Alexander Peden and the Alloway Witch
Before Robert Burns wrote Tam O’ Shanter, Alloway was associated with a witch in popular literature…
At some point in 1685, perhaps in the latter half of the year, Alexander Peden encountered an alleged witch in Alloway parish, Ayrshire.
‘[Additional passages in the Life of Peden] 26. About the same Time, he came to Andrew Normand’s House in the Parish of Alloway in the Shire of Air, being to preach at Night in his Barn. After he came in, he halted a little, leaning upon a Chair-Back, with his Face cover’d; when he lifted his Head, he said, They are in this House that I have not one Word of Salvation unto; he halted a little again, saying, This is strange, that the Devil will not go out, that we may begin our Work: Then there was a Woman went out, ill look’d upon almost all her Life, and to her dying Hour for a Witch, with many Presumptions of the same.’ (Walker, BP, I, 115-116.)
There is no way of identifying the woman involved, either if she ever existed, or even if she was ever accused of witchcraft. By the 1680s processes for witchcraft were relatively rare. Among the surviving recorded local witch trials in Ayr, was a Margaret Dougall, ‘alledged guilty of consulitng and raising the devill’, who was imprisoned in Ayr Tolbooth and sent to Edinburgh for trial in March, 1682. Her fate is not known.
A Janet Fisher was also tried as a witch in May, 1683. The accusation was found not proven. However, Fisher was from ‘Garsmillies’, which is probably Grassmillees in Mauchline parish.
Before 1690, Alloway was a separate parish from Ayr. Both Alloway and Ayr parishes rarely feature in accounts of the Society people. However, Maybole parish across the Doon from Alloway often appears.
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