Galloway Levellers -1724 - 14 May edit
If the attacks on Sir Basil Hamilton’s dykes were motivated by his Jacobite background, the anti-Jacobite element of the Galloway Levellers actions may have influenced their decision not to level a dyke built for Robert Johnstone of Kelton parish. At first sight, as recounted as a tale told by the grandfather of Samuel Geddes of Keltonhill by Malcolm Harper1 (and published over 150 years later, this incident may appear to be a piece of folklore rather than history. According to Harper:
A band of levellers and houghers, or as some call them ”Rablers” 2 having traversed the coast from Balmae to Kirkbean levelling dykes and houghing Irish cattle, the introduction of which was one of their grievances, they reached the estate of Kelton. Captain Johnstone was then laird, and had built a high dyke to fence his estate from the public road…anxious to preserve it he prevailed upon Mr. Falconer [minister of Kelton parish] to accompany him in going to the levellers with the view of advising them to desist from their destructive proceedings… Mr. Falconer then addressed the crowd… assuring them that no man or family would be evicted from Captain Johnstone’s estate on account of [the dyke] being erected - that every person on his lands should continue to have and hold his house, his yaird or garden, and the usual quantity of corn sown (in these days it was generally customary for the labourers to have a certain quantity of corn sown to produce a melder3 for the family, and fodder for the cow and calf).
This speech, aided by the distribution of bread, cheese and beer provided by Captain Johnstone, persuaded the Levellers to pass on, leaving Johnstone’s dyke still standing. As confirmation, Harper says “On a stone in the dyke of the right hand side of the road leading from Lochbank to Furbar House, there is a date, which is now indistinct, but about thirty years ago [I.e. 1840] it was plainly 1725, and is now commemorative of the event.”. Unfortunately for Harper’s account, although there is an inscribed stone in the dyke next to Furbar House, the date on it is clearly 1757 and the events described would have happened in 1724.
On the other hand, in John Nicholson’s notebook4 can be found the original account by Samuel Geddes of Keltonhill as used by Harper. This original account is dated 1831, so could realistically have been a story told to Samuel Geddes by his grandfather. In addition, William Falconer was the minister of Kelton parish in 1724 and is mentioned by Morton as one of the ministers alleged to have been sympathetic to the Levellers. Robert Johnstone became laird of Kelton in 1706, purchasing the estate 5(centred on Kelton Mains farm, now part of the 1500 acre NTS Threave Estate) from William Maxwell, earl of Nithsdale.6 In 1715, Robert Johnstone was one of the Steward-Deputes of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright appointed to help defend Dumfries against Jacobite forces led by William Maxwell.
As well as having strong anti- Jacobite credentials, Johnstone was (at least according to the Latin inscription on his gravestone in St Michael’s kirkyard in Dumfries) a “ strong opponent of Union and assertor of Scotland’s liberty” . In 1706 Johnstone represented Dumfries Burgh in the Scottish parliament and voted against the proposed Union.7 As the rest of the inscription on Johnstone’s grave shows, he had also been several times provost of Dumfries and represented the burgh in the Convention of Royal Burghs. But although these anti-Jacobite and patriotic credentials distinguish Robert Johnstone from Jacobite landowners like Sir Basil Hamilton, Lady Mary Gordon (nee Dalzell) of Kenmure and George Maxwell of Munches, the origin of Johnstone’s wealth in trade as a Dumfries based merchant is more significant.
Like William Craik (a Dumfries based merchant who was Johnstone’s father -in - law and business partner and who bought the Arbigland and Duchrae estates in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright in the late 17th century. 8 ), landownership was secondary to Johnstone’s main economic activities. The income he derived from his Kelton (Threave) Estate was therefore supplemental. So long as his tenants provided a steady stream of income through mainly arable farming( Kelton Estate having been arable/ grange land since at least the 13th century 9), Johnstone had no pressing need to gamble on the cattle trade and therefore no pressing need to evict his tenants to create a cattle park at Kelton.
