The Second Convention of the Society people at Priesthill, 15 March, 1682

•April 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Like his account of the first convention, Michael Shields’ narrative of the second convention is largely concerned with presenting the radical platform adopted by the Society people in their early conventions in a moderate light. He also reported that the societies were divided over Alexander Gordon of Earlstoun and John Nisbet’s mission to England and the United Provinces.


Martyr Grave at Priesthill © Richard Webb and licensed for reuse.

The Societies also decided that those attending future conventions, i.e., from the third convention, should come armed to defend themselves from government forces. John Graham of Claverhouse would nearly encounter the Society people at the third convention.

The second convention was held at Priesthill in Muirkirk parish, Ayrshire. It was the home of John Brown who was summary executed on the orders of Claverhouse in May, 1685.

Map of Priesthill

His account of the second convention is as follows:

‘However, according to the appointment of the last general meeting did conveen at the Priest-hill, in the parish of Muir-kirk of Kyle, and sheriffdom of Air, upon the 15th of March 1682. After they were met, and prayer ended, this meeting (but especially afterward, method being attained by degrees, and not at the first) for order’s sake was thus modelled; when it was known who were these sent from the several societies (there being always more there than such) there was chosen of these sixteen, and sometimes more, to make up which number, every shire choosed some more, and some fewer, according to the number of societies therein, and where there was but one out of a shire, he was always of that number. Again out of these was chosen a Præses [such as George Hill]; not that to him was given (neither did they claim) any power or authority, over the rest, but for keeping of order, and avoiding of confusion, which was very incident among such a company. Sometimes the rest of the Commissioners were desired to go to another place, and spend the time in prayer; but what conclusions were requisite for them to know and obtain their consent unto, were signified to them, that they might acquaint their societies therewith when they went home; or if they had any thing to object, they might give it in; at other times they were present, that they might see and hear what past, and speak their mind, when they saw it necessary, that so they might the better give an account thereof when they went home to their societies.

Next when this was done, these were some questions enquired at every one of the selected number; such as, If they knew the mind of the society they were sent from? If they did, whether their society owned the Testimony against tyranny and defection? if they were free of scandal? as also if any there present, knew any of the rest, chargeable with such things? And if any were found so chargeable; they were in all sobriety desired to withdraw, but not to be offended, seeing what they did was out of love to them, and for their own exoneration, to manifest their hatred at the sin, and sense of the justness of the censure to be inflicted for such scandals by [>p17.] these who were competent for the same. This method hath been still followed. And about two years after this, these questions were written, which I shall insert when I come to the time in which the same was done. And albeit, this hath been exclaimed against by many, and called by some cannons; yet the same was, and is thought necessary, seeing, at the first beginning of these meetings, and since, many people were sadly involved, and insnared in the public defections, and gross compliances of the time; which would have been found censurable by church judicatories, in a peaceable and settled condition of the church, and in this confused and broken; time, wanting such judicatories to make application unto (however being willing to retain the sense of the justness of the censure, which should be inflicted upon the persons guiltv of public scandal.) Therefore out of love to their brethren, and fear of partaking of other men’s sins, they desired and endeavoured to have the members they concurred with in these meetings, in carrying on, and managing the Testimony in their stations, so qualified, as they might with comfort and confidence join with, being of one mind and judgment, as to the matter of the Testimony, and free of any public scandal; or if they, had been chargeable with any, confessed it, were sensible of the evil thereof, and willing to acknowledge offence they had given thereby, to such as were competent to take the same. This was, nor is not a taking upon them the trial of scandals, or scandalous persons; for all the trial which they did, and do judge incumbent for them being private persons in their private capacity notwithstanding of the greatest necessity, is not judicial and authoritative, but meerly private and popular, for information about the case and practice of the persons, in order to the regulating of their consciences, in their duty and carriage toward them; that so according to the judgment of discretion, they might be fully persuaded in their minds, as to what was right and wrong, true or false, and might not remain staggering or doubting in their duty toward them.

These questions being enquired, and what followed thereupon at an end; then what business they had to consult about, and to deliberate upon, came to be considered. The first thing done at the meeting, as likewise at several meetings afterwards, was the reading of the conclusions of the foregoing meeting, and it was enquired at every member, if he .approved of the same. [>p18.] At this meeting they did approve thereof. That which moved to this was, that in case any particular person,, or society had seen since the last meeting ground of objection against any of the resolutions therein concluded, they might give them in, that so, after due consideration, if it were found necessary, such resolutions might either be altered, or quite laid aside.

Next, it was concluded by them, that the honourable Alexander Gordon of Earlston, attended by John Nisbet, should be commissionate to foreign nations, to represent their low case to the reformed churches there. And that money should be collected and brought into Edinburgh, betwixt and the 4th of April next thereafter, for helping to defray his expenses in that undertaking. [… >p19.] This conclusion was in pursuance of one in the former meeting, that every Commissioner there, should seek the advice of their societies about sending some abroad to reformed foreign churches, for making known to them the sad case of this church. And in a particular manner their own low case, and to come resolved about it to this meeting, which accordingly was done, and they thought the sending some abroad very rational and necessary. So at this meeting it was unanimously concluded upon; and Earlston as the man of greatest repute, and best qualified, among them, was jointly pitched upon. Notwithstanding whereof within a few days after, some (especially Andrew Young, a man of no despicable parts, and one who was then seemingly zealous in promoting the Testimony, yea and cordial in this conclusion) went to Glasgow, where consulting with some friends, they dissented from this resolution, alledging, among other things that the person nominate was not fit for managing of a matter of such importance. In which dissentment joyned several societies, refusing to concurr by collecting money for promoting it. And the rest being sent for the same, it occasioned no small division and contention [at the third convention], both by word and writ. But the conclusion was rational, and seemed necessary at the time, the reasons moving to the falling upon it, is somewhat shown above: In short, it was the endeavouring to represent the deplorable condition of this church, especially, the sad case themselves was redacted unto; and to seek the rolling away of reproaches industriously heaped upon them: and to shew the justness of their cause they were contending and suffering for, that so they might obtain that sympathy abroad, which was denied them at home, Howbeit this conclusion was dissented from and much opposed. Yet, Earlstoun, in April, went from this land for London with John Nisbet, where he left him, and went to the Netherlands [in the late summer of 1682].

Likewise it was concluded, that the Commissioners there present should acquaint and desire every man of his respective society, to provide for himself with weapons, in case there should be any need requiring the same.

The reasons moving to this resolution, were the endeavouring to retain, and maintain that principle of self defence whereupon it was founded, which nature teaches, yet it is contradicted and opposed by our unreasonable [>p20.] adversaries, from whose unjust violence (by whom they were killed all the day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter) they sought by this mean to defend themselves, and resist them; not only in their wanderings, but also when together in their meetings, in case they should be assaulted by enemies. As also. that they might be in some posture for their own defence, if bloody papists should make a massacre.

