The Fake Witch of Kirkcudbright

I found this story in ‘Witchcraft and Superstitious Record in the Southwestern District of  Scotland’ (J. Maxwell Wood, 1911) My attention was definitely not drawn to the story because of a certain place-name that  I will not draw attention to in the article below. 

Kirkcudbright has a long history of witchery and witch killing for such a small and pleasant wee town nestled between harbour and hills, now known more for its artisan community than the other maybe slightly embarrassing old historic habit of witch-killing. I would to be fair prefer a painting or tea-towel depicting  a witch-burning rather than another enthusiastic over-colourful rendition of an Aberdeen Angus. 


The Galloway Sorceress:
Which took place at Kirkcudbright
on the twenty-eighth day of June last,
For Pretending to Exercise

Yes, Jean, poor Jean was in trouble for NOT being a witch in 1805. This of course caused great consternation in legal circles, how do you defend someone for not being guilty of an unnatural crime against God but one they intended or pretended they had? 

 ‘The imposition of pretending to possess witch power’ is  mentioned at the trial- unbelievable that witches take the mick with us mere mortals but to pretend to be a witch but not have scary Satanic powers? Hmm, where’s the old legislation on this? Shall we just go for burning to be on the safe side? 

‘Francis Scott, farmer in Little Cocklick aforesaid, that she would soon bear a Bastard to a certain young man, Hugh Rafferton; which you said you could prevent by certain means. And you, the said Jean Maxwell, caused the said Jean Davidson to rub or anoint her forehead and other parts of her head with a liquid contained in bottle produced by you, which so much intoxicated and disordered the said Jean Davidson that she would have done anything that you the said Jean Maxwell had asked her to do..’

I definitely have not looked to see if any houses are for sale on Rightmove in the vicinity named above. 

So two Jeans between the devil and the deep blue sea. I say poor Jean Maxwell, it appears from the transcripts of the trial that she was a bit of a wrongun, using her alleged satanic powers to extort amongst other things,  a shoulder of mutton and a good linen shirt from her victim, Jean Davidson after revelling in some made-up satanic rituals involving fire, needles and some ill gotten coinage utilising the Devil himself.

‘and the said Jean Davidson, having furnished the shillings, you, the said Jean Maxwell, after stamping on the ground twice or thrice with your foot, pretended to hand them to Satan as if he had stood behind you

Naughty Jean M was not content and kept going back to her poor victim, extorting more coinage and possessions from the terrified woman who could not tell if it was Satan or Jean Maxwell she was more scared of anymore. At least Satan doesn’t bother you until you are dead. Satan does not demand sixpences and half crowns constantly. Jean does. Jean constantly demands more money to lay the devil, then threatens with the devil himself. Jean has flung money into fires with gay abandon to allay the devil but then demands it all back. Jean is threatening her beloved now. Jean and her constant extortion has become worse than the devil himself. Jean has got to go. 

, but the said Jean Davidson, having by this time got into the use of her reason, got the better of the terror of the oaths of secresy imposed upon her by the said Jean Maxwell, managed so as to detain you until a Constable was sent for, who took  you into Custody ‘

“The Steward-Depute having considered the Verdict of the Assize, bearing date the twenty-first day of June current, and returned into Court that day against Jean Maxwell, the Pannel, whereby she is found guilty of pretending to exercise witchcraft, sorcery, inchantment, and conjuration, and of undertaking to tell fortunes, contrary to the Enactments and Provisions of the Act of Parliament passed in the 5th year of the Reign of King George the Second, Chapter fifth, in the manner charged against her in the Indictment, at instance of the Procurator-Fiscal of Court; the Steward Depute, in respect of the said Verdict, Decerns and Adjudges the said Jean Maxwell to be carried back from the Bar to the Tolbooth of Kirkcudbright, and to be Imprisoned therein for the space of One Whole Year, without Bail or Mainprize; and Once in every Quarter of the said year to stand openly upon a Market day in the Jugs or Pillory, at the Market Cross of the Burgh of Kirkcudbright, for the space of One Hour, &c.—(Signed) Alexr. Gordon.”

It only remains to be added that this sentence was rigorously carried out.’’

Kirkcudbright, 28th June, 1805.

Of course it was. Did people remember the day Jean was dragged out of her small dark cell in the Tollbooth ( now of course an art gallery along with museum) and save their best rotten fruit, come out early to get a good hurling spot? Did people instead see the shrivelled women brought wincing into the harsh light  from the dark but hurry along, no witchcraft to be seen here but surely no good either? 

And what happened to Jean Maxwell afterwards? No true devilish power to help her but cast from the side of God for Satanic mockery nonetheless- a purgatory awaits Jean Maxwell on this living earth, no-one will be kind, no-one will remember her once she manages to emerge from her cell, no-one will pay for her  and who what side will  claim her when she dies? 

I find no mention of her grave but poor people died an invisible death, even the ones who professed or yearned  to have Satan on their side instead of a more vengeful God. 

The Stewartry museum in Kirkcudbright, for such a small ( and wonderous) museum has a large amount of witchcraft relics but shows less information about the amount of ‘witches’ killed here and in nearby districts and the hideous manners in which they died.

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