Responses to the Galloway Levellers
In the absence of a police force, the maintenance of law and order in rural Scotland in the eighteenth century rested with the heritors (land owners) most of whom also served as Justices of the Peace. Only when the heritors were unable to contain unrest would the army be used to restore order. Yet, according to a letter dated 2 May 1724 written by James Stewart 5th Earl of Galloway to his brother in law Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, Sir Basil Hamilton of Baldoon and Thomas Gordon of Earlston had already travelled to Edinburgh to request that troops be sent to Galloway and that the gentlemen of Galloway had made a similar request to the lord Justice Clerk when he was in Dumfries a few days earlier. It was not until the 16 May that a group of about 50 heritors and Justices of the Peace confronted a much larger group of armed Levellers at the Steps of Tarff in Tongland parish. This was four days after the first of Stair’s dragoons had arrived in Kirkcudbright.
The implication is that the meeting of the Levellers held in Tongland parish in early April, and which was summoned and addressed by the Reverend Hugh Clanny, attracted sufficient numbers to overawe the heritors and JPs. The immediate recourse to external aid by the heritors and JPs in their response to the Galloway Levellers may have been influenced by recent experiences. In 1724, the Reverend John McMillan had been in illegal possession of Balmaghie kirk and manse for twenty years, despite the best efforts of the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright and General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to remove him. Several attempts were made to physically evict McMillan, but even a combined force of 80 heritors and JPs were unable to prevail against 300 of McMillan’s supporters who occupied Balmaghie Kirkyard. At least some of these supporters were armed - either Hebronite followers of John Hepburn of Urr or Cameronians from Ayrshire and Lannarkshire. With the Galloway Levellers able to muster a force in the central Stewartry of between 1000 and 2000, of whom 300 to 400 were armed, it is hardly surprising that it was only after the deployment of Stair’s dragoons that the heritors and JPs felt emboldened to confront the Levellers at the Steps of Tarff on the 12th May and again on the 2nd June 1724. James Clerk gave an account of this first confrontation in a letter to his brother Sir John dated 6th May Old Style (i.e. 17 May New Style). In this encounter, a party of 50 ‘ well-armed’ heritors and JPs were faced with a group of 1000 Levellers, of whom 300 were armed with flintlocks. After a stand off lasting four or five hours, Patrick Heron, elder, of Kirroughtrie approached the Levellers and made an offer that if the Levellers agreed to cease their activities and re-build any dykes already demolished, the gentlemen would agree to build no more park dykes. James Clerk adds a postscript that “Laird Heron has given it under his hand to let out a great deal of land next week to appease them, but this is what I canna confirm and do not believe.”. This would seem to be the incident referred to by the Levellers in their Letter to Major Du Cary when they agreed with Laird Heron and Colonel Maxwell of Cardoness “that we should live peaceably and throw down no man’s dykes.”. From this same source, the Levellers believed that a formal acceptance of this agreement would be made by the Commissioners of Supply when they met in Kirkcudbright on ‘the seventh of May’. Unless there had been a previous meeting between the Levellers and Patrick Heron and William Maxwell, this date must be Old Style and thus 18th May New Style. Any such dating confusion aside, no such agreement was ever formally confirmed and dykes continued to be thrown down despite the presence of four troops of foot and two of horse in Kirkcudbright.
The practical difficulty was that when the troops were deployed to confront the Levellers (e.g. at the Boat of Rhone on the 2nd June as discussed above), the Levellers simply dispersed across the countryside in smaller groups. What the presence of the troops did achieve, especially the more mobile troops of horse, was to contain the unrest to the central parishes of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and prevented the Stewartry Levellers supporting the Wigtownshire Levellers. The difficulties involved in bringing the troops to bear on the Stewartry Levellers raises questions about the ‘last stand’ of the Levellers which took place at Little Duchrae in Balmghie parish in October 1724. Little Duchrae is 2 km (1.25 miles) from the Boat of Rhone which it took the troops five hours to reach from Kirkcudbright on 2nd June - and where the Levellers had had ample time to choose not to confront the troops. If the Levellers had managed to avoid any large scale confrontation with the troops since their arrival in Kirkcudbright in early May, why did they choose to stand and fight in October? And, once they had chosen to stand and fight at Little Duchrae, why did they put up so little resistance? Especially since the troops had been ordered not to use their arms except as a last resort in in self-defence and to behave leniently towards the Levellers? Is it significant that out of the 200 Levellers captured all but 20 or so were ‘allowed to escape’ whilst being marched back to Kirkcudbright?
