The following short item appeared in the Biographical Register of the St. Andrew's Society, New York, published in 1922:
Andrew Garr or Girr was born in the year 1745 near the village of Auchencairn, in the Parish of Rerrick, Kirkcudbrightshire. He was the eldest of four children the others being John, Grizel and Ann Girr. Captain John's house, styled "Bunker Hill House" near Auchencairn was standing in 1899 and it was said to have been partly paid for by money sent him by his brother Andrew from America. Andrew Garr learned the trade of ship building and went to London where he married. His wife's name is not known but it is surmised that it was Sheffield. In 1783 or 1784 he came to New York bringing with him his son Andrew Sheffield Garr. In 1790 he was engaged in business at No. 43, in 1794 at No. 118 and in 1809 at No. 66 Cherry Street. In 1810 he removed to 66 Rutgers Street. He had ship yards on the East River at the foot of Rutgers Street and on Water Street and also owned a lumber yard near Catharine Slip. In 1800 he married secondly Mary Ogden, probably of New York, by whom he had one child Janet (b. Dec. 11, 1800). He married a third time Margaret Garr of New Haven. In 1802 he advertised that he was about to quit business and offered for sale his stock of spars, masts, etc. He died at his home, 66 Rutgers Street, on Sunday, April 12, 1812, and was buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery. In 1866 the body and headstone were removed to Woodlawn.— Mrs. Helen Garr Henry of Morristown, N. J ; The Press.

In East Galloway Sketches, by Dr. Alexander Trotter, published at Castle Douglas in 1901, we have a detailed, if somewhat pauky, biography of his brother "Captain" John Girr, something about his family, and just a glimpse into life in the area about the beginning of the 19th century.

Johnnie Girr, Smuggler and Crofter, Auchencairn.

In Edward Cairns' time, and long previously, there existed on the farm of Craigraw, in a secluded position at the head of Glenshinnoch Bay, a small village, from which it was no uncommon sight to see a troop of thirty to fifty smugglers riding across the “Bow," with casks and bags of contraband goods slung across their saddles, into the more open country near Anchencairn. It is said the progenitors of Earl Macartney, who was laird of Auchenleck, and whose British title was Baron Macartney of Auchenleck, in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and also of several families of the name in the district, were smugglers in the village of Craigraw. The position of this village, a few hundred yards from Sir Robert Maxwell's new mansion-house of Orchardton, was very objectionable to that Baronet, and he made several attempts to root them out, but without success. This policy was continued by his successor in the estate (James Douglas), who at last succeeded in inducing Edward Cairns to sign away his right to Craigraw for a sum of money. This act, which led to the dispersal of the smugglers, Cairns regretted ever afterwards. Craigraw was sometimes called Kirvellan, probably Kirkvellan, from a forgotten chapel dedicated to some Culdee saint. The favourite landing places of the Rerwick smugglers were the Abbeyburn foot and the series of estuaries which, under the names of Glenshinnoch Bay, Heston Bay, Auchencairn Bay, and the Water of Orr, run into the land like the fingers of a glove - the three former rendered lake-like by the position of the island of Heston lying athwart their mouths. At Balcary Bay, which is a creek immediately within the extreme point of Auchencairn Bay, there was another smuggling village, and the cotters, crofters, and small farmers of the district were nearly all engaged either directly or indirectly in the contraband trade. The house of Balcary, which stands at the head of the creek of that name, is a large two-storied erection, with a semi-circular projection in front, recently embattled, and is said to be honeycombed with secret cellars. It is understood to have been built by a smuggling firm named Quirk, Clark, and Grain - fictitious names probably - which I have found named as those of a smuggling company as far west as Kirkmaiden, in Wigtownshire. The most celebrated of the Craigraw smugglers was John M'Girr, or Captain M'Girr, better known as Johnnie Girr, concerning whom many amusing anecdotes are still current at Auchencairn.

