A website was recently released tracing the identities and locations of Scottish people named as Witches between 1550 – 1750. It makes interesting reading and you may be relieved to know that nobody in Blantyre was accused of witchcraft officially. https://witches.is.ed.ac.uk despite 2 people in Bothwell and 2 in Hamilton!
In those superstitious, early times seeing the unknown or unexplained could often lead to accusations of witchcraft. Something happening that can now be explained by science. co-incidences, or unusual luck could be feared. Appearances too led to accusations. Perhaps a birthmark or tattoo, the way a persons hair looked, a squint, or even disabilities could also lead to being locked up.
Blantyre had connections in a 20 year period between 1677 and 1697 more with “witchhunting and their trials” than having witches. Blantyre Minister Rev George Leslie was involved in the case of prosecuting witches in 1676/7. Involved particularly in a case in 1677.
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.
Life was certainly cheap in those times and many ‘innocent’ people died.