As you know, history is my 'cup of tea.' I love reading about it and have brought lots of facts into the three historical novels listed on this site. But this bit of news from Wasp's Weblog caught my attention and I just had to put it on the blog.
***If the attacks on Sir Basil Hamilton’s dykes were motivated by his Jacobite background, the anti-Jacobite element of the Galloway Levellers actions may have influenced their decision not to level a dyke built for Robert Johnston of Kelton parish. At first sight, as recounted as a tale told by the grandfather of Samuel Geddes of Keltonhill by Malcolm Harper# (and published over 150 years later, this incident may appear to be a piece of folklore rather than history. According to Harper:
A band of levellers and houghers, or as some call them ”Rablers” # having traversed the coast from Balmae to Kirkbean levelling dykes and houghing Irish cattle, the introduction of which was one of their grievances, they reached the estate of Kelton. Captain Johnstone was then laird, and had built a high dyke to fence his estate from the public road…anxious to preserve it he prevailed upon Mr. Falconer [minister of Kelton parish] to accompany him in going to the levellers with the view of advising them to desist from their destructive proceedings… Mr. Falconer then addressed the crowd… assuring them that no man or family would be evicted from Captain Johnstone’s estate on account of [the dyke] being erected - that every person on his lands should continue to have and hold his house, his yaird or garden, and the usual quantity of corn sown (in these days it was generally customary for the labourers to have a certain quantity of corn sown to produce a melder# for the family, and fodder for the cow and calf).
This speech, aided by the distribution of bread, cheese and beer provided by Captain Johnstone, persuaded the Levellers to pass on, leaving Johnstone’s dyke still standing. As confirmation, Harper says “On a stone in the dyke of the right hand side of the road leading from Lochbank to Furbar House, there is a date, which is now indistinct, but about thirty years ago [I.e. 1840] it was plainly 1725, and is now commemorative of the event.”. Unfortunately for Harper’s account, although there is an inscribed stone in the dyke next to Furbar House, the date on it is clearly 1757 and the events described would have happened in 1724.
On the other hand, in John Nicholson’s notebook# can be found the original account by Samuel Geddes of Keltonhill as used by Harper. This original account is dated 1831, so could realistically have been a story told to Samuel Geddes by his grandfather. In addition, William Falconer was the minister of Kelton parish in 1724 and is mentioned by Morton as one of the ministers alleged to have been sympathetic to the Levellers. Robert Johnstone became laird of Kelton in 1706, purchasing the estate #(centred on Kelton Mains farm, now part of the 1500 acre NTS Threave Estate) from William Maxwell, earl of Nithsdale.# In 1715, Robert Johnstone was one of the Steward-Deputes of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright appointed to help defend Dumfries against Jacobite forces led by William Maxwell.
As well as having strong anti- Jacobite credentials, Johnstone was (at least according to the Latin inscription on his gravestone in St Michael’s kirkyard in Dumfries) a “ strong opponent of Union and assertor of Scotland’s liberty” . In 1706 Johnstone represented Dumfries Burgh in the Scottish parliament and voted against the proposed Union.# As the rest of the inscription on Johnstone’s grave shows, he had also been several times provost of Dumfries and represented the burgh in the Convention of Royal Burghs. But although these anti-Jacobite and patriotic credentials distinguish Robert Johnstone from Jacobite landowners like Sir Basil Hamilton, Lady Mary Gordon (nee Dalzell) of Kenmure and George Maxwell of Munches, the origin of Johnstone’s wealth in trade as a Dumfries based merchant is more significant.
Like William Craik (a Dumfries based merchant who was Johnstone’s father -in - law and business partner and who bought the Arbigland and Duchrae estates in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in the late 17th century. # ), landownership was secondary to Johnstone’s main economic activities. The income he derived from his Kelton (Threave) Estate was therefore supplemental. So long as his tenants provided a steady stream of income through mainly arable farming( Kelton Estate having been arable/ grange land since at least the 13th century #), Johnstone had no pressing need to gamble on the cattle trade and therefore no pressing need to evict his tenants to create a cattle park at Kelton.
