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A Learning Resource for Celtic Studies and World History to the Sixteenth Century



This paper was originally prepared in 1991 as an introduction to feudalism and patterns of medieval land-holding based on some historical data connected with the McCowan family of Cumnock, Ayrshire, in southwest lowland Scotland . Because the McCowan family was a humble one, directly-related data is difficult to find. But historical connections with other and more influential families can be interpreted and analyzed to draw certain reasonable conclusions and theories regarding the McCowans – their early origins, place in society and evolution in the context of their community. 

The medieval period is the transition between the dark ages and modern history – the dark ages characterized by legends handed down orally from one generation to the next; modern history being supported by an ever-growing body of written record. Various Celtic peoples populated much of Scotland when the Norman Kings began to extend their feudalism north from England over 900 years ago. When a Celtic Studies course was proposed at Subway One Academy (www.fletchersaga.net/LWCAD1.html), this paper was modestly revised. I hope that this paper will achieve five goals:

1.      To model methods of historical inquiry and communication, a strand within the grade 11 and 12 World History courses in Ontario Curriculum.

2.      To provide a brief introduction to feudalism in a family history context, modestly addressing the following fundamental concepts of the Canadian and World Studies Curriculum in Ontario : Systems and Structures; Interactions and Interdependence; Change and Continuity; Power and Governance.

3.      To provide some additional vocabulary and narrative that illustrates the perpetuation of aspects of Celtic culture in rural Scotland and, later, in Canada .

4.      To inspire students to actively engage in, arguably, the most profoundly important of Celtic traditions – the gathering of oral history before it is lost.

5.      To underscore the notions that history is the all-important study of the evolution of our values and that detailed family and local history within broader contexts can add a profoundly important dimension to an understanding of ourselves within society. Ultimately, the study of history is crucial to making the world a better place.


Some Additional Student Resources

·         www.celtscot.ed.ac.uk/EERC_home.htm: Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh – European Ethnological Research Centre

·         www.beamccowan.com/oral.htm: Oral History Interview Strategy

·         www.beamccowan.com/farmand.htm: Oral History Interview Project: The Farm and the Environment

·         www.beamccowan.com/womenand.htm: Oral History Interview Project: Women and the Family Farm

·         www.beamccowan.com/field,.htm: Oral History Interview Project: Field, Food and Family

·         www.beamccowan.com/a1.htm: A Methodology for Teaching Information Processing (A series of pages to help students learn by engaging in research, analysis and writing.)

·         http://macewan.pbwiki.com/rstmacewen: Macewans as Bard-Seanachies (This is from R.S.T. MacEwan, History of Clan Ewan, 1904, pg. 7-11)

·         www.beamccowan.com/glossary.htm: Glossary of old Scots terms, many of which have gaelic origins.

·         www.beamccowan.com/lowland1.htm (Selected bibliography regarding the lowland clearances primarily)

·         D.B. McCowan, To Sustene the Personis: The Agricultural Revolution (This booklet picks up  where our story below ends, addressing change in Cumnock’s agricultural community between 1600 and 1800 and the impact on the McCowan family. There are maps on pages 30 and 31.)

·         D.B. McCowan, When the Ground Fails: An Economic Watershed (Agricultural change in Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, 1600-1815. This booklet sets the stage for James McCowan’s arrival as Coalmaster at the Stockbriggs Coalworks in 1799.)

·         D.B. McCowan, Fairs and Frolics: Scottish Communities at Work and Play (Some celtic-based customs continued on in rural Scotland, some of which were carried to Scarborough, Canada, by early nineteenth century settlers.)

·         Hugh Lorimer, A Corner of Old Strathclyde, 1952. (This book is an intense study of celtic placenames and folklore in the Cumnock area of Ayrshire and, as such, may serve as a modest model for making reasoned inferences respecting some remnants of local celtic culture. Dr. John Strawhorn, renowned Ayrshire historian, felt that Mr. Lorimer perhaps relied a little too much on the old placenames and their local patterns.)

·         W.F.H. Nicolaisen, Scottish Placenames, Their Study and Significance, 1976 (Many placenames are Gaelic – refer in particular to those in Galloway in southwest Scotland )

·         http://members.tripod.com/bob_newcumnock/nchome/welcomex.html (Some on-line history of the Cumnock area, the Parish of New Cumnock in particular. Refer especially to the placenames pages.)

·         George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland : Their Origin, Meaning and History, 1946. (A close study of a subset of Gaelic names such as those associated with McCowan could probably help with an understanding of the Gaelic language.)

·         The British Library holds a sizeable collection of very early charters and documents relating to Cumnock. It is not known if these documents have been transcribed or published in some form.


Suggestions for the Teacher

             I.      As classroom practice for their own oral history interview project, invite one or two long-time residents of Toronto as interview subjects. They will relate stories of a Toronto that will very soon be forgotten – the agricultural period up to 1950. This is only a sub-topic of the much larger and fundamentally important problem of “what is the future of the family farm in Ontario ?” The questions on www.beamccowan.com/farmand.htm,  www.beamccowan.com/womenand.htm and www.beamccowan.com/field,.htm may be supplemented by additional questions written by students. Student communication output could take several forms:

a.       Transcription of the interview with explanatory notes in modest local context.

b.      Detailed analysis of the interview data within a broader context, carefully quoting selected interview passages

c.       Within a celtic tradition form – for example, the student could perform the role of a fictitious “Seamas MacOwan, seanachie (bard / genealogist) to Clan Torontonian”.

          II.      A trip to Robarts Library at U of T or the Toronto Reference Library is highly recommended as these institutions hold many of the publications of the UK Public Records Office, Scottish History Society, Scottish Record Society and other “clubs” that transcribed and summarized early Scottish documents. The University of Guelph Scottish Studies department and library holds a very large collection of Scottish historical material.

       III.      Students should be encouraged to view each exercise below as only a “broad guideline for attack”. Students should think about how to best break down the exercise topic into manageable sub-topics, all linked together. For example, the “bailie” exercise involves consideration of both the land and the law. In turn, the law addresses both fairness and strict rules of process.

       IV.      The exercises could be divided amongst the students in the class. Student pairs, for example, could engage in the inquiry process as a collaborative team, student1 producing “version 1” on a particular sub-topic. His or her partner, as an “expert” on a related aspect of the larger topic, could help with “version 2” of the sub-topic. Their roles would be reversed for the sub-topic belonging to student2. Peer review is a crucial aspect of scholarly, academic and technical publication.



Note: Most of these exercises require some additional research. Clearly identify all of your sources. Be certain to distinguish between sources of a primary nature and sources of a secondary nature. Refer to the additional resources and libraries above. Unless otherwise noted, answers must be in well-structured paragraphs.

1)      Communities: Characteristics, Development and Interaction

a)      Describe the value and significance of the land in feudal lowland Scotland . Why was the land so important? Draw a diagram illustrating the inter-relationships between groups of people who depended on the land. In the diagram, illustrate one or two forces that were external to the local community.


2)      Change and Continuity

a)      Make a chronological “time-line” of the major events in this paper that appear to be of national significance.

b)      Make a chronological “time-line” of some significant events in this paper that appear to be of local or family significance.

c)      Then link at least one of the local / family events to at least one of the more national events. Explain your interpretation – how you came to link these events together. Then analyze and describe this connection of events. For example, discuss any cause and effect. Describe how the larger, more national structure affected the people. Explain how your own time-line construction helps you understand the feudal period and its significance to us today.


3)      Social, Economic and Political Structures

a)      Describe the role of the bailie in the rural economy. Why was it so important that the bailie be trusted and respected?

b)      Describe the role and importance of the clan Seanachie (a bard of sorts or genealogist). Find and interpret one poem written by a bard about early activities in southwest Scotland such as during the Wars of Independence. You can start your search using “Blind Harry” or “John Barbour”.

c)      Explain why you think the names of women appear so infrequently in these early historical records. Discuss this issue in terms of land-holding, politics and one other area of your own interest.


4)      Methods of Historical Inquiry and Communication

a)      Consider the following statement: “One of the standard-bearers of Robert the Bruce during the Wars of Independence was named McCowan.”  By doing additional research, attempt to prove the truth of this statement. Write a clear well-organized argument and defend or criticize your sources. Include a bibliography.

b)      Oral history interview project: “Farming in Toronto , 1920-1950.”

i)        Contact bmccowan@netrover.com to arrange meetings with interviewees.

ii)      You may start with the questions on www.beamccowan.com/farmand.htm, www.beamccowan.com/womenand.htm and www.beamccowan.com/field,.htm. Add your own supplementary questions.

iii)    Communicate the results of your interview in three distinct sections:

(1)   An accurate transcription of the interview – both questions and responses

(2)   Your interpretation and analysis of key portions of the interview

(3)   Your application of key portions of the interview in the broader context of this question “What is the future of the family farm in Ontario and what should we, as a society, do about it?” This is where you get to say “here’s how we can all benefit from the study of history…”.

c)      Take the (fictitious) role of Gilbert McGachan, local clan seanachie in say 1500. Using the historical resources in this paper and others that you locate, compose a reasonably accurate description of how the McCowans could have migrated to Cumnock Parish from Nithsdale, say, a century earlier. You are weaving together supposed legends and oral histories that have been passed down from earlier generations. Hence, your paper will be historical fiction, a very useful and entertaining genre for learning about our past.

d)     Similarly, take the (fictitious) role of Malcolm McGachan, local clan seanachie in say 1460. Weave your tale of how a junior branch of the McGachan clan were placed in the estate of Dalquhat in Nithsdale. You can start your tale back in the time of Robert the Bruce or perhaps earlier.

e)      Contact the descendants of John Alexander McCaughan of Toronto (start at www.electricscotland.com/webclans/m/maceachain2.htm). Ask permission to review Mr. McCaughan’s original genealogical research materials. Write a summary of any of his data that connects with the McGachans of Nithsdale. Describe commonalities between his research and this paper on www.beamccowan.com. Draw and describe your own conclusions.

f)       Take the role of Cumnock historian Hugh Lorimer as he was researching his book in 1950, A Corner of Old Strathclyde. Consider the possibilities that he had interviewed knowledgeable elderly descendants of the McCowan family in Cumnock – people who had heard stories to the effect, “McCowan is a family name of distinction for hundreds of years in the Kirkconnel area. Bruce had a company of McCowans in the upper Nith district, an honour of which Sanquhar is proud”. Re-construct the conversations that Mr. Lorimer could have had that caused him to draw his conclusions. What other research do you think he did that would tend to confirm his theories?


