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

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

Who were the Galloway Levellers?

This is an article written for Emancipation and Liberation - journal of the Scottish Republican Communist network.

Who were the Galloway Levellers?

Local variations aside, what was the fate of those who were no longer required on the land that once fed them?. More than Adam Smith, more than any of the other Enlightenment theorists, it was the ex-Jacobite James Steaurt who foresaw their fate. As Marx recognised: " He examined the process [of the genesis of capital] particularly in agriculture; and he rightly considers that manufacturing proper only came into being through this process of separation in agriculture. In Adam Smith's writing's the process of separation is assumed to be already complete".
Steaurt predicted, in words that should have been written in fire and blood 'That revolution must then mark the purging of the lands of superfluous mouths, and forcing those to quit their mother earth, in order to retire to towns and villages, where they may usefully swell the number of free hands and apply to industry'.

From Neil Davidson: The Scottish Path to Capitalist Agriculture-Part 2: Journal of Agrarian Change : Vol 4. No.4 : 2004: 444. (Based on sections of 'Discovering the Scottish Revolution 1692 -1746)

The quote 'that should have been written in fire and blood', comes from Sir James Steuart's Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy, first published in 1767. Nearly 80 years earlier, an active Jacobite, James VII and II's queen, Mary, suggested that "Scotland will never be at peace until the southern parts are made a hunting park". Queen Mary's remark was made in the context of the 'Killing Times' of 1685/6 when her husband believed he faced armed insurrection by the Cameronians in southern Scotland. Post 1603, his great-grandfather James VI and I had pacified the Borders by transporting whole 'clans' like the Grahams and Armstrongs to Ireland. Had her husband been able to stay in power, this old Jacobite / Stuart policy of 'pacification through clearance' may well have been applied to the Cameronian insurgents.

Queen Mary's remarks were repeated in an anonymous 'Letter' in support of the Galloway Levellers published in June 1724. This ' News from Galloway, or a poor man's plea against his Landlord, in a letter to a friend' raised the fear that Jacobite landowners in Galloway were pursuing military and political objectives under the guise of economic agrarian rationalisation - the 'purging of the lands of superfluous mouths'. What seems to have revived the spectre of politically motivated clearance were the actions of one Basil Hamilton who actively supported the Jacobites in 1715:

lately the said Mr Basil Hamilton hath cast out 13 families upon the 22nd of May instant who are lying by the dykesides. Neither will he suffer them to erect any shelter or covering at the dykesides to preserve their little ones from the injury of the cold, which cruelty is very like the accomplishment of that threatening of the Jacobites at the late rebellion [1715], that they would make Galloway a hunting field, because of our public appearance for his Majesty King George at Drumfries, and our opposition to them at that time in their wicked designs. [ "An Account of the Reasons of Some People in Galloway, their Meetings anent Public Grievances through Inclosures"- from Morton: Transactions Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society: 1935: 244].

So were the Galloway Levellers simply acting against local Jacobites? Perhaps to begin with, but soon they were levelling every dyke they found, regardless of the landowners' political affiliations. Indeed, as I explain below, the Levellers actions forced Jacobite and Covenanter landlords to work together with the Hanoverian state to suppress their uprising.

But is there a link from the Galloway Levellers uprising to Sir James Steaurt and hence to Karl Marx? Discussing the Galloway Levellers, Davidson [Discovering the Scottish Revolution:2003: 217] makes the following point:

Galloway was part of the south-western heartland of the later Covenanters and, in particular, was the area from which the post-Cameronian sects which succeeded them had drawn their highest levels of support. Some of these sects, like the Hebronites and the MacMillanites, who had been active in opposition to the Treaty of Union, were still functioning and provided the insurgents with an ideological and organisational framework within which to mobilise...

Following up this reference to Hebronites and MacMillanites, I found an article in the 1920 transactions of the DGNHAS by H.Reid on The Hebronites (followers of John Hepburn, minister of Urr parish) and discovered that Sir James Steuart of Goodtrees knew both Hepburn and Macmillan - or so this comment by Sir James Steaurt indicates:

"Mr. Hepburn I know to be a good man but weak, but as for Macmillan--!" [Reid 1920:135, quoting Wodrow Analecta III 244]

This James Steaurt was the father of Marx's James Steaurt, and was solicitor general of Scotland in 1724, the Year of the Galloway Levellers...

