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The Paisley Witch Trials and the Town’s Curse

Paisley, Scotland, was the location of a witch trial in the 17th century and many people believe that the town is cursed.

According to the story, back in 1696 when witchcraft was against the law, an 11-year-old girl named Christian Shaw, who was the daughter of the Laird of Bargarran, became violently ill with sudden and unexplained fits. In fact, her symptoms were compared to those reported during the Salem Witch Trials that occurred a few years earlier.

When her symptoms didn’t get any better, her parents took her to see a Glasgow doctor named Matthew Brisbane but he couldn’t find any diagnosis for her illness. Her sickness got much worse as she would pull things out of her mouth such as hair, straw, gravel, coal, chicken feathers, and cinders.

When she was in her fits, she would be talking to the family’s servant Catherine Campbell even though she wasn’t in the room. Curiously, the girl would ask the servant to return her back to normal as if she had placed some kind of curse on her. As a matter of fact, Christian did claim that several local witches – including the servant Catherine – were tormenting her. There may have already been some bad blood between the servant and the girl as Christian reported Catherine to her mother after she saw her stealing a drink of milk.

Christian still wasn’t getting any healthier so her parents turned to the local minister who claimed that the girl was possessed and was being tormented by witches. Her father asked the authorities to arrest those who were torturing his daughter, although at that time, Christian had only named Catherine Campbell and Agnes Naismith as her tormentors.

The Bargarran House where Christian Shaw lived.

She eventually revealed several more names — a total of 35 people were accused by the girl and seven of them were asked to show up before the town’s commission — Margaret Lang, John Lindsay, James Lindsay, John Reid, Margaret Fulton, Catherine Campbell, and Agnes Naismith.

When the local minister James Hutchison gave his sermon to the commission during the Paisley Witch Trial, he claimed that the markings on Christian’s body were witches’ marks even though several doctors said that they had natural causes. The jurors had pretty much no choice but to find the defendants guilty because they were threatened by the prosecutor that if they voted for an acquittal, they would be “accessory to all the blasphemies, apostacies, murders, tortures, and seductions, etc., whereof those enemies of heaven and earth shall hereafter be guilty when they get out”. Therefore, all seven of the accused where found guilty of witchcraft.

But that’s not the end of the story as one of the accused, Agnes Naismith, reportedly put a curse on everyone who was at the trial in addition of all of their descendants. Many people took it seriously as each tragedy that occurred in the town for many years after was blamed on Agnes’ curse.

While John Reid committed suicide in his cell, the other six were hung and burned on the Gallow Green in Paisley on June 10, 1697. This was the last mass execution for those accused of witchcraft in the western part of Europe. They were all buried at the crossroads where Maxwellton Street crosses George Street so that the spirits of the alleged witches couldn’t return from the afterlife to terrorize the town. Even a horseshoe was set in the road as an extra precaution.

As for the girl Christian Shaw, she got better and went on to become a successful businesswoman in the thread industry (the origins of the paisley pattern).

Now, skipping ahead to 2008, a campaign began which asked the Scottish Parliament to pardon the seven who were accused of witchcraft centuries ago. While they have yet to be pardoned, there was a poignant ceremony that occurred in 2010 in memory of the accused.

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Jocelyne LeBlanc works full time as a writer and is also an author with two books currently published. She has written articles for several online websites, and had an article published in a Canadian magazine on the most haunted locations in Atlantic Canada. She has a fascination with the paranormal and ghost stories, especially those that included haunted houses. In her spare time, she loves reading, watching movies, making crafts, and watching hockey.