5)      Citizenship and Heritage

a)      Consider the following scenario. James McCowan, tenant in Sanquhar, is pledged to support his lord who has chosen to support Robert the Bruce in the fight for Scottish independence. William McGachan is a tenant on nearby Dunbar lands and he has just learned that his lord will take the English side in an imminent strike against Scotland . James and William are related. Write the dialog of a dramatic scene addressing a lively meeting between these two cousins. Be sure to have them discuss political allegiance and a national identity, both in the context of the progress of the individual in society.




For me, the opening of the door which let me into the old secrets of our corner of Strathclyde was the translation of the place name of Bentycowan, one of the hills of the Southern Uplands. It is to be found in New Cumnock parish. Heretofore Bentycowan consisted of two words Benty and Cowan. When I divided it into three Gaelic words, Ben, Tigh, and Owen, to me it was as the lifting of a latch and a step into the open air. Ben – a hill, Tigh – a house, Owen – personal name of more than one Strathclyde king or ruler, according to Skene’s “Celtic Scotland.

                                    Hugh Lorimer, F.S.A., From the Introduction to A Corner of Old Strathclyde

What values did James McCowan and other Scots bring to Canada and how were these values shaped? How can we view the evolution of these values in the context of Celtic studies?

The values of Scottish immigrants include respect for and appreciation of: freedom, individuality, security, material wealth, protection of the environment and equality. The evolution of these values is profoundly linked with the evolution of needs, wants and relationships through several centuries of life in rural Scotland . Political, economic, and technological forces provoked change in Scottish social structure and values. The capacity of the Scot to adapt to change is perhaps most measurable in his evolving relationship with the land. So the values mentioned above are closely linked to the land and the Scots’ sense of place.

Of course, a reasonable analysis of the value system of ordinary Scottish settlers like the McCowans of Scarborough is very complex. Picking a point to start the investigation can be equally difficult. The Scarborough Scots were almost all from the southern Scottish Lowlands. Elsewhere on this web site we have investigated the profound impact of the agricultural revolution – a period of intense socio-economic upheaval (1760-1830 approximately) when thousands were suddenly removed from their plots of land where families had lived on a subsistence basis for generations.

But our investigation of the evolution of these values with respect to land can go back even farther, even back past the important sale of vast church land-holdings in the sixteenth century. This chapter of our investigation looks briefly at the land-holding relationships that were established in southern Scotland after the arrival of the Normans 900 or so years ago. The Normans brought feudalism to most of southern Scotland , thereby eventually eliminating most of the old Celtic tribal land-holding arrangements. But some of the Celtic rural and tribal-like traditions lived on for quite some time.

In this paper, we’ll try to understand some aspects of the transition from celtic tribalism to Norman feudalism by looking into and speculating on the very early history of the McCowan family of Scarborough . The ancestors of the McCowans of Scarborough had lived in the Cumnock area of Ayrshire from at least the early sixteenth century. But what about the preceding three or four or five centuries…?


Lowland Feudalism, Land, Kinship and Identity (To circa 1500)

Individuality is perhaps one of the more profound values in western society today. The debate over civil rights of the individual has been slowly transforming our law. In some respects in the years leading up to 9-11, the needs of the community were losing ground to the wants of the individual. On the other hand, the trend to "identity by number" should perhaps warn us of a shift back to the nameless society of the early middle ages.

Eight hundred years ago, the notion of personal identity was largely reserved for the privileged. The feudal lords were generally identified by the lands that they held. When they were summoned by name before the King or superior, their names were duly recorded in written land charters and agreements for service and protection. The lords expended much of their energy protecting their land holdings from aggressors and potential aggressors. The wants of the nobles were built around their land: the greater their domain, the greater their power and influence in the kingdom and the greater their future rewards from the king.

But of course, in a feudal state, all of the land was actually owned by the king and the King had supreme authority. Feudalism was a relatively straightforward socio-political order founded on the notion of delegating land (a "fief") and authority from a higher personality (the "lord") to a lower personality (the "vassal"). With the King at the apex and the nameless peasants at the bottom of the pyramid, the system was intended to operate on the basis of service to the lord by the vassal and protection of the vassal by the lord. Apart from the security provided by his lord, the peasants' only "right" was a permission to subsist by cultivating part of his lord's land. In return, the peasant owed, to his lord, allegiance ("homage"), labour and agricultural produce. While the wants of many lowland Scottish nobles could perhaps be generally “summed up” as a lust for power, the peasant probably had no "wants" per se. His whole needs were delivered by his dual relationship with the land and with his lord.

A unique personal identification for the illiterate feudal peasant was probably a non-issue as his sphere of activity was so limited, his needs so basic and his wants practically non-existent. Hence, the peasants did not have surnames eight hundred years ago. The dozen or so "Johns" in the small community differentiated themselves from one another by using descriptions such as "little John", "John the tailor", "John at the weir [dam]" and "John, the son of Owan". As the community grew and the lowland society advanced, these men came to be called John Little, John Taylor, John Weir and John McOwan or McCowan.

In reading the transcriptions and summaries of old records right up to the nineteenth century, it is very important to remember that “John Smith of Anytown” was effectively the owner, laird or landlord of the estate of Anytown. In contrast “James Smith in Anyfield” was just a tenant or cottar on the farm of Anyfield.

Feudalism had been the most important force in the transformation of the tribal celtic society into one that more resembled European culture. These reforms were introduced by the Norman kings beginning about nine hundred years ago. The other principal mechanisms employed in the process were: the establishment of burghs; the reform of the church; and personal control of government.

The Norman kings granted lands to their Norman, Breton and Fleming friends throughout the accessible parts of Scotland , thus effectively displacing the Celtic aristocracy. However, the rugged terrain of the western highlands and islands and of Galloway in the extreme southwest largely prevented such a direct feudalization of the entire country. In these remote areas, the Celtic aristocrats retained their status as tribal leaders (or "Clan Chiefs") but eventually themselves gave in to a feudal relationship with the Scottish king.

Thus, the lowland folk integrated, into their culture, the values of the Anglo-Normans, while the highland clansmen almost completely retained their traditional Celtic tribal bond of kinship. This partly explains the origin of the distinction between Lowlander and Highlander. But, at the same time, intermarriage between the Celtic and Norman aristocratic families allowed the notion of kinship to realize respect throughout the Scottish upper class.

Intermittently during the period, 1286 to 1544, Scotland and England engaged in war. The lowland Scots participated in these wars partly to prevent the English king from making the Scottish king his feudal vassal. The wars did much to give the lowlanders a single identity. However, the many decades of ineffective and child monarchs encouraged the lowland nobles to establish their own little kingdoms -- generally at the expense of their neighbours. Political networking was the norm and hundreds of agreements were signed by various nobles and somewhat lesser families wishing to secure allies. Central control of the country through the feudal principal of delegation of authority gave way, in many areas, to total local control of the courts. It was not uncommon for the greater lords to act as both judge and plaintiff in their respective baronies.

The tribal bond of kinship of the early middle ages had given way to a new kind of kinship. This new kinship was not based solely on respect for a blood-related leader but, rather, on a combination of blood and necessity. Certainly, the local feudal lord would have some blood relatives in his following who, logically, would take his surname. But there were many others who were not blood-relatives who needed the protection of a strong and influential lord in this era of regional lawlessness. Many of these folk would also take the lord's surname and thus strengthen the feudal bond between them. Entire "clans" could be assimilated into the feudal family of a stronger superior and thus lose their former tribal identity. "The land" was the principal driving force behind this reorganization of lowland society. Tenants and peasants on the lord's land would provide the lord with financing for his power struggles, labour for his defence works and food for his army and household. Further, the more vassals on his lands, the larger his army and the more likely that he could take land away from another. The peasant’s feudal connection with the land (through his lord) was almost wholly one of security: protection and subsistence.

In the study of the relationship between people and land in Scotland , it is important to note that, after the Black Death plagues of the late fourteenth century, there were no serfs on the land. This legal freedom probably gave the Scottish agricultural peasant some opportunity to develop a value system different from such value systems in states where slavery was practised. In the early seventeenth century, legislation effectively established serfdom in Scottish coalmines, a condition that lasted nearly two hundred years.


The Clan McCowan in Nithsdale

The River Nith rises out of the hills in the Parish of New Cumnock, Ayrshire and flows east and south through the Dumfriesshire parishes of Kirkconnel, Sanquhar and Morton toward the Solway Firth. The evidence discovered to date seems to indicate that the ancestors of James McCowan of Scarborough had been situated in the upper Nith valley since their arrival in Scotland over a thousand years ago. An interesting observation of Mr. Hugh Lorimer, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, serves as an introduction to our investigation of James McCowan's ancestral origins:  

McCowan is a family name of distinction for hundreds of years in the Kirkconnel area. [Robert the] Bruce had a company of McCowans in the upper Nith district, an honour of which Sanquhar is proud.[1]

Mr. George F. Black, in his classic, The Surnames of Scotland, notes that "In the reign of David II there was a clan M'Gowan, probably located somewhere on the river Nith".[2] We should be satisfied that Bruce’s company of McCowans was, in fact, the clan McGowan identified by Mr. Black.

Mr. Black explains that a Gaelic origin for the name McGowan is "Mac Ghobhainn" or "son of the smith". However, with respect to the lowland clan McGowan on the River Nith, he specifically states that:  

The name here may indicate descent from Owen the Bald (the Eugenius Calvin of Simeon of Durham), king of the Strathclyde Britons, who was killed in 1018.

