John Paton was born at Meadow-head, in the parish of Fenwick and shire of Ayr. He was brought up in the art and occupation of husbandry till near the state of manhood. -- But of the way and manner in which he went at first to a military life, there are various accounts. -- Some say, that he inlisted at first a volunteer, and went abroad to the wars in Germany, where, for some heroic atchievement, at the taking of a certain city (probably by Gustavus Adolphus king of Sweden), he was advanced to a captain's post; and that when he returned home, he was so far changed that his parents scarcely knew him. Other accounts bear, that he was with the Scots army (or militia) who went to England in January 1643-4, and was at the battle of Marston-muir, at which place, it is said that by some bad drink, an asthmatical disorder was contracted in his breast, which continued ever after.
But whatever of the ways, or if both ways were certain, he behoved to return very suddenly home; for it is said, That anno 1645, when the several ministers in the western shires were called out upon the head of their own parish militia, to oppose Montrose's insurrection, he was called out by Mr. William Guthrie (or, as some say, taken by him from the plough), and, under the character of a captain, behaved with much gallantry about that time among the covenanters, particularly upon their defeat by Montrose at Kilsyth, which fell out in the following manner:
Montrose, having upon July 2d obtained a victory over the covenanters, advanced over the Forth, and upon the 14th encamped at Kilsyth near Stirling, and upon the 15th encountered the covenanters army, commanded by lieutenant-general Bailey. At the first on-set, some of Montrose's highlanders, going too far up the hill, were invironed by the covenanters, and like to have been worsted; but the old lord Airly being sent from Montrose with fresh supplies of men, the covenanters were obliged to give way, and were, by the enemy, turned over unto a standing marsh or bog, where there was no probability either of fighting or escaping. In this hurry, one of the captain's acquaintance, when sinking, cried out to him, for God's sake to help; but when he got time to look that way, he could not see him, for he was gone through the surface of the marsh, and could never be found afterwards. Upon this disaster, the swiftest of the covenanters horse got to Stirling; the foot were mostly killed on the spot and in the chace, which, according to some historians, continued for the space of fourteen miles, whereby the greater part of the covenanters army was either drowned, or by these cruel savages cut off and killed.
In this extremity, the captain, as soon as he could get free of the bog, with sword in hand made the best of his way through the enemy, till he got safe to the two colonels Hacket and Strahan, who all three rode off together: but had not gone far till they were encountered by about fifteen of the enemy, all of whom they killed, except two who escaped. When they had gone a little farther, they were again attacked by about thirteen more, and of these they killed ten, so that only three of them could make their escape from them. But, upon the approach of about eleven Highlanders more, one of the colonels said (in a familiar dialect), Johny, if thou do not somewhat now, we are all dead men. To whom the captain answered, Fear not; for we will do what we can, before we either yield, or flee before them. They killed nine of them, and put the rest to flight.
About this time, the Lord began to look upon the affliction of his people. For Montrose, having defeated the covenanters at five or six different times, the committee of estates began to bethink themselves, and for that end saw cause to recall general Leslie, with 4000 foot and 1000 dragoons, from England. To oppose him Montrose marched southward, but was shamefully routed by Leslie at Philiphaugh upon the 13th of Sept. Many of his forces were killed and taken prisoners, and he himself escaped with much difficulty. After which Mr. William Guthrie and captain Paton returned home again to Fenwick.
Thus matters went on till the year 1648, that there arose two factions in Scotland, which were headed by duke Hamilton and the marquis of Argyle. The one party aimed at bringing down the king to Scotland; but the other opposed the same. However, the levies went on, whereby duke Hamilton, with a potent army, marched to England. In the meanwhile major-general Middleton came upon a certain handful of the covenanters, assembled at the celebration of the Lord's supper at Mauchlin, a small village in the shire of Ayr. At which place were Messrs. William Ardair, William Guthrie and John Nevay ministers, and the earl of Loudon, who solicited Middleton to let the people dismiss in a peaceable manner; which he promised to do: but, in a most perfidious way, he fell upon them on the Monday after; which occasioned some bloodshed on both sides, for captain Paton (being still aware of these malignants notwithstanding all their fair promises) caused his people from Fenwick to take arms with them, which accordingly they did; whereby they only made resistance. -- Yea it is said, that the captain that day killed eighteen of the enemy with his own hand.
