Brown, John

Male 1626 - 1685


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  • Born  1626  Muikirk Parish, Priesthill, Ayrshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Gender  Male 
    Death  01 May 1685  Priesthill, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Reference Number  848 
    Died  01 May 1685  Priesthill, Ayrshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Buried  01 May 1685  Priesthill, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Person ID  I00532  Iris' Tree
    Last Modified  1 Nov 2011 

    Family 1  Richart, Janet,   b. 1626, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1678, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married  1648  Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Married  Abt 1675  Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Children 
     1. Brown, Janet,   b. Abt 1678, Priesthill, Ayrshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location
    Family ID  F00249  Group Sheet

    Family 2  Wier, Isabel,   b. 1635, Sorn, Ayrshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1700, Ulster, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married  Apr 1682  Priesthill, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married  Apr 1682  Priestshiel, Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Children 
     1. Brown, John,   b. Abt 1684, Priesthill, Ayrshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1740, Swatara, Dauphin, Pennsylvania, USA Find all individuals with events at this location
     2. Brown, James,   b. Abt 1685, Priesthill, Ayrshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1750, Swatara, Dauphin, Pennsylvania, USA Find all individuals with events at this location
    Family ID  F00250  Group Sheet

  • Notes 
    • !SOURCE: Family records handed down to Iris McNalley of Provost Alberta.
      "Introduction to Grandmother Porter's Family History"
      DEATH: Murdered because of Religious belief. He was a Presbyterian.
      NOTES: Have much information on this.

      Extract from Covenanting Pilgrimages and Studies by A B Todd 1911

      PRIESTHILL AND JOHN BROWN

      THE martyrdom of John Brown of Priesthill has been read with deeper sorrow and has caused more tears to trickle down the cheeks than ever did the representation of the fate of the Desdemona of the Othello of Shakespeare on the stage. John Brown was a man of some fifty eight years when in May 1685 he was so barbarously put to death by Graham of Claverhouse. John Brown, more perhaps than any other of the Covenanters of that period, was a man peculiarly characterised by a meek and quiet spirit. He was called "The Christian Carrier." Although dwelling far from the busy haunts of men, it may be thought strange that he should have been engaged in such an occupation as that of a public carrier. These then, however, plied their occupation in a very different way from what they do now. There were no wheeled carts in the country, and all goods were brought from the cities and larger towns to places in the country on pack horses.

      But besides being a carrier and a farmer, John Brown was also a Sabbath school teacher, quite a century before Robert Raikes of Gloucester popularised Sunday schools. He had long been in the habit of gathering in the children and young people of the district, and by this means many souls were won to the Saviour. Many of these people, it is interesting to add, walked miles to attend these Sabbath afternoon meetings at the lone Priesthill.

      It was in one of his raids that Claverhouse came upon John Brown on the bill above his house in the early morning of the 1st of May 1685. There was a mist and Brown did not see the troops till they were upon him When they had taken him they marched him down to his house, to the great alarm of his wife and a daughter of some ten years by a former wife. Here he was asked why he did not attend the curate's ministrations, and if he would pray for the King. Having given his reasons why he could do neither, he was roughly told by Claverhouse to go to his prayers, for that he must immediately die! Brown knelt and prayed with great fervour, and then rose and kissed his wife and children, imploring in so doing that "all purchased and promised blessings might be multiplied upon them." At this Claverhouse thundered out" No more! You six there "counting off six soldiers" shoot him instantly." Although there are two different accounts of the shooting of the martyr, yet there can be no doubt that the following is the true account of the last scene.

      The soldiers, hardened as they were with scenes of debauchery and blood, were so greatly affected by Brown's prayer that they hesitated to obey the order, one of them as the poet puts it saying in a low, broken voice

      'Tis work for butchers. and not for soldiers.

      I'd sooner dip my hand in burning brimstone

      Than in such innocent Wood. My conscience stings me.

      " So say we all," resounded through the troop. Claverhouse, however, drew a pistol and shot Brown dead.

      "What thinkest thou of thy husband now, woman?" fiercely and fiendishly demanded the hardened soldier.

      " I ever thought much good of him, and now more than ever," sobbed the weeping widow.

