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.

Dunnottar Castle ~ 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 ‘Whig’s 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:(2.44)

...the council began to weary of the priƒoners at Dunnotter, and brought them back to Leith, as we have ƒeen, where another eƒsay was made to bring them to comply with the impoƒitions now put on people in their circumƒtances; and upon their refuƒal, they reƒolved to ƒend good numbers of them to the plantations, and ƒo rid themƒelves of any more trouble about them. Accordingly, after near three month’s ƒevere treatment at Dunnotter, they come to Leith... Not a few who were in the great vault were ƒick, and allowed horƒes upon their own charges... The foot has ƒixty-ƒix miles to travel, and their hands tied behind their backs with ƒmall cords. From Dunnotter they were carried to Montroƒe tolbooth the firƒt night, from thence to Arbroath, from thence to Dundee, from thence, upon the Sabbath, to the Cowpar of Fife, from thence to Burntiƒland, and thence to Leith. The council were pleaƒed to come down to Leith, and ƒit in the tolbooth there, and ƒpent ƒome time in the re-examination of the priƒoners.It was but very few complied with their impoƒitions, and they were diƒmiƒsed. Others,who were very weakly, and had ƒome friends to intercede, got off upon a bond of compearance when called, as Mr. William M’Millan, who gave bond as above, under the penalty of five thouƒand merks.The moƒt part of them refuƒing the oaths, and to ƒatiƒfy in other particulars, were perpetually baniƒhed to America, and many of them were gifted to the laird of Pitlochy, to be carried thither.
        The priƒoners lay ƒome time in the road of Leith, before all was ready, and ƒailed the 5th of September

  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 Wodrow’s narrative:(2.46)

After they had turned the land-end, the fever began to rage in the ƒhip, eƒpecially among ƒuch who had been in the great vault of Dunnotter. Not a few of them were ƒick when they came aboard, and no wonder, conƒidering the barbarous treatment they had met with; beƒides, much of the fleƒh which the captain of the ƒhip had provided for the priƒoners began to ƒtink before they ƒailed out of Leith road, and in a few days it was not eatable. In a month’s time the fever turned malignant, and few or none in the ƒhip eƒcaped it, in ƒo much that it was uƒua; to caƒt over board thee or four dead bodies in one day. Moƒt of the ƒhip’s crew, except the captain and boat ƒwain, 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 ship’s 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 Scott’s death, his son-in-law, John Johnstone, along with the ship’s 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 Hutton’s 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 Johnstone’s 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 Pitlochie’s 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 Wodrow’s narrative, from which Mrs. Fields appears to have gotten her information, available for clarification. He noted that,(2.48) “After hearing both ƒides, the governor called a jury to ƒit and cognoƒce upon the affair. They found that the pannels had not of their own accord come to that ƒhip, nor bargained with Pitlochy for money or ƒervice, 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 women’s 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 ship’s 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 ship’s 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 ship’s 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 Pennington, 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.


2.44     The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution, by Robert Wodrow 1721–22. (Exact page reference not known. This was excerpted from a transcript of Wodrow’s work, which was included in: The Henry Muirheid/Muirhead Family Of Virginia & Mississippi, by Ray Jerome Muirhead 1989, pp 10-14).

2.45     Covenanters And The Work Of Rev. John Cuthbertson, by S. Helen Fields 1933, published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly 21, pp 16-18.

2.46     op cit., The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution, pp 11-12.

2.47     ibid., pp 16-18.

2.48     op cit., The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution, p 14.

2.49     A New Law Dictionary, by Giles Jacob 1744, p AS.

2.50     The Henry Muirheid/Muirhead Family Of Virginia & Mississippi, by Ray Jerome Muirhead 1989, p viii.