It is with some astonishment that a connection to witchcraft and Blantyre was revealed to me. Co-inciding and on the back of American witch hunts, a culture arose in the post reformation years after 1560’s of tagging some Scottish people as witches. In those days, a person who had done something untoward or something that could not be explained was tagged as a witch, who could be either male or female and the punishment was death.
Looking at the Records of the Privy Council there were multiple instances of “witchcraft in Scotland” from the late 1580’s throughout the next 120 years or so. None shows how times have changed so much, than an incident in 1696 in Renfrew that ended up with a young domestic servant girl being accused of being a witch, looking back on what now was simply “having a temper”. Accusations also ranged from wearing certain colours , having a notable difference like a birthmark or squint eye.
Alexander Lord Blantyre was the most prominent patron in the area and together with other noteworthy Scots noblemen of Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, they formed a commission. The purpose in January 1696 was to seek out all instances of witchcraft and by the time the Commissioners report was ready on 9th March 1696, they had found 24 persons who were accused of being witches in Central Scotland. A mixture of male and female, the commissioners concluded that these individuals should lose their liberty and be the subject of witchcraft inquiries.
Requiring assistance for cross examination, the Privy Council added further people to the commission, including John Kincaid of Crossbasket, High Blantyre. The owner of Crossbasket was to “take trial of, judge and do justice upon the 24 people and to sentence the guilty to be burned or executed to death.”
Can you imagine living in such times!? The trial appears to have begun at Paisley on 13th April, and to have continued, with adjournments, until the 11th May 1697. The case had excited much interest throughout Scotland, witchcraft in those days being everybody’s business.
The crimes libelled were “the murders of some children and persons of age, and the torturing of several persons.” The outcome of the trial concluded that some people had found “integrity or god and were dismissed.” However, three males and four females were condemned, viz. John and James Lindsay, John Reid, Katharine Campbell, Margaret Lang, Margaret Fulton, and Agnes Naismith and it is very noteworthy that almost all of them are said to have acknowledged the justice of their sentence was fair and deserved!
John Kincaid of Crossbasket had a say in those sentences. However, one of the prisoners was still having none of it. On Saturday, 21st May, John Reid, having been left alone overnight in his cell in the Tolbooth, was found ‘dead, sitting upon a stool, with his feet on the floor and his back to the fireplace, “his neck tied with his own neckcloth (whereof the knot was be- hind) to a small stick thrust into a hole above the lintel of the chimney.” It was of course assumed, in these unusual circumstances, that he had been strangled by Satan.
On Thursday, 10th June 1697, his fellow-prisoners were executed on the Gallow Green of Paisley. “They were first hanged for a few minutes, and then cut down and put into a fire prepared for them, into which a barrel of tar was put in order to consume them more quickly.”
The place of execution is still marked in George Street, Paisley by a horse-shoe inserted in the centre of the carriageway.
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Helen Hills Life was cheap in those days. I often wonder what people would be saying about us in a hundred years from now.