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greengalloway

As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Galloway Levellers- draft - events 1724

This is first draft ( 14 March 2008) - to be edited and completed


Events of 1724


In late August 1721, Sir John Clerk of Pencuick and his son travelled to Galloway to visit James Stewart, the 5th earl of Galloway who was Clerk’s brother-in-law. Clerk kept a record of the visit.1 After overnight stays at Dolphinton and Drumlanrig, the Clerks followed the old pilgrim’s route to Whithorn via the ‘Old Clachan’ (St. John’s Town of Dalry) below which they forded a swollen Water of Ken, before reaching New Galloway. Clerk noted that the late Viscount of Kenmure’s house is near to New Galloway and that “this house is now in the hands of the Commissioners of Enquiry for the Publick, being forfeit by the Viscount’s rebellion in 1715”. Beyond New Galloway, the Clerks’ travelled on through ‘mountains wild beyond imagination so that scarce any thing in the Alps exceeds them’ and where ’Galloway horse are bread’ to reach Minnigaff. Here they crossed the Cree by boat to Newton Stewart before finally arriving at the house of Brigadier General John Stewart’s house at Sorbie in the Machars of Wigtownshire. The Brigadier was the 5th earl of Galloway’s brother and so also brother-in-law to Clerk.


After recovering from the ‘great distress’ of his journey through the wild mountains of Galloway, Clerk and lord Garlies (eldest son of the earl of Galloway) set their servants to work “to remove some stones from an old cairn where we were told Roman sepulchral urns had been found”. The servants soon found an urn ‘made of a coarse sort of clay’ and containing burnt bones, ashes and the head of a ‘brass javelin’ - suggesting a Bronze Age rather than Roman burial. Fortunately, Clerk took as much interest in contemporary affairs as he did in his antiquarian pursuits, providing a ‘description of Galloway’ ( or at least of the Machars peninsula of the shire of Wigtown) which can be compared with that of Symson 2 who wrote his ‘Description of Galloway’ 40 years earlier.


For a description of Galloway what follows shal suffice.This shire is more properly called the shire of Wigtoun, for Galloway comprehends in it the Stuarty of Kirkcudbright. It begins at the Water of Cree and takes in a large part of peninsula of abut forty miles in circumference or more. The country is generally plain except towards the northmost parts of it. The soil is warm but thin and brings all sort sorts of garden fruits to perfection than any country of Scotland. The surface of the ground is full of small rocks and in many places covered with whins, broom, fairns etc. However there is good feeding for all sorts of cattle. Their grain is nigh bear and oats black and white. Barley they have none , nor for ordinary any pease. Their culture of grains seems a little odd, for their bear sets as they cal them are never changed…There are very little improvements here in planting, for their industry runs only on inclosures for black cattle which indeed brings them in from England a great dale of profit. Their diks are of stone without mortar, very thinly built together . [Clerk here suggested quick set hedges would be more useful].


By these inclosures such as they are I had occasion to compute they brought in ten thousand guineas to their country, for the price of their cattle is commonly payed in gold. Sometimes they drive them to the English fairs and sometimes they sell them at home to English men who come down and pay them readie monie for what they carry off. By the bye, all this is not above a tenth of what Scotland gains from England upon this time upon black cattle, for I have good reason to believe there is above 100 000 lib ster yearly payed us on that score. The inhabitants of Galloway [Wigtownshire] are much lessened since the custom of inclosing their grounds took place, for there are certainly above 20 000 acres laid waste on that account.


