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Covenanter Locations #2


In the pursuit of my interest in the 17th century Covenanter movement in Scotland, I visited as many of the locations connected with the Covenanters, – historical sites, museums, church, battle grounds etc. This listing is part of a series of these sites.

A favourite place for conventicles, Colmonell is situated in Carrick. The Kirkyard contains the remains of three Covenanters.

An interesting town in Ayrshire, Cumnock is worth a visit for anyone interested in the history of seventeenth century Scotland. There is, at the old churchyard a memorial to Alexander Peden, and the graves of three other Covenanters. One of the stones reminds us of one Thomas Richard. The inscription on the stone reads:

Halt passenger, this stone doth show to thee,
For what, by whom and how I here did die,
Because I always in my station,
Adhered to Scotland’s Reformation.
And to our sacred covenants and laws,
Establishing the same, which was the cause,
In time of prayer I was by Douglas shot,
Ah! Cruelty never to be forgot!

This is an epitaph to an old man, eighty years of age, deceived by government agents. Thomas Richard was a faithful Christian farmer from an area between Muirkirk and Mauchline. He often welcomed the Covenanting preachers, and many prayer meetings were held in his home. A party of troopers in plain clothes arrived at his home, all of them carrying Bibles, and asked him for Christian fellowship. He suspected no trap and prayed openly with them, whereupon they arrested him and took him away to Colonel Douglas at Cumnock. The following day he was shot, without trial, and whilst in the act of prayer.

The other two men whose lives are commemorated at Old Cumnock are David Dun, an Ayrshire farmer, shot by the highlanders in 1685 after attending a conventicle at Kilmein near Dalmellington. Little is known of the other man, one Simon Paterson.

Dunottar Castle
This foreboding castle is outside the little town of Stonehaven in Kincardineshire. Its deep and dirty dungeon held many prisoners whose only crime was adherence to the Covenants. On the other hand, at the harbour in Stonehaven itself is a building (now a restaurant!), which formerly had been the town goal. A plaque on the wall informs the reader that during the 1680’s three ‘curates’ or Episcopal ministers had been imprisoned there. No further explanation is given.

At the time of the Covenanting Struggle the castle was the property of the Earl Marischal, and some of the worst atrocities perpetrated on the ‘honest folk’ were enacted at this place. In May 1685, following the arrival of the Earl of Argyll from the Netherlands with a party of soldiers, the authorities panicked and moved a large number of Covenanter prisoners up to Dunottar. The goals at Edinburgh and Canongate were emptied of their ‘guests’ and they were and they were marched to Leith, where they were placed, along with local prisoners from the Leith tolbooth on open ships for transportation to Burntisland, where they were cooped up in the local tolbooth. At this time the prisoners were offered the oath of allegiance, which around forty took and were freed. Those who remained were marched across Fife to Freuchie, where again they occupied the local tolbooth, before crossing the Tay to Dundee. A few nights later the prisoners arrived, having had little food or water, at a bridge over the North Esk River, where they were corralled on the bridge with guards at either end. No shelter was afforded from the wind and rain.


At Dunottar the Covenanters were herded into the vault. There were one hundred and sixty seven people in the vault. Thirteen had escaped along the way. The vault measured fifty-four feet by fifteen, allowing each person just five square feet each. No one could sit down without leaning on someone else. The floor was wet and made of mud, and there were no toilet facilities. The smell would have been overpowering. Only those with money could buy food, and that at overpriced rates. Sickness prevailed and a number of the prisoners died.
Eventually some were moved out of the vault into another room, where fresh air could be breathed through a small window. A number of prisoners attempted to escape by climbing down the steep cliffs upon which the castle is built. Some were successful, but at least two fell down the cliffs and died in the attempt, while others were recaptured in the nearby countryside. Those who died are interred at Dunottar Kirkyard. Many were subjected to heinous tortures.

In mid July the prisoners were returned to Leith, mostly on foot, having again been given opportunity to swear the oath; an opportunity which some accepted. Friends bailed others out, and the remainder were transported to the colonies. Among the prisoners held at Dunottar was Patrick Johnston, the ‘Covenanting Peddler’, who was captured on 29th June 1684, sentenced to imprisonment at Edinburgh in July for ‘treasonable offences’ i.e., attending conventicles, and taken to the castle for incarceration. Johnston later wrote ‘Six Saints of the Covenant’, published in 1732.

From → Covenanters

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