NOTES ON JAMES AND DANIEL McMICHAEL
Religious issues led to bloodshed in Scotland in the late seventeenth century. Those who disagreed with the reintroduction of episcopacy signed covenants and worshipped elsewhere, often in fields or in the houses of sympathisers. Attempts to enforce conformity led to rebellion and persecution, in an era later known as the Killing Times.
James and Daniel McMichael are recorded in one source as having both been born in the farm-house at Dalzain or Dalzien, Penpont. However, in 1684, at the height of the persecution of the covenanters, Dalzien was occupied by John Kerr and John Douglas. The McMichaels, as staunch supporters of the covenanters may well have fled. The house called Dalzien was later merged with the farm of Glenmanna.
While little is known of the McMichael family in this early period, one source records Daniel McMichael hiding in the house of Gilbert McMichael, who was married to a McCaig and had a young son and two daughters. Gilbert may have been a brother to James and Daniel. Another report identified John McMichael, possibly another brother, as one of a group of rebels heading for Galloway, with James McMichael.
The brothers are described by Thomson as having had different natures. James McMichael was seen as ''a man of bold and hasty temper, easily roused to great energy but wanting in discretion, and often reckless of consequences" while Daniel McMichael was "altogether of a different stamp, quiet and peaceful rather than a valiant man of war." James became a fowler to the Laird of Maxwelltown, while Daniel was a farmer at Blairfoot, then known as Lurgfoot, near the ruins of Morton castle, in Morton parish.
James McMichael was involved in the early battles of the Covenanters. On 1 June 1679, a thousand armed Covenanters assembled at Drumclog and put to flight a party of soldiers under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse. Three weeks later, the Covenanters were defeated at Bothwell Brig.
On 22 June 1680, twenty of those who had evaded capture at Bothwell Brig published the Sanquhar Declaration, which disowned Charles as King for his breach of faith to the Covenanted Kirk of Scotland, declaring war on him as a tyrant and usurper. The rebellion that followed lasted only a month, ending with the death of their leader Richard Cameron at Airdsmoss, near Muirkirk.
James McMichael was one of the few who escaped. His employment enabled him to obtain information on the Royalist plans against the rebels, however he was eventually informed on, narrowly escaping capture by stealing a horse from the Laird's stables. From then on he fought in the open, known to be a member of the League.
James went into hiding on the banks of the Ken, in the Stewartry of Kircudbright, sallying forth over the next four years on various errands for the society. He was a courageous man, an expert shot and a skilled swordsman, but he was intolerant of all Royalists and had an intense hatred of the informers hidden in the ranks of the society.
On one occasion he heard that a band of his fellows were skirmishing with the same detachment of dragoons, who had been on the field at Airds Moss. He immediately rode to the scene to find that the soldiers had forsaken their horses and heavy armour to fight on foot. Without hesitation he threw himself into the thick of the fight, recognising the man who had killed Michael Cameron, brother of Richard Cameron. James McMichael challenged him and they exchanged blows. The soldier, hampered by heavy riding boots, slipped. Before he could regain his footing, James McMichael smashed him in the face with the guard of his sword, then killed him.
In another incident, James McMichael was involved in a rescue at the Pass of Enterkin. On 2 July 1684 a group of covenanters who had been sentenced at Dumfries were being taken from Dumfries Castle to Edinburgh. Hewison comments that the men, of good social standing, had been sentenced to exile in Carolina. The group left on 29 July on a route that went through Thornhill, Carron Water and Drumcuil to the Enterkin Pass, a deep green defile, sloping from the Lowther Hills down to the River Nith, seven miles north of Thornhill and six miles east of Sanquhar.
James McMichael received information from his brother Daniel of the route that the party were to take. He was helped also by James and Thomas Harkness, farmers from Locherben, Nithsdale, who gathered together a band of Covenantor sympathisers to help James McMichael plan an ambush at Enterkin Pass.
