Christian Shaw and the Bargarran Witches

This unique manuscript from our collection was probably the property of Christian Shaw's father. It details the supposed "bewitching" of Christian Shaw in 1696.


Contents: The informatory accompt of ... the trouble of Christian Shaw ... daughter to John Shaw of Bargarran ... -- The double of the Commission -- Declaratione be Dr Mathew Brisbane ... -- Declaratione be Mr Hendry Marshell, apothecary -- Report of the proceedings of the commmissioners -- Confessions of John Reid and Margaret Lang -- Sermon preached by James Hutchesone before the commissioners -- Discourse in reference to a fast appoynted by the Presbetrie -- Double of a paper be James Williamson of Chappelltoun in vindication of the witches. Also, An essay on meditation, signed John Shaw, and A list of Christian martyrs, signed Joannes Shaw, 1725

Bargarran now is a small suburb near Erskine in Renfrewshire but in 1696, it was the centre of a witch hunt. At the centre of this was Christian Shaw, the 11 year old daughter of John Shaw, the Laird of Bargarran. During one of her 'turns' which began suddenly on 22nd August 1696, she would throw herself on the floor in contortions, acting as though she had completley taken leave of her senses. During the strange attacks she appeared deaf, mute and blind. But the most alarming symptom of all was that she vomited during her fits including hay, small animal bones, hair, coal, candles and pins. She was diagnosed as having 'hypochondriac melancholy' and she was treated for such with little result. It was remarked that Miss Shaw appeared to have been bewitched and deduced that there must be an enemy within, living in the household. 

The Shaws determined that it was a young maid called Catherine Campbell who had cursed Christian. The Laird turned to the minister of Erskine who brought up the case at a meeting of the Paisley Presbytery on 30th December, 1696 and the result was a far reaching witch hunt. Questioned closely, Christian named names, people employed by her father, those who had scolded or complained about her. Imprisoned, tortured, sleep-deprived and shaven-headed (in the case of the women) they implicated others. Witch pickers became involved and in due course, 21 people were brought to trial in Paisley, before a Special Commission of 17 judges. Of the accused, 14 were declared not guilty and released but 7 including Catherine Campbell were condemned to be burned at the stake on Paisley's Gallow Green on 10th June 1697. Their number was reduced to 6, one committing suicide in his cell. It is probable that Christian Shaw was a witness to the burning of the witches as her symptoms cleared up on 28th March 1697. The question remains if she was suffering from a form of epilepsy or truly believed she was bewitched.

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