The Cursed Intelligencers, the Musket Shot and the Knot of Hair in 1685

Peden Eyes

In late April, 1685, government troops nearly captured the outlawed minister ‘Prophet’ Peden when they raided a farmhouse in Ayrshire…

On that day Alexander Peden was in the company of James Nisbet, the son of John Nisbet in Hardhill in Loudoun parish, whose account of the raid and dramatic escape was preserved by Patrick Walker in his life of Peden published in 1724.

In April, 1685, Nisbet was in hiding in a gentleman’s house in Ayrshire after he failed to take the Abjuration oath that renounced the Societies’ ‘war’ against their oppressors.

Walker’s account begins with Peden at the house in Ayrshire:

‘35. About this Time [in late April, 1685], He was in a House in the Shire of Air, where James Nisbet was staying, who, till last Year [i.e., 1723], lived in the Castle of Edinburgh, but is now honestly off the Stage, and gone to his rest.

At Night he was standing before the Fire, where he uttered some Imprecations upon the cursed Intelligenters, who have told the Enemy that I’m come out of Ireland [on c.1 March].’ (Walker, BP, I, 70.)

According to Lord Fountainhall, the authorities knew about Peden’s return from Ireland by 27 March, 1685. The incident that Walker describes appears to have taken place a month later. Nisbet’s spiritual autobiography does record his meeting with Peden in late April and that after his preaching that Peden cursed those ‘that speaks of my being come to Scotland’, i.e., intelligencers who had informed on Peden. (Nisbet, ‘Narrative’, 62.)

‘When James took him to the Place where he was to rest a little, James said, The Servants take notice of your Imprecations upon the Intelligenters; he said, Ye will know to Morrow before 9 of the Clock, what Ground I have for it; I wish thy Head may be preserved, for it will be in Danger for me; I’ll take my own Time and be gone from this House. Some-time in that Night he went to a desert Place, and darned himself in a Mosshag.’ (Walker, BP, I, 70.)

There are differences between Nisbet’s and Walker’s narratives, but generally both narratives refer to the same events. The overall impression is that Walker either had read Nisbet’s narrative, or that he had conversed with Nisbet about his meeting with Peden. Both Nisbet and Walker lived in Edinburgh in the early eighteenth century.

Nisbet’s participation in harrowing, an activity which generally followed ploughing or sowing, suggests that the events took place in around April. Nisbet’s narrative dates the meeting with Peden to 26 to 28 April. Peden’s preaching probably took place on Sunday 26 April, rather than on the 27 April as Nisbet claims.

Walker compresses Nisbet’s version of his escape into a few lines.

‘The next Morning James was going at the Harrows; about 8 of the Clock, there was a Troop of the Enemies surrounding the House; when James saw them, he ran for’t; they pursued him hard, and he wan to a Moss, where they could pursue him no furder with Horses; They fired upon him, and he having Knots upon his Hair on each Side of his Head, one of their Bullets took away one of the Knots.

He ran [to] where Mr. Peden was, who said, Oh, Jamie, Jamie, I am glad your Head’s safe, for I knew it would be in Danger. He took his Knife, and took away the other Knot.’ (Walker, BP, I, 70-1.)

Nisbet’s account does not mention either the knot of hair being shot off, or Peden cutting off the other knot of hair.

Walker tells a similar story about a musket ball going through the hair of Patrick Foreman. John Kirkland is also said to have shot a knot of hair off a sergeant.

Neither Nisbet, nor Walker, record where the gentleman’s house in Ayrshire was. Nisbet’s description of the house as that of a ‘gentleman’ implies that it belonged to a heritor or laird, as he probably did not use the term in a loose sense. Nisbet also mentions that the ‘gentleman’ had failed to take the Abjuration oath in early 1685, which implies that the ‘gentleman’ was a fugitive. Anyone who failed to publicly take the oath automatically became a fugitive.

The gentleman’s house may have been in the vicinity of Muirkirk parish, as Peden was at Priesthill, just a couple of days later on the night of 29 to 30 April.

Nisbet, too, appears to have been in that area, as he records the arrival of John Graham of Claverhouse and the Highlanders in the area on 1 May, which was the day that Claverhouse shot John Brown at Priesthill. On that day, Peden is said to have been ten miles from Priesthill.

Taken together, the available evidence suggests that the house probably lay in the portion of Ayrshire around Muirkirk parish. It also adds to the body of evidence for the context in which Claverhouse shot John Brown in Priesthill and captured John Brounen, who was executed at Mauchline on 6 May.

The next story in Walker’s narrative is about Peden visiting Richard Cameron’s grave in Auchinleck parish.

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

~ by drmarkjardine on June 10, 2014.

3 Responses to “The Cursed Intelligencers, the Musket Shot and the Knot of Hair in 1685”

  1. […] preacher was Alexander Peden. Patrick Walker also recorded a version of Nisbet’s encounter with Peden a year or so after Nisbet died. Nisbet’s narrative provides a rare opportunity to compare one of […]

  2. […] story immediately follows Walker’s account of Peden and James Nisbet’s escape from a house in Ayrshire on c.27 April and comes before Peden’s visit to the house at Priesthill in Muirkirk parish on […]

  3. […] miraculous passing of musket balls through hair is also reported in the cases of James Nisbet and Patrick […]

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