A Covenanter's Lucky Escape

Jenny Geddes is a famous name in Scottish history.On 23rd July 1637, she stood up in the High Kirk of Edinburgh, picked up her stool - pews were not provided in 17th century Scotland - and threw it at the minister, with the cry

Wha daur say mass in ma lug?
(Who dares say mass in my ear?)

The congregation erupted. The service was abandoned.

This had been no ordinary church service.Ever since his coronation, Charles I had been determined to bring the Scots church into line with that of England. In July 1637, the English Book of Common Prayer was used for the first time in a Scottish church. The rebellion which ensued was to last for fifty years.

In February 1638, a National Covenant was signed by the leading nobles of Scotland. It was placed on public display in Greyfriars' Church, Edinburgh. Over 60,000 citizens made their way there to sign the documents in support of Presbyterianism - some, it is said, writing their signatures in their own blood.

On a cold January day in 1649, Charles I was beheaded, wearing several shirts, lest his shivering might be taken for fear. To the end, he had stubbornly refused to yield to the Scots.

Cromwell came, set up garrisons of soldiers throughout the country, and went.

Charles II, restored to the throne in 1660, promptly abandoned the support he had previously promised to the Covenanters.
Their struggle continued:

Bishops were appointed.
Non-conforming ministers were ejected.
Attendance at conventicles - services held in homes, in barns, or in the fields - became a capital offence.

Persecution reached its height in the 1680s. This became known as the "Killing Times".

In 1685 a gathering of hill-men had been organised in Upper Tweeddale, near the village of Tweedsmuir. James Welsh, a forebear (great grandfather?) of Alexander Welsh, who was a witness at the baptism of my great great great great grandfather, Samuel Little, had decided to join them. He left his farmhouse at Tweedhopefoot, seen below, and made for the nearby hills.


James was known as "The Bairn", but was renowned for his strength and spectacular build.
As the men sang and prayed among the hills, they were spotted by a group of dragoons led by the zealous Colonel James Douglas. The Covenanters dispersed at once, fleeing across the heather in all directions. Two men were pursued - James Welsh, and his neighbour John Hunter.
Douglas's men were mounted on horseback. James and John, however, were strong runners and knew the terrain well. They made for the steep rocky slopes of the Devil's Beef Tub, seen below.


As John scrambled over a rock, a dragoon named Scott took aim and fired. John fell, the soldiers reached his body and one of them struck his head with the butt of his rifle. The corpse was then thrown over the edge of the precipice.

James Welsh managed to escape, and continued to flee for his life. He decided to make for his aunt's home at Carterhope. There he begged her to conceal him.
The aunt was an intelligent woman, who realised that Carterhope offered no secure hiding place.

"Sit doon there by the fire, and pretend ye're asleep!", she said.
James obeyed.
When the soldiers entered the farmhouse, she turned to James, and slapped him on the shoulders:

"Get up, ye lazy lout! Get oot there and haud the sodjers' horses!"

Having searched both house and steading, the dragoons left.
James was safe.