The Royalist column, with the prisoners tied in pairs to horses, had reached the upper part of the pass. As they approached, the soldiers were heard singing a song offensive to the Cameronian sect. Standing up from his hiding place, James McMichael levelled his musket and shot Sergeant Kelte, the soldier leading the column. The place where he fell is now known as Kelte's Linn. As their position had been revealed by James' impetuous action, the Covenanters were forced to fight. In the smoke from the muskets and pistols which drifted down the valley, eight of the nine prisoners managed to escape. For his part in the rescue, James McMichael became known as "Black McMichael."
The Council in Edinburgh was incensed and ordered a judicial inquiry. The deputy sheriff, all the lairds of mid-Nithsdale and the garrison and parishioners of the vale were told to assemble at the church at Dalgarnoc to give evidence on 4 August. It was proven that the rescue had been a well-planned affair.
James was next heard of in the Glenkens area. A man named Roan who lived on the farm of Stroanpatrick, near Dalry, was suspected of being an informer. James McMichael was one of a group sent to investigate. As Roan had been entrusted with a cache of arms for safe keeping, they asked him to take them to it. When Roan tried to escape, James McMichael aimed his musket and fired unsuccessfully. He then drew his sword from his scabbard and threw it with all his strength at the running man, striking Roan on the thigh and bringing him to the ground, writhing in agony. As he lay dying, Roan confessed that he had been a traitor, to which James McMichael replied that he hoped that there would be room in hell for him, along with others who turned their backs on their religion.
James McMichael was reprimanded by the Societies for slaying Roan and for having failed to find out where the weapons were hidden. Simpson comments his actions were both "unwarranted and rash," but by this time his reputation on both sides was such that the Royalists offered him a free pardon if he joined them, an offer treated with contempt.
It was not long before James McMichael was expelled by his own society. In 1684, he was one of a group who tried to remonstrate with Peter Pierson, the curate of Carsphairn, who had made himself unpopular with his parishioners by informing on absentees from church. Pierson had been responsible for the arrest and subsequent death or transportation of twenty-one local people. The persecution so angered the local people they decided to present a petition asking him to leave them alone in spiritual matters, promising him that if he granted their request, they would trouble him no more.
A delegation of five covenanters, elected by ballot to talk to the Curate, went to the door of the manse, where Pierson met them with pistol in his hand. He allowed them inside, but flew into a rage when presented with the petition. Their friends left outside heard cries for assistance and burst in with James McMichael at their head. When he saw the curate aiming the pistol at his friends, concerned for their safety, he immediately shot Pierson dead.
The Societies judged James McMichael's actions to be unjustifiable and removed his name from the roll. In The Martyr Graves of Scotland, Thomson comments "this expulsion made no difference to McMichael's course of conduct. He loved freedom in spiritual things as much as ever, only in the future he had to be more careful in his movements, and to keep more away from the busy haunts of men." With seven of his friends, he hid on Auchenloy Hill, near the northern shore of Loch Skerrow, the surrounding area a desolate moor, covered with heather.
In December 1684, Claverhouse was sent to the district to hunt for James McMichael. After scouring the area for several weeks, an informer led him to their hiding place and he took James McMichael and his friends by surprise. Two managed to escape, but the others were forced to fight.
James McMichael fought hand to hand with Claverhouse, who had to call for help. When he heard this, James McMichael is said to have exclaimed "You dare not abide the issue of a single combat, and had your helmet been like mine, a soft bonnet, your carcase had now found a bed upon the heath." These were his last words. Claverhouse later wrote "he had the recours to call up a sergeant of dragoon who rush'd upon the rebel and from behind clav'd his skull with an blow." After the fight was over, Claverhouse remarked that he would rather James McMichael had been on his side than a rebel.
James McMichael's friends, Robert Ferguson, Robert Stewart and John Grier were overpowered and killed. The two remaining prisoners, Robert Smith and Robert Hunter, were taken to Kirkcudbright where they were hanged and beheaded.
Ferguson was buried where he had died, but the bodies of James McMichael, Grier and Stewart were taken back to St John's Clachlan of Dalry by their friends and buried in the Kirkyard. When Claverhouse's soldiers arrived, they opened the graves and hung the corpses on a tree near the church, ordering the local population out to see it.