Part of the answer to these questions may lie in the character of the commander of the troops involved. Following the death of Major Du Cary in the summer of 1724, Major James Gardiner replaced Du Cary as commander of the Earl of Stair’s regiment (which may have been either the Scots Greys or the Inniskillen dragoons) on 20th July 1724. By 1745 Gardiner had been promoted to Colonel. In that year he was killed whilst leading a counter-attack against the Jacobites at the battle of Prestonpans. Gardiner features in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Waverly as the commander of Edward Waverley’s regiment. In a historical note to the novel, Scott quotes from a biography of Colonel Gardiner published by Doddridge in 1747. This source reveals that Gardiner became a soldier at the age of 14 in 1702, fighting with Marlborough’s army against the French in Holland. In 1714 he was made coronet in the Scots Grey Dragoons commanded by John Dalrymple, 2nd Earl of Stair. In 1715 Gardiner became aide-de-camp to Dalrymple who was actively involved in anti-Jacobite diplomacy at the French court. Later in 1715, Gardiner returned to active service, fighting at the battle of Preston where he led a small group of 12 soldiers ( 8 of whom were killed) against one of the barricades erected by the Jacobites - who included amongst their numbers the Levellers bete noir Sir Basil Hamilton. In 1719, Gardiner experienced a transformative religious experience after which he became a deeply Christian soldier. Writing his journal of May 1725, Wodrow commented on Gardiner’s ‘conversion’:
profane swearing was the first thing he refrained from, and then other vices, and still as he refrained from them, he bore testimony against them in others, in the army, at court, and every where, and reproved them in great and small with the utmost boldness. At length he is thoroughly reformed, and walks most closely in ordinances, and while with his troops in Galloway, he haunts mostly at the houses of the ministers; and has made a sensible reformation among the troops he commands, and nothing like vice is to be seen among them.
The houses of the ministers in Galloway haunted by Gardiner which Wodrow mentions may have included those of the more evangelical ministers - McKie of Balmaghie (where the manse and church were still illegally possessed by John McMillan in 1724), Falconer of Kelton, Telfair of Rerrick, and Monteith of Borgue (who joined the defenders of London/Derry in 1689 ) - identified by Leopold as sympathetic to the Levellers. If one of the ministers Major Gardiner met was Andrew Maitland, minister of Tongland parish, he could also have met Maitland’s uncle Hugh Clanny - former minister of Kirkbean parish. Clanny, as discussed above was a leader of the Levellers and the most likely author of their various manifestos.
A person Major Gardiner must have met would have been Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness. Aside from his official status as a senior magistrate (Maxwell presided over at least one trial of the Levellers in January 1725) and his attempts with Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie to negotiate a settlement with the Levellers, Maxwell was a fellow Christian soldier. From the surviving extracts of his diary it is clear that Colonel Maxwell was a deeply religious man whose Covenant supporting father had been minister of Minnigaff parish until his dismissal in 1662. When the national political background to Major Gardiner’s appointment to Galloway is considered, it is possible to speculate that Maxwell and Gardiner between them arranged the peaceful end to the Stewartry Levellers uprising.
In late May/ early June 1724 two anonymous pro- Leveller pamphlets were published - An Account of the Reasons of Some People in Galloway, their meetings anent Public Grievances through Enclosure and News from Galloway, or the Poor Man’s Plea against his landlord in a letter to a friend . These explain that the Levellers actions were directed purely against de-populating cattle enclosures and stress that the Levellers were not opposed to ‘improving’ enclosures. Both documents also raise the spectre of Jacobitism :
And lately the said Mr Basil Hamilton hath cast out thirteen families upon the 22nd day of May instant who are lying by the dykesides. Neither will he suffer them to erect any shelter or covering to preserve their little ones from the injury of the cold, which cruelty is very like the accomplishment of that threatening of the Jacobites at the late rebellion, that they would make Galloway a hunting field, because of our public appearance for his majesty King George at Drumfries, and our opposition against them at that time.
News from Galloway goes further in its anti- Jacobite rhetoric, suggesting that the threat made by the local Jacobites in 1715 to “make Galloway a hunting field” was part of a “Jacobitish plot” first proposed by Mary of Modena, James VII second wife, who is quoted in News from Galloway as declaring that “ Scotland would never be at peace till the southern parts were made a hunting park.”. ( James VII interest in hunting was “an obsession, almost amounting to a vice. ) The anonymous author of News from Galloway continues “for what King Charles II and King James VII could not accomplish by iniquitous laws and force of arms the landlords do it effectually by turning out their tenants.” Copies of these documents must have reached Edinburgh, since a twenty page pamphlet Opinion of Sir Thomas More, Lord High Chancellor of England concerning enclosures, in an answer to a letter from Galloway by ‘Philadelphus’was published in Edinburgh on 1st July.
This document, whilst condemning the Levellers for taking the law into their own hands, provided detailed and learned support for their arguments against de-populating enclosures advanced in News from Galloway , stating that:
The necessity of the common weal hath such power over the actions and estates of man that no one must abuse or misemploy the talents of his means, that no man must do that in his own property or possessions as may hurt another man.
As well as supporting this limitation of property rights with the opinion of Sir Thomas More against the enclosure of arable land for the rearing of sheep, the author quotes from Depopulation Arraigned, Convicted and Condemned by The Laws of God and Man. published in 1636 by English barrister Robert Powell. The suggestion that property rights may be conditional rather than absolute deeply disturbed Lord Advocate Robert Dundas, who personally visited bookseller to demand name of author and attempted to suppress pamphlet.
