The Wigtown Martyrs: Patrick Walker’s Version of the Drowning in 1727

Wigtown Martyrs

Patrick Walker in Some Remarkable Passages of the Life and Death of Mr. Richard Cameron, Later minister of the Gospel (Edinburgh, 1727), gives his version of the drowning of the Wigtown Martyrs:

‘I could give many Instances, but at this Time shall Only mention the Drowning of these two Women at Wigtoun in Galloway, the 11th of May 1685, (which some deny to be Matter of Fact) viz. Margaret Lachlan, who was past 63 Years, and some of her Intimates said to me, She was a Christian of deep Exercise through much of her Life, and of high Attainments and great Experiences in the Ways of Godliness; and Margaret Wilson, who was put to Death with her, aged 23.

The old Woman was first tyed to the Stake, Enemies saying, ‘Tis needless to speak to that old damn’d Bitch, let her go to Hell: But, say they, Margaret, ye are young; if ye’ll pray for the King, we will give you your Life. She said, I’ll pray for Salvation to all the Elect, but the Damnation of none. They dashed her under the Water, and pull’d her up again. People looking on, said, O Margaret, will ye say it? She said, Lord, give him Repentance, Forgiveness and Salvation, if it be Thy holy Will. [Robert Grierson of] Lagg cry’d, Damn’d Bitch, we do not want such Prayers; Tender the Oaths to her. She said, To Hell with them, to Hell with them, it is o’er good for them. Thus suffered they that extraordinary and unheard-of Death.

Margaret Maxwel, [the servant to the wife of Alexander Vaus of Barwhanny and] now an old infirm Woman, told me of late in Burrowstouness, That she was then Prisoner with them [for being disorderly], and expected the same Sentence; but she was ordained to be scourged through the Town of Wigtoun by the Hand of the common Hangman 3 Days successively, and to stand each Day one Hour in Juggs; [beside the kirk] all which was done. But such was the Cruelty of these Days, that all who retained any Thing of Humanity towards their Fellow-creatures, abhorred such Barbarity; [>p289.] so that all the three Days the foresaid Margaret was punished and exposed, there was scare one Door or Window to be seen in the Town of Wigtoun, and no Boys or Girls looking on. The Officers and Hangman enquiring if they should shorten the Hour, she said, No, let the Knock (or Clock) go on, she was neither wearied nor ashamed. The Hangman was very tender to her.

All this Cruelty was acted by Sir Robert Grierson of Lagg, (who stirred up others to assist him) a great Persecutor, a great Swearer, a great Whorer, Blasphemer, Drunkard, Liar and Cheat, and yet out of Hell.’ (Walker, BP, I, 288-9.)

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


~ by drmarkjardine on December 2, 2014.

8 Responses to “The Wigtown Martyrs: Patrick Walker’s Version of the Drowning in 1727”

  1. Ooops, it would seem that I jumped the gun in my comments on the Defoe account…

    Both Walker and Defoe really need to be seen in context before we consider what they claim to have happened. Both quite bad liars, both pretty free and easy with the details.

    Walker’s account of the death of John Brown; with dashed out brains, weeping widow with suckling bairns etc. is right up there when it comes to clearly apocryphal recounting of sufferings. Especially when we have a primary source document that refutes Walker completely.

    Interesting as these “accounts” may be, the nub of the issue remains the same. Despite all the embellishment, the hail clud of people on the sands, the wailing and gnashing of teeth – the only contemporary historical documents of the time say quite clearly that they appealed for, and were granted a pardon in Edinburgh on 30th April 1685. The plea for pardon even mentions taking the oath of allegiance.

    The Kirkinner and Penninghame Kirk Session “accounts” from twenty years later don’t even agree on how many women were allegedly drowned!

    Until someone unearths real contemporary documentary evidence proving this event actually happened it – like the flowery “martyrdom of John Brown” – is nothing but a Presbytarian fiction that has been “passed into tradition” and is now – most alarmingly – being taught to children as an undeniable truth.

    Surely it is bad History to conclude that it did happen because “tradition” says so when there is not a shred of historical evidence to support the hypothesis?

    • Hi David,

      my thoughts on what Walker etc are on about will follow soon. I hope it helps get to the core of what the form of event was that either they believed had taken place, or lies behind their errors in describing it. However, even if a core event/claimed event can be described, it will not prove that those events took place or tackle the legal problems with the Wigtown case. Still, one more step on the path of knowledge!


  2. Hi Mark,

    I completely understand your approach. What I find most fascinating about this unsubstantiated “tradition” is that it very much seems to underpin the “accepted history” of the Killing Times. The Wigtown non-event and the “martyrdom” of John Brown set much of the currently accepted narrative of the period.

    I don’t for a moment suggest that no killings took place during the 1679-88 period – both sides killed. However, I do believe that the negationist revision of certain historical – and some not so historical – events have allowed a distorted understanding of the whole period which has shaped the whole history of Scotland subsequently. Much like the modern Wallace myth that casts us all as blue faced, bloodthirsty barbarians!

    A complete, factually accurate re-writing of our history from the 17th century to the present day is required. It really needs to start with the discarding of implausible hearsay and unverifiable “Covenanter tradition”.


    P.S. Very much enjoying the quest for knowledge.

  3. Mark,

    Also interesting to note the year of Walker’s “story” – the last witch trial in Scotland was in 1727. The Scottish Witchcraft Act was not repealed in 1736 when the British Parliament decided to repeal the parallel English act.

    The ‘tied to a stake’ imagery, so unlike any other “martyrdom” is fascinating as it would seem to accord far more with traditional views of how to execute witches?

    An article in the The Glasgow Herald, 27th Jan 1858 even links the 1685 Covenanter execution of James Algie & John Park to the 1697 Paisley Witch trials and executions…


  4. I think that the case of the Wigtown Martyrs (or “Wigtown Martyrs”) is particularly interesting historically because of the abundance of conflicting evidence dating back virtually to the time of the event. Trying to make sense of all this evidence is delicate work. One hardly expects documentary proof at this late stage: the most one can hope for is a strong probability one way or the other. If the event did happen, why were there almost immediately those denying or doubting it? If it did not happen, why were there so many claiming or conceding that it had? I think that Mark made important progress on the problem in his thesis and I eagerly await his mature thoughts! Have they appeared yet?

    A question for David (if it is appropriate to comment on comments): how would you prove that Patrick Walker was a “bad liar”?


  5. […] Patrick Walker, 1727 Walker does not list the judges, but he does mention the involvement of Robert Grierson of Lag, apparently at their […]

  6. […] father did not obtain a bond in Wigtown. Cloud of Witnesses mentions the role Provost Coltraine. Patrick Walker notes that the town officers had the hangman scourge Margaret Maxwell, but he also says that the […]

  7. […] story was not present in any of the published sources until it appeared in Patrick Walker’s account of the Wigtown Martyrs, Margaret Wilson and Margaret […]

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