In previous posts in this series I have attempted to give an outline of Scottish history during the 17th century, as well as a bit of the background behind who the Covenanters were and what they fought for. By far the most helpful resources I have come across so far is the Covenanting Trail website – http://www.thecovenantingtrail.co.uk/, along with the work of Dr. Mark Jardine on his blog, ‘Jardine’s Book of Martyrs’ – https://drmarkjardine.wordpress.com/. Dr. Jardine has also been kind enough to answer some of my questions about the Covenanters for which I am very grateful – I’ve been using all my willpower to stop myself from asking him questions every day!
Another wonderful – and perhaps overlooked – resource which is enabling me to understand more about the emotions behind the Covenanters and their message is that of poetry. During my research I have realised that poems about this period of history, its people and their struggles, paint pictures and unlock feelings which factual text cannot match. For reasons which will become clearer as this series of blogs progresses, it is the ‘Poets and Poetry of the Covenant’ which we will be ultimately focusing on. As such I will be exploring this subject in greater depth further down the line, where we will uncover the sheer wealth of prose written about the Covenanters and in particular, the Nithsdale Martyrs. Later blogs in this series will reveal beautiful, haunting poetry, soaked in the blood of windswept battles connected to many of the people and places listed below.
Since the history of the Covenanters is so vast and complicated, and since so many people were killed during those times, I have decided to focus on a group of 57 names known as ‘The Nithsdale Martyrs’. These names can be found on the Nithsdale Martyrs Cross in Dalgarnock graveyard (NX 87954 93620), which was erected in 1928. I will expand on the details of some of the individual stories within this group at a later date.
For the most part, all the individuals on the cross were from parishes all around Upper Nithsdale, who either met their deaths somewhere on these hills, were executed in Edinburgh or drowned at sea whilst being deported, all between 1667-1688. Rather than go through the names alphabetically (as they are listed on the monument), I have separated the individuals into 10 groups, categorised by where or how they were killed. I have also included the OS map references for the locations of some of the monuments and graves which I hope will help readers to locate these places for themselves.
1 – Martyrs of Tradition, all 1685: George Allen, Margaret Gracie, George Corson, John Hair, William Brown & Robert Morris.
The so-called ‘Martyrs of Tradition’ are an odd group. According to Jardine’s Book of Martyrs, ‘there is no historical evidence to corroborate the deaths’ of these individuals, and although some of them appear on lists of martyrs, their stories are only known from traditions that were recorded over 150 years after their alleged killings’. It does though seem certain that John Hair’s family farmed at Glenwharrie, just at the foot of Kirkland Hill (NS 71689 14917), but there are conflicting stories about some of the other names in this group. For this reason we shall return to the Martyrs of Tradition in a further blog and examine these individual stories another time.
A monument and grave dedicated to George Allen and Margaret Gracie can be found high up in the forests above Sanquhar, often described as the most inaccessible of all the Covenanter monuments, but if you don’t mind a good walk, you’ll easily find it along the Southern Upland Way walking route, just past Polskeoch Bothy. (NS 69815 00838)
The monument and final resting place of John Hair and George Corson is much more easily accessible, located in a sloping field beside the A76 between Kirkconnel and New Cumnock, directly opposite the beautiful Corsencon Hill. (NS 66343 12979)
There is no memorial or monument (that I am aware of) dedicated to William Brown and Robert Morris who were killed on Craignorth Hill, just beside Crawick Water alongside the road now known as the B740. (NS 81248 16565)
2 – Executed at Ingleston, April 1685: James Bennoch, Robert Edgar, John Gibson, Robert Mitchell & Robert Greirson
A memorial can be found at Ingleston Mains (NX 79601 89503), the place where they were killed. The first four of the names are buried in Glencairn Churchyard (NX 80910 90459), with Greirson’s body taken back to his home at Balmacellan and buried there. (NX 65172 70124).
3 – Hanged at Irongray/Halhill, March 1685: Edward Gordon & Alexander McCubine
A monument can be found 0.5 mile west from Irongray Kirk. (NX 90906 79692)
4 – Executed: William Grierson (Dumfries, Jan 1667), William Welsh (Dumfries, Jan 1667), James Kirko (Dumfries May 1685) Thomas Harkness (Aug 1684), Samuel McEwen (Aug 1684), William Hunter (1684), Robert Smith (1684), Daniel McMichael (Jan 1685), William Smith (Mar 1685), James Renwick (Feb 1688)
The graves of W. Grierson, W. Welsh and J. Kirko can be found in the graveyard of St. Michael’s Church in Dumfries (NX 97552 79695), with a memorial stone for James Kirko at the spot on White Sands where he was killed. (NX 96999 76001)
T. Harkness, S. McEwen and J. Renwick were all executed at the Edinburgh Grass Market (NT 25350 73388) where you can their names on the memorial stone at the spot where there were killed. They are buried in the Martyrs Grave in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh (NT 25504 73184). A monument for James Renwick can be found in his birth village of Moniaive. (NX 88187 91043)
W. Hunter and R. Smith were captured in Auchencloy and executed in Kirkcudbright, where they are buried. (NX 68394 50982)
D. McMichael was shot at the Dalveen Pass where a memorial can be found (NS 88420 07040). He is buried in Durisdeer Churchyard. (NS 89399 03770)
W. Smith was shot in an area known as Race Muir, 0.5 mile outside of Moniaive where a stone can be found marking the spot where he was killed (NX 78599 90399). He is buried in Tynron Churchyard. (NX 80588 93010)
5 – Died in prison, all 1685: James Glover (Edinburgh Tolbooth), James Muncie (Edinburgh Tolbooth), John Mundell (Edinburgh Tolbooth), Andrew Hunter (Dumfries), Andrew Fergusson (Glasgow), John Stott (Dunnotar), James Forsyth (Dunnotar), John Muirhead (Leith)
6 – Killed at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge, June 1679: Thomas Dinwiddle , Robert Fergusson, John Johnstone , John MacCall, Thomas MacGirr, John MacClamros, James Robson, Robert Sitlington
A memorial can be found at the location of the battle. (NS 70163 57810)
7 – Drowned in Orkney, Dec 1679: James Colvin, John Fergusson, John Kennedy, David MacKervail, Robert Milligan, Thomas Milligan, Thomas Rosper, Andrew Wallat
8 – Died on Pitlochie’s ship, 1685: Andrew Maclellan, John Renwick, Thomas Sitlington, James Smith
9 – Exiled, died abroad: James Carsan (New Jersey 1685), Elizabeth Fergusson (Holland 1685), Elizabeth Hunter (possible duplicate name in error)
10 – Misc: Robert Fergusson, James McMichael (both killed at Auchencloy, Dec 1685), William Heron (killed at Lochenkit, 1685)