The Paisley Witch Trials Revisited – John Shaw of Bargarran’s Manuscript (1696-97) Overview

When I wrote about the Paisley Witch Trials previously I mentioned that some sources give conflicting information as to who exactly was executed in 1697, both in terms of the number and even the actual names. This is unfortunately a common theme when it comes to the Scottish Witch Trials of the Early Modern Period due not only to how long ago they were – increasing the likelihood of documents being lost or damaged – but also to the lack of regard those accused were treated with. Therefore, you can end up different sources giving different names, people being given ‘generic’ names like “Janet/Jenny Horne” when that wasn’t really their name, and even some trial records simply leaving them completely nameless. So, after doing that article about both mass executions of “witches” that took place on Paisley’s Gallowgreen, with a particular focus of the earlier Pollok accusations as they’re less well known in Paisley than the Bargarran ones, I thought I’d try to revisit Bargarran mainly through a primary source from an eye-witness very close to the main accuser: John Shaw, Laird of Bargarran and Christian Shaw’s dad.

Before continuing I’d like to say that this was possible for me to do through the kind help of the staff at The Mitchell Library in Glasgow, where the original manuscript is held. If anyone wishes to see the document in person or enquire about obtaining photocopies please contact the library like I did. I’ll put a link at the end to where you can find the online record and make enquiries.

The manuscript is of some length so I’m going to break down what I’ve found across more than one article. As the title of this article suggests this will be an overview of this source, as well as what it had to say about who was executed in 1697 and Agnes Naismith’s legendary “dying woman’s curse”. Future articles will cover things like the cultural/folkloric elements present in the accusations and “confessions”, and how they relate to other trials, which hopefully people will be interested in too. I’ve been given kind permission to show parts of the photocopied documents, though again if you want to see them for yourself in full please contact the library.

I’ve also split the next bit into pages so people can jump to what interests them if they want to (otherwise the buttons to move to the next page can be found by scrolling down past the share buttons and related articles section):

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