The Purpose of ‘Prophet’ Peden’s Mask

Probably the strangest relic of the later covenanting era is the mask of the field preacher Alexander Peden (1626-1686), one the most celebrated figures of that period. Since its discovery in the mid-nineteenth century with Peden’s weapons, its purpose has remained an enigma. However, its possible use is revealed by a tradition handed down through the Laings of Blackgannoch of how the United Societies’ preacher James Renwick escaped from government forces during the Killing Times of 1685. Prior to a Societies’ meeting in the fields, Laing dressed in Renwick’s ‘clerical habiliments’ to distinguish himself, and Renwick in the clothes of a shepherd. When a hostile company of dragoons approached to attack the meeting, Laing then ‘rendered himself as conspicuous as possible’ to lure the dragoons into pursuit. (Simpson, Traditions of the Covenanters, 29-31.)

Peden’s Mask was probably used for a similar function. During the Killing Times, Peden was nearly sixty and his mask was probably designed to disguise a younger and fleeter individual when he was preaching to fool pursuing dragoons at a distance and allow Peden time to escape. As such, the mask may well bear some resemblance to Peden.

The mask is held by the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, but has recently been on display at the Baird Institute in Cumnock.

Text © Dr Mark Jardine


~ by drmarkjardine on August 16, 2010.

16 Responses to “The Purpose of ‘Prophet’ Peden’s Mask”

  1. Where was the mask discovered? I’m reading your (very interesting) thesis and you mentioned that his weapons were also discovered in the 19th century?

    • In the Palace of History in an exhibition in Glasgow c.1911, Peden’s Wig, Mask and rapier were lent by James Borland, 8 Seaford Street, Kilmarnock. The Reverend James Murray, settled in the Parish of Cumnock, about the time of the disruption, on a visit to a secluded cottage near the heights of Crossgellioch [i.e., Carsgailoch], the tenant a Mrs Cooper placed before the minister a little box she kept carefully stored a way in the clothes press.
      ‘I have something here ye wad maybe like to see.’
      She reported that Mr Peden’s brother was her great-grandfather.
      This, opening the box and drawing forth what appeared to be a mass of long black hair, ‘was mister Peden’s wig. And here is the fause-face he wore in hiding.’
      Then she showed a little oval-shaped metal box, which she said, ‘was where he keepit his tobacco, honest man.’. she then produced a short rapier, in a sheath of leather, and explained, ‘this is his bit sword, but its not likely it ever did meikle mischief. Here is his stick too,’ she said, ‘and ye can see it has a whistle in the heid o’t. Ye can try’t as ye like. Some say it was a bird’s call, but it was nae sic things he whistled, i’se answer for it. It was only by sic means that poor folks could ane anither ken where they were, when sair pit by the enemy, or when the mist cam doon on them when they were separated.’
      Mr James Borland, 8 Seaford Street, Kilmarnock, [in c.1911, but now National Museum of Scotland] now possesses these relics, a photograph of which he has kindly sent to the author with permission for its reproduction in this book.
      Mr Borland acquired the articles at a sale of the effects of the late Mrs Lees, Drybridge, Ayrshire, who received them by inheritance from he[r?] sister, a direct descendant of Peden’s father.

    • it must be around the time of the Disruption in 1843.

  2. I think that the Mrs Cooper who had Alexander Pedens mask etc was my ancestor Marion Cooper. In the 1841 census she stayed at Mossend. She was married to Francis Cooper. Marion was born on the 21st June 1777. She was the daughter of George McMichael and Marion Murdoch married Ochiltree 1764. This is backed up by a book I found on Google Books “Pioneer families of Norfolk County Ontario ” which stated that Marrion’s brother James McMichael was the Great Grandson of Alexander Pedens brother.



      It is just one hundred years since James McMichael, a
      native of “auld Ayrshire,” came to the New World to take
      advantage of the grand opportunities which at that time were
      so abundant and so varied for the acquisition of homes and the
      accumulation of wealth. He was born in 1772, and was, there-
      fore, twenty-five years old when he came to America. He was
      the second son of George McMichael, and had two brothers
      one older and one younger than himself. The name of the
      elder was John, and that of the younger, George; and their
      mother’s maiden name was Veronica Murdar. They had a
      sister Marion, who married Francis Cooper. It is said that
      James McMichael was the great-grandson of a brother of
      Alexander Peden, the old prophet in the days of the Cov-

      James McMichael came to Pennsylvania, and after the
      township of Townsend was surveyed he came to Norfolk and
      purchased 400 acres of land, 200 of which, being Lot 9 in the
      6th concession, is the old McMichael homestead, known at
      present as ” Maple Avenue,” the silver-medal model farm of
      Norfolk County.