Moreover, it was concluded, that although persons having made defection from the way of God, or lying under public scandal, providing they be sensible of their sin, and give signs of their repentance, may be received into the society, upon engagement to make acknowledgment of their sin, according to the degree of their offence, and the satisfying of the offended, to these who are competent to receive the same. This conclusion since, hath many a time been put in practice; and that which gave the rise to this resolution, was, Many persons in the time of temptation, and hour and power of darkness, having made defection, who through grace attained not only the sense of the dishonour done to God thereby, but also of the offence done to their brethren, with whom they were willing to be reconciled, by acknowledging their offence: And in particular from the sense of the justness of the cause owned by the witnessing party, they were desirous to incorporate themselves with them, which they did signify to them; who though they were willing to encourage them all they could, in the way of duty, yet as to joining with them, being guilty of such scandals they knew not well what to do in it, so they represented the case to their brethren at this meeting to get their advice, about the same; who taking it to their serious consideration, resolved upon this conclusion, above mentioned, as the only expedient which they could fall upon, in their case, and circumstances: seeing albeit they wanted ministers, and were not themselves competent for the trial and removal of scandals; yet, that such an engagement should be required and obtained, was rational, they thereby declaring the justness of the censure to be inflicted, albeit they could not do it.’ (Shields, FCD, 16-20.)

Curiously, Shields does not record either if any fast days were appointed by the meeting, or that the third convention was set for 15 June at Talla Linn.

He does record that in the aftermath of the second convention that there were serious divisions within the Society people over the issue of sending Earlstoun and Nisbet to London, and possibly to the United Provinces, probably to open a pathway for the ordination of ministers:

‘Among other things, the dissentment from the conclusion of the last meeting [i.e., of the second convention] about Earlstoun’s going abroad, was very discouraging, and was the occasion of much, contention and division; for those who were for the conclusion, were bent for prosecuting it to the utmost of their power, and these who dissented were as much against it. There were several writings past between the one and the other: Some in Glasgow who were chief in the dissentment, wrote to those in Edinburgh, who were far the conclusion, giving reasons of their so doing, which was answered. And Mr. [Andrew] Young, a great stickler for the dissentment, with most of the society in Teviotdale wrote also to those in Edinburgh; so that the debate came to no small height, and was like to be the occasion of a greater rent than it produced, if it had not been timeously prevented [by the events at the third convention].’ (Shields, FCD, 21.)

For more on the second convention, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The First Convention of the Society people, 15 December, 1681

•April 14, 2015 • Leave a Comment

In Faithful Contendings Displayed, Michael Shields, the clerk of the United Societies’ conventions, gave an account of the very first convention held by the Society people in late 1681.

Logan Farm

Logan Farm © Gordon Brown and licensed for reuse.

There is no evidence that Shields was present at the first or any other of the early conventions in 1682, although it is a reasonable assumption that he was present at some of those meetings, as in January, 1683, he succeeded James Renwick as the clerk of the convention. From that point on, Shields’ record of those meetings becomes more detailed.

Shields was well informed about what took place at the first convention in 1681. However, writing in the 1690s, his interpretation of it was focussed through the prism of the Societies’ An Informatory Vindication (1687), which had stepped back from the radical platform adopted by the Society people at the first convention. As a result, his account of the convention, while broadly accurate, is much vaguer than a historian might desire.

The first convention was held a Logan in Lesmahagow parish, Lanarkshire, a property associated with John Steel of Over Waterhead, a forfeited laird and significant figure in the early history of the Society people.

Map of Logan                    Aerial View of Logan

Shields’ account is as follows:

‘The first of these General Meetings was kept upon the 15th of December, 1681, at the Logan house [i.e., Logan Waterhead], in the parish of Lismahagow and shire of Clidesdale. Before, or at which time, the condition of the country was lamentable, the cruelty and malice of the enemy was come to a great height; they were pressing conformity to their iniquitous courses, and alas! they were much complied with. Defection was growing, sin was abounding, and the love of many was waxing cold, snares and temptations were increasing; and which was sad, people wanted faithful warning of the sin and danger of the time, for ministers (as if change of dispensations could give a discharge from indispensible duty) were lying bye from the public preaching of the gospel, and did not (as becomes watchmen) set the trumpet to their mouth, to give a certain sound of what was duty and what was sin, in such [>p10.] a time of great danger and extreme necessity: But especially the case of the scattered, reproached, persecuted, and yet contending party was sad; for upon the one hand enemies rage was keen against them, so that they were reduced to very great straits, of hiding, chasing, wandering, imprisonment and killing: So upon the other, as the want of the faithfully preached gospel was very wounding to them, the enjoying of which in purity and power, would have been refreshing, encouraging and watering to them in their weary wilderness condition: So the sad reproaches and odious calumnies, particularly being of [John] Gib’s [Sweet Singer] principles [of 1680 to 1681], which were; cast upon them by many, especially by some [presbyterian] ministers and professors, was not easy to bear. Notwithstanding of which, and many more discouragements, the forsaid day and place, A meeting did conveen, consisting of persons sent from several societies up and down the country, who owned and adhered to the Testimony of the day. The occasion of which meeting, is a little hinted above; in short, it was this: To consider about, and determine upon giving a Public Testimony against the wicked acts of the late Parliament [of 1681], especially that wretched Test, and for settling a correspondence thereafter among all them of one judgment in owning the testimony. After they were met, and prayer ended, it was thought convenient that a certain number should be chosen out of the whole, for the more speedy and easy resolving upon what they were met about; which being done, the first thing they did, in reference to the making of any conclusion, was the reviling and rectifying of an Act and Declaration, [i.e., the Lanark Declaration] (the form whereof being drawn up before) wherein, after they have related how the late deceast tyrant, Charles the II. [who died in 1685] was legally cast off by the Declaration published at Sauquhar [in June, 1680]; they give reasons of their revolt from, and disowning of his authority; and in the end they shew, their adherence to the Rutherglen and Sanquhar declarations. So they declare against whatever hath been done by Charles Stuart and his accomplices, in prejudice to our antient laws and liberties, in all his several pretended parliaments since the year 1660, and particularly the late parliament holden at Edinburgh, July 28, 1681, by a Commissioner professedly Popish [i.e., James, Duke of York], and for villainy exiled his native land, with all the acts therein enacted; as that abominable, ridiculous, unparalleled, and soul-perjuring Test, and the rest. After this was done, the same was publicly read in the audience, of all present at the meeting, and [>p11.] their judgment required of, and their consent sought unto it, which was cheerfully obtained; so that it was resolved that the same should be published at Lanerk, upon the 12th of January 1682, and some horse and foot to do the same. That which gave the occasion to the consulting and resolving upon the publishing of this Testimony, is a little mentioned above, and the doing thereof in such a public manner was necessary, seeing thereby they evidenced their zeal for the cause wronged by these wicked laws, their fear of partaking of other mess sins, lest they should partake of their judgments also; their desire to have the conviction of the heinousness of the sins witnessed against fastened upon the consciences of the contrivers, actors, and compilers with the same; and to cast a fair copy to posterity, if the like necessity calling for the same should occur; as they had got many notable instances of the like, from their predecessors of worthy memory. Though what followed upon this so necessary a duty, be matter of mourning, yet not in the least to make the lawfulness or expediency thereof to be called in question. As upon the one hand, when the cruel adversary, angry that there should be any in the land, evidencing their love and loyalty to Christ, and zeal against the wrongs done to him, his cause and interest, heard of the publishing of this Testimony to shew their indignation against the same, they caused the (so called) magistrates of Edinburgh to erect a stage at the cross; and there in their robes, (by the hand of the hangman) solemnly to burn the Declaration published at Lanerk; and with it the Solemn League and Covenant [of 1643], upon which they said, (in a paper they printed) that the Declaration was founded; and fined the town of Lanerk in 6000 Merks, because they did not hinder the publishing of it, although it was not in their power to do the same. So upon the other hand, though it made the cause owned by the publishers more clear to some, yet many ministers and professors condemned it, even for disowning the authority of the Tyrant by such a party, as well as for some expressions in it, as Convention of Estates, In our name and authority, &c. which were indeed not well worded, and unadvisedly put in, the defence of which was afterward past from, as it is to be seen in their Informatory Vindication [published in 1687].

