MORTON, a parish, in the county of Dumfries, 15 miles (N. W. by N.) from Dumfries; containing, with the village of Thornhill, and part of Carronbridge, 2161 inhabitants. The name of Morton, which is Anglo-Saxon, signifies "the stronghold or dwelling on the moor;" and the parish appears to have been thus denominated from the old castle of Morton, a very strong place, the striking ruins of which are still to be seen upon an extensive moor at the bottom of a beautiful green hill. This castle is supposed to have been originally the possession of a Norman chief named de Moreville, whose family had settled in Scotland in the 10th century, obtained a large part of the estates in this neighbourhood, and risen to great power and eminence. He was appointed hereditary lord high constable of Scotland; and his grandson, Hugo de Moreville, in the year 1140, founded the monastery of Kilwinning, in Ayrshire, and in 1144 the abbey of Dryburgh, in Teviotdale. Hugo afterwards gave a portion of land called the Park to the abbey of Melrose; but this property, with the church of Morton, was eventually bestowed on the monks of Kelso. The possessions at Hugo's death, came to his son, and subsequently to his grandson, William de Moreville, who dying without issue, they all fell, by marriage with Emma, sister of William, to Roland, Lord of Galloway, who also, with the castle and all the property, obtained the office of lord high constable. Allan, Roland's son, married Margaret, the eldest daughter of David, Earl of Huntingdon, by whom he had three daughters, the eldest of whom was married to John Baliol, the father of John Baliol, King of Scotland. After Bruce ascended the throne, the lands of the Baliol family and their adherents were conferred as rewards of service on the friends of the new king, of whom Randolph, Bruce's nephew, obtained extensive grants of land in Annandale, as well as the castle of Morton, which he held when regent during the minority of David Bruce.
   But the property here not long after passed into other hands; for Robert II. bestowed his daughter, Egidia, on William Douglas, natural son of Archibald Douglas, Lord of Galloway, to whom he gave as a dowry the castle of Morton and the district of Nithsdale. In 1390, Douglas set out for Prussia to the Holy war, and was killed at Dantzic, on the Vistula, by assassins hired by Clifford, an Englishman, formerly his rival, and still envious of his honour and promotion. Since this time the castle and lands of Morton have been in the possession of some branch of the family of Douglas. The parish has long given a title to the Douglases, earls of Morton, whose residence at one time is said to have been Morton Castle, and who were proprietors of the whole lands, with the exception of the Mains of Morton, lying north-west of the castle, and which belonged to the Douglases, lairds of Morton, one of whom, Malcolm Douglas of Mains, was distinguished for his bravery in the border wars. The last of this family of Mains was Captain James Douglas, who died at Bratford, in the parish of Penpont, about the beginning of the last century. The earls eventually sold their property and interest here to Sir William Douglas Cashoggle, who built a house a little south of Thornhill, called the Red House, where be sometimes resided; but William Douglas, first earl of Queensberry, obtained from Cashoggle nearly all his lands, as well as the lands of Morton-Mains from the other family, and, being lord of the regality of Hawick, procured authority in 1610 to translate that regality to Thornhill, to which he gave the name of New Dalgarnoch. In 1810 the Scotts, dukes of Buccleuch, succeeded to this and other property of the dukes of Queensberry.
   The parish is six miles in length from north to south, and its mean breadth is about two miles; it contains 7680 acres. It is bounded on the north and north-west by the parish of Crawford, in Lanarkshire; on the west by the parish of Durisdeer, from which it is separated by the Sheilhouse rivulet and the river Carron; on the south-west by the Nith, with the exception of about 120 acres called Morton holm, lying on the south-west bank of that river; and on the south-east and east by the parish of Closeburn and Dalgarno, from which it is divided by the Cample. The surface throughout is diversified by hill and valley, except along the banks of the rivers, where it is flat. The rising grounds consist partly of three considerable ridges north of the Nith, large tracts of which are uncultivated, and on the first of which the village of Thornhill is situated. The surface afterwards is gradually depressed until the declivity of the third ridge terminates in a valley; and then appear other hills and mountains, one of which rises 2500 feet above the level of the sea, though there is generally a considerable tract of rich arable and meadow land near the bases of the heights. In the interior of the parish, are numerous springs, rivulets, and burns; and the rivers Carron and Cample run, as already stated, on its western and eastern boundaries, and the river Nith on the south-west.
