The Torn Bible of the Covenanter and Assassin Balfour at RUSI #History #Scotland

•June 21, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Bible John Bafour of Kinloch

‘253.–Bible which belonged to John Balfour of Kinloch, “The Covenanter,” who, with others, took up arms against the [allegedly] intolerant Government of Charles II.; he fought at Drumclog, where, on [correction] 1 June, 1679, the “Covenanters” defeated [John] Graham of Claverhouse.
The first part of this Bible was torn out by Balfour to make wads for his musket.’ (Official Catalogue of the Royal United Services Museum (1914), 31.)

It is a nice story, that the Covenanter John Balfour of Kinloch tore pages from his bible to ‘make wads for his musket’. However, the assassin of Archbishop Sharp in 1679 probably tore the first pages out of his bible to remove what he saw as the “offensive” dedication of God’s word to King James VI.


For example, Christopher Miller did the same thing and the Sweet Singers are said to have torn and burned the bible, or at least parts of it written by man.

It would be interesting to know where Balfour’s bible is now, as RUSI is in a process of handing over its wonderful collection of historical objects to other institutions. The National Museum of Scotland would be an ideal home for Balfour’s intriguing bible.

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Traditions of the Capture of the Covenanter Daniel MacMichael #History #Scotland

•June 5, 2018 • 1 Comment

In the 1840s, Simpson published “traditions” that he had collected about the Covenanter Daniel MacMichael. Quite a significant portion of Simpson’s “traditions” of MacMichael were based on Wodrow’s account of his death over a century before. However, there were areas where Simpson diverged from the historical sources for MacMichael’s death.

The Refuge at Blairfoot
Simpson noted that MacMichael appeared on the published fugitive roll of May, 1684 as “Daniel M’Michael in Lurgfoot.”, but claimed that Lurgfoot was ‘now called Blairfoot, and belongs to the farm of Burn, in the parish of Morton, in Nithsdale.’

The historical sources place MacMichael at Lorgfoot, now Lorg, in Dalry parish, rather than at Blairfoot.

The farm at Blairfoot by Burn had vanished just before Simpson visited the location probably prior to the mid 1840s:

‘The house in which Daniel lived at Blairfoot is now razed from its foundation. It was demolished only the other year, when the ploughshare was made to pass over its site, and a solitary tree is left to mark the spot where this honest worthy lived’.

Map of former location of Blairfoot

The ‘solitary tree’ that Simpson probably observed was the Judgment Thorn, which lay close to Blairfoot.

The OS name book for the parish in the 1850s describes the Judgment Thorn as

‘A thorn tree probably the last representative of a group of thorns which had marked the spot where some execution or murder had occurred. — Within sight and at a short distance to the north-west there is a small conical hill encircled by a natural amphitheatre which might formerly have been used for judicial purposes.’

And that

‘Mr. Nevison [i.e., Thomas Nivison], of the Burn [farm], recollects the Ancient Thorn tree being standing, and says, this [Thorn] is growing from the old root’.

Map of former site of Judgment Thorn

It is an intriguing intersection between traditions that the Judgment Thorn was said to have been ‘where some execution or murder had occurred’ and that Simpson may have believed that the executed MacMichael lived by it.

The Capture of MacMichael
Simpson claimed that Blairfoot was where Covenanters took shelter:

‘One day a company of these pious persons met at Blairfoot, for the purpose of engaging in religious exercises, and they adopted the common precaution of stationing a friend as a warder, to give notice in case of danger.

At this time, Dalziel of Kirkmichael and Lieutenant Straiton, with a party of fifty soldiers, were ranging the country in quest of fugitives. Muncie of Durisdeer, the informer, having received notice of the meeting that was being held in Daniel’s house, lost no time in communicating information of the circumstance to the commander of the troops, who led his company without delay to Blairfoot.

The watchman, however, observed their approach, and hastened to the house with the unwelcome tidings. The party within instantly prepared for flight, but in their haste to be gone they forgot not their sickly brother. They knew that if he were left alone his sickness would procure him no exemption from the ill usage with which the soldiers might be disposed to treat him, and therefore they determined to remove him from his bed, and carry him along with them. Accordingly they wrapped him in the warm bed-clothes, and conveyed him with all speed, and unobserved, to the cave.’

Simpson claims that MacMichael was removed from Blairfoot to a cave. He had described the cave earlier in his story, but did not identify where it was:

‘In this locality there was a cave by the margin of a mountain stream, to which, in those days, the Covenanters often resorted. It was a hallowed retreat to many, not only as a place of refuge from their foes, but as a sanctuary for heavenly fellowship.’

The cave, if it existed, lay somewhere in the hills to the east of Blairfoot.

According to Simpson there was an intelligencer among those with Macmichael:

‘But there was another informer beside Muncie, and one who pretended to belong to their party, and who, under the mask of friendship and of piety, had connected himself with them, with a view to accomplish his own nefarious designs. This individual (whose name we do not deem it prudent to mention) left the cave to give certain information to the party that was in quest of the fugitives.

Another of the company having left the hiding-place shortly after the departure of the traitor, and having occasion to call at a smithy in the neighbourhood, was informed that their nameless associate was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and that he would to a certainty conduct the troopers to their place of concealment.

On receiving this report, the man hastened back to his companions in the cave to expedite their retreat before the soldiers should arrive. The friends in hiding agreed instantly to vacate the cavern, and to separate themselves into two companies, the one party conveying Daniel, who was unable to walk, to move in the direction of Durisdeer; and the other party to flee towards the dark moss hags of Kirkhope.

It was the design of the latter party to act as a decoy to the dragoons, and to draw them away from the party that was conveying their friend Daniel towards Durisdeer. The dragoons, however, having observed the movement, divided themselves also into two parties, the one pursuing the fugitives that were hastening to the wilds of Kirkhope, and the other following in the route of the company that were moving more slowly with their sickly charge.’

The two parties different direction of travel allow us to roughly locate where the traditional cave allegedly lay in the hills to the east of Blairfoot.

The Decoy Party
The decoy party apparently headed to ‘the wilds’ or ‘moss hags’ of Kirkhope.

Kirkhope lay across the hills to the east of Durisdeer and in Crawford parish, Lanarkshire. Today, the farm lies by at the southern end of the Daer Reservoir.

Map of Kirkhope

The Party with MacMichael
According to the tradition, MacMichael’s party headed towards Durisdeer, which lies on the western edge of the hills and directly to the north of Blairfoot.

From the location of Durisdeer, it is clear that the party with MacMichael were headed either in a westerly, or north-westerly direction through the hills for Glenaggart which leads to Durisdeer.

It is also clear that the decoy party were heading either in a northerly or north-easterly direction towards Kirkhope.

