James Gavin

Excerpt from the 1940 book ‘Douglasdale – Its History and Traditions’…
Chapter 4, page 52…

The most famous of the Douglas Covenanters was James Gavin. This man, a tailor by trade, was one of the leaders of the village Presbyterians, and so was liable at any time to be apprehended by the followers of Claver-house. Tradition has it that when Gavin received warning that the soldiers were in the neighbourhood, he used to leave his house and seek a hiding-place; and many a night he passed in a cave in the ravine formed by the Earnsallach Burn, the stream which flows into the Douglas Water about a mile west of the village. Here he was much more secure from the sudden raids often made upon the dwellings of known Covenanters, as his place of refuge, deeply dug in the steep bank, was so well hidden as to make it practically impossible for a stranger to discover it. One night Gavin had been hiding in this cave and had taken his dog with him for companionship. It so happened that in the early morning, not long before the tailor would in the ordinary way have been returning to his house in Douglas, Claverhouse and a body of his men passed along the track leading from Sanquhar to Douglas, which was here quite close to the cave. The soldiers were unsuspicious and would soon have passed by had it not been for Gavin’s dog, which heard the noise of the horses, and began to bark loudly. Claverhouse, thus warned that there was someone in the neighbourhood, ordered a search to be made, and the dragoons found the Covenanter and brought him before their master. Claverhouse, knowing his prisoner to be one of the detested Whigs, might very well have shot him on the spot, but this morning the punishment was mitigated and Gavin’s life was spared, but orders were given that his ears should be cut off, a punishment common enough at the time. The sentence was carried out with the shears which the tailor carried with him. Gavin was transported to Barbados, but after 1688 he was able to return to Douglas, where he rebuilt his dwelling-house. This house, which is still in occupation, is a one-story building bearing on a stone above the door carved representations of the tailor’s shears and ” goose “, together with the date 1695. A ” James Gavin, tailor in Douglas ” was a witness in a case before the Crawfordjohn Kirk Session in 1704. Descendants of the worthy Covenanter were for long resident in Douglas, and there is still in existence a deed of 1758 relating to the old house and bearing the signature of a James Gavin who may possibly have been a son of the Covenanter.
A few years ago, a fall of earth exposed at the side of the Earnsalloch Burn the entrance to a cave which may or may not have been the hiding-place of James Gavin. The cave, which was thoroughly explored in 1926, extends into the hillside for a distance of nearly eighty feet, and at the extreme end of a passage which is little more than two feet wide or three feet high is a cavity in which it is possible to stand erect with a fair degree of freedom. In considering the possible site of the Gavin cave, care must be taken not to confuse the track followed by the troopers with the present road to Muirkirk. In Covenanting times a road to Sanquhar crossed the burn well above this highway and led on through the Black Gait and over the moor in the direction of Andershaw.

On the site of the home now stands a memorial which incorporates the aforementioned lintel.
A plaque on the stonework reads:

ON THIS SITE DWELT JAMES GAVIN TAILOR A HERO OF THE COVENANT. HE INCURRED THE SPECIAL ENIMITY OF CLAVERHOUSE WHO WANTONLY SEVERED THE EARS FROM HIS HEAD WITH GAVIN’S OWN SHEARS ABOUT THE YEAR 1684.

TO COMMEMORATE AND PERPETUATE THE BRUTAL OUTRAGE GAVIN CARVED THE STONE, WHICH IS SET INTO THIS CAIRN, AND PUT IT ABOVE THE DOOR OF THE HOUSE ERECTED BY HIM ON THIS SITE YEARS AFTER HIS RETURN FROM BANISHMENT IN THE ISLAND OF BARBADOES.

BY GIFTS OF LAND FROM WILLIAM WOOD, ESQ. DOUGLAS AND JOHN MAXWELL, ESQ. CLYDEBANK, THIS MEMORIAL GARDEN HAS BEEN LAID OUT BY THE DISTRICT COUNCIL TO PERPETUATE THE MEMORY OF JAMES GAVIN.