Yet if the Galloway Levellers had only been able to draw on support from those directly evicted to make way for new cattle parks, like the sixteen families dispossessed by Murdoch of Cumloden, the events of 1724 would have been on a much smaller scale. If the eye-witness account of James Clerk is to be believed, the breaking of Sir Basil Hamilton’s dykes in early May 1724 involved 1000 levellers. Although it is possible that it was the threat posed to the ‘moral economy’ which mobilised such a large group, the emphasis given to the 43 Irish cattle ( out of a herd of 400 cattle) seized by the Levellers in their account of the incident and by James Clerk in his account suggests a more direct economic linkage. The smuggling of Irish cattle was also of concern to the customs officers in Dumfries.
So rigid were the revenue regulations at this period , that when some charitable people in Dumfries commissioned two ship loads of oatmeal from Ireland that the poor might obtain it cheap when it was hardly to be had of home growth for love or money, the collector durst not permit the meal to be landed till he was specially authorized to do so by his official superiors. The officers were also scandalized by a daring innovation which had sprung up, especially at Kirkcudbright, of importing Irish cattle, and they sorely bewailed the connivance given to it by the County gentlemen and their tenants.#
Leopold’s research suggests that ths first Leveklers action took place at Netherlaw near Kirkcudbright on 17 Match 1724. In their Letter to Major Du Cary the Levellers mention this incident:
understanding that there were a considerable number of Irish cattle in the Parks of Netherlaw, we did, in obedience to the law, legally seize and slaughter them to deter the gentlemen from the like practice if importing or bringing Irish cattle, to the great loss of this poor country as well as the breeders in England, too much the practice of the gentlemen here.#
Although direct evidence of the import of Irish cattle is lacking in the case of Alexander Murray of Cally (Girthon parish, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright), who had “a large park that feeds one thousand bullocks, that he sends once every year to the markets of England” in 1723 #, Murray had inherited over 60 000 acres of Irish land, mainly in Donegal. Alexander Murray‘s ancestor, George Murray of Broughton in Wigtownshire, had been granted these lands in 1610 as part of the Plantation.# By 1621, cattle from these Irish estates were being sold in England.# In 1724, Alexander Murray would therefore have been highly likely to have been involved in the illegal import of Irish cattle and to have been a target for the Galloway Levellers - which he was. According to one of John Nicholson’s sources - Violet Nish, whose father Robert was born in 1715 at Enrick in Girthon parish- Alexander Murray’s dykes in Girthon parish were levelled in 1724 during an incident in which shots were fired.
At Cardoness in Anwoth parish, on the west bank of the Fleet and only 1 km (½ mile) from Alexander Murray’s cattle park at Cally, lay the cattle parks of Colonel William Maxwell.# If the Levellers had been intent on breaking the dykes of all such enclosures, then Colonel Maxwell’s dykes would have been a next and obvious target. But Maxwell’s dykes were left standing. Colonel Maxwell is mentioned in the Letter to Major Du Cary as having, along with ‘Laird Heron’ (either Patrick Heron senior or Patrick Heron junior, both of Minnigaff parish) as having reached an agreement with the Levellers “that we should live peaceably and throw down no man’s dykes.”. This agreement was negotiated immediately after an encounter between a party of armed heritors and armed Levellers at the Steps of Tarff. There appear to have been two such confrontations, one in early May and one in early June, but it is unclear which is being referred to.
