Tweedsmuir Parish History

9.  Tweedsmuir and The Covenanters.

(Story of a Resilient Community in the seventeenth century)

 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.  This date being during "The Killing Time"- 1680-1688.  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 that commences with the line "It will be a bloody night in Gemshope this" said Walter of Chapelhope (1).....   

The Tweedsmuir area was at this time a hot bed of Covenanting activity.  One Covenanter is remembered particularly because of his burial place in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard.  This is John Hunter (1660-1685) who was shot dead by Col James Douglas and his dragoons.   The location was at the Devil's Beeftub where Hunter had just left the farmhouse of Corehead.  His body was moved from the site to Tweedsmuir Kirkyard by friends - probably kin - indicating that he was probably associated with Tweedsmuir. 

There is a Stone - image on right - at the Devil's Beeftub marking the site known as The Martyr's Stone - more about this on on page Standing Stone Features. 

There is a memorial stone at the viewpoint beside the A701 - a road that is designated as a Scenic Route - overlooking the site of the Martyr's Stone and also overlooking the Corehead Farmhouse mentioned above - see image above - viewpoint stone in foreground.  Also to be seen from here is the mountain of Hartfell where Merlin sojourned for a while.   This section of the A701 is also part of the Merlin Trail(21).  To read more about Merlin see page Merlin Caledonius and page Wood of Calidon.  The Devil's Beeftub section of the Annandale Way -  crosses the A701 twice nearby but bypasses the viewpoint.  The Borders Forest Trust have a wild woodland on the Corehead Farm for more about this see   Access to the site which is on the east side of the road is not easy as the parking layby is on the west side of the road.   The layby is not always available as it is quite often blocked off.  The crossing of the road is quite hazardous due to the speed and size of the traffic - this is a favourite route for timber lorries.  A new site I think should be in vestigated. 

The inscription on the Covenanter stone reads

"On the hillside opposite, John Hunter, Covenanter, was shot dead by Douglas and his dragoons in 1685. His grave is in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard, 1925." 



Apart from the burial site in Tweedsmuir kirkyard  described below - there is a nineteenth century obelisk that stands just to the right of the church entrance - image on left.   This is inscribed In Memory of John Hunter, Martyr, whose gravestone is in the lower part of this churchyard, 1837.  


above - Burial site with twin headstones in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard with Kirk in background.

For the inscriptions on the two headstones click HERE

For location of the headstones in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard click HERE

For poem by the Rev. John Buchan(16) regarding the grave 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  who fled across the hills to the Fruid valley, and reached the house of the herd at Carterhope.   The herd's wife, with great presence of mind, made no attempt to hide him, but made him site down by the fire.   Later, the dragoons rode up and came to search the cottage, "Get up, ye lazy lout!" said the good-wife, giving Welsh a great clout on the lugs.   "Gang oot and mind the sodger's horses!"   And in the "lazy lout" who stood by their horses' heads none of the troopers thought of finding the Covenanter they sought.(2)   It is probable that the herd was a family of Hunters as there was a Johne Hunter with wife at Carterhope on January 1st 1883.(12)   It is also possible that there were Welsh relations as a Welsh family was recorded there later.

In May 1684 a Royal Proclamation was issued denouncing those charged with rebellion who had fled from justice.   The proclamation terminated with a long roll of fugitives, among whom the following belonging to Peeblesshire.  Most of the Peeblesshire men were from Upper Tweed!(3)

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 list.   However there are two other Hunters on the list - one of which is Adam Hunter of Fingland who must be related to  the James Hunter known as Old Shank - who was also of Fingland - and who was a key element in the long running litagation concerning the heirs of  Polmood known as the "Hunter Case"(2).  Buchan/Paton say this of him. " He had previously been tenant of Fingland, and that 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"  James Hunter (Old Shank) was married to his cousin Elspitt Hunter who lived at Hawkshaw.  Elspitt managed to get herself mentioned in the Privy Council Records 4 times! (12)(17)   Why James Hunter (Old Shank) had to leave Tweedsmuir because he had attended field meetings is unclear as nearly everybody in Tweedsmuir, including his wife Elspitt, had been at meetings (conventicles) at Talla Linns!(12)   More about these meetings below. See also pages 25 Hunters of Polmood. and 25a The Hunter Case.  

