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September 15th 1680

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Donald Cargill

On the banks of the Ericht, about a quarter of a mile from the bridge at Blairgowrie there is a site still known as Cargill’s Leap where Donald Cargill is supposed to have escaped from the government troops by leaping across the Ericht.

Until about 1960, the Leap was indeed a fearsome sight. Anyone missing their foothold would be dashed against the rocks below and would be extremely lucky to survive. Over the years children had, in fact, been drowned trying to emulate Cargill’s feat and it was because of this danger that the Town Council blew up the rocks to widen the channel. Cargill’s Leap is still a most dangerous area of the river but not quite the death trap it once was.

Donald Cargill was born at Hatton of Rattray, a farm about a mile north of the village, about 1610. He trained for the ministry and was appointed to the Barony Church in Glasgow in 1655 where he stayed for the next seven years. But with the restoration of Charles 2nd, Cargill was expelled for his extreme Presbyterian views.

It was said that he was a timid man though this does not appear in either his actions or his utterances. Together with Richard Cameron, he led the more extreme faction of the Covenanters, known as the Cameronians, who were unwilling to countenance any compromises with Episcopalianism. The comment by James Ure of Shargarton, himself a moderate but very well respected Covenanter, is instructive. “I told Mr Cargill,”  he said “that he rendered himself odious by his naughty principles. He was very much offended with me.” 

After the death of Richard Cameron, Donald Cargill became the undisputed leader of the Cameronians. Two months later on September 15th, at a great conventicle at Torrwood, between Larbert and Stirling, Donald Cargill “at his own hand, Pope-lyk did excommunicate the King (Charles 2nd), Duke of Monmouth, Duke of York (Charles’ brother, later James 7th), the Chancellor Rothes, the King’s advocate, General Dalziell and the Lord Rosse.” 

It was a comprehensive declaration of war against the Establishment and indeed the Monarchy itself. By this time Cargill was an old man and in July of the following year he was captured near Lanark and “carried before the Council and interrogit. Whether he had excommunicat the King answered that that being a church affair, the church not they were competent to judge.”  Inevitably he was sentenced to death.

There were conflicting accounts of his last words. According to Robert Law, a moderate Covenanter “Mr Donald’s last words going up the ladder were these ‘The world is weary of me and I am weary of the world’.” 

These seem singularly sad and pessimistic. A more robust version, more in keeping with what we know of the man has him saying. “God knows, I go up this ladder with less fear, confusion, or perturbation of mind, than ever I entered a pulpit to preach.” 

As was the custom they fixed his head on the Netherbow in Edinburgh. It was July 27th 1681.

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