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Witchcraft and Superstitious Record in the South-Western District of Scotland By J. Maxwell Wood Characters: 85855

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Witchcraft Trials and Persecution.

"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

-Exodus xxii., 18.

ittle is heard of witchcraft in Scotland before the latter half of the 16th century, but in the year 1563, in the reign of Mary, Queen of Scotland, a strenuous Act directed against the practice of witchcraft became law, and was most rigorously enforced. As this has been described as the law under which all the subsequent witch trials took place its significant phraseology may in part be quoted:-

"The Estates enact that nae person take upon hand to use ony matter of witchcrafts, sorcery or necromancy, nor give themselves furth to have ony sic craft or knowledge thereof; also that nae person seek ony help, response, or consultation at ony sic users or abusers of witchcraft under the pain of death."

Curiously enough the passing of this and similar Acts was attended by results as unexpected as they were unforeseen. Belief in witchcraft became the passion of public credulity. Accusations, generally false and often even ludicrous in their solemn foolishness, were trumped up, and action followed, that hurried countless helpless human beings to the stake to die a cruel and shameful death. It was a time of terror, an epoch of superstitious sacrifice, extending and gathering force as the reign of Mary merged into the Regency, only finding pause at the removal of James VI. of Scotland to London, there to preside over the united destinies of these islands. As is well known, this monarch evinced a more than personal interest in matters pertaining to the "unseen world," and that, gathering up his ideas and conclusions, he embodied them in a singular treatise entitled Daemonologie.[11] Less creditable to his memory it is told that not only did he favour executions for this alleged crime, but actually took pleasure in witnessing the sacrifice of the condemned.

With the death of James a phase of quiescence in witch quest and sacrifice is entered upon, a lull which lasted for some fifteen years. It was again, however, to be broken, this time by the unfortunate intervention and misdirected zeal of the Church itself. The General Assembly, stimulated by a desire for Puritanical perfection, awakened the slumbering crudity of belief, that direct Satanic Power stalked abroad in the land in the form of witchcraft. Condemnatory Acts were passed in the years 1640-43-44-45 and 49. Again the stake and tar faggot blazed. The Levitical law was accepted as a too literal injunction, and from this time forward it is the clergy who particularly figure as the pursuers of witches, keen and relentless to a degree; and yet with it all, however misguided the efforts of these Churchmen, however cruel their methods, it is only just to their memories to believe in their purity of motive, and to give them all credit for pious and earnest desire to combat and stamp out what to them was in very truth a great evil.

Different methods were adopted to establish proof and justify the cases for the accusers, but the one test specially relied upon was to find the actual presence of what has already been described as the "witch mark"[12] upon the person of the suspected. When this was found, or supposed to be found, it was the deliberate practice to pass through it a sharp needle-like instrument, and if no pain was felt or blood drawn, then guilt was held to be firmly established.

"A Running Stream they dare na cross!"

J. Copland.

So frequent were the accusations that the "pricking of witches" became a recognised calling: one individual, John Kincaid by name, having such a reputation for skill in this unhallowed work that he seems to have been employed in the principal witch trials of this period, such an entry as-

"Item, mair to Jon Kinked for brodding of her VI. lib. Scotts"

being of quite common occurrence in the notes of expenses still on record.

It is to this second or later period of persecution that the record of witch charge and punishment in the south-west of Scotland really belongs, and from 1656 the records of the civil and ecclesiastical courts teem with accounts of searching enquiry and trial. It must further be remembered that over and above the regularly constituted enquiries of State and Church a great number of Commissions were granted by the Privy Council to gentlemen in every county, and almost in every parish, to try persons accused of witchcraft, many of whom suffered the extreme penalty,[13] and of which no particulars can now be gleaned.

It is now our purpose to set forth as completely as possible such relative matter and extracts from existing documents as will describe the proceedings as they actually took place in the distinctive localities of the Dumfries and Galloway district, but it may perhaps be here fittingly noted, not without a certain sense of gratification, that this south-western district, though far from blameless, compares more than favourably with other districts in Scotland, both in fairness of judgment and rigour of punishment.

Proceedings in Galloway.

Presbytery of Kirkcudbright, April, 1662.-A person, named James Welsh, confessed himself guilty of the crime of witchcraft before the Presbytery of Kirkcudbright; but the justices refused to put him upon his trial, because he was a minor when he acknowledged his guilt, and had retracted his extra-judicial confession; but on the 17th of April, 1662, they ordered him to be scourged and put in the correction house, having so grossly "prevaricated and delated so many honest persons."

Kirkcudbright, 1671.-At an Assize held in the burgh of Dumfries in 1671 eight or more females were charged with witchcraft; five of them were eventually sent for trial to Kirkcudbright.

Dalry Kirk-Session, 1696.-Elspeth M'Ewen, an old woman living alone at a place called Bogha, near the farm of Cubbox, in Balmaclellan, was suspected by the country-side of various acts of "witching." In particular, she was believed to have at her command a wooden pin that was movable and that could be withdrawn from the base of the rafters resting on the walls of the cottage, which particular part of the building was in these old days called the "kipple foot."

With this pin Elspeth was supposed to have the supernatural power of drawing an exhaustive milk supply from her neighbour's cows merely by placing it in contact with the udder, and this it was reported she practised freely. Other cantrips laid to her door included capricious interference with the laying power of her neighbour's hens, causing them sometimes to fail altogether, at others to produce in amazing plenteousness.

At last complaint was made to the Session, and the beadle, by name M'Lambroch, was sent away with the minister's mare to bring her before the Session. On the journey there is a tradition that the mare in a panic of fright sweated great drops of blood at the rising hill near the Manse, since known as the "Bluidy Brae."

After being examined she was sent to Kirkcudbright, where she lay in prison for about two years.

Dalry Kirk-Session, October 15th, 1697.-The following entry evidently refers to the expense of her maintenance in prison: "Given for alimenting Elspet M'Koun, alledged of witchcraft in prison, £01.01.00."

Kirkcudbright, 1698.-In Kirkcudbright prison Elspeth M'Ewen was so inhumanely treated that she frequently implored her tormentors to terminate a life which had become a grievous burden to her.

In March, 1698, a Commission was appointed by the Privy Council for her trial, along with another woman, Mary Millar, also accused of witchcraft, "to meet and conveen at Kirkcudbright." The following is an extract from the said Commission:-

Extract from "Commission for Judging of Elspeth M'Cowen and Mary Millar, alleadged Guilty of Witchcraft, 1698."

"The Lords of his Majesties privie Councill, being informed that Elspeth M'Cowen and Mary Millar, both within the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, presently prisoners within the tolboth of Kirkcudbright, are alleaged guilty of the horid cryme of witchcraft, and hes committed severall malifices; and considering it will be a great deall of charges and expenses to bring the saids Elspeth M'Cowen and Mary Millar to this place, in order to a tryall before the Lords commissioners of justiciary: Besides, that severall inconveniences may aryse by there transportation. And the saids Lords lykewayes considering that this horid cryme cannot be tryed and judged by any persons in the countrie without a warrant and commission from their Lordships for that effect; And the saids Lords being desyreous to have the said matter brought to a tryall, that the persones guilty may receive condigne punishment, and others may be deterred from committing so horid a cryme in time coming; They do hereby give full power, warrant and commission, to Sir John Maxwell of Pollock,-Maxwell of Dalswintoune, Hugh M'Guffock of Rusco, Adam Newall of Barskeoche, Dunbar of Machrymore, Thomas Alexander, Stewart Depute of Kirkcudbright, Robert M'Clellend of Barmagachan, and Mr Alexander Fergussone of Isle, Advocate; And declare any three of the foresaids persones to be a sufficient quorum, the said Stewart Depute of Kirkcudbright being one of the three, To take tryall off, and to judge and do justice upon the saids Elspeth M'Cowen and Mary Millar, for the cryme of witchcraft. And in order thereto, To meitt and conveen at Kirkcudbright, the second ffryday of Apryle next to come, and there to accept for this present commission, and upon there acceptance to administrate the oath of fidelity to the person whom the Lord Justice Clerk or James Montgomery of Langshare, Clerk to the Justice Court, shall depute and substitute to be clerk to the present Commissione, With power to the saids Commissioners or their said quorum, to choyse their own Clerk for whom they shall be answerable, In caise that the saids Lords Justice Clerk and James Montgomery, shall refuse to nominate a Clerk in this matter, they being first requyred so to doe, With power lykewayes to the saids persones hereby commissionat or their said quorum, To create, make, and constitute Serjants, Dempsters, and other Members of the said court, And to Issue out and cause raise precepts or lybells of indictment at the instance of Samuell Cairnmount, writer in Kirkcudbright, as procurator fiscall for his Majesties interest in the said matter, against the saids Elspeth M'Cowen and Mary Millar, accused of Witchcraft, ffor sumonding and citeing them upon ffyfteen dayes, by delyvering to them a full copie of the lybell or indictment, with the names and designationes of the Assyzers and witnesses subjoined; And for citeing there assyzers and witnesses in the ordinary and under the usual paynes and certificationes, To compear before the saids Commissioners hereby commissionat, ... With power to the saids Commissioners or their said quorums, To decern and Adjudge them to be burned, or otherwise to be execute to death within such space and after such a manner as they shall think fit, and appoints the saids commissioners, there said quorum or Clerk, to transmit the haill process which shall be ledd before them against the said Elspeth M'Cowen and Mary Millar, and severall steps thereof and verdict of the inquest to be given thereupon to the saids Lords of his Majesties privie Councill, betwixt and the ffyfteenth day of June nixt to come."(27)

On the 26th of July the committee of Privy Council reported that they had examined the proceedings of the commissioners in the case of Elspeth M'Ewen (the report signed by the Lord Advocate), who had been pronounced guilty upon her own confession and the evidence of witnesses "of a compact and correspondence with the devil, and of charms and of accession to malefices." It was ordered that the sentence of death against Elspeth should be executed under care of the Steward of Kirkcudbright and his deputies.