Yet if the Galloway Levellers had only been able to draw on support from those directly evicted to make way for new cattle parks, like the sixteen families dispossessed by Murdoch of Cumloden, the events of 1724 would have been on a much smaller scale. If the eye-witness account of James Clerk is to be believed, the breaking of Sir Basil Hamilton’s dykes in early May 1724 involved 1000 levellers. Although it is possible that it was the threat posed to the ‘moral economy’ which mobilised such a large group, the emphasis given to the 43 Irish cattle ( out of a herd of 400 cattle) seized by the Levellers in their account of the incident and by James Clerk in his account suggests a more direct economic linkage. The smuggling of Irish cattle was also of concern to the customs officers in Dumfries.
So rigid were the revenue regulations at this period  , that when some charitable people in Dumfries commissioned two ship loads of oatmeal from Ireland that the poor might obtain it cheap when it was hardly to be had of home growth for love or money, the collector durst not permit the meal to be landed till he was specially authorized to do so by his official superiors. The officers were also scandalized by a daring innovation which had sprung up, especially at Kirkcudbright, of importing Irish cattle, and they sorely bewailed the connivance given to it by the County gentlemen and their tenants.10
Leopold’s research suggests that the first Levellers action took place at Netherlaw near Kirkcudbright on 17 March 1724. In their Letter to Major Du Cary the Levellers mention this incident:
understanding that there were a considerable number of Irish cattle in the Parks of Netherlaw, we did, in obedience to the law, legally seize and slaughter them to deter the gentlemen from the like practice if importing or bringing Irish cattle, to the great loss of this poor country as well as the breeders in England, too much the practice of the gentlemen here.11
Although direct evidence of the import of Irish cattle is lacking in the case of Alexander Murray of Cally (Girthon parish, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright), who had “a large park that feeds one thousand bullocks, that he sends once every year to the markets of England” in 1723 12, Murray had inherited over 60 000 acres of Irish land, mainly in Donegal. Alexander Murray‘s ancestor, George Murray of Broughton in Wigtownshire, had been granted these lands in 1610 as part of the Plantation.13 By 1621, cattle from these Irish estates were being sold in England.14 In 1724, Alexander Murray would therefore have been highly likely to have been involved in the illegal import of Irish cattle and to have been a target for the Galloway Levellers - which he was. According to one of John Nicholson’s sources - Violet Nish, whose father Robert was born in 1715 at Enrick in Girthon parish- Alexander Murray’s dykes in Girthon parish were levelled in 1724 during an incident in which shots were fired.
At Cardoness in Anwoth parish, on the west bank of the Fleet and only 1 km (½ mile) from Alexander Murray’s cattle park at Cally, lay the cattle parks of Colonel William Maxwell.15 If the Levellers had been intent on breaking the dykes of all such enclosures, then Colonel Maxwell’s dykes would have been a next and obvious target. But Maxwell’s dykes were left standing. Colonel Maxwell is mentioned in the Letter to Major Du Cary as having, along with ‘Laird Heron’ (either Patrick Heron senior or Patrick Heron junior, both of Minnigaff parish) as having reached an agreement with the Levellers “that we should live peaceably and throw down no man’s dykes.”. This agreement was negotiated immediately after an encounter between a party of armed heritors and armed Levellers at the Steps of Tarff. There appear to have been two such confrontations, one in early May and one in early June, but it is unclear which is being referred to.
More certainly, although the Letter to Major Du Cary includes the Herons “Yr. and elder” amongst its list of depopulating lairds, stating that “the little town of Minigaff belonging to Mr. Heron is only a nest of beggars since he inclosed all the ground about it.” , the Herons’ extensive cattle parks were not levelled. Yet, as Woodward notes in his comparative study of the 17th century Irish and Scottish cattle trade, “Patrick Herron sent 1000 or more cattle to England via Dumfries in each of the years 1689-91 inclusive.” .16 Until the death of Sir David Dunbar (elder) of Baldoon in 1686, Patrick Heron senior had managed Dunbar’s cattle trading activities. After Dunbar’s death, Heron and his son built up extensive landholdings in Minnigaff parish to become the main cattle traders in Galloway.17 Since these landholdings included both upland and lowland farms, this suggests that the Herons had developed a ‘vertically integrated’ approach to the cattle trade. The profitability of this indigenous business model would have been undermined by the illegal import of Irish cattle.
