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....
John Steel, of Logan Waterhead, was the chief and acknowledged leader of the Covenanters of Lesmahagow; though, what is rather singular, his sufferings have not, hitherto, found a place in the printed accounts of our martyrs and confessors. The following anecdotes respecting him may be relied on, however, as authentic; for his memory is still cherished in the district with the warmest affection, not only by his descendants, who are numerous in the parish, but also by the general body of the peasantry; and many an hour has the writer of these "Notices" listened to narratives respecting "that singular godly man Johnnie Steel o' Waterhead," and many a time has he been conducted by the respectable and intelligent shepherds on Logan Braes, to see the places where his maternal great-great-great-grandfather "of whom the world was not worthy, wandered about in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth, being destitute, afflicted, tormented."
John Steel carefully waited on the ministrations of those holy men, who had left all for the sake of Christ, and of his gospel. He failed not to be present at the special and general meetings of the Covenanters of Lanarkshire, and of the surrounting counties. At Logan House, situated amongst the lonely glens, and muirlands near the Nick of Logan, was the first of those general meetings held on December 15th, 1681. Others were subsequently convened at Friarminion; and others in Auchangilloch Glen, between the mountain of that name, and Gudebute Hill, and about midway between the sources of Logan and Kype Waters. Near the head of this crooked ravine, the sides of which are partly crags and partly hard green braes, there wells forth a small spring, which, no doubt, had often refreshed the weary Christians; and farther down, the shepherds point out the Covenanters' pulpit, on which the holy ministers of the Mediator stood while proclaiming unto his disciples the gospel of the kingdom. At those conferences rules were laid down by the Covenanters, for the regulation of their conduct, and the word "Reformation" was agreed on, as a watch-word, by which to distinguish friends from enemies.
The curate of Lesmahagow was irritated at the scanty attendance on his preachments. "Black be my fa'," said he, one day, from the pulpit, as he looked round about him, and beheld, as it were, but one person here and another yonder, sitting listlessly in the deserted church; "Black be my fa', but they're a' aff to the hill folk thegither. Sorrow! gin I dinna tell, an' they'll a' be shot or hangit be Yule." But his "bark was waur than his bite." He was so weak and worthless, but not a cruel man; and his spleen evaporated in this expression of mortified vanity.
In 1679, John Steel joined the army of the Covenanters; and was appointed captain over the men from Lesmahagow and the neighbouring parishes. He escaped from the disastrous battle of Bothwell Bridge, along with his cousin David; but his aged father, Robert Steel, having gone to the camp to see how his sons were faring, was, after the Covenanters gave way, overtaken by the persecutors and slain. The body was left upon the road; but it was afterwards carried to Strathaven, and interred in the churchyard. William, the captain's brother, was taken prisoner.
The family at Waterhead were now overwhelmed in distress. The father "was not"; one son was a prisoner; the other, with his cousin David, was pursued on the mountains; and Isabel, their relative, was suffering imprisonment. William, who was greatly respected by the Laird of Blackwood, from whom he rented the farm of Lochanbank, was carried from Bothwell Bridge, to Glasgow jail. Blackwood, who, though he was himself greatly persecuted, yet, through the friendship of the Marquis of Douglas possessed considerable influence, procured his liberation; and he resided ever afterwards on his farm, without suffering any further molestation. He died, long after his brother, at a very great age; leaving no descendants of his own, but having seen his brother's children, and his children's children. He used to encourage his acquaintance to steadfastness in the ways of religion, notwithstanding what troubles soever might arise; declaring that if he were to relive any portion of his life over again, he would choose the days of persecution, for that those were both the happiest and the best.
The most vigorous search was made for John Steel and his cousin David. Advertisements were put up, and proclamation made in all public places, offering a thousand merks for his head. But in all the parish of Lesmahagow, here was none that coveted the money on such conditions. All ready to apprise him of the approach of the persecutors, and to do every thing in their power to deliver him from danger. The Earl of Airley, soon after the battle of Bothwell Bridge, came with his troops to Waterhead, and after having put John Steel to the horn, and declared him a rebel by sound of trumpet, he produced a crown grant of his lands; and, having thus stripped the family of all that they possessed, expelled his wife and family from their own home.