He was considered a leader long before he became famous. He built his own lugger, and as he worked away at it he said to those around him, "What's the use o' being ca'ed Captain if I havena a vessel?" McTaggart, in the "Gallovidian Encyclopaedia," thus speaks of him:- "Many act the natural who are not so ; they play the character for the sake of deception. Johnnie Girr of Auchencairn was famous at this in his young days. He was one of the greatest smugglers on the shores of the Solway, and outwitted the most sagacious kingsmen. Once, while driving from the Isle of Man with his little wherry pretty full of contraband goods, he was seen by a revenue cutter, who gave him chase. When Johnnie saw this he hove his barrels overside, fixed to a thick rope, and sank them. Afterwards he took his seat at the helm, and bade the boy who sailed with him 'go into the forescuttle and lie down.’ The cutter came snoring and firing, but our smuggler sat still in his 'Auld sea coat,’ and never seemed to mind her. At length the revenue tars brought their row barge alongside, and damn'd our hero, saying what hindered him to haul his wind and lie to, when he saw them playing away upon him. 'Gude guide us,’ quoth Johnnie, with a great deal of seeming ignorance, 'If I had kenn'd it was me ye were firing at, I wad ha'e been terrible fley'd,’ which answer, and seeing nothing but a stupid-looking old man aboard, convinced the kingsmen that John was doing or could do nothing in the smuggling trade. 'Guid guide us!' was always his favourite exclamation, and he gave it with such a mystic gravity of face that the most serious could not help laughing at him."

M'Kinnell, in his " Mountain Dew," gives the same anecdote about M'Girr in nearly the same words. Both authors were acquainted with him. Captain M'Girr was not always so fortunate in his undertakings as this. On one occasion he lost his boy overboard, near the Island of Heston, supposed to have been when chased by a revenue vessel, a circumstance he always spoke of with emotion. And another time, after landing a cargo at the Abbeyburn foot, the smugglers were pounced upon, and although their vessel appears to have escaped, their goods were seized, and they were sent home, as Johnnie said, "with their bundles under their arms, like twa-three tinklers."

In 1773 M'Girr had prospered so much that he resolved to build a fine residence for himself at the entrance to Auchencairn Village, greatly to the delight of the inhabitants, who considered his coming among them would be a benefit to the community. But for the running of contraband goods many rents could not have been made up at this time; for although there was a sort of rude plenty among the villagers in consequence of their possession of the run rigs into which the "Ha'" croft was divided, and there being various commons on which they were entitled to grass about thirty cows, and also access to abundance of fuel in Auchencairn Moss, there was very little money among them, except that derived from the " fair trade.” Consequently most of the lairds winked at their proceedings, if they did not actually encourage them. Owing to the building of Auchencairn bridge rather lower down the burn than the old boundary road which went across a ford, a piece of land was cut off from the Torr estate not far from Castle Daffin, on Collin, and old Laird Cairns readily granted this, which was sufficient for a house and garden to M'Girr as a site for his new domicile. The feu was to continue for 133 years, at sixpence a year.