According to a letter dated 20 May 1724 written by James Clerk in Kirkcudbright to his brother Sir John Clerk:
Upon Wednesday last a party of about 100 [Levellers], all armed came into town, driving before them about 53 Black Cattle which they had, after throwing down the dykes, brought in the name of Irish cattle. They demanded us to assist in retaining said cattle…We thereupon refused to meddle in the affair, especially considered that we writt the Commissioners 15 days ago upon that account, and have as yet no orders to give any such assistance, upon which they drove them out of town and slaughtered each one [of] them in a barbarous manner notwithstanding as law directs proof was made… that they were not imported from Ireland, but bought of a Highland drover .18
According to Morton, the slaughter ‘in a barbarous manner’ was carried out in Dundrennan Abbey a blacksmith named McMinn, giving rise to the local folklore saying that “M’Minn’s fore-hammer was more deadly than a butcher’s knife.”. 19. Between 1640 and 1700 the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds record seven related McMinn’s who were blacksmiths and a Francis McMinn (blacksmith) was a portioner of Gregory croft near Dundrennan in 1724.20
Further confirmation that the alleged illegal import of Irish cattle was a significant factor in the events of 1724 is given by the Earl of Galloway in one of his letters to Sir John Clerk. In this letter, the Earl of Galloway describes an incident which occurred on the 12th May when the Levellers “slaughtered near Kirkcudbright 55 or 57 cattell belonging to Hugh Blair of Dunrod [parish of Borgue] notwithstanding he made it appear they were bred in Britain, and they have used some of Basil Hamilton’s cattell after the same way and manner upon Saturday morning last.”. 21
The defence that the cattle involved were not Irish echoes that made on behalf of Sir David Dunbar (elder) by Symson in his Large Description of Galloway forty two years before.
Those of his [ Dunbar’s] owne breed, are very large, yea, so large, that in August or September 1682 nine and fifty of that sort , which would have yielded betwixt five and six pound sterling the peece were seized upon in England for Irish cattell; and because the person to whom they were entrusted had not witnesses that there ready at the precise hour, to swear that they were seen calved in Scotland (although the witness offered to depone that he liv’d in Scotland, within a mile of the park where they were calved and bred) , they were, by the sentence of Sir J.L., and some others who knew well enough that they were bred in Scotland, knockt on the head and kill’d; which was, to say no more, very hard measure , and an act unworthy of persons of that quality and station who ordered it to be done.22
By their seizure, public display and slaughter of over 150 ‘Irish’ cattle, the Galloway Levellers were trying to drive a wedge between those landowners and farmers who were involved in the legitimate cattle trade and those who were not. It is difficult to judge how effective this strategy was in broadening the base of support for the Levellers’ actions in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Certainly in Wigtownshire the use of battering ram to demolish a dyke built around the Fell of Barhullion by Sir Alexander Maxwell of Monreith suggests the Wigtownshire Levellers were numerically fewer. Maxwell was also able to enlist his tenants to defend his remaining dykes, although seven of his cattle were houghed (had their hamstrings cut) in the night. This houghing incident, compared with the very public slaughter of cattle in the Stewartry, is another indication that there were fewer Levellers in Wigtonshire. At Balsier in Sorbie parish, it was the tenant who organised the defence of a field dyke ( I.e. a subdividing enclosure) against the Levellers. In the struggle which ensued one of the Levellers was fatally wounded.23 Finally and most tellingly, the Sheriff of Wigtown was able to suppress the Wigtownshire Levellers without recourse to the Earl of Stair’s Dragoons.24
If the Wigtownshire Levellers were fewer in number, why did they not seek support from the Stewartry? One possibility is that if large scale support for the Levellers was confined to the central parishes of the Stewarty of Kirkcudbright, it would have been logistically difficult to level more distant dykes or to give support to the Wigtownshire Levellers. When the known instances of dyke-breaking in the Stewartry are plotted on a map, they are all within a 16km (10 mile) radius of Kelton Hill. This may be a practical reason why the Herons’ cattle parks in Minnigaff parish were untouched. Minnigaff is 30 km (19 miles) in a direct line from Kelton Hill and approximately 45 km (28 miles) by existing tracks. Likewise, although ‘Murray of Cavens’ was alleged to have threatened thirty families with eviction, his estate in Kirkbean parish was left unmolested. Cavens is 24 km (15 miles) in a direct line from Kelton Hill and approximately 30 km(19 miles) by existing tracks.