The form "gowan" has often been taken to represent the Gaelic word for smith. Mr. Lorimer has attempted an explanation for the connection between Owen and gowan:  

Owen has been converted by this custom into Govan, which in 1518 was Gwuan, showing that the original was a personal name and not as it is assumed the Gaelic word Gobhan, which means a blacksmith.[3]

We thus have one suggested ethnic origin for the surname McCowan in the southwestern Scottish lowlands. The Britons were a Celtic people who, in the dark ages, occupied the southwest part of Scotland , known as Strathclyde, and the extreme northwest of England , known as Cumbria . The medieval Kingdom of Galloway was in the extreme southwest of the Strathclyde area (generally the present counties of Wigtownshire, Kirkcudbrightshire, southern Ayrshire and western Dumfriesshire). Galloway had held its ground against the early Norman Kings: The Normans finally seized part of Nithsdale (the valley of the River Nith) from Galloway at the end of the twelfth century.[4]  But it took several more centuries to reduce the influence of Celtic culture – James Johnson, in The Scottish Macs, believes that southern Galloway “was almost purely Celtic down to the days of Queen Mary”.

During the dark ages, there were several local rulers named Owen in this southwest part of modern Scotland .[5] Through a study of Cumnock area place names and Welsh bardic poetry, Mr. Lorimer attempts to connect these kings with his "corner of Old Strathclyde":

Owen enters our place names in a good few instances, especially among the hills. Ben-tig-Owen [Bentycowan] has been quoted. Owania is mentioned as a site of battle in 756. There is a McOwen's Knowe among the New Cumnock hills. Another form of the same word is found in the Euchan water, a tributary of the Nith, which rises in the same range of hills. McCowan is a family name ...[6]

Certainly, we cannot expect that the McCowans / McGowans of Nithsdale were the only family with a possible connection with these Strathclyde kings. Indeed, their influence probably gave rise to many other Galloway families. That the name McCowan is relatively uncommon today is probably largely due to local corruptions of the original "Mac Owen" that must surely have been frequently used by the followers of Owen the Bald, Owen Galvas and other powerful lords of the name. Indeed, the "corruption" of McOwan to McCowan continued well into the nineteenth century.[7]

Many other names originating from one source have changed in the course of time from different ideas of spelling and other causes. One instance of this may suffice ... As an instance of the changes names have undergone, Owen may be given. The first mention of the name in Galloway is that of Owen Galvus, in the beginning of the 11th century, "and this name is perpetuated in Galloway in the shapes of Owen, McEwen, McKean, McKeoune, McKeand, McKenna, McCowan, McGowan, McConochie, McDonochie, all of which are substantially the same." -- Galloway Register.[8]

The list of names connecting McCowan with Owan includes some that seem to look more like Ewan, the englished form of the gaelic Eoghann. George Black summarized Eoghann:  

The name comes from the Old Irish eo, a yew-tree (Macneill, Oghams, p. 345), and means “sprung from yew-tree”… In later Scots Gaelic and Latin documents, the name appears as Eugein, Eugen, Eogain, Heochgain, Heoghan, Heodgen, Avin, Oan and Ohan, and in Welsh is Owein and Ywein. In the north or northwest it is correctly Englished Evan or Ewan… Like some other Gaelic names, it arose from tree-worship among the early Gaels.[9]

Black links the surnames Maceachan and MacGeachan with the McGachans of Dalquat:  

Alexander McQuuichin of Dalquhat was outlawed in 1528… John McGauchane was burgess of Edinburgh , 1540… Roland MacGaghen of Wyggeton rendered homage 1296 (Bain II, p. 198). In 1377 Morice McGaychin and others had a safe conduct at request of Archibald Douglas, Lord of Galloway.[10]

  Of this Roland MacGaghen, it has been found:

Roland McCaughan, c A.D. 1255-1307, (sometimes spelled the name McGachan), Del Counte de Wigtown and also of Barmagachan, Kirkcudbrightshire and Rathcachan (Rath n Eac'ain) the 5th historical Head of his House, the 10th MacEachain Mor, and the 5th Feudal Baron, in 1291 A.D., Roland and his eldest son, Hector, are recorded by their official name of Askeloche (sic) when they served on the Assize Jury at Berwick-On-Tweed. Roland is registered on the part of the Ragman Roll compiled from Wigtownshire, when he swore fealty and rendered homage to Edward lst, King of England, and evidently attended the Parliament of Berwick, held from the 28th of August to September 16th 1296. Roland's seal of Arms as appended to the Ragman Roll and still evident are..Or a dexter Hand apaumee and Erect Cules.. (cropped red, right hand on Or, or white). In 1300 Roland and his wife, Katerina (Kathleen) granted a Charter of some of their land at Barmagachan for the Parish of Borgue, Kirkcudbrightshire. In this charter (still evident) Roland's family name and again his official name of Askelaoches (sic) are both used. The many times the To- name was used by members of these families establish beyond a doubt that their forefathers were the Heads or Chief Officials in the Native or Pictish Church in their domain. It is also intimated that in Roland's time, he also held certain parts of his Mother's land near Allordale, Cumberland , England , and there was referred to as the lst Lord Baron of McCaughan. Because of his active participation in the Scottish war for Independence on the side of Robert the Bruce, Roland's lands in Wigtownshire were forfeited to the English Crown. He was killed during battle fighting alonside King Robert 1st. Roland and Lady Katerina McCaughan had with other issue, two sons, Hector and Fergus…

Of an earlier generation, this same source states:

Roland McCaughan, the younger, sometimes Roland McGauchan, or Roland de Mearns, by which he was better known, was Laird Barone of a district in Renfrewshire, at Paisley , Scotland . His granddaughter, Lady Mary McGauchan, the heretrix of the Baroney of Mearns, married Sir Aymer Maxwell and they were the ancestors to the Earls of Nithsdale and all the House of Maxwell. Sir Aymer and his wife, Lady Mary, served on the Council of Alexander 111 rd., King of Scotland 1249-1286, till September 1255 after which Sir Aymer was Chamberlain of Scotland 1258-1260 and Jucticiar of Galloway 1264 A.D….[11]

Indeed, the spelling "McCowan" is rare in the Dumfriesshire vital statistics records, 1700-1900[12]: forms of McCun and McKune being much more common. Throughout Scotland , local pronunciations, dialects and other influences resulted in the adoption of alternative spellings of surnames. In the case of the early MacOwen, "McCowan" came to dominate among the spelling variations in Cumnock, Ayrshire, while "McGowin" was a favoured form in Whithorn, Wigtownshire, in Galloway [13].

Mr. James Brown, in his History of Sanquhar, suggests a different ethnic origin for the Nithsdale clan McGowan:

To his [Edgar's] grandson Donald, David II, who began to reign on the death of his father Robert the Bruce in 1329, granted the captainship of the MacGowans, a numerous clan of the Scoto-Irish then located in the [Nithsdale] district.[14]

The Scotti, another Celtic race, had invaded Galloway from Ireland about five centuries earlier. According to Mr. Brown's sources, Donald was descended from Dunegal of Stranith, a Scoto-Irish chief who ruled Nithsdale from Morton castle in the early twelfth century. Donald's father apparently adopted the surname Edgar (after his own father) -- "one of the earliest recorded instances of the adoption of a surname in Nithsdale" according to Mr. Brown. Evidently, by the early fourteenth century, Richard Edgar owned Eliock and only half of the barony of Sanquhar, the other half then in the possession of William de Crichton. Although Donald Edgar was granted captainship of the Clan McGowan in the mid fourteenth century, it may be doubtful that the alliance had any longterm effect on the Clan for, about this time, the Crichton family purchased the Edgar half of the barony of Sanquhar. Indeed, in his History of Dumfries, William McDowall seems to suggest that the "Dunegal dynasty was becoming less powerful" by about this time and "its influence finally disappeared".[15] We may be fairly certain that relatively few McCowans / McGowans changed their name to Edgar as that relationship probably lasted only a short time.

The Crichtons dominated the local Sanquhar politics for well over two hundred years until the removal of Lord Crichton to Cumnock in the early seventeenth century. The details of the relationship between the McCowans and the new lords Crichton of Sanquhar are not known to this writer. However, the two families were to have a good relationship in Cumnock that was to last over three centuries.[16]

Robert Bain, Clans and Tartans of Scotland, suspects that Clan MacGowan was in Nithsdale as early as the twelfth century.

Whether the McCowans of Cumnock are directly descended from Owen the Bald, King of the Strathclyde Britons, or from Owen Galvus, will probably never be determined. But Celts they were, nonetheless.

Moreover, we can be almost certain that the ancestors of James McCowan of Scarborough had never been a sept (or “sub-clan”) of the McDougall, McDonnell or Colquhoun clans as the clan pocket books might have us believe. The Galloway and Nithsdale McCowans seem to have had origins quite independent of those of the McCowans farther north. Mr. Black suggests that, in the Highlands , Cowan and McCowan are anglicized forms of "MacIlchomhghain", "son of the servant of St. Comgan". This could probably apply to the large group of McCowans in Argyleshire associated with the McDougal clan, and perhaps to the McCowans on Skye.

The McCowans of Perthshire seem to have links with the Campbells through the McEwans and McDougalls.[17] With respect to a connection between Cowan (and McCowan) and the Colquhouns of Loch Lomond, the clan pocket books are apparently relying on a source used by Sir William Fraser in The Chiefs of Colquhoun and Their Country (Vol. 2, p. 186): "According to Buchanan of Auchmar, these descendants [Colquhoun of Corstoun and Colquhoun of Bohearty] changed their name to Cowan". There was a group of MacEwens in Dunbartonshire on the shores of Loch Lomond . Perhaps some of these changed their name to MacOwan or MacCowan giving rise to the presumed association with Colquhoun. However, I have found little else in the records to suggest a general connection between McCowan and the Loch Lomond clan Colquhoun.[18] The development of surnames and the demographics of medieval Scotland were much more complex than are implied in the listings of the clan and tartan pocket books.

Personal identity for the lower classes through the adoption of surnames gained favour in lowland society as time fashioned the relationships between vassal and land, vassal and landlord and vassal and the spoken and written word. The lowland feudal variation of the former tribal kinship was another development that arose out of the set of relationships and values peculiar to lowland Scotland . The actions of both vassal and lord were precipitated by the social, economic and political values that they held. That lowland society was able to adapt to both internal and external forces was a result of the resilience of the personalities, the legal and social institutions and the economic and political philosophies that then served the nation.