A second thing resolved upon, was the agreeing upon and settling a General Correspondence to run circular through the whole societies of the nation owning the [>p12.] Testimony, every fourteen days, or at least every month. This conclusion was thought very rational and necessary, for the speedy knowing of one another’s minds about any matter in agitation among them, and communicating their thoughts to one another for counsel and direction, how to carry, in and about the same, and for avoiding of confusion and preserving union. And as the design of agreeing upon this conclusion was very rational, so what hath followed upon the same, hath tended to the advantage of the cause and encouragement of its owners, for it hath produced this effect: Where there were several societies in a shire, they have endeavoured to keep up a correspondence among themselves by one or two persons sent from every society in the shire, to a place, and at a time appointed, especially presently before, and presently after every General Meeting, for consulting and determining matters relative to one or more of the Societies in the bounds, and for removing of differences among any of them, which was incumbent for them to do in their station. These are called shire meetings; and sometimes two or three shires do so correspond: And when the shire is large, and many societies in it, they divide such meetings in two, and meet together but upon some emergencies more than ordinary: But what things cannot be brought to any conclusion therein, and these matters more public, and which require the advice, concurrence and consent of the whole, were, and are brought to the General Meetiug, that there it might be considered, and some conclusion put thereto, as was proper for them to do, according to their station and capacity. And this method continues unto this day [in the 1690s].

Further, it was concluded that every quarter of a year thereafter there should be a General Meeting of persons to be sent from all the societies in every shire, burgh, and corner of the nation, where they resided who owned the Testimony, To resolve upon this conclusion, was one cause of the conveening of their meeting, which was looked upon as helpful to propagate the Testimony, to preserve unity among its owners, and to strengthen and encourage one another in the way of their duty in that dark, sad and weary day. And though many have been pleased from ignorance or prejudice to exclaim against these meetings, and consequently against this conclusion of the first of them, yet what effects the same hath produced, answerable to the ends of their first appointment, [>p13.] the following account of the subsequent meetings will demonstrate.

Likewise, it was concluded, that nothing should be done by any particular person, without the consent of the society whereof he was a member, in things whereof their knowledge and consent was requisite to be had. And also, that nothing mould be done by any society, or societies in a shire, in matters relative to the public, and which concerned the whole, without the knowledge and consent of the General Meeting. That which made them fall upon this resolution, was the fears that persons or societies (having more zeal than knowledge) might run and rush upon things at their own hand, doing them in name of the whole, and yet without their knowledge and consent, which though even right upon the matter, yet wanting the concurrence of these as much concerned, if not more than they, cannot be reckoned their deed: And if wrong both as to matter and manner, the whole would be blamed; yea the cause would suffer more reproach, seeing in a community it is ordinary to find some persons rash and precipitant in meddling with matters beyond their sphere: Especially there was ground for this fear, in that confused and dark time, for seeking to prevent which they cannot be justly blamed. And as the conclusion was, and is rational, and necessary for that end, especially among a community which desires and designs to do nothing relative to the public, and which concerns the whole, without the knowledge, concurrence and consent of all these concerned; so the same hath proved effectual for keeping of union, excluding of confusion, hedging in of petulant spirits, and right managing of affairs, though several have been pleased to cry out against it as an imposition, especially some who have broken off from them: But as they have explained their meaning in other things, so also in this, as may be seen in their Informatory Vindication, P. 46, 47.

Moreover it was concluded, That each commissioner there present, should after his return to the society he was sent from, consult with, and seek their advice, if they judged it necessary, that some person or persons should be sent abroad to foreign reformed churches [in England and the United Provinces], for making known to them the sad condition of this church, and in particular their own low and lamentable case; and to come resolved to the next meeting, as to the way and manner of carrying it on. Tho’ some effects which followed upon this resolution, were discouraging, as shall [>p14.] be shewn hereafter; yet that which made them fall upon it was reasonable, for as this church in general was in a very sad case being broken with persecution, wounded with division, and like to be ruined with defection, and so stood in need of the help and sympathy of other churches; so in particular that party being members thereof, their condition was not the least deplorable, being sorely persecuted by the common enemy; and sadly reproached, wrongfully represented, and calumnies cast upon them by many of their declining [presbyterian] brethren; as that they were running upon wild extravagancies, particularly that they were of Gib’s principles, which were spread not only in this land, but also in the neighbouring and foreign churches. Therefore to clear themselves of these things, and especially to vindicate the cause owned by them, and also to obtain (being become as aliens to their mother’s children) the sympathy of strangers, they judged it expedient that the societies should take it to their consideration, whether it were necessary to send one or more of their number, in good repute among them, and in some capacity for managing such an undertaking.

It was also resolved, that the 29th of December, next, should be observed by all the societies adhering to the Testimony, and united in that Correspondence, as a day of lasting and prayer unto the Lord, that he would be graciously pleased in mercy, to direct, countenance and bless the action which was to be gone about upon the 12th of January, 1682. This action was the publishing of the Declaration at Lanerk. And that the said 12th of January be observed as a day of fasting and prayer by all that should remain at home, in their several societies, and that the 26th of January, and 19th of February, be observed days of fasting and humiliation, prayer and thanksgiving, by the said societies. And the next general meeting was appointed to be upon the 15th of March at the Priest’s-hill [the home of John Brown in Muirkirk parish, Ayrshire].