But duke Hamilton and his army being defeated, and he himself afterward beheaded, the English pursuing the victory, Cromwel and his men entered Scotland, by which means the engagers were not only made to yield, but quite dissipated. Whereupon some of the stragglers came west plundering, and took up their residence for some time in the muirs of Loudon, Egletham and Fenwick, which made the captain again bestir himself; and taking a party of Fenwick men he went in quest of them; and found some of them at a certain house in that parish called Lochgoin, and there gave them such a fright (though without any bloodshed) as made them give their promise never to molest or trouble that house or any other place in the bounds again, under pain of death: -- and they went off without any further molestation.
Charles I. having been beheaded Jan.30, 1648-9, and Charles II. called home from Breda 1650, upon notice of an invasion from the English, the Scotch parliament appointed a levy of 10,000 foot and 3000 horse to be instantly raised for the defence of the king and kingdom; among whom it behoved the captain again to take the field, for he was now become too popular to be hid in obscurity.
Accordingly Cromwel and his army entered Scotland in July 1650. After which several skirmishes ensued betwixt the English and the Scots army, till the Scots were, by Cromwel and his army, upon the 3d of September, totally routed at Dumbar. After which, the act of classes being repealed, both church and state began to act in different capacities, and to look as suspiciously on one another as on the common enemy. There were in the army on the protestors side, colonels Ker, Hacket and Strahan, and of inferior officers, major Stuart, captain Arnot (brother to the laird of Lochridge) captain Paton, and others. The contention came to such a crisis, that the colonels Ker and Strahan left the king's army, and came to the west with some other officers; and many of them were esteemed the most religious and best affected in the army. They proceeded so far as to give battle to the English at Hamilton, but were worsted; the Lord's wrath having gone forth against the whole land, because Achan was in the camp of our Scottish Israel.
The king and the Scots army, being no longer able to hold out against the English, shifted about and went for England, and about the end of August 1651, had Worcester surrendered to them. But, the English army following hard upon their heels, they were by them totally routed upon the 3d of September, which made the king fly out of the kingdom. After which the captain returned home, when he saw how fruitless and unsuccessful this expedition had been.
About this time, he took up the farm of Meadow-head, where he was born, and married one Janet Lindsay (who lived with him but a very short time). And here he no less excelled in the duties of the true Christian life, in a private station, than he exceeded others while a soldier in the camp; and being under the ministry of that faithful man Mr. William Guthrie, by whom he was made one of the members of his session, and continued so till that bright and shining light in the church was turned out by Charles II. who was again restored, and the yoke of supremacy and tyranny being by him wreathed about the neck of both church and state, whereby matters grew still worse, till the year 1660, that upon some insolencies committed in the south and west by Sir James Turner, some people rose (under the command of Barscob and other gentlemen from Galloway) for their own defence. Several parties from the shire of Ayr joined them, commanded by colonel James Wallace from Achan's; captain Arnot came with a party from Mauchlin; Lockhart of Wicketshaw with a party from Carluke; major Lermont with a party from above Galston; Neilson of Corsack with a party from Galloway; and captain Paton (who now behoved to take the field again) commanded a party of horse from Loudon, Fenwick and other places. And being assembled they went eastward, renewed the covenants at Lanerk, and from thence went to Bathgate, then to Collington, and so on till they came to Rullion, near Pentland hills, where they were upon that fatal day November 28, attacked by general Dalziel and the king's forces. At their first on-set captain Arnot, with a party of horse, fought a party of Dalziel's men with good success; and, after him, another party made the general's men fly; but upon their last rencounter about sun-setting, Dalziel (being repulsed so often) advanced the whole left wing of his army upon col. Wallace's right, where he had scarce three weak horse to receive them, and were obliged to give way. Here captain Paton (who was all along with captain Arnot in the first encounter) behaved with great courage and gallantry. Dalziel, knowing him in the former wars, advanced upon him himself, thinking to take him prisoner. Upon his approach, each presented their pistols. Upon their first discharge, captain Paton perceived the pistol-ball to hoop down upon Dalziel's boots, and knowing what was the cause (he having proof), put his hand to his pocket for some small pieces of silver he had there for the purpose, and put one of them into his other pistol. But Dalziel, having his eye on him in the mean while, jumped his horse behind that of his own man, who by that means was slain. The colonel's men, being flanked in, on all hands, by Dalziel's men, were broke and overpowered in all their ranks. So that the captain and other two horsemen from Finwick were surrounded, five men deep, by the general, through whom he and the two men at his back had to make their way, when there was almost no other on the field of battle, having, in this last rencounter, stood almost an hour.