More certainly, although the Letter to Major Du Cary includes the Herons “Yr. and elder” amongst its list of depopulating lairds, stating that “the little town of Minigaff belonging to Mr. Heron is only a nest of beggars since he inclosed all the ground about it.”, the Herons’ extensive cattle parks were not levelled. Yet, as Woodward notes in his comparative study of the 17th century Irish and Scottish cattle trade, “Patrick Herron sent 1000 or more cattle to England via Dumfries in each of the years 1689-91 inclusive.” .# Until the death of Sir David Dunbar (elder) of Baldoon in 1686, Patrick Heron senior had managed Dunbar’s cattle trading activities. After Dunbar’s death, Heron and his son built up extensive landholdings in Minnigaff parish to become the main cattle traders in Galloway.# Since these landholdings included both upland and lowland farms, this suggests that the Herons had developed a ‘vertically integrated’ approach to the cattle trade. The profitability of this indigenous business model would have been undermined by the illegal import of Irish cattle.
According to a letter dated 20 May 1724 written by James Clerk in Kirkcudbright to his brother Sir John Clerk:
Upon Wednesday last a party of about 100 [Levellers], all armed came into town, driving before them about 53 Black Cattle which they had, after throwing down the dykes, brought in the name of Irish cattle. They demanded us to assist in retaining said cattle…We thereupon refused to meddle in the affair, especially considered that we writt the Commissioners 15 days ago upon that account, and have as yet no orders to give any such assistance, upon which they drove them out of town and slaughtered each one [of] them in a barbarous manner notwithstanding as law directs proof was made… that they were not imported from Ireland, but bought of a Highland drover .#
According to Morton, the slaughter ‘in a barbarous manner’ was carried out in Dundrennan Abbey a blacksmith named McMinn, giving rise to the local folklore saying that “M’Minn’s fore-hammer was more deadly than a butcher’s knife.”. #. Between 1640 and 1700 the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds record seven related McMinn’s who were blacksmiths and a Francis McMinn (blacksmith) was a portioner of Gregory croft near Dundrennan in 1724.#
Further confirmation that the alleged illegal import of Irish cattle was a significant factor in the events of 1724 is given by the Earl of Galloway in one of his letters to Sir John Clerk. In this letter, the Earl of Galloway describes an incident which occurred on the 12th May when the Levellers “slaughtered near Kirkcudbright 55 or 57 cattell belonging to Hugh Blair of Dunrod [parish of Borgue] notwithstanding he made it appear they were bred in Britain, and they have used some of Basil Hamilton’s cattell after the same way and manner upon Saturday morning last.”. #
The defence that the cattle involved were not Irish echoes that made on behalf of Sir David Dunbar (elder) by Symson in his Large Description of Galloway forty two years before.
Those of his [ Dunbar’s] owne breed, are very large, yea, so large, that in August ro September 1682 nine and fifty of that sort, which woulld have yielded betwixt five and six pound srerling the peece were seized upon in England for Irish cattell; and because the person to whom they were entrusted had not witnesses that there ready at the precise hour, to swear that they wer seen calved in Scotland (although the witness offered t depone that he liv’d in Scotland, wityin a mile of tthe park where they were calved and gred), they were, by the sentence of Sir J.L., and some others whl knew welp enough that they were bred in Scotland, knockt on the head and kill’d; which was, to say no more, very hard measure, and sn act unworthy of persons od that quality and station who ordered it to be done.#
