The Heartfelt Grief of Baillie McKeand over the Wigtown Martyrs in 1704.

Old Mortality

John M’Keand, or McKean, sat on the assize that condemned Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson to drowning in 1685.What does his grief mean for the Wigtown case?

He appears on the Wigtown parish list in late 1684 as ‘Baillie McKeand’. He is also found on the Hearth Tax roll for the burgh of 1695 as ‘John Mckean late bailly’. In 1704, McKeand addressed the kirk session about his ‘grief of heart’ over sitting on the assize nineteen years earlier:

‘At Wigtown, July 8th, 1704.

Post preces sed[erun]t. The min[iste]r., all ye elders and deacons. This day
the tokens were distributed to these in the congregat[io]n., according to the
mind of the Session the former day.

This day Baillie M’Keand, elder, in Wigtown, addressed the Session for ye priviledge of the Sacrament, declaring the grief of his heart yt he should have sitten on ye [as]sieze of these women, who were sentenced to die in this place in the year 1685; and yt it had been frequently his petition to God for true repentance and forgiveness for yt sin. He being removed, and the Session enquiring into this affair, and the carriage of the s[ai]d Baillie since yt time, and being satisfied with his conversat[io]n. since, and the present evidence of repentance now, they granted him the privilege; he was called in, admonished and exhorted to deliberation [and] due tenderness in such a solemn address unto God.

Sederunt closed with prayer.’ (Napier, History Vindicated, cviii-cix.)

What does Baillie M’Keand’s grief tell us about the case of the Wigtown Martyrs?

M’Keand had plainly sat on the jury of the assize on 13 April, 1685. It is clear that the jury had found Margaret McLachlan and Margaret Wilson guilty, as ‘these women … were sentenced to die in this place in the year 1685’. In reality, the jury had no option except to find them guilty of treason, as McLachlan and Wilson obstinately refused to take the Abjuration oath that renounced the Society people’s ‘war’ of assassinations against their persecutors.

Stewart, in his defence of the Wigtown Martyrs, and Napier, in his case against the martyrdoms, reached radically different conclusions about the significance of McKeand’s grief. For Stewart, it proved that the women had been drowned. For Napier, it proved that the women had been sentenced to die and not drowned. One could quibble about why the session used the word ‘die’, rather than the technically correct ‘drowned’, but that would be a fruitless argument: Derrida once wrote a whole book on why Nietzsche once briefly wrote that he had forgotten his umbrella.

The key passage does not prove one way, or the other, whether they were executed. McKeand felt guilt for sitting on the jury in the assize ‘of these women, who were sentenced to die in this place in the year 1685’. The problem with that statement is that it refers to the particular circumstances which caused McKeand’s grief, rather than to the events of the trial and execution in Wigtown in 1685. McKeand felt guilt for his particular part in that process. The kirk session was commenting on the causes of McKeand’s grief, not on whether the execution had taken place or not.

The evidence of the 1704 Wigtown session does not confirm whether the women were executed, only that they were condemned to die.

It is difficult to see why McKeand would have felt ‘grief of his heart’ nineteen years after the trial if they had been pardoned and released. In that case, his grief at participation would surely have been tempered by his knowledge that after conviction that the women had recanted their support for assassinations and successfully obtained a pardon. What mainly Presbyterian sources claim is that the women were executed by drowning. The latter feels like a cause for heartfelt grief.

It is clear that McKeand had felt that guilt for several years or more, as it was ‘frequently his petition to God for true repentance and forgiveness for yt sin’. Clearly his conscience was troubling him. There was something about the nature of the forthcoming communion, nineteen years after the trial, that forced him to go public with his troubled conscience. Sadly, the extract above does not reveal what the ‘mind of the session’ was on ‘the former day’, presumably when the sacrament was agreed.

For some reason, McKeand felt that the ‘sin’ of his part in the trial may hae prevented him from taking the sacrament. He may have had a tender conscience. Others, apparently, even on the kirk session, did not carry the same burden on their conscience.

Both Stewart and Napier point out that some of the members of the Wigtown session in 1704 who heard McKeand’s heartfelt grief and repentance, had been in Wigtown in 1685. Provost William Coltraine had taken part in the trial, but not the execution. Some of the others on the 1704 session are also listed on the parish list of 1684 and were, presumably, there at the time of the alleged drownings a few months later.