In a letter to Sir John Clerk of Pencuik dated 3rd June 1724, James Clerk states that two troops of horse and four of foot left Kirkcudbright at 3 am on the 2nd June and arrived at the Boat of Rhone at 8 am, expecting to confront a gathering of Levellers, but no Levellers appeared. The direct distance from Kirkcudbright to the Boat of Rhone (at the junction of the rivers Ken and Dee) is 15 km (9 miles). Even if the actual distance travelled along the rough tracks then existing was nearer 19 km (12 miles), the troops were travelling at 3.8 km/ hour (2.4 miles/ hour). A large group of Levellers are unlikely to have travelled any faster than the troops so would have taken roughly 12 hours to reach Minnigaff from the centre of the Stewartry and 8 hours to reach Kirkbean. Sorbie parish in Wigtownshire is 20 km (12.5 miles) south of Minnigaff. It would have taken a party of central Stewartry Levellers at least 17 hours walking non-stop to provide support for the Wigtownshire Levellers. Any such attempt would have been easily halted long before this by the two troops of horse stationed in Kirkcudbright.
Of the 23 Levellers pursued for damages by Sir Basil Hamilton in January 1725, having demolished 580 roods of dyke at Galtway (near Kirkcudbright) between the 12th and 16th May 1724, Thomas Moire and Grizel Grierson his wife lived furthest away. Moire was the owner-occupier of Beoch farm in Tongland parish. Beoch is 13 km (8 miles) from Galtway. As a farm owner, Moire and his wife would have been able to travel by horseback to Galtway. The other named Levellers all lived less than 9 km (5.5 miles) from Galtway and the majority lived within 4 km (2.5 miles). Three lived at mills (at Auchlane Miln and Nethermilns), two in crofts (Greenlane and Meadow Isle) and the rest were either tenant farmers or cottars. One, John Martin, was the 14 year old son of a tenant farmer in Lochdougan.
The involvement of Thomas and Grizel Moire is significant since it reveals that at least some of the Galloway Levellers were owner-occupier farmers. Their respective family backgrounds also suggest that, at least in the case of Sir Basil Hamilton, the anti-Jacobite rhetoric of the Levellers had deep historical roots. Grizel Grier was the daughter of Thomas Greirsone of Bargatton farm. Thomas Moire was the son of Henry Moire of Beoch.25 These are neighbouring farms.
In 1640, William Grierson of Bargatton (Grizel’s grandfather) was appointed to the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright War Committee of the Covenanters, and was one of the Stewartry representatives in the Scottish Parliament from 1644 to 1651. Between 1649 and 1704, William Grierson and his son, also William ( I.e. Grizel’s uncle) were Commissioners of Supply for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright,26 but by 1724, Bargatton was no longer owned by the Griersons. Local author S.R. Crockett, who was born in Balmaghie parish in 1859, believed family members had emigrated Virginia about 1708. Crockett also notes that the Griersons were ‘Reformed Presbyterians‘, I.e. Cameronian members of the Reverend John McMillan of Balmaghie’s independent church.27
In 1640, William Grierson of Bargatton (Grizel’s grandfather) was appointed to the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright War Committee of the Covenanters, and was one of the Stewartry representatives in the Scottish Parliament from 1644 to 1651.28 McKerlie gives the details of the ownership of Bargatton, noting that it and seven other farms in Balmaghie were owned by the Grierson family between 1600 and 1700. The farms then changed hands several times. William Murray, a merchant in Dumfries owned them from 1700 to 1712, then Robert Maclellan of Barcloy had them until 1720, followed by his brother Samuel until March 1725 when Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness bought them before they were sold again in 1735 to the Reverend Walter Laurie of Redcastle (parish of Urr). The Laurie family were still in possession when McKerlie was writing in 1878, owning 12 farms and the village of Clachanpuck which Walter Laurie improved and re-named Laurieston. Mckerlie also notes that in 1678, Henry Mure (or Moire) commissary-clerk of Kirkcudbright owned Bellymack and Grannoch Waulk Mill in Balmaghie parish.29 Unfortunately, McKerlie apart from noting that ‘Hendrie Moore commissar clerk of Kirkcudbright’ also had principle sasine of Beoch (Tongland parish) in 1678 does not provide any further information on the Moires of Beoch. However, McKerlie does reveal that in May 1645, the Gordons of Kenmure had ‘superiorty’ of Beoch.30 This suggests that in 1724, Thomas Moire’s feudal superior was Lady Mary Dalzell, widow of the Jacobite Viscount William Gordon of Kenmure.
