The Mystery of Alexander ‘Prophet’ Peden’s Death #History #Scotland #Ayrshire

Peden Eyes

Where did Prophet Peden die? There is some confusion over where the famous Covenanter, Alexander ‘Prophet’ Peden, died. Some say he died at Auchencloigh. Some say he died near Auchinleck. But did he die somewhere else? The historical evidence suggests that he did…

When he died from illness in early 1686, everyone involved in his death and burial had very good reasons to keep the details of it secret, as their lives, livelihoods and property were at stake. The code of silence around his death and the elite position in society of some of those suspected to be involved in his burial may account for the extreme and unusual response of government forces six weeks later when they exhumed his body and publicly displayed it on the gallows at Cumnock.

In this post I want to advance a theory based on the earliest historical evidence for a different location of Peden’s death. Why does the location that matter? Because a different location deepens our understanding of what took place.

Perhaps the best way to summarise what has been, and often still is, claimed about the location of his death is to look at the two locations in Ayrshire usually given for it. The following summary comes from Hutchison, the editor of Thomson’s Martyr Graves of Scotland in 1903:

‘It has been generally regarded as a fact that Peden died in his brother’s house at Auchincloich, in the parish of Sorn. Mr Johnston, however, in his interesting volume, “Alexander Peden, the Prophet of the Covenant [of 1902],” says that Auchincloich [in Sorn parish] was tenanted at that time by one of the name of [John] Richmond; and that Peden’s brother was tenant of the farm of Ten Shilling Side, in the parish of Auchinleck. It was to this latter place, then, that the Venerable Prophet retired when death drew nigh. Not far off there was a concealed cave, in which he could remain safe from the pursuit of his enemies. ED.’

Let us examine those two theories.


The building where Peden is said to have been born at Auchencloigh © Becky Williamson and licensed for reuse.

The Auchencloigh Theory
The idea that Peden died at Auchencloigh in Sorn parish has a circular neatness, as that was where he is said to have been born. However, there is no evidence that he died there.

Map of Auchencloigh                      Street View of Auchencloigh

Aerial View of Auchencloigh

The reason why it has been believed that Peden’s death took place there is that Walker stated that he died in his ‘Brother’s House in the Parish of Sorn, where he was born’. Walker’s statement is ambiguous, as it is not clear if ‘where he was born’ relates to his brother’s house in Sorn parish or only to Sorn parish. Walker did not claim that Peden was born at Auchencloigh. Earlier in the same work, Walker simply stated that Peden was ‘born in the Parish of Sorn’. (Walker, BP, I, 39.)

There are also major flaws in the evidence for Auchencloigh being the location for his death.

First, Johnston was correct to state that Auchencloigh was held by [John] Richmond, as Walker states that ‘John Richman’ lived there in 1685 or early 1686. Peden did stay in a chamber there at some point (in late 1685?) where he foretold about the dangers of the French “Monzies” to Scotland. (Walker, BP, I, 78-9.)

Second, Auchencloigh was almost certainly not his brother’s house. An Alexander Peden had been retoured heir to different properties in 1648, but in 1663 an Andrew Richmond was retoured heir to ‘John Richmond of Auchincloigh’. The latter is almost certainly the ‘John Richman’ named by Walker in late 1685. ‘John Richmont Auchincloych’ paid the land tax in 1705. The same Richmond family still held Auchencloigh in 1723. (Paterson, History of Ayrshire, 427-8.)

Third, as we shall see below, Auchencloigh was not where an earlier and potentially more reliable source than Walker stated that Peden died.

From the above, it is clear that Walker was making a distinction between where Peden was born, i.e., in Sorn parish, and where he died, i.e., in his brother’s house. It is certain that his brother’s house lay somewhere else in the parish.

What of the other theory advanced by Johnston in Alexander Peden, the Prophet of the Covenant in 1902?


Deer Cave near Ten Shilling Side Bridge © Rab McMurdo and licensed for reuse.