But who were these Levellers? Two years ago, for a BBC Radio Scotland series on 'the Lowland Clearances', when asked the question "Who were the Galloway Levellers?", I thought I knew.

The Galloway Levellers were a thousand strong group of small tenant farmers and cottars who took direct and militant action against local landowners who wanted to clear them from the land.
These landowners were taking advantage of the Union of 1707 to breed cattle for export to England in exchange for hard cash. The cattle were bred and then fattened in large enclosures, some up to two square miles in size. Everyone living on the land so enclosed was evicted. In response, through the summer of 1724, the Levellers 'levelled' these new enclosures. The landlords tried to stop them, but the Levellers had been drilled by ex-soldiers like Billy Marshall, 'king' of the Galloway gypsies, and were armed with muskets, swords, pitchforks and scythes. The only dyke left unlevelled by Marshall and his force belonged to Robert Johnstone of Kelton. This was only saved with the support of William Falconer the minister of Kelton, bribes of beer and bread, an agreement by Johnstone not to evict any of his tenants and the claim that his dyke was a march dyke built along the public highway.

Unable to control the revolt themselves, the landlords called for back-up from the state. troops of dragoons were despatched and by November 1724 the Galloway Levellers uprising was over. The ringleaders were imprisoned, fined or sent to the Plantations. No other such uprising occurred, allowing the process of 'agricultural improvement' in Scotland to proceed unhindered through the 1760s into the 1830s. The Galloway Leveller's uprising was therefore only a footnote to Scotland's history, fascinating for a local historian like myself, but of little wider importance.

But then the makers of the series, Peter Aitchison and Andrew Cassell, went on to ask Professor Chris Whately of Dundee University his views on the significance of the Galloway Levellers. He suggested that the Leveller's uprising had an important and long lasting impact beyond Galloway. The Galloway Levellers had so 'frightened the authorities' that the process of agricultural improvement/ lowland clearance proceeded more cautiously and slowly. [Aitchison and Cassell: The Lowland Clearances: Tuckwell: 2003: 49]

Chris Whately's comments prompted me to research, via the internet, the wider significance of th
e Galloway Levellers. This led me to Allan Armstrong's article ' Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets' in E & L 5/6 - which connected the Galloway Levellers to the Cameronians- and to Neil Davidson's book 'Discovering the Scottish Revolution' which also discusses the Galloway Levellers. Subsequently, Allan provided me with back issues of E & L. In E & L 8, page 30, I found the following in Neil Davidson's reply to criticisms of his book :

unless comrades are prepared to engage with primary sources and to interrogate the historical meanings of concepts which they use...there cannot be any real debate.

These words jolted me. I realised that I had accepted rather than interrogated local historical sources of information about the Galloway Levellers. Nor, until I read Allan Armstrong's "Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets", had I thought of the Galloway Levellers as part of Scotland's revolutionary traditions. Challenged by the debate in Emancipation and Liberation, I have gone back to my local history sources and interrogated them. As a result, my previous understanding of who the Galloway Levellers were has been revolutionised.
What began as a short article on the Galloway Levellers for Emancipation and Liberation has so far reached 7000 words and keeps growing. With no conclusion in sight, the following summary of will have to suffice for the present.

Note: the key text from which all subsequent historical accounts of the Galloway Levellers are drawn, including Davidson's, is a thirty page long article by A.S. Morton "The levellers of Galloway" published in the 1933-5 volume (19) of the Third Series of the Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. Most of what follows comes from following up persons, events and places mentioned in Morton's text and cross-referencing with other local historical sources.

* Davidson [Discovering Scottish Revolution:2003: 216] " The absence of commercial agriculture in Scotland meant , however, that whatever other depredations were suffered by the peasantry, clearance had not yet been one of them... The Gallwegian economy was largely geared up towards cattle rearing and in that respect was closer to the economy of the Western Highlands than to that of Aberdeenshire."