At the same time, the Levellers’ claims that they were loyal subjects of the Crown attempting to defeat a ’Jacobitish plot’ provoked a more sympathetic response in London. On 2nd July, King George discussed their plight with the John Ker, 1st Duke of Roxburghe and Secretary of State for Scotland. The King asked Roxburghe “what legal right those concerned had to ‘eject so many Tenants at once as to render them, and the Country desolate’ and ‘what provision the law has to make for the Tenants so ejected’.”. Presumably as a consequence of King George’s sympathetic intervention on behalf of the Levellers Roxburghe wrote to Dundas in ordering him to set up a Public Inquiry into their grievances. As Steward Principal of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, James Johnstone, 2nd Marquis of Annandale, was in overall charge of this Inquiry. The day to day running of the Inquiry was to be carried out in Kirkcudbright by John McDowall, Steward Depute. McDowall’s method was to take evidence in open court from eight or ten men from each parish who had been certified by a Minister or Magistrate. The Inquiry must have been underway by 17th August, when Annandale wrote to McDowall asking him to give details of his procedures. Annandale was responding to concerns raised by Sir Basil Hamilton, who was convinced that the process was biased towards the Levellers and complained frequently and furiously to Annandale on this score. As well as casting doubt on McDowall‘s impartiality (and that of the ministers responsible for certifying the witnesses) Hamilton complained to Annandale that the scope of the inquiry had been widened. Instead of considering the impact of enclosures constructed since 1720, evidence was taken on parks made 12, 20 or even 40 years ago. Furthermore, tenants (described as ‘rabblers‘) who had been legitimately evicted by Hamilton for failure to pay rent were interviewed by McDowall. Annandale passed these and other allegations made to him by Hamilton on to McDowall in a letter dated 7th September 1724. Since this letter followed one dated 1st September from Annandale to Hamilton, advising Hamilton that McDowall was preparing to report his findings to the Lords of Session, Hamilton was no doubt attempting to undermine McDowall’s report in advance.
Unfortunately, as Leopold notes “Details of the final report do not seem to exist”. Since McDowall’s Report would have been passed to Robert Dundas as Lord Advocate, its disappearance may not have been accidental. Given Sir Basil Hamilton’s determined efforts to undermine it, McDowall’s Report is likely to have been sympathetic to the Levellers’ complaints against de-populating enclosures. Since Dundas had been outraged by Philadephus’ reply to News from Galloway, ( see above) he would therefore have been unlikely to accept a report sympathetic to the Levellers grievances and which in any way condoned their attempts to restrict the property rights of landowners. Alternatively ( assuming Dundas did bury McDowall’s Report), political expediency may have been a factor. Dundas had been elected to Parliament for Midlothian in 1722. To ensure his election, Dundas had made a private agreement with George Lockhart of Carnwath who was a Jacobite. Lockhart agreed not to stand against Dundas in Midlothian in return for Dundas showing leniency to some of Lockhart’s friends who had been implicated in the rebellion of 1715. Dundas may therefore have wished to prevent the Levellers ‘Jacobite conspiracy’ theory from receiving the oxygen of publicity.
If the hope had been that McDowall’s Public Inquiry would produce a resolution to the crisis, then clearly it failed to do so. The situation in September 1724 was one of stalemate. The troops commanded by Major Gardiner were able to prevent large scale levelling, and were occasionally able to capture small groups of Levellers (Morton describes one such incident), but they had not defeated the Levellers. Faced with a similar situation in the previous century, Graham of Claverhouse and Grierson of Lag had adopted aggressive ‘policing’ tactics, scouring Galloway for suspected conventiclers. A reversion to such tactics by the inheritors of the Revolution of 1688/9 was inconceivable. The only advocate of an aggressive policy towards the Levellers in the Stewartry was Sir Basil Hamilton the Jacobite. Furthermore, as Dickinson points out, popular disturbances in the 18th century were usually resolved pragmatically
In seeking to suppress riots the forces of order were generally outnumbered and so it was impossible to arrest all the participants. Even reading the Riot Act might only encourage the rioters to disperse; it did not facilitate their arrest. Moreover magistrates were sometimes reluctant to arrest rioters because to do so could provoke even greater violence or lead to attempts to rescue those placed under arrest. In some election, religious or political riots magistrates so sympathised with the rioters that they did not contemplate making arrests. When arrests were made in any kind of popular disturbance only a small proportion of those involved could be apprehended… In many instances the authorities were lenient because they were anxious to restore good relations within their community and they were conscious of the bitterness and tensions that criminal prosecutions could produce.
The danger of pursuing a more aggressive approach to civil disorder was shown in Glasgow in June 1725 when soldiers under the command of Lord Deloraine opened fire on a crowd protesting against the Malt Tax. Eight protestors were killed. It took General Wade and seven troops of dragoons plus foot soldiers two weeks to restore order in a situation “not far short of a national insurrection.” The situation in Galloway in the autumn of 1724 was potentially no less threatening. As many as 300 of the Levellers in the Stewartry were armed with flintlocks and had been given basic training in military drill according to eye-witnesses like James Clerk. Assembled en mass, the Levellers could mobilise a force of at least 1000 and possibly as many as 2000. Beyond this hard core of support, the Levellers careful public presentation of their case attracted wide-spread sympathy. Politically, the Levellers stress on their loyalty to King George in 1715 and their claim that the de-populating enclosures were part of a ‘Jacobitish plot’ (thus drawing attention to Sir Basil Hamilton’s Jacobite past) was highly effective, ultimately evoking sympathy for their cause from King George himself. Economically, their position was one of opposing de-populating cattle parks whilst proposing that :
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.
