Dunnottar Castle, south of Aberdeen, did not begin its history as a prison. It simply served that purpose in the year 1685 at the height of the Killing Time. Dunnottar Castle had a long, rich history beginning with being the site of a settlement by St. Ninian during the Fifth Century, to being besieged by William Wallace in 1297 and then by the Marquis of Montrose in 1645, and to being the repository for the Scottish Crown Jewels when Cromwell advanced northward.
~ Used by kind permission of Joanne Mackenzie-Winters.
Copyright The Internet Guide to Scotland (www.scotland-info.co.uk)
Covenanter prisoners were being held in the Edinburgh Tolbooth prison. Information was received that the Duke of Argyll might arrive with troops from Holland to liberate the prisoners, and so it was resolved to transfer them from Edinburgh. Two hundred and twenty-four prisoners were removed from the Edinburgh Tolbooth in May, 1685 and forced to march through Fife and Forfar to the castle of Dunnottar. A number of the people died on during the march and a couple were able to escape. Thirty-six men and four women were able to convince their captors that they were not dangerous, and so were able to return to Edinburgh. The remainder, numbering one hundred and sixty-seven, forty-five of which were women, completed the march and were forced into the Whigs Vault, a room measuring 55 feet long and only 15-1/2 feet wide. The room had only two small windows near the ceiling.
The prisoners were forced to endure filthy conditions in this place. They were packed in so tightly that they could neither sit or lie down. The floor was ankle deep in mire. A number of the prisoners died because of the conditions. Attempts were made to escape, but of twenty-five that made the attempt, fifteen were recaptured. Those unfortunate enough to be recaptured were tortured by being tied down and then having burning slivers of wood placed between their fingers.
The prisoners were released from Dunnottar when the threat of an insurrection was passed. Some of them, thirty men and seven women, took the oath and renounced their faith in the Covenant. The remainder, including James Muirhead, noted below, refused to renounce their faith and were sentenced to be transported to the American colonies.The prisoners were released from Dunnottar when the threat of an insurrection was passed. Some of them, thirty men and seven women, took the oath and renounced their faith in the Covenant. The remainder, including James Muirhead, noted below, refused to renounce their faith and were sentenced to be transported to the American colonies.
Robert Wodrow, the ecclesiastical historian, was born in 1679. Although he was too young to witness the Killing Time personally, he spoke to eyewitnesses while researching for his book, The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution, which he wrote between 1721 and 1722. In that volume he noted:(
...the council began to weary of the prioners at Dunnotter, and brought them back to Leith, as we have een, where another esay was made to bring them to comply with the impoitions now put on people in their circumtances; and upon their refual, they reolved to end good numbers of them to the plantations, and o rid themelves of any more trouble about them. Accordingly, after near three months evere treatment at Dunnotter, they come to Leith... Not a few who were in the great vault were ick, and allowed hores upon their own charges... The foot has ixty-ix miles to travel, and their hands tied behind their backs with mall cords. From Dunnotter they were carried to Montroe tolbooth the firt night, from thence to Arbroath, from thence to Dundee, from thence, upon the Sabbath, to the Cowpar of Fife, from thence to Burntiland, and thence to Leith. The council were pleaed to come down to Leith, and it in the tolbooth there, and pent ome time in the re-examination of the prioners.It was but very few complied with their impoitions, and they were dimised. Others,who were very weakly, and had ome friends to intercede, got off upon a bond of compearance when called, as Mr. William MMillan, who gave bond as above, under the penalty of five thouand merks.The mot part of them refuing the oaths, and to atify in other particulars, were perpetually banihed to America, and many of them were gifted to the laird of Pitlochy, to be carried thither.
The ship on which the prisoners would sail, Henry And Francis was chartered by George Scott, Laird of Pitlochie. According to S. Helen Fields in her book, Covenanters And The Work Of Rev. John Cuthbertson,(2.45) George Scott was given a promise of liberty and a gift of about 100 prisoners provided he transported them to Eastern New Jersey and landed them before September, 1686. Failure in any way on his part meant a penalty of five hundred marks. Scott chartered a ship of three hundred and fifty tons, the Henry And Francis, at New Castle. The ship, which carried twenty cannon, had, as its master, Richard Hutton.
On 05 September, 1685 the Henry And Francis sailed from the port of Leith with one hundred and twenty-five of the prisoners, including John and James Muirhead. During the course of the trip westward, the ship sprang leaks two times.
As was common during that period of time, fever broke out among the passengers. And besides that, the food provisions were less than adequate and tolerable. According to Wodrows narrative:(2.46)
After they had turned the land-end, the fever began to rage in the hip, epecially among uch who had been in the great vault of Dunnotter. Not a few of them were ick when they came aboard, and no wonder, conidering the barbarous treatment they had met with; beides, much of the fleh which the captain of the hip had provided for the prioners began to tink before they ailed out of Leith road, and in a few days it was not eatable. In a months time the fever turned malignant, and few or none in the hip ecaped it, in o much that it was uua; to cat over board thee or four dead bodies in one day. Mot of the hips crew, except the captain and boat wain, died.