By their seizure, public display and slaughter of over 150 ‘Irish’ cattle, the Galloway Levellers were trying to drive a wedge between those landowners and farmers who were involved on the legitimate cattle trade and those who were not. It is difficult to judge how effrchive strategy was in broadening the base of support for the Levellers’ actions in tge Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Certaainly in Wigtownshire the use of battering ram to demolish a dyke built raound the Fell of Barhullion by Sir Alexander Maxwwll of Monretih suggests the Wigtownshire Levellerx were numerically fewer. Maxwell was also able to enlist his tennats to defend his remaining dykes, although sevej of his cattle were houghed (had their hamstrings cut) in te night. This houghing incident, compared with the cery public slaughter of cattle in the Stewartry, is another indication that there were fewer Levellers in Wigtonshire. At Balsier in Sorbie parish, it was the tenant who organised the defence of a field dyke ( I.e. a subdividing enclosure) against the Levellers. In the struggle wgich ensued one of the Levellers was fatally wounded.# Finally and most tellingly, the Sheriff of Wigtown was able to suppress the Wigtownshire Levellers without recourse to the Earl of Stair’s Dragoons.#
If the Wgitownshire Levellers w ere fewer in number, why dir they not seek support from the Stewartry? One possibility is that if large ccale support for the Levellers was confined to the central parishes of the Stwwarty of Kirkcudbright, it would have been logistically difficult to level more dmstant dykes or tp give support to the Wigtownshire Levellers. When the known instances of dkye-breaking in the Stewartry are plotted on a map, they are all within a 16km (10 mile) radius of Kelton Hill. This may be a pracgical reason why the Herons’ cattle parks in Minnigaff parish were untouched. Minnigaff is 30 km (19 miles) in a direct line from Kelton Hill and approximately 45 km (288 miles) by existing tracks. Likewise, although ‘Murray of Cavens’ was alleged to jave threatened thirty families with eviction, his estate in Kirkbean parish was left unmolested. Cavens is 24 km (15 miles) in a direct line from Kelton Hill and approximately 30 km(19 miles) by existing tracks.
In a letter to Sir John Clerk of Pencuik dated 3rd June 1724, James Clerk states that two troops of horse and four of foot left Kirkcudbright at 3 am on the 2nd June and arrived at the Boat of Rhone at 8 am, expecting to confront a gathering of Levellers, but no Levellers appeared. The direct distance from Kirkcudbright to the Boat of Rhone (at the junction of the rivers Ken and Dee) is 15 km (9 miles). Even if the actual distance travelled along the rough tracks then existing was nearer 19 km (12 miles), the troops were travelling at 3.8 km/ hour (2.4 niles/ hour). A large group of Levellers are unlikely tp have travelled any faster than the troops so woulx have taken roughly 12 hours to reach Minnigaff from the centre of the Stewartgy and 8 hours to reach Kirkbean. Sorbie parish in Wigtownshire is 20 km (12.5 miles) south Minnigaff. It would have taken a party of central Stewartry Levellers at least 17 hours walking non-stop to provide support for the Wigtownshire Lfvellers. Any such attempt wold ahve been easily halted long before this by the two troops of horse stationed in Kirkcudbright.
Of the 23 Levellers pursued for damages by Sir Basil Hamilton in January 1725, having demolished 580 roods of dyke at Galtway (near Kirkcudbright) between the 12th and 16th May 1724, Thomas Moige and Grizel Grierson his wife lkve furthest away. Moire was the owner-occupier of Beoch farm in Tongland parish. Beoch ls 13 km miles) from Galtway. As a farm owner, Moire and his wife wkuld have been able to travel by horseback to Galtway. The other named Levellers all lived less than 9 k (5.5 miles) from Galtway and ths majority lived within 4 km (2.5 miles). Th ree lived at mills (xt Auchlane Miln and Nethermilns), two in crofts (Greenlane and Meadow Isle) and the rest were either tenant farmers pr cottars. One, John Martin, was the 14 year old son of a tenant farmer in Lochdougan.
The involvement of Thomas and Grizel Moire is significant since it reveals tgat at least some of the Galloway Levellers wdee owner-occupier farmers. Their respective family backgrounds also suggest that, at least in the case of Sir Basil Hamilton, the anti-Jacobite rhetoric of the Levellers had deep historical roots. Grizel Grier aas the eaughter of Thomas Greirsone of Bargatton farm. Thomas Moire was the son of Henry Moire of Beoch.# These are neighbouring farms.