 The second Hunter on the Royal Proclomation List is George Hunter of Corehead.   George was also noted in the Privy Council records " There is ane George Hunter in Corehead, ane wilfull withdrawer; fled to Tweedsmoore and sometimes resorts to Corehead.   The Laird of Corehead assures wtterlie to put him out of his ground."(17)  It is recorded that in 1684 on a Parish List for Moffat(17) that there was a Bessie Hunter and a Christian Hunter at Corehead.  It looks as if there was a family of Hunters at Corehead that John Hunter was visiting - he must have been kin.   It is of interest that in the Tweedsmuir Kirk records there is the baptism on 02-10-1659 of a Christiane Hunter child of George Hunter of Corehead in the parish of Moffat. These Hunters surely must be the Christian of the Moffat Parish List and George of Corehead on the Fugitives List. 

There does seem  to have been a strong connection between the Hunters of Corehead in Moffat parish and the Hunters of Tweedsmuir parish.   This connection is replicated with the Welsh family - see page 16 Welsh family of Tweedsmuir possibly indicating a general association between the area north of Moffat in that parish and Tweedsmuir.

There were quite a few Hunter families in Tweedsmuir Parish at this time.   According to the vital records for the new Parish between 1648-1700 there were 25 Hunter marriages, 33 Births, and 3 deaths recorded.  These Birth numbers are quite significant as along with the Deaths they were not required to be registered.   The number of births is also high compared with 22 for Tweedie, 14 for Welsh and 13 for Hope for the same period.   However there were four gaps in the Tweedsmuir records namely from April 1660 to 20th July 1662, October 1683 to November 1690, November 1691 to March 1696 and September 1698 to 1720(9).  The reason for the first two gaps was undoubtedly the result of the Killing Time and the fact that there was a planted Episcopalian Minister at this time.  John Hunter the Covenanter does not feature in the records and his birth  in 1660 could have coincided with the first blank period mentioned above.  The births do include one Hunter from Polmood - this is George Hunter who was illegitimate and as born 20-11-1650, his father according to the birth entry was Laird Polmuid Hunter.  It was this illegitimacy that partly led to the subsequent Hunter Case mentioned above.  The minister of Tweedsmuir, the Rev. Trotter, must have been more amenable to the baptism of an illegitimate baby than the minister of Drumelzier?   The Hunter records for Drumelzier Parish for the same period are 9 marriages, 21 births and 4 deaths.   Here there was one long gap in the records from January 1683 until August 1689 - the reason for this was recorded as follows "The Minister had been turned out for nonconformity and not taking the test, and the kirk was planted by the Bishop of Glasgow with one Mr James Simsone.  During that time "collections for the poor were deposited in Alexander Tweedy of Kingledoors his hands"  Baptisms and Proclomations took place, it is stated, during that time, but no note has been kept of them".(9)  The records for Moffat Parish reveal no Hunters recorded - this is probably due to the fact the Hunters at Corehead etc must have considered themselves part of Tweedsmuir Parish and/or gaps in the Moffat records?

James Nicol the last on the above Proclamation List appears in Ronald Ireland's novel The Bloody Covenant Crown and Kirk in Conflict.(4).   In the novel Nicol and his family attend the Great Conventicle of Oct 1682 at Talla Linns.

 The Welsh name features frequently in the Tweedsmuir records with reference to the Covenanting period.   One family in particular headed by one nicknamed Black Welsh is prominent and more information on this family can be found on the Welsh Family of Tweedsmuir page.  John Welsh 1667-1711 was a son of Black Welsh and who died in Over Menzion in 1711 has the oldest headstones in the Kirkyard .

There are some blanks in the Tweedsmuir Kirk Session minutes & accounts 1644-1696 records but the following entries give a flavour of the times -

December 2nd 1677 "No session kept by reason of all elders being at conventicles". (6)(7)  (Ed. one presumes that these conventicles held in 1677 and 1679 mentioned below were held at Talla Linns?) 