Upper Skellyhill and Cairnhouse, two small farms which belonged to John Steel, were in lease, and the Earl drew the rents of them till the Revolution; but no man in the district would be tenant of Waterhead, Steel's own dwelling-place. Airley was therefore obliged to bring a person, who is still commemorated in the traditions of Lesmahagow Muirland, under the strange designation of Huge Bawties, from his own country, to occupy the lands; but Huge Bawties soon found that he was "awa frae hame." Neither man nor woman would be his servant; and he therefore had to bring servants from his own place. Nobody would give him any assistance in any thing. His sheep were driven off their walks at night, and Bawties and his servants had often to search whole days for them, for none of the shepherds would give information respecting them. The neighbours told him plainly, that they did not consider the corn, or the cattle, or the flocks, which Airley had found upon the farm, and had transferred over to him, as his; and significantly intimated, that "the Laird," a designation by which John Steel was generally known, would probably pay him a visit, and uplift his rent, and also "gar him pay kain," in some of the long dark nights, in the dead of winter. The poor man, frightened out of his wits, applied for a party of soldiers for protection; who, when they came, just made matters worse and worse. They lived at free quarters; their horses ate up his corn, and they themselves ate up his mutton; so that Huge Bawties, finding nothing to which he put his hand to prosper, and living either in continual fear from the Covenanters, or, in continual vexation from his protectors, the soldiers, departed, after having been in Waterhead about a twelvemonth, "and went and returned unto his own land."
During the time that Waterhead was occupied by this north-country farmer, Marion Lean, the wife of John Steel, harboured, with her children, in a small hut of sods, which the shepherds had built for her in the muirs. At first they suffered no want, though they had been stripped of every thing but their wearing apparel, when Airley harried them out of house and hauld; for the neighbours kindly supplied them with whatever was necessary; but after the soldiers came to protect Huge Bawties, there were reduced to the greatest straits, and endured indescribable hardships. John Steel, who lurked in the same muirs, thought it no sin to catch, from time to time, and kill, for the support of his family, one of his own sheep, though they had been confiscated by the government; but after the soldiers came to protect Airley's tenant, they were incessantly prowling about, night and day, searching for Steel, that they might gain, if possible, the thousand merks which had been set upon his head. He durst no longer, therefore, lodge in the same hut with his wife, at night. His retreat -- where a small cave had been constructed, the ruins of which are still to be seen, amidst a great quantity of large, loose, gray stones, on the right bank of the Logan, about half a mile above Waterhead -- was discovered. The cave, a little farther up the rivulet, on the opposite bank, in the remarkable rock, crowned with traces of ancient fortifications, called Castle-Kirnock, though concealed so well by a thicket of raspberry-bushes, and other shrubs -- was also found out. He then built a hut in the muirs; for he could not think of removing to a distance from his wife, especially as her situation became every day more and more interesting to his feelings, as a husband, and a father; but that, too, was discovered, and burnt. He raised another farther up, but that too shared the same fate. He then was compelled to sleep on Logan Hills' but wild and remote as those are, his retreat upon them was discovered -- for the search after him was indefatigable, and he was driven to take refuge, at a greater distance, at Mennockhill, on the lands of South Cumberhead, where his cousin David also slept. The place still bears their name, being called Steel's Seat.
John Steel, and his cousin, were, while lurking on Mennock, supplied with food chiefly by the kindness and instrumentality of John Brown of Priesthill. It was, indeed, neither prudent nor safe to have much intercourse with the shepherds who dwelt on their own side of the mountains, where they lay concealed; neither durst those shepherds have much with them. For the persecutors frequently questioned them respecting the two Steels; and it was best that they should be able to declare, with a safe conscience, that they knew not where they were. No communication could be maintained with the afflicted family in the hut; neither durst the neighbours pay them their wonted attentions; for that would have brought down upon their heads the vengeance of the soldiery. The Gudewife of Waterhead was, therefore, reduced, with her children, to absolute want. The two boys had to gather berries in the muirs, and to "guddle" trouts in the Logan, for their own and their mother's subsistence; and perhaps, they might occasionally steal, in a misty day, to one or another of the neighbouring houses, for a piece of bread, or a little oat meal. It would, indeed, have been idle for their friends to have given them much at a time; for the soldiers often visited the hut, and whatever they found, they destroyed or carried away. A farmer, who seemed to have loved this world's goods fully as well as the cause of Christ -- perhaps "it might be Huge Bawties himself -- observed at a time when the family were known to be in great distress, a smoke arising in the muirs. He hurried to the spot, thinking that hunger had compelled Steel's eldest boy to kill one of his lambs, and that they were roasting it at the fire. When he had nearly reached the place, and was observed by the children, one of them ran to him crying, "Come awa' man, here's fine skran for you"; and very kindly offered him a share of some trouts which they had just caught in the Logan, and were roasting. The blythesome kindness of the little lad, in being so willing, in such destitute circumstances, to share his meal with his neighbour, so affected the farmer, that he fell to the ground overwhelmed with grief and self-reproach, for having entertained such hard thoughts against a family suffering for righteousness' sake.
