The Wigtown Martyrs: The Scourging of Margaret Maxwell in 1685


What was Margaret Maxwell convicted of in 1685? The case of Margaret Maxwell is first recorded in the Kirkinner Kirk Session of 1711:

‘[She] was imprisoned at Wigtown about the year 1685, and scourged there three several times by the hand of the common hangman, and afterwards carried prisoner to Glasgow in order to banishment.’ (Quoted in Stewart, History Vindicated, 81.)

The session record does not say wether she was actually banished, only that she was sent to Glasgow for banishment. Decades later, she was in Bo’ness.

Her 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 McLachlan.

Like the Kirkinner session record, he mentions that Margaret Maxwell, a neighbour of the latter and a servant at Barwhanny, was ‘scourged’ through the streets of Wigtown by the ‘common hangman’, which in 1685 was John McIlroy.

Some of Wigtown’s baillies would also have been involved in her punishment, potentially including Baillie McKeand, who expressed heartfelt grief over the sentence given to the martyrs, Patrick Stewart etc.

Scourging, as the image above highlights, later became a key element in the nineteenth-century Abolitionist cause. In the seventeenth century, it was an accepted punishment in Scotland.

Walker records the following:

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 other crimes], 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; 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.’

From the short phrase about Maxwell’s punishment in Walker’s account, it is possible that he had consulted the Kirkinner Session record. The Kirkinner account of the Wigtown Martyrs had been incorporated into Wodrow’s History, but Wodrow did not mention Maxwell’s case. Walker, who knew many people in the Societies’ network and did seek out witnesses, claims that he had met the elderly Maxwell in Bo’ness shortly before 1727. Maxwell was over 16 in 1685 and over forty years later probably must have been at least in her sixties. Walker’s possible consultation of the unpublished Kirkinner session record suggests that he had either deliberately sought her out, or recognised her when he met her. Maxwell was a witness to the imprisonment of the martyrs and attended the same assize.


Barwhanny © Andy Farrington and licensed for reuse.

Why was Margaret Maxwell punished?
There is no record of her trial, except for the Kirkinner session record and Walker’s account. However, she did exist.

According to the Kirkinner parish roll of 1684, Maxwell was disorderly, i.e., she refused to attend the parish church. She shared that distinction with two others at Barwhanny: Margaret Maxwell, the wife of Alexander Vaus of Barwhanny, and Grissel Vaus, probably a daughter of the former.

Map of Barwhanny

After the circuit court at Wigtown in October, 1684, Margaret Maxwell and the others were probably pursued for their nonconformity.

Walker claims that Maxwell was in prison with the women before their trial in Wigtown Tolbooth, that she feared the same sentence as Wilson and McLachan, and that she was sentenced to be scourged through the streets of the burgh and placed in the jougs.



What do Walker’s claims mean?
Maxwell was imprisoned in Wigtown Tolbooth for a period, probably in early April, with McLachlan, Wilson and the latter’s sister, Agnes. She was brought before the same assize in Wigtown in mid April, although it is not clear if she appeared on the same day, 13 April, as the others. She would have faced the same judges, i.e., Sir Robert Grierson of Lag, David Graham and Captain Strachan.

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.

For some reason, Maxwell alleged that she feared the same death sentence as given to the Wigtown Martyrs, which may mean that she was tried after, or at the same time, as the other women.

It is reasonably clear that she must have taken the Abjuration oath at some point, either when it was pressed in early 1685, or before, or at, the trial in April, otherwise she would have received the same sentence of drowning. What is clear is that she did not refuse the Abjuration at the assize. Whatever her crimes were, they were not of the severity of treason when it came to her sentence.

The assize appears to have dealt with either some form of her nonconformity and/or other alleged crimes, possibly related to her nonconformity. She was sentenced to ‘to be scourged through’ the burgh for three successive days and to stand in the jougs for one hour on each of those days. The Kirkinner records claim that she was sent to Glasgow for banishment, which probably indicates that the assize decided to send her to the colonial plantations.

Her sentence, at least as recorded by Walker, is unusual in nonconformity cases and perhaps hints at some of the grounds for Maxwell’s conviction.

Being sentenced to the jougs, a padlocked iron collar chained to Wigtown’s parish kirk, was a form of public humiliation for either church, or secular, offences. Her presence in the jougs may reflect her nonconformity, but secular courts, like that at Wigtown, also sentenced people to the jougs (stocks or irons) for the punishment of the blasphemy of God’s name and other horrible oaths’, for being ‘idle’ beggars and killing wild fowl. (RPS, 1581/10/24., A1552/2/7.)

Why was she scourged? Scourging was not the punishment for Presbyterian dissent. Scourging, to be lashed and flogged, through the streets of a burgh was a particular punishment under an act of 1600 for the slaughter and selling of specific kinds of deer and wild fowl. It was also the punishment for a related crime, the ‘destroyers of planting, enclosure and policy’, i.e, breakers of dovecots, rabbit warrens, parks, ponds, yards, orchards and slaying of hares, under a 1579 act. (RPS, 1600/11/47., 1579/10/37.)

Was she reduced to illegally obtaining food? We do not know, but her punishment suggests that Maxwell could have been sustaining herself through the theft of the property of a landowner.

However, it is also possible that she had assisted notorious fugitives. After the raid on Enterkin Pass in 1684, three women and one man, a local schoolmaster in Glencairn parish, were scourged through the streets of Dumfries for assisting the rescuers. Another woman was put in the jougs at a parish church for one hour for feeding fugitives. (Ford, ‘Enterkin and the Covenanters’, Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 3rd Series. No. 36. 147-8.)

It may be because Maxwell was convicted of other charges, in relation to her capture or sustenance or assisting fugitives, which did not relate to her dissent, that she was not mentioned in the published Presbyterian sources until Walker revealed her story.

We do not know what Maxwell was convicted of. Whatever it was, it appears that her case was more complex than one of simple dissent.

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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

~ by drmarkjardine on July 1, 2015.

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