The Skirmish at the Enterkin

David Shankland Mallan, UK

On Monday the 28th July 1684 a party of dragoons set out from Dumfries bound for Edinburgh. They were taking with them a number of prisoners, who would stand trial and, if found guilty, be imprisoned or executed. The prisoners were ordinary people who had rebelled against reforms introduced by the state. They were called Covenantors.

James VI had tried hard to re-establish bishops in the Church of Scotland without success. His son Charles should have learned from his father's mistakes, but his insistence on the acceptance of reforms and in particular the introduction of The Book of Common Prayer caused uproar, and led to the National Covenant being subscribed in 1638. People all over Scotland signed, in the vain hope that, by raising objections to the proposed reforms, they might persuade the state to withdraw. Copies of the Covenant even reached London. Charles soon realised that he was faced with a resistance that would yield to no persuasion and in July 1638 he told his English Council he would have to use force.


This was the start of a long period of bigotry and intolerance on both sides; many were killed or imprisoned. Battles such as Airds Moss and Rullion Green left their mark. Secret church services were held in the hills with guards posted and armed men on guard. It affected rich and poor alike. Such was the state of affairs in Nithsdale at this time.

It had been accepted that the Dragoons would go by way of Annandale, Moffat and Tweedsmuir but the Covenanters were there waiting and watching. Whether or not the King's party had been forewarned, we do not know, but word may well have reached them and caused them to change their plans.

They spent Monday night at Thornhill. Would they go by way of Durisdeer and the Well Path into the Clyde valley or ascend the Enterkin?

There was certainly more than one party of Covenantors in the district. One group was seen near Moffat, another in the vicinity of Thornhill. With so many sympathisers amongst the local people there was little chance of the Dragoons being able to keep their whereabouts secret for very long.

William Browne, servant to Jon Hoatsone in Dalvein, set out for Thornhill on the morning of the 29th and soon returned with the information. It was now common knowledge: they had chosen the Enterkin Path.

Robert Douglas, on his way back from Hamilton, was coming down the Enterkin when he met four Dragoons, followed by another four and then lastly the main body with the prisoners. He had just passed them when the Covenantors opened fire.


There were about thirty of them in three groups, one on the hillside above the path, the other opposite and the third in the Drycleuch. They fired one round and sank down into the bracken. Understandably there was confusion and at least two of the prisoners were shot by the dragoons as they attempted to escape. The dragoons retreated down the hill towards Chapel on the Carron, leaving Grierson of Lochwhir wounded and Thomas Smith dead. The Covenantors headed over the hills to the east.

James and Jon Lorimer searched for Smith's body in the bracken. They had been sent by James Douglas of Morton. They saw Jon Hoatsone's wife, Marion Miligan and James Hunter of Coshogle at the Drycleuch.

Grierson of Lochwhir was brought to Thomas Forsyth's house by Jon and Jannet Hoatson whose father was later imprisoned in Edinburgh for his part. Grierson was later taken home by his brother.


Thus began a period of intense interrogation by the Commissioners of the Privy Council throughout Nithsdale and the surrounding area. Everyone over the age of sixteen was questioned Parish by Parish and the details recorded in the Privy Council records.

The workmen who were building Drumlanrig Castle were interrogated to find out what they knew of the attack.

Jon Shankland and his wife Helen Smith in Whytefold were interrogated. Jon was later charged with not informing the authorities that he had seen William Milligan, a known rebel, sometime previously.

Nicholas Coupland, who would later marry James Shankland, was subsequently charged with not informing the authorities that she had seen James Douglas, a known fugitive, at Yule last. Her mother Agnes Rosper, wife of James Coupland, was charged for telling John Glencorse, another of the attackers, that the Dragoons were to come Enterkin way. This was the evening before the attack. James Coupland was later imprisoned at Dumfries.

Robert Shankland in Craryhill, James Shankland in Ulisyde, Sanquhar, James Shankland and his wife Jennet Douglas, and Jon Shankland and his wife Issobel Clerk at Enochtoun had nothing to tell the authorities; as did Margaret Shankland, wife of John Hastie and Janet Shankland, wife of Archibald Milligan.

So ended another chapter in what had become a long and bitter struggle between the state and its people -- leaving behind, in the Privy Council records, a rich source of information about Nithsdale and its people.

David Shankland Mallan, May 1994

See also Covenant 1684.