Unfortunately, Clerk does not date the ‘custom of inclosing’ for black cattle, but from the itinerary of his journey, he must have passed through the Baldoon Parks first established by Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon sometime before 1682, when Symson described Dunbar’s great cattle park in his Large Description of Galloway. Since Symson notes that other landowners in the Machars of Wigtownshire - the Earl of Galloway, Sir William Maxwell (of Monreith) and Sir Godfrey McCulloch (of Myreton) - had followed Dunbar’s example and since Clerk is describing the Machars rather than the whole of Wigtownshire, the loss of population due to the 20 000 acres ‘laid waste’ by cattle parks is likely to refer only the Machars. The loss of population would have been caused by the conversion of arable farm land to pasture. Until the introduction of cast iron ploughs from 1730 onwards, arable farming involved use of the mainly wooden ‘Old Scotch plough’ which required a large team of oxen or horses to pull it, which in turn required more manpower than cattle minding.3 That Sir David Dunbar’s Baldoon Estate was good arable land is shown by its status as ‘Grange land’ in the list of lands forfeit by the 9th earl of Galloway in 14564 and its later identification in 1875 by McLelland as good wheat producing land. 5


Unfortunately, neither Symson writing in 1682 nor Clerk writing in 1721 mention the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in their discussion of cattle parks. However, from the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds, it is clear that at least two cattle parks existed in the Stewartry before 1692.6 This is significant. It means that the dykes surrounding cattle parks in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright which were thrown down in by the Galloway Levellers were part of an extension of existing practice rather than a recent innovation in 1724. Furthermore, if a such a perceptive observer as Clerk had recognised that such enclosures ‘lessened the inhabitants’ of Wigtownshire, the fear that the extension of such enclosures would lead to a similar depopulation of the Stewartry was not an irrational fear.

Clerk’s short description of Galloway also raises the question to what extent was the construction of large cattle enclosures part of a process of ‘improvement’? Clerk himself seemed dubious. As he noted concerning arable farming, “Their culture of grains seems a little odd, for their bear sets as they call them are never changed. That ground which I saw carrying bear has produced nothing else in the memory of man”. Clearly there had been no improvement in this practice since it was noted by Symson, writing forty years earlier that “they sow their beir in the same place every year, and without intermission, which is also peculiar, in a peece of ground which is nearest to their house…”.


Likewise, the cattle enclosures noticed by Clerk in 1721 were first recorded by Symson in 1682. The regional export of cattle to England can be traced back to at least 1621 when “between 2nd June and 19th October 1621, duty was paid [at Dumfries on exports of livestock to England] on 4640 sheep, 280 lambs, 65 horses and 2351 nolt (head of cattle)”.7 Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon’s great cattle park may well have been an innovative improvement when first constructed circa1670, but by 1721 such enclosures had become part of a hundred year old regional tradition - that of trading cattle for English cash.


This suggests that the conversion of arable land to pasture through the construction of cattle parks enclosed by dykes ‘of stone without mortar’ (as Clerk described them) was not an innovation in the Galloway of 1724. In which case, can the construction of such enclosures in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in 1724 by landowners like Sir Basil Hamilton of Baldoon (Sir David Dunbar of Baldoon’s great-grandson) be considered as innovative examples of enlightened improvement in the knowledge of agriculture - or were they rather a conservative extension of locally traditional agricultural practice? Practice by which Sir Robert Maxwell of Orchardton in the Stewartry (writing from Killeleagh in Ireland to his nephew) in 1688 considered ‘improvement’ as meaning “not diminishing but rather increasing rents” from an estate which included a cattle park “not to be set to the plough” . Sir Robert also tasks his nephew with pursuing various debts owing to Sir Robert .8


Possibly by the time Clerk was writing in 1721, ‘improvement’ had taken on a broader meaning than that which Sir Robert Maxwell gave it in 1688. Certainly Clerk became a key member of the ‘Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture’, founded in Edinburgh in 1723. Whilst Clerk is considered to be the very model of a Calvinist capitalist landowner 9, Sir Robert Maxwell of Orchardton was a devout Roman Catholic and a Stuart loyalist who helped persecute Calvinist Covenanters.10