Found guilty by her own confession, a certain means to end a miserable life, Elspeth M'Ewen suffered the extreme penalty of being burned at the stake, the execution taking place in what is now known as Silver Craigs Park, on the 24th day of August, 1698.

The following extracts connected with the trial and execution are taken from some old Kirkcudbright records, which were brought to light by the late Mr James Nicholson:-

"Ane accompt of my (George Welsh) depursements as Thessr.[14] from Michaelmas, 1697, to Michaelmas, 1698, as follows-

Item for Item to Barbara Roddin for ane pound and ane half of candle yt night the Assyse sat on Elspet M'Keown 000 09 00

22 July, 1698. Item to the men that took William Kirk, by Ba. Campble's order 000 04 00

Item given to him yt day 000 03 00

Item for Satterday, Sunday and Monday yrafter 000 09 00

Item given to William Kirk of earnest by Ba. Campble's orders in money and in aill with him 00j 0j 00

Item to William Kirk for six days at three shills per day 000 18 00

4 Aut., 1698. Item to William Kirk for twenty days tyme yt he was in prison at ffour shills per day, is 004 00 00

20 Aut., 1698. Item given to the Proveist to give William Kirk to buy drink, and by his orders to buy ane leg mutton 000 ij 00

Item. Sspent by the Proveist wt Howell and Ba. Dunbar, the day of Elspet M'Keown's execution, ane gill brandie 000 04 06

Item be the Proveist's order, to William Kirk to buy meal wt. 000 10 00

Item payed in James M'Colm's yt the Proveist drank with Ba. Dunbar and oyrs the day of Elspet M'Keoun's execution 000 06 00

Item to Wm. Kirk to buy meill wt. 000 07 06

Item to Wm. Kirk to buy meill wt. 000 07 06

Item payed to Barbara Roddin for candles to Elspet M'Keoun's guard 000 17 00

Item to Mart. M'Keand for ffour Ells and three quarters Red, to William Kirk, at twenty shill Scots per Ell, is 004 15 00

Item to Helin Martin for plaiding to be hose to him 000 08 00

Item to thrid whyt and collured 000 03 00

Item for ane Bonnet to him 000 09 00

Item for harne to be pockets, and for shoen 000 17 00

Item for three ells harne to be ane shirt, and for making yrof. 001 00 00

Item for ane long gravate to him 000 12 00

24th Aut., 1698. Item given to the Proveist to give him the day of execution 002 16 00

Item for peits to burn Elspet wt. 00j 04 00

Item for twa pecks of colls 000 16 00

Item for towes, small and great 000 04 00

Item for ane tarr barle to Andrew Aitken 00j 04 00

Item to Hugh Anderson for carrying of the peits and colls 000 06 00

Item to William Kirk qn she was burning, ane pint of aill 000 02 00

Item payed to Robert Creighton, conform to precept, viz., eight shill Scots for beating the drumm at Elspet M'Queen's funerall, and to James Carsson, his wife threeteen shillings drunken by Elspet's executioner, at seall times 00j 0j 00

It would thus appear that the executioner (William Kirk) had to be kept in jail in order that he should be forthcoming at the execution. He seems to have been an old, infirm man, without relations or friends, and on 8th July, 1699, he addressed the following petition to the Provost and Magistrates:-

"To the Right Honorable my Lord Provest, Baylies, and Cownsell of the Royal Burgh of Kirkcut.-Humbly sheweth, That yor Honors patchioner is in great straits in this dear time and lik to sterv for hwnger, and whan I go to the cowntrie and foks many of them has it not and others of them that hes it say they are overburdened with poor folk that they are not able to stand before them, and they will bid me go hom to the town to maintain me and cast stanes at me. May it therefore please your honors to look upon my indigent condition and help me for the Lord sake, and yor honors pettioner shall ever pray."

In answer to the above "earnest cry and prayer" there appears the following entry in the "Thessr's" account:-

"8th Jully, 1699.

"The sd day the magistrates and Counsell ordains the Thessr. to give the petitioner the next week six shill Scots forby his weekly allowance."

Another document, which throws a curious side-light on Elspeth M'Ewen's trial, is the sentence against one Janet Corbie, who advised Elspeth to plead not guilty. It is as follows:-

"Kirkcudbright, - day of July, 1698.

"The same day, it being most palpably and cleirly evident and made appear to ye magistrates and Consell yt. Janet Corbie, dauter of Wm. Corbie, hath been and as yet continues in a most scandlous carrige, abusing of her neybors by scandlous expressions, whereffor there hath been fformer ffines put upon her, and that she is a persoun yt leeves by pyckering and stealing as is most justly suspect yrof, and yt she hath been endevouring to harden Elspeth M'Keoun, wha is in ye laigh sellar as ane wich, in endevouring to dissuad her to confess and that people sinned ther sowl wha said she was a wich, and ffor her constant practis in abuse of ye Lord's Day emploing herselff yrin ofthymes in stealing her neybors guids such as unyuns and bowcaill and taking them to ye countrie and makin sale yr of, and sevll oyr thing yt upon just grownds could be mayd appere so yt to long she hath been suffered to resyde in this place; yrfor, and yt ye place may be troubled with such a miscrent, and scandlous person nae langer in tym coming, ye magistrates and consell out of a due sens of yr dutie and of ye justice of her sentens, ordains the said Janet Corbie to remain in prison while Munday morning neist att ten o'clock and then to be taken ffurth of the tolboth by ye officers and wt tuck of drum to be transported over the ferry bote, to be exported in all tyme coming from ye sosiety or convercacioune of all guid Christians and indwellers in ye place, and never to return yrto, prohibiting and discharging all inhabitants, qur parents, relaciouns, or any oyrs wtin ye toun's bouns, to harbor, reset, convers, commune with, or entertane the said Janet or receve her to their society or company at any place or tyme in all tyme coming, and yt under ye pain of fforty pounds Scots muney to be peyd by ilk transgressor, toties quoties to ye toun's Thessr. atower whatever oyer punishment the magistrets and consell sall think fit further to impose, and ordains thir presents to be publish at ye Mercat Cross yt non may pretend ignorans in tyme coming, and the magistrats ordane to see the sentence put in execution."

Extracts from Minute Book of the Kirk-Session of Kirkcudbright.(28)

"Janet M'Robert in Milnburn is delated to the Session for Witchcraft, the signs and instances qrof (whereof) are afterwards recorded. The Session therefor recommends to the Magistrates to apprehend and incarcerate her till tryall be had of that matter."

"Feb. 6, 1701.

"As to Janet M'Robert in Milnburn, it is delated by Elizabeth Lauchlon, lawfull daughter to John Lauchlon yr., (there) that the sd. (said) Elizabeth went to Janet's house, when she was not within, and looking in at the door saw a wheel going about and spinning without the help of any person seen by her, and she went in and essayed to lay hold of the said wheel, but was beat back to the door and her head was hurt, though she saw nobody. And yt. (that) after she was in the said Janet's House (being at school with her) the Devil appeared to her in the likeness of a man, and did bid her deliver herself over to him, from the crown of her head to the sole of her foot, which she refused to do, saying she would rather give herself to God Almighty. After the Devil went away the sd. (said) Janet, who was present with her, laid bonds on her not to tell. And yr after he came a second time to her, being in Janet's house alone, in the likeness of a gentleman, and desired her to go with him, and yr after disappeared, seeming not to go out at the door.

"Robert Crichton's wife farther delates, that when she was winnowing corn in Bailie Dunbar's barn, the said Janet came in to her and helped her, tho' not desired, till she had done, and desired of her some chaff for her cow. She gave her a small quantity in her apron, with which she seemed not to be satisfied, so upon the morrow thereafter, the said Robert Crichton's wife's breast swelled to a great height, which continued for about the space of five weeks, so that the young child who was then sucking decayed and vanished away to a shadow, and immediately yr after their cow took such a distemper that her milk had neither the colour nor taste that it used to have, so yt no use could be made of it, all which happened about three years ago.

"It is further delated by Howell, that being one day in John Robertson's in the Milnburn, he desired to buy two hens. They said they had none, but perhaps Janet M'Robert would do it, and accordingly he asked Janet, who answered she had none to sell to him. He replied, 'you have them to eat my goodmother's bear when it is sown; but (said he), my rough lad (meaning his dog) will perhaps bring them to me.' She answered, 'your rough lad will bring none of my hens this two days;' and before that he went to the town, the dog went mad to the beholding of many.