The first mention of Henry Moire in the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds is from 1666, when he had a five year tack of the Abbey of Dundrennan.31 On 7th March 1678, “Henry Mure, Commissary Clerk at Kirkcudbright, was libelled for being present at house and field conventicles where Mr. John Welsh, Mr. Gabriel Semple and Mr. Samuel Arnott were. He acknowledged he had once heard Mr. Samuel Arnot at a field conventicle, and through Bishop Paterson of Galloway he was dismissed without further trouble.”.32 Since the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds show Henry Moire continuing to witness deeds as Commissary Clerk after this date, it was the libel rather than Henry Moire which was dismissed.
The mention of Samuel Arnot is of interest since, as discussed above, David Arnot’s support for his brother Samuel led to the enforced sale of Barcaple (the family farm) to Stuart loyalist William McGuffog in 1674. Although McGuffog’s son-in-law Hugh Blair-McGuffog sold Barcaple in 1687 to the Rev. John McMichen, in 1724, Hugh Blair-McGuffog still owned the farms of Lairdmannoch and Kirkconnel (where four Covenanters were killed by Grierson of Lagg in February 1685) .33 In 1724, Hugh-Blair McGuffog’s cattle parks in Borgue parish were levelled, although they had been in existence for over 30 years.34 From McKelrie, Lairdmannoch and Kirkconnel ( but not Beoch ) were owned by Robert Gordon of Garerrie in 1726, but returned to the McGuffog-Blairs in 1751. By 1799, Beoch, Lairdmanonch, Kirkconnel and 13 other farms in Tongland parish were owned by Alexander Murray of Cally.
It is not possible to be certain why Thomas Moire of Beoch and Grizel Grierson helped level Sir Basil Hamilton’s cattle park dykes in May 1724. That Grizel Grierson’s family had already lost Bargatton and emigrated to America may well have been a factor. The probability that she and her husband were struggling to make a living on their small farm of Beoch would be another. Although such cattle parks in themselves were not an innovation in 1724, the export of cattle to England provided cattle traders like the Herons of Kirroughtrie, Murdoch of Cumloden, Murray of Cally and Blair-McGuffog of Dunrod with ready cash in the form of English guineas. This gave them an advantage (shared with merchant traders like Robert Johnston of Kelton) over lesser landowners and owner-occupiers who were less able (if at all) to export their oats and bere or the few cattle or sheep their smaller landholdings produced.
As any attempt to follow the histories of the thousands of ‘lands and their owners’ documented by McKerlie in his five volume study swiftly shows, the feuing out of Crown lands in Galloway (the 108 estates forfeit by the 9th earl of Douglas in 1456) and the break-up of Galloway’s great monastic estates (Dundrennan, Glenluce, Tongland, Soulseat, Lincluden and New Abbey) after 1560 led to a fragmentation of landownership which reached its peak in the later 17th century. In turn, as the numerous wadsets noted by McKerlie attest, the fragmentation of landownership created a high level of economic insecurity with small estates or individual farms changing hand with bewildering rapidity. The fines and forfeitures of the political and religious struggles of the 17th century added to this turmoil. Although hastened by the economic advantage created by the export of cattle, a process of consolidation of landownership would have occurred anyway, as the more successful farmers and landowners bought out the farms and estates of their less successful (or just less fortunate) neighbours.
