Search just our sites by using our customised search engine
Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

History of Moffat
Chapter V

The Johnatones of Annandale—Genealogical Sketch of the Family —Offices held by the leading Representative.—Battle of Drye. sands—Its cause and result.-.-The Jobnstones as Freebooters.—The "Devil's Beef-Tub."—The present owner of the Annandale Estates.

To speak of Moffat without introducing to the observation of the reader the family of Johnstone would almost be an impossibility. It may be objected that a general survey of that family's exploits has already been taken in works with greater and more just pretensions than the present. It must, however, be remembered that their deeds, however fully and ably' narrated, are confined to the wide sphere of the shire in which the Johnstoncs were located, without minute or particular reference to those towns within the shire, which in our opinion are worthy of observation. Such as have spoken of the Johnstones of Annandale, have in the necessary limitation of their subject failed to cite Moffat, as being in the "good old days of might," one of the numerous seats of that family's power—a power which, by the modifications necessitated by the gentle influences of Time, is used, not abused: and which is calculated to cause those in inferior positions to respect, not fear, the holder of the estates, and which draws friends, not servants, towards him. While for the sake of continuity we briefly glance at the general position which at different periods they occupied in their varied pursuits and avocations—the warrior and freebooter—we shall endeavour particularly to show their connection and association with Moffat. The insignificance which usually attends it must not in the present instance be recognised, for here, when the habit was consistent with the times, through the agency of plunder and freebooting, independent of their titles, their property, and their better deeds, they gained for themselves a "local habitation, and a name." Here, as will presently be shewn, they betook themselves to an entrenchment, if we may so call it, from its seclusiveness and the surrounding peculiarities of Nature, well adapted to screen from general observation the fruits of their nefarious acts, and which, in truth, rendered at subsequent periods many services to those who frequented it, and gave it a name.

The exact date of the settlement of the Johnstones in Annandale has not as yet been ascertained, but the name is first mentioned in the time of Alexander III. Mention is also made of them in the Ragman Roll, as Barons who swore fealty to Edward I. of England in 1296, amongst whom were four descendants—Gilbert, Thomas, Walter, and John—of Hugo de Johnstone, spoken of by Mr M'Dowall as being in possession of land in East Lothian during the reign of Alexander. It has been asserted by some authorities that this family gave the name to the parish of Johnstone in Annandale. The general belief is, however, that they took their name from the lands and barony of Johnstone, which is corroborated by the indisputable authority, Chalmers, when he says—"This place (Johnstone) afterwards gave the surname to the family of Johnstone, who became a powerful clan in Annaudale." The Johnstones must not be found alone as warriors, but likewise as a titled family. Up till 1633 they were baronets, but at that time Sir James Johnstone was created by Charles I.

Lord Johnstone of Lochwood, by an order dated at Holyrood house, 20th June, 1633, and in 1643 he was made Earl of Hartfell.1' He died in 1653. His son James succeeded him as Earl of Hartfell, who, on account of the extinction of the title of Earl of Annandale by the death of James Murray in 1658, "resigned," as the Scottish Nation tells us, "his peerage into the hands of his Majesty." On the 13th February, 1661, however, he received a new patent making him Earl of Annandale and Hartfell, Viscount of Annand, Lord Johnstone of Lochwood, Lochmaben, Moffatdale, and Evandale4 He died in 1672, his son William succeeding him as Earl of Annandale. In 1701 the earldom was raised by William III. to a marquisate, but William did not live long to bear the title, in fact, the title itself had but a short life, there being three only of the family who over possessed it. William had two wives, having by the first a son James, who inherited both estates and titles, and who died abroad in 1730. Upon his death part of the property went to Charles Hope, who had married a daughter of William's, and who subsequently became Earl of Hopetoun, while the remaining lands, with the titles devolved upon George, a son of William's by the second marriage, and who had from the year 1745 been confined as a lunatic; and by his death in 1792 the title became dormant. In the fourteenth century Annandale was crowded with people of the name of Johnstone, who were desirous of being recognised as near relatives of the great Johnstones —the Johnstones of Lochwood—who were acknowledged the superiors or chiefs of the clan. But it must be remarked, that although there were some slight claims to relationship, these were not acknowledged by the elder family, who alone bore the titles mentioned above.