"Further, it is delated, that a friend of the said Janet's living in Rerwick, whose wife was lying on childbed, did send his daughter to Janet to borrow some money which she refused to give at the first, yet upon a second consideration she gave her two fourteens, but still assured the Lass that she would lose them. 'What,' (says the Lass) 'am I a child yet?' and for the mare security she took a purse out of her pocket in which there were no holes, and took out some turmour (turmerick) which she had in it, and did put in the two fourteens and threw the neck of her purse (as she used perhaps to do) assuring herself that she should not lose them now, and went home, and when she came there, she opened the purse to take out the two fourteens, and she had nothing.

"A Witch Trial."

J. Copland.

"Further, it is delated by John M'Gympser's wife, Agnes Kirk, that the said Janet came one day there, and desired a hare's bouk (carcase) which she refused, and since that time their dog hath neither been able to run or take ane hare."

"Feb. 12th, 1701.

"As to Janet M'Robert, John Bodden in Milnburn delates, that at the laik wake of his child three years ago, Patrick Linton's son heard a great noise about Janet's house, so yt he was afraid to go out at the door, and John Bodden himself going to the door heard it also, at which he was greatly affrighted. Upon the morrow yr after, the said Janet went into John's house, and they told her what they heard the night before about her house. Janet answered, 'It is nothing but my clocken hen'; but John declared that 'all the hens within twenty miles would not have made such a noise'

."The sd. John further delates that, upon the Wednesday after Janet was incarcerated, he did see about cock-crow a candle going through the said Janet's house, but saw nothing holding it."

The Finding-

"April 10th, 1701.

"As to Janet M'Robert, an extract of the delations against her being sent to Edinburgh, and a commission written for to pursue her legally it was denyed in regard they judged the delations not to be sufficient presumptions of guilt, so as to found a process of that nature. Notwithstanding thereof the said Janet consented to an act of banishment, and went hence to Ireland."

Extracts from Session Book of Twynholm.(29)

"18th April, 1703.

"Jean M'Murrie in Irelandton, suspect of witchcraft, being aprehended and incarcerated in the tolbooth of Kirkcudbright upon a warrant from the civil magistrate, the minr. (minister) is desired to cause cite to the next Session any whom he can find to have any presumptions of witchcraft agt the said Jean."

"25th April, 1703.

"The minister reports that he (as he was desired) has caused cite some persons anent Jean M'Murrie's suspected witchcraft, such as-

"1st. Florence Sprot, who being called and compearing, declares that by the report of the country Jean M'Murrie has been under the name of a witch for many years.

"2d. John M'Gown in Culcray, in Tongland, declares, that he having a daughter of Jean M'Murrie's with him, the said Jean came one day to his house before her daughter went from him, and the sd Jean having conceived some anger because her daughter came to him without the said Jean's consent, she staying a little in his house, went away to a neighbour's house, and stayed there all night, and the said John going to her to-morrow, when she saw the said John she inquired how it came to pass that he took her daughter without her consent; and he desiring her back again to his house, but she by no entreatie wd (would) go to his house, and left the said John in a rage, and within about four days his wife took a dreadful stitch thro' her, as if she had been stricken with a whinger or knife, and his wife desiring earnestly that Jean M'Murrie would come and see her, but the sd Jean would never come to see her (altho' bidden by Janet Dallan in Irlandton), and so the said John's wife continued in great pain until she died.

"3d. Issobel M'Gown in Netherton, who, being called and compearing, declares that Jean M'Murrie has been under the name of a witch for many years by the report of the country.

"4th. Christian Bisset in Glencroft, declares that Jean M'Murrie has been under the name of a witch since she came to the parish, which is more than ten years."

"2nd May, 1703.

"Janet M'Haffie in the Mark of Twynhame, declares that, in harvest 1700, Jean M'Murrie came one night to the said Mark after they had been at the Mill, and the said Janet M'Haffie going to milk the kye, disowned the said Jean (not knowing that it was she), neither did any other about the Mark own the said Jean that night, and Jean going away without any alms that night, upon the morrow their milk was made useless, having a loathsome smell, likewise the said Janet M'Haffie fell sick, and was like a daft body for about eight days, at the end whereof both the sd. Janet and their milk grew better."

"2nd May, 1703.

"Margaret Kingan in Inglishtown, declares along with Quintin Furmount, kirk-officer, that John Neilson in Waltrees said to them, that this last ware Jean M'Murrie was selling about a peck of corn to the said John, and the said John would not give the said Jean what she would have for the said corn, and so the said Jean went away from him in anger, and the said John's horse did sweat until he died."

"2nd May, 1703.

"Robert Gelly and Sarah M'Nacht, in Chappell in Tongland, heaving been hearing sermon in Twynhame this day, were desired by the minister to wait upon the Session, which was to meet after sermon, which accordingly they did, and the said Sarah declares before the Session that upon a day about Midsummer last, Jean M'Murrie came into the Chappel and sought a piece bread to a lass that she had with her, and Sarah M'Nacht said she had no bread ready. Jean M'Murrie said, she (viz. the lass that was with her) would it may be take some of these pottage (Sarah having some pottage among her hands) but, however, Sarah gave her none, and Jean M'Murrie going away muttering, said, either 'you may have more loss,' or 'you shall have more loss,' and within about six hours or thereby thereafter, Robert Gelly lost a horse, and that the said Jean came never to Robert Gelly's house since that time, and the said Robert declares that he has still the thoughts that his horse was killed with divelrie."

"2nd May, 1703.

"Robert Bryce, Robert M'Burnie, and William Brown, ruling elders, declared that Thomas Craig in Barwhinnock said to them that upon a day more than two years ago Jean M'Murrie came to his house and sought his horse, and began to discourse to the sd Thomas and his wife about flesh. Thomas said they had no flesh. She went away in a rage and said, 'God send them more against the next time she should come there,' and within a week the said Thomas lost a quey by drowning."

The finding:-

"9th May, 1703.

"Robert Bryce attended the Presbytery. The minister reports that Jean M'Murray, having sought an Act of Banishment to transport herself out of the Stewartrie of Kirkcudbright within or at the end of ten days, and never to be found within the same again under the pain of death, is let out of Prison."

Members of the Kirk-Session of Twynholm at this time:-William Clark, Minister; James Robison, Thomas Robison, John Herries, Ninian M'Nae, Robert Bryce, James Milrae, William Milrae, William Brown, Thomas Sproat, James M'Kenna, Alexander Halliday, Robert M'Burnie.

Parish of Urr.-The following is an extract from the Presbytery records of Dumfries, dated 22nd April, 1656:-(30)

"John M'Quhan in Urr, compeared, confessing that he went to Dundrennan, to a witch-wife, for medicine for his sick wife, and that he got a salve for her, and that the wife said to him, 'If the salve went in his wife would live, if not she would die.' Janet Thomson in Urr, compearing, confessed that she went to the said witch, and got a salve to her mother, and that the witch bade her take her mother, and lay her furth twenty-four hours; and said that her mother got her sickness between the mill and her ain house, and bade her tak her to the place where she took it, and wash her with (elder) leaves. She also confessed that the deceased Thomas M'Minn and his friends sent her at another time to the same witch, whose name is Janet Miller. They were both rebuked (by the Presbytery), and referred to their own Session to be rebuked from the pillar in sackcloth, and the witch Janet Miller was further detained, the parish minister to announce from the pulpit that all who could were required to give evidence 'of sic devilish practices.'"

Kirkpatrick-Durham Kirk-Session.-At Bridge of Urr, Isobel M'Minn called Jean Wallace a witch. Jean told the Session. Both women were summoned to appear. The Session decided there was no witchcraft in the matter.

"The Session, having shown them the evil of such strife and scolding, and having exhorted them to live in peace and be reconciled to each other, made them promise each to other that no such strife should be between them any more."(31)

Parish of Carsphairn.-An arbitrary incident of witch detection took place during the ministry of John Semple, a man who, if somewhat eccentric, was graced with extraordinary piety and natural ability.

Of him it is recorded that "Upon a certain time when a neighbouring minister was distributing tokens before the Sacrament, and was reaching a token to a certain woman, Mr Semple (standing by) said 'Hold your hand, she hath gotten too many tokens already: she is a witch,' which, though none suspected her then, she herself confessed to be true, and was deservedly put to death for the same."(32)

John Semple died at Carsphairn about the year 1667.

Extract from Minnigaff Kirk-Session Records.-"There being a flagrant report yt. some persons in this parish in and about the house of Barcly (Bargaly) have practised that piece of devilrie, commonly called 'turning the riddle,' as also it being reported yt. ye principal person is one Malley Redmond, an Irish woman, for present nurse in the house of Barcly to ye young lady Tonderghie, as also yt. Alex. Kelly, Gilbert Kelly his son, and Marion Murray, formerly servant in Barcly, now in Holme, were witnesses yrto, the Session appoints ye said Malley and ye said witnesses to be cited to ye nixt meeting."

