Moira Aitken in her dissertation, The Covenanters, in the Dumfries & Galloway Family History Newsletter tells us, “The Reformation, the great religious and political movement of the 16th Century, established Protestantism in Scotland in 1560, bringing a fundamental change of doctrine, discipline and worship. The parish church, ‘a system for a free people’, was a blueprint for democracy: the people had the right to worship as they chose.
Democracy, however, did not accord with the monarchy of the day, and for almost the whole of the 17th century there was resistance by the Kirk in Scotland against the power of the ill-fated Stewart kings.”
King Charles I proposed that the Episcopacy be re-introduced in Scotland. The Scottish opposition to this was both general and intense. The Scottish Parliament and Kirk produced the National Covenant on 28th February 1635. In an astonishing “avalanche”, the Covenant was rapidly distributed throughout Scotland and signed by people of all classes.
By years-end, 95% of the Scottish people had bound themselves to the Covenant. It required its adherents to “uphold and to defend the true religion” and to oppose all “innovations on the purity and liberty of the gospel”. Civil war was inevitable, and so began half a century of bitter conflict and suffering.
At the battle at Bothwell Brig, the 5,000 strong Covenanter Army was disastrously defeated by a Royal force under Monmouth; 400 being left dead on the field; and 1,500 carried away as prisoners to Edinburgh. And so began the ‘Killing Times.’ Two ministers were hanged, prisoners were executed. 400 prisoners who took a bond not to rise in arms again were released. In November 1679, the remaining unfortunates were herded onto a ship, Crown of London, to be transported to English Plantations in America to become slaves. Their ship sank off the Orkneys with 200 of the captives battened below hatches. David McCubbin of Dalry was among those who lost their lives.
“More than 300 ministers were outed from their parishes, most of them in Southern Scotland. Hunted and harried, fined, tortured, imprisoned or banished to slavery on the Plantations, many Covenanters nevertheless flocked to hear the outed ministers at Conventicles (field preachings) in secluded sites.
In the following years persecution only made conventicles swell to formidable and well-armed gatherings. In July 1678 trickles of folk from all parts of S.W. Scotland quietly crossed the hills, converging to meet in the great natural amphitheatre 1,100 feet high on Skeoch Hill at the top of Irongray parish for one of the most memorable sacramental occasions in Scottish history. Scouts were posted on the neighbouring heights, the blue flag of the Covenant was set a-flying, and over a period of several days 4 outed ministers dispensed the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to some 3,000 people.” Moira Aitken
Dumfriesshire was a particular hotbed of covenanting dissent and royalist “death squads” were employed to root out and summarily execute any who were found in congregation and the arrest of suspected dissenters. Those who did not recant were often executed.
On 2 March, 1685 Alexander MacCubbin was one of eight Covenanters who were executed for attending a prayer meeting. Alexander, without benefit of trial, was hung at Kirkpatrick Irongray, on an oak tree. As the hangman carried out his evil chore, he asked if he could be forgiven. MacCubbin responded “Poor man, I forgive thee, and all men: thou hast a miserable calling upon earth.”
Nearby, in Kirkinner Parish, in the Parish records, the minister gave an account of the sufferings of parishioners in the covenanting times: “Andrew McCubbin and his spouse Elizabeth Millikin daughter to the said John Millikin and Margaret Lachison living at that time, about 1685 were stript of all their goods had all their household furniture burnt to ashes by the Dragoons, and themselves and their small children banished from house and hold.”
Fergus M’Cubbin, the last proprietor of Knockdolian of that name, was a keen supporter of the Covenant during the reigns of Charles I & II. According to the Kirk (Church) Sessions of Colmonell, Fergus was a subscriber to the signing of the National Covenant, on 9th November, 1643. It is of interest to note that individual church members were assigned to wait at the entries to ‘keep out men.’
Fergus had, upon several occasions, given protection and maintenance at Knockdolian Castle, to the famous preacher, Alexander Peden, for which he had been pretty severely fined. Peden having again solicited the laird to conceal him, the entreaty was refused: upon which, tradition says, Peden declared, in a moment of irritation, that Knockdolian would not continue in the possession of a male of the family.
At this time the laird had two stalwart sons, one of whom soon afterwards fell from a tree in the orchard, and was killed. The other was drowned from a boat on a summer day, in the Bay of Ballantrae. This was the last of Fergus’ male line.
Fergus McCubbin’s name appears quite frequently in Colmonell Kirk session Records between 16 May, 1641 and 1662. In 1662 he was fined 1200 pounds, Scots, by General Middleton’s Parliament. On 10th July 1683, he appeared before the Privy Council to answer charges of treason and rebellion, imprisoned 2nd April 1684, offered to abide by his trial. His remaining heir, Margaret McCubbin married into the Cathcart family of Genoch, an estate near Stranraer, Wigtownshire. During ‘The Killing Times’ McCubbins escaped to Ireland and America. Today in America, there are many descendants from “John the Colonist.”
“The Revolution Settlement re-established Presbyterianism as the form of government of the Church of Scotland in 1690. Today all over S.W. Scotland in lonely places the graves of the martyrs bear testimony to the faith of the Covenanters who secured for Scotland its religious heritage – testimony, too, to the intolerance of the 17th Century and cruelties perpetrated on all sides.” Moira Aitken