Porteous Mob

Porteous Mob This tragical incident is introduced here from its connection with the ecclesiastical history of Scotland. Some new custom-taxes were felt to be odious and galling in Scotland, and revenue-officers were specially obnoxious in some of the seaports. Two men, named Wilson and Robertson, who had robbed the collector of Pittenweem, in Fife, were apprehended and condemned. Some attempts to break out of jail, after sentence had been passed upon them, had proved abortive. On the Sabbath before the execution the criminals, as usual, were taken to church, under custody of four soldiers of the city guard, when, as the congregation was dismissing, Wilson, laying hold of two of the soldiers, one in each hand, and seizing the third with his teeth, called on Robertson to run. 'The latter at once knocked down the remaining guard and fled, without any one trying to arrest him. The romantic pity of Wilson for his junior accomplice, and his successful deliverance of him, created great sympathy for him. At his execution, April 14. 1736, the mob became unruly, rushed to the scaffold, and cut down the dead man. Captain Porteous, of the city guard, who was at that time surly and excited, ordered his men to fire — nay, fired a musket himself on the crowd. Six or seven persons were killed by the first volley, and more by the second. Some respectable citizens were shot as they were looking out from their windows. Captain Porteous was tried before the High Court of Justiciary, and condemned to death. Queen Caroline, in the absence of George II on the Continent, sent down a reprieve. The populace were filled with terrible indignation, and resolved to take the law into their own hands. On Sept. 7 a crowd assembled under some unknown command, secured all the military posts, locked the gates, opened the prison, took out captain Porteous, entered a shop, brought away a halter, leaving a guinea on the counter to pay for it, and hanged him on a diver's pole. The mob dispersed with perfect order, and did no other violence. The riot is enveloped in mystery— no one of the parties was ever apprehended. But a bill of great and vindictive penalties was prepared, and though shorn of many of its original terrors in passing through Parliament it contained the enactment that every minister ill the Church of Scotland was to read a proclamation against the rioters from the pulpit, during public worship, on the first Sabbath of each month during a whole year. If any minister refused, lie was, for the first offence, to be declared incapable of sitting and voting in any Church court, and, for the second, he was pronounced incapable of "taking, holding, or enjoying any ecclesiastical benefice in Scotland." The majority of the ministers bowed to this edict, some used ludicrous shifts to evade it, and only a few pointedly refused. The act was felt by many to be a wanton infringement on the rights of the Church-a dictation to which none but an Erastian community could submit. The Parliament had assumed the power of declaring what ministers should do and of inflicting discipline if they should refuse. Compliance with the enactment raised commotion ill many parishes, and aided the spread of the first Secession. The seceders were accused of disloyalty, because they unanimously, and without hesitation, refused to read the edict. In Carlyle's Autobiography will be found a graphic account. Carlyle saw the rescue and witnessed the execution. — Scott, Heart of Mid-Lothian.

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