1684-5-The 'Killing Times': Cameronians shot in the fields

The Cameronians

In 1697 a tiny band of Fife Covenanters assassinated Archbishop Sharp - their chief foe in Scotland. The assassins fled to the west of Scotland where they found support for an uprising, which failed at the battle of Bothwell Bridge. Yet they and others continued their resistance with violence when necessary. Soon they obtained the most famous recruit to their cause, a young firebrand of a preacher, Richard Cameron, from Falkland in Fife. Hackston of Rathillet, who was present at the murder of Sharp, was captured in a skirmish at Airdsmoss and wrote this account of it. It was in this battle that the charismatic but fierce Cameron was killed. His death gave his followers the name by which they are best-known to Scottish history - the Cameronians.

We getting notice of a party out seeking us, sent two, on Wednesday night late, to know their motion, and lay on a moor-side all night, and Thursday, about ten hours, we went to take some meat, and sent out other two, and desired them to consult with the first two, who had not come to us, but were lying down to sleep, who all four returned and told us, it was unnecessary to send any for intelligence, they having secured it. Whereupon, after we had gotten some meat, we came to a piece of grass, and lay down, and presently we were all alarmed that they were upon us, and so making ready, we saw them coming fast on, and that about three or four hours in the afternoon, and each one resolving to fight, I rode off to seek a strength for our advantage, and being desired by a country man to go into such a place for the best strength, I went, and they followed; but coming to it, I found we could go no further, and so turning and drawing up quickly, eight horse on the right hand with R. D. and fifteen on the left with me, being no more, the foot not being forty, and many of them ill armed, in the midst, I asked all if they were willing to fight, who all said yes, especially J. G. The enemy advanced fast, whom I took to be above an hundred and twelve, well armed and horsed, who sending first about twenty dragoons on foot, to take the wind of us, which we seeing, sent a part on foot to meet them, and the rest of us advanced fast on the enemy, being a strong body of horse coming hard on us, whereupon, when we were joined, our horse fired first, and wounded and killed some of them, both horse and foot. Our horse advanced to their faces, and we fired on each other; I being formost, after receiving their fire, and finding the horse behind me broken, I then rode in amongst them, and went out at a side without any wrong or wound. I was pursued by severals, with whom I fought a good space; sometimes they following me, and sometimes I following them. At length my horse bogged, and the foremost of theirs, which was David Ramsay, one of my acquaintance; we both being on foot, fought it with small swords without advantage of one another; but a length closing, I was stricken down with three on horseback behind me, and received three sore wounds on the head, and so falling he saved my life, which I submitted to. They search me, and carried me to their rear, and laid me down, where I bled much, where were brought severals of their men sore wounded. They gave us all testimony of brave resolute men. What more of our men were killed I did not see, nor know, but as they told me after the field was theirs. I was brought towards Douglas. They used me civilly, and brought me drink out of an house by the way. At Douglas, Janet Clellan was kind to me, and brought a surgeon to me, who did but little to my wounds, only stanched the blood. Next morning I was brought to Lanark, and brought before Dalziel, lord Ross, and some others, who asked many questions at me: but I not satisfying them with answers, Dalziel did threaten to roast me; and carrying me to the tolbooth, caused bind me most barbarously, and cast me down, where I lay till Saturday morning, without any, except soldiers, admitted to speak to me, or look my wounds, or give me any ease whatsomever. And next morning they brought me and John Pollock, and other two of us, near two miles on foot, I being without shoes, where that party, which had broken us at first, received us. They were commanded by Earlshall. We were horsed, civilly used by them on the way, and brought to Edinburgh, about four in the afternoon, and carried about the north side of the town, to the foot of the Canongate, where the town magistrates were who received us; and setting me on an horse with my face backward, and the other three bound on a goad of iron, and Mr Cameron's head carried on an halbert before me, and another head in a sack, which I knew not, on a lad's back; and so we were carried up the street to the parliament-closs, where I was taken down, and the rest loosed.

Robert Wodrow, History of the Suffering of the Church of Scotland, iii, Glasgow, 1828.

print Top of page Close window