1724

The most detailed account of the events of 1724 is provided by Morton11 writing in 1936. Unfortunately, Morton does always give his sources (a defect partially rectified by Prevost and Leopold 12 ), but this problem aside, it seems likely that it was the actions of Lady Kenmure and Thomas Gordon of Earlston in 1723 which set the events of 1724 in motion. Lady Kenmure was the widow of William Gordon, Viscount Kenmure, executed in 1716 for his leading part in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. In contrast, Thomas Gordon of Earlston had played an active anti-Jacobite role in 1715, leading a group of 200 volunteers from Kirkcudbright to aid the defence of Dumfries in October 1715. In 2003, the banner carried by Gordon of Earlston in 1715 was returned to Kirkcudbright from Australia.13


What Lady Kenmure and Thomas Gordon had in common in 1723 were debt ridden estates. First established in the Glenkens district of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in 1408 by Archibald, 4th earl of Douglas14, over the next 200 year the Gordon family acquired extensive lands throughout Galloway. During the religious and political turmoil of the 17th century, a process of contraction set in. The Gordons of Earlston suffered fines and forfeiture for their Covenanting beliefs and actions. The Gordons of Kenmure shifted between supporting and opposing the Stuarts - so that whilst William Gordon of Kenmure was executed as a Jacobite in 1715, his father Alexander had led a regiment against the Jacobite forces at Killiecrankie in 1689.15


In 1697, a drove road was made and marked out between New Galloway in the Glenkens and Dumfries. Alexander Gordon of Kenmure was amongst the landowners who had petitioned the Privy Council to make this improvement which was also supported by Dumfries Town Council.


"Several debates," the Council record says, "have happened of late in the passage of droves from New Galloway to Dumfries, the country people endeavouring by violence to stop the droves, and impose illegal exactions of money upon the cattle, to the great damage of the trade; whereby also riots and bloodsheds have been occasioned, which had gone greater length if those who were employed to carry up the cattle had not managed with great moderation and prudence." On a petition from the great landlords of the district- James, Earl of Galloway; Lord Basil Hamilton; Alexander, Viscount of Kenmure; John, Viscount of Stair; Sir Andrew Agnew of Lochnaw, and others a commission was appointed by the Privy Council, "to make and mark a highway for droves frae New Galloway to Dumfries, holding the high and accustomed travelling way betwixt the said two burghs." 16



However, neither Alexander Gordon nor his son William appear to have profited by this support for Galloway’s cattle trade. According to McKerlie17, by 1716 the Kenmure estate “was so much encumbered with debt and claimants, that the Government allowed his widow to make of it what she could…”. McKerlie also reveals that the Earlston estate was no less encumbered with debt, despite the sale of woodland by Sir Alexander Gordon of Earlston to Charles Hope (later Earl of Hopetoun) for 23 000 merks in 1691. In 1708 Sir Alexander ‘disponed’ (conveyed) the estate to his son Thomas. McKerlie gives the valuation of the estate as £300 sterling per year, but as carrying a debt burden of £1687 sterling, and notes wadsets on the estate in 1710, 1714 and 1719. Despite marrying an heiress in 1710 (Ann Boick, whose father was a merchant burgess of Edinburgh and Glasgow), Thomas was unable to clear the debts he had inherited and was declared bankrupt in 1737.


Although Morton18 does not mention it, the estates of Lady Kenmure and Thomas Gordon lay close to the drove road established in 1697 between New Galloway and Dumfries. From Clerk’s account of 1721, cattle worth £10 000 sterling would have passed along this drove road every autumn. Paid for in cash (Clerk’s English ‘readie monie’) the attraction of the cattle trade for debt-ridden landowners like Lady Kenmure and Thomas Gordon was obvious. So at Whitsun (locally the usual date for ending and starting tacks)1723, rather than having their tacks renewed, one of Thomas Gordon’s tenants, named Robertson by Morton, and an unnamed tenant of Lady Kenmure’s, found themselves and their sub-tenants (cottars) ‘ejected’ and their farms enclosed with stone dykes to create cattle parks.


