Of Witches And Warrants
by James A. McQuiston, FSAScot
As some of you may know, I have written a couple of books about the Oak Island, Nova Scotia, mystery during 2017. The first is available on Amazon and from other online and brick and mortar store locations. It is called Oak Island Missing Links, and deals with pragmatic, logical answers to many questions surrounding Oak Island and Nova Scotian legends. The second book, entitled Oak Island 1632, is not available yet, due to a non-disclosure agreement, although I am "this close" to pushing the publish button. The cover is shown here.
The Curse of Oak Island TV Show is due to return to the History Channel on November 7, 2017, for Season Five. After that begins to air, the path should be clear to publish this second book. Meanwhile, the first book provides a lot of great reading and background, plus answers to several age-old mysteries.
I can at least present a passage from the book that deals with a purported case of witchcraft. This is a true story and takes place just as witch hunts were taking hold in Scotland. It deals with Sir George Home.
Home was chosen to gather settlers and supplies for a proposed Scottish settlement in Nova Scotia to begin in 1628. Instead, the settlers made it there in 1629, but were forced to leave in 1632.
George was in the midst of a financial struggle with his wife and the short end of it is that he took this new job to avoid being labeled a "rebel," in this case someone who didn't pay their bills, but perhaps also to avoid the treachery that was said to have been carried out against him by witches. And so he accompanied William Alexander Jr. to Nova Scotia as second in command, to establish a settlement conceived by Sir William Alexander Sr. a close confidant and Privy Council member to the king.
I'll let the passage from my Oak Island 1632 book tell the rest of the tale. But first, I would like everyone to know that I have put hundreds of hours into these two books drawing on every resource I have, from Templar historians in Scotland and clans histories that I've studied, along with three trips to Scotland. I've also been to Nova Scotia twice, including to Oak Island, and also to a private library that holds many old books and maps not made available to the general public.
I am a Fellow with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, nominated because of my many years of research and writing. I have taken this subject very seriously, and what you will find in my two books is not available as such anywhere else.
Here's the short excerpt from my book, all based on actual historical records and logical conclusions:
William Alexander Jr. left Nova Scotia in 1631. He put Sir George Home of Manderston in charge of the settlers there. George was once a well-to-do country gentleman who had married into wealth. He arranged for his wife to partition off part of her property in the name of his son Alexander, with the caveat that she would control ownership of the land for the balance of her life.
Both George and his son Alexander had been knighted and seemed to be upstanding men – that is until George’s debts began to grow. His wife soon realized that she would likely lose her right to the land if it was sold to pay off George’s debts. This was, in fact, George’s plan, and apparently his only option.
She chased George out of the house and threatened his undoing if he didn’t leave her estate alone. He, in turn, accused her of witchcraft.
One Alexander Hamilton was, at the time, being accused of being a warlock. It was common for people like him, who were typically falsely accused, to accuse others in hopes of leniency. Hamilton was imprisoned at the Old Tolbooth in Edinburgh, where George Home was one of the men who took down his testimony against the others.
One of the “others” accused was Mrs. George Home, otherwise known as Lady Manderston, George’s own wife. The husband and wife were known to be on bad terms, and the charge that Hamilton brought against the lady was that she used “devilish practices” against the life of her husband. When specifically interrogated, Hamilton admitted that his only grounds for making the charge was a statement of one John Neil, of Tweedmouth. Hamilton was “sent to his account,” but his informant, John Neil, was carefully looked after and lodged in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, at least for awhile.
In March of 1631, a case occurs which throws some light upon an affair in which Sir George Home of Manderston was purported to be the intended victim.
John Neil, of Tweedmouth, was then brought forward and tried for sorcery and witchcraft. Amongst other things, he was charged with “meeting with the devil and other witches at Coldingham Law, and consulting how Sir George Home of Manderston might be destroyed, to that end getting ane enchanted dead foal, and putting it in Sir George’s stable, under his horse’s manger and putting a dead hand enchanted by the devil in Sir George’s garden in Berwick; by which enchantments Sir George contracted a grievous disease, of which he could not be recovered till the said foal and hand were discovered and bunt (blunted or cleared).”
John Neil was found guilty.
Though the accusation didn’t cause Lady Manderston much difficulty, it did buy time for George Home to work at relieving his debt load, and to aid Sir William Alexander Sr. in making arrangements for the voyage to Nova Scotia.
George and his son Alexander received protection from the king to travel to Scotland to resolve legal issues, and in George’s case, to gather settlers and supplies for William Alexander. He may have felt, in the middle of this insanity, that Nova Scotia was a better place to be.
His protection issued by King Charles I is recorded in the Privy Council minutes in this fashion:
Forsameekle as the Kings Majestie being informed that there hes beene some devilish practises of witchecraft used by certane persouns aganis Sir George Home of Manderstoun, his Majestie has beene pleased by his letter direct to the Lords of Secreit Counsell to signifie his will and pleasure for a protectioun to be grantit to the said Sir Greorge to the intent he may repaire in publict for the better cleering of the truthe of that bussines; thairfoir the Lords of Secreit Counsell according to the practising directioun of his Majesteis said letter, whilk wes this day exhibite before him thame, hes givin and grantit, and be the tennour heirof gives and grants libertie and warrand to the said Sir George Home for his saulffe repaire in the countrie without danger of the law for the purpose and to the effect above writtin untill the twentie day of Januarie next, discharging in the meane tyme all shireffs, Stewarts, bailleis of regaliteis, and their deputs, provests and bailleis within burgh, and all others his Majesteis Judges, officiars, and mistrats, to burgh and land, and als all officiars of armes, of all taking, apprehending, warding or arresting of the said Sir George.
This got George off the hook for awhile, but evidence seems to indicate that he never did come back to Scotland to settle his debts. Another record shows a supplication by Sir George Home , as follows – “Sir William Alexander has ‘imployed him in some charge anent the plantation of Nova Scotia’ and sent him to Scotland to list men and provide victuals, and other things necessary therefor. He is here to follow out the same, but some of his creditors threaten him with horning, so that he cannot go about his duties without licence from their Lordships. This he therefore craves.”
“Horning” meant requiring a debtor to pay his debts or be branded a rebel. Home was eventually branded a rebel and warrants were issued for his arrest.
The last we hear of George Home, Baronet of Nova Scotia, in Privy Council records, is when his son makes a bid for freedom to return to Scotland to sell their land to pay the family’s debts, and states that his father cannot return to this land because he is branded a rebel. I could find no further information on George Home except for one record that said he died in 1636.
It is at least possible that George Home, leader of the Scots of Nova Scotia during the absence of William Alexander Jr., decided to stay right where he was, safe from witches and warrants.