The Paisley Martyrs: James Algie and John Park executed 1685
The case of James Algie and John Park, who were executed at Paisley on 3 February, 1685, is an example of the spin which Presbyterian sources deployed to obscure inconvenient information about the Killing Times.
The record of their execution is unusual in that, unlike other individuals said to have died in the Killing Times, their deaths were not recorded by Alexander Shields in A Short Memorial (1690), but were recorded in the 1710s in the first editions of Cloud of Witnesses and Wodrow’s History.
Why Shields did not record their killings in 1690 is not clear. It is possible that Shields was not informed about their case. Shields relied on information gathered from the Societies’ network. However, Shields’ list was generally accurate. That suggests that some other reason may account for their omission.
It is also possible that he did not include them on his list as they did not meet his criteria for inclusion on his list. Algie and Park are an interesting borderline case when it comes to the definition of a “martyr” of the Killing Times, as they were executed after a trial, rather than summarily executed in the field. The latter form of execution appears to have been a yardstick used by Shield’s to construct his list.
A further possibility is that Shields chose not to list Algie and Park as their case did not involve the renowned persecutors he had in mind when he assembled his list of deaths for the Killing Times. The main intention behind Shields’ list in A Short Memorial was to accuse persecutors, rather than name the dead. His list was based on the idea that the Killing Times saw the use of arbitrary force without legal basis. Algie and Park were condemned by a legally constituted court.
Cloud of Witnesses’ Version
The earliest record of their execution was in the first edition of Cloud of Witnesses in 1714, which mentioned that their grave existed and that they had been executed after failing the Abjuration oath.
According to the original edition of Cloud, their grave lay in Eastwood parish in Renfrewshire. Cloud was wrong on the place of burial. Algie and Park were from Eastwood parish, but their grave almost certainly lay at the site of their execution in Paisley. A few years after Cloud was published, Wodrow, who was the minister of Eastwood, pointedly corrected Cloud’s error.
According to later editions of Cloud, the inscription on their gravestone was as follows:
‘Here lie the corpses of James Algie and John Park, who suffered at the cross of Paisley for refusing the Oath of Abjuration, February 3, 1685.
Stay, passenger, as thou goest by,
And take a look where these do lie;
Who for the love they bore to truth
Were depriv’d of their life and youth.
Tho’ laws made then caused many die,
Judges and ‘sizers were not free.
He that to them did these delate,
The greater count he hath to make.
Yet no excuse to them can be;
At ten condemn’d, at two to die.
So cruel did their rage become,
To stop their speech, caus’d beat the drum.
This may a standing witness be
‘Twixt Presbytery and Prelacy.’
(Thomson (ed.), CW, 570.)
The inscription contains a number of interesting features.
First, it is perhaps the only inscription on a martyrs’ grave to directly mention the Abjuration oath that renounced the Societies’ ‘war’.
Second, it claims that the laws enforced at the time, i.e, about the Abjuration oath, left the judges in their case ‘not free’ to come up with a sentence other than death.
The omission from the inscription of the names of those who condemned Algie and Park is extremely unusual. In almost every other inscription, those who were considered responsible for the executions of the Killing Times were named.
From government sources it is possible to identify the judges, or commissioners, who were responsible for the pressing of the Abjuration oath in Renfrewshire and trying Algie and Park. On 30 December, 1684, the following were commissioned to press the Abjuration in that shire:
William Ross, Lord Ross of Halkhead or Hawkhead (d.1738).
The convenor of the court was William, the son of George Ross (d.1682) and Grizel Cochrane (d.1665), a daughter of the first earl of Dundonald. In the time frame when the gravestone was erected and Wodrow wrote his account, Lord Ross lived on his estate in Paisley parish.
John Cochrane, Lord Cochrane, and later earl of Dundonald (d.1690).
The moderate-presbyterian minister, William Dunlop, was tutor to Lord Cochrane’s family before he departed to Stuart’s Town on the Carolina Merchant in 1684. Cochrane was the grandson of the first earl of Dundonald and became the second earl and Lord Paisley within a year of the executions of Algie and Park. His sister, Jean, was married John Graham of Claverhouse at Paisley in May, 1684. His uncle was the leading moderate presbyterian, Sir John Cochrane of Ochiltree, who was involved in the Rye House Plots. Lord Cochrane commanded the Renfrewshire militia during the Argyll Rising of mid 1685. (Wodrow, History, IV, 293.)
He later supported the Revolution. In the time frame when the gravestone was erected and Wodrow wrote his account of Algie and Park, his sons both held the earldom of Dundonald.
John Houston, younger of that ilk (d.1717).
Also known as Houston of Houston or the laird of Houston. John was the son of Sir Patrick Houston of that ilk. The Houstons were one of the oldest families in Renfrewshire and held lands around Houston Castle. (RPS, 1681/7/170.)
John was a radical Whig and a member of the Scottish parliament from 1685 to 1707. He sat in the parliaments of James VII as a commissioner for Renfrewshire. Hamilton of Orbiston, one of the other judges of Algie and Park, also represented the shire at the same time.
Houston, younger, also served as a lieutenant to Lord Cochran in the Renfrewshire militia during the Argyll Rising of mid 1685 and was present at a skirmish with some of Argyll’s men at Greenock kirk. (Wodrow, History, IV, 293.)
From 1689, Houston represented Stirlingshire and was an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution and a vehement opponent of Union. He succeeded to the baronetcy in 1696 and died in 1717. He was alive at the time that the gravestone was erected and Wodrow wrote his account of Algie and Park.
His heir, John (d.1722), was the MP for Linlithgowshire in the Westminster parliament. Unlike his father, he had strong Jacobite sympathies. He died 200,000 merks in debt having already transferred his estate into the hands of his brother-in-law, Sir John Schaw, third baronet of Greenock.
John Schaw, younger of Greenock (d.1702).
John was the son of Sir John Schaw of Greenock (d,1693). The Schaws’ estates lay in western Renfrewshire around the burgh port of Greenock. Both John Schaw, younger of Greenock, and his father were later appointed commissioners for supply for Renfrewshire in May, 1685. Schaw the younger was also a “Good Revolution man”. In April 1689, he raised a force to defend the Revolution. His daughter, Margaret, married the son of John Houston, younger of that ilk, in 1713. (RPS, 1681/7/149; 1685/4/33; 1689/3/174.)
John Cunningham, earl of Glencairn, (d.1703).
The earl held the baronies of Duchal and Finlaystone in Kilmalcolm parish, Renfrewshire. (RPS, 1672/6/80.)
Glencairn later opposed James VII’s endeavours to introduce a liberty for Catholics in 1686. He was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution and raised a regiment of 600 men to defend it in 1689. In the time frame when the gravestone was erected and Wodrow wrote his account of Algie and Park, his son was earl of Glencairn.
William Hamilton of Orbiston (d< 1713).
Hamilton has the distinction of being the only commissioner who was later publicly identified as involved in Aglie and Park’s execution. He came from a Royalist family and held lands in Lanarkshire at Bothwellhaugh and in other shires. Until 1703, he owned the Erskine estate in Renfrewshire. (RPS, 1681/7/171; Irving, History of Dumbartonshire, 484.)
Hamilton was the son of a Houston of that ilk and was married to Elizabeth Cunningham, a sister of his fellow commissioner, the earl of Glencairn.
Orbiston was dead by the time that Wodrow published his account of Algie and Park, but may have been alive when the gravestone was erected. He was certainly alive in 1704, when he was made a commissioner of supply, but must have died before the creditors of the ‘deceased’ Orbiston were involved in a court case in 1713. (RPS, 1704/7/69.)
Orbiston was involved in the Killing Times. On 8 December, 1684, he was commissioned to raise a force of 200 Highlanders to seek out rebels in Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire. (Wodrow, History, IV, 160.)
In early 1685, he was commissioned to press the Abjuration in both Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire. (Wodrow, History, IV, 164.)
Two weeks after the Paisley court which tried Algie and Park, Orbiston was also involved in a similar court at Dumbarton on 19 February. (Wodrow, History, IV, 188.)
He was also commissioned under the sweeping powers granted to Colonel Douglas on 27 March. (Wodrow, History, IV, 207n.)
Why were the commissioners who judged Algie and Park not named?
Although the inscription stated that there was ‘no excuse’ for the commissioners’ actions, it did not name them. The most likely explanation for that failure, given the names and connections of those involved, is that there were significant local pressures which made it very difficult to identify them.
In 1685, all of the commissioners were loyal to the Restoration regime. However, of the six commissioners, five later became “Good Revolution men”. At the time that the gravestone was erected, either they, or their sons were, the political and landed establishment in Renfrewshire. In particular, the Dundonald family network had influence in Paisley were the gravestone was erected. We do not know if any pressure was brought to bear in the case of Algie and Park’s gravestone. However, in other cases, the erection of a monument and its’ accompanying inscription were contested, e.g., Captain Crichton unsuccessfully requested that the duke of Hamilton remove the gravestone of David Steel.
It is likely that a mixture of political concerns, a desire not to criticise supporters of the Presbyterian interest and the Revolution of 1689 to 1690, and the powerful influence of the local landed elite post 1700 created the conditions in which it became politick for Presbyterians not to publicly name the commissioners involved.
The inscription was more critical of ‘he that to them did these delate’, i.e., bring a charge against, denounce or report, as he had ‘the greater count he hath to make’. In other words, in the view of the erectors of the gravestone, the individual who denounced Algie and Park to the commissioners bore a greater share of the responsibility for their execution than the commissioners. Although the informer was singled out for blame, the inscription also failed to name him. Did the Presbyterian sources also have similar reasons for not naming the informer? At this remove from events, we do not know.
Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.