"No public sermon, soldiers being sent to apprehend the minister, but he was receiving notification of their design, went away and retired." (7)

June & July 1679, "no sermon, owing to the rebellion in the west, the ministers not daring to stay at their charges, the rebels being so cruel to them" (6)

23rd November 1679 " Memorandum of those who had their children baptised at Conventicles." (6)

3d Oct 1680, "There was no sermon,  the Min hardlie daring stay sermon for murderers, or robbers, falling upon him,as of other min. in the Presby." (8)

"The collection this day to be given to a man for acting as watch during the time of the sermon." (7)

"No meeting this day, for fear of the enemy." (7)

November 20th 1681 "There was no sermon, the ministers not daring to stay at their charges." (6) (7)

11th December 1681. "No Session all this while the elders all deserting ordinances except Walter Tweedie" (9)

June 1682 "Claverhouse nearly captured at the Crook* by hillmen* returning from their quarterly convention at Talla Linns"(6) (10) 

  * (Ed.1. Although the Crook is mentioned in the Kirk records it was, according to Claverhouse, nearer to the Bield that the incident took place (18)).

    (Ed. 2. hillmen was one of the names applied to the followers of Richard Cameron but were more commonly known as Cameronions.  In this instance they were attending a society quarterly convention ).

September 5th 1688.   Mr Thomson ordained at the Crook, which was the place ordained for preaching the Church not yet having been obtained possession of). (6)


                      Talla Linns 

John Graham of Claverhouse who was Sheriff of Dumfriesshire had expanded his activities eastwards was determined to stamp out the conventicles that were taking place at Talla Linns.   Claverhouse  writing to the Duke of Queensberry(18) relates the circumstances of missing the society convention of June 1682 at Talla despite having a dragoon billeted at the Bield in Tweedsmuir.  He mentions that there were six or seven score Whigues and how a few days later, he heard from the minister (Rev. Francis Scott) that they did not prejudice in his house, further than meatt and drink.  The date of June 1682 for the Society Convention is confirmed by Michael Shields in his Faithful, Contending, Displayed.(19)  It was the June convention at Talla Linns that Sir Walter Scott describes in Heart of Midlothothian where he describes the site as "a wild and well sequestered dell."(11)

Nearby to Talla Linns is the valley of Gameshope.   Here there is a natural large stone known as Peden's Pulpit - more about this stone on page Standing Stone Features.   Image on right.  This stone along with Talla Linns are recognised as Covenanting related sites.(20)


There is unfortunately and shamefully no memorial at the Talla Linns, the waterfall on the Talla Water.  This is where it cascades down the East end of the Talla valley where many children were baptised and marriages took place during the conventicles that took place there.  It was also here that the United Societies quarterly conventions  took place.   The United Societies third convention took place here on 15th June 1682 - this was when Claverhouse was nearly captured as mentioned above.  The actual date of the Great Conventicle of 1682 is unclear, but a date in October is suggested by Ronald Ireland (10).  The Great Conventicle lasted three days and was well attended - It would be said later that upwards of 5,000 men, women and bairns were at Talla Linns that day(10).  Many residents of Tweedsmuir, well over 100 that included wives, servants and children, were cited by the Minister Francis Scott on January 1st 1683 for being at Talla Linns  and were brought before the Sheriff - the court was held in the Parish and was probably at the Crook Inn.     More about this on page Tweedsmuir Covenanters Trial.  The list prepared by the Rev. Francis Scott was titled "The names of disorderly persons within the parish of the new church of Tweedmoor, befor the Laird of Meldrum came into the samine for tryal of the rebells thair in armes att Talla Linne."(12)   There was probably several conventicles at Talla Linns as suggested by the Kirk Session Records above however it was probably the Great Conventicle of 1682 that brought things to a head.   Buchan/Paton mentioned that the Rev Francis Scott liked to run with the hare as well as hunt with the hounds(5).  In this case he was with the hounds.  

There are several mentions of Tweedsmuir in the Proceedings of the Scottish Privy Council in 1684.(17) Some of the entries refer to the Tweedsmuir Kirk as the New Tweedsmuir Kirk as if being New it was somehow responsible for the troubles in the area.   The church was not built until 1648 although the initial survey for the new parish was in 1639 - the year after the signing of the National Covenant in 1638.  However it is possible that the use of the word New was to differentiate the new Kirk from an Old church- not a Parish Church but one associated with Drumelzier/Stobo - of which no record remains?

