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Covenanter Stories – No.2, John Brown


We continue the series of lifestories of Covenanter Worthies by looking at the ‘Christian Carrier’ – John Brown.

John Brown, of Priesthill, known as ‘the Christian Carrier’ was a humble peasant crofter, whose life was taken by Claverhouse, for the cause of the Covenant, at his own farm, and in front of his wife and children. Brown lived at Priesthill, a small croft, along the Strathaven Road, just north of Muirkirk. Although the farmhouse itself is long gone, a small monument marks the site where the murder took place; about two and a half miles walk from the public road. The farm was never prosperous, and Brown would have owned little more than a cow and a few sheep. For this reason, perhaps, he also acted as a carrier, for being a fit man; he was able to take parcels by packhorse to inaccessible areas of the countryside.

Brown was not a minister, nor even a preacher. He suffered a speech impediment, which would have made such a calling impossible. However, Brown did run a Bible class for young boys at his home. By summer he taught his students in the sheepfold, and by winter in the barn. Many illegal Covenanter services were held at Priesthill, and many of the hillmen lodged there from time to time.

It is recorded that when he married his second wife, Isabel Weir, the marriage was solemnised, at his own home, by Alexander Peden, who was a close friend. Following the ceremony, Peden warned Isabel Brown that she would not enjoy her husband’s company for long, and that she should always keep fresh linen close to hand, to wrap the body.

In 1680, Brown was reported for not attending the curate’s services at the parish of Sorn, where he lived at the time. The Session minutes of the time record that Brown had stated most clearly that he regarded the minister of Sorn as one of those who kept company with Indulged Ministers, that the minister paid cess to the government, and that the true messenger of Jesus Christ (Richard Cameron) was lying under the muirs at Ayres Moss.

On 1st May 1685, Peden stayed the night with the Browns, and on leaving early the next morning, turned to Isabel Brown and said, “Poor Woman! A fearful morning – a dark misty morning.” After morning prayers, Brown and his nephew, John Browning left the home to go to cut peat in the hills, and shortly after leaving the house, found themselves surrounded by troops, under the command of John Graham of Claverhouse. Brown was questioned as to why he did not attend the services of the curates, and why so many Covenanters stayed at his house. Browning was shamefully treated. He was questioned, sentenced to death, then reprieved (Why was Browning temporarily reprieved? Edwin Moore in ‘Our Covenant Heritage’ Pg 116, argues that Browning had actually attempted to avoid his uncle’s fate by confessing his involvement in the attempted jailbreak at Newmilns and giving the names of fellow Covenanters. If this is so, then he paid dearly for his treachery, for within a few short days he learned the depths of perfidy to which the enemy could sink, and that to his own cost.) and taken into custody by Lt. Gen. William Drummond, later to be hanged at Mauchline Loan, on 6th May.

Brown was asked to swear the oath of allegiance, which of course he refused. It is recorded that when Brown was answering Claverhouse, his stammer left him. So much so that Clavers asked his lieutenant whether Brown had ever preached. The Lieutenant testified that he had not.

Janet Brown, John’s young daughter, had witnessed the arrest and she had gone to fetch Isabel. In front of Brown’s wife, daughter, and baby son, Claverhouse ordered the crofter to go to his prayers. Much to Clavers’ annoyance, the prayer continued for some time, shouting that he had given time to pray, not to preach. Brown’s reply was that Clavers would not know the difference! Claverhouse ordered his troops to shoot Brown, but they refused, and having run out of patience with the situation, Clavers himself drew his pistol and shot the Covenanter dead.

Isabel went to her dead husband, and cradled his head in her lap. Clavers asked her, “Well, what do you think of your husband now?” She replied, “I ay thocht muckle o’ him, but now more than ever.” Clavers threatened to put her beside her husband, and she challenged him as to how he would answer before God for his days work.

Clavers answered with characteristic arrogance, “To man I am answerable, as for God, I will take Him into my own hand.” Later, he confessed that he suffered nightmares because of the final words of John Brown.

Peden was about ten miles away when the murder happened. He was with a Christian family named Muirhead. They were fellowshipping in prayer, when Peden cried to the Lord, “Lord, when wilt Thou avenge Brown’s blood.” John Muirhead asked Peden what he had meant, and Peden replied, “I mean that Claverhouse has been at Priesthill, and has cruelly murdered John Brown. His corpse is lying at the end of the house, his poor wife sitting by it, with not a soul to speak comfortably to her.”

Isabel Brown sat with her dead husband until found in that position by Jean Brown, a widow; whose own husband and two sons had suffered a similar fate.

From → Covenanters

One Comment
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