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OHN NISBET, of Hardhill, is one of the most interesting
of the sufferers during the twenty-eight years' persecution.
His great-grandfather, Murdoch, attached himself to the precursors of the Reformation in Scotland--the Lollards of Kyle. In consequence of the persecution that arose, Murdoch had to flee from Scotland, and took a copy of the New Testament “in writ” with him. The manuscript New Testament was preserved in the family till John Nisbet's time, and had been bequeathed to the martyr by his father, a man who is said to have very carefully trained up his family in the fear of God.
John Nisbet was of a tall and powerful frame. Like his friend Captain Paton, in the neighbouring parish of Fenwick, he passed his early manhood in military service abroad. He returned to his native country shortly after the peace of Münster in 1648, which closed the Thirty Years' War, and soon afterwards had the happiness to be married to Margaret Law, a young woman, says
" who proved to him an equal, true, and kind yoke-fellow.”
He was present at the battle of Pentland, November 28, 1666, and was left for dead upon the field, but he revived and escaped under covert of night, although it was a year before his wounds were entirely healed. The soldiers came to the house in quest of him, "but missing him” (says the son, in a passage in his Diary, which gives a vivid picture of the sufferings of the time, extracts from which Dr M'Crie has given in the Appendix to the Memoirs of Veitch and Brysson), “they held a drawn sword to my mother's breast" (who was soon to give birth to a child, the writer of the Diary)," threatening to run her through unless she would discover her husband. She, weeping, told them that for anything she knew he was killed (for she heard that it was so), and that she had not seen him; so they took what made for [i.e., suited) them in the house, and went off.”
“ But some days after, getting notice that he was still alive, they returned with greater fury than before, and threatened her with pre
sent death, first with a drawn sword at her breast, and also with a bended pistol; and contrary to all law, Divine and human, they dragged her alongst with them, with a burning candle in her hand, through all the rooms of the main house, and then through all the office houses, they still raging with their drawn swords and bended pistols ; but, after all their search, they, missing my father, beat the servants, to strike the greater terror on my mother to tell where her husband was; but she could not.
“ Then they took a young man, called David Finlay, alongst with them to where their chief commander lay, called General Dalziel. He caused the said David Finlay to be shot to death in less than half-an-hour's warning, and carried away all my father's stock of moveable effects, which was considerably great; and for half-a-year there was hardly a day ever passed but they were at the house, either in the night or day, in search of my father.
“In the year 1678, there was a great host of Highlanders came down in the middle of the winter to the Western shires. The shire of Ayr was the centre of their encampment or cantoning, where they pillaged, plundered, thieved, and robbed night and day; even the Lord's day they regarded as little as any other.
“At their first coming, four of them came to my father's house, who was overseeing the making of his own malt; they told him they were come to make the Fig (so they termed the Presbyterians) [i.e., Whig] to take with God and the king. This they came over again and again. They pointed to his shoes, and said they would have the brogue off his foot, and accordingly laid hands on him, but he threw himself out of their grips, and turning to a pitchfork which was used at the stalking of his corn, and they having their broadswords drawn, cried · Claymore,' and made at him ; but he quickly drove them out of the kiln, and, chasing them all four a pace from the house, knocked one of them to the ground.
“The next day about twenty of them came to the house, but he not being at home, they told that they were come to take the Fig [i.e., Whig) and his arms. They plundered his house, as they did the house of every other man who was not conform to the then laws; and such were their thievish dispositions, and so well versed were they at the second sight, that, let people hide never so well, these men would go straight to where it was, whether beneath the ground or above, as though they had been at the putting of it there, search for it, dig it up, and away with it.
“When my father came [to Drumclog], the good people who were met to hear sermon, and the enemy, were drawn up in battle array in order to fight. Five or six of the gentlemen who came to hear sermon, that were most fit to command the country people, took upon them to command, because some of them had been formerly in the military, as likewise my father had been ; two of whom went to meet my father when within sight, and gave him an account how matters were, and pointed out to him where Mr King was guarded on the left of the enemy by an officer and four dragoons; and the officer had orders to shoot Mr King if they lost; and if the country people lost, all that were or should be taken prisoners were to be hanged immediately after battle. My father being a strong, bold, and resolute man, went on boldly and in all parts of the action, especially in the relief of Mr King, whom he set at liberty; which boldness and activity of his was much taken notice of by the enemy. The enemy lost that day, and had about thirty or thirty-five of their number slain, whereof they said my father killer seven with his own hand, which much exposed him and all his to their after revenging fury.”
At Bothwell Bridge, according to Wodrow, he was a captain. He occupied the post of danger at the bridge, and stood as long as any man would stand by him. In the retreat he managed to escape. He was denounced as a rebel, and three thousand merks set upon his head. His property was confiscated, and his wife and children turned adrift upon the world, and all threatened with a like punishment who dared to harbour him and his.
His wife was a woman of a heroic spirit, and though she and her family had (like those in an earlier age, of whom Inspiration hath declared the world was not worthy) to wander about in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth, she sympathised with him, and never, says her son, was heard or seen to show the least discontent with her lot. For more than four years she bore up under her trials, till in December 1683, after an illness of eight days, death brought them to a close. She died in “ a sheep's cot, where was no light nor fire but that of a candle, no bed but that of straw, no stool but the ground to sit on.”
It was some time ere the tidings of her death reached her husband. He immediately hastened to the place where she died. When he entered the hut the dead body had been in the grave for several days, and new calamities had fallen upon him. The first sight he beheld was the chesting of his daughter, who had
died a few hours before ; and on looking round the hut, in a corner lay two of his sons, in the delirium of fever.
He spoke to them, but they were unconscious of his presence; at which he groaned, records his son, and, in the language of the patriarch of Uz-language in which pious resignation in the midst of calamity has so often found utterance—said, “Naked came I into this world, and naked must I go out of it: the Lord is making my passage easy." Under the protection of midnight the body of the daughter was buried in Stonehouse Churchyard, as had been done to the mother eight days before. Next day a search was made for the bereaved husband and father, but for this time he escaped their hands.
He was at last taken on a Sabbath morning, in the beginning of November 1684, when at Midland, a farm-house in Fenwick parish. The old house has been since pulled down, and a new one erected on its site. He, with Peter Gemmel, George Woodburn, and an old man, John Ferguson or Fergushill, from Mains of Enterkin, Tarbolton parish, had met for prayer and conference the preceding evening, to allay some difference that had arisen in the branch of the United Societies to which they belonged. They had not been long assembled when they learned that Lieutenant Nisbet, a cousin of Hardhill, and a party of soldiers, were in quest of them. In the morning they resolved to separate, but after leaving the house they were obliged to return, on account of the illness of John Fergushill. The soldiers soon came in sight, and spent an hour in searching the house, but failed to find out where the four were concealed, and so they left Midland. On the way two men met them, one of whom, it is said, told them, “They were good seekers, but ill finders.” They returned, and their renewed search was successful.
The four defended themselves as best they could. They had only three charges, which they shot away, save one which missed fire,
and they received twenty-four in return. When the soldiers next dashed in upon them, they kept them at bay with their emply guns, used as clubs. At last the soldiers threatened to fire the house, when they went out, John Nisbet foremost, who got his back to the wall, and stood and defended himself. In a short time he received seven wounds, but still maintained his ground, when the commander came to his assailants and asked, “Why had they not despatched this obstinate rebel.” But the moment he saw him, he recognised him, and cried, “Ho! it is Hardhill ; spare his life, for the Council has offered 3000 merks for him.” He ordered bedclothes to be brought,