Stewart and Grier's bodies were taken down and reburied, but James McMichael's body remained there for another three days. The following night, covenanters took the body down and spirited it away to the hills. After the Revolution Settlement in 1689, it is said that James McMichael's body was raised again and buried in Dalry Kirkyard, where there is still to be seen the grave of an unnamed covenanter, perhaps his. The courage of James McMichael was later recognised in the building of a monument of granite, thirty feet high near Loch Skerrow, inscribed: Erected In Memory of the Martyrs R. Fergusson, J. McMichael R. Stuart and J. Grierson who fell on this spot, 18 Dec 1684. From a Collection made here, On the 18th August 1835, and the profits of a sermon, afterwards published, preached on that day. By the Rev. R. Jeffrey of Girthon. Daniel 3.17.18.
James McMichael's sword was hidden in Dalry. In the 1970s, an archaeologist, Alistair Penman, was helping dismantle an old building. He wrote "I was rewarded by narrowly missing being brained by a rusty old sword which fell out of the kipple-foot of the roof. It was a filthy old artefact, the wooden hilt rotting with woodworm and the blade was a disgrace. However, I cleaned it up and took it to my friend and mentor, the great Alfie Trucknell, then Curator of Dumfries Museum. Identification was relatively easy, a Solingen blade imported hiltless into Scotland circa 1682 from the Low Countries. "
"In 1682 the Viscount Kenmure, a major supporter of the covenanters, purchased a batch of blades from that area and shipped them into Galloway presumably to his Castle of Kenmure at New Galloway. They were distributed to those Covenanters who had a knowledge of swordplay and each recipient arranged for his own hilt to be put on the blade. The hilt on the sword which I found was described as being of "local" make, blacksmith made in the Glenkens area. Then someone on the staff at Antiquities suddenly stumbled on something. There are a series of Roman numerals down each side of the blade of this sword eg I IV III V etc. It was a code ! One side read in coded series the books of the New Testament eg I=Matthew, II=Mark etc right on through Chapter, Verse and Word to the word James. Other side of the blade, same system operating to the word Michael (archangel). Add in "Mc" and you have the swordsman, James McMichael."
Thompson suggests that the daring of James McMichael made his brother Daniel a target of Claverhouse. However, this is to ignore Daniel's own role in the covenanting movement. According to McMillan, he must have been one of the first in the district to throw in his lot with the extreme party among the covenantors. He was one of the 20 followers of Cameron who were at the promulgation of the Sanquhar Declaration.
In the Royal proclamation issued immediately afterwards, he is termed "Daniel McMitchell in Lorgfoot." This place, later called Blairfoot, was on the farm of Burn in the parish of Morton. Wodrow states that it was later demolished "and the ploughshare made to pass over its site." Daniel may have been at Airdsmoss, where Cameron was killed, but of this there is no evidence. His name appears again on the Fugitive Roll in 1684, again described as in "Lurg-foot," however McMillan states that there are several references to him as being one of a band who were lurking in the Scaur Water at that time, suggesting that Daniel was not residing at home at all, but living somewhat precariously upon the peasantry.
When investigations were being made about the Enterkin rescue, Adam Reid in Dalgoner gave evidence that in April, 1684 there had come to his father's house "the number of six rebels reputed so, and struck open the doors of the house, entered the same, and took and compelled the servant women to give them meat and drink, and threatened them, to the effect; of which number the deponent knew only two, Daniel McMichael and John Reid in Carrick." This was not the only raid on Dalgoner. The Privy Council Register records that John Reid, Adam's father gave evidence that "three rebels well armed came to the house, whereof one was Daniel McMichael, who struck open the door and at their own hand took meat and drink." Others who testified to having seen him with other rebels "armed with swords and guns" were William Hairtsanes in Penphillane and John McCall in Glenmanna, near Dalzien.
A sympathetic version of his life is given by Simpson, who records that Daniel McMichael's cottage, in an isolated and secluded spot, was a favourite place of resort for pious people in the district. However, it was not always secure and Daniel McMichael was often forced to flee. In January 1685, just a few weeks after his brother's death, Daniel McMichael fell confined to bed with a serious fever. Some friends had left their hiding place to come and worship with him. A sentry was stationed to keep watch. when warning was received that a party of fifty soldiers was approaching. Munsie, an informer living in Durisdeer, had betrayed them. The group were forced to flee, taking Daniel McMichael with them, wrapped in warm bedclothes, to a nearby cave.