In 1721 Sir John Clerk of Penicuik visited his brother-in-law the 5th earl of Galloway, James Steuart (or Stewart) and described already existing [ by 1684 from other sources] enclosures in Wigtownshire which had involved clearance:

There are very little improvements here 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, very thinly built together... By these inclosures such as they are I had occasion to compute that they brought in ten thousand guineas to their country, for the price of their cattle is commonly payed in gold... By the bye, this is not above a tenth of what Scotland gains from England at 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 are much lessened since the custome of enclosing their grounds took place, for there are certaine 20 000 acres laid waste on that account. The principle rivers of the shire are the Cree and Bladenoch which produce aboundance of salmon and trout. The sea here is very fertile in fish but the people are very lazy. [Prevost:Transactions DGNHAS: 1962/3]

* although called the 'Galloway' Levellers, dyke levelling activities (which took place between March and September 1724) were focused on 6 'lowland' parishes in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright/ east Galloway. In autumn 1724, some levelling activity spread to Wigtownshire / west Galloway, but this was met with more forcible opposition, including the death of a leveller and the rapid deployment of sufficient troops (an additional 4 troops of dragoons) to quell the revolt in October / November 1724.

* the 'military skills' of the Levellers, although attributed to the involvement of ex-soldiers with experience in Europe, is more likely related to the raising of a local 'militia' in response to the threat posed by the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. According to a contemporary account [Rae:1718] those drawn from the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright numbered 2000 ( out of a population of 20 000) in October 1715. In the months previous, at around 100 per parish, this militia had been armed and drilled on a weekly basis by 'captains' appointed by the Marquis of Annandale as Steward of Kirkcudbright and Sheriff of Dumfries.

* the one dyke left unlevelled belonged to Robert Johnstone of Kelton , who was one of these 'captains'. Johnstone was a former (post 1689) provost of Dumfries and his lands at Kelton in theory belonged to the Maxwell earls of Nithsdale - long time Stuart supporters and active Jacobites in 1715. Legally, the Maxwell's only finally lost ownership of their Kelton lands in 1747. Robert Johnston was an investor in the Darien Scheme

* the initial focus of levelling activities were dykes built by the Maxwells of Munches and Basil Hamilton of Baldoon's lands near Kirkcudbright. All had been active Jacobite supporters in 1715. Basil Hamilton (related to dukes of Hamilton) is a key figure. His mother was daughter of David Dunbar of Baldoon in Wigtownshire. Dunbar (died 1686) was first to enclose lands for cattle trade circa 1640 and had been Stuart supporter during 'Killing Times' of 1680s. In 1670s, Dunbar acquired land in Stewartry of Kirkcudbright forfeit post 1660 by Lord Maclellan of Kirkcudbright for his active support in 1640s for Covenant cause The situation was reversed in 1716, when it was the Dunbar estates inherited by Hamilton which were forfeit and not regained until 1732. Hamilton only avoided execution as traitor in 1716 after intervention by his cousin, the duke of Hamilton.

* many other named persons on landlords' side of Levellers revolt figure in Rae's account of 1715- e.g. Thomas Gordon of Earlston and Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie. It was Heron who advised landowners not to fight Levellers after noting their military skills. Heron was also a 'captain' in 1715 and so had helped train local anti-Jacobite militia of whom ex-members (I strongly suspect) supplied Levellers with their military tactics. Gordon of Earlston was another 'captain' from 1715 and with deep family Covenanting roots.

* although it may have begun as a limited attack on the property of known Jacobite landlords, the Levellers moved on to level all the dykes. The threat posed united Jacobite and Covenanter, as can be seen from a letter dated 2 May 1724 by the Earl of Galloway to his brother-in- law, John Clerk of Penicuick in Edinburgh [Prevost: 1967: 197] Noe doubt you have heard of Mr Hamilton's going to Edinburgh with Earlstoune to represent the grievances of our countrie on that score [ i.e. Levellers, the mission being to request that troops be sent].

