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.

Legends (Submitted by Woodie Muirhead)

There are multiple legends about the surname Muirhead. Although some of the legends differ in context, they all represent an act of strength and in most cases, bravery.
Ray Jerome Muirhead1 describes three legends associated the surname Muirhead. One legend is about a robber named Bertram de Schotts, who is said to have terrorized parts of Scotland. The Laird of Muirhead - William Muirhead - killed de Schotts and delivered the robber’s head to the king. As a reward the Laird was given lands, which were called “Lauchope”. In addition, Muirhead was given a coat of “arms showing three acorns in the seed, on the bend dexter; for crest two hands supporting a sword in pale proper; and the motto Auxilie Dei…
”A similar legend from the same book tells of two Muirhead brothers who were part of a posse that pursued a criminal of great size. One of the Muirhead brothers killed him and delivered his head to Edinburgh. The Muirhead who performed this deed was given money, land, and a title.
The third legend involves the killing and cutting off the head of a rabid bull by a John Muir. Because John Muir lived on the top of a hill or hill-head (as opposed to another John Muir who lived at the bottom of the hill), he became known as John Muirhead.
There are also legends about other surnames originating from a Muirhead. Alexander Nisbet2 provides one of these legends about the surname Stark: “by saving King James IV from a bull in the forest of Cumbernauld, by one of the name of Muirhead, who, for his strength, was called Stark ; and, to show his descent from Muirhead, he carries the armorial figures of Muirhead, with a bull's head, viz. azure, a cheveron between three acorns in chief or, for Muirhead, and a bull's head erased in base of the second.”
J.B. Alexander3 describes a legend about the surname Polk: “On a certain great occasion, way back in the misty past, a king of Scotland was marching at the head of an immense procession, when a small oak shrub appeared directly in front of his majesty, to which one of his king’s attendance, by the name of Muirhead, a man of great physical strength, sprang forward, and with a Herculean effort tore it up by the roots and bore it out of the way. Such an act of gallantry prompted the king to order a halt, when he knighted Muirhead upon the spot , and changed his name to Pulloak – pull oak.”
1 Muirhead, Ray Jerome, The Henry Muirheid/Muirhead Family of Virginia & Mississippi, Commercial Press, Inc., Stephens City, Virginia, 1989.
2 Nisbet, Alexander, A System of Heraldry, Speculative and Practical, Volume I, Edinburgh, 1816.
3 Alexander, J.B., The History of Mecklenburg County from 1740 to 1900, Observer Printing House, Charlotte, North Carolina, 1902