WIGTOWNSHIRE, a maritime county, in the south-west of SCOTLAND, bounded on the north by Ayrshire; on the east by the stewartry or county of Kirkcudbright and by Wigtown bay; and on the south and west by the Irish Sea. It lies between 54° 38' and 56° 5' (N. Lat.) and 4° 16' and 5° 7' (W. Long.), and is about 32 miles in length and 29 miles in extreme breadth; comprising an area of nearly 480 square miles, or 305,000 acres; 7711 houses, of which 7440 are inhabited; and containing a population of 39,195, of whom 18,290 are males and 20,905 females. This county, which forms the western portion of the ancient district of Galloway, appears to have derived its name from the situation of its chief, or perhaps at that time its only, town, on an eminence whose base was washed by the sea. At the period of the Roman invasion of Britain, it was inhabited by the Celtic tribe of the Novantes, who seem to have in a great measure maintained their independence against the attempts of the Romans to reduce them to subjection. On the departure of the Romans, the province became part of the territories of the Northumbrian kings, under whose government it remained till the commencement of the ninth century, when it fell into the power of the Picts, who continued, for a considerable time after the union of the two kingdoms by Kenneth II., to exercise a kind of sovereign authority in this part of Scotland. But amid all these changes, the original Celtic inhabitants retained their ancient customs, and preserved that natural impetuosity of character and indomitable spirit which caused them to be known as the "wild Scots of Galloway". From their heroic valour, they obtained from the Scottish monarchs the privilege of forming the van in every engagement at which they might be present; and under their own independent lord, who was killed in the conflict, they highly distinguished themselves at the battle of the Standard in the reign of David I. The last of the lords of Galloway was Allan, whose grandson, John Baliol, succeeded to the Scottish throne on the death of Alexander III. After the decease of Robert Bruce, the county of Wigtown, with the title of Earl, was conferred by David II. on Sir Malcolm Fleming, from whose family the lands passed to the Douglases, by whom they were held till their forfeiture in 1453, after which they were divided among various families, the Agnews being created heritable sheriffs.
Previously to the abolition of episcopacy, the county was included in the diocese of Galloway; it is now in the synod of Galloway, and comprises the presbyteries of Wigtown and Stranraer, and seventeen parishes. For civil purposes the county is under the jurisdiction of a sheriff-depute, by whom a sheriff-substitute is appointed, who resides at Wigtown, the county-town, where quarter-sessions are held in March, May, and October, and the sheriff's court every Tuesday. A court of quarter-session is held at Glenluce on the first Tuesday in August; and sheriffs courts for small debts are holden at Stranraer every alternate month, and at Newton-Stewart and Whithorn every three months. The county contains the three royal burghs of Wigtown, Stranraer, and Whithorn; the burghs-of-barony of Newton-Stewart, Garliestown, Glenluce, and Portpatrick; and several small ports and thriving villages. Under the act of the 2nd of William IV., the shire returns one member to the imperial parliament.
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Parishes and places
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