Johnston’s Ten Shilling Side Theory
Where ‘Ten Shilling Side’ lay in Auchinleck parish is not clear, but it lay somewhere near the old tower house of Mr David Boswell, laird of Auchinleck. It does not appear on any map, but there is a Ten Shilling Side Bridge on the former estate of the Boswells, which presumably marks the route to, and lay close to, the former site of the ten shilling lands.

There certainly were Peden’s in Auchinleck parish twenty years later when in 1705 and 1708 ‘Hugh Pedine [in] Heitach’, i.e., Heateth. paid the Land Tax. A ‘John Aird yr [younger] & John Mitchell [in] ten shilling syde’ also paid the same tax in the same years.

Aerial View of Ten Shilling Side Bridge

Hutchison’s ‘concealed cave’ where Peden hid ‘not far off’ from Ten Shilling Side may be Peden’s Cave at Auchinbay, which does lie relatively near to the bridge but on the opposite bank of the Lugar Water from the Auchinleck estate. However, there are other caves that lie closer to the bridge, like the Deer Cave (above).

The advantage of Johnston’s Ten Shiling Side theory is that many sources claim that Peden was initially buried either in, or in a later tradition close to, the Boswell of Auchinleck’s family isle in the parish kirkyard. If Peden died on their lands, it makes sense that his body was initially buried in secret among the tombs of the Boswells.

However, the major flaw with the Ten Shilling Side theory is that the historical sources for his death and burial are unequivocal in stating that he died in Sorn parish, rather than Auchinleck parish. It is a big step to take to abandon the historical sources for his death, on the basis of a possible rental and conjecture that Peden was in hiding there.

If not Auchencloigh or Ten Shilling Side, then where did he die?

The Historical Sources
Curiously, very few have taken note of what Wodrow wrote about Peden’s death a decade before Walker’s account. He was very precise as to where Peden died:

‘Upon the 26th of January this year, that singularly pious minister Mr Alexander Peden, of whom in the former part of this work, died in the Dikes, in the parish of the Sorn, in Ayrshire;’ (Wodrow, History, IV, 396.)

According to Wodrow, it was ‘in the Dikes’ in Sorn parish, rather than at Auchincloigh or Ten Shilling Side. Wodrow’s source for that information was almost certainly the ‘gentleman’ who gave him the other information about Peden in 1685 found in the same passage. That gentleman was Captain John Campbell of Over Wellwood in Muirkirk parish, who as a young man had hidden with Peden in late April 1685 and was frequently in his company in that summer. Given his background with Peden, Over Wellwood is a very good source for where ‘the Prophet’ died.

Wodrow’s evidence appears to complement, rather than contradict Walker’s claim that he died at ‘his brother’s house in the Parish of Sorn’.

Writing a decade after Wodrow, Walker wrote:

‘When the Day of his Death drew near, and not able to travel, he came to his Brother’s House in the Parish of Sorn, where he was born; he caused dig a Cave, with a Saughen-bush covering the Mouth of it, near to his Brother’s House; the Enemies got Notice, and searched the House narrowly many Times. […] A little before his Death, he said, Ye will all be angry where I will be buried at last; but I discharge you all to lift my Corps again. At last, one Morning early, he came to the Door, and left his Cave; his Brother’s Wife said, Where are you going? the Enemies will be here; he said, I know that. Alas, Sir, what will become of you, you must back to the Cave again; he said, I have done with that, for it is discovered; but there is no Matter, for within 48 Hours I will be beyond the Reach of all the Devils Temptations, and his Instruments in Hell and on Earth, and they shall trouble me no more. About three Hours after he entered the House, the Enemies came, and found him not in the Cave, searched the Barn narrowly, casting the unthreshen Corn, and searched the House, stobbing the Beds, but entred not the Place where he lay. He told them, that bury him where they would, he would be lifted again, and within 48 Hours he died: He died in January 28th, 1686, being past sixty Years, and was buried in the Laird of Afflect’s Isle.’ (Walker, BP, I, 82-4.)

According to Walker, Peden died at his brother’s house, which was apparently a farm in Sorn parish. It may be worth noting that Walker only mentions his brother’s wife as present in the house when Peden came there for the final days of his life, not his brother. Wodrow does not mention Peden’s brother.