The Covenanter’s Cave
The Covenanter’s Cave at Earn Craig lies in that rough area. It lies directly to the south of Kirkhope close to the head of the Daer Water and Daer Hass. It also lies to the east through the hills of both Durisdeer and Blairfoot.

The Covenanter’s Cave is located in Closeburn parish, the neighbouring parish to Morton parish, and very close to march boundary with Crawford parish in Lanarkshire.

The Cave lies by the source for the Capel Water which flows directly to Locherben and Mitchellslacks, where the fugitive James and Thomas Harknesses lived. Both men had taken part in the rescue at Enterkin along with MacMichael’s brother, James. It is possible that Daniel MacMichael had also taken part in the rescue. He may have had some connection with them, which later led to his execution at the entry to the Enterkin Pass.

Map of Covenanter’s Cave at Earn Craig

Simpson’s remarkably detailed and unreliable tradition continues:

‘The company that fled to the moss [towards Kirkhope] expected to secure themselves in its deep trenches from the approach of the soldiers. In some of the messy parts of the hills and moors there are deep gullies, worn by the impetuous streams that descend from the heights after the melting of the winter snows, or during the gushing of a great thunder spate. These water courses are in some places covered above with the tufted heather, which, decked with its purple blossoms, waves on each margin of the narrow ditch. It was into one of these slippery conduits that an individual of the fleeing party was endeavouring to creep, when the troopers came in view of the dark and rugged peat ground. This circumstance was observed by one of the dragoons only, who, being unwilling, it would seem, to expose the life of the poor man, fell to the rear of his party, and allowing them to proceed, advanced cautiously to the mouth of the mossy outlet, and seeing the cowering fugitive stretched at his full length in his murky hiding-place, accosted him in a suppressed and gentle tone, saying: “Friend, I know you are one of the party whom we are pursuing; I have no desire, however, to reveal you; creep further into the hole, and stir not till the danger be overpast.” He then rejoined his companions in the pursuit, but how the affair ended with this branch of the fugitives tradition has not said.

Meanwhile, the party who were carrying Daniel [MacMichael] were pushing westward in the direction of Durisdeer. On this company the dragoons easily gained ground, as their motions were necessarily impeded by means of the burden with which they were charged. It was obvious to every one, and to none more than the sick man himself, that escape was nearly impossible, and it was his urgent request that they should leave him, and provide for their own safety. This they were unwilling to do, but finding that their remaining would endanger their own lives, and could not save his, they, at his earnest desire, concealed him in a cave under the projecting brow of a mountain stream, in hopes that the foe would not find his retreat, while the pursuit would be directed chiefly after themselves. How long, and with what success, the troopers pursued the fleeing party is not said, but had anything of a tragic nature occurred, it is likely that tradition would have preserved it.’

Simpson has MacMichael left in an unspecified cave ‘under the projecting brow of a mountain stream’.

‘Daniel, however, was soon discovered. The soldiers, as was common, were accompanied with dogs, which were often found very useful in leading to a discovery of persons in concealment, and these animals scented out the place where he was hid. The dragoons laid hold on their victim, and mercilessly dragged him from his retreat.’

The historical sources agree that MacMichael that was captured in Morton parish, but at a shiel, rather than in a cave behind a waterfall. If one was feeling generous towards the tradition, one could note the shiels in the area beyond Kettleton Byre and Garrochshiels. Garroch was the neighbouring farm to the Harknesses at Locherben.

MacMichael’s Execution
According to Simpson:

‘Among the spectators who were present witnessing this atrocious murder [of Daniel MacMichael], was a boy named John M’Call, from Dalveen, the place of Daniel’s nativity.’

Earlier in his Traditions, Simpson had claimed that MacMichael was born at Dalzean, which lies deep in the Scaur Valley in Penpont parish, Nithsdale. Dalveen was where MacMichael was executed.

Map of Dalzean

John McCall, the lad from Dalzean, just happened to be at Dalveen?

‘There happened to be lying on the grass, near the bleeding body of the martyr, a small wooden basin, yclept by the peasantry a luggie. The captain commanded the boy, who was standing by, to take the vessel and run to the well to fetch him water, to wash from his hands and clothes the blood that had spurted from the wounds of the slaughtered man, whom, in his contemptuous style, he denominated a dog. The boy, with the mingled feelings of terror and indignation, seized the luggie, and ran towards the well; but instead of fetching water, he dashed it into the limpid fountain, and fled to the hills. The insulted commander ordered the troopers to pursue, and fire on the fugitive. They did so, but he was young and agile, and like the fleet roe, he bounded away, and left the dragoons far behind in the hopeless pursuit. This boy was the greatgrandfather of the venerable person who at present occupies the Holm of Drumlanrig.’

Holm of Drumlanrig, aka Holm, lies in Penpont parish. In the OS name book 1848 to 1858, it was occupied by a George Dalziel.

Map of Holm of Drumlanrig

If you want to read what history says about Daniel MacMichael, see here.

For more on Daniel MacMichael, see here.

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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

Death at Dalveen: The Killing of the Covenanter Daniel MacMichael in 1685 #History #Scotland

•May 26, 2018 • 2 Comments


The Covenanter Daniel MacMichael had a price on his head … one thousand merks, dead or alive. He was shot in summary execution in Durisdeer parish, Nithsdale, on 31 January, 1685.

The reward was offered for his subscription of the treasonable bond before the Sanquhar Declaration and for being present when the declaration was proclaimed on 22 June, 1680.

He is said to have born at Dalzean in Penpont parish, Dumfriesshire. In 1680, he lived at Lorgfoot in Dalry parish, a remote location which lies on the boundary between Kirkcudbrightshire and Dumfriesshire. MacMichael was active in both shires. He was listed on the published fugitive roll of May, 1684, under Dumfriesshire as ‘Daniel Macmitchel, in Lurg-foot’.

Today, Lorgfoot is called Lorg.

Map of Lorg

Daniel McMichael

A Short Memorial, 1690
As usual, Alexander Shields was the first to record his death in A Short Memorial (1690). However, with a simple slip of the pen, he caused confusion. Why? Because he linked two executions in a clumsy fashion:

‘Sir Robert Dalzel and liev: Stratoun, having apprehended Daniel Mackmichel, and detained him 24 hours Prisoner, took him out and shot him at Dalveen, in the parish of Durisdeer in Nithsdale, Jan: 1685:
Item, The said Captain Dalzel and Lieu: Stratoun, with their men, found William Adam hiding in a Bush, and instantly killed him, at Walwood in Kyle, Feb: 1685’. (Shields, A Short Memorial, 36.)

The ‘Captain Dalzel’ who killed William Adam in Kyle, Ayrshire, was Captain John Dalyell of Mar’s Regiment of Foot. He was not the same individual as his close kin Sir Robert Dalyell of Glenae, who Shields claimed summarily executed MacMichael at Dalveen in Nithsdale.