The chief or head of the Lochwood Johnstoncs was not a titled or warlike man alone, but frequently acted in a sense a public part, inasmuch as he was Steward of Annandale, frequently Warden of the West Marches, and is sometimes spoken of as Governor of Lochmaben Castle. For example, during the reign of Charles II., to James Johnstone, Earl of Annandale, the Governorship of Lochmaben Castle was transferred. In that position he remained till 1730, when the many parishes of Annandale, feeling annoyed and oppressed by the claims of the governor, refused to give further payment, and from the Court of Session obtained "a suspension of the levying of his usual receipts, which the same Court refused to sanction when the Act 1747, abolishing heritable jurisdictions, extinguished the office, and all claims under it." Upon the extinction of his office the Marquis claimed 1000 as compensation, but was allowed nothing. The governorship of Lochmaben Castle was indeed a lucrative situation, having for his maintenance 300 Scots, the fishing of the surrounding bobs, and what was termed laird-a-mart, or lardiner-mart cow, being a fat cow regularly given by each parish in Annandale to the Constable of the Castle. The cows at one time amounted to thirty, but in 1609 the number was reduced to twenty, and, as a writer says, 1160 needing geese, and the forest of Woodcockaire for summer forage for horses." Up till about the fifteenth century the Johustones were recognised as being comparatively harmless. With the exception of some trivial yet courageous deeds which rendered them worthy of notice, and caused them to assume the crest of the winged spur, and motto of "Aye ready," little or nothing is heard of their prowess in the field of battle. But quarrels at that time arose betwixt them and other families, brave and patriotic as themselves, which made them more conspicuous.

The intrepidity of their nature served as a shield to guard off the frequent attacks made upon them, and carried them with a spirit of independence unshaken through the many conflicts in which they were engaged. One quarrel in particular took place betwixt them and the leading Nithsdale family—the Maxwells—terminating in extensive loss of life, and destruction of much property in the district. The eighth Lord Maxwell having claims to the earldom of Morton, insisted that the Regent—James Douglas appointed Regent in 1572—should give up to him both titles and property. The Regent unwilling to do so, yet doubting his own capability to substantiate his claims to the earldom, pressed Maxwell to give up all idea of claiming the title. The latter having however refused, the Regents fearing he might hinder the advancement of his favourite projects, and destroy the continuance of his good fortune, committed him to the Castle of Edinburgh, then to the Castle of Blackness, from which he was liberated in March, 1573. This punishment had apparently little or no effect upon Maxwell, for upon his liberation he continned to urge his claims to be recognised as Earl, and was punished by a still greater hardship—the deprivation of his office as Warden of the West Marches, the title being conferred (which increased the dishonour) on the representative of the rival house of Annandale, the Laud of Johnstone.

The Johnstones having subsequently burned houses, the property of the Lord of Nithsdale, Robert, the brother of Lord Maxwell, destroyed the stronghold of the Johnstones—Lochwood Castle, seven miles from Moffat and built about the fourteenth century. The destruction of Lochwood roused the Annandale Chief to such an extent that, receiving support from the bold Buccicuch, the Elliots, Armstrongs, and Grahaines, he made speedy preparations for war. Near Loehmaben, a party of Nithsdale men were attacked and put to flight, Robert, the destroyer of Lochwood, being one of the many slain. The remnant of the army fled and sought refuge in the Parish Kirk of Lochmaben, but followed by the stern and vengeance seeking clan of Johnstone, they were discovered in their retreat, and by the burning of the sacred edifice, the fugitives were compelled to surrender.

