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Life Sketches from Scottish History of Brief Biographies of the Scottish Presbyterian Worthies
Robert Nairn


In the persecutions in Scotland for conscience’ sake, it was not only the ministers and prominent men who suffered, but the poor and secluded citizen was dragged out, tortured and slain. James Nairn was a shoemaker, in a place called Napierston, where he pursued his humble occupation in the fear of God. Being a firm Presbyterian, he refused to hear the Episcopal incumbent, and this gave deadly offence to the Prelatists. For this offence, he was fined twenty pounds, which was strictly exacted. But though this was paid, his persecutors were not satisfied; and he was obliged to abandon his employment, and retire from his family. His house was frequently searched, and as frequently pillaged. On one occasion, he was visited at midnight by a party who sought U> apprehend him; and his wife, with a child in her arms, was forced to escape to the fields, leaving behind her a maid-servant and three children. With drawn swords in their hands, the intruders searched every corner of the house, and not finding what they wanted, they seized the eldest boy, a child about fourteen years of age, and brandishing their glittering swords over his head, threatened to kill him on the spot, unless he discovered his father’s hiding-place. The boy, however, continued firm—no terror could force him to yield. This treatment was no unusual thing with those barbarous men, for it was their practice to misuse and terrify the children, when they could not find the parents.

They sometimes gathered them in a group, and pretended they were going to shoot them, if they would not reveal what they wanted; and the poor children stood trembling and aghast with terror, when their muskets were pointed to their little breasts, expecting every moment when the deadly shot would be poured into them. Sometimes the soldiers would lead out one ot them to the green before his father’s door, and having tied up his eyes with a napkin, placed* him on his knees, and then, with a refinement of cruelty, fired their pieces with a loud report over his head, which, in some cases, drove the poor child to distraction.

On this occasion, the officials who came to Nairn’s house, took an inventory of every tiling within the walls, excepting the cradle in which the babe slept, which they, happily, overlooked.

When this was done, they laid the person of whom the house was rented under a bond to deliver up to them, on his own responsibility, every article when called for. The two youngest children, the eldest not more than five years of age, they turned out of their beds, and carried away the bed-clothes, leaving them naked and terrified in the midst of the apartment; and the maid-servant they conveyed to prison, till she found bail to appear when summoned.

Some weeks after this, the sheriff-officers, having understood that some articles of furniture or of clothes belonging to Nairn were deposited in a neighbour’s house, came and seized them ; and in the night they turned his wife out of her bed, and carried her straight to prison, where she was sentenced to lie till she found bail to “keep the Kirk.”

In the beginning of winter, this good man crept from his hiding places, and ventured to his own house. In the warm months of summer, he made a shift to keep himself in a tolerably comfortable concealment; but the cold rain and snows of winter compelled him to seek a more sheltered retreat, He had not been long in the bosom of his family when the circumstance was made known to his persecutors, who one night came to apprehend him; but he, having received notice of their approach, made his escape, when the men followed and shot at him, and very narrowly missed him. He got into a wood, where he hid himself, but by lying on the ground in the thicket he caught a cold. This issued in a severe sickness, which obliged him to return to his house for the assistance which his case required. It was not long till his enemies were informed of his being again at home, and a party was instantly dispatched to bring him prisoner to Dumbarton, and if he was unable to walk, he was to be conveyed on horseback, but at all events he was to be brought. When John M’Allaster, his landlord, a worthy man, who first and last had shewn him no small kindness, heard that the party were come to remove the sick man, he met them and found means to detain them till Nairn was carried out of the way and concealed in a barn. Such plans were often tried by the friends of the sufferers; and the blustering troopers, who rode furiously up to the door, were, on their arrival, entertained with meat and drink, and such things as were gratifying to them; for it appears that the dragoons were either hungry or very thirsty, and it was therefore by no means difficult to intercept their progress by placing in their way what in this respect suited them.

Nairn lay in the barn till the morning, when he was carried to a friend’s house, about a mile distant; and in the evening he died, and entered into peace, safe and far beyond the reach of his persecutors, who, though they did not kill him on the spot, were yet the cause of his death. His remains were brought to his own house, to prevent mischief from coming on the family under whose roof he expired. But his persecutors, though they could not reach the soul, endeavoured to do indignity to the corpse; for when the sexton went to dig the grave in the church-yard, the incumbent turned out the man, locked the gate, and would not suffer him to prepare a resting place within the enclosure, as if the lifeless body of the worthy man were not deserving of Christian burial; to such a length did these men carry their hostility to the poor sufferers in those afflictive days.

The interment, however, was at length effected; hut no sooner was it over than the widow and the son of the deceased were summoned for breach of the arrestment laid upon their own property, and fined heavily. So distressful were those times that there was no rest for a man but in his grave.


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