Index for Chapters XXI-XXIX

Previous page

Next page

Chapter XXVIII: Witchcraft

“The earth hath bubbles as the water has,
And these are of them.”

PRESBYTERY was now triumphant. The reign of the curates had come to an end, and a new set of men met in conclave beneath the arches of the Abbey, who gave solemn thanksgiving to God for their deliverance from “Popery and slaverie.” Great difficulty seems to have been experienced in filling up the charges from which the Episcopal clergy men had been ejected. The curates had drawn their chief supply of preachers from Aberdeenshire and the Highlands, their successors procured their men principally from Ireland. An occasional “old minister,” as those who had been deprived by the Privy Council when Episcopacy was established were called, was occasionally found and inducted into a vacant parish. One of these “old ministers” fell to the lot of Paisley. His name was Anthony Murray. He was of good family, and had occupied a leading position among the Covenanters. He was a relation of the Duchess of Lauderdale, and in 1677 had been asked by the Presbyterian ministers to use his interest with the Duke on their behalf He did so, and pressed particularly the release of the persecuted ministers from the Bass, but with no success. [1] This “true-blue” Presbyterian was inducted to Paisley on 2d April, 1688. He was received with all honour, and the brethren gave him the right hand of fellowship, having been “ane old actual minister.” He must have been well advanced in years when he came to the Abbey. He died soon afterwards, and a certain William Leggat from Ireland succeeded him. He “accepted the call from Paisley (salvejure ecclesiae Hiberniae),” and received the right hand of fellowship on the 22d August, 1690. Various attempts were made to fill up the Second Charge, but without success. A Mr. William Dunlop, a Mr. Veitch from Peebles, and a Mr. Young from Eaglesham were one after another invited to come to Paisley, but in vain. Mr. Leggat returned to Ireland, in the end of 1691, and for nearly three years the parish remained without a pastor. The parishioners at length “called” Mr. Thos. Blackwell, a preacher in the Presbytery of Edinburgh, and after many delays he was inducted on the 28th August, 1694, [2] becoming bound at his entrance to concur in a call to a second minister. [3] A Mr. Thomas Brown, a probationer from Glasgow, was ordained to this charge 4th May, 1698.

Mr. Blackwell was an exceedingly able man, and had a great reputation for learning. He acquired a singular celebrity in Paisley as a zealous inquisitor of witches, and an earnest advocate for their prosecution by the civil power. After the Presbytery had got the various vacant parishes at the Revolution supplied, they entered upon the subject of witches with great vigour, and were as zealous in the prosecution of these unhappy creatures as any of their predecessors had been in stamping out Papists or indicting schismatics. The Episcopalians had taken up the matter of witchcraft in a feeble way, their time being fully occupied with the suppression of conventicles and the prosecution of refractory elders. They contented themselves with enjoining “any of the brethren that have any presumption of witchcraft in their parishes to give them unto the Bishop, to be by him preferred to the Council.”
[4] The Presbyterians, on their advent after the Revolution, attacked the “powers of darkness” in a more vigorous fashion. One of their earliest indictments was against a “charmer” at Inverkip, who, among other diabolical practices, was said to have “taught John Hunter how to make his own corn grow and his neighbour's go back by sowing sour milk among it on Beltane day.” “For curing convulsion fits, he had prescribed the pairing of the nails and the pulling of the eyebrows and of some hairs from the crown of the head, appointing them to be bound in a clout with a halfpenney, and laid down in such a place, alledging that whoever found this would take the disease. For curing John Hunter's beast of the sturdy, he taught to cut off a stirk's head, and boil it and burn the bones to ashes, and bury the ashes, which would be effectual to cure the rest. He also offered to teach, ‘for a 14’ a man how to get a part of his neighbour's fishing by taking the sailing pin out of his neighbour's boat, when he would get fish enough.” This impostor was summarily dealt with. He was ordered to be rebuked before the congregation of his parish, and declared “a scandalous person.”

[1] Wodrow, Vol. II., p. 348. The other facts in this chapter are drawn from the records of the Presbytery of Paisley, to which the reader is referred. It is to be hoped these most interesting journals may yet be published in full.
[2] He seems to have bad a libel before the Council hanging over his bead for having written lines on a Lady Cramond. The Presbytery had great difficulty about admitting him. See Records, which are curious on this subject.
[3] The “concurrence” of the first minister to a call to his colleague was always required in those times.
[4] May 22, 1672.