In 1640, William Grierson of Bargatton (Grizel’s grandfather) was appointed to the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright War Committee of the Covenanters, and was one of the Stewartry representatives in the Scottish Parliament from 1644 to 1651. Between 1649 and 1704, William Grierson and his son, also William ( I.e. Grizel’s uncle) were Commissioners of Supply for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbrivht,# but by 1724, Bargatton was nl longer owned bg the Grietsons. Local auttor S.R. Crockett, who was born in Balmaghie parish in 1859, believed family members had rmigrated Virginia about 1708. Crockett also notes that t he Grriersons were ‘Reformed Presbyterians‘, I.e. Cameronian members of the Reverend John McMillan of Balmaghie’s independent church.#
In 1640, William Grierson of Bargatton (Grizel’s grandfather) was appointed to the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright War Committee of the Covenanters, and was one of the Stewartry representatives in the Scottish Parliament from 1644 to 1651.# McKerlie gives the details of the ownership of Bargatton, noting that it and seven other f arms in Balmaghie were owned by the Grierson family between 1600 and 1700. The farmd then changed hands several times. William Murray, x merchant in Dumfries owned them from 1700 to 1712, then Robert Maclellan of Barcloy had them until 1720, followed by his brother Samuel until March 1725 when Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness bought them before they were sold againn ig 1735 to the Reeverend Walter Laurie of Redcastle (parish of Urr). The Laurie family were still in possession when McKerlie was writing in 1878, owning 12 farms and the viklage of Clachanpuck which Walter Laurie improved and re-named Laurieston. Mckerlie also notes that in 1678, Henry Mure (or Moide) commissary-clerk of Kirkcudbright owned Bellymack abd Grannoch Waulk Mill in Balmaghie parish.# Unfortunately, McKerlie apatr from noting that ‘Hendrie Moore commissar clerk of Kirkcudbright’ also had prinviple sssine og Beoch (Tnogland parish) in 1678 does not provide any fyrther information on the Moires of Beoch. However, McKerlie does reveal that in Mwy 1645, the Gordons of Kenmure had ‘superiorty’ of Beoch.# This suggests that in 1724, Thomas Moire’s feudal superior was Lady Mary Dalzell, widow of the Jacobite Viscount William Gordon of Kenmure.
The firsf mention of Henry Moire in the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds is from 1666, when he had a five year tack of the Abbey of Dundrennan.# On 7th March 1678, “Henry Mure, Commissary Clerk at Kirkcudbright, was libelled for being preesent at hhouse and field conventicles where Mr. John Welsh, Mr. Gabriel Semple and Mr. Samuel Arnott were. He ackno wledged he had once heard Mr. Samuel Adnot at a field conventicle and thfough Bisbop Paterson of Galloway he was dismissed without further trouble.”.# Since hhe Kirkcudbright Shwriff Court Deeds show Henry Moire continuing to witness deeds as Commssary Clerk after this date, it was thf lkbel rather than Henfy Moire which was dismissed.
The mention of Samuel Arnot is of interest since, as discussed above, David Arnot’s support for his brother Samuel led to the enforced sale of Barcaple (the family farm) to Stuart loyalist Willoam McGuffog in 1674. Although McGuffog’s son-in-law Hugh Blair-McGuffog sold Barcaplee in 1687 to the Rev. John McMichen, in 1724, Hugh Blair-McGuffog still owned the farms of Lairdmannoch and Kirkconnel (where four Covenanters were killed by Grierson of Lagg in February 16685) .# In 1724, Hugh-Blair McGuffog’s cattle parks in Borgue parish were levelled, although they had been in existence for over 30 years.# rFom McKelrie, Lairdmannoch and Kirkconnel ( but not Beoch ) were owned by Robert Gordon of Garerrie in 1726, but returned to the McGuffog-Blairs in 1751. By 1799, Beoch, Lairdmanonch, Kirkconnel and 13 other farms in Tongland parish were owned by Alexander Murray of Cally.