Malley, after some delay, at length appeared, but positively denied having "practised that piece of devilry turning the riddle," but acknowledged that she had seen it done in her father's house in Ireland by two girls on the occasion of something having been stolen, "to fear ye guilty person yt. it might restore yt. was stolen." Malley was exhorted to be ingenuous, but she persisted in asserting her innocence. The Session, therefore, resolved to proceed to proof. The proceedings occupy a number of pages, and are too long for insertion; but the particulars are comprehended in the deposition of Marrion Murray:-

"Marrion Murray, aged 18 years, having been sworn, purged of malice and partial counsel, deponeth yt. she (not having seen any other person doing it before her), together with ye nurse held the riddle between ym. having a pair of little schissors fastened into ye rim of the riddle, whereof ye nurse Malley Redmond held one point and she the other, and that ye nurse mumbled some words mentioning Peter and Paul, and that when the nurse said these words the riddle stirred less or more, and after ye nurse had said ye words she bad ye deponent say them too, and that she accordingly said the same things back again to the nurse, and that the deponent had said to ye nurse Malley before ever she meddled with it that if she knew yr. was anything evil in doing of it she would not meddle with it, and ye nurse replied yr. was no evil in it, and further that to sift the meddling with it she offered to take ye child from ye lady's arms, but ye young lady put her to it, bidding her go do it. As also yt. further ye said Marion depones yt. ye same day, a little after, ye young lady bad her go to ye barn and yr do it over again with ye nurse, which she positively refused, whereupon ye young lady did it herself with all the circumstances she and the nurse had done it in the chambers before; moreover, that some days after, the chamber door being close upon the young lady and her nurse Malley, ye deponent, looking through a hole in ye door, saw ye nurse and ye lady standing and ye riddle betwixt ym. as before, but heard nothing. And further, yt. ye lady and her nurse bad her deny these things, but did not bid her swear to it."

For her participation in the affair the young lady Tonderghie, Mrs Janet Blair, was cited before the Session, and having expressed her penitence for being ensnared into such sinful practices, she and Marion Murray subscribed a declaration to be read before the congregation, "abhorring and renouncing all spelles and charmes usual to wizards; and having been rebooked and exhorted to greater watchfulness for the future, they were dismissed."

The originator of the affair, Malley Redmond, after making her appearance to be "rebooked" before the congregation, was banished the parish. But the execution of the sentence was, through influence, delayed "till Tonderghie younger, his child, should be weaned."(33)

Parish of New Luce.-The only point of interest in connection with the parish of New Luce is that the chief witness against Maggie Osborne, who was burned as a witch at Ayr, was an elder in the Moor Kirk of Luce, to which reference has already been made.

Parish of Whithorn.-An old woman named Elspeth M'Keand lived on the farm of Palmallet, near Whithorn. On one occasion she was arraigned before the magistrates of Whithorn for some supposed uncannie doings, but the authorities, not endorsing the general belief, set her at liberty. So disappointed and enraged were the community at her liberation that they caught her and inserted a host of new brass pins in her body, and afterwards dragged her down to the shore at Dinnans, holding her below water until life was nearly extinct. The old woman never fairly recovered from this cruel treatment, and when she died her remains were objected to as not being fit to rest in the Kirkyaird.(34)

Parish of Kirkmaiden.-In the parish of Kirkmaiden we find a zealous prosecutor of witches in the person of the Rev. Mr Marshall, who was ordained in 1697. He was assisted in his efforts by a woman brought from the town of Wigtown, who was credited with possessing an expert faculty of at once being able to distinguish and pick out witches and warlocks from amongst ordinary mortals, however similar to them in outward appearance.

All the adults in the parish were summoned to attend at the Parish Church on a given date and passed through the church from one door to the other. The minister placed himself in the precentor's box, with writing materials at his hand, the witch-finder being seated beside him. When witch or warlock passed, the woman tramped on the minister's toes and the name was at once recorded. A long list was thus made out, and the Kirk-Session afterwards inquired into the charges brought against the various individuals, which proceedings were afterwards inserted in the Session records.

The stigma thus cast upon many families in the district was only removed by influence being brought to bear to destroy by burning the accusing pages of the Session records.

Tradition asserts that retribution at the hands of the Kirkmaiden witches overtook the reverend gentleman, for, taking his accustomed walk from the manse to the church, a hare running out of the churchyard crossed his path, and from that time forward he was never again able to open his mouth in the pulpit of Kirkmaiden Church. He was shortly afterwards translated to Kirkcolm, and though he often visited Kirkmaiden he could never occupy the pulpit, even on the day of Sacramental observance.(35)

* * *

So late as 1805 a trial took place at Kirkcudbright connected with witchcraft which aroused considerable excitement in the district, creating keen interest as well in legal circles.

This was the trial of "Jean Maxwell," who was accused of "pretending to exercise witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment, and conjuration, and undertaking to tell fortunes."

The point which is of note, and calls for accentuation is, that Jean Maxwell was arraigned, not for being a witch, but for the imposition of pretending to possess witch power. This has been commented upon by Professor John Ferguson of Glasgow in his paper, "Bibliographical Notes on the Witchcraft Literature of Scotland" (Publications of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society, vol. iii., 74 (1899), in which he says: "It will be noticed that Jean is indicted for PRETENDING to exercise witchcraft, etc. In fact, the indictment is made under the Act of George II., cap. 5, which repeals the statutes against witchcraft.... It is an interesting case, as having occurred under the repealing Act."

The following is the indictment:-

"Jean Maxwell, present prisoner in the Tolbooth of Kirkcudbright, you are indicted at the instance of Robert Gordon, writer in Kirkcudbright, Procurator-Fiscal of the Steward Court of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright for his Majesty's interest; that albeit by the Act of Parliament passed in the ninth year of the Reign of King George the Second, Cap. 5th, intituled 'An Act to repeal the Statute made in the first year of the Reign of James the First, intituled, "An Act against Conjuration, Witchcraft, and dealing with Evil and Witched Spirits;" except so much thereof as repeals an Act of the fifth year of the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, against Conjurations, Inchantments, and Witchcraft.' And to repeal an Act passed in the Parliament of Scotland in the Ninth Parliament of Queen Mary, intituled 'Anentis Witchcraft; and for punishing such persons as pretend to exercise or use any kind of Witchcraft, Sorcery, Inchantment, or Conjuration.' It is enacted 'That if any person shall from and after the twenty-fourth day of June next, pretend to exercise or use any kind of Witchcraft, Sorcery, Inchantment, or Conjuration, or undertake to tell Fortunes or pretend from his or her skill or knowledge in ocult or crafty science, to discover where or in what manner any goods or chattels supposed to have been lost, may be found; every person so offending being therefore lawfully convicted on Indictment of Information, in that part of Great Britain called England; or on Indictment or Libel, in that part of Great Britain called Scotland, shall for every such offence suffer imprisonment for the space of one whole year without Bail or Mainprize; and once in every quarter of the said year, in some Market Town of the proper County, upon the Market Day there, stand openly on the Pillory for the space of one hour; and also shall (if the Court by which such Judgment shall be given think fit) be obliged to give surety for his or her good behaviour, in such sum, and for such time as the said Court shall judge proper, according to the circumstances of the offence; and in such case shall be further imprisoned until such sureties be given.'

"Notwithstanding of the said Act of Parliament, you, the said Jean Maxwell, are Guilty, Actor, Art and Part of pretending to exercise Witchcraft, Sorcery, Inchantment, and Conjuration; and of undertaking to tell fortunes, &c., &c. (in the manner particularly mentioned in the Deposition of Jean Davidson, hereto annexed). In so far as you the said Jean Maxwell, did, upon Thursday the twenty-seventh, Friday the twenty-eighth, and Saturday the twenty-ninth days of December last, in the year one thousand eight hundred and four, and upon Tuesday the first and Tuesday the eighth days of January last, in the year one thousand eight hundred and five, or upon some one or other of the days or nights of these months, or of the month of November immediately preceding, or of the month of February immediately following, at Little Cocklick, in the Parish of Urr, and Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, pretend to Tell Fortunes by Tea Cups and the grounds of Tea; and did tell to Jean Davidson, Servant to Francis Scott, farmer in Little Cocklick aforesaid, that she would soon bear a Bastard to a certain young man, Hugh Rafferton; which you said you could prevent by certain means. And you, the said Jean Maxwell, caused the said Jean Davidson to rub or anoint her forehead and other parts of her head with a liquid contained in bottle produced by you, which so much intoxicated and disordered the said Jean Davidson that she would have done anything that you the said Jean Maxwell had asked her to do; and you the said Jean Maxwell, availing yourself of the situation that she the said Jean Davidson was in, declared to her that the Devil would speedily appear and tear her in pieces, unless she obeyed you, the said Jean Maxwell, in every particular. And you, the said Jean Maxwell, caused the said Jean Davidson take oaths of Secrecy for the purpose of concealing your wicked and felonious purposes. That on the said twenty-seventh day of December last you, the said Jean Maxwell, caused the said Jean Davidson produce a Guinea Note, which you pretended to hold up in a small bit of paper, putting round it some lint, and stitching in it nine pins, after which you gave it to the said Jean Davidson and ordered her to cast it into the fire, which she did accordingly. And you, the said Jean Maxwell, then ordered the said Jean Davidson to bring one of her shifts and three shillings with it, which you sewed up in the tail of the shift, and said that the shift was to be consumed in the fire, as an Offering to the Devil, who was to appear at the time of the burning of the shift, in the s