      James McMichael was a man of keen, shrewd business sense,
      and he knew that these lands would rapidly increase in value
      as the new settlement developed. At the time he made his pur-
      chase other lands lying nearer the settlement might have been
      purchased as cheaply ; but this advantage of location was not a
      matter of consideration with Mr. McMichael when he chose his
      lands. He did not buy for immediate settlement, and he knew


      that in a few years the lands adjoining his own would be occu-
      pied and improved. Timber, at that time, possessed no com-
      mercial value, being looked upon as an impediment in the way
      of settling. The larger number of the incoming settlers chose,
      therefore, the lighter timbered lands, which offered less resist-
      ance in the work of reclaiming the soil. This was another so-
      considered advantage which counted for nothing in the better
      judgment of Mr. McMichael. He realized the fact that the soil
      which produced a large, thrifty and dense growth of timber
      would have the right kind of stuff in its composition for a
      vigorous growth of grass, cereals and fruit-bearing trees, and
      he knew that the time was not far distant when the timber
      itself would become a source of revenue. White pine, rock elm,
      white ash, walnut and other varieties of timber might tower
      up as giant monopolists of the land, bidding defiance to the
      log-cabin builders in their enforced haste to reach the virgin
      soil ; but the time would soon come when these giants of the
      forest would be endowed with a commercial value. Further-
      more, this particular lot possessed natural . topographical ad-
      vantages which may or may not have been recognized by
      Mr. McMichael when he decided upon its purchase. ” Maple
      Avenue ” possesses rich, low-lying meadow lands and loamy,
      gravelly uplands in proper proportions, to make it one of the
      most valuable farms in Ontario for a mixed husbandry, being
      adapted to stock-raising, fruit- culture and the production of
      grain. These natural advantages have been followed up and
      developed to a marked degree by the present owner.

      After making his purchase, Mr. McMichael returned to Penn-
      sylvania, where he joined his brother George, who had come
      to America, and the two purchased a farm in that State. Soon
      after, Mr. McMichael married Rosannia, daughter of Isaac
      Derrnott, whose father had emigrated from Holland in 1750.
      After living on this farm for about twenty years, a serious
      flaw was discovered in the title, of so hopeless a nature that
      James concluded to abandon his interest in it and commence
      anew on his Canada land.


      The original log-cabin of James McMichael was built near
      the spot where the palatial residence of his grandson, Joseph K.,
      now stands. But his pioneer life in old Townsend was of short
      duration. Like the distinguished Edward McMichael, of Wal-
      singham, he was cut down just as his fellow-pioneers began to
      admire his sterling qualities, and, like that old pioneer, left a
      widow and ten children to occupy his log-cabin and mourn his
      untimely end in a new country, far from home and among

      James McMichael left nine sons George, Richard, John,
      James, Jacob, David, Isaac, William and Aaron ; and one
      daughter Mary. The daughter was the eldest child. She
      married William Parney ; her children are enumerated in the
      Parney genealogy.

    • Dear Fraser,
      That is quite something. The family origin of the Peden mask has not been clear. If you are right, and it seems you may be correct, then there is a possible connection between the family of Peden’s brother and the McMichaels, several of whom were involved in the struggle of the 1680s.

      See Daniel McMichael (d.1685)

      And James McMichael (d.1684)

      Of course, who Peden’s brother was is not clear. Here are my thoughts:


      You may be related to all of the above!

    • Is it this Mossend in Old Cumnock parish in the OS name book?
      ‘A cottiers house situated on the extreme north of Little Auchingilsie farm the property of the Marquis of Bute occupied by George Baird’

      It is here on the NLS maps site

      If you move the slider on bottom left, it is now a field.

      It does indeed lie near Carsgailoch, which is also a martyrdom site.

      Mossend is here on google maps:'46.2%22N+4%C2%B016'51.6%22W/@55.429511,-4.2831916,432m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d55.429508!4d-4.281

      On street view:,-4.2830364,3a,60y,45.24h,78.66t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1se4MGlhoNEQj_UUdMfqHXtg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

      Kind regards,


    • The minister who found the mask was James Murray of Old Cumnock parish, who became the parish minister in 1843, i.e., at the time of the Disruption in the Church of Scotland, i.e., exactly when the story says. When did Marion Cooper, nee McMichael, die? That would narrow down the time frame for the discovery of Peden’s relics.

    • Do you know any more about George McMichael and Marion Murdoch? Ochiltree was possibly Marion Murdoch’s home parish in 1764, as marriages often took place in the wife’s parish. But what of George McMichael (b.c 1740?)? Who was he the son of and where was he from? The Covenanting McMichaels lived at Lurgfoot etc., a remote location close by the boundary of New Cumnock parish in the early 1680s. In the 1680s, New Cumnock parish was incorporated into ‘Old’ Cumnock parish. The McMichaels appears to have had connections in the Cumnock area. Who George McMichael was kin to, is the issue, as that may link him to the Pedens.