Lieutenant Alexander Straiton, also of Mar’s Regiment of Foot, was involved in both deaths.

Sir Robert Dalyell of Glenae was not a military officer. He was in receipt of judicial commission to press the Abjuration Oath and deal with other cases of dissent in Dumfriesshire between the beginning of January to 1 March, 1685. Prior to that, on 18 December, 1684, he wrote to Queensberry about an attack on the Isle Tower in Nithsdale and other locations in Dumfries and Galloway. Finding the men behind those attacks was the top priority for government forces in the winter of 1684 to 1685. Six Society people died as a result of that hunt, including Daniel’s brother, at Auchencloy. At least six more were killed at Caldons as the result of an assassination on 23 January. More groups of Society people connected with violent acts were killed soon after Daniel’s death.

However, the error in Shields was repeated. According to Ridpath in 1693:

‘Sir Robert Dalzel and Lieut. Straten, shot Daniel Mac Michel at Dalveen, in the Parish of Durisdeer in Nithsdale, Jan. 1685. The same men killed William Adam, hiding himself in a bush at the Walwood in Kyle, Feb. 1685.’

Cloud of Witnesses (1714) also recycled the error in Shields:

‘Sir Robert Dalziel and lieutenant Straton, having apprehended, Daniel M’Michael, not able to flee, by reason of his being sick, and detained him twenty four hours prisoner, took him out and shot him at Dalveen, in the parish of Durisder in Nithsdale, January, 1685.
Item, The said captain Dalziel, and lieutenant Straton, with their men, found William Adam hiding in a bush, and instantly killed him, at the Walwood in Kyle, February, 1685.’

Shields did make errors in his 1690 list that he corrected. He may also have made errors which he did not correct. In this case, there is a clear error in his list, as the entries for both martyrs contradict each other. However, it is not clear which way round the error is. When Shields published his list in 1690, Sir Robert Dalyell had died and been succeeded by Captain John Dalyell to the title of Glenae. Which of ‘Sir Robert’ or ‘The said captain’ is not correct? One of them is an error that Shields did not correct.

From the evidence of two other historical source, ‘Sir Robert’ is not correct.

Daniel MacMichael’s Gravestone
The next major piece of evidence in the death of Daniel MacMichael is his gravestone, which was erected between 1702 and 1714, and included the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses. As his gravestone predates the publication of Wodrow’s History, the inscription on it cannot have been influenced by it.

The first wave of gravestones erected by the “Continuing” Society people between 1702 and 1714 sometimes made minor factual corrections to the evidence found in Shields’ 1690 list. The inscription on MacMichael’s grave claims he was killed by Captain John Dalyell, NOT Sir Robert Dalyell.

PRELACY 1685 REV 12:11

[and at a right angle to the above]


His grave is located in Durisdeer parish churchyard by the church.

Map of Durisdeer         Street View of Durisdeer Church

Wodrow’s Version of MacMichael’s Death
A few years later, Wodrow, using a different stream of evidence from both Shields and Cloud, also alleged that Captain John Dalyell killed MacMichael:

‘Upon the 30th of the same month [January, 1685], a party of fifty soldiers commanded by John Dalziel, son to Sir Robert Dalziel of [Glenae in] Kirkmichael [parish], and lieutenant Straton, fell in with some of those who were upon their hiding, asleep in a shiell in the parish of Morton, in Nithsdale.’

In the 1840’s Simpson claimed in his later traditions that MacMichael lived at Blairfoot in Morton parish, Nithsdale. Morton parish lies immediately to the south and east of Durisdeer parish. The farm at Blairfoot, which vanished in c.1840, lay close to the confluence of the How Gill, which flows down from the ruins of Morton Castle, and the Kettleton Burn (i.e., just to the east of the Burn Point Plantation). As the lands of Blairfoot had been purchased by William Douglas, Duke of Queensberry, in 1673, it seems highly improbable that MacMichael was his tenant.

Map of former location of Blairfoot

Simpson claimed that Blairfoot was ‘Lurgfoot’ and that it was where MacMichael lived. However, it is clear that he lived at Lorgfoot in Dalry parish in Kirkcudbrightshire, and was associated with that location until at least mid 1684. If he lived at Blairfoot, he was only there on a temporary basis, perhaps in hiding with the unnamed others that Wodrow mentioned. MacMichael was a high-profile fugitive wanted dead or alive, for his part in the Sanquhar Declaration of 1680.

Simpson’s later unreliable traditions would also romantically claim that MacMichael was captured in a “cave” behind a falls on a stream somewhere in the hills east of Durisdeer.

However, Wodrow used the term ‘shiel’ to describe where MacMichael was taken in Morton parish, i.e., a temporary or roughly-made house or shelter, hut or bothy for sheep or cattle and their shepherds, which was used when the animals were moved to higher pastures in the summer. As MacMichael was taken in mid winter, a shiel would have been deserted and an ideal hiding place from the cold. The area around Blairfoot and the hills to the north of it are probably the only part of Morton parish where a shiel would be found.

‘My information bears, they all made their escape, but Daniel M’Michael who was sickly, and not able to flee. The soldiers wounded him at his being taken, and he was that night carried to the parish of Durisdeer. The captain put many interrogatories to him, which he declined to answer, and laid many things to his charge, which he denied, and said he knew nothing of.’

We are not told where in Durisdeer parish he was taken to on the night of 30 January. He may have been taken straight to Dalveen, where he was executed the next day. He may have been taken elsewhere in the parish before being taken to Dalveen. If MacMichael and the fifty men from Mar’s Regiment of Foot went directly from where he was allegedly captured at Blairfoot to Dalveen, they covered just over six miles, less than half of a day’s march in summer.

MacMichael was not the only victim of the Killing Times who was allegedly sick when captured. Adam MacQuhan and Thomas McHaffie were also taken from their sick beds. Being a fugitive was gruelling, especially in the cold of winter when provisions were in short supply.

MacMichael had good reasons not to answer Dalyell’s questions as a traitor and fugitive. He also had good reasons not to name those who were with him or who had kept them supplied. However, the Captain had a new weapon in his armoury:

‘At length he was told, that unless he presently submitted unto, and owned the government both in church and state, and as an evidence of this, sware the oath he offered him the benefit of, the law made him liable to present death.’

That oath was clearly the Abjuration Oath introduced in mid January. Swearing it renounced the United Societies’ ‘war’ of assassinations against known persecutors. MacMichael refused to swear the oath. It would have contradicted his actions at the Sanquhar Declaration of 1680, which proclaimed ‘a war’, and the United Societies’ Apologetical Declaration of November,, 1684, that launched a wave of assassinations against known persecutors.