* the physical actions taken by the Levellers were supported by printed pamphlets spelling out their grievances. Dated June 7th 1724, one of these: "News from Galloway, or the Poor Man's plea against his Landlord." must have reached Edinburgh, since a twenty page long response was published there by "Philadelphus" on 1st July. Entitled "Opinion of Sir Thomas More, Lord High Chancellor of England, concerning enclosures, in answer to a letter from Galloway.".,the pamphlet also quotes from a book published by Robert Powell in 1636 (a lawyer belonging to the Society of the New Inn) "De-population arraigned , convicted and condemned by the laws of God and Man". This pamphlet caused considerable alarm among the authorities in Edinburgh, and the Lord Advocate went personally to the bookseller to demand the name of the author. An attempt was made to stop the sale of it, but the result was a greater demand for it than before. [ Morton:1935: 247.]

* the Lord Advocate then called for a Public Enquiry, which was held in Kirkcudbright during the summer of 1724. Basil Hamilton was infuriated, claiming that Provost Kilpatrick of Kirkcudbright, who led the Enquiry, was a Leveller sympathiser. [I am trying to track down the findings of this Public Enquiry].

* although both Neil Davidson and Allan Armstrong agree that the Galloway Levellers had the support of and were encouraged by Cameronian elements ( the Macmillanites and Hebronites) local evidence does not fully support this. Hepburn, minister of Urr in the Stewartry, died in May 1723. Macmillan's second wife, sister to Thomas Gordon of Earlston, died in 1723 and after her death Macmillan, who had illegally occupied the parish church and manse of Balmaghie since 1703 with armed Cameronian support, spent little time in Galloway. The strongest 'religious' support for the Levellers came from Monteith of Borgue who opposed Macmillan and was firmly within the Church of Scotland. Falconer of Kelton was likewise an opponent of Macmillan, but was also suspected of being Leveller sympathiser. Additional support may have come from Hugh Clanny, a minister at Kirkbean who had been expelled for immorality in 1702.

And finally, Morton gives us the names of some of the Galloway Levellers.

On the 27th January 1725, at a court held in the Tolbooth of Kirkcudbright in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in Galloway, with the following justices being on the bench- Thomas Gordon of Earlston, David Lidderdale of Torrs, Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness (presiding) , John Gordon of Largmore, Robert Gordon of Garvarie, Nathaniel Gordon of Carleton, and John Maxwell, provost of Kirkcudbright - the Honourable Basil Hamilton brought a complaint at the instance of Lady Mary Hamilton of Baldoon (being his mother) and himself as her factor against:

Thomas Moire of Beoch and Grisel Grierson his wife
John Walker of Cotland
Robert McMorran of Orroland
John Shennan and William Shennan of Kirkcarswell
John Cogan, John Bean, Thomas Millagane and Thomas Richardson of Gribty
James Robeson of Merks
John Donaldson and John Cultane the younger of Bombie
John Cairns and John Martin of Lochfergus
Alexander McClune and James Shennan of Nethermilns
James Wilson of Greenlane croft
Robert Herries of Auchleandmiln
John, George and Robert Hyslop of Mullock
John McKnaught of Meadowisles

that between the 12 and 16th days of May 1724, they did in a most riotous, tumultuous and illegal way assemble and convene themselves with some hundred other rioters, mostly all armed with guns, swords, pistols, clubs, batons, pitchforks and other offensive weapons on Bombie Muir, parish of Kirkcudbright on the Stewartry thereof and marched to the lands of Galtways, belonging to the complainer and then:
demolished 580 roods of dykes, equal to £19 6s 8d, in consequence of which the complainer was damnified of her stock of 400 black cattle kept at grassing within said inclosure, amounting to £50 by the loss of mercats; the fences being pulled down obliging the complainer to drive them to some remote place before sunset each night and watch them all night and keep them from straying which hindered them being fattened for which the sum of £50 is claimed, as also for the complainers cattle breaking away and destroying other people's corn for which the complainer is chargeable, together with the sum of £500 sterling as damages sustained for rebuilding the said dykes.

The defendants presented a petition 'expressing their sorrow for the loss and damage' which had happened then due to 'people's madness and ignorance' and prayed that consideration might be taken to the 'indignant circumstances' (i.e. poverty) of many of them. A Commission of honest and discrete men was appointed - Willam MacMillan of Barwhinnak, Francis Rogerson of Rascarrell, John Kuton of Knabiee and John Johstone of Airds. They presented their report in March 1725 and as a result the defendants were 'jointly and severally ' fined £777 Scots.