Many of those attending the conventicles, including Cameronions, came from Lanarkshire.   Their route would have been via Glenholme, where conventicles were also held, and via Kingledores.   The footpath between the Glenhome valley and Kingledores is still shown on present day maps - it would have originally been part of the Pilgrim's Way through Tweedsmuir Parish.   More about this on Page 11. Pilgrim Ways, Chapels and the expansion of Christianity.

The following are two stories of local Covenanting interest from Andrew Lorimer's Life and Times in the Upper Tweed Valley.(13)   

1. " 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."

However I have come across a very similar story in the book Peeblesshire and its Outland Borders by James Watson (14).    "All these farms and Hawkshaw, were nearly for two hundred years tenanted by Hopes.   John Hope of Badlieu, who lived in the last half of the seventeeth century, is the earliest known member of the family.   They were all ardent Covenanters, as was to be expected, from their living beside the high mountains, with their precipitous rocks, concealed caves, and water-cleft ravines, which gave shelter to many of the fugitives who had fled from the battle of Bothwell Bridge.   The Hopes, Hunters of Polmood, Tweedies of Hearthstanes and Kingledores, and the Welshes of Corehead and Mossfennan seem to have intermarried frequently; but few of their male descendants are left to witness their former prevalence here."

Although Mr. Watson does mention the Hope family the records of the time indicate that the Welsh family headed by Black Welsh was perhaps more prominent.   However the inter marriage of the Hope/Welsh/ Tweedie families is confirmed by the Parish marriage records following 1644 when the Tweedsmuir Kirk was founded.  These records also confirm that the Welsh, Hope and Hunter families were well established in the area by this time - the antiquity of the Tweedies is of course well known.  More information on the Welsh family on page 16 - Welsh Family of Tweedsmuir page.   More information on the Hunters on page 25 Hunters of Polmood and 25a The Hunter Case.  More information on the Hopes can be found on the Hope Families of Tweedsmuir in Volume 2 of this website.

It is of interest that in the Tweedsmuir Kirkyard(15) there are 10 Welsh headstones, 10 Tweedie, 6 Hope and 2 Hunter and that they can all be found in the same quadrant  - the north west quadrant - of the old part of the Kirkyard.    Apart from the John Hunter memorial there  is another headstone that lists a possible Covenanter and that is the main Tweedie stone in the Tweedie lair.   This headstone commemorates Thomas Tweedie of Oliver who died 07-05-1731 aged 75.(15).  Thomas must have been the Laird of Oliver that held the community together during the Killing Time of 1680-1688. Another covenanting headstone is that of John Welsh, mentioned above, who died in Over Menzion in 1711.  This John Welsh was the son of Black Welsh a noted Covenanter.   

There are several echos between the above Lorimer and Watson stories.  Hawkshaw and Badlieu are mentioned in both.  There was no need for the fugitives - fugitives mentioned in both stories - to have lifted or bought a stirk from Hawkshaws as Hawkshaws was inhabited by an ardent Covenanter.  Different battles are mentioned - Rullion Green is more likely - but both could be correct.   The similarity between the two stories suggest that they originate from a common source . 


2)  The second reference from Andrew Lorimer 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.   As discussed above John Hunter the Martyr was not connected with Polmood but it is possible that a James Hunter - Old Shank had some connection.  An interesting aspect is that James having returned to the Tweedsmuir area possibly actually died there.   Hence it is possible that James is also buried in Tweedsmuir Kirkyard or in the old burial ground at Fruid mentioned by Armstrong in 1775.   More about this burial ground on page 6. Hawkshaws and page 11 Pilgrims Way marker, Chapels etc. 