Wodrow, of course, managed to downplay MacMichael’s commitment to a war:

‘Daniel was a very sedate sensible country man, and said, ‘Sir, that is what in all things I cannot do, but very cheerfully I submit to the Lord’s disposal as to my life.’
The commander replied in some pet, ‘do you not know your life is in my hand?’
the other modestly replied, ‘No, Sir, I know my life is in the Lord’s hand, and if he see good, he can make you the instrument to take it away.’
Then Daniel was ordered to prepare for death to-morrow; all he said, was, ‘If my life must go for his cause, I am willing, my God will prepare me.’
That night he enjoyed a sweet time of communion and fellowship with God, and great outlets of joy and consolation, so that some of the soldiers desired to die his death, and not a few convictions were left in their bosoms.’

Daniel McMichael Martyr's Monument Dalveen

The Summary Execution at Dalveen
MacMichael had been captured in Morton parish (perhaps at Blairfoot) and was brought north to (Nether) Dalveen in Durisdeer parish. The latter lay on the way to two passes through the hills, the Dalveen Pass and the Enterkin Path or Pass. It appears that the party of soldiers were heading from Dalveen over the Bught Hass to the Enterkin Path, the road to Wanlockhead and Edinburgh.

Map of Dalveen

However, it is possible that like his brother, James MacMichael (d.1684), Daniel had taken part in the Enterkin Rescue on 30 July, 1684. It is possible that he was deliberately brought to, and symbolically executed at, an entry to the Enterkin Pass.

‘Tomorrow, January 31st, he was brought out to the fields at Dalveen, [a farm] in the parish of Durisdeer. He had the liberty granted him, which many of his fellow-sufferers had not, to pray, which he did to the wonder of the by-standers. He sang part of the forty-second psalm, and read over the sixteenth chapter of John, and spoke with much gravity and solidity to captain Dalziel.’

It appears that Captain Dalyell was doing his job in accordance with the law. He permitted MacMichael time to make his peace with his maker. Not all officers were so patient.

MacMichael sang Psalm 42. In the Scottish Metrical Psalter it begins:

‘Like as the hart for water-brooks
in thirst doth pant and bray;
So pants my longing soul, O God,
that come to thee I may.

My soul for God, the living God,
doth thirst: when shall I near
Unto thy countenance approach,
and in God’s sight appear? …’

He also read from John, Chapter 16. It begins as follows: ‘These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. …’

Dalyell offered him a blindfold:

‘And then after the napkin was put upon his head, he said, “Lord, thou brought Daniel through many straits, and hast brought me thy servant hither to witness for thee and thy cause; into thy hands I commit my spirit, and hope to praise thee through all eternity.”

And then gave the sign to the soldiers to do their work; and four of them who were appointed, shot him dead.

So convincing was this man’s carriage and death, that some of the poor soldiers were for some time after in confusion, for their obeying commands in this matter; but a little money, and some more ravages, quickly calmed their convictions.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 239-40.)

The confusion ‘for some time after’ among Dalyell’s company may reflect a genuine psychological impact on the men. The orders under which MacMichael was shot were new and Dalyell’s company had not previously conducted a summary execution. The ‘little money’ they received and shared was due to the 1,000 merks on MacMichael’s head, dead or alive. The ‘some more ravages’ that followed the shooting included the killing of William Adam within weeks.


The Dalveen Martyr’s Monument
In 1836, a monument was erected on the traditional location for his summary execution at Dalveen. According to the OS name book:

‘A monument erected to MacMichael by the masons who built [the new] Dalveen Steading’

The inscription is as follows:

To the memory of
who suffered martyrdom here
by Sir James Dalziel, A.D. 1685.
Erected in 1836.’

On Sunday 9 October, 1842, a large preaching was held ‘nigh to the spot of
Daniel McMichaels martyrdom’ at Dalveen that paid for a memorial stone by his grave at Durisdeer Church.

To find out about later traditions about MacMichael’s capture and death, see here.

For more on Daniel MacMichael, see here.

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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

The Covenanter Killed at Lagdow Cairn #History #Scotland

•May 23, 2018 • 1 Comment

Lagdow Cairn Dalveen

According to later tradition, a Covenanter named Dow was killed by the notorious Grierson of Lag at Lagdow Cairn, which is located in the hills to the west of Dalveen in Nithsdale.

The cairn was first recorded in the OS name book for Durisdeer parish in the 1850s:
‘A Small pile of Stones Said to Commemorate the spot where a person named Dow was shot by the Laird of Lag. the name of the Cairn being made up out of the two names Lag & Dow.’

Map of Lagdow Cairn       On an older Map

Approximate location on Google Maps

In 1876, Crauford Tait Ramage described the story associated with the Lagdow Cairn in Drumlanrig Castle and The Douglases with the early and ancient remains of Durisdeer, Closeburn and Morton:

‘Another of these worthies was called Dow, and on the banks of the Enterkine, west of Nether Dalveen farmsteading, there is a cairn called Lag-dow, where he had been caught by Grierson of Lag and shot. A few rude stones were placed there to commemorate the spot, which is called Lag-dow. I give this tradition, but I am afraid that it must, like many others of the same kind, be set down as one of the myths, which are often found to have originated in a way for which it is difficult to account.

The hill in the neighbourhood has been called from time immemorial Upper and Nether Lagnee. Lag, or Lug, is a Celtic word, found in the Scoto-Irish language, signifying a hollow, which describes with great precision the Castle of Lag, the residence of the Griersons.

While the word was applied to a hollow in a mountain, it occasionally happened that the name of the hollow was extended to the mountain itself, and in this case of Lagnee it seems to have been so. Lag-dow cairn would thus mean the cairn of the black hollow.’ (Ramage, Drumlanrig Castle and The Douglases, 136.)

Robert Grierson of Lag is a stalwart of unreliable traditional stories of the persecution of the Covenanters.

There is absolutely no historical evidence that Dow was killed by Lag at Lagdow. The later traditional story of Dow joins the list of over twenty-five deaths in the Killing Times for which there is no historical evidence.

If you can find and photograph the Lagdow Cairn, please let me know.

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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

The Enterkin Rescue of 1684 in Daniel Defoe’s Tour of Great Britain #History #Scotland

•May 22, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The following account of the rescue of Covenanters at the Enterkin Pass in 1684 comes from the third volume of Daniel Defoe’s Tour of Great Britain published in 1727. Defoe had previously described the rescue in an account published in 1717 and the Tour’s account is based on his earlier text. What his source for the story of the rescue was in 1717 is not clear. It probably came from testimony he gathered in Nithsdale, but it may have appeared in an earlier printed or manuscript account.


The Enterlin Pass in Winter. Telegraph poles mark the path.

I am extremely grateful to Professor Pat Rogers for drawing my attention to this version of the Enterkin Pass Rescue.

Defoe’s Mysterious Journey
When Defoe made his journey through Nithsdale for the Tour is also not clear. The section concerning his visit to the Enterkin Pass appeared in Letter XII, which was published in the third volume in 1727.