It should also be noted that it was expected of each of the adult passengers to pay the sum of £5 sterling for their passage. If any person could not pay that sum, he or she would be expected to consign themselves over as indentured servants for a period of four years. The individual who would purchase the indentured servant, in effect, paid not for the person, but for the ships passage expense; the servant thusly would be paying the purchaser back for the favor through work rather than through specie.
Indentured servitude was not as bad as it may seem at first glance; it was certainly nowhere near as abominable as the slavery in which Africans would come to exist during the next couple of centuries. The indentured servant, at the end of his/her period of servitude, would be provided with a new suit of clothes and, in some cases, a certain amount of land. Indentured servants often received training in a craft, much like an apprentice.
Enroute to the New World, George Scott and his wife both perished from disease; thirty-one in all would die on the voyage. Following Scotts death, his son-in-law, John Johnstone, along with the ships captain, Master Hutton, attempted to force all of the covenanter prisoners to sign an agreement to bind themselves over into four years of indentured servitude. Johnstone and Huttons intention was to be able to acquire enough money from the sales of the covenanter prisoners to recoup the losses incurred by the death of Johnstones father-in-law. The proud Scotsmen refused to do so. A number of them, including James Muirhead, signed a formal protest against their banishment, the resulting forced emigration and the treatment they had received enroute.
The Henry And Francis landed at Perth Amboy in the colony of New Jersey in mid-December, 1685. If the captain of the ship would have had his way, she would not have landed in New Jersey. Master Hutton had decided to sail to either Jamaica or the Virginia Colony, where he felt a better price could be gotten for the indentured servants. The prevailing direction of the winds denied Hutton the opportunity he desired. Instead, the ship had to sail to its intended destination of Perth Amboy. After landing, the Scots found that they were not welcome, at least by the people of Perth Amboy. Further inland, though, the residents of (it is believed by some) Woodridge gave the covenanter prisoners places to stay.
It might appear that the Scots were now safe and sound, having escaped from their persecutors in Scotland and having survived the dangerous voyage across the Atlantic. But the Laird of Pitlochies son-in-law, John Johnstone, was not about to let them escape his greedy desire for riches. According to Mrs. Fields narrative,(2.47) The following spring Johnstone had them all cited before a legal tribunal of the Province. Apparently Johnstone won a ruling in his favor; Mrs. Fields noted: Because they had not voluntarily gone to the ship nor bargained in any way, they were, in accordance with the laws of this land, assorted, and were scattered throughout Eastern Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. What she meant by assorted would be questionable, were not Wodrows narrative, from which Mrs. Fields appears to have gotten her information, available for clarification. He noted that,(2.48) After hearing both ides, the governor called a jury to it and cognoce upon the affair. They found that the pannels had not of their own accord come to that hip, nor bargained with Pitlochy for money or ervice, and therefore, according to the laws of the country, they were assoiled... The word assoiled was an old law term meaning to be delivered from the state of excommunication.(2.49) Many of the Covenanter prisoners moved to New England where they were more kindly received than in the Jerseys. It is also believed that a number of them returned to their native Scotland during the Glorious Revolution.
Additional information regarding the lives of James and John Muirhead immediately following their arrival in the New World does not exist in the public records. There are only a few things that can be assumed from the passenger list of the Henry And Francis. In view of the fact that some womens names were recorded, it would not be improper to assume that all the women who made the journey would have been recorded. Other than James and John, there were no other men or women of the surname Muirhead recorded in the passenger list. Therefore it can be assumed that if either of the two Muirhead men were married prior to their banishment, their wives did not accompany them to the New World. Children were seldom included in any ships passenger list, but it is very doubtful that any children traveled on the voyage of the Henry And Francis because of the nature of the voyage. Also, although their names would not have been included, the ships passenger lists would probably have at least mentioned the number of children who were aboard, if there had been any. It can also be assumed that the two Muirhead men were alive when the journey was completed. It is known that thirty-one passengers died on the journey across the ocean, but their names were denoted as such on the ships passenger list. Therefore, it can be assumed that John and James Muirhead made the journey, more or less, safe and sound. There is no way of knowing if they were ill during or just after the voyage, though.
The reader should be aware that the foregoing related to the information that was available in the public records. The private records of the families reveal additional information about one of the banished Muirhead Covenanters: John.
According to the book, The Henry Muir-heid / Muirhead Family Of Virginia & Mississippi, by Ray Jerome Muirhead:(2.50)
Eventually, John Muirhead left Woodbridge and went to Jamaica., Long Island, New York, where he married Rebecca Bailey, or Baylis, in 1706. Later they moved to Pen-nington, Mercer County (formerly Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon and Burlington County), New Jersey, where John became an elder and trustee in the Presbyterian Church.
According to the research performed by Mr. Muirhead, John was appointed as the High Sheriff of Burlington County, New Jersey in 1714 and held the position until his death in 1725. He was the first man to hold the position of High Sheriff in Burlington County.
Additional information on the life of John Muirhead will be given in the chapter on Muirheads in America.