Like the old New-Galloway smith who, on being rallied about his great age of 90, replied "he intended living until everybody else was dead, and he would get all their property;" Johnnie seems never to have contemplated the possibility of death overtaking him; but, threatened to pull the couples off the house and leave it unfinished unless Mr Cairns promised him the first offer of another tack of 133 years at the termination of the first. He gave the house the name of Bunker's Hill, a brother of his, a carpenter, having emigrated to America, and been, it was said, present in the battle of that name. But for this brother, Johnnie could not have finished the house - Pitt's Reduction of Duties Bill having destroyed the profits of the smugglers, and driven Johnnie and others to less profitable but more honest occupations. It stood without a roof for twenty years, and when the money arrived from Boston to complete it the rafters had become rotten, and had all to be renewed. Curiously enough, a few years ago an American lady, a descendant of Johnnie's brother, visited Auchencairn, and made enquiries about Johnnie and his father, who was a crofter on the Torr estate. (Bunker's Hill will be seen in the right low corner of the view of Auchencairn, p. 75.)
M'Girr was a short, broad-shouldered man, about 5 feet 5 inches in height, and possessed great muscular strength. On one occasion, it was said, he carried 3 cwt. of salt (a commodity on which there was a high duty) on his back from his lugger at Gibb's Hole, in the water of Orr, to Bunker's Hill. On another occasion a press gang who had seized him one morning at Auchencairn took the whole day to convey him to Kirkcudbright. He acted so like a madman, refusing the oath, and resisting every attempt to mollify him, that they eventually were glad to let him go. Once he found several logs of wood on the shore. Hannay of Lochbank, the tide surveyor, sent a horse and cart and six men to take them away. As fast as they placed them on one side of the cart, Johnnie pulled them off the other. They were compelled to tie him to a post before they could succeed in their undertaking, and this was a work of great difficulty. "Guide us, lads," said he, "if I had had my squairin' axe, I wad ha'e haggit the shafts off yer cart before ye wad ha'e gotten them."

When a young man he was a great admirer of the lasses, but was rather indiscriminate in his attentions. A byre-woman at Barlocco, whom he became enamoured of, once paid him off in a ludicrous manner. One Sunday morning he told his sister Girzy, who kept his house, that he was going to Rerwick Kirk, 5 miles away, and on his way home would call and see his "black cousin Macartney," as he called the laird of Barlocco. He dressed himself in light nankeen trousers, flowered waistcoat, ruffled sark, and blue coat. After dining at Barlocco, he asked for the girl. He was told she was in the byre. He went thither, and found her covered with dirt, put on expressly for the occasion. When he saw her state he retreated backwards, exclaiming, "Stand off, keep off; yer no half as bonnie as I thocht," fearing for his fine clothes. She edged closer and closer to him, and exclaimed, "Oh, my dear, come into my arms." This was too much for him, and he turned and ran off, amidst the laughter of the girl and her confederates.

Mr Joseph Heughan, in his "Reminiscences of Auchencairn," gives some further particulars about M'Girr. "John alias Captain M'Girr," says he, "was an amateur ship carpenter, cooper, and mason. The front corners and chimney heads of Bunker's Hill House, which he hewed and built, attest that he had nothing to be ashamed of, though he had been a professional. Some of the stones he carried on his back for miles. He was famed for repartee and ready wit, Whoso tried to crack a joke at his expense generally came off second best. Once a farmer, with more jaw than judgment, attempted to make him the butt of derision in Mr Bodden's shop. He said he had discovered, in the Monkland session-book, a strange coincidence relating to an aberration of Johnnie's, then, as now, no phenomenon. Johnnie paid him the reward of his temerity in the following terms - 'Guide us, lad, you that's examining session-books, did ye never see about the £100 your faither borrowed frae the poor's box o' Buittle, and never paid it back!' That was surely a clincher. Robert Cairnon and him were whiles as pack as dogs-heads; at other times they were at variance. He had engaged Johnnie to make him a napp out of old stapps. When the dish was made Robert thought they were not his staves. 'Had I kent,' said Johnnie, 'ye wad hae disputed them, I wad hae written on them - Rabbin Cairnon, Castle Daffin, twa ell lang.' 'Lang Bob, the twigger,' Johnnie gave him for a soubriquet, for at forging names he was an adept. He had a Jewish repugnance to swine's flesh. He declared 'he wad sooner eat the cappin off Willie Ghie's flail, and rin a' the gate to the Fell craft well for a drink, as taste it.' He said of the cotmen at the time of the muck fair, when potatoes are a-setting, them and their naigs and carts being in great request, ‘they were as crouse as a tailor in the time o' a sacrament.' At the swimming art he had few equals—he could swim like a cork."