However, his journey probably took place before 1711, as he mentions being at Drumlanrig at the desire of the second Duke of Queensberry who died in 1711. Defoe and Queensberry had both been involved in securing the Union in 1706. The Tour has a complex history of compilation prior to its publication. For example, Defoe adds historical details that post date the 1715 Jacobite Rising, as he mentions in passing earlier in the account Caerlavrock Castle and the forfeiture of the Jacobite Earl of Nithsdale in 1716. He also mentions the Duke’s tomb at Durisdeer kirk. Most important of all, for the purposes of this website, he describes seeing a field preaching by the Covenanter minister John Hepburn, which probably took place before the Duke’s death, although Hepburn continued field preaching until his death in 1723.

The key parts of Defoe’s account (slightly edited by me) are as follows:

‘While I was at Drumlanrig, being desir’d by the late duke [of Queensberry, d.1711] to make some observations on his Grace’s estate there, which is very great, in order to some English improvement, I, in particular, view’d some of the hills to the north of the castle, […]

Here we were surpriz’d with a sight, which is not now so frequent in Scotland as it has been formerly, I mean one of their field meetings, where one Mr. John Hepburn, an old Cameronian, preach’d to an auditory of near 7,000 people, all sitting in rows on the steep side of a green hill, and the preacher in a little pulpit made under a tent at the foot of the hill; he held his auditory, with not above an intermission of half an hour, almost seven hours; and many of the poor people had come fifteen or sixteen miles to hear him, and had all the way to go home again on foot. I shall say nothing to it, for my business is not to make remarks on such things; only this I may add, that if there was an equal zeal to this in our part of the world, and for that worship which we acknowledge to be true, and of a sacred institution, our churches would be more throng’d, and our ale-houses and fields less throng’d on the sabbath-day than they are now. But that also by the way.’

Hepburn’s Preaching
There are a number of problematic elements in Defoe’s report of Hepburn’s preaching.

First, his estimated size for the congregation seems rather high. In April, 1705, John Clerk of Penicuik reported that ‘most of all the Cameronians in Scotland, to the number of 3 or 4000’ had gathered at Sanquhar, a small burgh in the hills to the north-west of Drumlanrig.

Second, the place of field preaching in the text of the Tour occupies the same position as an apparently fictional field preaching of 1684 in the 1717 account, i.e., it appears just before a discussion of the perils of the Enterkin Pass and the Rescue in both texts. Is that a coincidence? Did Hepburn’s field preaching take place at all?

Third, if we accept that Defoe witnessed Hepburn’s preaching is not clear when his journey happened, although it was probably between 1706 and 1711.

Fourth, it is not clear where Defoe witnessed Hepburn’s preaching. The main clue in the Tour to the location of the preaching is that Defoe was viewing ‘some of the hills to the north’ of Drumlanrig. Intriguingly, he does perhaps point to the general location as he mentions lead mines:

‘having a Darbyshire gentleman with us, who was thoroughly acquainted with those things, we discover’d in several places evident tokens of lead-mines, such as in Darbyshire, and in Somersetshire, are said never to fail; and to confirm our opinions in it, we took up several small pieces of oar in the gulls and holes, which the rains had made in the sides of the mountains, and also of a plain sparr, such as is not found any where without the oar: But the duke’s death [in 1711] put an end to these enquiries’.

That may suggest the general location for the preaching was around Leadhills and Wanlockhead, which both lie in the hills to the north of Drumlanrig and were accessed from the latter via the Enterkin Pass. However, I am no expert on the distribution of ore for lead mines.

Map of Wanlockhead

Defoe continued:

‘From Drumlanrig I took a turn to see the famous pass of Enterkin, or Introkin Hill: It is, indeed, not easy to describe, but by telling you that it ascends through a winding bottom for near half a mile, and a stranger sees nothing terrible, but vast high mountains on either hand, tho’ all green, and with sheep feeding on them to the very top; when, on a suddain, turning short to the left, and crossing a rill of water in the bottom, you mount the side of one of those hills, while, as you go on, the bottom in which that water runs down from between the hills, keeping its level on your right, begins to look very deep, till at length it is a precipice horrible and terrifying; on the left the hill rises almost perpendicular, like a wall; till being come about half way, you have a steep, unpassable height on the left, and a monstrous calm or ditch on your right; deep, almost as the monument is high, and the path, or way, just broad enough for you to lead your horse on it, and, if his foot slips, you have nothing to do but let go the bridle, least he pulls you with him, and then you will have the satisfaction of seeing him dash’d to pieces, and lye at the bottom with his four shoes uppermost. I pass’d twice this hill after this, but the weather was good, and the way dry, which made it safe; but one of our company was so frighted with it, that in a kind of an extasy, when he got to the bottom, he look’d back, and swore heartily that he would never come that way again.

Indeed, there were several things this last time we pass’d it, which render’d it more frightful to a stranger: One was, that there had been, a few days before, a suddain frost, with a great deal of snow; and though, a little before the snow, I pass’d it, and there was nothing to be seen; yet then I look’d down the frightful precipice, and saw no less than five horses in several places, lying at the bottom with their skins off, which had, by the slipperiness of the snow, lost their feet, and fallen irrecoverably to the bottom, where the mountaineers, who make light of the place, had found means to come at them, and get their hides off.

Map of Enterkin Pass

But that which is most remarkable of this place is yet behind, (viz.) that noted story of the Whigs in the old persecuting times, in King Charles IId’s time, and which I must give you a short account of, for I have not room for the whole history.

A troop of dragoons had been sent, by order of their commanding officer, to disturb a field-meeting, such a one as I just now describ’d. These meetings were strictly forbidden at that time and the minister, if taken, was punish’d with death, without mercy: The poor people of this country being all what they then call’d Cameronians and Whigs, (for here, by the way, the word Whig began first to be known) I say, the people being zealous in their way, would, and did hold their field-meetings, notwithstanding all the prohibitions the court could make; upon which the Government quarter’d the dragoons upon them, with orders, on all such occasions, to disperse them, and what prisoners they took they were to carry to Edinburgh especially their ministers. Accordingly, at this time, there was an extraordinary meeting of many thousand people, and the dragoons march’d to disturb them.

As the whole country were their friends, the dragoons could not stir, but immediately notice would be taken, and the alarm given: The people at the meeting had always some stout fellows arm’d with fire-arms, to prevent a surprize, and they had so now, enough to have beaten off the dragoons, if they had attack’d them, but as they did not covet fighting and blood, otherwise than on necessity for their own defence, and that they had now timely notice given them, they chose to break up and disperse, and they were really dispers’d, when the dragoons came to the place.

However, the dragoons resolving not to lose their labour, pursued the straggling people, and ill used some of them, took others prisoners, and, among the rest, very unhappily surpriz’d their minister, which was a booty to them; and, as soon as they had him, they march’d off directly to carry him to Edinburgh where he might depend upon being hang’d.