   The soil is rich and productive along the banks of the rivers, and on the first of the three ridges light and fertile, resting upon a gravelly bottom: on the two other ridges it is wet and heavy, and lies upon a clayey subsoil. About 2600 acres are under cultivation; 580 are under wood, ninety of which consist chiefly of British oak fifty years old; and 4500 acres are waste or natural pasture, 1200 of which are considered capable of profitable cultivation. The grain is chiefly oats and barley, and the green crops produced are of good quality. The sheep usually reared are the black-faced, which, as being more hardy, are considered better suited than the Cheviots to the climate of the parish; the cattle are mostly the black Galloways, but the cows preferred for the dairy are of the Ayrshire breed. The stock of draught horses has within these few years been much bettered. The best system of husbandry is now adopted, and great improvements have been made of late. Large tracts of uncultivated land have been fully reclaimed; inclosures and plantations are increasing with unusual rapidity; and farm houses and offices of a very superior kind are rising in every direction. The Duke of Buccleuch is sole proprietor of the parish, with the exception of the farm of Ridings; and its rateable annual value amounts to £2817. The rocks which lie under the arable land consist chiefly of red sandstone; the mountains rest on the primitive and whinstone formations. The mansion-house of the duke's chamberlain is elegant and commodious. There are two villages, viz. Carronbridge and Thornhill, the latter of which has received great attention from the proprietor, and exhibits many important improvements. It has excellent shops, two good inns, and a tannery employing about thirty hands; and is a clean, healthy, and populous village, through which the high roads from Dumfries, and from Galloway by Minnyhive and Penpont, pass to Edinburgh and Glasgow. There are fairs in this village in February, May, August, and November, on the second Tuesday in the month, Old Style; many persons meet here to hire servants, and there is a considerable traffic in coarse woollen and linen cloth, and in yarn made in the neighbourhood.
   The ecclesiastical affairs are directed by the presbytery of Penpont and synod of Dumfries; patron, the Duke of Buccleuch. The stipend of the minister is £237; and there is a small but comfortable manse, with a glebe of about twenty acres, worth £25 a year. The church, an elegant edifice in the early Norman style, was built in 1840; it stands on an elevated spot near the village of Thornhill, chosen by the duke, by whom, it is understood, the plan of the building was designed; and from its picturesque appearance is a great ornament to the surrounding country. There is also a dissenting meeting-house, formerly belonging to the Antiburgher persuasion, but now held by the United Associate Synod. A parochial school is maintained, the master of which has a salary of £34, about £30 fees, and a free house and garden, with upwards of two acres of land. Other schools are supported by fees; and there is a flourishing subscription library in the village of Thornhill, instituted in 1814; besides three or four friendly societies in the parish. Among the antiquities is a Roman fort or castellum with intrenchments, called the Deer Camp; it is situated about two miles north of Tibbers, the great station in the parish of Penpont. The castle of Morton, however, is the most considerable relic of antiquity, though not above half of it now remains; it stands on the margin of a deep glen, and the ruin is about 100 feet in length, and nearly thirty in breadth. The wall of the south front, still entire, is about forty feet high, and has at each corner a round tower twelve feet in diameter: the foundation walls are generally eight, but in some places ten, feet thick. About the beginning of the last century a boat, cut from one solid piece of wood, and resembling an Indian canoe, was dug out of the bottom of a tract of moss not far from the castle, a circumstance which has led to the conclusion that the ground on which it stands was formerly encircled by a loch. In the vicinity other relics have been discovered, indicating the occurrence of hostile engagements. There are several chalybeate springs in the parish; and near the castle is a spring issuing from a peat-moss, impregnated with a small quantity of sulphuretted hydrogen, and the water of which has proved of singular advantage in cutaneous complaints.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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