History Shorts

Submitted to the Clan Muirhead Facebook page by Bob Morehead


Critically important piece of history. This battle is the reason a significant branch of our family is in the United States. From my personal research:

From the 1630s until about 1685, Scotland was in turmoil. First Anglican and then Catholic kings had insisted on imposing their worship on the staunchly Presbyterian lowlanders. These lowlanders, in turn, signed “Covenants,” which demanded the freedom of the Scottish church.

A series of battles and skirmishes ensued and the Covenants subsumed the Muirheads, including the Provost of Glasgow himself, John Muirhead of Lauchope, and his brother, James.

In 1679, a week after an astonishing victory, the Convenanting forces gathered at Bothwell Brig, a covered bridge outside Glasgow, and prepared to do battle with John Graham of Claverhouse, the nobleman commissioned by the king to squelch the Covenants. As the battle commenced, the Covenanting forces opened what they thought were their powder barrels and found, instead, raisins. The disgraced Covenanters were arrested and marched in chains all the way to Dunnottar Castle and then to the Tollbooth at Leith, near Edinburgh.

In 1685, King James VII offered the imprisoned Covenanters a reprieve if they signed an oath of allegiance to the crown. Most refused. A man named George Scott, Laird of Pittochie, was promised liberty and a gift of about 100 prisoners as his slaves or indentured servants if he transported them to eastern New Jersey before September of 1686. If he failed in any measure, he would be penalized 500 marks.

Pittochie chartered a 350-ton ship of 20 great guns named the Henry and Francis, captained by Richard Hutton, for the job. Into this ship, in much the manner of slaves in a galley, Pittochie crammed 125 of the tollbooth prisoners, along with a few others who shipped off to America voluntarily. The ship sailed out on Sept. 5, 1685.

The prisoners were treated brutally. As they prayed in their Presbyterian manner, the crew would spit on them or throw garbage on them through the grating on the deck. Crammed as they were in close quarters, disease was prevalent. Thirty-one did not survive the voyage. Ironically, Pittochie and his wife were among the casualties. Pittochie’s son-in-law, John Johnstone, took charge and urged the “passengers” to indenture themselves for four years in New Jersey to pay off the expense incurred by Pittochie. Instead, they filed a protest against their exile and cruel treatment.

During the voyage, which lasted three months, the ship twice sprung a leak, fever broke out and the food grew rancid. The captain urged Johnstone to alter course and go to Jamaica or Virginia instead, where the prisoners could more easily be disposed of. A change of wind forced the continuation to New Jersey.

Landing at Perth Amboy, in New Jersey, in December, 1685, the Covenanters were not welcomed by the people on the coast. Inland, however, they found homes.

Johnstone had them all cited to enforce the indentureship promised to Pittochie. The court ruled that since the Covenanters did not board the ship voluntarily nor bargain for their passage in any way, they were not indentured. They scattered throughout New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and eastern Pennsylvania.

James Muirhead vanishes from history at this point, but his brother John settled first in Jamaica, Long Island, where he married Rebecca Bayless, and later moved to Hopewell Township, New Jersey. In 1714, he became the first sheriff of Burlington County and built the first jail, just south of Pennington. He had served as an elder and trustee at the Pennington Presbyterian Church and was buried there in Janurary, 1725, at the Ewing Churchground.

John and Rebecca had 10 children.