Whenever Dalziel perceived him go off, he commanded three of his men to follow hard after him, giving them marks whereby they should know him. Immediately they came up with the captain, before whom was a great slough or stank in the way, out of which three Galloway men had just drawn their horses. They cried to the captain, What would they do now! He answered them, What was the fray -- he saw but three men coming upon them; and then caused his horse jump the ditch, and faced about with his sword drawn in his hand, stood still till the first, coming up, endeavoured to make his horse jump over also. -- Upon which he, with his sword, clove his head in two, and his horse being marred, fell into the bog, with the other two men and horse. He told them to take his compliments to their master, and tell him he was not coming this night, and came off, and got safe home at last.
After this Christ's followers and witnesses were reduced to many hardships, particularly such as had been any way accessory to the rising at Pentland, so that they were obliged to resort unto the wildernesses and other desolate and solitary places. The winter following he and about twenty persons had a very remarkable deliverance from the enemy. -- Being assembled at Lochgoin, upon a certain night, for fellowship and godly conversation, they were miraculously anticipated or prevented by a repeated dream (of the enemies approaching) by the old man of the house, who was gone to bed for some rest on account of his infirmity; and that just with as much time as they could make their escape, the enemy being within forty falls of the house. -- After they got off, the old man rose up quickly and met them with an apology, for the circumstance the house was then in (it being but a little after day break), and nothing at that time was discovered.
About this time, the captain sometimes remained at home, and sometimes in such remote places wherein he could best be concealed from the fury of his persecutors. He married a second wife, one Janet Millar from Eglesham (whose father fell at Bothwel-bridge), by whom he had six children, who continued still to possess the farm of Meadow-head and Artnock in tack, until the day of his death.
He was also one who frequented the pure preached gospel where-ever he could obtain it, and was a great encourager of the practice of carrying arms for the defence thereof, which he took to be a proper mean in part to restrain the enemy from violence. But things growing still worse and worse, new troops of horse and companies of foot being poured in upon the western shires on purpose to suppress and search out these field-meetings, which occasioned their rising again anno 1679. While, by these unparalleled severities, they were with those of whom the apostle speaks, destitute, afflicted and tormented, of whom the world was not worthy, and they wandered in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
For that suffering remnant, under the command of Mr. Robert Hamilton, having got the victory over Claverhouse on the 1st of June 1676, at Drumclog in Evandale (in which skirmish there was about 36 or 40 of that bloody crew killed), they went on the next day for Glasgow, in pursuit of the enemy; but that proving unsuccessful, they returned back, and on June 3d formed themselves into a camp, and held a council of war. On the 4th they rendezvouzed at Kyperidge, &c.; and on the 5th they went to commissar Fleming's park, in the parish of Kilbride, by which time captain Paton (who all this time had not been idle) came to them with a body of horsemen from Finwick and Galston; and many others joined them, so that they were greatly increased.
They had hitherto been of one heart and one mind, but a certain party of horse from Carrick came to them (with whom were Mr. Welch, and some other ministers who favoured the indulgence), after which they never had a day to do well, until they were defeated at Bothwel-bridge, upon the 22d of June following.