From analysis of over 320 tacks recorded in the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds between 1623 and 1700, it is clear that changes of tenant and sub-tenants/ cottars at the expiry of a tack (which varied between one and 19 years length) were not unusual. What was unusual at Whitsun 1723 is, as Morton explains “there were several instances where five, seven, and even sixteen families on an estate had to remove” to be replaced by a single tenant. Only a single tenant - or more likely herd - was required where arable or mixed arable and livestock farms were converted to cattle parks by enclosing them within a dry stane ring dyke - as shown by William Maxwell who was sole ‘herd’ of Sir Robert Maxwell of Orchardton’s cattle park at Netherlaw in 1688.19 (That Netherlaw was potentially arable is shown by Sir Robert’s instruction to his nephew that it should not be ‘set to the plough’.) Where, as seems to have occurred in 1723, several arable/ mixed farms were converted to cattle parks simultaneously, the scope for movement by potential tenants and, critically, their sub-tenants, between farms would have been limited.


The grievances of those dispossessed at Whit became the focus for wider concerns at the Kelton Hill Fair held in mid-June. Established by ancient tradition20, Fair was a somewhat riotous assembly.


Here are assembled from Ireland, from England, and from the most distant parts of North Britain, horse-dealers, cattle dealers, sellers of sweetmeats and of spirituous liquors, gypsies, pick-pockets, and smugglers…The roads are for a day or two before crowded with comers to the fair. On the hill where it is held tents are erected, and through the whole fair day one tumultuous scene is here exhibited of bustling backwards and forwards, bargaining, wooing, carousing, quarrelling, amidst horses, cattle, carriages, mountebanks, the stalls of chapmen, and the tents of the sellers of liquors and cold victuals.21


It was at the Kelton Hill Fair in June 1723 that the idea of dyke-breaking was first proposed. However no immediate action was taken. It was not until January or February 1724 that Robertson proposed a bond (or covenant) for those prepared to resist further evictions.22 By this time it would have been clear that other landowners were planning to evict tenants and cottars and construct cattle parks. No doubt rumour and speculation added considerably to the list of threatened fermtouns and helped swell the numbers of those signing the bond. It is also clear, as the events unfolded through 1724, that a considerable degree of planning and preparation was involved.


The practical organisation of teams of dyke-breakers in each parish was managed by ‘captains’. This procedure echoed the practice of the Stewartry War Committee of the Covenant in 1640/1- which appointed ‘captains’ to oversee the raising of anti- Stuart volunteers in each parish23 and the more recent raising of anti- Jacobite volunteers in 1715.24 Ironically, since his were the first dykes to be broken by this way of working, Thomas Gordon of Earlston had been one such ‘captain’ (for the parish of Kells) in 1715 and his great-grandfather likewise a ‘captain’ for Carsphairn and Dalry parishes in 1640/1. At the same time as the practice of dyke-breaking was being organised, the ‘theory‘, or at least a series of justifications for the actions of the dyke-breakers, was being prepared. The first of several such manifestos was attached to the doors of churches in Borgue, Tongland and Twynholm parishes in April 1724. Although Morton quotes from this manifesto, he does not does not give his source. Fortunately Prevost25 does, revealing that Wodrow received a copy in May 1724. This suggests that Wodrow was one of the unattributed sources used by Morton. Morton gives a direct quote from one of these manifestos:


Therefore in order to prevent such a chain of miseries as are likely to be the consequences of this unhappy parking we earnestly entreat the assistance and aid of you the loyal parish of Borgue in order to suppress these calamities and that we may either live or die in this land of our nativity. We beg your assistance which will tend to your own advantage in order to which we desire you to meet at David Low’s in Woodhead of Tongland where we expect the concurrence of Tongland and Twynholm upon Tuesday morning an hour after the sun rise which will gratify us and oblige yourselves.


