Janet Douglas

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For several years there had been a remarkable lull in the spiritual world, and, whether from the judicious mildness of the government in ordering that no women should be condemned for witchcraft except upon voluntary confession, or any other cause, witch cases had wholly ceased. All at once, the devil’s work recommenced, and a series of dismal tragedies ensued. It seems to have been primarily owing to a vagrant girl named Janet Douglas, who appeared deaf and dumb, and who may be reasonably set down as one of those singular young persons who, acting under a morbid love of mischief, have at the same time marvellous powers of deception.

Sir George Maxwell of Pollock had for some weeks been very unwell, with a pain in his side and one in his shoulder. The illness had first come upon him suddenly in the night, when at Glasgow, in the form of a violent heat, attended with pain. At the time noted in the margin, Janet Douglas came to the neighbouring village, and began to frequent Pollock House. Attracting the attention of Sir George’s sister and daughter, she endeavoured to apprise them by signs that, at a certain cottage not far oft’, there was a picture of wax turning at a fire; and she expressed in her imperfect way a wish that a couple of men should go with her thither. Lady Maxwell, not being inclined to superstition, would have denied the girl’s request; but the two other gentlewomen consented. So Janet went away with two men-servants, and straight conducted them to the cottage of an old woman of evil fame, named Janet Mathie, whose son the laird had some time before imprisoned for stealing his fruit. ‘She going in with the men, the woman on some occasion stepping to the door, the dumb lass instantly put her hand behind the chimney, and takes out a picture of wax wrapped in a linen cloth, gives it to the men; away they all come with it, and let the gentlewomen see it. They find two pins stuck in the right side of it, and a pin on the shoulder downward, which they take out, and keeps quiet; and that night the bird had good rest, and mended afterward, though slowly, for he was sore brought down in his body: and in two or three days they made him understand the matter. The woman is apprehended, and laid up in prison in Paisley! On being searched, several witch-marks—that is, spots insensible to pain—were found upon her.

On the 4th of January, Sir George’s illness recurred with the same violence as before, and his face assumed the leaden hue of death. Amidst the anxieties which this occasioned, the dumb girl sent to inform the family that John Stewart, Mathie’s son, had made a new image of clay, for the purpose of taking away Sir George’s life. Two gentlemen went next day with the girl to Mathie’s cottage, and keeping her at a distance, but acting under her directions, found such an image under the bolster of a bed, with three pins sticking in it. The young man and his sister Annaple were immediately apprehended. From that day, it was said that Sir George began to recover his health.

Stewart at first denied all concern in the images, but, on witch-marks being found on his person, he was ‘confounded,’ and joined his sister in a confession, which described witch-conventions in their mother’s house, along with ‘a man dressed in black, with a blue band and white hand-cuffs, with hoggars over his bare feet, which were cloven!’ Three women of the neighbourhood, Bessie Weir, Margaret Jackson, and Marjory Craig, were accordingly apprehended and examined, when the second gave a confession to much the same effect, but the other two proved ‘obdurate.’

In the subsequent judicial proceedings, Annaple Stewart gave a clear statement regarding the making of the first wax image in October last in the presence of the Black Man, her mother, and the other three women. They bound it on a spit, and turned it round before the fire, saying: ‘Sir George Pollock! Sir George Pollock!’ The young man, who was not then at home, had returned and been present at the making of the second image in January. ‘After he had gone to bed, the Black Man came in, and called him quietly by his name, upon which he arose from the bed and put on his clothes. Margaret Jackson, Bessie Weir, and Marjory Craig did enter in at the window in the gable. The first thing that the Black Man required was that he should renounce his baptism and deliver up himself wholly unto him, putting one of his hands on the crown of his head, and the other to the sole of his foot . . . promising he should not want any pleasure, and that he should get his heart sythe on all that should do him wrong. (All having given their consent to the making of the clay image, which was meant as a revenge for Sir George Maxwell taking away his mother), they wrought the clay, and the Black Man did make the head and face, and the two arms. The devil set three pins in the same, one in each side, and one in the breast; and John did hold the candle all the time the picture was making The picture was placed by Bessie Weir in his bed-straw.’ On this occasion, they had all had nicknames given them by the devil, who himself bore the name of Ejool.

