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Bargarron House, home of Christian Shaw

The Paisley witches, also known as the Bargarran witches, were tried in Paisley, Renfrewshire, central Scotland, in 1697.[1] Eleven-year-old Christian Shaw, daughter of the Laird of Bargarran, complained of symptoms diagnosed as the signs of demonic obsession, and blamed a number of people for her condition, including one of her family's servants, Catherine Campbell.[1]

Seven people—Margaret Lang, John Lindsay, James Lindsay, John Reid, Catherine Campbell, Margaret Fulton, and Agnes Naismith—were found guilty of having bewitched Shaw. Reid committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell, using his handkerchief attached to a nail in the wall. The other six were hanged and then burnt on the Gallow Green in Paisley on 10 June 1697,[2] the last mass execution for witchcraft in western Europe.[3]

Contents

Events

On 17 August 1696, 11-year-old Christian Shaw, the daughter of a local landowner, saw one of her family's servants, Catherine Campbell, steal a cup of milk to drink. Shaw report the theft to her mother, whereupon Campbell cursed her, wishing that the Devil would take her soul. Four days later Shaw encountered Agnes Naismith, an old woman with a reputation as a witch. The following day, 22 August, Shaw became violently ill with fits, similar to the symptoms reported a few years earlier in the American Salem witch trials of 1693.[3] After eight weeks, Shaw's parents took her to see the eminent Glasgow physician Matthew Brisbane, who could find nothing wrong. For eight days after her visit Shaw seemed to have recovered, but then "the fits returned with increased violence. She would become as stiff as a corpse and be senseless and motionless".[4]

Shaw's parents took her back to Dr Brisbane, and by the time they arrived back in Glasgow Shaw had begun to pull out of her mouth balls of hair she claimed had been put there by those who were afflicting her. Soon she began to pull other "trash" out of her mouth as well, including straw, coal, gravel, chicken feathers, and cinders. During her fits she was sometimes heard to be reasoning with the invisible Catherine Campbell, pleading for a return to their former friendship.[4]

Investigation

It was concluded that Shaw was a victim of witchcraft, and at the request of the Presbytery of Paisley, the Scottish Privy Council set up a commission to investigate the case.[3] Under the chairmanship of Lord Blantyre, the hearing opened on 5 February 1697.[4] The commission's task was to decide whether there was a prima facie case against the accused before they were committed for trial.[3]

Of the "several dozen"[3] called to give evidence, seven were summoned to appear before a second commission in Paisley, charged with murder and tormenting a number of people including Christian Shaw.[2]

Executions

The six executed were hanged, and then their bodies burned. John and James Lindsay, brothers from Formakin Mill, near Houston, aged 11 and 14 respectively, held each other's hands as they were hanged together. Catherine Campbell, after having been carried struggling and screaming to the gallows, "called down the wrath of God and the Devil on her accusers" before being despatched. Margaret Fulton appeared to have become insane, and "spoke cheerfully about visits to Elfland and the Abode of the Fairies on the backs of magical horses". Margaret Lang admitted to consorting with the Devil, but said that she had renounced sin and was reconciled with God. Agnes Naismith laid a "dying woman's curse" on everyone present and their descendants; for many years afterwards every tragedy in the town was blamed on "the witches curse".[5]

Modern interpretation

It has been suggested that Catherine Campbell's curse brought on a dissociative disorder in the young Christian Shaw.[1]

Aftermath

Shaw married the Reverend John Millar in 1719, the parish minister of Kilmaurs, Ayrshire.[6] Millar died in 1721,[2] and Shaw went on to become a successful businesswoman. She was involved in the manufacture of thread, at first in a small way, but as the quality of her product began to be recognised, on an increasingly large scale. Her Bargarran trademark thread became a mark of quality, and others in the area began to emulate her techniques, starting an industry in which Paisley once dominated the world, and which shaped the town's history. The last known record of Shaw is her marriage in February 1737 to William Livingstone, a prosperous Edinburgh businessman.[7]

In May 2008 a memorial was built at Maxwellton Cross in Paisley, the site where the witches' charred remains were buried. It replaced the original horseshoe marking the spot, which had disappeared during the 1970s and its replacement.[8] The bronze tondo, with a stainless steel horseshoe embedded in it, includes the inscription "Pain Inflicted, Suffering Endured, Injustice Done".[5] A campaign was launched in 2008 petitioning the Scottish Parliament to pardon all of the 4,000 men, women, and children prosecuted under the 16th and 17th-century witchcraft laws, but legislators argued that it was inappropriate to pardon those tried and convicted under the laws of their time.[9]

References

Notes
Bibliography
  • Adam, Isabel (1978), Witch hunt: the great Scottish witchcraft trials of 1697, Macmillan, ISBN 978-0-33-321670-5  
  • Burns, William E. (2003), Witch hunts in Europe and America: an encyclopedia, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 978-0-31-332142-9  
  • Clark, Sylvia (1988), Paisley; A History, Mainstream Publishing, ISBN 1-85158-109-X  
  • Levack, Brian P. (2001), New perspectives on witchcraft, 3, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-81-533672-3  
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The Paisley witch trials took place in Paisley in Renfrewshire, central Scotland, in 1696–1697. One of the better known Scottish witch trials, it resulted in the conviction and execution of six people for sorcery.

In 1696, eleven-year-old Christian Shaw, the daughter of the Laird of Bargarran, was inflicted by sympthoms interpreted to be the signs of demonic obsession. Shaw pointed out a coven of witches as the guilty party behind her symptoms, and named her female servant as one of them. Eventually, seven people, were accused of having bewitched Shaw. All seven were found guilty. One committed suicide, but the other six (three men and three women) were strangled and burnt on the Gallow Green in Paisley in June 1697.


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