The two historical sources beg obvious questions: where was ‘the Dikes’ in Sorn parish and was it connected to Peden’s brother?

Where was ‘the Dikes’?
Two sources, the Fugitive Roll of May, 1684, and the Hearth Tax roll for Sorn parish a decade later list several Pedens who lived there. The Fugitive Roll indicates those who had Covenanting sympathies, as it generally lists those who were accused by the authorities of having been in arms at Bothwell in 1679.


Laigh Brocklar © Leslie Barrie and licensed for reuse.

Two fugitives appear in combination on the Fugitive Roll: ‘Alexander Pedin, in Blocklerdyke’ and ‘William Hunter, in Blocklerdyke’. The Hearth Tax record for the parish a decade later in 1694 listed an ‘Alexander Pedden & George Huntar’, as sharing three hearths somewhere close to ‘dycknuk’, i.e., Dykeneuk, which lies beside Brocklar.


Today, there are two farms, High Brocklar and Brocklar, aka. Laigh Brocklar, which both lie close to Dykeneuk.


On mid-seventeenth-century maps of Kyle, they are known as East and West ‘Breklairdyk’. These two farms are almost certainly ‘the Dikes’ – note the plural – identified in Wodrow as where Peden died.

Map of Brocklar            Street View of Laigh Brocklar

Aerial view of Laigh Brocklar

Was ‘the Dikes’ his Brother’s House?
It is reasonably clear that Peden died ‘in the Dikes’, i.e., at West or East Brocklardyke. However, there is no evidence that it was his brother’s house. The Peden listed there was a fugitive named Alexander Peden who cannot be the field preacher’s brother. He could be a son of one of Peden’s brothers, but the roll does not list who his father was. What is clear is that the fugitive had evaded the circuit court in Ayr for his alleged part in the Bothwell Rising of 1679 and was on the run in mid 1684. ‘Blocklerdyke’ was probably a location of interest for the local garrison as a place where fugitives may have been in hiding. Walker recorded that ‘the Enemies got Notice, and searched the House narrowly many Times’.

‘The Dikes’ appears to have been held by Campbells. In 1646, William Campbell in Brochlerdyke, Holehouse, and Sands (now Holehouse Mill) held the land, but in that year his brother James Campbell of Auldhouseburn in Muirkirk parish was retoured his heir. After that, there is a silence in the records for fifty years until 1695, when a ‘George Campbell in Brochlerdyke’ had children baptised. The long gap in the record and the fact that the name of the latter, George Campbell, is missing from the Hearth Tax record for the Sorn parish of 1694, probably indicates that he had recently re-occupied or re-obtained the land. (Paterson, History, 393, 429-30.)

The house appears to have been quite substantial in comparison to others in the parish, as it had 3 hearths in the Hearth Tax roll of 1694.

What is clear is that the names Peden and Hunter are linked to ‘the Dikes’ in the mid 1680s and in the Hearth Tax record of 1694, and that that was where Wodrow stated that Alexander Peden died on 26 January, 1686. It appears that Peden and one of the two Hunters were ‘in’ the Dikes at that time, probably as tenants, but that the land was held by a Campbell.

It may be of some relevance to the brother of Peden story that the adjoining lands to Brocklardykes were held by another Peden of some status in the parish.


Blindburn © Bob Forrest and licensed for reuse.

John Peden of Blindburn
In 1693, after the reestablishment of Sorn parish under post-Revolution Presbyterian church governance, ‘John Peden of Blindburn’, a heritor, was described as formerly an elder of the parish who was still living. John Peden had been an elder after 1658 when Sorn parish was briefly separated from Mauchline parish. That implies that John Peden was at least around sixty years old, as he was aged to have been an elder between 1658 to 1662 and alive in 1693. A ‘Peden of Blindburn’ was described as a heritor in 1702, who was probably Hugh Peden of Blindburn. (Paterson, History of Ayrshire, 420, 421.)

Was John Peden, a heritor and elder of the Presbyterian Church, Peden’s brother? There is no direct evidence that he was. One of the problems we face when discussing Prophet Peden’s family is that we do not know how many brothers he had or how the individuals named Peden in Sorn parish were connected to ‘the Prophet’ in the Seventeenth Century.