It is noted that when the girl, after confession in bed in Pollock House, was asked what the devil’s name had been to her, ‘she, being about to tell, was stopped, the bed being made to shake, and her clothes under her blown up with a wind.’

When the two young people had been committed to Paisley prison, Janet, their mother, desired to see her son, and the request being granted, ‘they make a third and new picture of clay, which the dumb lass again discovers.’ It was supposed that this was intended for Sir George’s daughter-in-law, who had taken an active interest in detecting the diabolic conspiracy, and who fell ill about this time.

In consideration of her nonage and penitency, Annaple Stewart was not brought to trial, though retained in prison. On the 15th of February, the rest of the party were tried and condemned, Janet Mathie, Bessie Weir, and Marjory Craig continuing to deny their guilt to the last. The obduracy of Mathie was considered the more horrible, as her two children seriously exhorted her to confession, Annaple with tears reminding her of her many meetings with the devil, but all in vain. The four women and the boy actually suffered in Paisley (20th February). Mathie was first hanged, and then burned, along with the wax and clay effigies. When Weir, the last of the four, was turned off the gallows, ‘there appears a raven, and approaches the hangman within an ell of him, and flies away again.’—Law.

it is perhaps the most singular fact regarding this case, that the particulars of it are narrated with all seriousness by Sir George’s son and successor, Sir John Maxwell, who was subsequently Lord Justice-clerk—that is, supreme criminal judge in Scotland. He intimates not the least doubt of any of the facts, neither of any of the popular inferences from them. Other intelligent men in that age were struck by the manner in which the doings of the witches were detected, and Janet Douglas was for some time the subject of general attention. In the same month which saw the witches done to death on Paisley green, she detected a similar conspiracy against Mr Hugh Smith, the minister of Eastwood, who ‘was much afflicted with pain and sweating, to the changing of half-a-dozen shirts some days, and was brought very low, but after the discovery, and the effigy gotten, and the prins taken out, grew well again.’ It was given out regarding the girl, that she understood any language in which she was addressed. When she had somewhat recovered the use of her own tongue, which was about two months after these events, she told that three years before, she had had ‘an impression on her spirit’ to come to Pollock. ‘Being asked how she had knowledge of detecting witches and other secrets, she declared that she knew not from what spirit; only things were suggested to her; but denied that she had any correspondence with Satan.’—Law.

According to Sir John Lauder, she stated that ‘she had all things revealed to her in her sleep by vision.’ This learned gentleman adds: ‘What made her very suspect to be haunted only by a familiar, was her dissolute idle life, having. . . . not so much as a show or semblance of piety in it, but much lightness and vanity."

The Privy Council, hearing much rumour of these things from the west, sent orders to search for and apprehend Janet Douglas, and she was brought to Edinburgh in May, and lodged in the Canongate Tolbooth. People flocked to see her, and she began to exercise her art of witch-finding amongst them, but with no particular effect. In June, nevertheless, five or six women of the west, whom she had detected in killing Hamilton of Barns by a wax image, were burned for their imaginary crime at Dumbarton. Next month we find a reference to her in another case.

Dr Mark Jardine tells the story thus:
In the summer of 1677, Janet Douglas, a fourteen-year-old ‘dumb girle’ who had been involved in discovering witches, was interviewed, probably in Glasgow Tolbooth, At that time, Douglas was believed to have the second sight. However, the authorities had begun to think that Douglas was ‘a snare for the country’ and that her ongoing discoveries were getting out of hand.


A few years later, an account of the interview was sent to the mathematician, George Sinclair, from ‘a discreet understanding gentle-man who was one of my Scholars at Glasgow several years agoe.’ Sinclair included it in Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, which he published in 1685.

‘A Short Information anent Jennet Douglas.

Edinburgh, Octob: 8th. 1684. For Mr. Sinclar.

When I was at Glasgow in the Summer, 1677. I was desirous to see the Dumb Girle, whom you mention in your first Relation. At my first incoming she declined to entertain discourse, but by friendly expressions, and giving her some money, I gained her.

I first inquired anent her Parentage? I do not remember (says she) of my Parents, but only that I was called by the name of Jennet Douglas by all People who knew me. I was keeped, when I was very young by a poor woman that proved cruel to me, by beating, and abusing me, whereupon I deserted the Womans house, and went a begging.