The poor people, terribly alarm’d at the loss of their minister; for no people in the world love their ministers like them; the cries of the one part animating and exasperating the other part, and a small body of those who were the guard before, but chose peaceably to separate, rather than dispute it with the dragoons, resolv’d to rescue their minister, whatever it cost.

They knew the dragoons would carry him to Edinburgh and they knew, that to do so, they must necessarily go thro’ this narrow pass of Interken: They were but thirteen men on foot; but being nimble fellows, and knowing the private ways perfectly well, they reach’d the top of the hill long before the dragoons; eight of them therefore plac’d themselves in the head of the narrow way, where the dragoons were coming on one by one, or at most two by two, and very softly, you may believe, by the nature of the place.

The other five sliding down from the top of the hill, on the left of the pass, plac’d themselves, as they found to their advantage, being resolv’d to speak with the troop as they came by. It was a thick mist, as is often upon those hills, (indeed seldom otherwise) so that the dragoons could not discover them, till they were within hearing, nor then, so as to know how many they were.

When the dragoons came up within hearing, one of the five boldly calls to the commander by his name, and bids him halt with his troop, and advance no farther at his peril; the captain calls out again, who are you? and what would you have? They answer’d, deliver our minister; the captain damn’d them a little, and march’d on: The Cameronian called to him again with a threatning air-Will you deliver our minister? at which he reply’d as loud-No, you dog, and if you were to be damn’d; at which the man fir’d immediately, and shot him thro’ the heart, so that he fell from his horse, and never spoke a word, and the frighted horse, fluttering a little at the fall of his rider, fell down the precipice, and there was an end both of horse and man together.

At that very moment the eight men, at the head of the pass, shew’d themselves, though at a distance, and gave a shout, which put the whole body into a pannick fear; for had they fir’d, and the horses been put into the least confusion, half of them would have been down the precipice immediately. In short, the lieutenant that commanded next, being wiser than his captain, gave them better words, and desir’d them to forbear firing for a minute or two; and after a very short conference with his men (for they had no more officers to call a council of war with) resolv’d upon a parley, in which, upon their promising to march off and leave the pass free, they deliver’d their minister, and they carry’d him off; and glad the dragoons were of their deliverance; for, indeed, if they had been 500 instead of 50, the thirteen men might have destroy’d them all; nay, the more they had been, the more certain would have been their destruction.’

Daniel Defoe’s Enterkin Pass Rescue of Covenanters in 1684 #History #Scotland

•May 19, 2018 • 1 Comment


In 1717, Daniel Defoe published a dramatic account of the rescue at Enterkin Pass of Covenanter prisoners on 30 July, 1684. Defoe claimed that thirty-seven men conducted the rescue after their minister and prisoners were seized at a field preaching. The historical sources record that twenty to forty men took part in the rescue, but that there was no minister and that the prisoners, taken at different locations, were being brought from Dumfries. The field preaching at the beginning is almost certainly fictional. Defoe probably used it as a shorthand for what he saw as happening in the Killing Times.

‘There had been a Meeting in the Fields, in Nithsdale not far from Drumanrig Castle, the Seat of the late [second] D. of Queensberry [d.1711, aka. Lieutenant-Colonel James Douglas]. The Assembly was very numerous, and there were about sixty Men with Fire-Arms, who placed themselves at convenient Distance, so as to keep off their Enemies, if they should come to disturb the Assembly, ‘till the People might disperse: These also had Scouts out every Way at great Distance to discover, and give Notice &c. It was not long before an Alarm was given, that They were betray’d and that two Parties of dragoons were marchimg to attack them. Upon this, the poor People, as was always the Method, separated, and went every one their own Way; so that the Soldiers found them entirely disperst, and no Meeting in Appearance, except of about 300, who were gotten together, where their men were posted that had Arms; who presenting their Pieces at the Dragoons from the side of a steep Hill, where their Horses were useless, they did not think fit to dismount, and attack them.

The Soldiers however grown furious, and enrag’d, spread themselves over the Fields, in Pursuit of the poor straggling People, and seiz’d several of them: And amongst the rest, they unhappily fell upon six Men naked and unarmed; one of whom was the Minister: These they took, and after having abused them, bruised, and wounded them, tho’ they offered no Resistance, they bound, and dragged them along with them, making the poor Men go on Foot at their Horse-Heels, as fast as they rode. They carry’d these Prisoners directly for Edinburgh, where also they were sure to be put to Death as soon as they arrived.

As the Ministers, on these Occasions, were very free to hazard their Lives in the Work of their Office, and for the Comfort and Edification of their People: So the People again were remarkable for their Love to their Ministers, and their Concern for their Preservation: No sooner therefore was it known among them, that their Minister was taken, but the Men began to gather together in several Parties with their Arms, reso1v’d, whatever it cost, to rescue their Minister; To this End they disperst themselves into all the Ways by which they thought the Dragoons might march, by which it happened, that the smallest Number of them not being above 37 Men, who lay on the side of Entrekein Hill, met with them, that being the Way the Enemy really went with the Prisoners.’

Map of Enterkin Pass

‘This Entrekein is a very steep, and dangerous Mountain; nor could such another Place have been easily found in the whole Country for their Purpose; and, had not the Dragoons been infatuated from Heaven, they would never have entred such a Pass, without well discovering the Hill above them. The Road for above a Mile goes winding, with a moderate Ascent on the side of a very high, and very steep Hill, ‘till on the latter part, still ascending and the Height on the left above them being still vastly great, the Depth on their right below them makes a prodigious Precipice, descending steep and ghastly into a narrow deep Bottom, only broad enough for the Current of Water to ran that descends upon hasty Rain: From this Bottom the Mountain rises instantly again steep as a Precipice on the other side to a stupenduous Height. The passage on the side of the first Hill, by which, as I said, the Way creeps gradually up, is narrow; so that two Horsemen can but ill pass in Front: And, if any Disorder should happen to them, so as that they step but a little a-wry, they are in Danger of falling down the said Precipice on their right, where there would be no stopping ’till they came to the Bottom. And the Writer of this has seen, by the Accident only of a sudden Frost, which had made the Way slippery, 3 or 4 Horses at a Time, of Travellers or Carryers, lying in that dismal Bottom; which slipping in their Way, have not been able to recover themselves, but have fallen down the Precipice and rolled to the Bottom, perhaps, tumbling 20 Times over, by which it is impossible but they must be broken to pieces, e’er they come to stop.

In this Way the Dragoons were blindly marching 2 and 2 with the Minister and 6 Countrymen, whom they had taken Prisoners, and were hauling then along to Edinburgh; the Front of them being near the Top of the Hill, and the rest reaching all along the steep part; when on a sudden they heard a Man’s Voice calling to them from the side of the Hill on their left a great Height above them.

