David Steel of Lesmahagow

David Warren Steel

Warren Steel teaches music and southern culture at the University of Mississippi. Repeated below is some of the information he has collected on The Steels of Lesmahagow, from  the Rev. Charles Thomson.

“The following anecdotes are from a manuscript history of the Covenanters of Lesmahagow, by the Rev. Charles Thomson, Scotch Church, North Shields, Northumberland, dated 1832. The author was a descendant of Captain John Steel. His manuscript, entitled “Notices, etc.” was used by later writers, including J.B. Greenshields, who abridged it and moderated its partisan political and religious language in his own account in the Annals of the Parish of Lesmahagow, (Edinburgh 1864). Thomson’s manuscript is preserved among the records of Lesmahagow by Mr Robert S. McLeish, who is also the author of True Steel, a one-act play representing the martyrdom of David Steel.

“David Steel rented the farm of Nether Skellyhill, where his family resided, and not at Cumberhead, as has some times been asserted. He refused to hear the curate of Lesmahagow, but diligently waited upon the outed ministers, and upon the general meetings of the covenanters. He fought at Bothwell Bridge, and from that period his sufferings were extremely severe. So close and rigorous a search was made for him, that he durst not pass the night at home, but generally slept in a small turfen hut, on the west side of Mennock Hill, which stands on the farm of Cumberhead, near the source of the Nethan. This hut, the traces of which are preseved and pointed out by the shepherds, was about four miles from Skellyhill, and two from Priesthill, the lonely residence of that man of God, John Brown, of whose company and hospitality, David Steel, and his cousin John, often received the benefit, during their wanderings on those cold and bleak mountains; as they were among the first to visit and comfort his widow, after she had been bereaved of her husband by Claverhouse.

“Years passed on, and, as they passed, David Steel ventured to stay more at Skellyhill. In December, 1686, when he was at home in the bosom of his family, Lieutenant Chrichton, having probably received information respecting him, came with a party of horse and foot, and had arrived within a short distance of the house, before the soldiers were observed. Upon alarm being given, David armed himself with a musket, slipped through a back window, and ran down towards Logan Water, distant about a quarter of a mile, pursued by the persecutors, who had discovered his flight. When crossing the Logan, a little above the farm-house of Waterside, he fell into the water which wetted his powder; but, rising immediately, he continued his flight towards the banks of the Nethan, which is about a mile distant from the Logan. The dragoons crossed the latter stream at Waterside; and when they got to Yondertown, they commenced firing at David, who was crossing the rising ground above them. A little while, and he would have been at the Nethan, the steep and bosky banks of which, had he reached them, would have retarded the cavalry, and enabled him to gain, and escape in the almost impassable morasses which stretch along the eastern side of the rivulet. But his time was come — the time when he must seal the testimony with his blood. When he reached a plot of ground called Meadows-pass, below Meadow House, he became exhausted, and could run no farther. Some of the dragoons were almost upon him, but he kept them at bay by presenting his musket at the foremost. Chrichton called to him to surrender, promising him quarter, and that he should be carried to Edinburgh, and have a fair trial. Steel laid down his useless weapon — his ammunition having been spoiled, as has already been mentioned, by his fall in Logan Water — and surrendered himself on these conditions. But the persecutors were as faithless as they were ferocious. Chrichton, exulting over his victim, carried him back to Skellyhill, that he might enjoy the fiendish pleasure of murdering him in the presence of his wife.

“Mary Weir is described, in tradition, as having been a remarkably fine young woman, who loved her youthful husband with the greatest affection. She had anxiously watched his flight, for almost the whole course of it could be seen from the windows of their dwelling; and when she saw that he was taken, she ran, with her first and only child, a daughter, in her arms, and met, and walked back with him, encouraging his mind with the consolations of the gospel, amid the scoffs and jeers of the brutal soldiery. Chrichton took David Steel into a field, before his own door, and ordered the dragoons immediately to shoot him. They remonstrated against this breach of promise and, when Chrichton, persisting in his violence, peremptorily commanded them to fire, they, not yet like their officer, lost to all sense of honour, declared that they neither would shoot him, nor see him shot, and mounted their horses and rode off to upper Skellyhill. Chrichton then ordered his footmen, who were Highlanders. These had no scruples, for they were hardened, and prepared for any atrocity. Several balls passed through the covenanter’s head.

“The murderers immediately departed; and when some of the neighbours arrived, they found the widow, in the spot where her martyred husband had fallen, gathering up his fair hair and the pieces of his head and brains which were scattered about the field. Having quietly performed this duty, she bound up his head with a napkin, and as she looked upon his mangled countenance, exclaimed: “The archers have shot at thee, my husband, but they could not reach thy soul; it has escaped like a dove, far away, and is at rest,” — then, clasping her hands together, with a look and a cry that pierced the heavens — “Lord, give strength to thy handmaid that will prove she has waited for thee, even in the way of thy judgments.” The corpse was lifted, streaming with blood, and laid upon the kill-grece, till arrangements could be made for taking it into the house. The blood ran down into the wall; and when the kill was taken down by people lately living, the clotted gore was distinctly seen upon the stones, having the appearance of tar. A small cairn was raised upon the spot where the Christian fell, and out of it grew spontaneously a mountain ash, or rowan tree, which I have often seen: and the beautiful white blossoms of which in spring, and the blood red berries in autumn, were not unapt emblems of a martyr’s life, whose early holiness had been sealed with his blood. This rowan-tree fell a few years ago, having stood, is is supposed, for upwards of a century; but another has been planted on the spot, by a young neighbouring farmer, who, with the blood, has inherited the ancient principles of the covenanting Steels of Lesmahagow.

“In person, David Steel is said to have been about the middle size, having a very fair complexion, fine flaxen hair, and mild blue eyes. His body was buried in Lesmahagow churchyard; and upon his gravestone was inscribed the following epitaph, only part of which is given in the “Cloud of Witnesses”: “Here lies the body of David Steel, martyr, who was murdered by Chrichton, for his testimony to the Covenants and work of Reformation, and because he durst not own the authority of the then Tyrant destroying the same. He was shot at Skellyhill on the 20th of December 1686, in the 33d year of his age.” “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

“David, a shepherd first, and then
Advanced to be King of Men,
Had of his graces in this Quarter,
This Heir, a Wand’rer, now a Martyr;
Who, for his constancy and zeal,
Still to the back did prove true Steel;
Who, for Christ’s Royal Truth and Laws,
And for the Covenanted Cause
Of Scotland’s famous Reformation,
Declining Tyrants’ Usurpation,
By cruel Chrichton murder’d lies–
Whose blood to Heaven for vengeance cries.”

“The gravestone was replaced, and the ancient inscription renewed about fifteen years ago by the descendants of John Steel of Waterhead, the cousin of David.

“Isobel Steel, a kinswoman of David, was apprehended for adhering to the cause of the Covenant; and, after enduring a long and a severe imprisonment, was, in 1687, banished to Barbadoes. Soon after the Revolution, she returned home and lived many years on Logan water….”

from: http://www.mcsr.olemiss.edu/~mudws/family/notices.html


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