The Lairds of Dalquhat and Barlanachan

That James McCowan's ancestors were of the Nithsdale McGowan / McCowan Clan might perhaps be supported by the following observation that, on June 26, 1934, Sir David McCowan, a grandson of William McCowan of Capon Acre, Cumnock, was given the title, Baronet, of Dalwhat, County of Dumfries[19].  Indeed, on October 28, 1601, "McGahan of Dalquhat", signed a bond with Douglas of Drumlanrig, one of the principal Dumfriesshire lords.[20] Bonds of this sort are discussed in the section, Politics, Feud, Local Self-Regulation and Bonds”.

During this era of spelling variation, inconsistency and evolution, the McGowan family of the Nith valley was apparently recorded as McGachane in 1505 when Malcolm McGachane of Dallqhot was one of over a dozen Dumfriesshire parties (predominantly landowners apparently) to a retour of special service[21]. There were numerous variations in the spelling of that old and numerous clan Macgowan of Nithsdale.

In the early sixteenth century, George Makgathan was the owner or laird of the lands and mansion of Barlanathane in Cumnock[22] about twenty miles northwest of Dalquhat. Subject to verification, I strongly suspect that George McGachane (as his name was also spelt) of Barlanathane (or Barlanachan) was related in some way to the McGahans / McGachanes of Dalquhat in Dumfriesshire. I also suspect that the McCowans of Cumnock have some family connection with the laird (landlord) of Barlanathane.[23]

As discussed in To Sustene the Personis, the McCowans of Cumnock generally occupied farms on the estate of Leifnoreis in Cumnock from at least the beginning of the seventeenth century (when records regarding the farming classes become somewhat more available). While we cannot say exactly when the ancestors of James McCowan adopted the surname McCowan, we do know that one William McCowane was "confusedly apprehended" and "not lawfully arrested" in Cumnock in 1515[24]. Perhaps more fortunate were James McCowane and William McCowane who were among several dozen Cumnock parishioners (including George McGathan of Barlunachan) who chose Sir Thomas Crauford as the Parish Clerk in 1531[25].

If a connection with the estate of Barlanathane is indeed true, the McCowans had probably arrived in Cumnock, Ayrshire, in very good circumstances – at least one of them was a landlord. It is possible that the family leader in upper Nithsdale set up a younger son with the Barlanathane estate in Cumnock, say, in the fifteenth century. It is also possible that the Earl of March feued (sub-granted in effect) Barlanathane to the family as early as the fourteenth century when the Earl acquired the barony of Cumnock. Doubtless, the powerful Earl of March played some role in a demographic adjustment of upper Nithsdale society. In any event, the migration of the McCowans from the Kirkconnel side of the county border into Cumnock is, to be sure, the story of an evolving relationship between father and son, vassal and land and vassal and lord.

Three miles farther up the River Nith from the Ayrshire / Dumfriesshire boundary stood the Castle [26] of Cumnock , the local baronial fortress of the Earls of March, the Dunbar family. A very powerful family in both southwest and southeast Scotland , the principal lands of the Earls of March were in the southeast. By the early fourteenth century they had acquired possession of the barony of Cumnock and, in 1368, the family received a Crown grant of the barony of Mochrum in Wigtownshire[27]. By 1440 they had evidently feued out the estate of Leifnoreis to the Crawford family.[28] Leifnoreis was in the northwest corner of the barony of Cumnock beside the Lugar Water while Barlanachan was at the east end of the parish. Through their immediate laird, whether Crawford of Leifnorreis or McGachan of Barlanachan, the McCowans of Cumnock owed their ultimate allegiance to the Dunbars in time of war.


Land and War

In his article on Anna MacGowan, Poetess and Rhymster, A. Trotter explains her ancestry:  

The surname however is an old one, the clan McGowan having been one of those located in Nithsdale in early times under the potent family of Edgar, and bore a Scotch thistle as crest, with the Motto “Juncta arma decori” (arms united to glory), a reference to the fighting propensities of the race.[29]

The poetry and other writings of the tribal bards -- the historians of the dark and early middle ages -- are dominated by references to struggle. During this period, the celtic aristocracy (the mormaers or earls) held certain values with respect to land -- and a prominent expression and outcome of these values was war.

On the surface, the control of territorial lands was the issue over which war was generally waged. However, a need to redistribute or move a population (a demographic issue) was probably very seldom an actual contributing cause of war (except where invaders had previously pushed the people out of their native territory and new lands were thus needed)[30]. Rather, a redistribution of people was generally a result of war: the conquered were expelled (or enslaved) and the victorious moved in. Aristocratic want or vanity -- as opposed to desirable demographics and tribal community economic and social prosperity -- was, more often than not, the real cause of war. Aristocrats and peasants alike perished in the process of securing stature for the tribal leaders, for example:

Gillacomgan, son of Maelbrigde, mormaer of Moray, and fifty of his men were burned to death, 1032.[31]

But we must remember that the lower classes also held values with respect to land. Foremost among these was the social requirement that the tribal leader must have stature and power in order to protect those beneath him -- and to have stature, he must have a domain. An end result of the value system that prevailed in the dark and early middle ages was war.

Evidently, somewhat more than a thousand years ago, the powerful earls realized that a united kingdom could more easily hold back the English and Norse aggressors. One of the last of the independent rulers, Owen the Bald, King of Strathclyde, joined forces with Malcolm II at the Battle of Carham in 1018. It was war that brought the country together, war that maintained the unity and war that kept external intervention out of the national politics. The notion of nationhood had crept into the value system held by the Scots.

But why did the prevailing values with respect to land so often lead to war? Why was war so frequently used to resolve disputes? Could the Celtic aristocrats not have negotiated the boundaries of their lands? Was diplomacy not an alternative? Were there no laws (other than local tribal laws)? As society was then just rising out of relative barbarism, negotiation was largely foreign to the political vocabulary. Nationhood was so new an idea that diplomacy was simply not yet one of the tools of government. Laws cannot be developed until a socio-political structure has been established, consolidated and nurtured.

Indeed, we need only survey the primitive state of communication technology to understand why "diplomacy" could not generally be effective. The political leaders then could not negotiate by telephone, fax, email or "same-day" courier service. An absence of protocol would allow the dagger of an over-ambitious aide to prematurely end a face-to-face meeting of the opposing leaders. It was possibly just as quick and easy to send a small army as it was to wait for foot-messengers to relay offers and counter-offers back and forth across the country. Land and the resources of the land are still very much the subject of struggle. Today, however, the communications mechanisms by which war may be averted are readily available.

War upset the social, political and economic structure of society. The conquered were forced into slavery. Smithies, houses and barns were looted and destroyed. Cattle and horses were slaughtered. Crops were burned. Game was frightened away. The physical devastation of the natural environment took decades to repair. The aftertaste of defeat sometimes led to civil disobedience, insurrection and civil war. Economic and social progress was very slow indeed because of the disruptions caused by war.



Politics, Feud, Local Self-Regulation and Bonds

Through fire and sword, the Norman rulers slowly established control over the kingdom and implanted feudalism as the economic, social and political framework of the lowlands. The tribal principles of territorial control based on blood gave way to actual land ownership by the king and delegation of ownership to his favourites. Surely this concept of seizing the traditional clan lands and giving them to a foreigner was quite objectionable to the Highlander. On the other hand, the Normans possibly could see little logic in land control based on such fuzzy and outdated notions as "tradition" and "kinship". The opposing philosophies clashed in the Scottish highlands for centuries. The objections of the Highlanders to "foreign" intervention in their traditional way of living on the land found some degree of expression in the uprisings of the early eighteenth century (although these objections have generally been overshadowed in the literature by imperial politics).[32]

Because the king had the power to grant both land and local authority, it was vitally important to the feudal aristocrat to maintain a close connection with the crown. Succession to the throne was often disputed by rival royal parties, each asserting that his own claim was the more legitimate. The suitors to the crown gathered their supporters and violence would often erupt. The aristocracy had intermarried to such an extent that a particular noble might have to choose between supporting the claims of his cousin and those of his brother-in-law. Again, war had little directly to do with the needs of the lower classes. The principles of feudalized-kinship had molded the values of the lowland lower classes: the vassals willingly participated in war in defence of their lord's political wants.

Even the Wars of Independence (which did much to forge a lowland Scottish identity) were not without the royal politics. Rev. John Warrick of Old Cumnock Parish describes the changing political priorities of Patrick Dunbar, Eighth Earl of March, and his son during the Wars of Independence:

It is melancholy, however, to relate that this great noble, who held the chief fortress in our vicinity [Cumnock], was not in favour of Scotland's struggle for freedom, and had actually taken service in the army of England ... Patrick's successor in the Earldom of March at first followed in the steps of his father, and allied himself with England ... His political sympathies were clearly shown by the assistance he gave to Edward II after the battle of Bannockburn, for he received the conquered king into his castle at Dunbar, and helped him to escape by sea to his own country. Soon after, however, a change came over his views, and he, with his forces, joined the army of Robert Bruce, taking part in the siege of Berwick in 1318. Later on, he adhered to the cause of David II, the son and successor of Bruce, but in 1332 he was not unjustly suspected of favouring the claim of Edward Baliol to the Scottish Crown.[33]

In their pursuit of power and material wealth, the nobility often changed horses in time with political expedience. One must wonder how the shallow and pretentious loyalties of the great lords affected the lower classes. Did the followers of the Earl of March then have any sense at all of an emerging Lowland Scottish identity -- and if they did, how did that sense measure against their obligations to their lord? Was their connection with their lord's land stronger than their connection with the new "Land" – that is, the infant national identity? Did any of the middle class families attempt a neutral stance in political / military issues? And, of those that did, how many survived as a family community? On the other hand, was it common for a lesser family to be politically or economically motivated to switch allegiance from one lord to another? And how did the particular political strategy of one nobleman affect his peers? These uncertainties in the political climate prompted the making of written "bonds".

