The Capture of the Sweet Singers

After the Darngavil conference with Donald Cargill, John Gibb and the Sweet Singers were captured in the hills and imprisoned in Edinburgh.

The Correction House where the Sweet Singer Women were held (centre left) from Calton Hill

According to Wodrow:

‘Toward the end of April, 1681, they were taken by order of council … only a few silly women followed him a day or two more, till he went home to Borrowstouness, and for his scandals and blasphemies he was carried into Edinburgh, and with the abovenamed persons lay some time in the Canongate tolbooth, many times carrying like possessed and distracted persons’. (Wodrow, History, III, 349-50.)

According to Walker:

‘After this, in the Beginning of May, the Gibbites were all taken by a Troop of Dragoons at the Woollhill Craigs betwixt Lothian and Tweeddale, a very desert Place: The Enemies carried them to Edinburgh; the four Men were put in the Canongate Tolbooth, and the Twenty six Women in the Correction-house’. (Walker, BP, II, 20.)

Howie of Lochgoin also recorded that ‘they were all taken to Edinburgh tolbooth; and about the first of May gave in a paper to the Council.’ (Howie, Biographia Scoticana, 627.)

The traditional date for their capture at the end of April or the beginning of May is almost certainly not correct. Both Walker and Howie appear to have based their dates for the capture of the Sweet Singers on Wodrow’s date. However, Wodrow based his date on his own dating of a paper which the Sweet Singer men presented to the privy council. Wodrow dated the paper to 1 May, when the evidence of the text of the paper patently dates it to 24 to 30 May. That strongly suggests that the paper was presented on 1 June, rather than 1 May.

The Canongate Tolbooth

The Sweet Singers’ paper states that they were captured ‘several days’ before they began a series of fasts in prison on 24 May. It also records a dramatic account of their capture and the split between the Sweet Singer men and women which followed:

‘that night before we were taken, we warned them that the soldiers would come, and told them to use their freedom: we saw them also a mile off, an hour before they came, and none of them would go away; and after we were brought in hither [to the Canongate Tolbooth], after some several days fasting and prayer, we being warned by the Holy Ghost, followed Esther’s advice, and continued from 8 o’clock in the morning, the 24th day of the 5th month, till the 27th [May] at 4 afternoon, fasting and praying: we sent them word likewise to fast and pray [in the Correction House], and when we sent them the answer or our prayers in writ [on the 27 May], they called us devils; thence we fasted till the 28th day [of May] at night, and thence till the 30th [May] at night, waiting still to see if they would recover, but they waxed still worse, and we were forced to write this [paper to the privy council] to vindicate our carriage towards them’. (Wodrow, History, III, 353n.)

The above indicates that the Sweet Singers were almost certainly captured in mid May, rather than at the end of April or the beginning of May. A later date for their capture is of no great historical significance, but it does place their capture firmly in the context of the aftermath of Cargill’s preaching against the Sweet Singers at Underbank Wood (1 May) and Loudoun Hill (5 May).

Wolf Craigs © Richard Webb and licensed for reuse.

Woollhill Craigs or Woolf-hole-craigs?
According to later histories, the Sweet Singers are said to have been captured in the Lammermuir Hills, as the apparent location of their capture, Wool Hill, lies close to shire boundary of the Lothians. However, Wool Hill, which lies in Whittinghame parish, is close the shire boundary between Haddingtonshire (East Lothian) and Berwickshire, rather than Walker’s description of it as lying on the boundary between the Lothians and Tweeddale (aka. Peeblesshire).

Bing OS Map of Wool Hill

The printed text of Walker’s Life of Cargill described the location of their capture as ‘Woollhill Craigs betwixt Lothian and Tweeddale, a very desert Place’. Walker was probably not mistaken when he identified the shire boundary by which the Sweet Singers were captured, as he was usually remarkably precise in his description of locations. In my view, ‘Woollhill Craigs’ is a simple typesetting error for ‘Woolf-hole-craigs’, now Wolf Craigs, which lies in Mid Calder parish in the Pentland Hills on the boundary between Edinburghshire (Mid Lothian) and Peebleshire (Tweeddale), i.e., exactly where Walker described.

Bing OS Map of Wolf Craigs

‘Woolf-hole-craigs’ has a pedigree of use by the Society people, as it was possibly used by Donald Cargill as a preaching site in June 1680 and was also probably used for field preaching by James Renwick in 1684.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights are Reserved.

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~ by drmarkjardine on October 1, 2011.

5 Responses to “The Capture of the Sweet Singers”

  1. […] For the capture of the Sweet Singers, see here. […]

  2. […] Foreman’s testimony does not reveal how or precisely when he was taken prisoner, however, his reference to the ‘evil company’ of John Gibb and the three other Sweet Singer men probably indicates that he was captured either before mid-May 1681, or, more likely, at some point after that and prior to 2 August, as the four Sweet Singer men were held in the Canongate Tolbooth between those dates. (RPCS, VII, 177. See the Capture of the Sweet Singers.) […]

  3. […] The Bo’ness Connection The prominence of individuals from Bo’ness among those taken after Torwood highlights the significance of Cargill’s excommunication for the Society people in that burgh. It is not a coincidence that the extreme Sweet Singers sect which emerged in Bo’ness adhered to ‘their excommunication of the King and D[uke] of York, etc.’, i.e., Torwood, and that they allegedly went on to ‘excommunicate’ others. The history of the emergence of the Sweet Singers can be found here, and their progress until they were captured here, here and here. […]

  4. I am reading S. R. Crockett’s The Men of the Moss-Hags, and this information is very helpful, as I now know that the story-within-the-story about the Sweet Singers is largely historical.

  5. […] in June, 1681, after the women had rejected a paper from the Sweet Singer men. The Sweet Singers had been captured at Wolf Hole Craig in the Pentlands in mid May. Before that, Cargill had preached against them at Underbank Wood on 1 May and at […]

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