hape of either a Bull or a Swine; and at the same time you, the said Jean Maxwell, gave to the said Jean Davidson a powder sewed up in a piece of fine linen and stuck through with nine pins, which you injoined her to wear at her breast till the day of her death, and tell no mortal of it. That on the said twenty-eighth day of December last you, the said Jean Maxwell, told the said Jean Davidson that the Devil had rejected two sixpences of the money formerly sent him in the tail of the shift; that he insisted in lieu of the sixpences to have two shillings with heads on them; and that he was up and stirring, and must be satisfied; and the said Jean Davidson, having furnished the shillings, you, the said Jean Maxwell, after stamping on the ground twice or thrice with your foot, pretended to hand them to Satan as if he had stood behind you. That on the said twenty-ninth day of December last you, the said Jean Maxwell, declared to the said Jean Davidson that the Devil was still up, and that he must have a man's shirt of plain linen, and in it a shoulder of mutton; and the said Jean Davidson, terrified by your threats, gave you a check shirt of the said Francis Scott's, her master, together with a Shoulder of Mutton, also his property, tied up in the shirt; and you the said Jean Maxwell, tied up these articles in your own Budget; and then, telling the said Jean Davidson that all this was insufficient to lay the Devil, you asked her for half-a-crown more; and the said Jean Davidson in confusion and fright gave you a Dollar, which you said would do as well, and that at any rate it must not be taken back being once offered; and then you the said Jean Maxwell, went to the back of the byre at Little Cocklick aforesaid, and returned and told the said Jean Davidson that you had laid the Devil so that he could not come nearer her than the back of the byre, but cautioned her strongly not to travel that way nor farther after it was dark. That on the said first day of January last, you the said Jean Maxwell returned to Little Cocklick aforesaid, and told the said Jean Davidson, that Hugh Rafferton was to be with her on the Thursday ensuing, very lovingly and ready to marry her, or do whatever she should ask of him: and moreover, you the said Jean Maxwell declared that, if the said Jean Davidson used Hugh Rafferton harshly, and refused to marry him, Hugh Rafferton would lose his reason and go stark mad at the end of eight weeks; that in the meantime however you must have another Guinea Note for the Devil, with a faced shilling in it; and the money was furnished by the said Jean Davidson; when you the said Jean Maxwell clipped or pretended to cut the note, in small pieces with scissors, pretending that in this manner it was to be presented to the Devil alongst with the faced shilling. That soon after this, you the said Jean Maxwell, told the said Jean Davidson that the first note was not accepted, and that you must have an Old and very Tattered Note and three Shillings more, which having been furnished by the said Jean Davidson, you the said Jean Maxwell bound up the Note with paper and lint, and having stuck it with nine pins gave it to the said Jean Davidson who threw it into the fire; and you the said Jean Maxwell, after stamping on the ground, handed the three Shillings behind you so that Satan might receive them as you pretended he had received the former presents; that these things being done, you the said Jean Maxwell left the said Jean Davidson at her father's house at Killymingan, in the Parish of Kirkgunzeon, on the said first day of January last, declaring that Hugh Rafferton should wait on her in deep humility on the Thursday ensuing; and that all the money offered to Satan should be returned into the said Jean Davidson's Chest on the subsequent Friday morning by sun-rising; and that all should be, and really was, perfectly right. That on the said eighth day of January last you the said Jean Maxwell again waited on the said Jean Davidson, at the house of the said Francis Scott, in Little Cocklick aforesaid, and told that all was gone wrong, that the Devil had proved too strong for you, the said Jean Maxwell, and had rent a check apron given you by the said Jean Davidson formerly for a burnt offering; and you the said Jean Maxwell pretended to show the distinct marks of Satan's claws, and the mark of his Thumb on your arm, adding, that he could not be laid without the aid of John M'George, commonly called the 'Devil-Raiser' of Urr; and for that end, you the said Jean Maxwell demanded Two Notes more, and three pieces of flesh meat, one of them to be pork, which you professed to roll up at great peril in the check apron; and you the said Jean Maxwell also insisted to have the said Jean Davidson's duffle cloak, but the said Jean Davidson, having by this time got into the use of her reason, got the better of the terror of the oaths of secresy imposed upon her by the said Jean Maxwell, managed so as to detain you until a Constable was sent for, who took you into Custody and carried you before the Reverend Dr James Muirhead of Logan, one of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, in whose presence you emitted a Declaration, upon the ninth day of January last, in the year one thousand eight hundred and five, which Declaration is subscribed by your mark, and by the said Dr James Muirhead, because you declared that you could not write; and the said declaration being to be used in evidence against you the said Jean Maxwell, will in due time be lodged with the Steward Clerk, that you may have an opportunity of seeing the same.

"At least times and place aforesaid, WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY, INCHANTMENT, and CONJURATION, were pretended to be exercised and used, and fortunes were undertaken to be told, all in manner particularly before mentioned; and you the said Jean Maxwell, are Guilty Actor, Art and Part of the said crimes; All which, or part thereof, being found proven by the Verdict of an Assize before the Steward-Depute of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and his Substitutes, in a Court to be holden by them or either of them within the Court-House of Kirkcudbright, upon the twenty-first day of June, in the present year one thousand eight hundred and five; you the said Jean Maxwell, Ought to be imprisoned in the Tolbooth of Kirkcudbright by the space of one whole year without Bail or Mainprize; and once in every quarter of the said year, to stand Openly in the Jugs or Pillory, at the Market Cross of the Burgh of Kirkcudbright, by the space of one hour; and to be farther imprisoned in the said Tolbooth, for your good behaviour, in such sum and for such time as the said court shall judge proper, agreeably to the provisions and enactments of the said Act of Parliament, to deter others from committing the like crimes in time coming."

The Procurator-Fiscal concluded his Proof, and the Steward-Depute remitted the Cause to the Verdict of the Assize.

The persons that passed upon the Assize of the said Jean Maxwell, returned their Verdict to the Court; and the tenor thereof is as follows:-

"At Kirkcudbright, the 21st day of June, 1805, the Assize being enclosed, did make choice of Alexander Melville of Barwhar to be their Chancellor, and William Mure, Factor for the Earl of Selkirk, to be their Clerk; and having considered the Indictment raised at the instance of Robert Gordon, Writer in Kirkcudbright, Procurator-Fiscal of Court for His Majesty's interest, against Jean Maxwell, present Prisoner in the Tolbooth of Kirkcudbright, the Pannel, with the Interlocutor of the Steward-Depute of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright thereon, and the whole Proof adduced, they Unanimously Find the said Jean Maxwell Guilty of the Crimes charged against her in the said Indictment. In Testimony, whereof, &c.

(Signed) Alexr. Melville, Chancellor.

(" ) Will. Mure, Clerk."

(Court adjourned for a week.)

"Kirkcudbright, 28th June, 1805.

"The Steward-Depute having considered the Verdict of the Assize, bearing date the twenty-first day of June current, and returned into Court that day against Jean Maxwell, the Pannel, whereby she is found guilty of pretending to exercise WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY, INCHANTMENT, and CONJURATION, and of undertaking to tell fortunes, contrary to the Enactments and Provisions of the Act of Parliament passed in the 5th year of the Reign of King George the Second, Chapter fifth, in the manner charged against her in the Indictment, at instance of the Procurator-Fiscal of Court; the Steward Depute, in respect of the said Verdict, Decerns and Adjudges the said Jean Maxwell to be carried back from the Bar to the Tolbooth of Kirkcudbright, and to be Imprisoned therein for the space of One Whole Year, without Bail or Mainprize; and Once in every Quarter of the said year to stand openly upon a Market day in the Jugs or Pillory, at the Market Cross of the Burgh of Kirkcudbright, for the space of One Hour, &c.-(Signed) Alexr. Gordon."

It only remains to be added that this sentence was rigorously carried out.

A small, and now scarce volume, containing a full account of the trial, was published at Kirkcudbright the same year, of which the following is a copy of the title-page:-





Galloway Sorceress:

Which took place at Kirkcudbright

on the twenty-eighth day of June last,


For Pretending to Exercise



"And that distilled by Magic slights

Shall raise such artificial sprights,

As by the strength of their illusion

Shall draw him on to his confusion."



Printed by Alexander Gordon.


Proceedings in Dumfriesshire.

Concerning Dumfriesshire there falls to be recorded numerous instances of accusation and trial, which includes the ever-to-be-regretted consummation of fanaticism in this district-the burning of nine unhappy women on the Sands of Dumfries in the year 1659.

Burgh of Dumfries.

Extract from the Dumfries Burgh Treasurer's Books, May 27th, 1657.-Detailed items of expenditure incurred at the burning of two women convicted of witchcraft: "For 38 load of peitts to burn the two women, £3 12s (Scots). Mair, given to William Edgar for ane tar barrell, 12s; for ane herring barrell, 14s. Given to John Shotrick, for carrying the twa barrells to the pledge (house), 6s. Mair, given to the four officers that day that the whiches was burnt, at the provest and bayillis command, 24s. Given to Thomas Anderson for the two stoups and the two steaves (to which the women were tied), 30s."(36)

Resolution of Kirk-Session of Dumfries, 1658.-The Kirk-Session of Dumfries, after solemn deliberation on the subject, required the minister to announce from the pulpit that all persons having evidence to give against such as were under suspicion of "the heinous and abominable sin of witchcraft," should be ready to furnish the same to the Session without delay; and at their next meeting the elders wisely qualified the order, by resolving that anyone who charged another with being guilty of "sic devilisch practises," without due reason, should be visited with the severest discipline of the Kirk.(37)

Official Information regarding the burning of the nine women on the Sands of Dumfries, 13th April, 1659.