I enquired next, how she became Dumb? She told me, by reason of a sore swelling she tooke in her Throat and tongue; but afterwards, by the Application of Album Grćcum, [a medicine that is said to have been the whitish hardened turds of dogs, wolves etc. from eating bones which when mized with honey was used for sore throats or inflamations,] which I thought said she was revealed to me, I recovered my speech [in April, 1677].

I asked her, how she came to the knowledge of Witches and their practises? She answered, that she had it only by vision, and knew all things as well this way, as if she had been personally present with them, but had no revelation, or information from the voice of any Spirit. Nor had she any communication with the Devil, or any Spirit of that kind: only (sayes she) the Devil was represented to me, when he was in company with any of the Witches, in that same shape and habit he was seen by them.

She told me, she was altogether ignorant of the Principles of Christian Religion, but had some smattering knowledge of the Lords Prayer, which she had heard the Witches repeat (it seems by her vision) in presence of the Devil; and at his desire (which they observed) they added to the word Art, the letter W, which made it run, our father which wart in heaven, and made the third Petition thus, as on earth, so it may in heaven, by which means the Devil made the application of the Prayer to himself.

I remember, that one day, their was a woman in the town who had the curiosity, to give her a visit, who asked her how she came to the knowledge of so many things? But the young Wench shifted her, by asking the Womans name. She told her name. Says the other, are there any other in Glasgow of that name? No sayes the Woman. Then said the Girle, you are a Witch; Says the other, then you are a Devil. The Girle answers, the Devil doth not reveal Witches. But I know you to be one, and I know your practises too. Hereupon the Woman run away in great confusion, being indeed a Person suspected of Witchcraft, and had been some time imprisoned upon that account.

Another Woman, whose name was Campbel had the curiosity likewise to come and see her, and began to ask some questions at her. The Wench shifting to give her an answer, says I pray you tell me, where were you yesternight, and what were you doing? And withall (says she) let me see your arm. She refusing, the Land-Lord, laid hold upon the Woman, with some others of the house, and forced her to make bare her arm, where Jennet Douglas shewed them an invisible mark, which she had gotten from the Devil. The poor Woman much ashamed run home, and a little time after, she came out and told her Neighbours, that what Jennet Douglas had said of her was true, and earnestly entreated them that they would shew so much to the Magistrates, that she might be apprehended, otherwise the Devil (says she) will make me kill my self. But the Neighbours judging her to be under a fit of distraction, carried her home to her house. But early the next morning, the Woman was found drowned in Clyde.

The Girle likewise told me at Glasgow, being then under no restraint, that it was revealed her, she would be carried before the Great Council at Edinburgh, imprisoned there, and scourged thorow the town. All which came to pass: for about a year after she was apprehended, and imprisoned in the Tolbuith of the Canongate, and was brought before the Council. But nothing being found against her, she was dismist. But thereafter for several crimes committed within the town of Edinburgh, she was taken again, and imprisoned, scourged, and sent away to some forrainge Plantation, since which time, I have not heard of her.

There are several other remarkable passages of her which I cannot informe you of, which others perhaps may do, therefore I shall abruptly break off, and say no more, but that I am your affectionat Friend.’ (Sinclair, Satan’s Invisible World Discovered, 203-7.)

What appears ro be the same interview was recorded by the Reverend John Fraser in his Treatise Containing a Description of Deuteroscopia, Commonly Called the Second Sight (1707):

‘I know assuredly that Janet Dowglas, that was first a Dumbie, yet spoke thereafter, who had given many Responses by Signs and Words, and foretold many future events, being examined by Mr Gray one of the Ministers of the City of Glasgow, denyed any explicit or implicit Paction [with the Devil], and declared freely that the answers of the questions proponed to her were represented by a Vision in lively Images, representing persons concerned and acting the thing, before her Eyes; This Master Gray exchanged several Discourses in writ with Sir James Turner, concerning her.’ (Fraser’s text is reproduced in Hunter, Occult Laboratory, 196-7.)

As Hunter points out, ‘Master Gray’ was probably John Gray (d.1729), who after the interview in 1684 became the minister of the Collegiate church in the burgh in 1693 and the Wynd church in 1700. Gray was also probably the ‘discreet gentle-man’ who corresponded with Sinclair, as he had studied at the University of Glasgow. (Scott, Fasti, III, 432, 451.)

