9. Tweedsmuir and The Covenanters.
Although the Covenanting movement of the seventeenth century was mainly centred in the South-West of Scotland it did spill eastwards and to counteract this John Graham of Claverhouse, Sheriff of Dumfriesshire, moved his HQ from Dumfries to Selkirk in 1685. The doings of Claverhouse around Traquair and Chapelhope in Yarrow Parish are described vividly by James Hogg, The Ettrick Shepherd, in his tale of The Brownie of Bodsbeck published in 1817 that commences with the line "It will be a bloody night in Gemshope this" said Walter of Chapelhope.....
The Tweedsmuir area and the Upper Tweed valley in Peeblesshire were also at this time a hot bed of Covenanting activity. One Peeblesshire Covenanter is remembered particularly because of his burial place in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard. This is John Hunter.
On left - Headstone in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard.
For the inscription on the headstone click Here
What the inscription does not tell us is that Hunter had a companion when he was set upon by Douglas and his dragoons. This was one Welsh the farmer of Tweedhopefoot who escaped and made his way on foot to his Aunt's farmhouse at Carterhope in the Fruid valley. The story goes that when he reached the farmhouse of Carterhope he fell asleep from pure exhaustion in front of the fire. The mounted dragoons reached the house, not realizing that their quarry was already there, and his Aunt, to divert suspicion, hit Welsh between the shoulder-blades, and ordered him not to be so lazy but to go about his work. The soldiers let him go without realizing who he was.
In May 1664 a Royal Proclamation was issued denouncing those charged with rebellion who had fled from justice and included a list of persons from the whole of Peeblesshire who must give themselves up. The list which follows sounds more like a muster for Upper Tweed!
William Forbes, servant to Thomas Weir.
Thomas Weir, merchant traveller.
James Mitchell, cooper in Linton.
Adam Hunter, in Fingland.
James Ramage in Skirlin.
James Richardson, tailor in Logan.
William Porteus, in Earlshaugh.
James Welsh, in Fingland.
George Hunter, in Corehead.
John Welsh. in Menzion.
James Nicol, vagabond in the said shire.
John Hunter who was killed the following year does not appear on the wanted list though two other Hunters appear as well as two Welshs.
John Graham of Claverhouse who was Sherrif of Dumfriesshire had expanded his activities eastwards was determined to stamp out the conventicles (outdoor meetings) that were taking place regularly at Talla and Fruid. He had a dragoon billeted at the Bield in Tweedsmuir to gather information to no avail. The conventicles continued.
There are some blanks in the Tweedsmuir Kirk records at this time but the following are of interest:
December 2nd 1677 "No session kept by reason of all elders being at conventicles"
"No public sermon, soldiers being sent to apprehend the minister, but he was receiving notification of their design, went away and retired."
"23rd November 1679 " Memorandum of those who had their children baptised at Conventicles."
"The collection this day to be given to a man for acting as watch during the time of the sermon."
"No meeting this day, for fear of the enemy."
November 20th 1681 "There was no sermon, the ministers not daring to stay at their charges."
June 1682 "Claverhouse nearly captured at the Crook by hillmen* returning from their quarterly convention at Talla Linns" *(hillmen was one of the names applied to the followers of Richard Cameron but were more commonly known as Cameronions - Ed.)
Although the Kirk records intimate that Claverhouse was nearly captured at the Crook other records indicate that it was nearer to the Bield Inn. From Jane Lane's novel - He was very nearly prevented from holding that Court or any other; for a band of assassins, numbering one hundred and twenty Covenanting ruffians, laid an ambush for him near the Billie Inn on the the Upper Tweed, and it was only by some accident that he was detained two days in Edinburhgh and so missed the appointment with death.
There is no memorial stone at Talla Linns the waterfall on the Tall Water as it cascades down to the East end of the Talla Reservoir. However it was here that the Great Conventicle of 8th October 1682 took place. This conventicle lasted three days and is immortalised by Sir Walter Scott in his novel Heart of Midlothian. Exactly how many people were in attendance is unclear - the organisers say many thousands - Claverhouse of course refutes this. The fact that Claverhouse went into print about The Conventicle indicates that it had some significance.
The following are two articles of local Covenating interest.