      ""Wretch! " replied Claverhouse. " It were but justice to lay thee beside him."

      "If you were permitted, I doubt not but your cruelty would go that length," she bravely answered. " But how will you answer for this morning's work? "

      " To man I can be answerable," said the remorseless soldier; "I and as for God, I will take Him in mine own hand."

      Only four years after this blackest of deeds was done and this blasphemous vaunt was made, the summons to answer to God for the blood he had that morning so wantonly sited, and for many similar acts, came to Claverhouse suddenly in the Pass of Killiecrankie, just as his eye was being kindled with joy at the short lived victory which his troops were gaining.

      And poor Isobel Weir - Brown's widow - how did she comport herself in that awful hour? After composing the limbs, and gently drawing a cloth over the bleeding corpse, she drew her terrified children around her, and, with not a friend or a neighbour near, sat down and wept. In a little while, however, David Steel, of Lesmahagow, and his wife arrived, and the little company sang with tremulous voices these consolatory verses of the 27 th Psalm

      For he, in His pavilion, shall

      Me hide in evil days;

      In secret of His tent me hide, And on a rock me raise.

      And now even at this present time

      Mine head shall lifted be,

      Above all those that are my foes,

      And round encompass me.

      How long the widow lived after this terrible experience is not known, but that to the end she adorned the doctrine of that God who had sustained both her husband and herself it, the day and the hour of their sore trial no one will doubt. John Brown's memory is revered today, and will be so long as the history of our land is read, while the memory of Claverhouse is execrated. And well may this be the case, for the murders and excesses committed by him and by his brother David in the south and west of Scotland would (were they fully related) fill volumes and present a picture of depravity which has hardly ever been exhibited on the pages of history. This hero of so many fictions, after all, never gained a single battle except over simple, unarmed labouring men, surrounded by their weeping wives and terrified children, that boasted one of Killiecrankie alone excepted.

      At some unrecorded date, but it is thought not very long after the murder of John Brown of Priesthill (not Priestfield, as Wodrow has mistakenly named it), a large flat stone with a lengthy inscription was placed upon his grave. That memorial stone continues to cover the good man's dust unto this day, and is still in a fairly good state of preservation. Round the edges there is a record of the dreadful tragedy, with ten lines of poetry in the form of an acrostic in the centre, in which the martyr's surname has been spelled with an "e" at the end. The following is the inscription:

      Here lies the body of John Brown, martyr, who was murdered in this place by Graham of Claverhouse for his testimony to the Covenanted work of Reformation, because he durst not own the authority of the then tyrant destroying the same ; who died the first of May, A.D. 1685, and of his age 58.

      In death's cold bed the dusty part here lies

      Of one who did the earth as dust despise;

      Here in this place from earth he took departure,

      Now he has got the garland of the martyr.

      Butchered by Clavers and his bloody band.

      Raging most ravenously o'er all the land,

      Only for owning Christ's supremacy,

      Wickedly wronged by encroaching tyranny.

      Nothing how near soever he to good

      Esteemed, nor dear for any truth his blood.

      Besides this memorial stone, another monument was erected and the grave enclosed by a low wall in 1825. The monument is a plain, unsightly pillar, of no great height, and has carved upon it the following inscription:

      This monument

      was erected

      and the adjoining grave of John Brown

      inclosed by money collected at a sermon

      preached here

      By the Rev. John Milwaine, on

      August 28th, 1825,

      in commemoration of the martyr.

      In accordance with a detestable custom of the time, and a seeming desire also to commemorate the parties who were instrumental in getting this latter monument erected, the names of the five gentlemen who effected this have been put on the opposite side of the pillar from the inscription. Decent men they were, I doubt not, but their names have no right to be there. It was very different with the preacher on that occasion the Rev. John Milwaine. He belonged to the Reformed Presbyterian Church at Douglas Water, a Church which strictly maintained the principles of the Covenanters. He was one of the ablest and most devoted ministers of the body, and I have heard him preach both in Kilmarnock and at New Cumnock though that, of course, was years after his appearance at the lonely Priesthill. To hear him discourse on the New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse, and on the words "There shall be no night there," was both a religious and an intellectual treat which more than seventy years has not been able to efface.

