Margaret Wilson was an teenage Scottish Covenanter martyr. After refusing to swear an oath declaring James VII as head of the Church was murdered by drowning. The remarkable story of this young women is told below.
The following is an excerpt from The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution.
On the 11th of May occurred “the barbarous and wicked execution of two excellent women near Wigton, Margaret M Lauchlan and Margaret Wilson. History scarce affords a parallel to this in all its circumstances: and therefore I shall give it at the greater length, and the rather, because the advocates for the cruelty of this period, and our Jacobites, have the impudence, some of them to deny, and others to extenuate this matter of fact, which can be fully evinced by many livin witnesses, And I shall mostly give my narrative of it, from an account I have from the forementioned Mr Rowan, now with the Lord, late minister of Penningham, where Margaret Wilson lived, who was at pains to have its circumstances fully vouched by witnesses whose attestations are in my hand; . . .
Gilbert Wilson father to the said Margaret, lived in Glenvernock, belonging to the laird of Castlestewart, in the parish of Penningham, and shire of Wigton, and was every way conform to episcopacy ; and his wife, without any thing to be objected against her, as to her regularity. They were in good circumstances as to the world, and had a great stock upon a good ground, and therefore were the fitter prey for the persecutors, if they could reach them. Their children, to be sure, not from their education, but a better principle, would by no means conform, or hear the episcopal incumbent. This was a good handle to the persecutors; so they were searched for, but fled to the hills, bogs, and caves, though they were yet scarce of the age that made them obnoxious to the law. Meanwhile their parents are charged at the highest peril, not to harbour them, supply them, or speak to them, or see them, without informing against them, that they might be taken ; and their father was fined for his children’s alleged irregularities and opinions, which he had no share in, and harassed by frequent quarterings of the soldiers, sometimes an hundred of them upon him at once, who lived at discretion, upon any thing in the house or field belonging to him.
Those troubles continuing upon him for some years together, with his attendance upon courts at Wigton, almost once a week, thirteen miles distant from his house, his going to Edinburgh, and other harassings, brought him under exceeding great losses. At a modest calculation, they were above five thousand merks, and all for no action or principle of his own, for he was entirely conformist. He died some six or eight years ago, in great poverty, though one of the most substantial country men in that country. And his wife (1711) lives a very aged widow, upon the charity of friends. His son Thomas Wilson, a youth of sixteen years of age, this February 1685, was forced to the mountains, and continued wandering till the revolution, at which time he went to the army, and bore arms under king William in Flanders, and after that in the castle of Edinburgh. He never had a farthing from his parents to enter that ground which they possessed, but having got together somewhat by his own industry, lives now in his father s room, and is ready to attest all I am writing.
It is Gilbert’s two daughters, who fell into the hands of the persecutors, Margaret Wilson of eighteen years of age, and Agnes Wilson a child not thirteen years, that have led me to this account. Agnes the youngest was condemned with her sister by those merciless judges, but her father obtained a liberation from prison, under a bond of 100 pounds sterling, to present her when called. However Gilbert had to go to Edinburgh before she was let out ; but to all onlookers and posterity, it will remain an unaccountable thing to sentence a child of thirteen years to death, for not hearing and not swearing. In the beginning of this year, those two sisters for some time were obliged to abscond and wander through Carrick, Galloway, and Nithsdale, with their brothers, and some others. After the universal severities slackened a little at king Charles death, the two sisters ventured to go to Wigton, to see some of their suffering acquaintances there, particularly Margarat M’Lauchlan, of whom just now. When they came to Wigton, there was an acquaintance of theirs, Patrick Stuart, whom; they took to be a friend and well-wisher, but he was really not so, and betrayed them; being in their company, and seeking an occasion against them he proposed drinking- the king s health; this they modestly declined: upon which he went out, informed against them, and brought in a party of soldiers, and seized them. As if they had been great malefactors, they were put in the thieves hole, and after they had been there some time, they were removed to the prison where Margaret M’Lauchlan was, whom I come next to give some account of.