John Peden of Blindburn is in the correct age range to be a brother of Alexander, who was born in 1626. He may well have been close kin to the fugitive field preacher, as the few Peden families in Ayrshire at that time were heavily concentrated in Sorn parish. John Peden was also not a fugitive and may have taken the Test Oath in the early 1680s, as three of the four former elders had. Peden’s brother in Walker’s account was apparently not a fugitive, as he openly held the house and land where the ‘Prophet’ hid.

Blindburn was, and is, a farm which lies next to both ‘the Dikes’ and Sorn Castle.

Map of Blindburn                Street View of Blindburn

Aerial View of Blindburn

It is interesting to note that what is today called the Cleuch Burn on modern maps, was called the ‘Blind Burn’ on Roy’s map beside the two Brocklars aka. ‘the Dikes’.

Pedens cavePeden’s Cave in Cleuch Glen, Sorn

Peden’s Cave near ‘the Dikes’
Walker records that when Peden came to his brother’s house (or the Dikes?) for refuge, ‘he’, either Prophet Peden, or his brother, ‘caused dig a Cave, with a Saughen-bush covering the Mouth of it, near to his Brother’s House;’

Blindburn lies above a cave in the Cleuch Glen where tradition claims that Peden hid.

There is no way of knowing at present if John Peden of Blindburn was one of ‘Prophet’ Peden’s brothers. Alexander Peden is said to have had at least a brother, but we do not know how he was precisely related to other Pedens in Sorn parish, although he clearly was.


Laigh Brockler, light frost and trees on the Cleuch Burn © Bob Forrest and licensed for reuse.

Pure Speculation on Peden’s Burial
Prophet Peden’s death was clearly a secret from the authorities, who did not discover where he was buried until six to eight weeks later.

Reflecting on the secretive nature of his death and burial, one is confronted with two different narratives. In one, he died in Sorn parish. In the other, he was buried further south in Auchinleck parish. In both cases, other individuals named Peden appear to have been involved. Perhaps the two narratives are not as contradictory as they at first appear.

When Alexander Peden died, his death had to be kept secret by his brother’s family and his corpse was a problem, as he was a notorious fugitive. Peden is said to have died at his brother’s house in Sorn parish. He died at ‘the Dikes’, which is linked to the Peden name via a fugitive (Alexander) and possibly to John Peden of Blindburn. For all concerned in concealing him in Sorn parish his presence was a problem, as discovery of evidence that he had died there could very easily have led to the ruin of those involved via an accusation of reset of a fugitive. One possible solution to that was to remove his corpse and secretly give it a Christian burial elsewhere. If you were Peden’s conforming-yet-presbyterian brother, who would you turn to in such a predicament? If Johnston is correct, Peden’s family had connections via a possible second brother in Ten Shilling Side to the Boswells of Auchinleck, who were sympathetic and influential Presbyterians with a private burial vault in their parish kirkyard. Although Prophet Peden had died some miles to the north, he ended up in the Auchinleck vault. Somehow his body was transported between ‘the Dikes’ and the Boswells’ burial ground. Everyone involved in that potential transaction had good reasons not to admit their part in concealing or burying him in early 1686.

When the dragoons discovered where he was buried, probably via intelligence, they were reduced to symbolically displaying his corpse on the nearby gallows at Cumnock as a warning.

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Text © Copyright Dr Mark Jardine. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free 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 September 21, 2016.

4 Responses to “The Mystery of Alexander ‘Prophet’ Peden’s Death #History #Scotland #Ayrshire”

  1. Great bit of detective work and an absorbing story.

  2. […] the wanted Covenanter, Alexander Peden, died at ‘the Dikes’ in Sorn parish in January, 1686, he was protected by his kin. The names of two Pedens appear to be associated with […]

  3. […] for right— They searched the cave high o’er the flood, With torches in the night. They searched his brother’s dwelling through, But God protection gave, And willed that his dear saint should go Down to a bloodless […]

  4. […] died soon after the preaching. Walker recounts Peden’s prayer after the […]

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