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Witch Hunts, etc.
Dear Sinclair Discussion Group:
I hope to interest all of you with this "script", as some of you have
come to call it. It deals in part with genealogy, something that some
of you have pleaded more for, and in part with "justice." Fair warning:
Take a seat, or hit the delete button now.
I first became interested in genealogy when my mother died, in 1995,
four days before Christmas. For the first time in my life I came face
to face with my own mortality, realizing that my life lay more behind me
than before. Looking backwards (instead of ahead) helped me to put on
the brakes a bit. I also have two children who had been born in the
U.S. who had little idea of their roots. Perhaps it has been the same
with many of you.
When I discovered that one of the bright lights of the Nisbet clan had
been Lord Advocate during the 1660s, and had also prosecuted witches, I
could've ignored that last fact, or followed it up. I followed it up.
In the late 1580s a dastardly plot was uncovered by the powers of the
day. Upwards of 100 "witches," supposedly in cahoots with Frances
Hepburn, the earl of Bothwell, had attempted to kill James VI of
Scotland, by means of witchcraft. Since James was "protector of the
people," the act was also construed as an assault on the people, too.
The ensuing trials of those who have gone down in history as the "North
Berwick Witches" kick-started over a century of witch hunts in
Scotland. Fueled by the Crown, the church, the people AND the law, that
lamentable period would not end until "reason" was "allowed" to become
part of that mix.
Interestingly, the end of the witch hunts coincided with the "official"
emergence of the Freemasonic lodge system, although there have been many
arguments about that, too.
I'm sure many of you have a few general Scottish histories on your
bookshelves. It might be instructive to now check to see how few pages
are devoted to more than a century of prosecution of a crime that in
these more rational times can be seen for what it was--and also for what
it wasn't. That period is a profound embarrassment to Scots, and it
shows by the amount of space it has earned in history, both official and
family. History is selective. Those who write it will write what they
will write. Those who hear it will hear what they will hear. And so it
goes. The mix of the two will get us what we "know" today. The current
mix of the two will get us what our descendents will know tomorrow. The
farther we get from the source, the less likely that the Truth will
survive. That may be fine by you, but it's not fine by me.
Here is a Sinclair connection to that time. I have capitalized the name
of the one victim you may have some interest in, however fleetingly,
although--just a thought--some of you whose interests spread a bit wider
than connecting your own lines to the more illustrious bright lights of
the Clan Sinclair, may be interested in knowing that the last name of
the earl mentioned was Hamilton (a family long-connected, as were the
Sinclairs, to the Scots Guard, and all paths of thought that that
APRIL 3, 1661: The lands of Samuelston were so much infested by witches
that John, earl of Haddington, to appease his tenants, petitioned
Parliament as follows: "That upon severall malefices [evil deeds]
Commitit of Late within and about my landis of Sammelstowne thair being
seuerall persones suspect of the abominable sin of witchcraft,
apprehendit and searched, the marks of witches wer found on thame in the
ordinarie way [by pricking with long needles], severallis of thame haif
maid confessioun and haif dilatit [accused] sundrie otheris within the
saidis boundis and haif acknowledged paction with the devil. Thair
names are these: Elspet Tailzor in Sammelstowne, Margaret Bartilman,
Mareoun Quheitt, Jonet Carfrae. These haif maid confessioun of the same
cryme with thame viz: Christiane Deanes, Agnes Williamsone. These ar
dilatit be the former and the marks are found on thame, Quha [who] ar
lykwayes apprehendit. Otheris ar lykwayes dilatit by thame namelie
Helene Deanes, George Milnetowne, Patrik Cathie, Anna Pilmure, ELIZABETH
SINCLAIR, Margaret Baptie, Jonnet Maissone and Margaret Argyill, Elspeth
Crawfurd. These ar dilatit be the former confessing bot ar not as zit
[yet] apprehendit nor searched, and trew it is, that throw the
frequencie of the sd sin of witchcraft in the saidis boundis my haill
[all my] tennentis thr threatnes to leave my ground without justice be
done on these persones and becaus the Lawes ar now silent this sin
becomes daylie more frequent." --Acts of Parliament of Scotland, v. 7,
Besides Elizabeth, other Sinclairs accused as witches are as follows:
George Sinclair (Caithness, 1629); Isabel Sinclair (Eyemouth, 1634);
Issobell Sinclair (Orkney, 1633); John Sinclair (Hoy, Orkney, 1633);
______ Sinclare (East Lothian (?), 1629); Janet Sinclare (Dumfries,
1630-31); Grisall Sinklar (Auldearn, 1662).
Those are just the witches. If the Sinclair clan is anything like the
Nisbet clan there were just as many Sinclairs who sat on the other side
of the bench, and proportionately many more who sat on the sidelines,
content to point their fingers. And when the time came for the witches
to be "brynt to ashes," well ... there was no TV back then--what's a
hard-working and god-fearing family to do on their off-time, I ask you?
I am sure by now that more than a few of you are thinking that I am
trying to draw a relationship between 17th-century hunt for witches and
the current hunt for bin Laden.
Far from it.
I said at the outset that I would talk about genealogy, and justice.
The genealogy part was easy, tho' tedious. The justice part is a bit
We think we are modern. We think we are enlightened. We think we are
privy to the absolute knowledge of the righteousness of the "brotherhood
of man." But we are not. Periodically throughout history (and there is
no evidence that the condition will end anytime soon) we let passion
stand in the way of reason. When we let that happen, we put the ring in
our own noses and, tho' mighty as a bull en masse, become as sheep. The
world becomes a world of "Us" and "Them", and becomes a scary place to
be. The feeling is the same if you are a stockbroker and his family in
south Manhattan, a shopkeeper and his family in Afghanistan, or a
17th-century Scottish widow in Haddington who has gone a bit off, with
only a dead husband to protect her.
Many cads, charlatans, murderers and other evil-doers were caught up in
the net of the great Scottish witch hunts. But there were many others
(mostly women) who had become old enough to be a burden on the
community, who had the unmitigated gall to practice medicine in a field
predominated by men, who owned property that his or her neighbor
coveted, or were even just too bewitchingly pretty to let live (with
god-fearing yet nonetheless randy husbands about).
I am quite certain that we have the correct evil-doer in our sights in
Afghanistan, make no mistake about that. I feel cheapened, tho', that I
actually have to say that--having already said what I have posted on
this site already, several times, to almost no response.
I feel cheapened to say that, yes, history shows that life is in fact
cheap. I feel cheapened to say go in there and get him. But I do say
those things anyway, and I feel even more cheapened because I say them
in that way because I am simply tired of this conversation, and busy
with other things, and nothing that is said here, in this forum, will
change tomorrow's headlines.
History as it has been written has depended on the official record,
which has not always corresponded to the truth. I know it's a novel
idea, but how about we make a start at writing the written record now,
while things are happening, instead of waiting a few years, when that
task will be given over to those with a vested interest in the way
things will appear to our descendents, using records that contain not a
vestige of what we eyewitnesses have to say?
I believe, and hope, that we have evolved beyond the point of doing what
others have blindly done before whenever their flag has been unfurled.
I would hope that at some point we, the people, might see the enemy that
is shown to them, far away and dressed strangely tho' they may be, as
members of the same species, and inhabitants of the same earth.
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