Whatever else it may be, the language of this text is not the everyday Scots language of Borgue or any other parish in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in 1724. It is written in the formal English of a highly educated person. As Reid26 points out in his biography of the Reverend John McMillan of Balmaghie, the best educated of all but a few (e.g. Sir James Dalrymple of Stair) of the population of Galloway in the early 18th century were the parish ministers. The manifesto also declares that those who had ‘lately risen to suppress the insupportable cruelty and oppression of several gentlemen in Galloway’ were all ‘well affected to the Government and loyal subjects of His Majesty’. As Stephen27 explains in his discussion of the religious and political differences between the Cameronians and the Hebronites in 1706, the Cameronians rejected all uncovenanted kings and queens. The Cameronian position was effectively a republican one. In contrast, and as shown by their actions in 1715 when they offered to help defend Dumfries against the Jacobites, the Hebronites were able to support and pledge loyalty to uncovenanted kings and queens -as George I was.


Had John Hepburn, the leader of the Hebronites, still been alive in 1724 he would have been the most likely writer of this manifesto. However, Hepburn died in 1723 so could not have been its author. Morton claims (unreferenced) “Morton states that there were no men of note amongst them [the Levellers] save Mr. Cluny, deposed curate who drew their papers.”


This ‘Mr. Cluny’ is most likely to have been Hugh Clanny who was minister of Kirkbean from 1688 until deposed in 1713. Adamson28 locates Clanny (or Clannie) in a complex struggle fought out between ex-Episopalians, Hepburn and the Hebronites and mainstream Presbyterians within the Synod of Dumfries in 1697 in which Clanny may have been aligned with the Hebronite faction. More certainly, in January 1688 he married Rachel, daughter of John McMichen of Barcaple (Tongland parish).29 John McMichen had been, until forced out in 1661, the Prebsyterian minister of Dalry parish.30 John McMichen had bought Barcaple in 1687 from Hugh Blair-McGuffog. Barcaple had been sold to William McGuffog (Hugh Blair-McGuffog’s father-in-law) by David Arnot in 1674.


The Arnot’s (descended from David Arnot, who has been bishop of Galloway in 1509) had owned Barcaple since 14th March 1540 -the date of a charter by Henry, bishop of Galloway and commendator of Dundrennan abbey which conveyed Barcaple to Henry Arnot. In 1661, Samuel Arnot was minister of Tongland parish and his brother David owned Barcaple. David was repeatedly fined for adherence to the Covenants and with his brother had to flee to Ireland - hence the enforced sale of Barcaple to Stuart loyalist William McGuffog in 1674.


On John McMichen’s death (which McKerlie31, on whom this account is based, does not give)Rachel and her elder sister Mary inherited Barcaple. Mary had married the Reverend William Maitland in 1674 and by 1724 her son Alexander was minister of Tongland parish. Since Alexander bought Rachel’s half of Barcaple from her and Hugh Clanny (described as ’minister’) in 172732, it is likely that - having lost his position as minister of Kirkbean parish - Hugh Clanny was living at Barcaple in 1724. This is significant, since the Gordons of Kenmure claimed feudal superiority over the parish of Tongland 33and also claimed direct ownership of farms (e.g. Dunjop and Barnscrosh) within Tongland which had been forfeit by the John Gordon, 1st Viscount Kenmure to the ‘Lord Protector’ (Oliver Cromwell) in 1650.34 Nether Barcaple (now Valleyfield) had been claimed by the Gordons since 1604. It was held by Robert Gordon of Troquhane in 1662, when he set it tack to William Makcartney for 13 years - with feu duties payable to Lord Kenmore and the Colledge of Glasgow35, although McKerlie states that William Gordon of Earlston had principle sasine of Barcaple (Nether) in 1674 and that John Gordon of Kenmure (son of Lady Kenmure, widow of William Gordon the Jacobite) had sasine in 1742 - when Alexander Maitland, minister of Tongland, bought it from him.