By advancing such a reasonable and progressive economic case in their defence the Levellers were able to mobilise enlightened support outwith Galloway, such as that provided by ‘Philadelphus’ in Edinburgh and which so infuriated Lord Advocate Robert Dundas. At a more popular level, what Morton describes as ‘a doggerel ballad’ was composed by James Charters, Kirkland of Dalry. This Lamentation of the People of Galloway by the Pairking Lairds was originally circulated in manuscript form but was later printed in Glasgow, implying distribution across the west of Scotland. Copies must have continued in circulation since Daniel Murdoch of Dalry was jailed in Kirkcudbright in August 1726 for possessing a copy, which he had bought from James Duncan in Glasgow. Concerning the ballad’s author, James Charters, McKerlie gives Kirkland of Dalry amongst an extensive list of lands claimed by the Gordons of Earlston. In which case James Charters was a tenant of Thomas Gordon of Earlston, whose wadset of Airds of Kells to Thomas Murdoch of Cumloden in 1719 had helped trigger the events of 1724. Leopold notes that “A John Charters of Drumglass in Balmaghie was one of the defendants in the case “Laird Murdoch against Debtors for damages caused by levelling on the land of Airds in Kells parish” and speculates that this could have been same John Charters of Balmaghie who was a Cameronian married by John McMillan in 1736.
This may, as Leopold suggests, imply Cameronian involvement in the actions of the Levellers. Such involvement would have been a further deterrent to the forcible suppression of the Levellers, since it would have risked drawing Cameronians from Upper Nithsdale, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire into the Levellers struggle. However, the Cameronians would have taken issue with the Levellers over their loyalty to an uncovenanted king, as George I was. It is more likely that, as with Gizel Greirson, John and James Charters resented the loss of their family’s lands. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Charters (or Charteris) family had owned lands in Balmaghie, including Drumglass, stretching 6km 3.75 miles) upstream along the river Dee from Duchrae to Loch Stroan . On 31 May 1675, Alexander Charters, heritable proprietor of Duchrae disponed [conveyed] his lands of Stroan to John Carmont, writer in Edinburgh for £600, being the sum which Alexander Charters owed John Carmont. On the 11th June 1675, as security for a bond of 11 000 merks, Alexander Charteris of Duchray granted ‘heritable and irredeemable right of his £10 land of Duchray…to William Craik, merchant and present provost of Drumfries.’
The ‘lands of Stroan’ - a township with several houses, yards and a kiln surrounded by irregular pre-improvement enclosures containing traces of rig and furrow on a hill overlooking Loch Stroan - may have been abandoned soon after 1675, to be replaced by Stroan farm which itself was abandoned in the early nineteenth century. The more valuable estate of Duchrae was secured in 1681 by William Craik when he received ratification of a charter from Charles II dated 8 July 1676. The same ratification also secured William Craik’s charter of the estate of Arbigland in Kirkbean parish dated 26 October 1678. William Craik died in 1696 and his elder son Adam inherited Arbigland whilst his younger son William inherited Duchrae. From a Commission dated 1 April 1698, it seems that William’s main source of income was a merchant trading business in Dumfries. This was a partnership ( established by his father) with Robert Johnston of Kelton who was also William’s brother in law. In 1721 William Craik of Duchrae became provost of Dumfries, as his father and brother in law had been several times before him.
As discussed previously, Robert Johnston of Kelton had been able to save his march dyke from the attentions of the Levellers. Like his business partner, William Craik’s main source of income came from his trading activities rather than from farming. Although John Charters, Craik’s tenant in Drumglass on the Duchrae estate may have held otherwise, William Craik is likely to have shared his brother in law’s sympathy for the plight of the Levellers. William’s family background -his Presbyterian father having been elected the first ‘Revolutionary’ provost of Dumfries in December 1688 - would also have placed him within the local Williamite / Hanoverian and Presbyterian establishment centred around the senior figure of Colonel William Maxwell of Cardoness. So when the deeply religious Major Gardiner led the Earl of Stair’s dragoons against the 200 Levellers gathered at Little Duchrae on William Craik’s estate in October 1724, the lack of bloodshed was not solely due to Gardiner’s direction to his troops to use minimal force. Rather it is probable that the Levellers had also agreed to put up only a token resistance. That all but 20 of the 200 Levellers captured by Gardiner’s troops were “allowed to escape” en route to Kirkcudbright further suggests that the conflict at Little Duchrae was not a spontaneous confrontation, but had been negotiated in advance.
Apart from James Clerk’s April 1725 report that “Since the departure of the forces from the town [Kirkcudbright] the Levellers have thrown down another 60 roods of dyke to Mr. Hamilton.”, no further levelling took place in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright after October 1724. There was an outbreak of levelling in the Machars of Wigtownshire in November 1724, but as discussed previously, this was on a much smaller scale than in the Stewartry and was rapidly quashed by landowners and tenant farmers combining against the Wigtownshire Levellers.