Having given this account of the conclusions of this meeting with what gave the occasion to, and followed thereupon: I shall next give the relation of this one thing, which, though it seem to reflect upon these who had any hand in it, yet I could not omit it, seeing it would be reckoned disingenuity in relating the laudable deeds of a person or party, not to give some account of their miscarriages also: especially these which are not only nottour to others, but also confessed to be such by themselves: [>p15.] as this was. But because I study brevity, as well, as impartiality, I shall give it in few words. There was one engagement unto secrecy taken by the members of this meeting, the import of which was, that they should not make known unto any, what conclusions were resolved upon at the time, but upon the like engagement. This was thought necessary and expedient at the time, lest the then intended publishing of the Declaration, should have been discovered, and so the action impeded. But the continuing of it, at the next meeting, and so from one meeting to another, until it was jointly laid aside, was very disadvantageous to the cause, and perplexing to many of the owners thereof; for some of tender consciences scruple to acquaint persons (who either wanted clearness to take the engagement, or else it was thought fit not to tender it to them) with masters, even when the good of the cause was concerned in it, and so it was made a bond of iniquity: And others not minding what bonds were upon them by reason of the same, and from an itching humour which is in many to tell things, became guilty of perjury, by being too lax in it.’ (Shields, FCD, 9-15.)

For more on the first convention, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

Rediscovered for History: The De’il’s Well and Ghaist Hall near Glenluce

•March 31, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Congratulations to David Baird for finding and photographing the De’il’s Well, which is probably the traditional site where the Glenluce Devil is alleged to have threatened to cast in a weaver’s daughter called Janet Campbell in 1655.

Campbells croft 2

Campbell’s Croft, Photograph © Copyright David Baird and reproduced by his kind permission.

A couple of months ago, I posted about the Devil of Glenluce, a story recorded by George Sinclair in the 1670s and in his Satan’s Invisible World Discovered of 1685. Almost immediately, David commented that the were local sites near Glenluce which were possibly connected to the story at Campbell’s Croft, see photograph above, or Ghaist Ha’. The original OS map then revealed that the De’il’s Well lay beside Ghaist Ha’ or Hall.

Deil's Well, Campbell;s Croft, Ghaist Hall Glenluce

David conducted a great piece of field work to find and photograph the two locations. He describes the locations as follows.

Deils Well looking S

The De’il’s Well looking south. Photograph © Copyright David Baird and reproduced by his kind permission.

Map of De’il’s Well

‘The De’il’s Well was easy to find – it’s more of a spring (with a good flow) rather than a well, and if there was ever any stonework or cover around it then it’s long gone. The original basin of the well has silted up a bit but is still quite obvious, and the farmer has made a bit of a pond of the outflow presumably as a water supply for livestock.’

Deils Well looking NE

The De’il’s Well looking north-east. Photograph © Copyright David Baird and reproduced by his kind permission.

According to Sinclair’s story of the Devil:

‘Jennet Campbell going one day to the Well, to bring home some Water, was conveyed, with a shril whistling about her ears, which made her say, I would fain hear thee speake, as well as Whistle. Hereupon it said, after a threatening manner, I’le cast thee Iennet into the Well.’

As David very wisely points out, if you visit the well, DO NOT DRINK THE WATER, as it is highly likely that it is contaminated with animal dung which contains the nasty Cryptosporidium parasite.

Ghaist Ha' site looking SE

Ghaist Ha’ looking south-east. Photograph © Copyright David Baird and reproduced by his kind permission.

Both locations lie to the west of Blackhill near Glenluce. The field pattern had remained relatively unchanged near the sites.

Map of Ghaist Ha’

Ghaist Ha’ is probably the traditional site for the Campbell family home, nearby Campbell’s Croft appears to be a later place name, It was there that the Glenluce Devil is reported to have terrorized the family in 1655 to 1656. Ghaist Ha’ may also be where Jock of Broad Scotland, aka Alexander Agnew a renowned atheist who was executed for blasphemy in 1656, allegedly threatened the Campbell family after he was refused alms.

Ghaist ha' site looking NE

Ghaist Ha’ looking north-east. Photograph © Copyright David Baird and reproduced by his kind permission.

David records:

‘There is nothing visible at all at the site of Ghaist Ha’ apart perhaps from the ground being a bit more level than the rest of the gently sloping hill. I had a good look around the edges of the field and the dykes for any signs of dressed stone or mortar but with no result, so I assume that if there was a building on this site any rubble has been completely removed and any foundations ploughed out.’

Well done David, an outstanding effort. Thank you for bringing these places back to a wider historical audience.

For other strange events and wonders of the 1680s, see here.

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Additional Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Gypsies’ Field of Blood at Romanno, 1677

•March 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

On 1 October, 1677, a ‘battle’ between gypsies took place near Romanno Bridge in Peeblesshire. Five men were later hanged in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket in connection with the battle. Their story then takes a bizarre turn that could almost come straight out of a story by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Track near Romanno

Track near Romanno © Colin Kinnear and licensed for reuse.

In the seventeenth century, the Scottish authorities had a hostile attitude towards gypsies. The reign of James VI (1567-1625) was a turning point in what, today, we would call “community relations”. From that time, there were numerous acts of parliament levelled against Gypsies and banishments to the American plantations. The extremely draconian 1609 Act ‘regarding the Egyptians’ is a particularly sobering read. As a result of that long history, discriminatory attitudes about Gypsies/Travellers are ‘fairly widespread’.

In 1677, a dispute between two Gypsy kin groups, the Faws and the Shaws, ended in the killing of ‘Old Sandie Faw, a bold and proper fellow,’ and his pregnant wife at Romanno, and Sandie’s brother being ‘very dangerously wounded’. The Faws, or Faas, Falls etc, were an important gypsy kin group in the eastern Lowlands.


According to the OS name book, under ‘Romanno’:

‘About ½ Mile E.N.E. from Romannobridge A large rectangular building three Storeys high with vegetable garden and offices attached, and surrounded by a small well wooded Demesne … At the S.W. Corner of the garden is a large Elm tree, around which a battle was fought between two tribes of Gipsies Called The Fawes and the Shaws in the year 1683. in which a good many on both sides were Killed.’

Map of Garden at Romanno                 Aerial View of Garden at Romanno

The OS name book also records the ‘Site of AFFRAY between two Parties of Gypsies 1677’ (See map above):

‘Adjoining Dovecot about ¼ of a Mile E. [East] from Romanno Bridge This is where the contest took place between the two clans of Gipsies, the Fawes and the Shawes; It happened on the first of October 1677, and to commemorate the event Doctor Pennicuik erected a Dovecot on the spot where the fight took place, no remains of this Dovecot are to be seen now but the stone bearing the inscription (viz The field of Gipsie blood which here you see. A shelter for the harmless dove shall be) 1683 is still to be seen, it is placed above the Garden door at Romano.’

The historical sources confirm that the ‘battle’ took place in 1677 and that the Doocot was probably erected in 1683.

