Kirkcowan – What's Going On?

Gilbert Milroy – The Covenanter

Gilbert Milroy was a Presbyterian from the Kircalla area of Penninghame Parish. In 1684 he had paid a bribe to a corrupt official in order to be excused from taking the required anti—covenanter oath, the Test.

In 1685, troubled by his conscience about this action, he fled to the moors with two others from the same Kirkcalla area of the parish. Early in the summer of that year his house was pillaged by the troops under the command of the Earl of Home who was stationed in the Castle of Machermore. Gilbert Milroy’s wife was put out of her home.

She was not allowed to keep even a spare set of clothing. The cattle were driven away and the place was demolished. Milroy’s wife and the wives of his friends were tortured with burning matches placed between their fingers as Home attempted to force the women to betray their fugitive husbands’ whereabouts.

Eventually Gilbert and one of his friends were captured and they, too, were tortured in a further attempt to wring out knowledge about other fugitives. Gilbert wife went to Minnigaff to take food to her imprisoned husband. Near the village she crept into a fields to pray but was seen and threatened by a soldier with his sword.

Gilbert, his brother—in—law, and other prisoners were marched to Edinburgh via Barr, made to walk the entire way tied in twos.

At the city they were imprisoned at Holyrood House because the jails were full.

Gilbert’s wife, in the meantime, appealed to her minister to write a letter attesting to the good character of his parishioner.

He wrote the letter and gave it to her to deliver to Edinburgh. It was sealed. When the letter was handed over to the authorities by the loyal wife, it was discovered to contain the information that the man was known and persistent rebel.

He was thus condemned to ten years of slavery. As a mark of condemnation, his ears were to ‘be cut off before his transportation, but Gilbert appeared to be to ill when the action was about to be taken that he was spared its execution.

Gilbert Milroy was taken, with others, from Newhaven docks to Port Royal, Jamaica, where he was sold as a slave, according to his sentence, for ten years. He got into trouble with his new owner and was severely punished when he refused to work on the Sabbath. He experienced, however, some kindness from the island’s inhabitants and eventually won the favour of his master by proving himself as an honest and diligent worker.

In time Gilbert Milroy was put in charge of the other slaves. Because of this he was hated by them and attacks were made upon him. He was poisoned, but recovered. He was struck viciously on the head with a pole and evidenced a slight paralysis for the rest of his life.

After the revolution, Gilbert Milroy returned safely to Scotland. He settled in Kirkcowan Parish and founded the Milroy family who, in the next century, began to establish mills near the village.