These women were first strangled and then burned. The following particulars were gleaned from the books of the High Court of Justiciary kept at the Register House, Edinburgh:-

1659.-The Court was opened at Dumfries on the 2nd of April, in the above year, by the "Commissioners in Criminal Cases to the people in Scotland," Judge Mosley and Judge Lawrence; and that ten women, each charged with divers acts of witchcraft, were brought before them for trial. The proceedings appear to have lasted until the 5th. One of the accused, Helen Tait, had a rather narrow escape-the jury finding by a plurality of voices that the "dittay" in her case was "not cleirly proven." Nevertheless, before being dismissed from the bar, she was required to find security to the extent of £50 sterling for her good behaviour, and that she would banish herself from the parish. The nine other unfortunates were all convicted, as is shown by the subjoined minute, giving the finding of the jury and the deliverance of the judge, as pronounced by the official dempster, "F. Goyyen":-(38)

"Drumfreis, the 5th of Apryle, 1659.-The Commissioners adjudges Agnes Comenes, Janet M'Gowane, Jean Tomson, Margt. Clerk, Janet M'Kendrig, Agnes Clerk, Janet Corsane, Helen Moorhead, and Janet Callon, as found guilty of the severall articles of witchcraft mentioned in the dittayes, to be tane upon Wednesday come eight days to the ordinar place of execution for the burghe of Drumfreis, and ther, betuing 2 and 4 hours of the afternoon, to be strangled at staikes till they be dead, and therefter ther bodyes to be burned to ashes, and all ther moveable goods to be esheite. Further, it is ordained that Helen Moorhead's moveables be intromitted with by the Shereff of Nithsdaile, to seize upon and herrie the samin for the King's use."(39)

The Burning of the Nine Women on the Sands of Dumfries, April 13th, 1659.

(Sketch by J. Copland, Dundrennan.)

Resolution of the Dumfries Presbytery regarding the attendance of clergymen before the carrying out of the sentence, and at the actual "burning" of the women, on the Sands:-

"5th April, 1659.

"The Presbytery have appoynted Mr Hugh Henrison, Mr Wm. M'Gore, Mr George Campbell, Mr John Brown, Mr Jo. Welsh, Mr George Johnston, Mr Wm. Hay, and Mr Gabriel Semple, to attend the nine witches, and that they tak thair own convenient opportunity to confer with them; also that they be assisting to the brethren of Dumfries and Galloway the day of the Execution."(40)

Dumfries, 14th November, 1664.-An edict from the Town Council: "The Counsall being informed that Janet Burnes, commonly reputed a witche, and quho hath bein banished out of severall burghis, and put out of this burgh in the month of August last, for cheating the people upon pretence of knowledge of all things done by them in tym past, or that may fall out in tym cuming, with certification to be scurgit if ever she was sein within the burgh theireafter; and being well informed that she was sein within the town on Saturday, they have ordaint that intimation be made by touk of drum, that non of the inhabitants resset or give meit or drink unto the said Janet Burnes."(41)

Court of Justiciary, Tolbooth of Dumfries, May 18th, 1671.-Warrant for the execution of two alleged witches: "Magistrates of Drumfreis, Forasmuch as in ane Court of Justiciarie, holden be us within the Tolbuthe of Drumfreis, upon the fyftein day of May instant, Janet Muldritche, and Elspeth Thomsone, now found guiltie be ane assyze of the severall articles of witchcraft specified in the verdict given against them thereanent, were decerned and adjudged be us, The Lords Commissioners of Justiciary, to be tane upon Thursday next, the eighteen day of May instant, betwixt two and four houres in the afternoune, to (the) ordinare place of executione, for the toune of Drumfreis, and there to be worried at ane stake till they be dead; and theirafter their bodies to be burnt to ashes, and all their moveable goods and geir to be escheit. You shall thairfoir cause put the said sentence to due executione, whereanent their presents shall be your warrand. Given at Drumfreis the sixteen day of May, 1671."(42)

Court of Justiciary, Dumfries, 1709.-Last trial for witchcraft in Scotland: The accused was named Elspeth Rule; the indictment against her being that she was by habit and repute a witch, and had used threatening expressions towards persons at enmity with her, who, in consequence of such menace, suffered from the death of friends or the loss of cattle, while one of them became mad.

The jury by a majority of votes found the charges proven; and the judge condemned the prisoner to be burned upon the cheek with a hot iron and banished for life. It is told how, when this brutal act of branding the cheek was being carried out, smoke was seen issuing from the poor woman's mouth.(43)

Dumfries and Major Weir, the notorious Edinburgh warlock-a slight connecting link with Dumfries.

In his more youthful days Major Weir led an active military life, serving as an officer in the Puritan Army during the Civil War (1641). In the Registers of the Estates under March 3rd, 1647, reference is made to a supplication by Major Thomas Weir, asking "that the Parliament wald ordain John Acheson, Keeper of the Magazine, to re-deliver to the supplicant the band given by him to the said John upon the receipt of are thousand weight of poulder, two thousand weight of match, and an thousand weight of ball, sent with the supplicant to Dumfries for furnishing that part of the country."

Presbytery of Dumfries (Southern District), March, 1692.-Marion Dickson in Blackshaw, Isobel Dickson in Locherwood, Agnes Dickson (daughter of Isobel), and Marion Herbertson in Mouswaldbank, had for a long time been "suspected of the abominable and horrid crime of witchcraft," and were believed to have "committed many grievous malefices upon several persons their neighbours and others." It was declared to be damnifying "to all good men and women living in the country thereabouts, who cannot assure themselves of safety of their lives by such frequent malefices as they commit."

Under these circumstances, James Fraid, John Martin, William Nicolson, and Thomas Jaffrey in Blackshaw, John Dickson in Slop of Locherwoods, John Dickson in Locherwoods, and John Dickson in Overton of Locherwoods, took it upon them to apprehend the women, and carried them to be imprisoned at Dumfries by the sheriff, which, however, the sheriff did not consent to till after the six men had granted a bond engaging to prosecute. Fortified with a certificate from the Presbytery of Dumfries, who were "fully convinced of the guilt (of the women), and of the many malefices committed by them," the men applied to the Privy Council for a commission to try the delinquents.

The Lords ordered the women to be transported to Edinburgh for trial.(44)

Kirk-Session of Caerlaverock.-Charge of alleged divination brought at their instance, before the Dumfries Presbytery, 22nd March, 1697: "Compeared John Fergusson in Woodbarns, who acknowledged his scandalous carriage in charming and turning the key at Bankend conform to the accusation, but says he knew not there was any evil in it. The Presbytery appoint him to stand on the pillar in the church of Caerlaverock, and be sharply rebuked for his scandalous practice and recommends him to the magistrates to be secured till he give bail to answer and satisfy conform to this act."

The actual circumstance connected with this charge of alleged divination are briefly as follows:-About the middle of January, 1697, two men returning from Dumfries entered the tavern of William Nairns at Bankend of Caerlaverock. These were John Fergusson of Woodbarns, Cummertrees, and William Richardson, Cummertreestown. On leaving the inn Richardson discovered that a sack of provisions had been taken from the saddle of his horse which had been tied to a ring at the door. Entering the house, he made known his loss, declaiming loudly against the thief. In the utmost sympathy with his friend's loss, Fergusson declared he could soon find out who the thief was, and called out that two Bibles should be brought to him at once, to which the landlord stoutly demurred; but Fergusson threatened that unless he got his own way he "would make bloody work among them," and two Bibles were accordingly brought to the said John Fergusson, "who brought a key out of his pocket and put the one end of it within one Bible and the bowl end out, clasping the Bible upon it, and two holding the bowl of the key upon their fingers. The said John then read three verses of the 50th Psalm out of the second Bible, beginning always at the 18th verse, always naming a person before he began to read, till they came to William M'Kinnell in the same town; and when they named him, and were reading the said Scripture, the key and the Bible turned about and fell on the table. This was done three times, as attested by James Tait, mason, who is quartered in Townhead; James Fergusson, servitor to George Maxwell of Isle; George Fergusson in Bankend; and William Nairns, in whose house it was done."(45)

Extracts from Irongray Kirk-Session Records.

"September 24th, 1691.

"David Muirhead of Drumpark and his wife, being called before the Session and examined anent ane strife betwixt them and Janet Sinklar, submitted themselves to the will of the Session. Janet Sinklar also submitted to the will of the Session for saying that she doubted Drumpark's wife of murder and witchcraft, and is appointed to receive publick rebuke before the congregation."

"August 30, 1691.

"William Anderson in Hall of Forest, being called before the Session for bringing his child to a smith to be charmed with ane forge hammer, confessed his sin and received a rebuke before the Session."