The reference to Hunter's Holes above is consistent with the topography of the Upper Valley valley being suitable for providing cover and shelter for fugitives mentioned in the excerpt from the book by James Watson mentioned earlier.  The fact that it would appear that there was only the one victim of the "Killing Time" attributed to Tweedsmuir residents says it all.   Having many hiding places is great but the fugitives still had to be provisioned and wounds/injuries attended to.   This indicates that there must have been a network of helpers, that would have included the shepherds but also women and children carrying out these tasks.  The fact that Claverhouse and his dragoons were unsuccesful in apprehending fugitives and also unable to prevent conventicles taking place in the area says much for the stalwart residents of the valley.  Tweedsmuir was a Resilient Community way back in the seventeenth century!


1)  Hogg, James; The Tales of James Hogg The Ettrick Shepherd - The Brownie of Bodsbeck, Thomas D Morison, Glasgow, 1886. Vol 1, p2.

2)  Buchan, J W and Paton, H, Rev; History of Peeblesshire. Jackson Wylie, Glasgow, 1927. Vol III p366 (Quoting MS. of Mrs. M Tweedie-Stodart Rose.) p457-461 for James Hunter and the Hunter Case..

3)  Chambers, William; A History of Peeblesshire, William & Robert Chambers, Edinburgh, 1864. p 102.

4)  Ireland, Ronald; The Bloody Covenant Kirk and Crown in Conflict, History Press,  Stroud, 2010.

5)  Buchan, J. W, and Paton, H, Rev; History of Peeblesshire, Jackson Wylie, Glasgow, 1927. Vol III p360.

6)  Gunn, Clement, Bryce, Rev; The Book of Tweedsmuir Kirk, Alan Smyth/ Neidpath Press, Peebles. p135 & p136.

7)  Crocket, W.S. Rev; The Scott Country, A & C Black, London, 1930. Sixth Edition p110.

8)  Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, Synod of Lothian & Tweeddale, Presbytery of Peebles, Tweedsmuir Parish. p259.

9)  Tweedie, Michael, Forbes; The History of the Tweedie or Tweedy family, W. P. Griffiths and Sons, London. 1902.  For Tweedsmuir Parish Kirk Session record p92, for Drumellzier Parish record blanks p203, for Tweedsmuir Parish record blanks p217 and 218.

10) Ireland, Ronald; The Bloody Covenant Kirk and Crown in Conflict, History Press, Stroud, 2010. p177-178 and p180 - Footnote.

11) Scott, Walter, Sir; Heart of Midlothian, Waverley Novels,Vol XII, Cadell and Co Edinburgh, 1830. p85 and p91 end-note III.

12) National Records of Scotland; Suplementary Privy Council Papers 1545-1691, The names of disorderly persons within the paroch of the new church of Tweedsmoore, befor the Laird if Meldrun came into the samine for tryal of the rebels thair in armes att Talla Linne.  NRS Ref PC15.


    Ballantyne, H. John;  Borders Family History Society Magazine, Issue no 94, June 2017,  pp 10-13.  

13) Railton, Margaret, Compiler; Andrew Lorimer's Life and Times in the Upper Tweed Valley,Tuckwell Press, Edinburgh. 2001. p60. 

14) Watson, James; Peeblesshire and its Outland Borders, James Watson, Peebles, 1908. p96.

15) Scott, Sheila, Compiler; Monumental Inscriptions for Peeblesshire, Scottish Genealogy Society, Edinburgh, 1993. pp114-117.

16) Buchan, John, Rev; Tweedside Echoes Moorland Musings, John Maclaren, Edinburgh, 1881. p28.

17) Paton, Henry, Editor; Register of the Scottish Privy Council, General Register House, Edinburgh, 1924. Third Series, Vol 9, p401 and p684 for Hunter of Corehead, p498 for Tweedsmuir Kirk, pps 475, 478 & 502 for Elspitt Hunter.

18) Scottish History Society; Miscellany,Claverhouse Letters, Edinburgh, 1990. Vol XI, pp182-183.

19) Shields, Michael; Faithful Contending Displayed, Glasgow, 1780. p21 for Societies Convention at Talla Linns in June 1682 and p42 for the Convention in Edinburgh in Oct 1682.

20) Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association;, Peeblesshire page.

21)  Crighton, Robin; On The Trail of Merlin in a Dark Age, Edinburgh Film Production,2017. p101 and pp108-110.


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