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Letter from John Maxwell , Esq. of Munchies, to W.M Herries Esq. of Spottes.
Munchies, Feb 8th 1811
The last time Mr Young of Youngfield was here, he signified to me, as you had previously done, that John Christian Curwen of Workington Hall, Esq, had mentioned that he was very desirous to know the state of agriculture in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and Nithsdale, as far back as my remembrance goes.
I was born at Buittle, in this parish, which in old times was the fortress and residence of John Balliol, on the 7th day of February, old style,1720, and so distinctly remember several circumstances that happened 1723 and 1724. Of these particulars, the falling of the bridge of Buittle, which was built by John Frew in 1722, and fell in the succeeding summer, while I was in Buittle garden, seeing my father's servants gathering nettles. That same year, many of proprietors enclosed their ground, to stock black cattle; and, by that means, turned out a vast number of tenants at the term of Whitsunday 1723, whereby numbers of them became destitute, and, in consequence, rose in a mob, when, with pitchforks, gravellocks, and spades, they levelled the park-dikes of Barncailzie and Munches at Dalbeaty, which I saw with my own eyes; the mob passed by Dalbeaty and Buittle, and did the same on the estates of Netherlaw, Dunrod, etc; and the laird of Murdoch, the proprietor of Kilwhaneday, who turned out sixteen families at that term. The proprietors rose with their servants and dependants, to quell this mob, but were not of sufficient force to do it, and were obliged to send for two troops of dragoons from Edinburgh, who upon their appearing, the mob dispersed. After that, warrants were granted for apprehending many of the tenants and persons concerned in the said mob; several of them were tried, those who had funds were fined, some were banished to the plantations, whilst others were imprisoned; and it brought great distress upon this part of the country. At this period, justice was not very properly administered; for, a respectable man, of the name of M'Clacherty, who lived in Balmaghie parish, was concerned in the mob, ans, on being brought to trial, one of the justices admired a handsome Galloway which he rode, and the justice told him, if he would give him the Galloway, he would effect his aquittal, which he accordingly did. This misfortune, with what happened (to) the Mississippi Company in the year 1720, did most general distress this quarter of the kingdom. It is not pleasant to represent the wretched state of individuals as times then went in Scotland. The tenants, in general, lived very meanly on kail, groats, milk, graddon ground in querns, turned by hand, and grain dried in a pot, together with a crock ewe now and then about Martinmas. They were clothed very plainly, and their habitations were most uncomfortable. Their general wear was of cloth, made of waulked plaiding, black and white wool mixed, very coarse, and the cloth rarely dyed. Their hose were made of white plaiding cloth, sewed together, with single soled shoes, and black or blue bonnet, none having hats but the lairds, - who thought themselves very well dressed for going to church on Sunday with a black kelt-coat of their wife's making. It is not proper for me here to narrate the distresses and poverty that were felt in the country during these times, which were continued till about the year 1735.
In 1725 potatoes were first introduced to the Stewartry, by William Hyland, from Ireland, who carried them on horses' backs to Edinburgh, where he sold them by pounds ans ounces. During these times, when potatoes were not generally raised in this country, there was for the most part a great scarcity of food, bordering on famine; for, in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and county of Dumfries, there was not as much victual produced as was necessary for supplying the inhabitants; and the chief part of what was required for that purpose was brought from the Sandbeds of Esk, in tumbling cars, on Wednesdays to Dumfries; and when the waters were high by reason of spates, and there being no bridges, so that these cars could not come with the meal, I have seen tradesmen's wives in the streets of Dumfries, crying, because there was none to be got. At that period, there was only one baker in Dumfries, and he made bawbee baps of course flour, chiefly bran, which he occasionally carried in creels to the fairs of Urr and Kirkpatrick. The produce of the country, in general, was grey corn; and you might have travelled from Dumfries to Kirkcudbright, which is twenty-seven miles, without seeing any other grain, except in a gentleman's croft, which, in general, produced bear or big, for one-third part, another third in white oats, and the remaining third in grey oats. At that period, there was no wheat raised in the country; what was used was brought from Teviot; and it was believed, that the soil would not produce wheat. In the year 1735, there was no mill for grinding that sort of grain, the first flour mill that was constructed within these bounds, was built by old Heron, at Clouden, in the parish of Irongray, some years after that date.
In these times, cattle were also very low. I remember of being present at the Bridge-end of Dumfries, in 1736, when Anthony M'Kie, of Netherlaw sold five score of five-year-old Galloway cattle, in good condition, to an Englishman, at £2,12s, 6d each; and old Robert Halliday, who was tenant of a great part of the Preston estate, told me, that he reckoned he could graze cattle on his farm for 2/6 a head; that is to say, that his rent corresponded to that sum.
At this period, few of the proprietors gave themselves any concern anent the articles of husbandry, their chief one being about black cattle. William Craik, Esq. of Arbigland's father, died in 1735, and his son was a man of uncommon accomplishments, who, in his younger days, employed his time in grazing cattle, and studying the shapes of the best kinds, his father having given him the farm of Maxwelltowne to live upon. The estate of Arbigland was then in its natural state, very much covered with whins and broom, and yielding little rent, being only about *3,000 merks a year. That young gentleman was among the first that undertook to improve the soil; and the practice of husbandry which he pursued, together with the care and trouble he took in ameliorating his farm, was very great. Some of it he brought to such perfection, by clearing off all weeds and stones, and pulverising it so completely, that I, on walking over the surface, sunk, as if I had trodden on new fallen snow.
The estate of Arbigland was bought by his grandfather, in 1722, from the Earl of Southesk, for 22,000 merks.
In 1735, there were only two carts for hire in the town of Dumfries, and one belonging to a private gentleman.
About the years 1737 and 1738, there was almost no lime used for building in Dumfries, except a little shell-lime, made of cockle-shells, burned at Colvend, and brought to Dumfries in bags, a distance of twenty miles; and in 1740, when provest Bell built his house, the under storey was built with clay, and the upper storeys with lime, brought from Whitehaven, in dry-ware casks. There was then no lime used for improving the land. In 1449, I had day-labourers at 6d. per day, and the best masons for 1s. This was at the building of Mollance House, the walls of which cost £49 sterling.
If you think that any thing mentioned here can be of any use or entertainment to Mr. Curwen, I give you full leave to make the same known, with my best respects; I am,
To W M Herries, Esq. of Spottes.
In Murray Thomas, (1832) The Literary History of Galloway, 2nd Edition. pp 337 – 339.Waugh and Innes, Edinburgh. (Appendix - Note E,)