Out of this confusion of lands and their owners stretching back into the religious and political conflicts of the 17th century, what can be gleaned? That, as discussed previously, in Galloway and Dumfries the 1715 Jacobite rebellion would have raised immediate and direct fears amongst Presbyterian landowners, especially owner-occupiers, of a return to the insecurities of the 1660-1688 period. Inevitably, a Jacobite victory would have led to fines and forfeitures being levied on anti-Jacobites. For Hugh Clanny and his nephew Alexander Maitland (minister of Tongland parish 1711 to 1747) these fears would have been especially acute. They would have been aware of the fate of the original owners of Barcaple -the Arnot brothers - and of the experiences of John McMichen. Although no direct references to Hugh Clanny and Alexander Maitland in Rae’s 1718 account of ‘The Late Rebellion’, both would have strong religious, landownership and family reasons for opposing the Jacobites in 1715. In which case, Maitland would have been amongst the parish ministers mentioned by Rae who raised and helped arm an unofficial force of anti-Jacobite volunteers - 200 of whom were marched from Kirkcudbright to Dumfries (led by Thomas Gordon of Earlston) in October 1715. Clanny’s position (having been removed as minister of Kirkbean by the Synod of Dumfries) would have been more ambiguous. He is more likely to have been a member of the force of armed Hebronites assembled by John Hepburn of Urr. This force of some 300 offered support to Dumfries Burgh Council, but imposed religious conditions on their support which the Council could not agree to.36 However, had the Jacobite forces actually attacked Dumfries the Hebronites (unlike McMillan’s Cameronians) would have had no theological problems with physically supporting George I against James VIII. On the other hand, whilst the dykes of Jacobite landowners like Lady Kenmure, Basil Hamilton and George Maxwell of Munches were levelled in 1724, so also were the dykes of the anti-Jacobite Thomas Gordon of Earlston.


Returning to the April 1724 manifesto, the place appointed for the meeting -“at David Low’s in Woodhead of Tongland” also points to Hugh Clanny. Woodhead of Tongland was a croft roughly a mile east of Barcaple37, and it is likely that this was the gathering reported by the Caledonian Mercury on 21 April 1724.38


We are credibly informed from Galloway and other places in the West, That a certain Mountain preacher in a discourse he had in that district not many days ago, among other things, so bitterly inveighed against the Heritors and others of that Country, for their laudable Frugality in Inclosures etc and (as he term’d it) making Commonty Property, that next Morning several Hundred arm’d Devotees, big with that ancient Levelling Tenet, in a few hours rid themselves of that Grievance, to the great Detriment of the Gentlemen in the Neighbourhood.

Had our Religious been as solicitous in enforcing the Doctrines of Love and peace, and of suffering (even Injuries) rather than sin, ‘tis a question if his Rhetoric had so readily obtain’d.


From this report - the first to describe the dyke-breakers as ‘Levellers’- it might appear that, inspired by the fiery rhetoric of the ‘Mountain preacher’ (most likely Hugh Clanny) the first ‘levelling’ actions took place in early April 1724 in Tongland parish, probably against dykes erected for Lady Kenmure around one of her farms (Nether Barcaple?) in that parish. However, the phrase ‘lately risen to suppress the insupportable cruelty and oppression of several gentlemen in Galloway’ in the manifesto previously fixed to the church doors of Borgue, Tongland and Twynholm implies the ’rising’ had already begun by April1724. The first actions may have been, as Morton suggests, the breaking of Thomas Gordon of Earlston’s dykes at Airds, but Leopold’s careful sifting of available records shows that a case “Laird Murdoch against Debtors for damages caused by levelling on the land of Airds in Kells parish” was held in Kirkcudbright on the 20th June 1724 and that one of the defendants was a John Charters of Drumglass in Balmaghie parish. Leopold suggests this may have been a separate and independent action by Cameronian supporters of John McMillan of Balmaghie.39