      In John Brown's time, and especially in the later years of his life, the secluded homestead of Priesthill afforded a frequent shelter for the outlawed Covenanters. Weird, prophetic, and saintly Alexander Peden often passed the night there when the storm raved loud among the hills. The youthful James Renwick, of unfading fame, also frequently rested his weary limbs there when the Winter night fell upon the moor and the wind was roaring. Everyone, indeed, who had thrown in his lot with the cause of the Covenant received shelter and food and found rest and encouragement in that moorland dwelling. The cottage has long since disappeared, but the spot is still a place of pious pilgrimage to many not only at home but to multitudes from far lands beyond the seas.

      The first time that I visited this Bethel of the Ayrshire hills was in midwinter many years ago, when snow lay deep in many of the gloomy ravines. I approached it from the north. Going up the lonely Dipple Burn for a short distance and, then striking southeast, I had passed it before I was aware. Looking back, however, 1 saw the lone monumental pillar away to the west of where I had wandered. I was soon at the spot, and after examining the memorial stones I have described, and a third and much smaller one with this inscription: They that honour Ale 1 will honour, and they that despise Me shall be lightly esteemed " (I Sam. ii. 3o), I found myself singing the 137th Psalm, beginning

      By Babel streams we sat and wept,

      to the grand but mournful tune of Coleshill." As I did so I thought how often of old ',these strains which once did sweet in Zion glide " had been wafted away on the hill breezes from the lips of John Brown and his household. I then traced the little fauld dyke or garden, and the site of the ruined cot where nightly John Brown and his family had knelt to worship God. The hearth was cold and silent now, and there the very mole, now without fear or molestation, had dug its hole. Then I looked beyond and pictured to myself the way that ' the despot's champion, bloody Graham," must have come and gone that day when he dipped his hands in the blood of God's dear saint.

      Many times since have I conducted pious and patriotic pilgrims from far lands to this sacred spot, upon which none of them ever gazed unmoved.

      In all that has been written about Robert Burns I have never so much as seen it surmised that he the poet of all time had Covenanting blood in his veins. Yet since reading the reminiscences of Ramsay of Ochtertyre, whom Burns visited during his tour in the north, I am fully convinced that, on the mother's side, Burns was a direct descendant of John Brown of Priesthill.

      In the course of their conversation Ramsay relates how Burns attributed his inclination at times to lean to the Jacobite side to the fact that some of his paternal ancestors had suffered for siding with the Pretender's party in their ill fated risings. On the other hand, his feelings, he said, led him to take the side of the Covenanters, because that one of his maternal ancestors had been slain on Ayrsmoss by the persecutors of the men of the Covenant. Now, who could this maternal ancestor of Burns' be but a son of John Brown of Priesthill? Bear in mind that the maiden name of the mother of Burns was Agnes Brown, who was married to William Burness on 15 th December 1757, and that Robert Burns, their son, was born in 1759, only seventy four years after the martyrdom of John Brown of Priesthill.

      We know that at the time of his murder John Brown had a son, then in the mother's arms, and that she was about to be delivered of another child, who, for anything we know, may also have been a son. Burns, therefore, must have been a descendant and not at all a remote one of the martyr of Priesthill. This is the more certain as, among all the other Covenanters who were put to death on or near to Ayrsmoss, there is not another of the name of Brown. None of the nine who fell with Cameron in the fierce and desperate fight on Ayrsmoss bore that name. The martyr of Wellwood was named William Adam. The martyr shot by the wayside when sick and resting a little way out of the then village of Muirkirk, was named Smith. Who, then, could this maternal ancestor of Robert Burns be but a descendant Of John Brown of Priesthill? It was this ancestor who inspired him spontaneously to say, when he heard of the Covenanters and their noble struggle for liberty slightingly spoken of

      The solemn League and Covenant

      Cost Scotland blood, cost Scotland tears;

      But it scaled Freedom's sacred cause,

      If thou'rt a slave, indulge thy sneers.

      This near and undoubted relationship between Ayrshire's most revered martyr and Scotland's greatest and most popular poet ought to attach a fresh and a deeper interest to both.

  • Sources 
    1. [S00029] One World Tree (sm), Ancestry.com, (Name: Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., n.d.;).
      Online publication - Ancestry.com. OneWorldTree [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc.




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