"November 13, 1692.

"John Charters in Barncleugh, being called before the Session as witness nominat by James Wright to prove witchcraft against Janet Kirk, denied that he knew anything of witchcraft in her. Margaret Smyth, wife of John Jonston, being called before the Session, declared in her hearing that Janet Kirk, being brought in to Elizabeth Jonston, being grievously tormented with sickness like to distraction, pronounced these words, that 'if God had taken the health from her let Him given it again, and if the devil had taken it from her to give it her again.' On which she was rebuked."

"April 16th, 1693.

"Jean Stot (Ingleston) confessed before the Session that she blessed God if Jean Grier's prayings had any pith that they lighted on a kow and not on a person, and did say that Jean Kirkpatrick did gather root grown briers on a Saboth day, and nominat Agnes Patton for a witness."

The Session found "wrath and malice among the inhabitants of Ingleston," and the minister was sent as peacemaker. "Jean Stot obeyed the minister and forgave Jean Grier, and also required forgiveness of her, which she refused till further advisement."(46)

Parish of Irongray.-Traditional account of the sacrifice of a reputed witch by enclosing her in a tar-barrel, setting it alight, and rolling it into the Water of Cluden:-

"In the reign of James VI. of Scotland, or under the early Government of his son Charles, tradition tells of a woman that was burnt as a witch in the Parish of Irongray, about seven miles west from Dumfries. In a little mud-walled cottage, in the lower end of the Bishop's Forest, and nigh the banks of the Water of Cluden, resided a poor widow woman, who earned her bread by spinning with a pole, and by weaving stockings from a clue of yarn depending from her bead-strings. She lived alone, and was frequently seen on a summer's eve, sitting upon a jagged rock, which overhung the Routing burn, or gathering sticks, late in a November evening, among the rowan-tree roots, nigh the dells which signalise the sides of that romantic stream. She had also, sometimes, lying in her window a black-letter Bible, whose boards are covered with the skin of a fumart, and which had two very grotesque clasps of brass to close it with when she chose. Her lips were sometimes seen to be moving when she went to church, and she was observed to predict shower or sunshine at certain periods, which predictions often came to be realised....

"The Bishop of Galloway was repeatedly urged to punish this witch; and lest it should be reported to the king that he refused to punish witches, he at last caused her to be brought before him, nigh to the spot. She was rudely forced from her dwelling, and several neighbours of middle or of old age were cited to declare all the wicked things she had done.

"She was sentenced to be drowned in the Routing burn, but the crowd insisted that she should be shut up in a tar-barrel and hurled into the Cluden. Almost against the Bishop's consent, this latter death was consummated. The wretched woman was enclosed in a barrel, fire was set to it, and it was rolled, in a blaze, into the waters of Cluden.

"Such, says the tradition of no very doubtful date, was the savage end of one who was reputed a witch. The spot where, 'tis said, the prelate sat, is yet called Bishop's Butt. The well from which she drew the water for her domestic use, and where the young rustic belles washed their faces, still retains the name of the Witch's Well; and a pool in the Cluden, nigh to the well, often bears the name of the Witch's Pool. Even some rocks nigh to the Routing Bridge are still pointed out, where she was wont to sit; and a hollow into which, say some, she used to throw an elfin clue. That wood yet feathering the hill side west from Drumpark, always bears the name of the Bishop's Forest; and the sylvan ravine, furrowed by a brawling brook, has been, by some now in their graves, named the Warlock's Glen."(47)

Parish of Closeburn.-Janet Fraser, called before the Presbytery of Dumfries, 1691. Her remarkable revelations:-

"The person is a young woman, unmarried, of the age of about twenty years, whose name is Jonet Fraser, or, as we in the south used to pronounce it, Frissel, who then lived, and yet lives, with her father, Thomas Frissell, a weaver to his trade, a man of unblamed conversation, in the sheriffdome of Dumfries, in the countrey thereof called Nithisdale, and parochin of Closeburn, six miles, or thereby, from the town of Dumfriece.


(Sketch by J. Copland, Dundrennan.)

"She is, and hath been for a long time, a person in the judgment of all that know her a serious Christian; and was for a good time before this befell her, more then ordinary exercised in private condition with God, as the relation after-specified gives the reader a little touch.

"She can read print, but cannot write herself; but whatever she saw in vision, was at times able to give ane exact account of it, after all was over; and accordingly did give the relation following to some creditable gentlemen, and some country people, her acquaintance:-

"The time of my exercise was eight years, and all this time was troubled with the appearance of a thing like a bee, and other times like a black man, and that also at severall times, and in severall places.

"Then at the end of the eight year, I being at prayer, the black man did appear as at other times, he being upon the one side of me, and there appearing upon the other side a bonny hand and a rod in it, and the rod was budding; and I said, 'Is that Thy hand and Thy rod, O Lord?' And I was content to embrace the one, and flee the other. Then, upon that night eight nights, I was coming home near hand unto my dwelling, I grew very drowsie, and fell asleep, and there was a voice said to me, 'Awake, why sleepest thou?' And there was lightning round about me; and I looking up to the top of a bush that was at my hand, there was the shape of a dove that went alongst with me in company to the house.

"Then, about three quarters of a year thereafter, the rod appeared again to be a double rod, or a rod that was springing and forthcoming, and after that time I was never troubled with the black man any more."

Her first revelation was on the 4th of June, 1684, but it is very difficult to make out what her visions portended:-"On the 5th day of November, 1684, I being at prayer, there appeared unto me, in a bodily shape, three persons (as to my sight all in white), and they goe round about me the way the sun goeth; their coming was still after one manner, when I was at my duty, only I discern he that spoke first at one time, spoke first at all times, and so continued to speak by course, with Scripture notes, naming books, chapter, and verse-sometimes all the verse, sometimes a part."

She was greatly concerned about the suffering remnant, and had many mysterious responses as to that. This intercourse with spirits continued for some years, and is very circumstantially detailed in the MS., at the conclusion of which is this additional miracle:-

"Besides what the reader has had formerly, he has likewise this following account of a passage that befell this holy woman, the 1st May, 1687, which was Sunday. This Jonet Frazer, and a young lass, a sister daughter of hers, about 17 or 18 years of age, having gone out into the fields, and both of them lying down on the grass near the water of Nith, which is but a bow-draught from her father's house, and both of them reading their Bibles, and lying about the distance of four yards the one from the other, this Jonet Frazer is taken with a great drouth, and goes to the water of Nith to take a drink, leaving her Bible open at the place where she was reading, which was the 34th chap. of Esaiah, from verse 5 to 11, inclusive, which begins-'For my sword shall be bathed in heaven; behold it shall come down on the people of Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment,' etc. And when she had returned immediately as shoon as she could take a drink of water, she sees her Bible is coloured with bloud, as she thought, though afterwards, upon inspection and tryall it was not bloud, but red as bloud, and such as no person by the colour could discern from bloud; upon which she asks the other lass, 'If any thing had been near her Bible?' And she answered, 'Nothing that she saw.' She asks, 'How could it then be that her Bible was covered over with bloud?' Which both of them going near, found to be the very same place where Jonet was reading, viz., from verse 5 to 11, and some farther of the 34th chap., so as the print was not at all legible. The other lass would have her wipe off the blood, but she could not, but carried it as it was to her father, and a brother of hers, a godly young man, who is dead since, and some others, and did show it to them, who were curious to taste it, and it had a welsh taste, as if it had been some metear; the hens and birds would not pick it up.

"The very next Lord's day, 8th May, this Jonet being in her father's barn about ane hour alone, some little time before sunset, she came to the door of the barn to read, and while she was reading, about the 49th verse of Jeremiah, the like bloud did cover all that place which she was reading, viz., from the 46th verse to the 54th, as I remember, so thick as it marred all the print and made it unintelligible, nor did she ever perceive it fall down upon the book, or observe it till it did cover and spread over all that place; and it is to be remarked, she was standing within the door, the thatch of the barn being over her head and over the book that she was reading on, and that the bloud covered the print in the very time wherein she was reading, it spread over that part of it.

"The very next Sabbath thereafter, 15th of May, while she is again in that same barn, reading the 14th chap. of Revelations, the like bloud fell on the book, and covered all the chapter from the 9th verse to the end of the chapter, in the very act of the reading it, and which, she said, that she perceived it not, but about half ane inches distance from the book before it fell down upon it.

"The relater heirof is Maister Henry Maxwell, of Dalswinton, who dwells within two miles of the place where she dwells; saw the Bible, and the bloud upon all the three places of that Bible, which is still extant.

"It is not bloud, for it is as tough as glew, and will not be scrapped off by a knife as bloud will; but it is so like bloud as none can discern any difference by the colour."

After this course of vision and bloody showers, Mrs Frazer, it would appear, fell under the suspicion of dealing with evil, in the place of good, spirits. For in the year 1691 she was called before the Presbytery and confessed: "That she pretended to prophecying and seeing of visions, and that she had sinned greatly in being deluded by Satin, causing her prophecie and see things future. Her book was appointed to be examined by two of the Presbytery; and on her second appearance she acknowledged that she was possessed by some evil spirit, and humbly besought the prayer of the ministers and of all others; upon which the further examination of herself and the witnesses was delayed. Nothing more is heard of her."(48)

Records of Penpont Presbytery, 1706.