Subsequent responses to the Galloway Levellers
One of the most immediate and unexpected responses to the Galloway Levellers came from the former Jacobite William Mackintosh of Borlum. In 1715, Mackintosh had led a force of 2000 Highlanders in support of the south of Scotland Jacobites led by William Gordon, Viscount Kenmure. Mackintosh was captured on 14th November 1715 at Preston along with Kenmure and Sir Basil Hamilton of Baldoon. Yet rather than support the anti- Leveller position of Sir Basil Hamilton, when considering the Levellers in 1729 Mackintosh expressed sympathy for them, going so far as to say :
The commons of Scotland have as much right to live in Scotland and pay rent as any landlord has to live there and receive it: and as God Almighty has destin’d them to earn their bread with the sweat of their brow, he gave them Scotland for their theatre to act their toilsome part of. They are certainly as heritable tenants as we are landlords.
Sir Archibald Grant of Monymusk was less sympathetic, keeping a copy of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly’s denunciation of the the Levellers actions “in case he needed anything similar”. Grant had been made factor of the Monymusk Estate by his father in 1716. In 1719, when Grant was 23, his father passed the whole estate on to him and Grant began improving the estate, a process which was continue until his death in 1778. Four marriages to four wealthy heiresses helped defray the costs of his improvements. Grant was also a member of the Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture in Scotland which was founded in Edinburgh in June 1723.
The Secretary to the Society of Improvers was Robert Maxwell who had recently taken a 19 year lease of a 130 acre arable farm at Cliftonhall near Edinburgh. Although the Select Transactions of the Society makes no reference to the activities of the Galloway Levellers, Society members Sir George Dunbar of Mochrum, Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie, Andrew Heron of Bargallie, Sir John Clerk of Penicuik and John Dalrymple, 2nd Earl of Stair as well as Robert Maxwell were all familiar with their activities. In particular, Patrick Heron of Kirroughtrie had directly negotiated with the Levellers, Sir John Clerk had been kept informed of their activities, the Earl of Stair’s dragoons had been sent to suppress them. Robert Maxwell was born at Arkland farm in Kirkpatrick Durham. His mother, Margaret Nielson, came from Barncaillie farm in the same parish and which had its dykes levelled in 1724. Outwith Galloway, Society member Sir George Lockhart of Carnwath had to deal with a fence-breaking incident in 1723 and it is clear from Mackintosh’s Essay that similar instances of resistance to enclosure were widespread. Is it possible then, as Smout speculates in his discussion of the Galloway Levellers, that the Levellers “may even have slowed the agricultural revolution itself for a time” ?
Smout seems doubtful, noting that “little of the agrarian change in the Lowlands had the same ‘depopulating’ and impoverishing character of that first phase in Galloway” and that outside of Galloway “the peasants lacked both leaders and an ideology.” That the process of agricultural improvement was slowed or delayed for a generation after the foundation of the Society of Improvers is supported by Devine. Critically assessing the period 1700-1750, he notes that the 6th earl of Strathmore, who was a member of the Society of Improvers, began an attempt to improve his estate in 1737. “However, this early dawn of improvement in Angus was an entirely false one. The 1730s experiment was exceptional and ephemeral..” It was not until the 1760s that the process of improvement properly took hold on the Strathmore estate.
But if the spectre of the Galloway Levellers did not haunt the Society of Improvers, what did delay the progress of improvement? An obvious reason might be the early improvers lack of economic success. Robert Maxwell was unable to profit from his improvements to Cliftonhall, having to surrender the lease in 1746. In 1749 his debts were such that he had to sell Arkland farm on 9th January 1750 for £10 304 Scots. John Cockburn of Ormiston and Archibald Grant of Monymusk had similar struggles to recover the cost of improvements. Grant eventually succeeded but in 1748 Cockburn had to sell his estate to the Earl of Hopetoun. It is not that the Society of Improvers knowledge of agriculture was deficient. Maxwell described the importance of “the nitrous Particles of Air” and the “Nitre of the Air” as contributing to the “small and minute particles which are the chief Food of Plants” in the Select Transactions although nitrogen itself was not discovered until 1772 by Daniel Rutherford of Edinburgh. The problem was rather one of market forces. Whilst cattle and sheep could be sold to meet demand -mainly from London, but also Edinburgh- there was no equivalent demand for grain. Grain prices remained stable up until after 1750, so there was no economic incentive (or justification) for large scale improvements which would increase cereal crop production. Even with the cattle trade of south west Scotland, the gradual transition of the Scottish Highland economy from subsistence to the export of surplus livestock had a constraining impact. It is possible that the actions of the Galloway Levellers checked the further construction of very large, un-subdivided cattle parks, but it is more likely that competition from the Highlands was the main factor. Certainly they did not become an enduring feature of the Galloway landscape, so that although Sir David Dunbar’s great cattle park of Baldoon is still visible on the Military Survey of 1750, by the Ordnance Survey of 1850 the ‘Baldoon Parks‘ had been subdivided into fields.