It is not possible to be certain why Thomas Moire of Beoch and Girzel Grierson helped level Sif Basil Hamilton’s cattle park dykes in May 1724. That Grizel Grierson’s family had already lost Barhatton and emigrated to America may well have been a factor. The probability that she nad her husband were struggling to make a living on their small farm of Beoch would be another. Although such cattle parks in themselves were not an innovation ih 1724, the export cattle to England provided cattle traders like the Herons of Kirroughtrie, Murdoch of Cumloden, Murray of Cally and Blair-McGuffog of Dunrod with ready cash in hte form of Engoish guineas. This gave them an advantage (shared with merchant traders like Robert Johnston of Kelton) over lesser landowners and owner-occupiers who were less able (if at alp) to export their oats and bere or the few cattle or sheep their smalled landholdings produced.
As any attempt to follow the histories of the thousands oof ‘lands and their owners’ documented by McKerlie in his five volume study swiftly shows, the feuung out of Crown lands in Galloway (the 108 estates forfeit by the 9th earl of Douglas in 1456) and the break-up of Galloway’s great monastic estates (Dundrennan, Glenluce, Tongland, Soulseat, Lincluden and New Abbey) after 1560 led to a fragmentation of landownership which reached its peal in the latre 17th century. In turn, as the numerous wadsets noted by McKerlie attest, the fragmentation of landownership created a high level of economic insecurity with small estates or individual farms changing hand with bewildering rapidity. The finew and forfeitures of the political and religious struggles of the 17tth century added to this turmoil. Al though hastened by the economic advnfage created by the export r cattle, a process of consolidation of landownership would have occurred anyway, as the more successful farmers and landowners bought out the farms and estates of their less successful (or just less fortunate) neighbours.
Given Grizel Grierson’s family background, she and her husband would have been very aware of this process. They would also have been aware of the religious and political family history of Sir Basil Hamilton - a Jacobite and the inheritor of a lands acquired by his Sruart supporting grandfather and great-grandfather at from hhe Covenant supporting McLellans of Kirkcuddbright, including teh lands of Bombie where H amilton had constructed his new cattle park.
Tracing the background of the other Levellers accused of breaking Sir B asil Hamilton’s dykes is less easy. Some background for John McKnaught of Meadow Isle is given by the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds. A 1676 tafk for Aireland farm in Kelton parish gives a John MccKnaught as possessing the Meadow Islle croft. In 1724, the farm was owned by aLdy Mary Dunbar. # For John McKnaught, the eviction of tenants and cottars to make way for Sir Basil Hamilton’s new cattle prk a t Bpmbie would have been a warning that the croft his family hzd possessed (but not owned) for ficty years was endangered.
For John Martin of Lochdougan, we have his own account in Nicholson’s Notebook. Born in 1710 at Halmyre farm in Kelton parish, in 1724 his father was a tenant in Lchdougan farm tao miles from Halmyre. John Martin seems to have made his own decision to become a teenage Leveller. He stole his father’s flail and joined the Levellers in their confrontation with the heritorz at the Setps of Tarff in May 1724. Here John armed himself with x musket dropped in front of him by an older but more nervous Leveller. John kept the gun with him until he was captured at Duchrae in October 1724. For possessing the gun he was fned £1000 sterling in addition to his share of the �777 Scots he was fined for damages to Sir Basil Hamilton’s property. Despite his youthful participation in the Levellers Uprising, John went on to become a respectable and respected watch and clock maker in Kirkcudbright where he died im 1801.#
The involvement of a 14 year old John Martin (armed with his musket), in the events of 1724 raises further questions about the motivations of the Galloway Levellers. Although it is possible that John Martin was motivated to join the Levellers because he saw the cattle parks as a threat to his future prospects as the son of a tenant farmer or cottar, he may equally have been motivated by the spirit of youthful rebellion against the status quo. Sir Basil Hamilton himself was only 18 when he joined the Jacobite Uprising of 1715.