Beginning about the middle of the fifteenth century (and continuing for 150 years), bonds of service and bonds of protection bound the "grantor" to certain obligations. Some written agreements at this time could be more accurately described as bonds of political alliance and friendship. Nonetheless, these bonds of "manrent", "maintenance" and friendship were prompted, not by matters of property and material wealth, but out of concern for more closely defining the relationship between lord and vassal and lord and ally. McGahan of Dalquhat and Douglas of Drumlanrig signed such a bond in 1601.[34] Some of these agreements were intended to promote a particular vision of national political stability. For example, in 1543, Lord Crichton and some four dozen other earls, lords, bishops and masters signed a:

Bond promising mutual support; made because of the lack of policy and justice in the country since the death of James V, the desire for private profit of those who govern, and the danger that the country will be subdued by their old enemies of England; and because the signatories are true and faithful subjects, having zeal for justice and the liberty and honour of the realm[35]

Other bonds were formulated to strengthen a particular local, military, or political position: in 1526 Ninian Crichton of Bellbocht granted to James Douglas of Drumlanrig that he would not support Lord Crichton of Sanquhar "if he wrongfully molests Douglas , but will counsel him to desist"[36]. Such agreements, as a general class, tended to both promote and discourage disorder.

Some bonds were even ratified by Parliament with a view to enforcing family peace in a particular locality. William Weir of Stonebyres, Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire had evidently murdered the son of James Weir of Blackwood (in the same Parish) sometime before 1587:

And our said Sovereign Lord, considering that the foresaid bond of manrent is given for a necessary and good cause, viz, for keeping and holding of the parties therein named, being so near in blood, in perpetual quietness in all times coming, Therefore his Majesty ... ratifies and approves ... the foresaid bond of manrent of service[37]

We can only imagine that the Weir feud may have been founded in some disputed division of the family lands.

A family feud over land in Cumnock (Corsincon evidently) seems to connect with the McCowans through the marriage of Jonet McGachan to Patrick Dunbar. Jonet's husband was probably the Patrick Dunbar who was attorney or notary for Patrick Dunbar, son and heir of the late Patrick Dunbar of Corsincon who had been murdered several months earlier (in 1512) while attending mass at Cumnock church[38]. In this other incident, apparently related to succession to Corsincon estate, the first Patrick Dunbar was attempting to serve James Dunbar of Cumnock with papers from the king. In so doing, he intended "no evil purpose" but "there was display of a sword, knife and other war-like weapons". John Reid, a servant of James Dunbar, testified that Patrick Dunbar "persecuted the said James Dunbar under darkness of night, and that James was afraid of the violent intrusion of Patrick".[39] The question begs: how could there have been such a problem with the son and heir of the deceased landowner acquiring title to his late father’s land.

Indeed, how did these personal bonds connect with the land -- the lifeblood of the subsistence-based[40] economy? Surely the land was still a very major factor in the relationship between lord and vassal. Was an increasing personal connection between the great lords and those who served them (as suggested by the making of bonds of manrent,1450-1600) an attempt by the lords to make up for a diminishing personal connection between themselves and their lands[41]? It would seem that the lords felt that the bonds might minimize political undermining of their own local authority -- the authority that had come with their land through feudalism.

The making of these personal bonds was fundamentally aimed at strengthening (or repairing) the ties of kinship. While those who served the lord were not necessarily his blood kin, they certainly had a purpose in maintaining his political status and local authority and, hence, were valued partners in the feudal family. And it was the lord's land that was the catalyst in giving the kinship connection the economic substance to survive. For without the land, neither could the vassal eat and fight for the lord nor could the lord collect rent and impress the more influential. But as the land took on more and more a commercial value in the early seventeenth century and as the growing use of firearms reduced the effect of the landlord's traditional methods of exerting military control over his domain, the need for a local following diminished and the lowland “feudal family” went into a steady decline.

Surely the political games and bloody feuds of the barons during the medieval period were a drain on the energies of the nation. Scottish society was slowly adapting to this very problem of just how to direct human energy toward worthwhile social and economic purposes. Throughout the feudal period, the development of a legal system, a reformed Church and the machinery of government nurtured the concepts of morality, trust, negotiation, compromise, diplomacy and social responsibility.

In following sections and in To Sustene the Personis, we will discuss some of the changes in the lowlands and the capacity of the rural lowlanders to adapt to change.  


Land and Migration

In the section, "The Lairds of Dalquhat and Barlanachan", we speculated but briefly as to how the McCowans arrived in Cumnock, Ayrshire, from the Sanquhar area. We also suggested that the Earl of March may have effected some redistribution of people when he acquired the baronies of Cumnock and Mochrum.[42] Certainly, the Dunbar name was common in Cumnock by the sixteenth century and some relatively powerful family leaders had indeed moved into the area. It is only reasonable to expect that there was at least some immigration of people of lesser means as well: both those of the name Dunbar , others that were trusted by the new baron such as perhaps a representative of the McGachans of Dalquat, and a group of peasants to work the baron’s new lands.[43]

Just as the early feudal grants to the friends of the Norman king had resulted in the removal from prominence of the former local celtic aristocracy, so it is likely that the new barons, the Dunbars, brought in their own people to collect their rents and take charge of the local economy. Some of the native folk were probably forced to relocate socially, geographically or both. Even after feudalism had been in place for several centuries, any turnover in landed property could possibly have some effect on the cottars and tenants. For instance, near the Wigtownshire territory of the Dunbars in 1496, Margaret Keith's lease on lands in the barony of Longcastyll to her son included the "power to remove tenants and cottars".[44]

Consider the following evidence of threatened "evacuation" of Cumnock lands in 1512:

Instrument narrating that James Dunbar of Cu(mnock) requested Sir James Dunbar of Blakcrag to denude himself of the two-merk land of Overkerne and others, in the barony of Cumnock and sheriffdom of Ayr, belonging heritably to James D., in terms of an Act of the Lords of Council, that Sir James should evacuate the lands under pain of 500 merks. Sir James asserted he ought not to evacuate the lands until a decreet-arbitral by Mr. Gavin Dunbar, archdeacon of St. Andrews , had been fulfilled.[45]

Unless Sir James' tenants had some degree of legal security on the land (see “To Sustene the Personis”, sections "The Kindly Tenant and Security" and "Continuity of Possession"), they would possibly have been "evacuated" along with Sir James. 

But even the legal security of Kindly Tenancy might not be enough… The "feuing" of the church lands (which began generally in the fifteenth century and accelerated rapidly in the middle of the sixteenth) also had an effect on the lower classes. Some tenants were able to purchase their farms from the church and, thus, entered a new class of "owner-occupiers", sometimes called "bonnet lairds".[46]  But those tenants who did not have such financial resources lost their status on the land and, in some cases, were forced out along with their servants and subtenants.[47] Many of the feu-farms that were purchased by nobles, lairds, merchants (and others who had never previously been connected with that land) had actually been occupied by the tenants' families for generations. The tenant's customary and legal rights to inherit the use of the land through the principals of "kindly tenancy" were thus forfeited when the church sold the land to the non-occupant for much needed cash.[48] There was mobility among the lower class, but this migration was probably most often forced. This period was upsetting for this class of tenant, but not as dramatic as the “Lowland Clearances” of the late eighteenth century.

By what precise mechanism the McCowans / McGachans came to Cumnock from the Dumfriesshire part of upper Nithsdale cannot be clearly identified at this juncture.[49] We can speculate that McGachan of Dalquhat worked out a deal with the new barons of Cumnock to settle a family member – and his own followers -- on the estate of Barlanochan.

As noted in the previous section, the McGachans had married into the very influential Dunbar family of Cumnock by the early sixteenth century. A family connection with the Dunbars of Corsincon would put them precisely on the border between Cumnock, Ayrshire and Kirkconnel, Dumfriesshire. Whether this Dunbar family had been placed on the edge of the barony to keep out their Dumfriesshire neighbours is difficult to say. It would be interesting to discover if a Dunbar of Corsincon / McCowan-McGachan in Nithsdale alliance had been formed at some earlier date. Such an alliance might possibly have resulted in the settling of the McGachans at the estate of Barlanachan[50] six miles northwest of Corsincon.

In any event, some of the McGachans were apparently in a position to legally force others out of their homes in Cumnock:

Instrument narrating that Jonet McGachan, relict of the late Patrick Dunbar, caused the sergeant of James Dunbar, baron of Cumnok, to move and disturb John Portar in possession of the merk-land of Bogecorroch, which John inhabits contrary to the tenor of the decree of certain judges' arbiters chosen between them. At the mansion (or mailing) of Bogecorroch 9 June 1522.[51]

Some evidently went to extremes to retain the land. Dame Elizabeth Crechtoun, "lady of Uchiltre", and her daughter were accused of fraudulently altering the term of occupancy of a lease from nine years to eleven years. The lease had been dated June 12, 1514 and proceedings to remove them from the land were commenced on June 16, 1523.[52]

It is important to understand that feudal society was not static. While the general rate of change was relatively slow during this period, change was indeed a fact of life. The landlord's local and national political wants seem to have been a dominant cause of change. But as fixed rents and inflation came to threaten their bargaining power, the landlord's economic wants began to play a greater role in the process of change through the seventeenth century, reaching a crescendo in the late eighteenth, with the so-called "Agricultural Revolution". By that time, capital, enterprise and imperial expansionism had become the dominant instruments of change.


The Hierarchy of the Land

The feudal relationships between vassal and lord cover a huge expanse of social, political and economic interaction: there was no such thing as the singular feudal relationship. And the relationship between vassal and land was as varied as the relationship between vassal and lord.

As mentioned in "Lowland Feudalism, Land, Kinship and Identity", there were no serfs in Scotland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries -- indeed there have not been agricultural serfs since the fourteenth century. Possibly some lowland respect for kinship, family and surname helped keep the lower classes above servility. Although they had their personal freedom, the agricultural labourer, the cottar, the sub (or small) tenant and the main tenant all had a "master" inasmuch as their landlord (the person one step higher in the pyramid) permitted them to cultivate part of his land. The monasteries and the king were at the top of the feudal pyramid.

The individual's place in feudal society depended on his relative position in the hierarchy of the land, that is to say, on the extent of his rights to land. That some tenants may have lived more comfortably than some landlords in the same general neighbourhood speaks not of their local feudal authority but only of their relative affluence. Indeed, many "tenants" on church lands were very wealthy nobles who held baronies elsewhere. For example, the Campbells of Cessnock held land in Kylesmure, north of Cumnock, from Melrose Abbey[53]. Subtenants would typically cultivate the lands that were held by such substantial main tenants. A branch of these Campbells were prominent in Cumnock.