The protesting party were not for joining with those of the Erastian side, till they should declare themselves fully for God and his cause, against all and every defection whatever; but Mr. Welch and his party found out a way to get rid of such officers as they feared most opposition from: For orders were given to Rathillet, Haugh-head, Carmichael, and Mr. Smith, to go to Glasgow, to meet with Mr. King and captain Paton; and they obeyed. When at Glasgow, Mr. King and captain Paton led them out of the town, as they apprehended, to preach somewhere without the town; but at last, upon inquiry where they were going, it was answered (according to orders sent privately to Mr. King and captain Paton), That they were to go and disperse a meeting of the enemy at Campsie; but upon going there, they found no such thing, which made them believe it was only a stratagem to get free of Mr. King and the rest of the faithful officers; upon which they returned.
The faithful officers were Mr. Hamilton, general Hackston of Rathillet, Hall of Haugh-head, captain Paton in Meadow-head, John Balfour of Kinloch, Mr. Walter Smith, William Carmichael, William Cleland, James Henderson, and Robert Fleming. Their ministers were Messrs. Donald Cargil, Thomas Douglas, John Kid, and John King; for Mr. Richard Cameron was then in Holland. Henry Hall of Haugh-head, John Paton in Meadow-head, William Carmichael, and Andrew Turnbull, were ruling elders of the church of Scotland.
Thus the protesting party continued to struggle with the Erastian party (in which contending captain Paton had no small share) until that fatal day June 22d, when they were broke, and made to flee before the enemy. The captain, at this time, was made a major; and some accounts bear, that the day preceding, he was made a colonel. An author, when writing upon that affair, says, That he supposes John Paton, Robert Fleming, James Henderson and William Cleland were chosen to be colonels of regiments; however, as he did not enjoy this place long, we find him still afterward continued in the character of captain John Paton.
After the defeat at Bothwel-bridge, captain Paton made the best of his way homeward; and having had a fine horse, with all manner of furniture from the sheriff of Ayr, upon the way he gave him to one to take home to his master, but being robbed of all its fine mounting, by an old intelligencer (of the same name as was supposed), which very much surprised the sheriff when he received the horse, and the captain when he got notice thereof. This was a most base and shameful action, designing to stain the character of this honest and good man.
The sufferers were now exposed to new hardships, and none more than captain Paton, who was not only declared rebel by order of proclamation, but also a round sum offered for his head, which made him be more hotly pursued, and that even in his most secret lurking places. In which time, a little after Bothwel, he had another most remarkable escape and deliverance from his blood-thirsty enemies, which fell out in this manner. -- --
The captain, with a few more, being one night quartered in the forementioned house of Lochgoin, with James Howie (who was one of his fellow sufferers), at which time one captain Ingles, with a party, lay at the dean of Kilmarnock's, who sent out partie, on all hands, to see what they could apprehend; and that night, a party, being out in quest of some of the sufferers, came to Meadow-head, and from thence went to another remote place in the muirs of Finwick, called Croilburn, but finding nothing there, they went next to Lochgoin, as apprehending they would not miss their design there; and that they might come upon this place more securely, they sent about five men, with one serjeant Rae, by another way whereby the main body could not come so well up undiscovered.
The sufferers had watched all night (which was very stormy) by turns, and about day-break the captain, on account of his asthmatical disorder, went to the far end of the house for some rest. In the mean while, one George Woodburn went out to see if he could observe any thing (but it seems he looked not very surely), and going to secret duty instead of this, from which he was but a little time returned, until on a sudden, ere they were aware, serjeant Rae came to the inner door of the house, and cried out, Dogs, he had found them now. The four men took to the spence -- James and John Howie happened to be then in the byre, among the cattle. The wife of the house, one Isabel Howie, seeing none but the serjeant, cried to them to take the hills, and not be killed in the house. She took hold of Rae, as he was coming boldly forward to the door of the place in which they were, and ran him backward out of the outer door of the house, giving him such a hasty turn as made him ly on the ground. In the mean while, the captain, being alarmed, got up, put on his shoes (though not very hastily,) and they got all out; by which time the rest of the party was up. The serjeant fired his gun at them, which one John Kirkland answered by the like with his. The bullet passed so near the serjeant, that it took off the knot of hair on the side of his head. The whole crew being now alarmed, the captain and the rest took the way for Eglesham muirs; and they followed. Two of the men ran with the captain, and other two stayed by turns and fired back on the enemy, the enemy firing on them likewise; but by reason of some wetness their guns had got, in coming through the water, they were not so ready to fire, which helped the others to escape.