This woman was about sixty three years of age, relict of John Mulligen carpenter, a tenant in the parish of Kirkinner, in the shire of Galloway, in the farm of Drumjargan, belonging to colonel Vans of Barnbarroch ; she was a country woman of more than ordinary knowledge, discretion, and prudence, and for many years of singular piety and devotion: she would take none of the oaths now pressed upon women as well as men ; neither would she desist from the duties she took to be incumbent upon her, hearing presbyterian ministers when providence gave opportunity, and joining with her Christian friends and acquaintances in prayer, and supplying her relations and acquaintances when in straits, though persecuted. It is a jest to suppose her guilty of rising in arms and rebellion, though indeed it was a part of her indictment, which she got in common form now used. For those great crimes, and no other, she was seized some while ago upon the Lord’s day, when at family worship in her own house; which was now an ordinary season for apprehending honest people. She was imprisoned, after she had suffered much in her goods and crop before she was apprehended. In prison she was very roughly dealt with, and had neither fire, nor bed to lie upon, and had very little allowed her to live on.
Jointly with Margaret M’Lauchlan, or M’Lauchlison, these two young sisters, after many methods were taken to corrupt them, and make them swear the oath now imposed, which they steadily refused, were brought to their trial before the laird of Lagg, colonel David Graham sheriff, major Windram, captain Strachan, and provost Cultrain, who gave all the three an indictment for rebellion, Bothwell Bridge, Ayr’s Moss, and being present at twenty field- conventicles. No matter now how false and calumnious poor people’s indictments were. None of the pannels had ever been within many miles of Bothwell or Ayr’s Moss: Agnes Wilson could be but eight years of age at Ayr’s Moss, and her sister but about twelve or thirteen; and it was impossible they could have any access to those risings: Margaret M Lauchlan was as free as they were.
All the three refused the abjuration oath, and it was unaccountable it should be put to one of them. The assize bring them in guilty, and the judges pronounce their sentence; that upon the llth instant, all the three should be tied to stakes fixed within the flood-mark in the water of Blednoch near Wigton, where the sea flows at high water, there to be drowned. We have seen, that Agnes Wilson was got out by her father upon a bond of an hundred pounds sterling, which, I hear, upon her nonproduction, was likewise exacted. Margaret Wilson’s friends used all means to prevail with her to take the abjuration oath, and to engage to hear the curate ; but she stood fast in her integrity, and would not be shaken. They received their sentence with a great deal of composure, and cheerful countenances, reckoning it their honour to suffer for Christ and his truth. During her imprisonment Margaret Wilson wrote a large letter to her relations full of a deep and affecting sense of God’s love to her soul, and an entire resignation to the Lord’s disposal. She likewise added a vindication of her refusing to save her life by taking the abjuration, and engaging to conformity; against both she gives arguments with a solidity and judgment far above one of her years and education.
This barbarous sentence was executed the foresaid day, May llth, and the two women were brought from Wigton, with a numerous crowd of spectators to so extra ordinary an execution. Major Windram with some soldiers guarded them to the place of execution. The old Avoman’s stake was a good way in beyond the other, and she was first despatched, in order to terrify the other to a compliance with such oaths and conditions as they required. But in vain ; for she adhered to her principles with an unshaken steadfastness. When the water was overflowing- her fellow-martyr, some about Margaret Wilson asked her, what she thought of the other now struggling with the pangs of death. She answered, ‘What do I see but Christ (in one of his members) wrestling there. Think you that we are the sufferers ? no, it is Christ in us, for he sends none a warfare upon their own charges.’ When Margaret Wilson was at the stake, she sang the 25th Psalm from verse 7th, downward a good way, and read the 8th chapter to the Romans with a great deal of cheerfulness, and then prayed. While at prayer, the water covered her: but before she was quite dead, they pulled her up, and held her out of the water till she was recovered, and able to speak ; and then by Major Windram’s orders, she was asked, if she would pray for the king. She answer ed, She wished the salvation of all men, and the damnation of none. One deeply affected with the death of the other and her case, said, ‘Dear Margaret, say God save the king, say God save the king.’ She answered in the greatest steadiness and composure, ‘God save him, if he will, for it is his salvation I desire.’ Whereupon some of her relations near by, desirous to have her life spared, if possible, called out to major Windram, ‘Sir,’ she hath said it, ‘she hath said it.’ Whereupon the major came near, and offered her the abjuration, charging her instantly to swear it, otherwise return to the water. Most deliberately she refused, and said, ‘I will not, I am one of Christ’s children, let me go.’ Upon which she was thrust down again into the water, where she finished her course with joy.
She died a virgin-martyr about eighteen years of age, and both of them suffered precisely upon refusing conformity, and the abjuration oath, and were evidently innocent of any thing worthy of death; and since properly they suffered upon refusing the abjuration, for refusing of which such multitudes were cut off in the fields with less ceremony, and at the time when these murders were so common, I have brought them in here.