Most Scots during this period were dependent on the land to a great extent -- subsistence (generally) for the lower classes and rental income for the upper. The landlord's agents and factors collected his rents and supervised the estate business.

As the Dunbars held Cumnock directly from the king, they were the barons of Cumnock. Through the barony court, the baron had jurisdiction over both civil and criminal affairs. These legal affairs were supervised by the bailie. As chief executive officer, the bailie presided over the barony court where he heard cases relating to rights to and occupancy of land. Hence, the most successful bailies must have been trusted by both tenant and landlord. The bailie also presided over the transfer of "ownership" of land: for example in 1514 in Mauchline, "Sir Thomas (Mcgawan), bailie of John Reyd in Daldilling ... gave sasine of the lands of ..."[54]

While some bailies were very prominent in their respective districts, as Sir Thomas McGawan must have been in 1514 in Mauchline, others were only trusted tenants with a good knowledge of the laws of the barony. In 1628, "Sasine was given by John McCowane in Hill, as bailie ..." for the lands of Dykes and Underraw in Cumnock.[55]

In the late feudal hierarchy of the land, circa 1600, the McCowans in Cumnock were probably relatively secure and comfortable -- if John McCowan, bailie, and John McCowan, Whitehill, (To Sustene the Personis) are representative. The fate of the McGachan family, lairds of Barlanachan, would be interesting to discover.[56] The social, political and economic forces that eventually reduced the McGachans from some degree of local prominence also (directly or indirectly and in varying degrees) played upon all on the feudal stage.

And these forces were slowly altering the very nature of the socio-economic political system itself. As the late sixteenth century Lowland Scot explored more and more avenues of thought, word and deed, the feudal framework of society was gradually worked into a more supple and accommodating form. Everywhere, there was an element of newness harmonizing with tradition and the familiar.

While the rate of change at the close of the sixteenth century was still slow relative to the social upheaval of the late eighteenth, new relationships were constantly forming and redirecting the course of local and national events. Old relationships faltered and the respective parties adapted to fresh ideas of social, political and economic interaction.

When the Lowland Scots entered the seventeenth century, they took with them a reformed church (Presbyterianism), a united kingdom under a single monarch (James VI Scotland and James I of England), serfdom in the coalmines and saltpans, a new class of landowners (the bonnet lairds), "beggars and vagrant poore [in] infinite numbers"[57] and a new round of legislation respecting agriculture and forest management[58]. There can be little doubt that, as feudalism faded behind the cannon smoke, the tenant, with his land and his lord, was already adjusting and reacting to his or her altered environment.


[1].Hugh Lorimer, F.S.A., A Corner of Old Strathclyde, Andrew Spence, 1952, p. 101.

[2].George F. Black, The Surnames of Scotland : Their Origin, Meaning and History, p. 505.  David II reigned Scotland from 1329 to 1371.

[3].Lorimer, Strathclyde, p. 18-19.

[4]. Scottish History Society, Wigtownshire Charters, xv.

[5].From Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History: AD 500-1286:  In the middle of the seventh century, Owen, king of the Britons, killed Donald Brecc in the battle of Strathcarron (p. 167); His son, Donald, king of Dumbarton (Strathclyde), died in 694 (p. 202); Owen's father, Beli or Bile, had also been king of Dumbarton (p. 193); Owen the Bald, son of Dumnagual and "king of the men of Strathclyde", was evidently also king of Cumbria when he was slain in about 1018 (p. 550). 

From Scottish History Society, Wigtownshire Charters: "The local dynasty of Strathclyde became extinct at the death of Eugenius [Owen] the Bald" (p. x). 

In his History of the Lands and Their Owners in Galloway, Vol. II (1906), P.H. McKerlie notes that: "Owen Galvas, son of Eugenius, is mentioned by historians as ruler of the Cludenses" (p. 378).

Hugh Lorimer, A Corner of Old Strathclyde, adds the following: "Owen, the son of Bile or Beli, was one of the most successful and outstanding figures of any period in Cumbrian history" (p. 132); Owen, the son of Urien, both kings of Strathclyde in the sixth century, "must have been the supplier of the name Owania", "the country of Owen" (p. 208-209); "Brownston [in Cumnock Parish] would be derived from Bar Owen toun -- the hill of Owen's toun or Owenston or Hen's ton" (p. 211); Bentycowan (in New Cumnock) is "the hill of Owen's house" (p. 16); "Owen Map (son of) Urien followed in his father's footsteps in patriotic defence of Manau against the piratical Angles" (p. 14); Owen, the son of Urien, was "our hero of Manau" (p. 15-16); "little argument is needed for us to claim this district as the country of Owania" (p. 212).

Unfortunately, Mr. Lorimer's research into Cumnock's dark age is apparently not considered to be particularly authoritative. Quoting from Dr. F.T. Wainwright's Foreword to A Corner of Old Strathclyde: "I have not read the book that I am now recommending, and I shall certainly disagree with much that Mr. Lorimer has written. But I know Mr. Lorimer, and that is enough for me." Nonetheless, we are grateful to Mr. Lorimer for bringing to our attention these and many other bits of his "Owania". Indeed, we should be very flattered that it was a perceived Owen presence that inspired Mr. Lorimer to study the dark ages in Cumnock: "For me, the opening of the door which let me into the old secrets of our corner of Strathclyde was the translation of the place name of Bentycowan, one of the hills of the Southern Uplands. It is to be found in New Cumnock parish. ... Bentycowan is my Mount Nebo". Perhaps, one day, another scholar may retrace Mr. Lorimer's footsteps and either confirm his findings or draw another set of conclusions.

[6].Lorimer, Strathclyde, p. 100-101.

[7]."McOwan" seems to have predominated among the Perthshire McCowans well into the nineteenth century and, yet, today the name is relatively rare. In Comrie, Crieff, Kenmore, Monzievaird and Muthill parishes in central Perthshire, 1855-1873, for instance, there were fourteen McCowan births and 47 McOwan births (Index to Statutory Registers, Edinburgh).) In an early 1990’s Glasgow area phone book, there were nineteen McCowans, three MacCowans and three MacOwans. In the April, 1990 Metropolitan Toronto telephone directory, there were seventeen McCowans and two McCowns: MacCowan, MacOwan and McOwan are unrepresented.

James McCowan's father used the spelling, McOwan, for his first six (of eight) children (family bible, late eighteenth century, Cumnock).

[8].P. Dudgeon, "Macs" in Galloway, 1887, p. 6 and note 3 (p. 14).

In his History of the Lands and Their Owners in Galloway, Vol. II (1906, p. 378), P.H. McKerlie notes that:

“John McKeand owned considerable property. His family was of ancient standing in Galloway. Mackenzie states that the name is evidently a corruption of McOwen, and Owen Galvas, son of Eugenius, is mentioned by historians as ruler of the Cludenses.”

McEwan clan tradition holds that the McEwans in Galloway were of the "broken" Highland clan, McEwen, and arrived in Galloway in the fifteenth century. (See, for instance, R.S.T. MacEwan, History of Clan Ewan, 1904, p. 14-15.)

[9] Black, Surnames of Scotland, p. 245-6.

[10] Black, Surnames of Scotland, p. 489, 495.

[11] http://members.tripod.com/~McCoin_Geneology/.  Also, refer to www.electricscotland.com/webclans/m/maceachain2.htm. These resources do not make any connection with the early McCowans of Nithsdale, nor to McGowan, Dalquhat, Barlanachan or Cumnock (and in similar spellings). Nonetheless, it would be interesting to delve into the apparently very extensive research of John Alexander McCaughan of Toronto, 1906-1981. If his research is all accurate, his efforts (coupled with our links through McGowan and Dalquhat) would seem to loosely document the McCowan family of Scarborough back over a thousand years. That Sir John McCaughan was born in Balverdagh, N. Ireland, and died in Toronto, Canada, is at least curious as his life somewhat followed the same path as the McCowans of Scarborough and their ancestors – Scoto-Irish migrants from Ireland to Toronto via an eight or so century stopover in lowland Scotland.

[12].James McCowan and Ann Collins had a large family in Morton Parish, Dumfriesshire, in the middle of the nineteenth century. James (born about 1815) was a son of Alexander Cowan according to the baptism entry in the Morton Parish records. James registered his father's death in 1856: Alex McCowan, 74 years old, son of Geoge McCowan and Margaret Rae. While the Morton Parish vital statistics do not seem to help in tracing this family farther back, the entries for Barbara McQown (1692), Agnes McKown (1693), James McKown (1700), John McKoon (1705), Archibald McKown (1716), Sarah McKoon (1718) seem to suggest that a different earlier spelling of the family name is possible. It is also possible that George McCowan, James’ grandfather, was a son of George McCowan and Margaret Crawford in Little Changue (or Shang), Old Cumnock, in 1754 (about 25 miles northwest of Morton).

[13].The McGowins (or McGouns) were apparently both numerous and prominent in sixteenth century Wigtownshire (in the extreme southwest of Galloway). Patrick, Duncan and John McGowan were burgesses of Whithorn. William McGowan was a chaplain and notary. John and Duncan McGowan were provosts of Whithorn. Duncan had been an overseas trade merchant: in 1522 he was held for ransom in England after his ship was "taken upon the sey". (Scottish History Society, Wigtownshire Charters, 1960.) In 1621 William McGowan was a burgess at Wigtown.

Kirkcowan is a parish in Wigtownshire.

A group of McCowans also seems to have been somewhat native to Wigtownshire. A connection with the Cumnock McCowans seems possible as the baronies of Mochrum and Cumnock were both acquired by the Dunbars, Earls of March, in the fourteenth century. Andrew McCowane was a parishioner in Longcastell (evidently very near Mochrum) in 1556 and Andrew McOwyne witnessed an action in Whithorn in 1495 (Scottish History Society, Wigtownshire Charters, 1960, p. 156 and 25).  And of course the McGachans of Dalquhat had distant relatives in Wigtownshire.