The cattle trade, as the Old Statistical Accounts for Galloway’s 45 parishes shows, remained a cornerstone of the regional economy circa 1790. The average number of cattle per parish in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright was 1693. The average number of cattle per parish in Wigtownshire was 1342. The type of cattle was described in 23 Stewartry parishes - 16 used the description ‘Galloway cattle’ and 7 ‘black cattle’. In Wigtownshire, 10 parishes define the cattle type - 5 give ’Galloway’, 4 ’black cattle and 1 - Portpatrick - gave ‘Irish’, noting an average of 11 000 Irish cattle imported per year between 1785 and 1790. Six parish accounts mention that the Galloway breed is polled or hornless. Attempts to improve the Galloway breed were noted in Kirkbean, where William Craik experimented with Bakewell cattle; in Kirgunzeon where John Dalzeil of Barncrosh (Tongland parish) ’bestowed great pains on improving the breed’ and in Sorbie where the Earl of Galloway ’improved the size and shape of the original breed by introducing Westmorland bulls’.
The fact that a distinctive breed of Galloway cattle existed by the 1790s and that attempts had been made to improve the breed reveals a move away from the late 17th/ early 18th century cattle parks. Selective breeding requires the ability to keep cows and bulls separate. This could not happen where herds of 400 to 1000 cattle were kept in large parks and so implies the use of smaller and well fenced or dyked fields for a period long enough for a distinctive hornless Galloway type of cattle to emerge. These Galloway cattle were bred to be small boned beef cattle which could gain weight even on rough grazing. Faced with competition in quantity from the Highland cattle trade and the lifting of the ban on the import of Irish cattle in 1758, landowners in Galloway responded by improving the quality of their cattle. A parallel but later development occurred in north-east Scotland with the emergence of the Aberdeen Angus breed in the early 19th century. Since the improvement of black cattle, sheep and land were advocated by the Galloway Levellers in 1724, it would seem that they were also a ‘Society of Improvers’.
The Transformation of Galloway 1760 - 1840
If the Galloway Levellers had an influence on the sweeping changes which transformed Galloway in the later 18th century, it was through the fears their actions created rather than any improvements they had advocated. In the case of one influential figure, John Maxwell of Terraughty and Munches, a direct link exists. In other cases, those of James Murray of Cally and William Craik of Arbigland, the evidence is more circumstantial.
John Maxwell of Terraughty and Munches.
John Maxwell was born at Buittle tower house on 7th February 1720. He was, through a complex set of family connections, related to the Maxwell earls of Nithsdale and to the interconnected Herries family. His father, John Maxwell of Breckonside and Terraughty died 12th May 1724. Since the family were Roman Catholics, the funeral service would have been held in the Roman Catholic Chapel at Munches close to Buittle. In a letter written to William Herries in February 1811, John Maxwell described witnessing the levelling of dykes at Munches and those of Barncaillie in Kirkpatrick Durham parish. This seems unlikely in the case of Barncaillie, but quite possible in the case of Munches, although there was a family connection to Barncaillie. This owned by fellow Roman Catholic Robert Nielson (died 1732) whose son Robert had married John’s aunt Catherine. The Barncaillie connection was strengthen (or confused) by a family link which made Robert Maxwell of the Society of Improvers uncle to John Maxwell. The elder Robert Neilson’s daughter Margaret married James Maxwell of Arkland. Their daughter Elizabeth was John’s mother and their son Robert became Secretary to the Honourable Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture.
John’s brother William (by his father’s first marriage) inherited the family farms but lost the lands through debt. John therefore became a cabinet maker in Dumfries before becoming Chamberlain to the Duke of Queensberry, a position he held for 15 years whilst living at Drumlanrig. It was presumably through John’s connection to the Duke of Queensberry that he became in involved with Richard Oswald.
Born in 1705, Richard Oswald’s father George Oswald was the strongly Presbyterian minister of Dunnet in Caithness. In contrast Richard’s uncle James was a strongly Episcopalian minister. James had two sons, Richard and Alexander, who became wealthy ship owners and tobacco traders in Glasgow. In 1725, Oswald moved to Glasgow and began working for his cousins, acting as their agent in America for many years. In 1741, he became a partner in their firm, In 1746 he moved to London and began trading in his own right, gradually building up a circle of trading partners which included fellow Scot William Herries. Oswald‘s trading activities extended from tobacco to the slave trade and sugar trade. He also owned a large sugar plantation in Jamaica and land in Florida, for which in May 1764 he developed an ambitious plan of settlement and agricultural improvement. This project failed -the land in Florida turned out to be a swamp. More successful and profitable was Richard’s involvement as a government contractor in the Seven Years War of 1756 - 63. He established a network of grain depots and bakeries across Germany to supply the British forces and their Allies. Oswald supplied 5 935 426 loaves of bread for which he charged the army £191 088, but which had cost him only £79 000 to make, thus making him a profit of £112 088.