In the 1680s, the estate at Romanno was owned by Alexander Pennecuik, who wrote about the ‘battle’ in his description of Tweeddale that was probably composed in the 1690s:

‘Upon the first of October 1677, there happened at Romanno, on the very spot where now the Dove-cot is built a memorable Polymachy betwixt two Clans of Gipsies, the Fawes and Shawes; who had Come from Haddington fair, and were going to Harestanes to meet two other Clans of those rogues, the Baillies and Browns, with a resolution to fight them. They fell out at Romanno amongst themselves, about dividing the spoil they had got at Haddington And fought it manfully. Of the Fawes there were four brethren And a brothers son; of the Shawes, the father with three Sons; And Several women on both sides. Old Sandie Faw a bold and proper fellow, with his wife, then with Child, were both Killed dead upon the place; And his brother George, very dangerously wounded. In February 1678 old Robin Shaw, the gipsie, And his three sons, were hanged at the Grass Mercat for the above mentioned murder Committed at Romanno; And John Faw was hanged the Wednesday following for another murder – Sir Archibald Primrose was Justice General at the time; And Sir George McKenzie King’s Advocate.’ (Pennecuik, Works, 179-81.)

In the nineteenth century, Robert Chambers told the following version of the story in his Domestic Annals, which were based on earlier historical sources:

‘Oct. 1. [1677] The Egyptians or gipsies still roamed in a lawless manner over the country, without attracting much notice from the authorities, their conduct being now probably less troublesome than it had been in the reign of King James [VI (d.1625)]. Two bands of these people, the Faws and the Shaws, on their way from Haddington fair to Harestanes, in Peeblesshire, where they expected to meet and fight two other tribes, the Bailies and Browns, fell out among themselves at Romanno about the spoil they had lately acquired, and immediately engaged in battle. ‘Old Sandie Faw, a bold and proper fellow,’ and his wife, then pregnant, were killed on the spot, while his brother George was very dangerously wounded.

[John Murray] The Laird of Romanno apprehended ‘Robert Shaw; Margaret Faw, his spouse; James, Patrick, Alexander, and Thomas Shaws, their sons; and Helen Shaw, their daughter; Robert and John Paws; John Paw younger; Agnes and Isobel Shaws; Isobel Shaw younger; and George Faw, and did commit them prisoners within the Tolbooth of Peebles;’ whence they were speedily removed to Edinburgh to be tried.’

Track from Romanno Bridge to Peebles

Track from Romanno Bridge to Peebles © Chris Heaton and licensed for reuse.

Only archaeological remains of Peebles Tolboorh exist, but it lay on the Brodgegate in Peebles.

Street View of former site of Peebles Tolbooth

Chambers continues:

‘We soon after find the Council despatching a warrant to [Murray] the Laird of Romanno and Mr Patrick Purdie, to send to Edinburgh ‘the money, gold, gold rings, and other things which were upon these persons;’ likewise the weapons with which they had fought. An account of expenses sent by the magistrates of Peebles was disallowed, excepting only £15 Scots (£l, 6s. 8d. sterling) for the sustenance of the company while in jail.—[P[rivy]. C[ouncil]. R[egisters].’

Gallows Edinburgh

The Grassmarket

‘In February [6th] next year [1678], ‘Old Robin Shaw’ and his three sons were hanged in the Grassmarket for this murder, and John Faw was executed in the following week [13 February] for another murder. Two or three years after [i.e., probably in 1683], the [new?] Laird of Romanno— a quaint physician named [Doctor Alexander] Pennecuik [of Romanno (d.1722)], who wrote verses—erected a pigeon-house on the scene of the conflict, with this inscription over the door:

The field of gipsy blood which here you see,
A shelter for the harmless dove shall be.
(Chambers, Domestic Annals, II, 388-9.)

Alexander Pennecuik M. D. married Margaret Murray, the heir to the estate of Romanno, in 1676. The full inscription records their marriage by their initials. Pennecuik was a poet and wrote a description of Tweeddale.

When the enclosed garden at Romanno was revisited by the OS in 1964, both the elm and the doocot had vanished. Nearby Romanno House had been demolished in the 1930s:

‘There is no elm tree at the SW corner of the garden nor any remains of a dovecot in the vicinity, but the stone bearing the inscription given by Name Book is now built into the end of the garden wall at NT 1660 4820. Above the inscription are the letters APMD MM. The Name Book entries differ as to the date of this conflict. It is more likely that the battle took place on the 1st October 1677 and the dovecot was erected later in 1683 but nothing could be found to confirm this.’

Is the inscribed stone still in situ? Can it be photographed? Please get in touch.

A Curious Tale
Lord Fountainhall also recorded their execution:

‘6th February 1678.–Four Ægyptians, of the name of Shaw, ware this day hanged, (the father and three sones,) for a slaughter committed by them of one of the Faws, (another tribe of thesse vagabonds, worse than the mendicantes validi mentioned in the Code,) in a drunken squabble made by them in a randevouz they had at Romanno, with a designe to unite their forces against the clans of the Brouns and Bailzies, that ware come over from Ireland, to chasse them back again, that they might not share in their labors; but in their ramble they discorded, and committed the forsaid murder, and sundry of them of both sydes ware apprehended.’

Fountainhall then records a strange twist in the story, the body of the youngest of the Shaws disappeared:

‘Thir four, being throwen all unto one hole digged for them in the Grayfrier churchyard, with their cloaths on, the nixt morning the youngest of the 3 sones, (who was scarce 16,) his body was missed and found to be away.

Some thought, he being last throwen over the ladder [when hanged], and first cut doune, and in full vigor, and no great heap of earth, and lying uppermost, and so not so ready to smother; the fermentation of the blood, and heat of the bodies under him, might cause him rebound and throw of the earth, and recover ere the morning, and steal away; which, if true, he deserved his life, tho the Magistrats or their bourreau deserved a reprimand.

But others, more probably, thought his body was stollen away by some chirurgian or his servant, to make ane anatomicall dissection on, which was criminall to take at their own hand, (vide titulum de sepulchra violato,) since the Magistrates would not have refused it; and I hear the chirurgians affirme the toun of Edinburgh is oblidged to give them a malefactor’s body once a-year for that effect; and it’s usuall in Paris, Leyden, and other places, to give them also some of them that dyes in hospitalls.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, I, 187-8.)

Had the body snatchers struck? Or had young Shaw survived hanging? We do not know.

Fountainhall also captured the conviction and execution of old Robin Faw a few days later. His conviction was not, in Fountainhall’s opinion, sound, and probably indicates how the prejudice against Gypsies at that time led to careless presumptions of guilt, collective punishment and injustice:

‘On the 13 of Februar 1678, one of the Faws, called Robert Faw, being convict of having killed one Young, a caird or tinker in Aberdene, was also hang’d tho the probation was very slender, the witnesses not deponing positively he was the very man; yet it was thought sufficient against such cattle, for the being a knowen Ægyptian is death by our Acts of Parliament. He dyed affirming he was not in the country the tyme of that murder; for they had been tane two years ago peiking, and sent away with the French officers, but returned. The rest of this tribe and band the Justices banished the kingdom, never to returne under the paine of death.’ (Lauder, Historical Notices, I, 188.)