Given Grizel Grierson’s family background, she and her husband would have been very aware of this process. They would also have been aware of the religious and political family history of Sir Basil Hamilton - himself a Jacobite and the inheritor of a lands acquired by his Stuart supporting grandfather and great-grandfather at from the Covenant supporting McLellans of Kirkcudbright, including the lands of Bombie where Hamilton had constructed his new cattle park.
Tracing the background of the other Levellers accused of breaking Sir Basil Hamilton’s dykes is less easy. Some background for John McKnaught of Meadow Isle is given by the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds. A 1676 tack for Aireland farm in Kelton parish gives a John McKnaught as possessing the Meadow Isle croft. In 1724, the farm was owned by Lady Mary Dunbar. 35 For John McKnaught, the eviction of tenants and cottars to make way for Sir Basil Hamilton’s new cattle park at Bombie would have been a warning that the croft his family had possessed (but not owned) for fifty years was endangered.
For John Martin of Lochdougan, we have his own account in Nicholson’s Notebook. Born in 1710 at Halmyre farm in Kelton parish, in 1724 his father was a tenant in Lchdougan farm two miles from Halmyre. John Martin seems to have made his own decision to become a teenage Leveller. He stole his father’s flail and joined the Levellers in their confrontation with the heritors at the Steps of Tarff in May 1724. Here John armed himself with a musket dropped in front of him by an older but more nervous Leveller. John kept the gun with him until he was captured at Duchrae in October 1724. For possessing the gun he was fined £100 sterling in addition to his share of the £777 Scots he was fined for damages to Sir Basil Hamilton’s property. Despite his youthful participation in the Levellers Uprising, John went on to become a respectable and respected watch and clock maker in Kirkcudbright where he died in 1801.36
The involvement of a 14 year old John Martin (armed with his musket), in the events of 1724 raises further questions about the motivations of the Galloway Levellers. Although it is possible that John Martin was motivated to join the Levellers because he saw the cattle parks as a threat to his future prospects as the son of a tenant farmer or cottar, he may equally have been motivated by the spirit of youthful rebellion against the status quo. Sir Basil Hamilton himself was only 18 when he joined the Jacobite Uprising of 1715. That there was a youthful element amongst the group of Levellers who assembled on Bombie Moor on 12th May 1724 before demolishing Sir Basil Hamilton’s dykes is revealed by James Clerk in a letter to his brother Sir John clerk dated 13th May 1724.
On Sunday 10th Instant they caused publick proclamation to be made at the doors of eight Parish Churches, ordering all men and women upward of 15 to repair to the Muir of Bemby … I saw them yesterday between the hours of 8 and 12 in the morning, coming in bodies, from all quarters… making in all a body upwards two thousand, half of which were armed with good effective firelocks upwards of 400, and pitchforks and clubs; the other half being the workmen, had long poles for prizing up the seams of the dykes for quick despatch. About 12 of the clock Mr. basil Hamilton’s servants with about two or three of this town advanced to them in order to make a Treaty. They were quickly enclosed, dismounted and taken prisoner, and instead of coming to any agreement they were with much difficulty dismissed. The mobb fired three shots upon them in their retreat, then gave the word “Down with the Dykes”, upon which they fell vigorously to work to Mr. Hamilton’s large dyke, for in the space of three hours they levelled to the ground seven miles of stone dyke in length… there were a great many lusty young women among them who performed greater wonders than the men. It cannot well be doubted that perhaps there were several venereal conjunctions among the lads and lasses, which affairs being transacted in the proper posture dykewards might very much contribute to the carrying on in throwing down the work. I left them still at work about 5 in the afternoon…37
Leaving aside James Clerk’s rather bizarre speculations about the role played by ‘venereal conjunctions’ in the levelling of Hamilton’s dykes, his account does suggest the visible presence of young men and women ‘upward of 15’ amongst the Levellers. Since John Martin was only 14 at the time, some of the Levellers may have been even younger. The presence of a youthful element amongst the Stewartry Levellers may indicate a further difference between the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and Wigtownshire Levellers. As Sir John Clerk observed in his 1723 Journal, “ 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.”.38 As an aside to his very detailed study of the 1690 Hearth Tax records for Dumfriesshire, Adamson notes that “Wigtownshire as deponed in 1690, had 3384 hearths, excluding poor. They are not listed in parishes. The Stewartry had then (as now) almost the same population as Wigtown - about 3400 hearths (around 15 000 or 16 000).”.39