The Willie Ghie mentioned in the above extract lived at Castle Daffin, then a row of five thatched houses, and was a Radical when a Radical was considered a Revolutionist. He attended Whig or Cameronian preachers far and near. His daughter was mother of Rev. Dr Alex. Raleigh, the great London Congrega¬tional minister, and his wife was aunt to Mr Peter M'Kinnell's father. Johnnie Girr liked worse to be called a cooper than a carpenter, but professed that branch of business. Mr M'Ewen, who married one of the Stevensons of New-Galloway (a sister of my grandmother) worked at Collin Paper Mill, and on one occasion employed M'Girr to make him a dish. "What size?" said Johnnie. "Oh, ane fit to drook a bannock in," replied M'Ewen; "do it well, and I'll pay you whatever you ask - you'll find me true blue," " I much misdoot; drook a bannock, lad," said Johnnie, "I'll find you out to be true black." The name "drook a bannock, lad," stuck to M'Ewen afterwards. M'Ewen's son, Andrew M'Ewen, gardener to General Irving at Balmae and Balcary, emigrated to South Australia, with his whole family, about the year 1834. His son, George M'Ewen, was a J.P., and one of the leading men of the colony. His estate, a few miles from the city of Adelaide, is called Glen Ewen, after the family surname. A son of this magistrate is a Congregational minister, and editor of a connectional magazine in South Australia.

M'Girr had a great fear of the French, and a horror of Roman Catholics. On one occasion, on entering the bay, he saw Bunker's Hill lighted up, and immediately concluded "Boney" had landed, and was ransacking his house. He, it is said, swam ashore, and approached with trepidation - the vessel being in readiness as a refuge, if his fears were confirmed. He, however, found it was only Girzy giving a tea party. On another occasion a well-dressed gentleman on horseback bowed to Johnnie, who returned the bow. On enquiry, he found he had moved to the Catholic priest from Dalbeattie. He stood like one thunderstruck, and exclaimed, "A Catholick! a Catholick! and, waur than a', a priest. Gude forgie me for noddin' to him. I wad raither hae nodded to the deevil himsel' - the better o' the twa, truly." Like most of the villagers, he was very super¬stitious. Quarrelling with Antony M'Guffock, a village laird, and one of the leading men in the parish, he said to him - "You, you auld gipsy; I ken a' yer belangings. Yer faither wasna muckle, and as for yer mither, everybody kens she was a witch, and was hunted through a' Orr wi' twa black grues (i.e., greyhounds), but they could never play pook at her." He was informed one day the devil was lying in wait for him on the Auchenleck road, along which he had to travel, and exclaimed, "Oh! wad the Almichty only waeken his hinnerlets (i.e., loins) until I win by." When the Com¬mercial Inn was built, about 1826, the Royal arms were painted on the sign, Johnnie said the lion and unicorn reminded him “o' twa grues he had ance seen amang a band o' tinklers."

When the Rerwick Bible Society was instituted in 1820, Johnnie was one of the original annual subscribers of 2s, but only paid subscriptions in 1820, 1821, and 1824. His sister, however, subscribed for several years, and is sometimes entered in the books as Girzy M'Girr, and sometimes as Grace M'Girr. Johnnie rented parks of land on both the Torr and Collin estates, and applied to Major Culton for a field on the Auchencairn property. The Major overheard Johnnie speculating as to what rent the Major was likely to charge him for it. "Guide us,” exclaimed Johnnie at last, " if the Major was sic a great frien' as he pretends, he wad gie me it for naething." The Major, relishing the humour of the thing, gave it him rent free. He had a great horror of death. When in bed, and not expected to recover, a visitor said to him that a certain aged individual was dead, and added "he was your next neigh¬bour, and it may be you, Johnnie, next." "Na," was the reply; "Daltammie is a nearer neighboor than him, and he's no dead yet." On another occasion he overheard a visitor saying, concerning him, "He'll no be lang here; he keeps ower near the front o' the bed to last." Afterwards Johnnie kept well to the back of the bed.