Marion Steel, at this period, stood in need of that comfort and attendance, which her female acquiaintances would willingly have given; but which she durst not ask, and they durst not bestow. When the time drew near at hand, she was so terrified at the brutality of the soldiers, to which, indeed, she was afterwards, in similar circumstances, subjected, that, with motherly modesty she fled, with her two children, from the hut, and took refuge in a deep gullet, which had been formed in the muirs, by one of the mountain torrents. Here, in the gullet, oppressed with terror, and with no one to wait upon her but her eldest son, a mere boy, was this Christian matron delivered of a female child. A shepherd heard, in the grey of the morning, the cries of the agonized mother, and hurried to the spot, and spread his plaid over her. He then ran, and brought such assistance as could be most readily procured. But the visitors neither durst stay with Marion Steel, nor take her to any of their houses; for even so piteous a case as this would not have softened the callous hearts of the soldiery. They were, therefore, obliged soon to depart; but the shepherds waited near, and attentively did for the mother and her children what little services they could; and as soon as possible, helped them to their miserable dwelling. There was no bedding in this hut for them to sleep on; and the mother had no other method of keeping her "wee lassie" warm at night, than to put her into a pillow-slip, and cover her up to the neck, in a heap of soft moss, or "fog," which her boys had pulled in the muirs, and dried in the sun. The gullet where this child was born, is still known by the name of Steel's Hag.
After the Earl of Airley's tenant had departed to his own country, the Gudewife of Waterhead returned with her children, and occupied the farm. She found nothing but desolation, where there had formerly been peace and plenty: -- of what little provision and other necessaries she had contrived to procure, she was soon plundered by another marauding expedition of the persecutors; and for a considerable time the family had little else to live on but milk. Her husband repeatedly ventured home, from his retreat on Mennockhill, and gave orders respecting the farm. On a certain evening, a party of his persecutors came to the house, and seemed disposed to stay all night. Mrs. Steel was greatly alarmed for the safety of here gudeman; for he had appointed to be home early next morning, to sow some barley. She was terrified he should keep the appointement, and thus fall into the hands of them that sought his life. She therefore lifted up her soul to God; and that presence of mind, and decision of character, with which he had so remarkably blessed her, did not forsake here on this trying occasion. It was impossible to advertise her husband of his danger, as it was quite uncertain where he might be, but she feigned herself to be in a violent rage, as, indeed, well she might, at the persecutors; and all night stayed without doors, constantly attended by some of the enemy; and in a most furious and frantic manner, and as loud as she could cry, loaded them with the most opprobrious epithets. The persecutors retaliated, and a mighty uproar was produced, and continued during the live long night, which was just what the sagacious Gudewife wished. When the morning began to dawn, she saw her afflicted husband dimly appear, at a little distance, upon the plain of Cairnhouse, approaching homewards. His danger was extreme; for he was coming straight upon his enemies; and a few minutes more would have sealed his doom. But he was not forsaken in this emergency. The persecutors never observed him -- his wife, in her anxiety, lifted up her voice louder than ever; he heard it; and, to her inexpressible joy, he stopped for a moment, and then cowered down into a furrow. She then dexterously withdrew into the house those of the persecutors who had accompanied her all night without doors; and gradually became composed, and at length cheerful. Steel, in the meanwhile, arose from the furrow, and escaped. The soldiers soon suspected that she had outwitted them; and, having cursed her for her cunning, saying that she had given her husband a sign, they departed.