For other stange events and wonders in the 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Entry of a Witch Finder into Glasgow, Samuel Pepys and the Second Sight

•March 13, 2015 • Leave a Comment


The entry of Janet Douglas, a famed dumb seer and discoverer of witches, into Glasgow in early 1677 led to a wild reception as ‘the people in great numbers ran out to meet her’. Her later reception by ‘vast crowds’ at Edinburgh was even greater. One can only imagine the chaotic and hysterical scenes that followed, as she levelled accusations of witchcraft against several people…

George Hickes

George Hickes

George Hickes, the private chaplain to John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, recorded the arrivals of Douglas and his interview with her when she was imprisoned in Edinburgh in his correspondence with the famous diarist, Samuel Pepys.

Extract of a letter of George Hickes to Samuel Pepys
London 19 June, 1700.

‘At the same time [in 1678?] there was a girl in custody at Edinburgh, whose name was Janet Douglas, about 12 or 13 years of age, famous for the Second Sight, and the Discovery of witches, and their malefices and enchantments thereby. This girl first signalized herself in the Western Islands [probably an error for ‘lands’, as she operated in Renfrewshire in late 1676 and early 1677], where she discovered how one Sir G[eorge]. Maxwell was tormented in effigy by witches. She was not known there where she made this, which was her first discovery, but from thence she came to Glasgow [in early 1677], whither her fame having got before her, the people in great numbers ran out to meet her.

As she was surrounded with the crowds, she called out to one man, a goldsmith, as I remember, and told him that of so long a time he had not thriven in his trade, though he was very diligent in it, because an image was made against him, which he might find in such a corner of his shop; and when the man went home, there he found it where she said it was; and the image was such, both as to matter and form, as she had described it, viz. a little rude image made of clay.

She told another, that he and his wife, who had been a very loving couple, of late had lived in great discord, to the grief and astonishment of them both; and when the man asked the reason, she answered as she did before, that there was an image made against them.’

While she was in Glasgow, a gentleman paid for an interview with Douglas

‘I have forgot whether she named the witches who made those images, as she did those who made that in which they tortured Sir George Maxwell. But by these, and other such discoveries, she made such tumults and commotions among the people of Glasgow, that the magistrates thought fit to confine her, and sent an account of her to the Privy Council at Edinburgh, who sent for her up in custody; but when she came near the city the people went out to meet her in vast crowds, and as she was surrounded with them, she accused several persons of witchcraft, which obliged them to put her in close confinement, to keep the people and their minds quiet from the commotions she had raised in them.

This happened a little before the Duke of Lauderdale went the last time as High Commissioner into Scotland, in May 1678, when I had the honour to attend him as his domestic Chaplain.

Hearing these and many other stories of this girl, I had a desire to see her and discourse with her; but it was some time before I could obtain leave to go to her, because an order had been made in Council, before we came into Scotland, that no one should be admitted to her.

In the interim, upon an invitation by the then Lord Archbishop of Glasgow, Dr. Burnet, of honourable memory, afterwards made Archbishop of St. Andrew’s, I went to see Glasgow, where I had the happiness to meet Dr. Rosse, then Lord Bishop of Argyle, who afterwards succeeded Dr. Burnet in the Archbishoprick of St. Andrew’s, of which he was deprived, with the whole order, soon after the Revolution.

It was from him ]Rose] that I had the stories above related concerning Janet Douglas, with many more which I have forgotten, from her first appearance in the Highlands [actaully Renfrewshire] to her coming to Glasgow. My Lord Archbishop is still living, and if my Lord Reay would please to inquire of him, and many others yet alive, about that girl, he would be able to give you an account of her much more worthy your knowledge than any thing I can now write of her, at so great a distance of time.

One thing I must not omit to tell you,—that in all her marches from Sir George Maxwell’s [in Renfrewshire] to Edinburgh, nobody knew her, nor would she discover to any one who she was.’

Canongate Tolbooth

Edinburgh;s Canongate Tolbooth

‘After I returned from Glasgow, I renewed my petition to my Lord Duke for leave to see Janet Douglas [who was held in the Canongate Tolbooth], which he granted me. My desire of seeing her arose from a great curiosity I had to ask her some questions about the Second Sight, by which she pretended to make all her discoveries.

I took a reverend and learned Divine with me, one Mr. [Robert] Scott, Minister of the Church of the Abbey of Holyrood, now the Palace of the Scottish Kings. [See Scott, Fasti, I, 24.]

When we were first brought to her, I found her as I had heard her described, a girl of very great assurance, undaunted, though surprised at our coming, and suspicious that I was sent to betray her: this made her very shy of conversing with us; but after many and serious protestations on my own part, that I came for no other end but to ask her some questions about the Second Sight to which she pretended, she at last promised she would freely answer me, provided I would use my interest with my Lord High Commissioner [i.e., Lauderdale] to obtain her liberty, upon condition she went into England, never again to appear in Scotland; which I promised to do.

Upon this I began to premise something of the baseness of lying and deceiving, and especially of pretending to false revelations, and the dangerous consequences of such practices, which made all such lying pretenders odious to God and man; and then requiring her in the presence of God to tell me nothing but truth, she promised me with a serious air to tell me nothing but the very truth. I then asked her, if indeed she had the Second Sight, and if by that she knew those things she had discovered: to which she answered in the affirmative.

I then asked her if she thought it proceeded from a good or evil cause; upon which she turned the question upon me, and asked me what I thought of it. I told her plainly, I feared it was from an evil cause; but she replied quickly, she hoped it was from good.

I then asked her if it came upon her by any act of her own, as by saying any words, or performing any actions or ceremonies: to which she replied, No.

I asked her upon this, if she remembered her baptismal vow: but she did not understand my question till I began to explain it; and then with great quickness replied, she remembered it, and called to mind that she had renounced the Devil and all his works: and then I told her, that by the devil was meant Satan, the Prince of Devils, and all evil spirits under him, and asked her if she renounced them all; which she said she did.

Then I asked her if she would renounce them all in a form of words that I had provided; which promising to do, I bid her say after me, which she did in the most serious and emphatical expressions that I was able to devise.

I then asked her if she could say the Lord’s Prayer; she said, Yes: I bid her say it upon her knees, which she did. I then asked her if she ever prayed to God to deliver her from the power of the Devil and all evil spirits; but not answering readily and clearly to that question, I then asked her if she would make such a prayer to God upon her knees, which I had composed for her, which she did without any difficulty.

Then I proceeded to ask her at what distance she saw persons and things by the Second Sight: she replied, at the same distance they were really from her, whether more or less. Then I asked her if the Second Sight came upon her sleeping or waking: she answered, never sleeping, but always when she was awake.

I asked this question, to know whether the Second Sight was by outward representation, which I call apparition, or by inward representation on the theatre of the imagination caused by some spirit; or that I may once more use my own terms for distinction, whether these Second Sight folks were Seers or Visionists, or sometimes one and sometimes the other.

Then I asked her if she was wont to have any trouble, disorder, or consternation of mind, before or after the Second Sight came upon her: to which she answered, never, but was in the same temper at those, as at all other times.