In July 1674, Oswald bought the Ayrshire estate of Auchincruive from Galloway landowner James Murray of Broughton and Cally. James Murray’s cousin, also called James Murray was a North Carolina based business associate of Richard’s. In 1765, Oswald bought the estate of Cavens in Kirkbean parish in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. It was at this point that John Maxwell became Richard Oswald’s factor, a position he was to hold until Oswald‘s death in 1784. The extensive correspondence between John Maxwell and Richard Oswald regarding Cavens has been preserved. From his analysis of this correspondence, Hancock concluded:
If Oswald succeeded in his improvements, it was because he proceeded cautiously, experimenting with new techniques and treating his workers leniently by the standards of his time. Although it is not the image of the improver passed down by contemporary or subsequent commentators, a picture of Oswald as a landlord fiercely intent on establishing close, long-term relations with his workers and tenants emerges from his estate correspondence…The respect and love of one’s labourers, he knew from his treatises and actual experiences, was a mark of polite status….By politely beating his neighbours at their own game with a regimen of industry, competence, and control in farming, Oswald could join the ranks of gentlemen.
For Cavens at least, this image of Oswald politely outdoing his more genteel neighbours does not match the reality. Richard’s immediate neighbour was William Craik of Arbigland. Craik was a noted improver and Oswald to him turned for advice on farming matters. Craik’s father and grandfather had been Dumfries merchant traders. Rather than inherit Arbigland, Craik’s grandfather had used the profits from his trading activities to buy the estate in 1678. Comparing William Craik with Robert Maxwell, Shirley comments “Of the two, Craik was the practical farmer. He made his experiments pay.”. He was not, however, uneducated. Born in 1703, according to his daughter Helen, William Craik “understood several languages well and grammatically, viz.,Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French and Italian.” He was “originally intended for the law” but renounced the profession “ after having made no inconsiderable progress” when his maternal grandfather, Sir Colin Campbell of Ardkinlass refused to let him study at Leyden. During his legal studies, he met Henry Home, later Lord Kames “and their friendship continued through life.”. The life-long friendship with Lord Kames, who shared Craik’s interest in agricultural improvement, is significant since Kames was also a friend of Richard Oswald and a leading figure in the Scottish Enlightenment. Hancock suggests that it was partly through Kames influence that Richard Oswald and others of his circle (including William Herries who also bought an estate in Galloway) decided to becoming improving landowners.
Yet however cultivated and improved members of the merchant class became through their ownership of land, they still lacked the innate ‘nobility’ of the landed aristocracy. John Maxwell although having to buy his way back into landownership through the purchase of the Portrack estate in Nithsdale had, if somewhat diluted, noble blood. In 1776, William Maxwell, son of William Maxwell the Jacobite 5th earl of Nithsdale, died, leaving a daughter as his only heir. On 4th June 1778 John Maxwell “expeded a service as heir male to Robert Maxwell, 4th Earl of Nithsdale”. Since the earldom and its estates had been forfeit since 1715 and since there were other claimants the claim was of little practical significance, although Robert Burns did proclaim him as “Maxwell’s veteran Chief” in 1791.
Of more consequence to Richard Oswald’s cautious approach to the improvement of Cavens may have been John Maxwell’s childhood memories of the Galloway Levellers. From his detailed study of the Maxwell/ Oswald correspondence, Devine suggests that the adoption of a strategy based on a ‘cautious approach’ to improvement “through encouraging participation by discussion and negotiation” in fact came from Maxwell, although Oswald’s wealth “may well have helped insulate the Cavens economy to some extent from the impact of external fluctuations in the prices of both grain and stock”. The most revealing instance occurred in 1782 when Oswald bought six farms adjacent to Cavens in the neighbouring parish of Colvend and Southwick. These were occupied by 18 families, paying a total rent of £66 :
Maxwell estimated that if let to three tenants [they] would be worth £90- £100 in rental. He was not willing however, to countenance the mass clearance involved. Instead he was willing to settle for an increase to £80 divided amongst the existing possessors.
Since the events of 1724 could still be vividly recalled by Maxwell in his letter of 1811 to Richard Oswald’s business partner William Herries, memories of the fear evoked by the Galloway Levellers may explain Maxwell’s reluctance to countenance mass clearance in 1782. Certainly Devine contrasts John Maxwell’s ‘softly softly’ approach to the more aggressive policies adopted by Robert Ainslie on the estates of the Duke of Douglas in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. Yet even Ainslie was “fundamentally opposed to mass clearance.” . But even if there were no mass evictions, the progressive rationalisation of the farmed landscape required the mass displacement of cottars and crofters. The improvers’ objective, as John Maxwell put in 1767, was “ to determine the limits of each farm, then cause measure each farm, exactly distinguishing the quality of each kind of land in each farm, then adopt the most simple and proper form of husbandry considering the convenience and set a rent…” The results of this process of measuring and distinguishing can be seen in the regular, rectangular grid of hedges, dykes and ditches which march across Galloway’s farmed lands. The small, irregular, fields of the cots and crofts along with cottars and crofters which once existed on every farm were all tidied away. One survival, which may have been due to John Maxwell’s unwillingness to countenance mass clearance in Colvend, has been preserved by later afforestation.
