A blog about a hike across Scotland (and possibly other things)

Back to the future

I have Scottish ancestors.  This is no surprise; so do at least 30 million Americans.

Most are Scots-Irish, descended from people who emigrated from Western Scotland, especially the Lowlands, to Northern Ireland, after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, ruling both nations.  From Ireland many immigrated to America, especially Pennsylvania and Appalachia as far south as the Carolinas.  My sister Ellen recently spat in a tube and had her genome typed by ancestry.com.  It showed 29 percent of her ancestry, and mine, from Great Britain.  (And 2 percent from the Caucasus!)

As it turns out, I have an ancestor who was a Scots martyr, John Brown of Priesthill, Ayrshire, in the Lowlands.  He was a Covenanter, a Presbyterian who subscribed to two agreements (one drawn up in 1638, the other in 1643) resisting the establishment of the Episcopal church in Scotland.  They were persecuted mightily, as described in a book, “Matthew Brown, Ancestry and Descendants” (Brooklyn, N.Y.:  1900):

“Hunted down like wild beasts, tortured, imprisoned by the hundreds, hanged by the scores, exposed at one time to the license of the English soldiers, abandoned at another time to the mercy of bands of marauders from the highlands, they still stood at bay in a mood so savage that the boldest and mightiest oppressor could not but dread the audacity of their despair.”

” .  .  .  the audacity of their despair.”  This is different from “the audacity of hope.”  Interestingly, however, the sentence means pretty much the same thing with one substituted for the other.

John Brown was a pack-horse carrier who didn’t take part in Covenanter uprisings, according to the book.  Nevertheless, his martyrdom had been foretold.  At his wedding in 1682, the minister took his wife, Isabel, aside and told her:  “You have got a good husband, value him highly; keep linen for a winding sheet beside you .  .  .  He follows his Lord too fully to be passed over by those who drive the chariot of persecution so furiously over the length and breadth of poor, bleeding Scotland.”  (How this affected the honeymoon isn’t recorded).

On May 1, 1685, a band of soldiers led by John Graham of Claverhouse, a Scots nobleman, officer in the English  army and notorious enforcer, came to John Brown’s house.  Brown was asked why he didn’t attend the English church and if he would pray for the king.  His answers did not satisfy.  He knelt, prayed for his soul and then said goodbye to his pregnant wife and two children.  Graham ordered the soldiers to shoot him.  They refused, so he pulled out his pistol and did it himself.

“Turning to the newly-made widow he asked her what she then thought of her husband.  ‘I always thought much of him, but now far more than ever,’ was her brave reply.”

Isabel moved with her children to Ireland and married again.  Some of her descendants came to America.

I am descended from Jean Brown (b. 1770 in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania), Isabel and John’s great-granddaughter.  Curiously, this line of descent is through my mother, not my father.  (Consanguinity?  Does that explain anything?) There’s a monument to Brown’s martyrdom at his grave on a moor outside Priesthill.  A local man took my parents to it years ago when they visited Scotland.

In September, Scots will vote whether to separate from the United Kingdom and become a sovereign nation.  I guess this means I’m in favor of Scottish independence.


1 Comment

  1. Will E

    Dave — I’m enjoying the audacity of your even-tempered-ness!

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