The Dunbars also held land in Morayshire from this early period. The McCowans in this particular area, however, probably had highland origins (see George Black's discussion of MacIlchomhghain, p. 510-511).

[14].James Brown, The History of Sanquhar, 1891, p. 41.

Mssrs. Brown and Black had both found an entry in Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, Vol 1, App 2: "To Donald Edzear of the captainship [of] Clanmacgowin". Edzear was indexed under "Edgar" and Clanmacgowin under "Clan...". Clanmacgowin was the only "Clan..." listed in this particular index.

In his History of Dumfries, William McDowall uses similar wording to Mr. Brown's but does not state that the MacGowans were of the Scoto-Irish race: "a grandson, Donald, acquired from David II the captainship of the MacGowans, a numerous clan then located in the district". (publ. Adam and Charles Black, p. 28.) There is, apparently, a little doubt that the McGowans and McCowans of Nithsdale were of Scoto-Irish origin.

Clan MacGowan is the name used very recently (ca 2007) by a historical re-enactment group in southern California. They have appeared at Renaissance Faire.

[15].William McDowall, History of Dumfries, p. 28.

[16].The late Lord Bute, descendant of these Crichtons, was very well-acquainted with Mr. R.D. Hunter of Cumnock, great-grandson of John McCowan. Mr. Hunter was one of Lord Bute’s lawyers.

[17].On page 28 of his History of Clan Ewan (1904), R.S.T. MacEwan notes that: "From an early date, a branch of the MacEwens appears to have been settled in Perthshire, probably in the Kenmore district, and a curious legend is connected with their early history". It was in this part of central Perthshire where a sizeable McOwan concentration eventually developed. Both groups probably followed the Campbells of that area. (These Campbells were connected with the powerful Campbell clan in Argyleshire. Some McCowans lived on the Campbell Argyle estates as well.)

According to Mr. MacEwan's sources (p. 8), "the MacEwens became hereditary bards of the Campbells". The Bards (Seanachies) were the clan genealogists and story-tellers. George F. Black suggests that these McEwan bards were "MacDougals by origin". Another source notes that it was the McOwans who were the Campbell clan story-tellers in Perthshire.

The "curious legend" to which Mr. R.S.T. MacEwan refers, relates that a son of the clan leader in Perthshire lost a contest to his brother: he therefore left the area and founded another settlement of the family in Ayrshire. We can be quite certain that this group of McEwans did not give rise to the McCowans of Cumnock, Ayrshire. The legend may simply be an attempt to explain the McEwan presence in Galloway.

The MacCans were among the prominent Galloway leaders who sided with the English for many years during the Wars of Independence (G.W.S. Barrow, Robert Bruce, 1976, p. 156).

[18].Evidently, there were MacEwens on Loch Lomond "for many generations" (MacEwan, Clan Ewen, p. 13). In Alexander Cowan of Moray House, (1915) C.B.B. Watson toys with a theory that the son of a McIlohuan, a landowner in Ayrshire, moved to Saltoun and changed his name to Cowan. He weaves this story with both McCowan and Colquhoun names. In his research he found “one family at least of Cowans in Ayrshire state that the name was formerly McCowan.” There are bound to be others.

[19].Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 1967, p. 1590. In granting this title to Sir David McCowan, the Lord Lyon could have considered many of the same historical and genealogical research resources as might have been studied by Sir John Alexander McCaughan.

[20].Jenny Wormald, Lords and Men in Scotland: Bonds of Manrent 1442-1603, John Donald Publishers Ltd., 1985, p. 262. Notice of this bond is apparently in a list in the Fifteenth Report of the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Appendix, part viii, Buccleuch, i, 68-9. Drumlanrig and the Crichtons also entered into a bond, 1526.

There was still a "laird of Dalwhat" in about 1770 in Glencairn Parish, Dumfriesshire (Scottish Record Society, A Directory of Landownership in Scotland , c 1770.)

The source of the Dalwhat Water, a Glencairn Parish tributary of the Nith, is about three miles from the southern edge of New Cumnock Parish.

George F. Black, (The Surnames of Scotland, p. 495) notes that MacGavin is "same as MacGowan". Although not nearly as common in eighteenth century Cumnock as McCowan, the names McGaun and McGavin are at least conspicuous. We suspect that some connection (through "Owen") between the three Cumnock surnames and, as we will suggest, McGachan or McGathan, is very probable. McGowan is practically unrepresented in eighteenth century Cumnock records, perhaps simply because those of the family who wanted the most "modern-looking" or most anglicized surname chose McCowan.

P. Dudgeon, "Macs" in Galloway, seems to imply that McGachan may have been an early form of McGavin. In his list of "Names Before AD 1700" are McGaghan/Gachen and, in his list of "Names After AD 1700", are McGahan and McGavin. McCowan and McGowan appear only in the latter list. We must be careful to not blindly accept Mr. Dudgeon's obvious, albeit unintended, oversimplifications. However, his observations are a good starting point for a more detailed analysis.

John McGawin was a tenant at Welton, about six miles northwest of Cumnock, in about 1528 (Ayrshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, The Mauchline Account Books of Melrose Abbey, 1527-1528).

Robert Burns was evidently acquainted with the McGaan family of Mauchline: I hold it, sir, my bounden duty; To warn you how that Master Tootie; Alias, Laird McGaan.  (The Land of Burns: Mauchline Town and District, J.T. Gibb, p. 37)

In 1539 Thomas McGown, apparently a tanner, witnessed an action of John Edzar, burgess of Dumfries (Scottish Record Society, Protocol Book of Mark Carruthers, p. 19, 30.)

Curiously, Sir David McCowan's maternal grandfather was Rev. William McCall of Caitloch, Moniaive, Glencairn Parish. The 1946 and 1948 Reports of the National Register of Archives (Scotland) include notice of a McCall pedigree and family history from 1700 and a messenger's notebook, 1669-1672, the property of Major McCall of Caitloch, Moniaive. Sir David McCowan's parents were married in Glencairn Parish on Aug. 21, 1855.

[21].Scottish Record Society, Calendar of the Lag Charters, p. 17, #49. Robert, Lord Crechtoun of Sanchar, was the Sheriff of Dumfries at the time. In the index, "Dallqhot" is "Dalquhat". Some time later, James Makgeacheane was in Dalquhat (Index).

[22].Scottish Record Society, Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, #1028. George's surname is "McGachan" in the index. Two years later, in 1531, the name of his estate is "Barlunachan" (#1147).

In 1792 the Rev. Thomas Miller wrote in the Statistical Account of Old Cumnock: "As Ayrshire formed a part of the antient Gallovidia [Galloway], throughout which the Gaelic was universally spoken, it may be expected that traces of it should be found here; and these are yet found in the names of many of the farms. As Auchingibartte, Melizeoch, Barlonachan & c. all which are supposed to be of Gaelic origin".  It is only a coicidence that the McCowan / McGathan family had connections with all three of these places: James McCowan of Scarborough lived part of his youth at Milzeoch and John MacGeachan, "a singularly pious man" in Auchengibbert, was shot by "a party of the bloody dragoons" in 1688 because of his religious beliefs and actions (J.H. Thomson, The Martyr Graves of Scotland, p. 341-342). MacGeachan's distant cousin (we presume) in Dalquhat, "James McGachin in Dalry [sic]" was one of several Dumfriesshire Covenanters "to be transported to the plantations" (Thomson, p. 432).

[23].In the index for the old cemetery in Old Cumnock, Pre 1918 Gravestone Inscriptions from Cumnock and Doon Valley District, there are the following numbers of entries: McCowan 10, McGaun 1, McGavin 4, McGeachan 1, McGeachin 6. That these uncommon names should be found together so prominently in one Ayrshire Parish cannot possibly be a coincidence.

It would be very nice indeed if we found some proof that a certain McGachan or McGathan of Cumnock changed his name to McCowan, say, in his personal memoirs. We would be lucky enough to find evidence that a father / son combination altered the spelling of the name. While many potential sources remain to be examined, the best that we can do in this regard at present is to consider the following:

In the first decade of the seventeenth century, John McCowane (whom we will meet more intimately in "Land, Lord and Tenant in Transition" in To Sustene the Personis) was a "kindly" tenant of the farms of Whitehill and Chang on the Crawford of Leifnoreis estate (Scottish Record Office CC9/7/9). As a kindly tenant, John had customary and legal rights to inherit the use of Whitehill and Chang farms on the basis of kinship with the previous holder. Usually, the previous holder would be the father. A century earlier, "Egidia Craufurd, relict of the late Allan Cathcart of Wattirhed [Waterhead], leased to Adam McCreth and Elizabeth McGlathan, his spouse, for the time of their life, and of the longer liver of the two, the lands of Quhithill [Whitehill], lying in Penyfodzeath" (Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, No. 661). Perhaps Elizabeth McGlathan (McGathan?) was a childless only child and, at the death of the couple, Whitehill passed to her first cousin, a direct ancestor of John McCowan, tenant in Whitehill.

It appears that the Whitehill associated with Elizabeth McGlathan and John McCowane was not the Whitehill about five miles to the southeast in New Cumnock Parish. The latter Whitehill was, at least in the eighteenth century, a fairly respectable estate (shown as a "seat" or "noted house" on Armstrong's 1775 map of Ayrshire). There was also a William Craufurd of Watterheid in 1531 (Gavin Ros, No. 1162.) Egidia Craufurd and William Craufurd may have been close relatives of George Craufurd, laird of Leifnoreis estate.

The Crawford connection with Whitehill and Chang might appear to date from before July, 1517 when George Craufurd of Lafinoris resigned both farms (along with Dalleglis) "into the hands of James Dunbar of Cumnock, superior of the same". "After a due interval of time, the said James Dunbar gave and granted the said lands to George Craufurd and his wife ... in terms of a charter to be made thereupon" (Gavin Ros, No. 185). A month later, Dunbar's bailie gave sasine of Whitehill, Chang and Dalleglis to Craufurd and his wife, Besseta Wallas.

There was a Chang Hill about two miles south of Whitehill, New Cumnock Parish. Dalleagles, another independent estate in the eighteenth century, was partway between the two (William Johnson's map, "Northern Part of Ayrshire", 1828). (See also Scottish Record Society, A Directory of Landownership in Scotland c 1770.)