This sacrilegious act in turn caused a still more bloody conflict---the Battle of Dryfesands, 7th December, 1503, in which the Maxwell's again suffered an ignominious defeat. The Maxwell's conscious of numerical superiority hoped to counteract the movements of Sir James Johnstone, who, at the head of his forces, faced them on the 6th December. The Johnstones took up their position on a slight adivity, so far having an advantage over their adversaries; and it was not long till they shewed their superiority in the art of war. Being much attached to their chieftain, the strength and courage peculiar to the Johnstone clan made them ready to plunge into danger, to secure liberty and avenge a seeming wrong. By this means the strong in numbers were overcome by the gallant few, whose hardihood enabled them to maintain their rights, and guard off the attacks of the Lord of Nithadale's practised army. Once more the Maxwell's sought safety in flight, but by so doing they committed an irretrievable mistake, for while the battle was at its height, comparatively few were slain, but no sooner had they shown their heels to the enemy than a bloody carnage ensued. The Johustones followed in hot pursuit slaying all with whom they came in contact. Seven hundred of the Maxwell's fell, including Lord Maxwell, who, while in single combat with the Laird of Johnstone, was treacherously shot through the back by Will, of Kirkwill. "The battle of Dryfesands," says Sir Walter Scott, "was remarkable as the last great clan battle fought on the Borders, and it led to the revival of the strife betwixt the Maxwells and Johnstones, with every circumstance of ferocity, which could add horror to civil war."

Sir James Johnstone was invited, by the son of the Lord Maxwell slain, to a friendly meeting, one party alone to be taken by each person concerned. The conference took place at Auchmanhill on the 6th of August, 1608. Lord Maxwell's chosen followers, on this occasion, having gone aside with Johnstone's Mend, a quarrel ensued, during which one or other of them fired a pistol. This was a fitting opportunity for Maxwell to wreak vengeance on the head of his inveterate enemy—an opportunity not lost, for as Sir James turned hastily round to learn the cause of the disturbance, Maxwell shot him through the back with a pistol "charged with a brace of poisoned bullets." Not content with what he had already done, Maxwell proceeded to attack Johnstone lying dying at his feet, but was kept off to a great extent by him using his fast fleeting energies in defending himself against the treacherous wretch till death put an end to his sufferings. Maxwell, struck by the consciousness of wrongdoing, and by the thought which must have flashed vividly upon his mind—the enormity of the crime he had perpetrated—fled the country, and in his absence his estates were forfeited. Some years after, endeavouring to gain admittance to his native kingdom once again, he was captured in the County of Caithness, brought to the City of Edinburgh, and executed there on the 21st May, 1613. The death of Maxwell, though in a sense awful, seems to have been viewed with almost universal satisfaction. But yet it must be admitted that many viewed his crime, as Mr M'Dowall says, "a legitimate piece of feudal revenge."

Throughout Nithsdale there were many manifestations of regret, the beauty of which can in some measure be modified, in as much as it is supposed that sorrow prevailed not so much for the man, but because "he was their chief, the representative of an ancient and honoured house, who, whatever had been his faults to others, had done nothing to forfeit their affection; and how could they do otherwise than sorrow for his fate. Though sorrowed for by his followers, which was but natural and right, his crime must be viewed as one of an Atrocious and cruel nature, and his death as just retribution for a great offence.

In the capacity of freebooters the Johnstones are seen conspicuously. Their character must not be ths1ed, nor must we represent them as the embodiment of good, for in the matter of self-aggrandisement they were capable of acting a somewhat inferior part, when the custom was almost universally acknowledged, when the habit was consistent with the times. They recognised and were satisfied with

"The good old rule, the simple plan,
That they should take who have the power,
And they should keep who can."

And while acting upon the suggestive word which Wordsworth has put into the mouth of Rob Roy, one of the same fraternity, they were not withheld in their depredations from manifesting cruelty to satisfy their designs. If we follow thorn we perceive them in the glaring indifference of their acts, and the open defiance which they manifest in the pursuance of their villanous avocation. The property of their neighbours is treated as if it had been taken from their lands, and that their acts are but legitimate appropriations. But, as in all eases when freedom is abused, the sphere in which they practised the art was too limited, and consequently they crossed the Border to gain satisfaction in fine herds of oxen, which were stealthily driven within their own territory, and subsequently concealed in the then famous receptacle for the produce of crime —the "Devil's beef Tub," otherwise the "Marquis of Annandale's Beef Stand," receiving its name from this fact. For a graphic description of the origin of the name we are indebted to Mr Brown, a local poet of no mean merit of which the following is the substance

"Then thieving, and relying, and foray, and raid,
Were the handsomest forms of the great cattle trade:
But the stealer of yore, Is a dealer to-day,
Though which the genteeler we care not to say.
But hither came Clootie, the patron of thieves,
For here for the nonce were sequestered the beeves,
Which the Johnstones, the great cattle firm of the day,
Transferred to themselves in their grand dealing way.
But the rowting of nowto in the lonely recess—
It costs little more than the word of a guess,
To fancy the hollow turned into a tub,
And the herd laid in salt-vat for Prince Beelzebub."