He died at Bunker's Hill, and was buried in Rerwick kirkyard. On the day of his funeral it was a downpour of rain, and the open grave was half full of water. It was proposed to bail it out, but Major Culton, who was present, exclaimed, "Stap him in! stap him in! he was aye fond o' water when leevin'; he'll surely no quarrel wi't when deid." On his death his sister Girzy heired Bunker's Hill. She left it to Nicky Girr, a natural daughter of Johnnie's, whom she adopted. It was eventually sold to the laird of Collin - the price being required for the support of an imbecile son of Nicky's. It is still a respect¬able-looking house of two stories, with wings of one storey, and is faced from bottom to top with hewn red freestone – the lintels, window joists, door facings, and chimney heads being of the same material. At the time it was built, it must have been superior to most of the lairds' houses in the parish, and is a wonderful erection for one in M'Girr's position to have accomplished. It stands on a bank near the entrance to Auchencairn from Castle-Douglas, in close proximity to the manse and glebe belonging to the Free Kirk.

Sometimes it is called Mount Pleasant by polite individuals, but the name does not take, and the neigh¬bouring houses of Castle Daffin are by similar persons designated Castle Bank; whilst a cottage up the same bye-road, formerly known as Gutteryliggate, has received the more elegant designation of Burnside Cottage. Bunker's Hill commands a fine view of Auchencairn Bay, and is not far from the head of that estuary, and consequently in a good position for the residence of a smuggling captain.

A correspondent asserts it was Johnnie Girr, not Willie Grier, who boasted of his high connections, and who said those individuals were no friends of his who wore "sail claith sarks." Be this as it may, it is certain that Johnnie was connected with Dr Anderson of Castle-Douglas (a cousin, I am told), and by stretching the imagination he may be said to have been in "a sense and a way" related to the sister of Sir Robert Maxwell of Orchardton, who married beneath her position. Her husband was John Sloan of Mill Ha', Auchen¬cairn, who was a mason to trade, but after his marriage was promoted to be a coastguard. He owned a small vessel. Sloan's daughter, Barbara, married David Girr, a cousin of Johnnie's, and their burial places are together in Rerwick kirkyard. David was a coastguard, and was so active and energetic in his profession that he was commonly known as the "Cruiser." David's son, Maxwell Girr, received his Christian name in consequence of his descent from the Maxwells of Orchardton. He was a mason, says my informant, and a "grand" one.

When Sir Robert Maxwell built the late house of Orchardton, Johnnie Girr was employed to carry up the big stones on his back, on account of his great strength. Once he exclaimed, when he saw a man on crutches hirpling down the avenue to the Catholic chapel at Munches, "Gude guide us! Saw ye e'er the like o' yon? - a man gaun to the deevil on stilts." On one occasion he furnished a good illustration of the adage, "None are so deaf as those who won't hear." He farmed the fields of Richard Cairn from Major Culton, and one day was gossiping beside the house called Moss-side, where some building operations were going on, his cows blocking up the public road. Henry Ferguson, of Orroland, rode up on horseback, and his progress being impeded, he shouted, "Whose cows are those?" "It's a wee bit barn they're biggin' for Dawvid Currie," replied Johnnie." "I say, whose cows are those?" repeated Mr Ferguson in angry tones. The same reply came from Johnnie - "It's a wee bit barn they're biggin' for Dawvid Currie," on which Mr Ferguson, who by this time had got through the cows, rode off in a fury.

At another time Johnnie saw a dog sitting engaged in rubbing its paw energetically over its ear. "Guide us, lad," said he, as if he was addressing a Christian, "If ye dinna tak' care, ye'll break the wecht," the illusion being to the article of that name made of sheepskin, with a wooden rim.