Early one morning, a child of the Covenanter's was taken unwell; and he set out early, to get some things for his sick infant, at a little shop at Waterside, about a mile down the Logan. When he was over against Scorryholm, a party of dragoons appeared on the opposite bank. John Steel turned up Scorryholm Cleuch, a glen on the south side of Logan Water; but he was soon observed, and hotly pursued by the cavalry. The ground on both sides of this glen being firm, they would probably soon have surrounded him; but he ran across a swamp, on the north side of the cleuch, where the ground was so soft, that the horsemen could not follow. The commanding officer ordered half of his men to turn up the north side of the morass. Steel then turned a little to the south, into the middle of the flowe: which not being very broad, both parties of the persecutors kept up a constant fire upon him. The people of the neighbouring farms, were all out on the tops of eminences, lifting up their hearts in prayer before the Lord, for the deliverance of their friend. The firing was so close, that they who stood at Auchrobert, said he was for some time concealed by the smoke, and they thought that he had fallen; but when he emerged into view, running strongly though the morasses, a shout of thrilling joy simultaneously burst from the spectators.
Encouraged by this, and calling up all his vigour, he ran over the heights above Cleughhead. All the cavalry were detained and put about by the bogs, except one dragoon; who struggled through, and fired upon the Covenanter but without effect. He furiously pursued him over the top of the hill; and had got so near, that his sword was lifted up to hew down the disciple of Jesus to the ground. But at this critical moment, the Lord arose, and disappointed him, and cast him down, and delivered the soul of his servant, from the wicked and the bloody man. The horse fell with his rider beneath him. Steel turned back to take his musket; but seeing the rest of the party coming over the hill at full gallop, he continued his flight, and got into Hareslack Flowe, an extensive and impassable morass, about two miles distant from the place where the pursuit began. The solders finding that they could proceed no farther, cried out, "Stand, ye dog, and be shot." Steel replied, "Ye are in the deil's service, and will be weel paid for't; ye may just rin whare ye canna ride." A cloud of mist came down from the neighbouring mountains, which soon concealed the weary Christian in its friendly shadow. The dragoons retired, cursing the mist and experiencing great difficulty in getting all their horses safely through the bogs; while the Covenanter prosecuted his course, and reached Logan House, to the great joy of its worthy inhabitants, just as the shepherd, who had seen part of the pursuit, came running -- crying out with tears, "Braw Johnnie Steel is shot this norning." Waterhead could now sing --
"Thou art my hiding-place, thou shalt
From trouble keep me free;
Thou with songs of deliverance,
About shalt compass me."
In the course of those frequent and rigorous searchings after John Steel, the military paid many a marauding visit to Waterhead, wasting what they could not consume; and always when they went away plundering the house, and carrying off corn or cattle, or any other thing which they found, that would answer their purpose. But they were not always permitted to do this without obstruction. John Steel was a brawny powerful man, possessed of great agility, capable of enduring excessive fatigue, sagacious in counselling, prudent in planning, and just as bold and brave in executing. He is said to have been of a most upright and honourable character; which was strikingly displayed in his open and manly countenance. These qualities rendered him a great and general favourite amongst his acquaintance; and being in the prime and vigour of his life, he was by no means disposed tamely to permit his enemies to pillage his property, and insult and harass his wife and children. Almost all the shepherds of the district loved "the Laird," and he, therefore, by some means or other, received information of what was doing at Waterhead. On one occasion, the dragoons had loaded their horses with his corn, and had carried it to Milltown barn, a place about three miles distant from Waterhead. John went in the night with a party of his friends, and carried it off. At another time, he followed, and, at night, recovered a flock of sheep which the plunderers had driven away. Amidst the solitudes near the source of Logan Water, in Auchengilloch Glen, did the followers of the Lamb assemble to worship the God of Israel, while the persecutors of Jesus of Nazareth were scouring the country seeking whom they might devour. From the deep recesses of this dark and lonely region, ascended the praises of the Mighty One of Jacob; and the waters of Life flowed forth in the melancholy waster, to refresh his inheritance when it was weary; and the wilderness, and the solitary place, were made glad for them; and the desert did rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It blossomed abundantly, and rejoiced even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon was given unto it, the excellency of Carmel, and Sharon; they beheld the glory of Jehovah, the majesty of our God. Strengthened were the fainthearted, 'Be strong, fear not, behold your God! vengeance! the retribution of God will come; he will come himself, and will save you!' When the disciples of Jesus had finished their devotions, those from Lesmhagow were returning home, with John Steel in the party. Intelligence reached them, as they were coming down Logan, that a troop of cavalry had taken up quarters at Waterhead. A number of the Covenanters were armed. It was now dark, and when they drew near the persecutors, Steel ordered those who had muskets to fire, and the rest to clap their hands, and shout. They did so; which alarmed the dragoons to such a degree that, cowardly as they were cruel, they mounted their horses, and galloped off. 'The wicked fleeth, when no man pursueth; but the righteous is bold as a lion.'