Two sons of Douglas of Barloch having been drowned in crossing a river at one time, the father was induced by Janet Douglas to believe that the calamity was an effect of witchcraft. Barloch consequently caused John Gray, Janet M’Nair, Thomas and Mary Mitchell, to be apprehended and carried to Stirling Tolbooth. There, ‘their bodies being searched by the ordinar pricker, there were witch-marks found upon each of them, and Janet M’Nair confessed that she got these marks from the grip of a grim black man, and bed a great pain for a time thereafter.’ After keeping these four persons in jail on his own charges for fourteen weeks, Barloch found the expense more than he was able to undergo, ‘being but a gentleman of a mean fortune;’ and on his petition, the Council ordered (July 5, 1677) that the magistrates of Stirling should in the meantime ‘entertein the prisoners.’ Against this ordinance, the magistrates immediately reclaimed, ‘seeing it is a great burden to the town, who have so many other contingencies to undergo;’ and the lords, reconsidering the matter, commissioned the Lairds of Kier, Touch, and Herbertshire, to examine the prisoners, and ‘try what they find anent these persons’ guilt of the crime of witchcraft, and report.’

What was ultimately done with the four Stirling prisoners, we do not learn. As to Janet Douglas, the Council began to feel that she was something of an inconvenience in the country; so they determined to banish her beyond seas. At first, no skipper could be found who was willing to take her in his vessel; some were disposed to set sail without a pass, to avoid being compelled to take such a dangerous commodity on board. But Janet was ultimately banished for being a cheat and an imposter and heard of no more.

And more:
A lengthy letter from the Reverend George Hickes to diarist Samuel Pepys gives the best history of young Janet. Hickes states that Janet was born in the Scottish Highlands in the middle of the 17th century.

At the age of 11, she journeyed to Glasgow (apparently alone) and told a gathered crowd where evil objects called “images” were located that were the causes of their misfortune. Hikes wrote:

“…As she was surrounded, she called out to one man, a goldsmith…and told him that of so long a time he had not been [successful] in his trade, though he was very diligent in it, [was] because an image was made against him, which he might find in such a corner of his shop; and when the man went home, there he found it where she said it was and the image was such both as to matter and form as she had described it…a little rude image made of clay.”

After destroying it, the goldsmith enjoyed success thereafter.

Because of the excitement of the crowd, and for her own safety, Janet was kept in protective custody in the Glasgow jail. When she traveled to Edinburgh in 1678, she was again placed in jail for the same reasons.

While in Edinburgh, Reverend Hickes interviewed Janet about her powers and life. She would tell nothing of her parentage or early life but merely repeated certain statements about her “gift.” Her vocabulary seemed to indicate some education, although Janet claimed to be an ordinary girl from the Highlands. Janet Douglas said she did not know where her paranormal powers came from. Hickes wrote Pepys that overall he found Janet to be a “bold, undaunted spirit” and “a girl of very great assurance.”
Historian Robert Wodrow recounts possibly a final tale, maybe more folklore than fact, in his 18th century book “Analecta”: “Archbishop Sharpe, presiding in the Privy Council, was earnest to have Janet Douglas brought before that board, accusing her of sorcery and witchcraft. When she was brought, she vindicated herself, for she was endeavoring to discover those secret hellish plots, and to countermine the kingdom of darkness. The Archbishop insisted she might be sent away to the King’s plantations in the West Indies. She only dropt one word to the Bishop: ‘My Lord,’ says she, ‘who was with you in your [room] Saturday night last, betwixt twelve and one o’clock?’ upon which the Bishop changed his countenance, and turned black and pale, and then no more was said. When the council rose up, the Duke of Rothes called Janet into a room, and inquired at her privately ‘who was that person that was with the Bishop?’ She refused at first, but he promising upon his word of honour to warrant her at all hands, and that she should not be sent to America, she says: ‘My Lord, it was the…black devil!'”

After Edinburgh, Janet vanished into the shadows. Did she, as she had promised Hickes, journey to England after her release in Edinburgh? Did she return home to the Highlands? Regardless of her life after Edinburgh, in the history of Scots who claim to have possessed Second Sight, Janet is a notable Seer who was as mysterious as the powers she appeared to have.

Whether this is the same Janet Douglas, I do not know, bue Janet is reported to have married a minister:
John Murdoch and Janet Douglas both married persons, were tried in 1699, for one act of adultery. The libel was restricted., and they were banished for life.

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