Yet by the time of Webster’s survey of 1755, although the population of the Stewartry was 21 205, that of Wigtownshire was only 16 466. Taking Adamson’s lower estimate of 15 000 for the population of both counties in 1690, then the population of Wigtownshire grew by 8.9 % in the 65 years between 1690 and 1755, whilst that of the Stewartry grew by 41% in the same period. In the 66 years between 1755 and the census of 1821, the population of the Stewartry grew to 38 903 and that of Wigtownshire to 33 240, giving growth rates of 80 % and 102% respectively over an equivalent period. Unfortunately, although Campbell has carried out a detailed demographic study of south -west Scotland, he takes Webster’s 1755 data as his base-line. Campbell does note that
In the eighteenth century the increase in half of Kirkcudbrightshire’s 28 parishes exceeded the Scottish figure of 27.1 per cent [population growth]. But was greatest in five of them. In Crossmichael, Girthon, Kelton, Kirkcudbright and Troqueer the increases exceeded the assumed natural rate of growth between 1755 and 1801 and their share of the Stewartry’s population increased from 4 695 of 21 205 or 34.4 per cent in 1755, to 9 871 of 29 211 or 33.8 per cent in 1801 to 14 815 of 43 121 or 34.4 per cent in 1851. Of the fourteen parishes in Kirkcudbrightshire which had changes below the Scottish average between 1755 and 1801, the six which registered decreases were the in the remote hill country, particularly the three of Carsphairn, Dalry and Kells, while adjoining Balmaclellan recorded an increase of merely 3.7 per cent. 40
From the information available, it is not possible to provide similar demographic detail for the situation in 1724. What can be said is that if the population of the Stewartry was growing at a faster rate than that of Wigtownshire and if population growth in the Stewartry was concentrated in lowland parishes like Kirkcudbright, Girthon, Kelton and Cross Michael, then population growth must be added as another contributory factor to the events of 1724. Population growth would explain the ability of the Stewartry Levellers (unlike those in Wigtownshire) to draw on a cohort of young people to boost their numbers. At the same time, the conversion of arable farms to cattle parks, with a corresponding loss of employment and increase in destitution, would have been a concern for all members of local society apart from the parking lairds themselves.
Although it can be difficult to disentangle the underlying thrust of the Galloway Levellers’ objectives from the anti-Jacobite rhetoric and the lists of grievances against specific landowners (overlapping in the case of Sir Basil Hamilton) contained in their several manifestos, both Leopold and Davidson41 draw attention to the solution proposed by the Levellers to the cattle park problem in their Letter to Major Du Cary.
The Gentlemen should enclose their grounds in such parcels that each may be sufficient for a good tenant and that the Heritors lay as much rent on each of these enclosures as will give him double the interest of the money laid out on the enclosures. If he cannot get this enclosure set to a tenant whom he may judge sufficient, he may then lawfully keep that ground in his own hand till he finds a sufficient tenant , taking care that the tenant’s house be kept up and that it may be let with the first opportunity and that a lease of twenty-one years be offered. This will considerably augment the yearly rent of the lands and the tenant will hereby be capable and encouraged to improve the breed of sheep and black cattle and the ground, which without enclosures is impossible.42
In their Account of the Reasons of Some People in Galloway, their meetings anent Public Grievances through Inclosures the Levellers made a similar suggestion; “ We would be willing to take up the lands which were parked as they were set formerly, and further to pay the interest on the money laid out in enclosing the ground.” 43 As Leopold points out, these proposals were rejected by the parking lairds44, but the proposals were hardly the ‘defence of customary relationships’ suggest by Davidson.45 As the above quotation shows, the Levellers were not a backward looking feudal peasantry attempting to resist improvement through enclosure. What the Stewartry Levellers opposed was the creation of large, undivided, cattle parks on the 17th century Dunbar of Baldoon model, which in turn was based on large scale sheep enclosures first established in the south west by the Kennedy family in the 1640ies.46 What the Levellers proposed - the enclosure of land in ‘parcels’ let on 21 year leases to ‘sufficient’ tenants paying rent related to the cost of enclosure and who were ‘capable and encouraged to improve the breed of sheep and black cattle and the ground’ - was the model subsequently adopted by improving landowners.