One evening, when Steel was at home, and the household were assembled "at the buik," a party of soldiers stole softly upon them, and the night being dark, had, notwithstanding a person was stationed to give notice if the persecutors appeared, completely surrounded the house before they were observed. To escape into the fields was impossible. "I am a gane man," exclaimed the Covenanter, as his courage for a moment faltered. "Na, Johnny," said his heroic wife, "ye're no gane yet"; and she hurried him into the byre, and as he lay down in a corner with the "mickle bible" spread upon his breast, tumbled a quantity of litter upon him. The persecutors searched all the house, and the out-houses, but could not find him. They were convinced, however, that he was somewhere on the premises and called for candles that they might search more rigorously. Mrs. Steel, trembling for her husband -- but aware that to betray reluctance would only confirm the soldiers in their too well-grounded convictions -- readily replied that they should have such lights as she could give. Whereupon, she took bunches of wet straw, twisted them together for torches, thrust them into the fire, and ran with them, blazing in the soldier's faces, into the byre. The men went up to the heap of litter where John Steel was, and began to stog the straw with their swords. The backs of Steel's hands were slightly wounded, but he bore the pain without shrinking. His wife, however, was convinced that such of method of search must soon either discover, or destroy her husband; she therefore, while fumbling with the wet straw-torch, dropped it out of her hand into a large tub containing that in which the cannie wives of Clydesdale, used, in olden times, to scour their blankets. The stench and suffocation, which had formerly been almost past endurance, now became intolerable; and the soldiers, cursing and swearing, ran for breath into the open air, and departed. One of them, who was supposed to have joined the persecutors, for the very purpose of assisting the Covenanters to escape, lingered behind the rest, and, when they were a little way off, returned to the house, and said, "Niest time ye hide, gudewife, hide better. I saw the edge of your husband's shoe, but with the point of my sword I directed a little strae upon it, for Johnny Steel's blude shall not lie on my head."
During this dismal period, Marion Steel was delivered of a child, when a party of soldiers was watching the house. Some of them behaved in so shameful and indecent a manner, as to cause even their own comrades to blush, wicked and hardened as they were. In 1684, John Steel, having heard that some of the outed ministers was hiding about Lanark, proceeded thitherward, for the purpose of engaging him to come to Waterhead, and baptize his young child. He was accompanied by Archibald Stewart of Underbank, near Stonebyres, in Lesmahagow. When they were near the head of Lanark Braes, they were met at a place still called Steel's Cross, by some persons who knew the two Covenanters. One of them threw Stewart to the ground, and kept him down; but Steel, who was a very powerful man, made a stout resistance; and would, in all probability, soon have delivered himself, and rescued his friend, had not the miller of Mouse mill, who had seen Steel, whom he knew, pass, and dogged his steps, that he might give information of him, for the reward, come behind them, as they were struggling, and, with the mill-rynd, felled him to the ground. After Steel appeared to be quite dead, the party went to Lanark with Stewart their prisoner, and rejoicing at the prospect of getting thousand merks set upon Steel's head. Having delivered up Stewart, they returned with a party of soldiers, to remove Steel's corpse into the town; but during their absence, the cold, for it was winter and a keen frost, staunched his wounds, and he recovered so far from his stupor, as to be able to crawl down the braes. Clyde was frozen over, and a number of people were curling on the ice. The players were so intent upon their national game, that Steel crossed the river, unobserved, and aerned among the broom, on the opposite side, on Boathill. When the party from Lanark came to lift his corpse, to their bitter disappointment he was not to be found; which so irritated the soldiers, that they fell upon the miller, who had wounded Steel, and beat him "till within an inch of his life." A little old white pony came, and looked upon John Steel, while he was lurking in the broom. Afraid lest it should attract attention, he tried to scare it away, but it grazed near him till night came on, when he mounted it and rode home. An owner could never afterwards be found for the pony, though diligently sought for, and the little nag was kept at Waterhead, and petted, till it died of old age. From Waterhead, Steel went to his dreary hiding-hole on Mennock Hill, where he remained till his wounds were healed; but he bore on his head the scars occasioned by the mill-rynd, till his dying day. Archibald Stewart was taken to Glasgow, convicted of being a Christian and hanged. His body was buried in the churchyard of St Mungo's where his name appears, along with the names of several other martyrs, on a stone attached to the north wall of that majestic and venerable pile. Stewart, who was about seventy years of age, was the particular friend of Donald Cargill, and was with him when he narrowly escaped from being taken at Queensferry.