Then I asked her if the Second Sight never left any weariness or faintness upon her, or listlessness to speak, walk, or do any other business: to which she also answered, No; adding, that she was always then as before.

These two answers of hers do not agree with some accounts in my Lord’s Letter, wherein, as I remember, he speaks of one who said he had always perturbation of mind attending the Second Sight; but as to this, there may be a difference, from the different temper of the patients, and the different stock and temper of the animal spirits in them.

This girl, as I have observed before, was of a bold undaunted spirit, and might bear those sights, from what cause soever, without any fear or perturbation, which others of more passive tempers, and a less stock of animal spirits, could not so well endure. There seems to have been this difference among the prophets themselves; whereof some, as we read, received the prophetical influx with great terrors, labour, and consternation, of which they complained when their visions or apparitions were over, and desired of God to be excused from the prophetical influx, and the burthen of it: but of others, we do not read they had any such complaints.

One of the last questions I asked this girl was, if she desired to have the Second Sight taken from her: to which she replied, what God pleased.’

John Maitland Duke of Lauderdale

John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale

‘After I had discoursed with her in this manner, as long as I thought convenient, I returned home, and gave the Duke [of Lauderdale] an account of my conversation, with which he was pleased; and I also told him of my promise to intercede with his Grace for her liberty, upon condition she might go into England: but he said that would not be convenient, for certain reasons.

After receiving which answer, I sent her word I could not obtain her liberty; and so she was shut up all the while we were there, but soon after we came away she was set at liberty.

When I heard of it I made all the inquiry I could what was become of her, and how she came to obtain her liberty; but I could not get any further account of her, which made me suspect that she was the child of some person of honour or quality, for whose sake all things were hushed.

When I was with her, I asked her of her parentage, but she would tell me nothing of it: I also told her how I observed how her words and expressions were of the better sort, and asked, her how she, being a Highlander, and in appearance a poor girl, came to speak so well. To this she artfully replied, by asking me why I should suppose it so difficult for her to learn to express herself well. Indeed, her wit and cunning were both answerable to her assurance, which I told you was very great.

I designed to give a second visit, but my first made so much noise about the town, that it was not thought fit; and I did not press for leave again, because I had reason to believe the denial of her liberty would make her sullen and reserved.

The famous Lord Advocate, Sir George Mackenzie, of immortal memory [and opprobrium among the Covenanters], designed to write her history; but why he did not, I can give no account. People were divided in their opinions of her:—some suspected her for an impostrix: but others, of whom I was one myself, thought that she was really what she pretended; being induced to that opinion from the notoriety of the facts which the most incredulous and suspicious could not deny.’ (Braybrooke (ed.), Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, V, 283-90.)

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Pepys, who had a genuine interest in the second sight, replyed.

Extract of a letter in reply to George Hickes from Samuel Pepys,
Clapham 2 August, 1700.

‘The history of Janet Douglas has many things very singular in it, and informing; especially with the improvement it receives from your own conversation with her, and learned remarks upon it: for which, with your pains and patience in collecting and transcribing them at so great length for my single benefit, and at a season so little admitting the interruption it must have been of to your nearer cares, is an instance of your favour I can never enough acknowledge. It is a great pity Sir Geo. Mackenzie let fall, or was prevented in, his purpose of putting together the whole of that girl’s legend.’ (Braybrooke (ed.), Memoirs of Samuel Pepys, V, 292.)

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

The Witch Finder Interviewed in Glasgow in 1677: Satan’s Invisible World Discovered

•March 12, 2015 • 1 Comment

In the summer of 1677, Janet Douglas, a fourteen-year-old ‘dumb girle’ who had been involved in discovering witches, was interviewed, probably in Glasgow Tolbooth, At that time, Douglas was believed to have the second sight. However, the authorities had begun to think that Douglas was ‘a snare for the country’ and that her ongoing discoveries were getting out of hand.


A few years later, an account of the interview was sent to the mathematician, George Sinclair, from ‘a discreet understanding gentle-man who was one of my Scholars at Glasgow several years agoe.’ Sinclair included it in Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, which he published in 1685.

‘A Short Information anent Jennet Douglas.

Edinburgh, Octob: 8th. 1684. For Mr. Sinclar.

When I was at Glasgow in the Summer, 1677. I was desirous to see the Dumb Girle, whom you mention in your first Relation. At my first incoming she declined to entertain discourse, but by friendly expressions, and giving her some money, I gained her.

I first inquired anent her Parentage? I do not remember (says she) of my Parents, but only that I was called by the name of Jennet Douglas by all People who knew me. I was keeped, when I was very young by a poor woman that proved cruel to me, by beating, and abusing me, whereupon I deserted the Womans house, and went a begging.

I enquired next, how she became Dumb? She told me, by reason of a sore swelling she tooke in her Throat and tongue; but afterwards, by the Application of Album Græcum, [a medicine that is said to have been the whitish hardened turds of dogs, wolves etc. from eating bones which when mized with honey was used for sore throats or inflamations,] which I thought said she was revealed to me, I recovered my speech [in April, 1677].

I asked her, how she came to the knowledge of Witches and their practises? She answered, that she had it only by vision, and knew all things as well this way, as if she had been personally present with them, but had no revelation, or information from the voice of any Spirit. Nor had she any communication with the Devil, or any Spirit of that kind: only (sayes she) the Devil was represented to me, when he was in company with any of the Witches, in that same shape and habit he was seen by them.

She told me, she was altogether ignorant of the Principles of Christian Religion, but had some smattering knowledge of the Lords Prayer, which she had heard the Witches repeat (it seems by her vision) in presence of the Devil; and at his desire (which they observed) they added to the word Art, the letter W, which made it run, our father which wart in heaven, and made the third Petition thus, as on earth, so it may in heaven, by which means the Devil made the application of the Prayer to himself.

I remember, that one day, their was a woman in the town who had the curiosity, to give her a visit, who asked her how she came to the knowledge of so many things? But the young Wench shifted her, by asking the Womans name. She told her name. Says the other, are there any other in Glasgow of that name? No sayes the Woman. Then said the Girle, you are a Witch; Says the other, then you are a Devil. The Girle answers, the Devil doth not reveal Witches. But I know you to be one, and I know your practises too. Hereupon the Woman run away in great confusion, being indeed a Person suspected of Witchcraft, and had been some time imprisoned upon that account.

Another Woman, whose name was Campbel had the curiosity likewise to come and see her, and began to ask some questions at her. The Wench shifting to give her an answer, says I pray you tell me, where were you yesternight, and what were you doing? And withall (says she) let me see your arm. She refusing, the Land-Lord, laid hold upon the Woman, with some others of the house, and forced her to make bare her arm, where Jennet Douglas shewed them an invisible mark, which she had gotten from the Devil. The poor Woman much ashamed run home, and a little time after, she came out and told her Neighbours, that what Jennet Douglas had said of her was true, and earnestly entreated them that they would shew so much to the Magistrates, that she might be apprehended, otherwise the Devil (says she) will make me kill my self. But the Neighbours judging her to be under a fit of distraction, carried her home to her house. But early the next morning, the Woman was found drowned in Clyde.