While they reached the cave safely, an informer had betrayed their hiding place. They decided to divide into two, one group to go northward with Daniel McMichael to Dursideer, while the other as a decoy went south to the Mosses of Kirkhope. But the soldiers also divided and the division that followed Daniel McMichael rapidly gained on them. At Daniel McMichael's request, they left him behind, concealed in a cave, where the soldiers managed to find him, using dogs to track him.
Daniel McMichael was dragged out and taken to Dursideer, where he refused to answer any of the questions put to him, denying the charges against him. He was told that unless he took an oath of allegiance to royal supremacy in the church, he would be executed. In his account, Wodrow records that Daniel McMichael was a very sedate, sensible countryman; and he replied "Sir that what in all things I cannot do, but very cheerfully I submit to the Lord's disposal as to my life." "Do you not know," Dalziel is supposed to have replied, ''your life is in my hand?" "No, sir" Daniel McMichael said, "I know my life is in the Lord's hand, and if He sees good He can make you the instrument to take it away."
Dalziel told Daniel McMichael to prepare for death the next day. He replied "If my life must go for His cause, I am willing. My God will prepare me." He was kept prisoner all night at Durisdeer, Wodrow commenting that "he enjoyed a sweet time of communion and fellowship with God, and great outlets of joy and consolation, so that some of the soldiers desired to die his death, and not a few convictions were left in their bosoms."
The next day he was taken out of prison, to be sent to Crawford Moor for execution. He was too feeble to travel so far, so according to Hewison, at Dalveen, the troopers "determined to ease themselves of their burden by putting an end to his life ... the escort reached rebel Hoatson's farm at Nether Dalveen ... when prudence and fear of ambush made them halt." At the entrance to Dalveen Pass, Daniel was told to prepare to die. Allowed to pray, he sang the 42nd psalm, then read 16th chapter of John's Gospel.
After speaking with "much gravity and solemnity" to Captain Dalziel, a piece of cloth was put over his head and he said "Lord, thou hast broughtest Daniel through many straits, and has brought me, Thy servant hither to witness for Thee and Thy cause. Into thy hands I commit my spirit, and hope to praise Thee through all eternity." Four of the soldiers then shot him, Wodrow recording that "some of the poor soldiers were for some time in confusion, for their obeying commands in this matter."
Simpson records that after the execution, Dalziel ordered John McCall, a boy from Dalzien, who had been among the spectators to bring him some water in a "luggie" to wash his hands. John McCall took it and made for the well, but "instead of fetching water, he dashed it into the limpid fountain and made for the hills" whereupon the "insulted commander ordered the troopers to pursue and fire on the fugitive."
In Inscriptions on the Tombstones and Monuments Erected in Memory of the Covenanters, James Gibson comments that "F`ew names in his humble walk of life have more graced the annals of martyrdom than that of Daniel McMichael, and his memory is warmly cherished among the traditions of the neighbourhood; his mangled body was taken to the churchyard of Durisdeer, and buried close by the east wall of the church." The flat gravestone is inscribed: Here Lyes Daniel McMichel Martyr Shot Dead at DalveenBy Sir John Dalziel, For His Adhering To the Word of God, Christs Kingly Government in His House; And the Covenanted Work of Reformation Against Tyranny, Perjury and Prelacy.1685. Rev. 12.11. As Daniel was cast into Lyon's den, for praying unto God and not to men; Thus Lyons cruelly devoured Me, For bearing witness to Truth's testimony, I rest in peace till Jesus rend the cloud And judge 'twixt Me and those who shed my blood.
In 1836, when a new farmhouse was built at Dalveen, the masons erected a small monument to mark the spot where Daniel McMichael was shot, with an iron railing. The monument was inscribed in old English letters: Sacred To the Memory of Daniel McMichael who suffered martyrdom here By Sir James Dalziel A.D. 1685