw Monument. That does not really fit with the later tradition that the Deer Slunk lay near the monument, but it does fit with Walker’s claim in a historical source. It lies in West Calder parish, rather than Shotts parish.

Map of Walker’s Deer Slunk

Let’s call this site the “historical” Deer Slunk. Remember, Walker said the preaching on Cameron’s death took place in Shotts parish and he did not link it to the Deer Slunk.

Walker stated that the Deer Slunk lay “in Midst of a great flow Moss betwixt Clydsdale and Lothian”. Midst is the key word here, i.e., in the middle of the moor and close to the march boundary.

Tradition in Shotts does the opposite. It links the Deer Slunk to the preaching on Cameron’s death.

Tradition and the Deer Slunk
Later tradition, two-hundred years later, claimed that the preaching on Cameron’s death took place in the Deer Slunk and that it lay ‘near’ the Starryshaw Monument.

It is hard to dispute where later tradition claims that the preaching took place, but it is also very hard to verify the veracity of that claim, as later tradition is unreliable evidence and the only historical source for where it took place thought that the preaching was in Shotts parish.

This brings us rather neatly to Brian’s evidence. It is very credible:

‘The Deer Slunk is situated on the left as you drive past Headless Cross farm headed for Forth. You walk through the first firebreak in the woods you come to till you meet the burn and go right, you come to a large cave like overhang. There you will see the Covenanters’ preaching place with a large rock with a cross carved in. A magical place I used to go to a lot. There even a chance of a wild trout if you fish the burn. That and plenty sightings of deer.’

This is the location that Brian identified.

Map of the preaching place

It is just over two miles south of the Starryshaw Monument, so again, not that ‘near’, but nearer to the monument than Walker’s Deer Slunk by a mile.

Gregor was intrigued by Brian’s comment and decided to visit the location and document it.

As you can see from Gregor’s photographs, this is indeed a magical location.

Whether that is the Deer Slunk where Walker claimed the Sweet Singers hid is open to question, as it is two miles from Darmead, not ‘about a mile’. However, this is probably where later tradition claimed that Cargill preached on Cameron’s death in 1680.

There is also a problem with that. Walker claimed that the preaching on Cameron’s death took place in Shotts parish, but this site lies in West Calder parish, but only just.

It also does not fit Walker’s description that the Deer Slunk lay “in Midst of a great flow Moss betwixt Clydsdale and Lothian”. This is on the edge of that moss.

No Easy Solution to Tradition Vs. History

If we detach the placename Deer Slunk from the later traditional site then we have two sites.

One is the place were the Sweet Singers hid in 1681, according to Patrick Walker’s historical account.

The second is where, according to later tradition, Cargill preached on Cameron’s death in 1680.

That is a solution to the History versus Tradition problem, but you have to decide for yourselves. Why not visit both sites when you have time like Gregor did? One is probably the historical Deer Slunk where the Sweet Singers hid close to Darmead in 1681, the other is possibly the traditional site of Cargill’s preaching on Cameron’s death in 1680. Both are worthy of attention.

All photographs are reproduced by the very kind permission of @Gregor_notwork

~ by drmarkjardine on April 8, 2020.

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