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The Burgh of Maxwelltown

Miniature portrait of The Reverend John Ewart, Minister of Troqueer (1716 - 1799)

18th Century

John was the son of Andrew Ewart of Mullock, Minister of Kells in Kirkcudbrightshire. He was one of eleven children, but only one of two boys to survive to adulthood. He became Minister of Troqueer Parish in 1743, serving until his death in 1799.


He had been in the parish for only a couple of years when Charles Edward Stewart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, took up his father’s fight to regain the thrones of Great Britain. The 1745 rebellion saw him, with support from Highland clansmen, march south with the intention of taking London. Meeting little resistance at first, the army got as far as Derby, before it was forced to turn back.


The return route took the army through Carlisle and on to Dumfries, where John Ewart, who was a staunch Presbyterian, had gathered a group of armed farmers ready to defend the town. Fortunately, when Charles Edward Stewart arrived he merely asked for lodging and supplies, and John Ewart’s military services were not required. When he returned home to Troqueer Manse, two tired and hungry Highland officers were waiting for him. He invited them to dinner, but took the opportunity to lecture them on the foolishness of their march south.


John Ewart was concerned by the number of Roman Catholics in his parish. In 1759 a school was erected at Whinnyhill, on the road from Dumfries to New Abbey. In 1767 John petitioned the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge in connection with the schoolmaster’s salary. He explained “There are more papists in this parish than any other in the south of Scotland” describing how the remoteness of the area meant they could not go to school elsewhere, and that “they are taught to read the Old and New Testaments and … almost no other book is put into their hands. Between fifty and sixty children of popish parents have been taught in the school at Whinnyhill in the past eight years.”


In 1770 John Ewart persuaded the heritors to erect a new church for Troqueer parish near the site of the original one. Heritors were landowners in the parish who were legally obliged to contribute to the costs of maintaining the church, as well as the school, the minister’s and schoolmaster’s salaries and other public works. The new church was open within a year, and although altered and added to over time, it is the same one that still stands today.


Five years later John Ewart persuaded the heritors to help buy four silver communion cups for use in church services.


When Sir John Sinclair compiled the First Statistical Account of Scotland in the 1790s, it was John Ewart, as minister of the parish, who replied to his enquiries. The Statistical Account describes each parish, covering topics such as the climate, soil, rivers, agricultural and industrial production, the price of labour, churches, schools and the poor.


John Ewart died in 1799, aged eighty three. He had been minister of the parish of Troqueer for fifty six years.


This portrait, along with the miniature of Mary Ewart are attributed to Alexander Reid (1747 = 1823), c.1790.

Dumfries Museum & Camera Obscura
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Dumfries & Galloway Council