It was misty, as indeed it ia seldom otherwise on the Height of that Mountain; so that no Body was seen at first: But the Commanding Officer hearing some Body call, halted, and call’d aloud, What d’ye want, and who are ye ? He had no sooner spoke, but 12 Men came in sight upon the side of the Hill above them, and the Officer call’d again, What are ye? and bad Stand: One of the 12 answered, by giving the Word of Command to his Men, Make ready; and then calling to the Officer, said, Sir, Will ye deliver our Minister? The Officer answer’d with an Oath, No, Sir, and ye were to be damn’d. At which the Leader of the Countrymen fir’d immediately, and aim’d so true at him, tho’ the Distance was pretty great, that he shot him thro’ the Head, and immediately he fell from his Horse; His Horse fluttering a little with the Fall of his Rider, fell over the Precipice, rolling to the Bottom, and was dash’d to pieces.

The rest of the 12 Men were stooping to give Fire upon the Body; when the next Commanding Officer call’d to them to hold their Hands, and desir’d a Truce. It was apparent, that the whole Body was in a dreadful Consternation; Not a Man of them durst stir a Foot, or offer to fire a Shot. And had the 12 Men given Fire upon them, the first Volley, in all Probability, would have driven 20 of them down the side of the Mountain into that Dreadful Gulph at the Bottom.

To add to their Consternation, their 2 Scoots who rode before, gave them Notice, That there appear’d another Body of Arm’d Cowntrymen at the Top of the Hill in thier Front; which however was nothing but some Travellers, who, seeing Troops of Horse coming up, stood there to let them pass, the Way being too narrow to go by them: It’a true, there were about 25 more of the Countrymen in Arms, tho’ they had not appear’d, and they had been sufficient, if they had thought fit, to have cut this whole Body of Horse in pieces.

But, the Officer having ask’d a Parley, and demanded, What it was they would have? they replied again, Deliver our Minister. Well Sir, says the Officer, Ye’s get your Minister, and ye will promise to forbear firing: Indeed we’ll forbear, says the good Man, We desire to hurt none of ye: But Sir, says he, Belike ye have more Prisoners: Indeed have we, says the Officer, and ye mon deliver them all, says the honest Man. Well, says the Officer, Ye shall have them then. Immediately the Officer calls to Bring forward the Minister: But the Way was so narrow and crooked he could not be brought up by a Horseman, without Danger of putting them into Disorder: So that the Officer bad them Loose him, and let him go; which was done: So the Minister stept up the Hill a step or two, and stood still: Then the Officer said to him, Sir, and I let you go, I expect you promise to oblige your People to offer no Hindrance to our March. The Minister promis’d them. He would do so. Then go Sir, said he. You owe your Life to this Damn’d Mountain. Rather Sir, said the Minister, to that GOD that made this Mountain. When their Minister was come to them, their Leader call’d again to the Officer, Sir, We want yet the other Prisoners. The Officer gave Orders to the Rear, where they were, and they were also delivered. Upon which the Leader began to march away, when the Officer call’d again. But hold, Sir, says he. Ye promised to be satisfied, if ye had your Prisoners: I expect you’ll be as good as your Word. Indeed shall I, says the Leader, I am just marching away; it seems he did not rightly understand the Officer. Well, Sir, but, says the Officer, I expect you call off those Fellows you have posted at the Head of the Way. They belong not to us, says the honest Man, they are unarmed People, waiting ‘till you pass by. Say you so, said the Officer, Had I known that, you had not gotten your Men so cheap, or have come off so free: Says the Countrymen, And ye are for Battle, Sir, We are ready for you still, if you think you are able for us, ye, may trye your Hands; we’ll quit the Truce, if you like. NO, says the Officer, I think ye be brave Fellows, e’en gang your Gate.

The Case was very clear, and the Officer saw it plainly: Had those 37 Men, for that was the most of their Number, fired but twice upon them, and then fallen in Sword in Hand, or with the Club of their Musquets; not a Man of them could have escaped: Nay, they most have destroy’d one another; for they would have thrust one another down the Hill with but the least Offer to move, or turn, or do any Thing but go forward: Nor could any Dragoon apply himself to any Thing but to govern his Horse, so as to prevent his falling over the Edge of the Way down the Hill: Indeed the persecuted had them all at Mercy, and had they commanded them all to lay down their Arms, and surrender themselves Prisoners at Discretion, they must have done it. But these testify’d by their Moderation, that they sought no Man’s Blood; and that they took Arms meerly for their own Defence, and yet four of these were afterwards Executed for this Fact.

This little Affair made a great Noise. The Officer of the Dragoons was threatened with a Council of War: And whether he was not broke for Cowardise I am not certain; but this I am certain of, that had the best of them been upon the Spot, they must have done the same, or have resolv’d to have made a Journey headlong down such a Hill, as would have chill’d the Blood of a Man of good Courage but to have thought of. As to the Mistake, of not discovering the place before they entred the Pass. That Fault lay upon the Officer who was kill’d, who had already paid dear for his Omission.’ (Memoirs of the Church of Scotland (1717), 72-3.)

For more on Daniel Defoe, see here.


The Executed Covenanter’s Island in the Stream #History #Scotland

•May 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Underbank island 1750s

Is this island in the Clyde where Captain John Wilson, a young gentleman, writer in Lanark and Covenanter rebel, was captured? In 1731, Jonathan Swift published the memoirs of an old soldier, John Crichton, who remembered capturing him. Wilson was hanged in Edinburgh on 16 May, 1683 …

According to Crichton, in the month after the battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679:

‘I went to my quarters in Laneric [i.e., Lanark], sixteen miles from Glasgow; and about a month after (I hope the reader will excuse my weakness) I happened to dream that I found one Wilson, a captain among the rebels at Bothwell bridge, in a bank of wood, upon the river Clyde.’

Crichton then claimed that he immediately acted on his dream, but it is clear that the events which he recalled many years later did not take place in July or August, 1679. Wilson was later recorded as a forfeited fugitive and was executed in 1683.

Who was Captain Wilson?
Captain ‘John Wilson, son to Alexander Wilson, town-clerk of Lanark’ appeared on a proclamation against the “ringleaders” of the rebels within four days of the battle. (Wodrow, History, III, 115.)

However, his case was processed in absentia in March, 1681 and he was among a list of forfeited fugitives proclaimed on 8 October of that year. It is clear that Wilson was still at liberty long after Crichton claimed to have captured him.

Wilson also was with Alexander Peden at the house of James Brown at Parish Holm in Douglas parish in June, 1682. Peden had support among less militant elements of the Society people and Wilson seems to have fallen into that category.

He also appears to have subscribed a letter from the United Societies’ fifth convention in Edinburgh on 12 October, 1682, which places him as a relatively prominent member of the Covenanters’ United Societies.

