Tuesday, November 15, 2016

North Down Museum Covenanters talk - women and slaves // 350th anniversary of the Pentland Rising a.k.a the Battle of Rullion Green

I gave an illustrated (by Powerpoint) talk last week at North Down Museum for Bangor Historical Society on the Covenanters, covering mainly 150 years and broken into 5 chapters:

1. Background 1560-1606

2. The Ulster Dimension 1606–1638

3. The 2 Covenants: 1638–1644

4. Persecution: 1661-1688

5. Legacy: 1688-present

Almost 100 people turned up, and all were attentive and quiet throughout. Most acknowledged that they were shocked by the story - both by the barbaric actions of the state at that time, and also shock that a story which was once so well-known was fairly new to many of them.

Two important questions from the audience at the end were:

a) Did women experience similar sufferings as men did? The answer is yes, and a good book on the subject is the 1862 book Ladies of the Covenant (online here) which gives 23 biographies of women of the Scottish gentry. I had of course told the story of the Two Margarets, and touched on other stories featuring women throughout.

b) Slavery. One man objected to the idea that the 257 male prisoners who had been onboard the ship The Crown Of London (which was shipwrecked at Orkney in 1679 en route to the plantations of Barbados and the Carolinas) were actually experiencing ‘slavery’. He was concerned at an implicit drawing of equivalence between the Covenanters’ experience with the scale and experience of African slavery.

A 1908 book entitled Exiles of the Covenant by WH Carslaw is a good source on the topic, but I can’t find it online anywhere. J.K. Hewison’s two volume set The Covenanters (1913: Vol I here / Vol 2 here) contains numerous references – for example to John Mathieson of Closeburn, a slave-master called Malloch who wanted the young Patrick Walker as his personal slave, that there was even a ‘white slave mart in Scotland’ and that 'inscribed slave-collars were still in use in Scotland’. And many more references in Hewison alone.

There’s no equivalence between Covenanters and Africans. But neither should the Scottish experience be disregarded. Later editions of A Cloud of Witnesses, first published in 1714, include a section entitled ‘A List of the Banished’ (see here), with numerous women mentioned throughout the lists of men.


On 28 November it will be 350 years since the atrocity at Pentland or Rullion Green. In 1866, the young Robert Louis Stevenson made this one of his first stories. The two ministers named on the ancient memorial stone which still stands there today were from Ulster - McCormick from Magherally and Crookshanks from Raphoe. They were hacked down by troops led by Thomas Dalzell who was the only man to refuse to sign the Solemn League and Covenant at Carrickfergus in 1642. They were led by Colonel James Wallace, a former Sovereign of Belfast and resident of Ballycarry in County Antrim.

Why was a group of 900 civilians set upon by 3000 troops? What was the threat of something which today we might call a 'civil rights march'?

• Charles Terry Sanford's 1905 book on the subject is online hereDescription of The Pentland Rising by the Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association • a more detailed account can be read hereWikipedia entry here • the site is an historic battlefield, according to Historic Scotland

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an extract of reflection said...

On the slavery question, perhaps this link might be of use: The myth of Scottish slaves http://sceptical.scot/2016/03/the-myth-of-scottish-slaves/

Mark Thompson said...

Thanks for sending that through Ed, that's very helpful and informative stuff. When I get a chance I might well post some scans from the pages from my hard copy edition of Exiles of the Covenant. I definitely don't want to be among the ranks of the extremist headers though! :)