Helen Stewart

Helen Stewart

Helen was executed as a witch at Calder in 1644. Her story links the women accused at Calder with those from neighbouring Carnwath parish. 

In the summer of 1644 Hew Kennedie wrote to James Douglas, minister at Carnwath, to say that Helen had confessed to being a witch. She had apparently named Katherin Shaw from Carnwath as a witch too. The letter was used by Douglas to accuse Katherin and three other Carnwath women: Margaret Reid, Margaret Watson and Jeane Lachlane of being witches.

The women later confessed and were found guilty. Their confessions tell of witches’ meetings at Levenseat and Tormywheel hills on the border of Carnwath and Calder parishes. 

Margaret Watson’s confession said that she flew to these witches’ meetings on a bundle of straw and the others she named also flew: Mailie Paterson on a cat; Jonet Lockie on a cockerel; her aunt Margaret Watson on a thorn tree; and Jeane Lachlane on an elder tree.

At Calder the minister is known to have used sleep deprivation and beatings to extort confessions. These confessions would have been given after similar torture. 

Despite forced confessions being the only evidence against them Katherin Shaw, Margaret Reid, Margaret Watson and Jeane Lachlane were all found guilty and executed. 

In January 1645 James Douglas attended the execution of Margaret Watson and Jeane Lachlane, and he reported to Lanark Presbytery that they had died denying being witches. They also said that others they had been forced to name were innocent too. This probably saved Mailie Paterson, Jonet Lockie and aunt Margaret Watson’s lives.