During the reign of Mary, the freebooters made themselves particularly conspicuous, and no orders issued could bring them under subjection. In October, 1567, during the regency of Moray, a proclamation was made for the purpose of suppressing the invasions of the thieves of Annandale and Ekda1e, but its full design was, we believe, never carried into effect from some unknown cause. By an order issued 6th November, 1567, we are informed that they were in the habit of securing many persons they met, binding them, and keeping them secure till an amnesty was made, when they were relieved. The Regent, infuriated by the thought that misdemeanours of such a type were being perpetually committed on the Borders, instituted an enquiry which resulted in confirmation of those statements which had previously reached his ears; and accordingly he "forbade such practises, under severe penalties." With a strong force he proceeded to attack the freebooters, who continued to elude his grasp and remain secure, which can be accounted for by the fact, that they had friendly mountain shelters, from which they sallied forth for improper purposes and into which no stranger could or would enter. On the 6th April, 1569, something occurred which seemed as if the whole race of Border thieves was shortly to be exterminated. Many distinguished and influential men agreed to support with might and main the Regent Moray, and aid him to restore peace on the Borders by bringing the thieves of Annandale, Liddesdale, Ewesdale, and Eskdale to justice.

The John.. stones of Annandale are particularly pointed out as one of the worst clans who practised such nefarious acts. At Kelso, these patriotic individuals not only manifested, in terms of resentment, their hatred to the freebooters, but also to their wives, children, and even servants, the agreement they then made concluding with the terms—" We sail ever esteem the quarrel and deidly feid equal to us all, and sail never agree with the said thieves, but together with ane consent and advice." Thus was hostility again proclaimed. During the winter of 1597, the Borders still assumed a turbulent aspect, and Chambers again points out the Johnstones as parties continually molesting their neighbours by acts of injustice and cruelty. In 1606, an act was committed by George, Earl of Dunbar, which might truly have caused the system to be abandoned as a fruitless game, one hundred and forty thieves were sentenced to death for past misdemeanours. This severe punishment seemed not to have the desired effect as he again held courts for the trying of freebooters, which terminated in examples of severity equal to former times, many being again executed. It was soon after reported that the Johnstones and Armstrongs and others had, through sheer force, discontinued the practices which rendered them so conspicuous, and had submitted to the terms of the Government. But this proved a mistake, as they continued committing sundry offences."

It will readily be observed that, upon the accession of James VI., the freebooters were treated much more harshly. Little or no distinction was made; rank did not withold the administration of justice. The Johnstones, like other clans who acted similarly, suffered greatly by the sudden turn of the tide of events, having to change their former mode of life and seek more lawful and legitimate means of obtaining such things as they desired. Orders were issued to the effect that no one should retain warlike implements. "Particular clans described as broken men," says Scott, "were especially forbid the use of weapons." Thus, by the wisdom and justice of James, the system of freobooting was gradually suppressed, and the Borders allowed again to assume their wonted peacefulness and repose. Scott vividly points out many of the benefits which accrued from the accession of James and the anion of the crowns, particularly the termination of the long and bloody feud which existed betwixt the rival houses of Nithadale and Annandale, showing that what followed the slaughter of Johnstone by Maxwell, at Auchinanhill, in 1608, was greatly different from the course of administering justice in former times.

"Within the bounds of Annandale
The gentle Johnstones ride;
They have been there a thousand years, -
A thousand more they'll bide."

This prediction of the Balladist is almost verified, as that family has retained its power in conformity with more modern and moderate principles, however, and the present representative is, we may say, universally respected. It cannot but be regretted by most of our readers, that the present owner of the estate has, as yet, failed to substantialy his claims to the title which his predecessors possessed. It is needless to say with what ease and grace he would bear them, with a perceptible freedom from that pride and ostentation which fquently accompanies the possession of an honourable name.

Return to Book Index page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus