Wodrow and the Paisley Court that executed Algie and Park in February, 1685

Paisley Tolbooth

Paisley Tolbooth

One problem with Wodrow’s account of Algie and Park’s execution is that he did not directly identify the form of court held at Paisley Tolbooth which tried them. Fortunately, he did provide evidence about that court elsewhere in his History.

Why is the kind of court that Algie and Park faced an important issue? If Algie and Park faced a justiciary court which dealt with cases arising from the pressing of the Abjuration oath, then that means that the Abjuration oath was pressed across Renfrewshire in the month before their trial and execution.

Why is that important? If the Abjuration oath, which renounced the Societies’ war of assassinations declared in the Apologetical Declaration, was pressed, then some key events in the story of Algie and Park took place against the background of the oath being pressed in Eastwood parish. If that was the case, then Wodrow’s story of Algie and Park appears in a different light.

What Kind of Court was it?
Wodrow knew some of the people brought before the same court as Algie and Park. After his discussion of the Paisley martyrs, he mentions a few cases which shed light on the kind of court before which Algie and Park were tried.

The court was held at Paisley, the head burgh of Renfrewshire.

The Case of Crawfordsburn
One case that Wodrow mentioned that was tried before the Paisley court was that of Thomas Crawford, younger of Crawfordburn, i.e., Cartsburn, in Greenock parish, Renfrewshire.

Map of Cartsburn/Cartsdyke

‘I shall only add one other instance of the severity of this court at Paisley, come to my hand since … Rolls of all the inhabitants were called for [to take the Abjuration oath in mid January, 1685], and because Thomas Crawford, then younger of Crawfords-burn, was not so timeous in giving in a list of the inhabitants of his lands, as they would have had him, he is fined in a hundred pounds. Indeed it was afterwards remitted;’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 191.)

Under the terms of the privy council’s proclamation on the Abjuration oath of 30 December, 1684, Crawfordsburn had to submit a list of the inhabitants of his estate within fifteen days of the proclamation being read in his parish church. Crawfordsburn was fined because he submitted his list too late. It appears that Crawfordsburn’s fine was ultimately dropped.

Crawfordsburn’s father served in the Renfrewshire militia during the Argyll Rising in mid 1685 and was present at a skirmish with some of Argyll’s men at Greenock kirk. The earl of Argyll presented Crawfordsburn, elder, with a silver snuff box when he was taken as a captive to Renfrew. (Wodrow, History, IV, 293, 299.)

The Case of Robert Shearer
A second and related case before the court was that of Robert Shearer in Greenock parish.

‘Because Robert Shearer, sailor in Crawfords-dyke, (yet alive) did not compear before them [when the Abjuration oath was pressed in Greenock parish], the commissioners ordered his goods to be sequestrate, and his wife to be imprisoned in Dumbarton castle.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 191.)

Like Crawfordsburn’s case, Wodrow made Shearer’s punishment look harsh. However, it was a straight forward application of the privy council’s orders, which stated that if a landowner failed to engage for any of the inhabitants of his lands when the Abjuration oath was pressed, then they were to be regarded as fugitives, their family seized and placed in the nearest prison, and their goods secured.

‘The execution of which was put upon their master, the forementioned present laird of Crawfords-burn; which invidious work when he did not do, he was severely threatened to be represented to the government; but this was happily prevented by favour of [William Ross,] the lord Ross [of Halkhead].’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 191.)

Under the terms of the privy council’s proclamation, Crawfordsburn as Shearer’s master was responsible for ensuring that Shearer’s goods were secured until the courts officers could dispose of them. The failure of a master to concur with those instructions led to them being ‘holden as guilty of the foresaid crimes, and pursued and punished accordingly’, In this case, Lord Ross, the convenor of the Abjuration court, later intervened to save Crawfordsburn.

The case of Robert Shearer indicates that the Abjuration oath had been pressed in Renfrewshire before Algie and Park were brought before the court at Paisley.

The Case of Robert King
A third case mentioned by Wodrow was that of Robert King, a miller at Shaws Bridge by Pollockshaws in Eastwood parish. Shaws Bridge lay next to Algie and Park’s home at Kennishead.

Map of Shaws Bridge          Street View of Shaws Bridge

‘Another instance of unaccountable severity at this court [at Paisley], upon the same day, was in the case of Robert King miller at Pollockshaws, in the same parish of Eastwood, which may let us into a further view of the treatment country people met with at those courts. This good man died but lately [in c.1717] in a good old age, and I have several times had the accounts of his severe treatment from himself. Before this he had been twice fined for mere nonconformity, in forty pounds Scots, and at both times much more than the sum was exacted by the soldiers when they came upon him at different times.

The firmness and composure of his wife Janet Scouler, under the severities of the soldiers, was truly remarkable, and in my opinion deserves a room here. This excellent woman was far beyond the common size of country people, for good sense and solid knowledge, and was really extraordinary for serious exercising religion. I could insert several very singular instances of it in her, and of the Lord’s manifestations of his covenant to her, were this a place for it.

One day a party of soldiers came to their house and rifled it, taking away two or three horses, and five or six cows, and had plundered the house of any thing portable. When they were doing all this, Janet was perfectly easy and composed, not in the least ruffled, so that the soldiers could not but take notice of it . When the cattle were driving alongst the Shaw-bridge, at the end of which their house was, Janet came to the door, and looked after them. One of the soldiers observing her, and being a little more merciful than the rest, turned about and said, “Poor woman, I pity thee.” Janet answered him with a great deal of gravity and cheerfulness, “Poor,” said she, “I am not poor, you cannot make me poor, God is my portion, and yon cannot make me poor.” This was to glory in her tribulation, and to rejoice at all times, and bless the Lord continually.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 190.)

Wodrow then moves to the events of 3 February, the day of Algie and Park’s trial:

‘To return to her husband; a party of soldiers upon the 3d of February pretty early, came to his house, and brought him down prisoner to Paisley. Nothing could ever be laid to his charge but mere nonconformity, he having never borne arms [at Bothwell in 1679].’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 190-1.)

His description of King as a ‘mere’ nonconformist suggests that the Paisley court also dealt with those who had appeared on a list submitted by the local minister, William Fisher, of those who did not attend church. Similar lists were submitted by ministers in Ayrshire and Wigtownshire in October/November, 1684. (Fasti, III, 134.)

Wodrow was not always accurate when it came to the charges that individuals faced before a court. From the evidence of the cases of Crawfordland, Shearer and of Algie and Park, it is almost certain that the Abjuration oath had been pressed in parishes across Renfrewshire in mid-to-late January, 1685. It appears that King had also not taken either the Test or the Abjuration oath. If King had taken the Abjuration, he would have appeared on the lists held by the commissioners and held a testificate to prove that he had taken the oath. The judges almost certainly had grounds other than nonconformity to send troops to apprehend King.

‘He was presented before the commissioners [at the Paisley court] met upon the former occasion [i.e., 3 February], whose severity was chiefly owing to the violence of the gentleman last named [i.e., William Hamilton of Orbiston].’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 191.)

King was then asked the usual questions, which were designed to ascertain if he held treasonable opinions.

‘When Robert King is before them, he was interrogate, if the death of [James Sharp] the archbishop [of St Andrews] was murder. He answered, he did not understand the matter so far, as to determine in it.

Again he was asked, if the king sinned in rescinding the covenant. He told them, he would not answer to such questions as these.

After they had put several more to him, they put the test to him, which he peremptorily refused.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 191.)

Wodrow’s account then mentions that the execution of Algie and Park had preceded King’s case:

‘In the time of his examination, the two forenamed young men [Algie and Park], his neighbours and acquaintances, were hanging upon the gibbet before the tolbooth of Paisley, where the court sat.

Robert was bid look upon these two before the window, and assured (the threatening was illegal as well as barbarous) that if he took not the test, immediately he would be knit up with them. He refused for a good while.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 191.)

Wodrow alleges that King was put under severe pressure to respond to the commissioners’ insistence that he took the oaths. In Wodrow’s version, the treatment of King appears as a barbarous act, but a more generous interpretation would be that the commissioners gave King time to reconsider his refusal as they were not the bloodthirsty types which Wodrow made them out to be. The commissioners did offer King merciful treatment if he took the oaths:

‘To fright him the more, they shut him up in a corner of the prison, permitting nobody but his guard of soldiers to be near him, and told him, he had but an hour more to live; and the trumpet was to be sounded thrice, and if he sat the third summons at the expiring of the hour, there was no mercy for him.

When he was sent off, the first blast was given, and in less than half an hour the next. The poor man, brought to this pinch just from his work, was much frighted, and no great wonder, and fell into very great confusion, and as he himself used to express it, was perfectly out of himself; and in his fright, when warned before the last sound of the trumpet, he complied and took the test.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 191.)

It appears that King was released after he took the oaths.

What was the ‘test’ oath that King took? The timing of the court, its scope and remit, and the fact that King was faced with immediate execution suggest that he also faced the Abjuration oath, which specifically renounced the Societies ‘war’ of assassinations, rather than just the Test oath.

Wodrow did his best to vindicate his parishioners actions. It is possible that Wodrow had to deal with King’s troubled conscience over taking the oaths many years later when he was minister of Eastwood:

‘This was matter of heavy vexation to him for many a year; and the Lord gave him repentance not to be repented of for this involuntary fall, which was more the sin of his persecutors than his.’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 191.)

Taken together, the pattern of cases before the Paisley court indicates that the Abjuration oath had been pressed across Renfrewshire in the weeks before James Algie and John Park were executed.

How the Abjuration oath was administered in Renfrewshire in the weeks before their trial highlights omissions from, and unexplained elements of, Wodrow’s narrative.

How the Abjuration oath was pressed in Eastwood parish.
On 30 December, 1684, the privy council ordered the commissioners and other officers to proclaim their instructions for taking the Abjuration oath in every parish church in the shire when preaching took place on the Sabbath. In Algie and Park’s case, the proclamation would have been read in Eastwood parish church, probably on Sunday 4 January, or the following Sabbath.

Once the proclamation had been publicly announced, ‘all heritors, liferenters, wadsetters, and, in their absence, their factors or chamberlains,’ were to submit ‘an exact list of the names’ of every inhabitant of their lands within fifteen days to the parish minister. In 1685, Eastwood’s parish minister was William Fisher. The list was probably delivered into Fisher’s hand by on Sunday 18 January, or Sunday 25 January.

At some point after that, a day for the swearing of the oath would have taken place in Eastwood parish. It is not clear when that day took place, but it appears to have been held before Algie and Park’s trial on 3 February, as the Paisley court dealt with cases from across Renfrewshire due to the pressing of the oath.

On the day that the oath was publicly sworn, the heritors, factors, etc. of Eastwood parish would have assembled all of the inhabitants on their lands and brought them before the shire commissioners.

The shire commissioners were William Ross, Lord Ross (convenor), William Hamilton of Orbiston (certainly present), John Cunningham, earl of Glencairn, John Schaw, younger of Greenock, John Houston, younger of that ilk and John Cochrane, Lord Cochrane.

The list of names would have been used by the commissioner or commissioners present when the heritors, factors etc. and all the other inhabitants of their lands of sixteen years and over took the oath. All subscriptions would have been recorded on a large sheet of paper and testificates issued to all who subscribed. The testificate was a pass for anyone who travelled outside of Eastwood parish.

Anyone who refused the oath was to be immediately secured for trial.

If anyone on the list of names was absent from the swearing of the oath for legitimate reasons, their heritors, factors etc, were to engage to produce them before one of the commissioners or other officers within a reasonable time frame.

If the heritors, factors etc. were not prepared to engage for absentees from their estate, then those absentees were to be considered fugitives, their families were to be imprisoned for transportation to the American plantations and their goods were to be sequestrated.

Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved.

~ by drmarkjardine on December 8, 2012.

2 Responses to “Wodrow and the Paisley Court that executed Algie and Park in February, 1685”

  1. […] the execution of Algie and Park Taken together, the events surrounding local Society people and the details of the Paisley court and the pressing of the Abjuration oath in Eastwood reveal both a sequence of events in Eastwood parish in the run up to the trial of Algie and Park, […]

  2. […] to do their duty in pressing the oath. A similar court which sat in Paisley for Renfrewshire, tried and executed James Algie and John Park on 3 […]

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