    • The person who owned the Peden mask in c.1911 lived here at 8 Seaford St, Kilmarnock. The google car clearly when by the house quickly and is hard to see!,+Kilmarnock+KA1+2DA/@55.6058683,-4.50526,431m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x4888329575860bb3:0xc0d3a6f3ae6c40f8!8m2!3d55.6058653!4d-4.503066

    • If you are on Facebook, I can connect you to Robert, aka Bobby.

  3. Hi Mark, I only discovered the connection while doing my family tree. I couldn’t find anything on Scotlandspeople about George McMichael but Marion’s mother Veronica Murdoch was born 25th January 1736 in Old Cumnock. Her parents were John Murdoch and Grissel Key. Marion was born at Muirdyke also in Old Cumnock. I did a search for Coopers in the 1841 census for Old Cumnock and Francis and Marion’s family are the only ones so I thing that is more supportive evidence for them being the correct ” Coopers”. I am also descended from Ivie Campbell from Dalgig but on a different line.

    • Dalgig! No there is a place name I know.

    • I was in touch with Robert Guthrie, a true expert on all things New-Cumnock area related. He, I am sure, will not mind if I send you this information he sent to me about: ‘Remember in the interrogations of the parishioners of Cumnock [of 1684] that ‘ Joanne McMichall in Bank is identified ‘ as a fugitive’s relict whose husband was killed at Airs Moss’ – who I propose is John Gemmel in Bank ( tenant of George Campbell of Cessnock – who held lands in New Cumnock that later became the Barony of Afton ) . I know Rev James Murray minister of Old Cumnock had a collection of poems published under Songs of Covensnt Times and I wonder if there are any interesting footnotes. His brother was Rev Robert Murray minister of New Cumnock who caught the Covenanting bug too, he presided at the annual Drumclog conventicle in 1861 to a crowd of 1500! I have contacts in Cumnock Family History club that might have some stuff on Coopers of Mossend.’
      ‘Francis Cooper and Marion McMichael headstone is in Barrhill Cemetery , where Peden lies! Marion died in 1858’
      ‘She [Marion] dies in Crichton Row in 1858’
      ‘She [Marion] is in Mossend in 1851 with her daughter Marion and two granddaughters ( Reid & Smith)’


      ‘In 1841 Census she is referred to as Maud Cooper’


      ‘Yes her death certificate confirms parents as George McMichael and what appears to be Veronica Murdoch’


      ‘Her baptism record has Marion born 21st June 1777 to George McMichael and Veronica Murdoch at Muirdyke, Old Cumnock.’

      And me
      ‘Muirdyke, so close to Mossend.’

      ‘Crichton Row where she died is in the parish, to the west of Mossend and the backroad to Ochiltree’


      ‘Veronica Murdoch baptised 25th Jan 1736 , daughter of John Murdoch and Grizzel Key in Whitestown, Old Cumnock’


      What of George McMichael?

      No McMichael appear in OPr baptisms in Old Cumnock in period 1700-1750
      17 McMichael’s in New Cumnock 1700-1750 including two George’s
      George 1730 son of Thomas McMichael & Euphans Gemmell in Hillend of Corsencon’
      ‘George 1739 son of George McMichael & Christian Mitchell in Greenbraes’

      ‘Cannot see Greenbraes on Roy’s map of 1750s. But Greenbraes Av in New Cumnock.’

      ‘think it might be an alternative to Greenhead but there was a Greenburn ( before open casting) near Carsgailoch . There is no Greenbraes in recent times as far as I Know , apart from those in Rabbie [Burns] Sweet Afton.’

      Close to Afton Bridgend on OS.

      ‘Checked out George of Greenbraes siblings and they were all born at Corsencon , like the other George (Hillend if Corsencon)
      Checked OPR of the whole of Scotland and only the two Georges of New Cumnock appear!’ 1700 to 1750.

      Corsencon, a hill where Cameron was.

      I’ve not put this up yet, but James Nisbet son of John Nisbet Hardhill, escaped death at Corsencone and other sites nearby in 1685.. There is possibly a Peden connection, prior to the killing of John Brown of Priesthill.

      Hope that helps!

    • Here are some of the artifacts found

    • When Robert said:
      ‘Remember in the interrogations of the parishioners of Cumnock [of 1684] that ‘ Joanne McMichall in Bank is identified ‘ as a fugitive’s relict whose husband was killed at Airs Moss’ – who I propose is John Gemmel in Bank ( tenant of George Campbell of Cessnock – who held lands in New Cumnock that later became the Barony of Afton )”

      He means that Joanne was the wife of John Gemmell in Bank, i.e., this John Gemmell, who died at the battle of Airds Moss:

      And that her son was the Patrick/Peter Gemmell, shot in 1685:

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