He was captured somewhere near Lanark. Fugitives tended not to stray far from their support network and he held an estate locally. It is clear that he was brought from Lanark, where he was initially held, to Edinburgh, as he discussed that journey in his martyrs’ testimony.

When was he captured?

It is not clear when he was captured. In May, 1683, after his capture, Wilson wrote about petitioning the privy council due to his wife being ‘big with child’. That almost certainly indicates that he was still at liberty in at least late 1682.

If Crichton’s account is to be believed, Wilson was apparently captured early in the morning, out of doors and hiding in a wood, which probably indicates that it was in the spring. However, it could have been earlier, as the winter from November 1682 to March 1683 was described as ‘was rather like a spring for mildnes:’ (Lauder, Historical Observes, 88.)

He was probably captured before late March, 1683, as letters from correspondence with a prisoner, James Lawrie, who was a fellow writer in Lanark, were found on Wilson.

The man who died with him was brought to Edinburgh on 4 April.

According to Lauder of Fountainhall, on 28 March:

‘[James] Laury, the nottar and proctor-fiscall in Lanrick, (who escaped out of the hands of the sojors guarding him to the Criminal Court, but was retaken,) is sentenced to be hanged on the 4t of Aprill; for he was forfaulted already in absense, in March 1681, for being with the rebells at Bothuel-bridge: but in regard he offered himselfe ready to make submisse acknowledgement of the Government, they repreeved him to the [3rd] dat of November nixt.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices of Scottish Affairs, I, 431.)

Wilson’s letter to Lawrie ‘reproved’ him for describing the Bothwell Rising of 1679 as ‘rebellion’. It was presumably written in response to Lawrie’s statements acknowledging the government that prevented him from being hanged on 4 April, 1683. (Wodrow, History, III, 458.)

Usually, when a condemned prisoner, even one already forfeited for a prominent role in the rebellion like Lawrie, acknowledged royal authority, their death sentence was immediately delayed and they were eventually given remission. Lawrie was reprieved and later given remission from his death sentence in April, 1684.

Wilson chose a different path from Lawrie, as he defended presbyterian rights to take up defensive arms at Bothwell.

The Capture of Wilson
Sometime before those events, possibly in March, 1683, Wilson was captured by Crichton:

‘This accident [of the dream] made so strong an impression on my mind, that as soon as I awaked, I took six and thirty dragoons, and got to the place by break of day; then I caused some of them to alight, and go into the wood, and set him up as hounds do a hare, whilst the rest were ordered to stand sentry to prevent his escape. It seems I dreamed fortunately, for Wilson was actually in the wood, with five more of his company, as we afterwards learned; who all seeing me and my party advancing, hid themselves in a little island on the river [Clyde], among the broom that grew upon it.’

Where was that ‘little island’ with the broom?

Threepwood Island

Wilson’s Island Identified?
Two locations on the Clyde are candidates for Wilson’s island retreat. According to Crichton, it lay somewhere near Lanark ‘in a bank of wood, upon the river Clyde’ by ‘a little island’ in Clyde with broom on it. Anyone familiar with the Clyde, knows that the island probably lay downstream from Lanark in the wooded Clyde Valley.

Roy’s map of the 1750s only records three small islands; two near Threepwood / Gills and one near Underbank. According to historical maps, the smaller of the two islands near Gills had disappeared a century later and the larger island near Threepwood (pictured above) followed soon after. It was not a particularly woody place, but was where five fugitives were from: John Forrest in Threepwood, his servitor John Muir, Threepwood’s son James Forrest, John Templeton and Robert Hamilton. (Jardine, ‘United Societies’, II, 199.)

Map of showing the approximate location of lost islands near Threepwood/Gills

Underbank Connections
The island at Underbank is probably the better candidate. It appears as wooded in the 1750s and is certainly wooded today. The island at Underbank has survived from at least before the 1750s, and very probably from the 1680s. It also lay next to Underbank Wood, where Donald Cargill had preached in 1681. In his testimony, Wilson particularly admired Cargill’s martyrs’ testimony.

Underbank was the home of several fugitives. They included John Stewart in Underbank, Archibald Stewart who was executed in Glasgow on 19 March, 1684, and James Stewart in Underbank, a Societies’ activist who was banished to Barbados in 1687, but returned to free his fellow banished prisoners in 1688.

Map of Island at Underbank

Crichton continued:
‘Wilson had not the good fortune to escape; for as he was trying to get out of one copse into another, I met him, and guessing by his good clothes, and by the description I had received of him before, that he was the man I looked for, I seized and brought him to my quarters [at Lanark], and from thence immediately conveyed him to Edinburgh, where he was hanged; but might have preserved his life, if he would have condescended only to say, “God save the king.” This he utterly refused to do and thereby lost not only his life, but likewise an estate, worth twenty-nine thousand marks Scots.’

Wilson’s Trial and Execution in 1683
He was brought before the privy council on 17 April, 1683, and tried before the justiciary on 4 May. In accordance with his previous death sentence and forfeiture in absentia, the lords set a date of 9 May for his execution. It is clear that if Wilson had been prepared to recant his views on defensive arms and more fully recognise royal authority, that he would immediately have received a reprieve of about six months, as other forfeited Bothwell rebels had.

On 7 May, he petitioned the council for a reprieve, on the grounds that his wife was ‘now big with child’, but did not retract his views. His execution was delayed for a week in the hope that Wilson would soften his views. During that time, he had a conference with Sir William Paterson who advised him to ‘give in a petition, requiring some time to advise on his principles’ and met with at least one moderate presbyterian minister. Wilson did not petition. He was executed in Edinburgh with David McMillan from Galloway on 16 May, 1683. (Wodrow, History, III, 458-61.)

He left a martyrs’ testimony behind. (Thomson (ed.), CW, 311-319.)

James Renwick condemned Wilson’s martyrs’ testimony later in the year. Although Wilson admired Cargill’s testimony, he did not testify to key United Societies’ declarations including the Sanquhar Declaration of 1680 and the Lanark Declaration published in 1682, which both renounced royal authority.

Blood Money

Crichton claimed he received Wilson’s lands as a reward, but that he never financially benefited from it due to local hostility:

‘For this service [of capturing Wilson], the duke of Queensberry, then high commissioner of Scotland, recommended me to the king [Charles II], who rewarded me with a gift of Wilson’s estate; but although the grant passed the seals, and the sheriff put me in possession, yet I could neither sell it nor let it; nobody daring, for fear of the rebels who had escaped at Bothwell bridge, either to purchase or farm it; by which means I never got a penny by the grant; and at the revolution [in 1689/1690], the land was taken from me and restored to Wilson’s heirs.’ (Swift, Memoirs of Captain Chreichton (1731) 37-8.)

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