After they had pursued them some time, John Kirkland turned about, and stooped down on his knee, and aimed so well, that he shot a highland sarjeant through the thigh, which made the front still stoop as they came forward, till they were again commanded to run. By this time the sufferers had got some ground, and, being come to the muirs of Eglesham, the four men went to the height in view of the enemy, and caused the captain (who was old and not able to run) take another way by himself. At last he got a mare upon the field, and took the liberty to mount her a little, that he might be more suddenly out of their reach. But ere he was aware, a party of dragoons going for Newmills was at hand, and what was more observeable, he wanted his shoes (having cast them off before, and was riding on the beasts bare back), but he passed by them very slowly, and got off undiscovered; and at length gave the mare her liberty (which returned home) and went unto another of his lurking-places. All this happened on a Monday morning, and on the morrow these persecutors returned, and plundered the house, drove off their cattle and left almost nothing remaining.
About this time the captain met with another deliverance. For, he having a child removed by death, the incumbent of the parish, knowing the time when the corpse was to be interred, gave notice to a party of soldiers at Kilmarnock to come up and take him at the burial of his child. But some persons present at the burial, persuaded him to return back in case the enemy should come upon them at the church-yard, which he accordingly did (when he was but a little distant from the church).
He was also a great succourer of those sufferers himself, in so far as his circumstances could admit, several of his fellow-companions in the tribulation and patience of Jesus Christ, resorting at certain times to him: Such as worthy David Hackston of Rathillet, Balfour of Kinloch, and Mr Donald Cargil; and it is said, That Mr. Cargil dispensed the sacrament of baptism to twenty-two children in his barn at Meadow-head, sometime after the engagement at Bothwel-bridge.
But, being now near the end of his race and weary pilgrimage, about the beginning of Aug.1684. he came to the house of one Robert Howie in Floack, in the parish of Mearns (formerly one of his hiding places) where he was, by five soldiers, apprehended before ever he or any in the house were aware. He had no arms, yet the indwellers there offered him their assistance, if he wanted it. Indeed they were in a condition to have refused him, yea, he himself, once in a day, was in case to have extricated himself from double that number. But he said, It would bring them to further trouble, &c. and as for himself, he was now become weary of his life, being so hunted from place to place, and being now well stricken in years, his hidings became the more irksome; and he was not afraid to die, for he knew well, that, whenever he fell into their hands, this would be the case, and he had got time to think thereon for many years; and for his interest in Christ, of that he was sure. They took him to Kilmarnock, but knew not who he was (taking him for some old minister or other) till they came to a place on the high-way, called Moor-yeat, where the good man of that place, seeing him in these circumstances, said, Alas! captain Paton, are you there! And then to their joy, they knew who they had got into their hands. He was carried from Kilmarnock (where his eldest daughter, being about 14 years of age, got access to see him) to Ayr, and then back to Glasgow, and soon after to Edinburgh.
It is reported as a fact, that general Dalziel met him here, and took him in his arms, saying, |John, I am both glad and sorry to see you. If I had met you on the way before you came hither I should have set you at liberty: But now it is too late. But be not afraid, I will write to his majesty for your life.| The captain replied, |You will not be heard.| Dalziel said, |Will I not! If he does not grant me the life of one man, I shall never draw a sword for him again.| And it is said, That, having spoken some time together, a man came and said to the captain, You are a rebel to the king. To whom he replied, Friend, I have done more for the king than perhaps thou hast done. Dalziel said, Yes, John, that is true, (perhaps he meant at Worcester). And struck the man on the head with his cane till he staggered, saying, He would learn him other manners than to use such a prisoner so. After this and more reasoning, the captain thanked him for his courtesy, and they parted.