1 Harper: Rambles in Galloway: 1876, similar also in McKenzie: History of Galloway : 1841
2 Concise Scots Dictionary : 1995 links ‘rable’ as ‘mob’ to the 1688/9 ‘Rabbling of the Episcopalian Curates’
3 melder - quantity of one person’s corn taken to the mill to be ground at one time: Concise Scots Dictionary: 1999
4 Hornel Library: NTS Broughton House: Kirkcudbright
5 Centred on Kelton Mains farm, now part of 1500 acre NTS Threave Estate which also includes Keltonhill and Furbar cottage.
6 Register of Sasines
7 Whitelaw: TGDNHAS : II: 19 : 1907 : The Union of 1707 in Dumfriesshire
9 Brooke: 1991: 303
10 McDowall: 1886 : 556
11 Morton: TDGHNAS :1936 : 252/1
12 Mackay : A Journey through Scotland : 1723, in MacRobert: 201 : 30
14 Corrie : Droving days in south west Scotland : 1900
15 Mackay : A Journey through Scotland : 1723, in MacRobert: 201 : 30
16 Woodward : 156 in Cullen and Smout : 1977
17 McKerlie: 1878
18 Prevost: 1967, quoting Clerk of Pencuik: No.5288/47/1
19 Morton: 1936: 237
20 Register of Sasines:
21 Prevost: 19267, quoting Clerk of Pencuik: No. 5246/61
22 In McKenzie:1841
23 Morton: 1936, quoting Daniel Mathieson of Sorbie in a letter to John Nicholson dated 1830
24 Agnew: 1864
26 Morton: 1914, War Committee minute Book: 1851: 2, Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K.M. Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007), 1704/7/67. Date accessed: 1 May 2008.
27 Somerset County [NEW JERSEY] Historical Quarterly : Vol I p.203 Vol. 1 found at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/GRIERSON/2003-03/1046882429 accessed 7 May 2008
28 War Committee Minute Book: 1851:2, Morton : 1914 : 78 and 354, NAS. PA2/25, f.125v-126r.
29 McKerlie: 1878: Vol. 3:156-161
30 McKerlie: 1878: Vol. 5 :195
31 KSCD: 1131i also see KSCD: 0612ii for Beoch
32 Morton: 1914 :153
33 McKerlie: 1878: Vol 5 : 195/6, Morton 1914: 303
34 KSCD: 2099ii
35 KSCD: 2088ii, McKerlie: 1878 : Vol.4:
36 Nicholson’s Notebook: Hornel Library: NTS Broughton House : Kirkcudbright
37 Clerk of Penicuik : No 5288/46, in Prevost : 1967 : 200
38 Prevost: A Journie to Galloway in 1721 by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik :TDGNHAS III 41 186
39 Adamson : Hearth Tax for Dumfriesshire Part I : TDGNHAS : III 47 159
40 Campbell: The Population of South-West Scotland from the Mid-Eighteenth Century to 1911 : TDGNHAS: III: 60 : 84 (1980)
41 Leopold: 1980 : 19 , Davidson: 2003: 219
42 NLS Woodrow MS X L 94
43 New College Library : B. c. 4.8/10
44 Nicholson’s Notebook: A Short Account of how far the Facts set forth in an Anonymous and false paper delivered to Major Du Cary concerning the pretended hardships of the tenants in Galloway are disproven by the Examinations taken before the J.P.s of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, in obedience to His Majesty’s Commands : Hornel Library : NTS Broughton House
45 Davidson: 2003 : 220
46 Whyte: 1979: 125