Leaving aside Leopold’s Cameronian speculations, his link to ‘Laird Murdoch’ is useful. The levelling of dykes erected by Murdoch is described in the Levellers ‘Letter to Major Du Cary’ (quoted at length by Morton) where, following their meeting at the ‘Boat of the Ronn’ (the Boat of Rhone at the foot of Loch Ken) on 2nd June 1724 “we unanimously agreed to throw down Mr. Murdoch’s dykes which inclosed the Barony of Airds out of which two or three years ago great multitudes of good and sufficient tenants were driven away and also the same Mr. Murdoch’s dykes which were a building about the lands of Kilwhannadie and Macartney, like wise great tracts of land which tenants were immediately to be turned out.” . Although hardly ‘great tracts of land’, Murdoch, of Cumloden in Penningham parish in Wigtownshire, had recently acquired Kilquhanity and Macartney in Kirkpatrick Durham parish through a wadset.40 Given the debt-ridden finances of Thomas Gordon of Earlston, it is likely that he had either wadset (although McKerlie makes no mention of this) or leased his Airds of Kells to Murdoch. The assumption is that Murdoch was engaged in the cattle trade and was actively seeking parcels of land where he could either concentrate and fatten cattle he had purchased before a drove or rest droves, originating elsewhere, overnight on their long journey to the south of England.


But if the levelling of Murdoch’s (not Gordon of Earlston’s) dykes on Airds of Kells took place in June, then they were clearly not the first dykes to be demolished and so cannot be the actions mentioned in the April manifesto. Fortunately, Leopold reveals that “The one concrete piece of evidence we have about the beginning of the Levellers shows that the enclosures of Netherlaw were levelled on 17th March 1724.”41 This date would fit with the April manifesto and so seems fairly ‘concrete’. The difficulty with Netherlaw is that, as discussed above, according to a Factory by Sir Robert Maxwell of Orchardton to his nephew Robert Maxwell, a cattle park at Netherlaw (herded by William Johnstone) had been created sometime before 1688.42 Sir Robert died in 1719 and his nephew Robert inherited. The inheritance was contested. “During the litigation, Robert, a Roman Catholic, was required to sign the ‘formula against popery’ before he could obtain possession of the estates of Orchardton and Gelston. This he did on 12th November 1723.” However, deeply worried by institutional anti-Catholicism and the risk of future forfeiture, he debarred his two Catholic sons from inheriting his estate.43


Although not himself implicated in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, Robert Maxwell was uncle to George and William Maxwell of Munches who were involved. The Maxwells of Munches were also Roman Catholics and dykes at Munches were levelled in 1724, as were those of another Roman Catholic landowner, Robert Neilson of Barncailzie - according to the account of John Maxwell of Munches written to W. M. Herries, Esq. of Spottes on February 8th. 1811.44 John Maxwell, also a Roman Catholic, was born in 1720 and claimed to have been an eye-witness to the levelling- although he was born at Terraughty in Terregles parish and only acquired Munches through marriage in 1767. However, an element of anti- Catholicism may well have been a factor in these three instances of levelling. These may have been examples of the ‘other dykes thrown down …which in general we did not approve of’ mentioned in the Levellers ‘Letter to Major Du Cary‘. Old grievances may also have surfaced in 1724 - Neilson of Barncaillzie was alleged to have denied burial to three Covenanting martyrs in 1685.45


Although an Episcopalian rather than a Catholic, Sir Basil Hamilton of Baldoon was Jacobite. Although only 18 in 1715, he commanded a troop of horse under Viscount Kenmure and the Earl of Nithsdale. Captured at Preston, he faced execution and the forfeiture of his estates. Fortunately, as discussed previously, his family, including his grandmother Anne, Duchess of Hamilton, petitioned in his behalf and his life was saved. Sir Basil’s mother, Lady Mary Dunbar (heiress to the Dunbar of Baldoon estates) was then able to claim that she, rather than Sir Basil, had legal possession and so forfeiture was evaded.