The Girle likewise told me at Glasgow, being then under no restraint, that it was revealed her, she would be carried before the Great Council at Edinburgh, imprisoned there, and scourged thorow the town. All which came to pass: for about a year after she was apprehended, and imprisoned in the Tolbuith of the Canongate, and was brought before the Council. But nothing being found against her, she was dismist. But thereafter for several crimes committed within the town of Edinburgh, she was taken again, and imprisoned, scourged, and sent away to some forrainge Plantation, since which time, I have not heard of her.

There are several other remarkable passages of her which I cannot informe you of, which others perhaps may do, therefore I shall abruptly break off, and say no more, but that I am your affectionat Friend.’ (Sinclair, Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, 203-7.)

What appears ro be the same interview was recorded by the Reverend John Fraser in his Treatise Containing a Description of Deuteroscopia, Commonly Called the Second Sight (1707):

‘I know assuredly that Janet Dowglas, that was first a Dumbie, yet spoke thereafter, who had given many Responses by Signs and Words, and foretold many future events, being examined by Mr Gray one of the Ministers of the City of Glasgow, denyed any explicit or implicit Paction [with the Devil], and declared freely that the answers of the questions proponed to her were represented by a Vision in lively Images, representing persons concerned and acting the thing, before her Eyes; This Master Gray exchanged several Discourses in writ with Sir James Turner, concerning her.’ (Fraser’s text is reproduced in Hunter, Occult Laboratory, 196-7.)

As Hunter points out, ‘Master Gray’ was probably John Gray (d.1729), who after the interview in 1684 became the minister of the Collegiate church in the burgh in 1693 and the Wynd church in 1700. Gray was also probably the ‘discreet gentle-man’ who corresponded with Sinclair, as he had studied at the University of Glasgow. (Scott, Fasti, III, 432, 451.)

For other wonders of the 1680s, see here.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please link to this post on Facebook or retweet it, but do not reblog in FULL without the express permission of the author @drmarkjardine

‘The Hid Works of Darkness’: The Mysterious Death of John Schaw and the Paisley Witches

•March 4, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Devils Witches Dance

The Reverend Law attributed many strange events to the hidden works of darkness, i.e., to the works of Devil or his servants, witches. The unearthly death of John Schaw of Bargarran in winter was no exception. Several years after both Schaw’s unexplained death and Law wrote, Christian Schaw, Bargarran’s granddaughter, made accusations which led to the famous case of the Paisley or Renfewshire Witches of 1696 to 1697, the last mass execution of witches in Scotland. The Paisley Witch Trials are the subject of a historical research project, the RWH1697.

The story of the death of John Schaw by ‘works of darkness’, which took place before Christian was born, may have been a significant influence on her and shaped the environment in which she grew up in.

It is not clear when John Schaw died. Law places the case in a winter context and after an event in 1676, roughly around the time of the violent frost, but it is not clear if Schaw’s death took place earlier, at around the same time, or later. The last entry in Law’s narrative is in April, 1684. Christian Schaw was born in c.1685.

Servants played a role in both cases. In the later witch hunt, Christian Schaw was allegedly cursed by a servant that the Devil would haul her soul through Hell. In the story of Bargarran’s death, it was his man, his servant, that left him to his fate.

Other local people also played a part, In Bargarran’s death, they either failed to find his body, or allegedly pursued false claims against Christian’s father. Christian would widen her accusations of witchcraft to others.

Was it revenge? Perhaps not.

Christian was allegedly cast into fits after a servant’s curse and she encountered a witch. The earlier family trauma of her grandfather’s mysterious and gruesome death, according to Law allegedly by dark or Satanic forces, may have prompted fears, or dread, that led to her physical response. For the Schaw family, the Devil’s works may have been tangible and had directly disrupted their home.

Bargarran House

Bargarran House

Law records:

‘I will make known to the reader a very remarkable storie that fell out a few yeirs past, There was a gentleman, John Shaw of Bargarran, in Arskin parish;’


Today, the site of Bargarran House lies below this building in Erskine.

Map of Site of Bargarran

‘he always used to ryd[e] the water of Gryf, which is ‘twixt his house and Paisley, deep and late, and being at Paisley on a nyght, he comes late out of the town to go home, a thing ordinar to him, and it being very dark, he comes to the water syd at the foord, viz. ~Allan’s foord;’

Allans was a farm on the north side of the River Gryfe. Today, the site of the farm is occupied by the Rolls Royce building.

Allans Ford almost certainly lay to the south of the farm, where tracks met at the River Gryfe by an island, or two islands on Roy’s map of the 1750s.

Aerial View of Allans Ford

‘he calls to his man that was riding with him to take the water. His man told him it was full water, and also very dark; he tushes at that, and so put spurr to the horse, in steps he. His man thinking him too adventurous stays behind, waiting to hear what might come of him; when he is mid-water, he hears him groan heavily, but heard no more of him, suspecting he might have won throw; but draws back to the nearest house [Easter Yonderton?], and abydes all night. Meanwhile, Bargarran his horse goes home his alone with brydle and sadle on him, without his master, about 11 or 12 hours at night. His lady and children are amazed at this, and concludes he’s perished in the water.

Betymes in the morning his family and neighbours come to seek him, and not only seek him be the way fra his house to the water, but gets botts and searches all the water down to Clyd, and searches Clyd near to the sea, but found he cannot be; whereupon they give over seeking.

A quarter of yeir after that his body is found near two mylles of the water, and a myle fra his own house, in a ditch at the end of a moor, in the spring tyme, (which ditch gentlemen about declared that in their hunting in the winter they had searched, and found nothing lyke him in it); but that which was remarkable, his ryght hand was cut off; his privie members Were cut off; his cloths and boots no wett, nor any way spoyled; his papers in his pocket all dry; his gold which he used to wear about him are found on him; (among which papers there was a discharge of accompt he had payed to a merchant in Paisley, who, supposing his discharge had been lost with himself in the river, did knavishly suit his son[, John,] for the same count already payed); his hat layed beside him, and his lather-cap upon his head, and the string of his hat about his collar, which was ordinar to him when he ryds in dark nights or windy nights; and his body found als fresh, as if he had been newly dead; at the off-taking of his boots, one of his heels bled. All men were sensible that he was brought to that untymely end and death by the hid works of darkness; but how to make a search after it his relations knew not.’ (Law, Memorialls, 111-112.)

Barochan Moss

Barochan Moss

Schaw’s body was probably found in the vicinity of the eastern side of Barochan Moss, which covered a greater extent in the seventeenth century. Today, the area is largely occupied by the BAE/Royal Ordnance complex at Bishopton.

Map of former site of Barochan Moss

For more wonders of late seventeenth-century Scotland, see here.

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