Amongst the farms in Colvend for which Richard Oswald had sasine on 7th August 1782 was Barnhourie. The farm no longer exists, but gave its name to the Barnhourie Burn and the Barnhourie sandbank just off the Colvend coast. In 1697, Barnhourie belonged to Charles Murray who worked the farm “in the half-manner” with James Lindsay in Corsock farm. This method of working was only found in Galloway according to the online Dictionary of the Scots Language and was a partnership between the owner -occupier of a farm and another, usually tenant, farmer. This particular tack is more detailed than most at nearly 1000 words long and gives a comprehensive list of all seven cots and crofts on Barnhourie. Only one -Tarlylian croft -can still be traced as Tarlillyan, surrounded by traces of an irregular field system. Charles Murray’s farm house survives near Newbarns Loch as :
a typical late 17th to early 18th century two -storey laird's house at NX 8856 5523. The walls, 0.7m thick, are of random rubble bonded with lime mortar and enclose an area 11.4m by 4.8m. The SE gable is almost intact and the other walls stand to roof height. There are opposing doorways in the NE and SW walls. On the lintel of the latter is the inscription 'CM' M .....3'.
There were eight changes of ownership of Barnhourie between the end of Charles Murray’s ownership in 1705 and Oswald’s purchase of the farm in 1782. In 1878, when McKerlie was writing, Barnhourie and the other five Colvend farms were owned by Richard Alexander Oswald, a descendent of Richard Oswald’s brother James. This late 18th century process of consolidation and stability of landownership, with its continuation into the 19th century, facilitated a process of progressive improvements. There may have been no dramatic mass evictions of the kind which triggered the revolt of the Galloway Levellers, but the cottars and crofters vanished none the less. Most, however, did not travel far. The new village of Southerness, built by Richard Oswald, was but one of many. Between 1730 and 1855, 81 planned towns and villages were built in Dumfries and Galloway. As the widely dispersed rural population of the region’s old ferm-touns shrank, so the populations of these new towns and villages grew.
The Old Statistical Accounts provide a snapshot of this process in its early stages. Even where, as with Colvend and Southwick which did not to gain a village until the creation of Kippford in 1821 ( which became a boat building centre) the OSA can be very revealing;
Occupations - It is impossible to class the above  inhabitants by their respective occupations. About 52 are sailors. The farms being numerous and small, many husbandmen are occasionally also masons, wrights, shoemakers, weavers and tailors and one man possess sometimes two or three of these different mechanic trades.
This diversity of occupation amongst the ‘husbandmen’ of Colvend and Southwick was not a new phenomenon in 1794 when the Account was written. Analysis of the Kirkcudbright Sheriff Court Deeds which mainly cover the period 1660-1700 when the Stewartry of Kitkcudbright had a population of approximately 16 000, shows a similar diversity of occupations amongst witnesses to the Deeds. As well as the 1000 (approximately) ‘owner-occupying’ farmers, the Deeds list 56 different occupations. The law, religion and education - ‘writers and notaries ‘ (118), ministers (79) and schoolmasters ( 61) are the most frequently recorded occupations - reflecting the semi-legal status of the Deeds. However the next most frequently recorded occupations reveal more about the local economy :
Smith - 60
Tailor - 54
Miller - 49
Weaver - 41
Shoemaker - 33
Wright - 30
Dyster - 28
Glover - 20
Sailor - 19
The remaining 42 recorded occupations, which range from gardener (9) to procurator fiscal (2), have 10 or fewer entries. The biggest occupational change brought about by agricultural improvement was that of specialisation. The new farms required a comparatively smaller but more exclusively dedicated workforce of agricultural labourers. The part-time workforce, those cottars and crofters who had also been smiths, masons, wrights, shoemakers, tailors and weavers were still required, but pursued their occupations as ‘off-farm’ specialists in the new towns and villages.
A similar process of specialisation occurred in what were to become the industrial districts of England. At Coalbrookdale in East Shropshire
The pattern of landholding in the Severn gorge and the unsuitability of the steep slopes for agricultural uses encouraged the growth of a population of cottage-miners, potters, tobacco-pipe makers, bargemen and others, not unlike the weavers of the West riding or the hardware manufacturers of Sheffield or the Black Country. Many of these people lived in cottages surrounded by small crofts.
Like Richard Oswald, Abraham Darby also profited from the Seven Years War. Darby, also like Oswald, invested his profits in the land. But unlike Oswald, Darby was an industrialist rather than a merchant. Rather than improve an agricultural estate, Darby built four iron furnaces in Coalbrookdale between 1755 and 1759, whilst another five were built by other iron founders. The Darby family having perfected the use of coke to smelt iron in 1709, thse new iron-furnaces created a huge demand for coal - provided by the ‘cottage-miners’. As a result :
The Coalbrookdale coalfield became in a short space of time the leading iron-producing area of Great Britain - and its landscape was totally transformed. Areas which had been fields or woodlands were dotted with horse-gins at the heads of mineshafts, from which coal and ore were brought up…Arojnd the furnaces was flat land where the iron-ore was calcined in open heaps, and coal was converted by the same process into coke, both processes producing vast quantities of sulphur-laden smoke.
Perhaps fortunately, although Richard Oswald and William Craik made a search for coal in Kirkbean, this was without success. So that “the village of Salterness [Southerness] which was built by the late Richard Oswald Esq of Acuhincruive, with a view, it is said, of a coal trade…is now chiefly inhabited by persons who keep furnished rooms, to accommodate, such as, during the season, come to it for the benefit of sea-bathing.”.
James Murray and Gatehouse of Fleet