In 1724, close to Galtway Hill just outside Kirkcudbright and only two miles from the Netherlaw Parks, Sir Basil had built a cattle park holding some 400 cattle. From the record of a civil case for damages held in Kirkcudbright in January 1725 (quoted at length by Morton), on or between the 12th and 16th of May 1724, 580 roods -approximately 2 miles- of enclosing dyke were demolished. Unfortunately there is a problem of timing here. Prevost quotes from a letter dated 2nd May 1724 by the Earl of Galloway to his brother-in-law Sir John Clerk of Pencuick46


But you wold hear the insolencies of ane sett of people that have drauen together and destroyed the whole encloasures in the Stewartrie, and if we have not the protection of the Govert by allowing troops to march in to the countrie for our assistance, I doe relie believe the whole gentlemen of Galloway will be ruined. Noe doubt you‘ve heard of Mr. Hamilton’s going to Edinburgh with Earlstoune to represent the grevances of our country one that score and what indignities are used to themselves in particular, and how all their encloasours are demolished, and ever since going to Edinburgh they have committed the greatest abuse to the most part of the gentrie…



This would suggest that the attack on Hamilton’s dykes took place several days after he and Thomas Gordon of Earlston had ridden to Edinburgh to ask for troops to be sent to quell the uprising and so could have been a response to this action. However, other of the letters Prevost quotes, e,g. one dated 6th May 1724 by James Clerk (who was a Customs Officer in Kirkcudbright) to his brother Sir John Clerk of Pencuik are ‘Old Style’, I.e. 11 days adrift, so 6th May Old Style would be 17th May New Style. Alternatively, if Hamilton’s trip to Edinburgh immediately preceded the attack on his dykes, the threat to his property may have encouraged him to seek aid from the same Hanoverian government he had only a few years earlier sought to overthrow.



1 Prevost: A Journie to Galloway in 1721 by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik :TDGNHAS III 41 186

2 Symson in Mackenzie: 1841

3 Fenton. A: Plough and Spade in Dumfries and Galloway : TDGNHAS :Series III: 45 :147

4 McCulloch: 2000: 559

5 McLelland:Transactions Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland : 1875

6 KSCD: 1265ii and 1940ii

7 Murray: The Customs Accounts of Dumfries and Kirkcudbright, 1560-1660: TDGNHAS: III 42 :119

8 Factory by Robert Maxwell of Orchardton: 16 Feb 1688: KSCD: 1256ii

9 Marshall: 1980, Davidson: 2003

10 Gellatly: 2003

11 Morton: “The Levellers of Galloway”: TDGNHAS: III : 19: 232

12 Prevost: Letters Reporting the Rising of the Levellers in 1724 TDGNHAS: III :44 : 196, Leopold :1981

14 SRO RH6 ii 219, in Brooke: TDGNHAS: III: 59: 49

15 McCulloch : 2000

16 McDowall : 1868

17 McKerlie: 1878

18 Morton : “The Levellers of Galloway”: TDGNHAS: III : 19: 232

19 KSCD: 1265ii

20 Brooke:1996

21 Heron: 1793

22 Morton : “The Levellers of Galloway”: TDGNHAS: III : 19: 232

23 Minute Book of War Committee: Nicholson: 1855

24 Rae: 1718

25 Prevost: Letters Reporting the Rising of the Levellers in 1724: TDGNHAS: III 44 196 - source Woodrow : NLS: MSS Folio XL, No. 80

26 Reid: 1896

27 Stephen: 2007: Ch 5

28 Adamson: TDGHNAS: III: 55: 86

29 KSCD:3399ii

30 Morton:1914

31 McKerlie: 1878

32 Kirkcudbright Register of Sasines: 29 Nov 1727; Vol 10: Folio 313

33 KSCD: 1331i

34 KSCD: 1031i

35 KSCD: 1331i

36 McDowall: 1868

37 Ainslie’s map of Stewartry of Kirkudbright: 1797: NLS collection

38 Donnachie and McLeod: 1974

39 Leopold:1981

40 Stark: Book of Kirkpatrick Durham: 1903

41 Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Records Box Processes: 1724: 194

42 KSCD: 1265ii

43 Gellatly : 2003

44 http://www.buittle.org.uk/levellers.htm noted by Hancock: 1995 as GD1/268/1

45 Stark:1903

46 SRO: Clerk of Pencuik Muniments: GD 18: 5246/I/142

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