The following entry appears in Rev. David Gibson's journal: - "December 21st, 1833 (Saturday). - This morning, at a little after nine o'clock, died John M'Girr, in Auchencairn, aged 88 years. I have long known him, and have seen him frequently in his illness, which has been for a number of months. 24th (Tuesday).- After attending the funeral of John M'Girr, which was this day at 12 o'clock, I went to the Scar, and preached in the evening at 6 o'clock." Another entry relates to his sister's death. "12th January, 1837 (Lord's Day).—This evening, at 9 o'clock, died Grizzle M'Girr, in her 96th year of age, who was a Cameronian, or Hill Community, but had seen no minister of her persuasion, I believe, for many years. She did not seem much taken up with the peculiarities of the party she joined; but the doctrines of the Gospel she valued, understood, and held fast. She was what is understood by being a Calvinist, and in her latter end it was pleasant to observe how peace reigned in her, while she knew how God was determined to punish sin as most hateful to Him, and yet by the knowledge of God, Christ reigned. She died in peace."

Girzy, as she was familiarly called, is spoken of as so bent with age in her latter years as to have been compelled to walk with two sticks, and awfully cantankerous, the juveniles plundering and breaking her crab trees, and throwing stones into the doorway of Bunker's Hill House. The following anecdote I was inclined to attribute to Girzy, but as I am told positively she was a pious, consistent Christian, and never swore - and Rev. Mr Gibson's testimony is beyond question - it must relate to some other Auchencairn worthy (as I have since ascertained). It is to the effect that a great light or leading dame of the Whig or Cameronian persuasion was very quick in the temper, and when unduly provoked was accustomed to relieve herself with an oath or two, which practice appeared to do her good. This failing was known to the "ungodly" among the villagers, who liked to provoke her to indulge this evil propensity. On one occasion the Rev. James Reid had been holding forth to the brethren, and was taken by Willie Ghie, the elder, to this old lady's to tea. During the time of refreshment some of the villagers persuaded a half imbecile lad to go up on the roof of the house, and make as much noise as he could. This had the desired effect, and out came the expected dame, and out came the expected bad words also. Willie Ghie, who heard the noise, and guessed there was an explosion, hastened to the door. "Oh," said he, "dinna sweer; think o' the scoffin' o' the ungodly." "Wha can help sweerin'," she rejoined, "wi' the man o' God in the hoose, and the deevil on the riggin'."

A few months after Girzy's death, Johnnie's natural daughter, to whom she had left Bunker's Hill House, died in a tragic manner. Rev. Mr Gibson gives the following particulars in his diary:- "30th March, 1837. - This evening the unexpected death of Nicholas M'Girr was announced. In ordinary health, I understand she left home to-day, and went to Castle-Douglas with her web. Her husband engaged to meet her and assist her in carrying her web she was to receive to weave. Her husband says he met her at the place he expected, and took her burden, or a part of it, from her, but they had walked only a very little till he was surprised by her altered manner. She could not stand. He laid her down on the road-side, and ran to Castle-Douglas, being only a little distance from it, and procured a medical man, who came, but she was dead. April1ist (Saturday). - The Fiscal has come to Auchencairn, and Dr M'Keur, from Castle-Douglas, and inspected the body of Nicholas M'Girr. Col. Gordon of Balcary was present also, and afterwards Drs M'Keur and Trotter opened the body. The husband very drunk this evening. April 3rd (Monday). - This afternoon, at three o'clock, Nicholas M'Girr was buried. She was much given to ardent spirits, and appears to have died in a state of intoxication. Her husband, Thomas Lithgow, began drinking of whisky immediately after the medical gentlemen declared that Nicholas, his wife, was dead; and took spirits after his return to his house. Next day (Friday) locked up the house and went to Castle Douglas, and returned after night-fall and took spirits in excess, while the body of his wife was examining. April l0th (Monday). - This day, Thomas Lithgow, hus¬band of the late Nicholas M'Girr, left Auchencairn for Castle-Douglas, to go by the carrier to Glasgow, money being given him to pay his expenses on the way. All the people seem glad - and there is no reason to think but are universally and sincerely glad - at his departure from this place." The medical men were in doubt whether this was a case of murder, but agreed to give the husband the benefit of the doubt.

External Links