From 1686, till the Revolution, the persecutions of John Steel were in nowise abated. New advertisements were put up, renewing the offer of a thousand merks for his head. Soldiers surrounded his house at all hours of the night and day; and the murderer of John Brown of Priesthill, the indefatigable and "bludie" Claverhouse, watched for him evening and morning, searching the muirs, and glens, and mountains. But Steel was safe, for he was hid under the shadow of the Almighty's hand, till all those calamities were overpassed. After a hot persecution of nine years' duration, he was delivered from his suffering by the Revolution of 1688. His name appears, along with a multitude of others, in the act of Parliament rescinding fines and forfeitures. He then returned, and occupied his lands in peace, but neither for the nine years rent, which Airley had lifted, nor for the damage done byt the persecutors, and by Huge Bawties, did he ever receive any compensation. His unbending firmness, however, did not pass unnoticed by the revolutionary government; and he received, from the Marquis of Douglas, a captain's commission in the 26th, or Cameronian Regiment. In 1689, the Parliament of Scotland passed an act abolishing prelacy, and all superiority of any office in the church of that kingdom, above presbyters and, in the following year, another act was passed, restoring such of the Presbyterian ministers, who had been thrust from their churches since the 1st of January, 1661, as were yet alive, to the free exercise of their ministry, in their respective parishes, and appointing that the Episcopalian incumbents should desist from their ministry in those parishes, and remove themselves from the manses thereunto belonging, that the Presebyterian minsters, formerly thrust out, might again peaceably enter in; -- and the Privy Council was appointed to see this act put in execution. In pursuance of this enactment, Captain John Steel had a district allotted to him, from the churches of which he was commissioned to expell the Episcopalian incumbents. Notwithstanding the dreadful sufferings to which he had been subjected by those very men, he did not retaliate in the day of his power, for he was possessed of another spirit than theirs, but executed his commission in as mild and gentle a manner as possible. His orders were to make, with his sword, a small cut in the incumbent's gown, and in the king's name, to order him out of the Church of Scotland. He used to relate an anecdote of the curate's wife of Dalserf, which showed the great affection she had for her husband. When Steel and his men had entered the curate's house, and he had drawn his sword to make the required incision in the curate's gown, she screamed out, "Oh, my dear Joseph!" rushed between him and the armed men, and earnestly offered her own life, to save her dear Joseph's. The captain, deeply affected, vainly assured her that he would do her husband no bodily harm, at length he ordered his men to withdraw, laid down his own weapon, and succeeded in quieting her mind, by convincing her that her Joseph's life was in no danger. He was employed far and near in expelling the Episcopalian incumbents; and it is most likely that he resigned his commission as soon as the church was cleansed of those incumbents.
How long John Steel lived subsequently to the Revolution is not known, but it appears that he was alive, and repaired his house, nineteen year after, for in the wall of the old mansion at Waterhead, there was a stone inscribed:--
It is probable that he was so impoverished, by the repeated spoilings of his goods, and destruction of his property, to which he, during the persecution, had been subjected, that he could not repair his dilapidated mansion before 1709; and the inscription on the stone may be viewed as an expression of the pious Covenanter's gratitude to God, for having preserved him amidst all the perils to which he had been exposed; and for enabling him and his family to enjoy, in the evening of his life, a comfortable habitation. He lies buried in Lesmahagow church-yard, where a plain thruch-stane, without a name, marks his grave. His great-great-grandson, and representative, Mr William Steel, still inherits his lands, and resides in the house of Waterhead, which he lately rebuilt, and fixed in a conspicuous part of it the stone above mentioned. The Confessor's descendants are numerous and respectable, and, in 1832, ranked, among their number, four ministers and two preachers, of the Church of Scotland. In the Muirlands of Lesmhagow, his memory is held in great verneration, and often does the grey-headed peasant relate, to his assembled children, the wonderful deliverances of their "great fore-elder."
[ Lesmahagow Steels | Steel family | Warren Steel | UM Home ]