Neither Stewart, nor Napier, compared the session list of 1704 with the parish list of 1684. However, when the latter is consulted some of the elders are listed: ‘John M’Keand, younger’, ‘Jo. Lafrize’, under ‘Munkhill’, and ‘Patrick McKie of Auchleand’. Possibly ‘Thomas McClure’ and ‘David McKie’ are the same as the elders who sat on the session in 1704. Among the deacons in 1704, three, ‘Michaell Shank’, ‘John Cavend’ and ‘Jo. Calzie’, or ‘Jo. Calzie, younger’, appear in the 1684 list. Of the twelve names listed in 1704, nine are either found, or are probably found, on the 1684 list.

One question, which has not been previously asked, is if the Wigtown kirk session was actually that keen discussing the Wigtown martyrs? In 1684, most of the burgh elite were, in one way or another, involved in the trial of the two women. Wigtown was not a centre for the militant presbyterian dissent that the two women represented. Of the five Society people said to have been executed in the burgh, four were, either taken in, or from, Penninghame parish, which was a hot spot for militant dissent. None of the martyrs were from the burgh. Today, the town has taken the martyrs to heart, but it is not clear if some of the burgh elite wished recall their part in the trial or executions. McKeand appears have taken nearly two decades to come to terms with his actions. It is possible that his long-held heartfelt guilt was not welcome in some quarters of the kirk session and burgh. It is possible that discussion of the Wigtown case was a difficult political moment for some of the session in 1704 that had to be carefully negotiated by the minister, Mr Ker.

It may be worth noting in relation to that, that when the narrative Presbyterian accounts of the martyrdoms began to appear in 1711 that they came from parishes outside of Wigtown. Nearly all of those accounts were critical of the role played by burgh officials. The Kirkinner session recorded the role of a town officer in the execution. The Penninghame session pointed to the role of Baillie Stewart in the capture of the Wilson sisters and the curious story of how Wilson’s father did not obtain a bond in Wigtown. Cloud of Witnesses mentions the role of Provost Coltraine. Patrick Walker notes that the town officers had the hangman scourge Margaret Maxwell, but he also says that the townsfolk did not turn out to see it. The consistent negative references to the burgh elite may indicate that others thought that they had a problematic relationship with the martyrs.

The evidence suggests that the Wigtown Session in 1704 was well informed about what took place in 1685, and in the case of Provost Coltraine, that he was particularly knowledgeable about the trial.

Scottish Parliament

The Riding of Parliament

It is clear that Provost Coltraine had been involved in the trial, probably as a court officer. However, unlike McKeand, he had taken no part in judging whether to convict the women. Coltraine had ordered them to receive their sentence on their knees, a demand that they recognise legitimate royal authority, but that is his only recorded intervention in the trial. Recognition of royal authority was probably not a sin in the view of a provost whose position in society depended on it. Immediately after the assize, he left for Edinburgh to take part in the pageantry of the riding of Parliament and high politics. Baillie McKeand, who almost certainly continued in Wigtown, may have witnessed the last act in the drama.

Wigtown Martyrs

The Baillie with a Halberd
If McKeand witnessed the execution, his guilt, which was only for sitting on the assize, appears to indicate that he did not feel any guilt for anything that he done during the execution. One source, the Kirkinner kirk session of 1711, claims that one of Wigtown’s town officers drowned Margaret McLachlan by holding her under the water with a halberd.

If McKeand did not wield the halberd, as seems likely given the specific nature of his guilt for taking part in the trial alone, one of the other baillies did, if the Kirkinner session is accurate. The parish list of residents of the burgh of 1684 lists six baillies in Wigtown: ‘Baillie Alexander Gordoun’, ‘Baillie [John] McKeand’, who sat on the assize, ‘Baillie Patrick Stewart’, who captured Margaret Wilson, ‘Baillie George Stewart’, ‘Baillie Mcil Roy’ and ‘Bailzie Adam McKie’.

‘These Women’
The session record’s use of the term ‘women’ indicates that the session in 1704 considered those who were sentenced to drown were adults. Cloud of Witnesses states that Margaret Wilson was ‘scarce twenty three years of age’ when executed. The Penninghame kirk session claims that she was ‘Eighteen years’, other sources that she was ‘about twenty’. Agnes Wilson was fifteen when she was brought before court, but the case against her was dismissed and she was liberated under bond.

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

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~ by drmarkjardine on June 20, 2015.

2 Responses to “The Heartfelt Grief of Baillie McKeand over the Wigtown Martyrs in 1704.”

  1. Further info to deepen the question . Fascinating. Ethyl Smith

  2. […] Baillie John McKeand, who sat on the assize jury for the martyrs and later felt grief for it, probably sat on the jury for Maxwell. He did not express grief for her sentence. […]

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