From January to March in the year 1706 the Presbytery of Penpont was occupied with the case of the Rev. Peter Rae, minister of Kirkbride. Mr Rae was slandered by a woman who alleged that he called her a "witch," and when sick said to her, "They say you have my health, so give it again if you have it," and also called her to come near hand him, and when she came he presently bled her on the "forrit" (forehead).

It was proved that Mr Rae did call her a witch, and did in his illness endeavour to draw blood from her brow, for which he was rebuked.

In 1737 Mr Rae was translated from Kirkbride (an extinct parish in Nithsdale now embraced in the parishes of Durisdeer and Sanquhar) and became minister of Kirkconnel. He was also clerk to the Presbytery of Penpont, before whom in earlier years he appeared. He is perhaps better known as the author of The History of the Late Rebellion[15] (1715). A man of outstanding ability, his memory is honoured by a mural tablet placed in the south wall of Kirkconnel church.

Glencairn Kirk-Session Records.

"Apryl nynth, 1694."-Case of Margret M'Kinch (not "M'Onrick," as given by Monteith,[16] p. 44). In the evidence it is stated that:

"Robert Muir in Dunregon came in to James Rodgerson's hous, drew his knyf and offered to blood her abov ye b--" [paper torn-breath (?)].

"On Apryl nynth, 1694, Margt. M'Kinch gave in an wrytten list of ye names who had sclandered her by calling her an witch, earnestly desiring ye Session to put the same to -- [proof(?)] that she myght be free from ye scandal."

[Gap in the records, 1694-1700.]

10th September, 1704.-"Appoints yt it be publickly intimate upon Sabbath first that no Heritor, tennent, or Householder whatsomever within this paroch resett our harbour Jaunet Harestanes, sometime in Keir paroch, with certification."

24th September, 1704.-"Appointment obeyed in makeing intimation anent Jaunet Harestanes, reputed to be under the mala-fama of witchcraft."

14th November, 1707.-Case of Alexander Deuart (not "Douart" as given by Monteith, p. 44):-

Alex. Deuart, gardener, at Maxwelton, is charged with having "brought back some stolen goods by charm or enchantment or some other pretended ocult quality in herbs, along with some mutterings and gestures, as makes him so commonly reputed a charmer that he is sought unto by persons from divers corners of the country to the great scandal of religion. The said Alex. being interrogated primo-Did you bring back those things which was stolen from Maxwelton-aiz., six pair sheets, ten --- [undecipherable], three aprons, at one time; a large silver tumbler at another time; and a book at a third time?

A. Yes; I was the causer, but had no hand in it myself.

Q. Did you not take money for the bringing of them back?

A. I told them I could do such things if it was not injurious to any, and told that he took money for the bringing of them back.

Q. How did you bring them back?

A. I cannot tell that, for I promised not to tell where I received my art.

Q. Did you make use of herbs as it is reported of you in order to the bringing of them back?

A. I did make use of herbs in part, but not for the bringing of them back.

Q. How did you make use of the herbs that you might know where they were?

A. I laid them under my head and dreamed of them.

Q. What are the herbs which had that effect upon your sleep?

A. I will not tell that to any living if they should saw me asunder.

Q. How came the cloaths back?

A. I must cause some brother of trade who dwells near hand them to tell them who have them that they must be brought back and they should not be wronged.

Q. Why did you not tell of the people who took away these cloaths, seeing thieves ought to be discovered for the good of the country?

A. It doth not belong to me to put out any man, otherwise I should be in eternity this day eight days.

Q. Did any person bring the things back, or how came they back?

A. I brought them not back, but the people who took them away brought them back.

Q. But how could the silver tumbler be brought back and put in a fast-locked room?

A. The person who took it flung it in at the window upon one of the shelves.

(Notandum-Now it was told him that all the windows were fast-snecked, as the servants who went in to take up the tumbler declared.)

Q. Did you not say when the tumbler was got, 'I must have the hair that was in and about it, for it is the hair of a horse which belonged to a man who is shortly to be hanged for stealing?'

A. Yes.

Q. Did you not say to Sir Walter Laurie, 'lock me ever so close in a room and I will cause all the cloaths that were taken away hang down upon the spouts of the tower upon the morrow morning?'

A. Yes.

Q. Did you not say before me, the Minister, 'lock the cloaths again in as fast a room as you can, and I'll cause them, for a little money, go all back in the place where they were?'

A. Yes.

Q. Why did you not bring back the silver spoon that was lost?

A. It was in Edinburgh, and the name was scraped out, and I could not bring it back until I went to Edinburgh.

Q. Why did you not bring back the mattock and other things?

A. It had been on fire.

Q. Why did you not bring back all the aprons, for there is one of them awanting yet?

A. I could not bring it back because it was burnt, and when a thing is hid beneath the ground or the like I can't get wott of that.

Q. Did you not mutter some words when you used these charms?

A. Yes.

Q. What are they?

A. 'Cloaths, cloaths, cloaths, and other things lost.'

Q. Whether did you use such charms afore Hallow-een as throwing nuts in the fire, sowing seeds up and down the house, and herbs to every corner, going backwards from the fire to the door, round the close backwards, up the stairs backward, and to your bed backward?

A. Yes.

Q. Being told by a Minister that from what he had heard there was either devolrie in it, or he was the thief himself. To which he replied, 'I shall make it out to be no devolrie; or if it be devolrie, it is unknown to me.'

Q. Did you not bring back a book of Mrs Violet's?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you not say you could cause any woman in London come down to you if but told her name?

A. I could do it, and I can.

Q. Did you not say in the presence of Sir Walter Laurie, Bailie Corbet in Dumfries, James Gordoun, Wryter, Yr., and me, that you could cause any of us dance naked?

A. I did, if you would take what I give you; and also added that he could cause any woman follow him if she would take what he would give her.

Q. Alexander, where learned you that art?

A. I learned it from the gardener at Arnistoun, now dead, but was at my brothering.

Q. But are there any alyve that was at your brothering?

A. No.

After all which, the Moderator said unto him: 'Saunders, did you not say to me when I was poseing you privately about these things, and telling you that from all I had heard from you that I was convinced that you were either a thief or a devol?' and you replied, 'Pursue me, sir, before either Session or Presbytery, and I shall show that I am neither.' And now, Saunders, after all these interrogatories are considered, I rather think you did take these things yourself, and therefore you can get no testificat (certificate) until your business be further cognosed upon."

13th July, 21st Sept., and 26th Oct., 1712.-Complaint from Jean Howatson in Nies that Margaret Nivison in Crichen had called her "a witch and a resetter of witches."

Both rebuked for their "scandelous and offensive expressions," and "Injoyned to abstain from any such offensive carriage in time comeing, certifying withall that if they be found quarrolling with one another unjustly this process shall be revived again upon them."

Indirect references affecting Durisdeer and Torthorwald.

Parish of Durisdeer.-In 1591 a member of the family of Douglas of Drumlanrig, "Barbara Naipar, spous to Archibald Douglas," was accused of witchcraft and condemned to be burned on the Castle Hill of Edinburgh. Examination of the indictment shows that the charge was really implication in the crime by countenancing and seeking help from "users and abusers of witchcraft," which, as we have seen, carried with it the extreme penalty.

The following is the extract from Pitcairn's Criminal Trials:-

"May 8, 1591.-Barbara Naipar, spous to Archibald Douglas, burges of Edinburgh (brother to the Laird of Carschogill), Dilaitit of sindrie poyntis of witchcraft, contenit in Dittay gewin in against hir be Mr David M'gill of Cranstoun-Rydell, advocat to our soverane lord.

"The Assyse, be the mouth of Robert Cuningham, chancillor, ffand, pronunceit, and declarit the said Barbara Naipar to be fylit, culpabill and convict of the seiking of consultation from Annie Sampsoune, ane wich, for the help of Dame Jeane Lyonne, Lady Angus, to keip hir from vomiting quhen sche was in breeding of barne. Item, for the consulting with the said Annie Sampsoune, for causing of the said Dame Jeane Lyonne, Lady Angus, to love hir, and to gif hir the geir awin hir agayne, and geiving of ane ring for this purpois to the said Anny, quhill sche had send her ane courchie (kerchief) of linning and swa for contravening of the Act of Parliament, in consulting with hir and seiking of hir help, being ane wich, &c."

"Dome was pronunceit against Barbara Naipar, the sister-in-law of the Laird of Coshogle."[17]

Torthorwald, 1596.-As Saul consulted the Witch of Endor, so in later days was the powers of witchcraft invoked by the most exalted to find out what fate or fortune the future held for them.

Of the wife of Captain James Stewart, Earl of Arran, it is told "that she got a response from the witches that she would be the greatest woman in Scotland, and that her husband should have the highest head in that kingdom. Both which fell out; for she died, being all swelled out in an extraordinary manner; and he, riding to the south, was pursued by the Lord Torthoral (called Douglas[18]), whose whole family the said Captain James intended to have extirpated, and was killed, and his head carried on the point of a spear and placed upon the battlements of Torthorwald Castle."(49)

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