The Old Cumnock Parish farms of Whitehill and Chang were two miles apart and were both within two miles (and south) of Crawford's mansion of Leifnoreis. Most Cumnock district McCowans of the eighteenth century lived in this area south of the landlord.

[24].Scottish Record Society, Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, 1907, No. 126, 127.

[25].Scottish Record Society, Gavin Ros, No. 1147.  The Protocol Books of the Town Clerks of Glasgow record that Sir David McCowyn was a notary in the mid sixteenth century. Could this Sir McCowyn have been connected with the landowning McGachan family of Barlanachan, in Cumnock Parish?

[26].The Castle of Cumnock was on the site of the Free Church in New Cumnock village (Rev. John Warrick, The History of Old Cumnock, 1899, p. 38). Rev. Warrick explains (p. 1-2) some of the politics surrounding the division of the Parish of Cumnock into the two parishes of Old Cumnock and New Cumnock toward the end of the seventeenth century. The village of Cumnock, on the Lugar Water in Old Cumnock Parish, is five miles northwest of the village of New Cumnock on the River Nith. The divide between the two watersheds is curious as a lake about half way between the two villages empties into both the Lugar system and the Nith system (Rev. N. Bannatyne, Statistical Account of Old Cumnock, 1837).

[27].Scottish History Society, Wigtownshire Charters, xlv.

[28].John Strawhorn, The New History of Cumnock, p. 16, 1966, published on behalf of the Town Council of Cumnock by Mr. R.D. Hunter, M.B.E., Town Clerk. Mr. Hunter's great-grandfather, John McCowan (1810-1884), was Cumnock's second provost, 1878-1881. John McCowan was an uncle of Sir David McCowan, a prominent Glasgow philanthropist.

[29] Alexander Trotter, M.D., East Galloway Sketches: Biographical, Historical and Descriptive Notices of Kirkcudbrightshire, 1901.

[30].The Britons, for instance, had been pushed into Strathclyde by the Angles.

[31].George F. Black, in his discussion of MacIlchomhghain (a highland origin of McCowan), quoting an early source.

[32].Immediately following the rebellion of 1745, an attempt was made to legislate the Highland culture out of existence by the banning of the kilt. The law was eventually repealed -- an action that really had more to do with the wants of romanticists than the needs of a culture in decline. The eventual destruction of much of the Highland way of life was effected through economic re-structuring of land occupation. Many were shipped off to America to make room for sheep.

[33].Warrick, The History of Old Cumnock, p. 27-28.

It was not uncommon for lowland families to be split onto opposite sides of the battleline during the Wars of Independence. If it were possible that some McCowans had been situated on Dunbar lands as a group independent of the Kirkconnel / Sanquhar McCowans, it is possible that they fought against one another. (See Lorimer, Strathclyde, p. 101.)

[34].Wormald p. 2, 14, 35, 262.

[35].From a manuscript in the British Library as abstracted by Jenny Wormald, Lords and Men In Scotland, p. 404.

[36].From Wormald, Lords and Men, p. 261.

[37].From J.B. Greenshields, Annals of the Parish of Lesmahagow, 1864, p. 81.

[38]."Jonet McGachan, relict of the late Patrick Dunbar" is mentioned in Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, No. 571 (in 1522). It appears doubtful that Jonet McGachan's late husband (in 1522) was the victim in the 1512 church slaying. The murderers of Patrick Dunbar of Corsincon were other leading men in central Ayrshire, principally members of the Campbell and Crawford families. William Crawford of Leifnoreis and his brother-in-law, Alexander Campbell of Skellingtoune in Cumnock, were evidently not directly involved in the deed. (See Warrick, Cumnock, p. 34 and James Rollie, The Invasion of Ayrshire, 1980, p. 57.)

[39].Scottish Record Society, Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, No. 23-29.

Patrick Dunbar, the attorney, was styled "in Bogcorocht" in Ros No. 23 and "of Bogcorocht" (indicating landowner) in the index to Ros. A fourth Patrick Dunbar, of Unthank, was a witness to some of the legal proceedings.

The apparent "land-feud" was evidently finally settled on May 24, 1531, when Patrick Dunbar, son and heir of the late Patrick Dunbar of Corsincon "probably" received sasine (legal title) of the lands of Corsincon and Auchincors (Ros, No. 1162).

"Jonet McGachan, relict of the late Patrick Dunbar" (presumably the attorney) had some claim on Bogecorroch in 1522 (No. 571).

[40].We should note that at this early period there was some degree of both agricultural commerce and the acquisition of personal and household possessions, especially amongst the main tenants. And certainly, many lairds possessed some "luxuries". The lower classes were, generally, more concerned with personal survival than with vanity.

[41].See, for example, Wormald, Lords and Men, p. 47.

[42].The Dunbars may have also taken some Cumnock folk to their lands in Moray.

[43] Part of the the feudalization of lowland Scotland very probably included bringing in people from England. The New Statistical Account for Ochiltree Parish, (ca 1845) adjacent to Old Cumnock, includes reference to an interesting local legend: “On this [Boswell] estate there is a farm called Hoodstone, which the ancestors of the present tenant have rented from about the middle of the thirteenth century. About that time, three brothers of the name of Hood came from England, and settled, one of them, in Hoodstone, and the others in the neighbourhood. According to the tradition in the family, the death of their renowned progenitor, Robin Hood, was the immediate cause of their emigration.”

[44].Scottish History Society, Wigtownshire Charters, p. 179. Andro McKynna was one of the witnesses.

See also Margaret H.B. Sanderson, Scottish Rural Society in the Sixteenth Century, 1982, John Donald Publishers Ltd, p. 47-49, for some aspects of tenant mobility and removal. Some tenants were evidently relocated or "demoted" in terms of tenancy and rights when leases of certain church lands were granted to friends and relatives of the Abbot.

[45].Scottish Record Society, Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, No. 5, June 5, 1512. One of the witnesses was John Dunbar of Mochrum.

[46].North of Cumnock on the lands of Melrose Abbey in Kylesmure (the present parishes of Mauchline, Sorn and Muirkirk), the occupants of the ground were successful in purchasing their farms in about half of the instances (Sanderson, Rural Society, p. 81-83, 100).

[47].Sanderson, p. 164.

[48].Sanderson, 63.

In the Dumfriesshire abbey of Holywood, some of the church lands were feued by non-occupants (Sanderson, Rural Society, p. 109, 143.) Had relatives of the Cumnock McCowans been tenants on these church lands, they may have been moved out by the new “owners” or feuars.

John McGowin, burgess of Whithorn, Wigtownshire, was given a feu charter of some land by the abbot of Saulset Abbey in 1521 (Wigtownshire Charters, p. 94, 107). The Marquess of Ailsa (in Maybole, Ayrshire) writes that “You might be interested to learn that I have come across a Sir Robert MaKewen, Head of the Convent of Crossragual, he is mentioned along Quinton the Abbot in a Discharge by the latter, date 1st February 1547” (personal correspondence, Aug 3 1988)

[49].It is not impossible that some Dumfriesshire McCowans went to Biggar, a Lanarkshire Parish, 25 miles northeast of Sanquhar. Katherine McCouane, wife of James Vallance, was in Biggar in 1688 (Commissariot Record of Lanark, Register of Testaments) and Hew McCowan, Burgess of Biggar, registered Deeds in 1670 (Dal 28, p. 304) and in 1680 (Dur 47, p. 227). McCowan was not a common name in Biggar.

[50].The senior Dunbars, the Earls of March, had transferred the barony of Cumnock to David Dunbar of Enterkin, a kinsman, in 1375 (Warrick, Cumnock, p. 32). The latter Dunbar apparently held some lands in Dumfriesshire (John Strawhorn, Ayrshire, The Story of a County, Ayrshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, 1975, p. 43).

[51].Scottish Record Society, Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, No. 571.

In 1605, the Privy Council declared that "Hew Campbell of Bogturroch (now Boig), son of Hew Campbell of Garrallane, shall not reset or intercommune with Patrick Hervie at the Kirk of Cumnok, while he lies at the horn [outlawed] to which he had been put for not flitting [leaving] and removing from certain houses at the Kirk of Cumnok". (From Warrick, Cumnock, p. 48.)

[52].Scottish Record Society, Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, No. 662-671. It would appear that Dame Crechtoun, "lady of Uchiltre" was not of the lower classes. Ochiltree Parish was immediately west of Old Cumnock.

[53].The Campbells later received feu-charters of some of these church lands (Sanderson, Rural Society, p. 42, 58, 131).

The Campbells had arrived in the Kyle-Stewart district of Ayrshire from their highland territories in the early fourteenth century (through a marriage into the Crauford of Loudoun family) after which they expanded their Ayrshire holdings. The Crawfords of Leifnoreis, Cumnock, were descendants of the Loudoun Crawfords.

[54].Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, No. 75, 6 May, 1514.  The Reids were prominent lairds in Mauchline, north of Cumnock (Rollie, Invasion of Ayrshire, p. 60).

[55].Rev. Henry Paton, The Clan Campbell , Vol. V, 1917, p. 62.

[56]. [in 1531] “George McGachane of Barlanathane, compearing judicially, produced two precepts of the sheriff of Air duly indorsed. John Craufurd, sheriff-depute, required George to produce the king's letters and other things necessary in ... , the cognition to be taken of certain lands near the confines (of the lands?) of Barlanathan, and declared he was ready with his colleagues under God to do justice in said action of cognition.”

(Protocol Book of Gavin Ros, No. 1200) Cognition relates to the legal process of determining whether or not an adult is still capable of managing his own property.  It is not conclusive in this summary if it was George McGachane’s ability to manage Barlanachane that was the subject of the cognition. That day, the sheriff-deputes of Ayr were sitting as a court at George McGachane's property of Barlanathan.

[57].Perceval-Maxwell, Scottish Migration to Ulster, p. 27, citing a manuscript in the British Museum .

[58].Ian Whyte, Agriculture and Society in Seventeenth Century Scotland (p. 97), has concluded that this late sixteenth - early seventeenth century legislation was intended to only deal with abuses in the system and to generally maintain the status quo. This legislation during the adult reign of James VI evidently had little direct impact on rural society and agricultural practice.


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