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Covenanter Stories – No 9. David Hackston



David Hackston was born in Rathillet, in Fife.  Little is known of his early life, but most of the histories record that he had little interest in spiritual matters until manhood, when he was converted under the ministry of the field preachers.

He first appeared in history at the murder of Archbishop Sharp in 1679.  Hackston, along with his fellow Covenanters had been out on the moors seeking to punish Carmichael when they happened upon the archbishop.  The incident is recorded in section two.  Hackston, although present at the scene of the crime was not actually involved in the deed; he was nevertheless blamed by the government, and considered to have been the ringleader.

At Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge, Hackston fought for the Covenanters.  At Bothwell he was the commander responsible for the defence of the bridge, and was reluctant to leave his position, even when ordered to retreat.  His final battle was at Ayres Moss, where the militia encountered him along with Cameron.  He marshalled his meagre troops to fight the King’s men, but the battle went badly against him.  Cameron was killed, and Hackston, bleeding severely from head wounds and almost dead was taken to Edinburgh.  Along with others he was marched barefoot to Lanark where Dalziel, who threatened to roast him alive on a gridiron if he did not reveal the names of others, interrogated him.  Hackston said nothing, and Dalziel, realising that the man would quickly die if tortured, and not willing to deprive the state of an execution, ordered that the Covenanter should be taken on to Edinburgh.  Along with others, who had been captured at Ayresmoss, Hackston was brought to the Capital on bareback horse, sitting facing the tail, with his feet tied underneath.

In the tolbooth, Hackston wrote to friends regarding his condition, and he remained faithful to God despite being in terrible pain.  He appeared before the Justiciary twice, and was sentenced to die.  The sentence was a fearful one.  He was dragged backwards to the gallows, where his right hand was severed, his left being struck off a period of time afterwards.[1]  He was then hoisted to the top of the gallows, where he was hanged until at the point of asphyxiation, and then lowered again.  The hangman then cut out his heart and bowels, while Hackston was still alive, and held up his heart for all to see.  It is said that his heart was still fluttering as the hangman displayed it to the crowds on the end of his knife.  The executioner shouted to the people, “Here is the heart of a traitor.”

The indignity was not yet over.  Hackston’s head was severed and put on display on the Netherbow, while the rest of his body was quartered and displayed in towns throughout the region as a warning to others.

Hackston was a warrior among the Covenanters, and as a warrior he died.  He did not complain, and when informed of his sentence, did not bend or back down, but told his tormentors that they were the tyrants who had shamed Scotland and persecuted Christ’s Church.

[1] The hangman made such a poor job of hacking off his right hand that Hackston pleaded for his left to be severed at the joint, and this was done.

From → Covenanters

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