Document of the Month - October

The Examination of Jean Brown accused of Witchcraft, 20th February 1706

This document is held at the Archives as part of the papers of the Trustees of Sir Douglas Seton-Stewart of Allanton and Touch. Although it concerns the Parish of Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway, it is an interesting example of a late witchcraft case.

Wigtown Presbytery had examined Jean and was paying to keep her in prison there. She was from Penninghame, near Newtown Stewart and stood accused of ‘conversing’ with ‘spirits’. The full details of her examination are contained within the Presbytery minutes for Wigtown, held at the National Records of Scotland. After she had been examined the minutes state ‘She was dealt with by the Moderator and several others of the brethren to convince her that she was under powerful and satanical delusions but without any success’. This is interesting as it indicates, perhaps, that the belief in witchcraft is declining and this woman is regarded as delusional rather than evil. On the 20th February, the Presbytery appointed Thomas Kerr, Minister of Wigtown, to go to Edinburgh with a letter from the Sheriff Depute and an extract of Jean Brown’s confession to the Queen’s Advocate to request a civil trial for Jean. This letter and the extract are the documents shown here.

Jean confessed to communing with spirits and that they gave her power over people to make them well or ill or even lead to their deaths. She also admitted to worshipping them and said that she believed that they created heaven and earth. It is this latter sin of blasphemy that concerns the religious authorities the most, again indicating that the notion of witchcraft is becoming less credible to the Church.

The Presbytery minutes record that the answer given by the Advocate in Edinburgh was that the case was ‘not fit to be laid before the Council’ and that Jean was ‘more fit for a bedlam [asylum] than a Criminal prison’. Again, this view shows the changing attitudes to the whole subject of witchcraft and an increase in the unwillingness to believe that such a thing is possible On the 17th June 1706, the Presbytery reports that the decision had been made to excommunicate Jean for her blasphemy but that by this time she had escaped from prison and was nowhere to be found.

Extract of the examination & confession of Jean Broune 1706 for Witchcraft

The examination and confession of Jean Broune prisoner in the Tolbooth of Wigtoune taken in presence of William Coltrane of drummonell Sherrif depute upon the twenty days of February & six years

1o The said day the s[ai]d Jean Broune being interrogated whether or not she conversed with spirits acknowledged that she did the same these ten years past and that they rocked her a Sleep in the night time being interrogate if these spirits had any carnal dealing with her, she confessed that some times they had with her, as man and wife had in begetting of children

Being interrogate whither or not their came three men into her mothers family after her fathers decease and one of them stretch forth his hand with ane paper therein like to ane discharge, and offered the same to her mother & sisters, who refused to –accept th[e]rof], but that she did take it out of his hand, and he told her th[a]t the rest should die shortly but she should live long, this she confesses and that the said three men did wyte her at the taking of the said paper as if she had taken ane toune Land from them, and this was when she was young and declares that she had no converse with spirits before that time

Being interrogate whither or not in ane house In Palbea in the parish of Kirkrowam and ane boy did cast some water upon her, she confesses that at the casting of the sad water, she said that although he had cast the sheet over her, yet she would cast the chist over him

Being interrogate whither or not when She was sheaving with her Landlady in palbea alledging her said landlady had made her very warm at the s[ai]d sheaving, that she should have said to her said, landlady, that she should never hit her again –and that her landlady should have died the said night, This she denies to being interrogated whether or not she was married to these spirits in Kirwark –

She deviates and says she has these spirits, but none could bring these spirits –to marry her

Being interrogate whither or not these spirits made her sick in Kirwark and that that they led her so low that she could not turn her in her bed & that with three

days they raised her up again, this she confesses and like wayes she confesses –that she said these spirits would take her to heaven

Being interrogated if she prayed to these spirits, she confesses she did & that she has her health and being from them

Being interrogated whether or not she had been at any difference with Robert McCaes wife in Airneshine in Collomonell paroch, she says that McCaes wife had made

lyes upon her, and that the spirits told her, the night before the said woman's husband –died, that they would make ane widow of her because she was so peart as to tread upon their love & that in revenge of her quarrel & that the man died the same night or shortly thereafter

Being interrogated whether or not q[uhe]n she was on the night in the house of the hill that there was ane child sick in the said house, and that she did cast a little salt over the childe and that the child immediately recovered, this she confesses she did

Being interrogated anent the worshipping of these spirits, she confesses the worshipping of them and that he is the God that made heaven & earth

Exhorted by order of the said Sherref deput per me

Alex Campbell Clerk deput