His trial was not long delayed. I find (says a historian) that April 16th, the council ordered a reward of 20 pounds sterling to Cornet Lewis Louder, for apprehending John Paton who had been a notorious rebel these 18 years. He was brought before the justiciary, and indicted for being with the rebels at Glasgow, Bothwel, &c. The advocate, ex super abundanti, passed his being at Pentland, and insisted on his being at Bothwel. The lords found his libel relevant, and for probation they refer to his own confession before the council: John Paton in Meadow-head in Finwick, that he was taken in the parish of Mearns, in the house of Robert Howie in Floack, and that he haunted ordinarily in the fields and muirs, confesses that he was moved by the country people to go out in the year 1666, commanded a party at Pentland, confesses that he joined with the rebels at Glasgow, about eight days before the engagement, commanded a party at Bothwel, &c. The assize had no more to cognize upon, but his own confession, yet brought him in guilty. The Lords condemned him to be hanged at the grass-market of Edinburgh on Wednesday the 23d of April. But, by other accounts he was charged before the council for being a rebel since the year 1640; his being an opposer of Montrose; his being at Mauchlin muir, &c.
He was prevailed on to petition the council, upon which he was respited to the 30th, and from that to May 9th, when he suffered according to his sentence. And no doubt, Dalziel was as good as his word. -- For it is said that he obtained a reprieve for him from the king; but that coming to the hands of bishop Paterson, was kept up by him, till he was executed, which enraged the general not a little. It seems that they had a mind to spare him, but as he observed in his last speech, the prelates put an effectual stop to that. In the last eight days that he lived, he got a room by himself, that he might more conveniently prepare for death, which was a favour at that time granted him above many others.
What his conduct or deportment at the place of execution was, we are now at a loss to know, only we must believe it was such as well became such a valiant servant and soldier of Jesus Christ, an evidence of which we have in his last speech and dying testimony wherein among other things he says, |You are come here to look on me a dying man, and you need not expect that I shall say much, for I was never a great orator or eloquent of tongue, though I may say as much to the commendation of God in Christ Jesus, as ever a poor sinner had to say, &c. -- I bless the Lord I am not come here as a thief or murderer, and I am free of the blood of all men and hate bloodshed directly or indirectly, and now I am a poor sinner; and never could merit any thing but wrath: and I have no righteousness of my own, all is Jesus Christ's and his alone. Now as to my interrogations I was not clear to deny Pentland or Bothwel. The council asked me if I acknowledged authority; I said, All authority according to the word of God. They charged me with many things as if I had been a rebel since the year 1640, at Montrose's taking, and at Mauchlin-muir. Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do.| In the next place he adheres to the scriptures, the covenants and the whole of the work of reformation, and then says, |Now, I leave my testimony as a dying man against that horrid usurpation of our Lord's prerogative and crown-rights, I mean that supremacy established by law in these lands, which is a manifest usurpation of his crown, for he is given by the Father to be head to the church, Col. i.18, &c.| And further, he addressed himself in a few words to two or three sorts of people, exhorting them to be diligent in the exercise of duty, and then in the last place comes to salute all his friends in Christ, whether prisoned, banished, widows, the fatherless, wandering and cast out for Christ's sake and the gospel's. He forgave all his enemies in these words, |Now as to my persecutors, I forgive all of them, instigators, reproachers, soldiers, private council, judiciaries, apprehenders, in what they have done to me, but what they have done in despite against the image of God in me, who am a poor thing, without that, it is not mine to forgive them, but I wish they may seek forgiveness of him who hath it to give, and would do no more wickedly.| Then he leaves his wife and six small children on the Lord, takes his leave of worldly enjoyments, and concludes, saying, |Farewel, sweet scriptures, preaching, praying, reading, singing, and all duties. Welcome Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I desire to commit my soul to thee in well doing: Lord, receive my spirit.|
Thus another gallant soldier of Jesus Christ came to his end, the actions of whose life and demeanour at death, do fully indicate that he was of no rugged disposition (as has been by some asserted of these our late sufferers) but rather of a meek, judicious and Christian conversation, tempered with true zeal and faithfulness for the cause and interest of Zion's King and Lord. He was of a middle stature (as accounts bear) large and robust, somewhat fair of complexion, with large eye-brows. But what enhanced him more was courage and magnanimity of mind, which accompanied him upon every emergent occasion; and though his extraction was but mean, it might be truly said of him, That he lived a hero and died a martyr.