1) The following is a snippet from the book Andrew Lorimer's Life and Times in the Upper Tweed Valley. About a mile up Badlieu Burn a tributary called Polskene is known by old herding families as Powskene, the burn of the bushes. I remember a stell (shelter) there with sheep buchts (folds) and a small stone-built kebhouse (used for ewes and abandoned lambs) which at one time must have been an inhabited dwelling. Around the ruins were signs of enclosures made with sods. It was here that a group of fugitives from the battle of Rullion Green 1666 made a fire to cook a stirk (bullock) lifted or bought from Hawkshaw. At first light all had vanished towards their distant Galloway homes. Forestry ploughs and smothering pine trees have now permanently hidden whatever may have remained of the dwelling.
I enquired from the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association if anyone could verify this story of the Covenanting fugitives fleeing from Rullion Green. This was published as a "Query" in issue No 79 - June 2002 of their Newsletter. So far there has neen no response to this query.
There has been timber harvesting and replanting around the site and the woodmen have refrained from driving the timber harvesters and associated follower vehicles through the actual site hence preserving what little remains. There is very little to see - from the amateur vewpoint - and a lot of imagination is required in order to visulise what could have been there. The site is in the Badlieu Foretst (NT 043186). The site is recognised by Historic Scotland as a Unscheduled Site of Mediaeval or Later Rural Settlement - MOLRS.
2) The following is an article that I wrote for the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association and appeared in their Newsletter, Issue No 91 - September 2006.
"In the year 1995 Andrew Lorimer a long time resident of Upper Tweed and respected shepherd was laid to rest, aged 90, in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard. He would have been pleased with his chosen spot as he was lying only a short distance from the Martyr's grave site of John Hunter who was killed in 1685.
Andrew's notes and diaries compiled during his lifetime were edited into a book titled Andrew Lorimer's Life and Times in the Upper Tweed Valley by Margaret Railton and published in 1998.
In this book are several anecdotes about the Covenanters in Upper Tweed including a couple pf references to John Hunter. The first of these was at Tweedsmuir Primary School that Andrew attended where the local Minister - The Rev. W. S. Crocket - when he came to the school made the pupils recite from memory the words from the headstone of Hunter's grave. Andrew only remembered the first two lines as the remainder made him too unhappy.
The second reference was regarding an earthworks in the hills near Polmood known as Hunter's Holes. Andrew's notes intimated that Hunter's Holes were named such because John Hunter the Martyr was John Hunter of Polmood and that he hid there to avoid capture. The pedigree of the Hunters of Polmood is fairly well documented and although there was a John Hunter of Polmood about that time he died in 1672. However this John Hunter had a son named James Hunter of Polmood and the records say this of him. "He was a Cameronian and attended field meetings, that during the persecution he had to leave Tweedsmuir, that he then lived in a place called Shank, and afterwards returned to Tweedsmuir, where he built himself a house between Carterhope and Fruid and died there in 1721" Research indicates that the location of Shank is probably on Hunter lands near Gorebridge in Midlothian. Black in his Surnames of Scotland indicates that the Scottish surname of Shank, Shanks etc had its origin here.
In May 1684 a royal proclamation was issued denouncing those charged with rebellion who had fled from justice and in cluded a list of persons from Peeblesshire. This list included two by the name of Hunter one George and one Adam. John the Martyr who was killed the following year and James the Cameronian were not on the wanted list.
It would appear that perhaps Andrew Lorimer had confused John Hunter the Martyr with James Hunter the Cameronian. Never the less, it is possible that James did hide in the Hunter Holes before he left Tweedsmuir and possibly other Hunters hiding from persecution. However it is my belief that the Hunter's Holes had been a bolt hole for the Hunters of Polmood for some time - with feuding neighbours such as the Tweedies, Geddes', Veitches and Burnets - a hideaway would be essential. One would not like to be about when the Tweedies called enquiring about stolen cattle.
An interesting aspect is that James the Cameronian having returned to Tweedsmuir possibly actually died there. Hence it is possible that James is also buried in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard. However there is no monumental inscription to verify this but further research may unearth something.
A poem about Tweedsmuir Kirkyard by the Rev. John Buchan appeared in Issue no 77 - September 2001, of the S.C.M.A. Newsletter. "
Further information regarding James Hunter's - The Cameronian - possible residence in the Fruid Valley can be found on the site page Lost Farm Names of Tweedsmuir - Paragraph 7.2 on Blairsheep Farm.
or return to Tweedsmuir Parish History page