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Witches Corner

Witches Corner

One man was the catalyst for persecution and murder that shamed the small fishing community of Pittenweem. Patrick Morton was an impressionable lad who had been indoctrinated in witch superstition by the local minister. Sixty years had passed since the last witch trials in Pittenweem and now Patrick was about to set in motion a shameful series of events that would ensure Pittenweem's place in Scotland's history of witchcraft.

At that time there were no executions for witchcraft but the 1704 -1705 Pittenweem witch trials left two people dead and one banished from the community. In 1704 Patrick Morton was working in his father's forge and was given the task of forging some nails for a Mrs Beatrix Laing. Mrs Laing and Patrick had a heated argument because the lad would not forge her nails right away. Mrs Laing stormed out of the forge threatening Patrick with some kind of retribution.

Next morning Patrick saw Mrs Laing throwing hot ashes into a tub of water. His upbringing in witch lore led Patrick to believe that Mrs Laing was casting a spell on him. Soon after Patrick lost his appetite and became weak and emaciated. As the months progressed Patrick exhibited bodily spasms and in his torment he accused Beatrix Laing and her neighbours, Mrs Nicholas Lawson, Thomas Brown, Janet Corphat and others of using witchcraft against him. In his hysterical rantings Patrick claimed that the Devil had appeared to him and urged him to deny the name of his 'Saviour'.

The local minister urged the burgh elders to obtain a petition of the Privy Council to detain the accused on a charge of witchcraft. Mrs Laing was thrown into the town jail and under torture she testified against her neighbours. A testimony that she retracted at a later date. Some of the more moderate members of the burgh authorities ignored the rantings of the minister and Beatrix Laing was freed with a fine. She was considered to be accursed by the locals and so she was banished from the community.

She lived out the rest of her life in St Andrews. Another of the accused, Thomas Brown, was starved to death in Pittenweem prison and Janet Corphat became the victim of mob rule. The mob, incited by the minister, broke into the prison and seized Janet Corphat. They beat her and dragged her down to the beach, where she was beaten again. They placed a door on top of Janet and onto the door they piled rocks until the weight crushed the life out of Janet's body. Even this spectacle did not satisfy the blood lust of the mob. They called for a man with a horse and cart and made him drive backwards and forwards over Janet's corpse. The leaders of the mob went unpunished and Patrick Morton was found to be an hysterical impostor who was not brought to justice for his wrongful accusations. Janet's body was flung into the communal grave at 'Witches Corner'.

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