The Sufferings of a Covenanter: Robert McLellan of Barmagachan.

Robert McLellan of Barmagachan. Borgue, was one of the banished Covenanters sent to America on board the ‘slave’ ship of George Scot, Laird of Pitlochry, in 1685. This is his story.

Robert McLellan of Barmagechan, in the parish of Borg, and stewartry of Kirkcudbright, was born of parents who were presbyterian, and carefully educated in the principles of the church of Scotland. In his younger years he profited much under the ministry of that excellent person Mr Adam Kay minister at Borg. After he was forcibly removed from them, and a curate obtruded, Mr. McLellan, with the godly and religious people in that parish, found it their duty to disown the episcopal minister, as neither called of God to the place, nor invited by them. Great was the oppression of all that country, as hath been noticed, for their faithful adherence to Presbyterian ministers, and Barmagechan had his own share.

In February 1666, Sir James Turner sent a party of soldiers to his house, and there they lived at discretion, till he paid the exorbitant sums of money Sir James was pleased to demand for his nonconformity. After they had eaten up what he had, and destroyed much of his plenishing, and taken away what they could not destroy, and were still coming back in parties, Mr McLellan was advised to go and wait upon Sir James, and seek an order for removing his soldiers. Sir James, instead of this, seized his person, and confined him in his court of guard, till he should pay his fines for nonconformity, and the cess likewise imposed at this time for maintaining the army.

Here Barmagechan continued some time, till the soldiers, having no more subsistence about his house, were removed; and they were next sent to that of his mother-in-law, a worthy old gentle woman, till she should pay her fines for nonconformity, and her share of the cess. All this time, Sir James had not let him know what sum he would take for his fine; at length, after his house and goods had been destroyed, he liquidated the fine to six hundred merks, and sent a party of horse to quarter upon him, and ordered him to pay to each of them two shilling sterling a day, as long as they lay upon him, which was till he paid his fine.

This heavy oppression put Mr McLellan to rise with others of his neighbours, against Sir James, and he was with that party who were defeat at Pentland; after which he fled to England, and lived privately four years. His estate was forfeited, and a friend of his compounded the forfeiture for two thousand merks, which he paid. The severities of the government slackening a little, he returned to his own house, and lived privately for some years. Yet not so privately, but the curate and others about knew he was there; and because now and then he went and heard presbyterian ministers, the soldiers were hounded out upon him, and he was sadly harassed for several years, so that he scarce had any liberty to live at his own house.

He joined again, with others in his circumstances, at Bothwell rising, after which he retired a second time into England, and was a second time forfeited, as we have heard. The violences done to his family and friends about this time, were many and inexpressible. Claverhouse came with a party to his house, and after he had seized the corns and cattle, he was going to take away all his moveables, but a composition was made, and a hundred pounds paid him. The lady Nithsdale, a bigotted papist, got a gift of his forfeiture, as like wise of many others in that country, and miserably oppressed his tenants, drove their cattle, and exacted much more than their rent.

His family was thus scattered, and he upon his hiding in England, where, towards the end of the year 1684, Squire Dacres seized him, with several other Scotsmen lurking thereabout, and sent them prisoners to Dumfries. Mr McLellan never disowned the king’s authority, as several about this time did, yet was as harshly dealt by as any of them. He was close confined in the castle of Dumfries, and laid in the irons for several days. From thence he was carried to Leith with the rest of the prisoners, and in a little time brought up to Edinburgh, and put in close prison, with fetters on his arms. Thus he continued from November till May this year, when he was sent to Dunnotter, and had his share of the severities of that place.
When they came back to Leith, he was banished to America, and three of his children went with him in Pitlochy’s ship. His wife, with three other children, were left in Scotland upon the care of providence.

It pleased the Lord to preserve him and his three children in the voyage. He him self was extremely weakened by sickness, and behoved to be carried in men’s arms out of the ship, when they landed. However, in a little time after he was ashore, his health returned, and he with his family set up in a plantation at Woodbridge in New-Jersey, which he purchased. In this place he had the advantage which he very much valued, of having the gospel preached to him and his family, by Mr Archibald Riddel, who stayed with him at Newbridge, having a call from the congregation there, as likewise from Long-island, where he might have had a far greater encouragement; but Mr Riddel chose Woodbridge, and it was well he did so, otherwise probably he had scarce returned to Britain, where all his losses were made up, and he and his four children were in better circumstances than he had conformed to prelacy. There Barmagechan continued from December this year till June 1689, when they had accounts of the comfortable turn of affairs in Britain; upon which he resolved to return to his native country.

Accordingly, June 1689, they sailed for England, and were favoured with excellent weather, so that they found themselves on the coast of England the second of August; but there they were taken by a French man-of-war, and carried prisoners to Nantz. From thence they were carried to Rochford, a common gaol, where there were near two hundred prisoners, English and Dutch, who were almost all sent to Thoulon. They were chained two and two by the arm, and at first, each ten pair were tied with a rope; but that was found such a hinderance in the journey, that after the second day’s journey the ropes were no more used. Mr Riddel was chained to his son, a boy of ten years of age, for whom they were at the pains to make three different chains, before they got one small enough for his wrist. In this long and wearisome journey several of the company died. When Mr McLellan, through weariness and age, was unable to travel, he made application to the captain of their guard, that he might be allowed the benefit of one of their carts, to help him forward some part of the way. He was answered by many lashes on the face with his whip, by which he lost the sight of one of his eyes.

After six weeks travel, they came to Thoulon, where they were not allowed a land prison, but were put into a large old ship lying upon the sea. There he continued nineteen months, and came through much sickness, and had none to look after him but his son, a boy scarce twelve years of age, who was now and then permitted to come ashore. Barmagechan and his son, with a few others, being sick, continued there, but all the rest, after a month’s rest, returned the same way they came, to Rochford, and thence to Denain near St Mala, where Mr Riddel continued more than a year, in a vault of an old castle, with some hundreds of other prisoners. They lay on straw, never changed save once a month, and were oppressed with nastiness and vermin.

After two and twenty months imprisonment, Mr Riddel and his son were exchanged for two popish priests, whom the council of Scotland gave for them. At length there came an exchange of prisoners, and those at Thoulon were liberate; but the French king would not allow them to come back through France, but gave them a pass, and put them in a ship going to Genoa. This occasioned a new scene of difficulties to them.

At Genoa, Barmagechan got into a Hamburgh vessel, bound for Cadiz in Spain, whence he came in a fleet bound for Amsterdam; but meeting with a storm on the back of Ireland, the ship he was in was forced into Bantry-bay in Ireland. There the Irish seized upon their company, stripped Mr McLellan of his clothes, and he continued eleven days among their hands under terrible hardships. When notice was given to the government, the ship was looked after, and the Irish obliged to bring back the prisoners, and they with the ship sailed up to Dublin.

Through the inhumanities he met with among the wild Irish, his nakedness and want of necessaries, Mr McLellan fell very ill for some weeks at Dublin, but it pleased the Lord to recover him; and as soon as he was able, he came down to the north of Ireland, and got home safe to his own house at Barmagechan, the last day of October, 1691.

Thus, from the attested relation of this gentleman s nearest friends, I have given the reader a taste of his long and sore distress for conscience sake. He felt first the fury of the party in Scotland, who were upon the French and popish bottom, then of the French king, and last of all of the Irish papists; their methods of cruelty were much of a piece: and as the severities of the first were the inlet to the rest, so they exceeded them in their length, and some other circumstances. And after all, this excellent person had no reparation after the revolution, only he possessed his own lands again.


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