Alexander Pedan was born sometime in 1626, at Auchincloich Farm, in what today would be East Ayrshire, in the northern part of the Parish of Sorn. The firstborn among his siblings, Pedan was the heir to his father’s fair holding, which was apparently not too unsubstantial by the standards of the day. As a result, he was to become an educated individual, well connected and intelligent; completing his education at the University of Glasgow, and supposedly with many a blue-blood counted among his circle as a result. Whilst in his mid-twenties or so, he had been teaching at Tarbolton, whereupon, accusations arose of his supposed ‘Wronging’ of a woman. This accusation, it turned out, was false, with evidence swiftly being presented to the court which cleared him of any such charges. And yet, we can assume, that with the stress of having excommunication looming above his head, it was no surprise that the obviously religious-minded Alexander eventually sought to enter the Church; gaining a license from the Presbytery of Lanark and Biggar in the process. It was said to have taken him a fair few try’s before going on to be ordained, and then appointed the Parish of New Luce, in Galloway. However, with the Ejectment Act in 1663, like many a passionate individual of his faith, compelled by the snapping jaws of enemies, or the spur of life’s purpose even, Alexanders spark was seemingly not to be content with Monastic tedium, nor could it be, and so followed a period of great wandering for our itinerant preacher; through all of the south west of Scotland he wandered, passing the Clyde, and into Renfrewshire and down into Dumfries and Galloway. Yet persecution ever loomed, and soon, our intrepid Alexander set sail for Northern Ireland, where he preached at Kells and Glenwherry in County Antrim for a time.
As a preacher, I have read that he was very gifted; an orator of considerable skill and vigor; conducting his sermons with an air of pageantry, yet in a way accessible to the layman; laden with dramatic pauses and stirring suspension; often said to pause mid-sentence as though conversing with some unseen force, nodding and whispering the whole time as if God himself, had taken the time out of his busy schedule with which to enter into a dialogue. Charismatic and vibrant, and with a flair for the theatrical, it is no wonder that our wandering preacher soon gained an almost mystical reputation among his flock.
This reputation, compounded by his obvious intellect, had allowed him time and time again, to escape the clutches of a multitude of enemies; escaping those who sought him through sudden mist and storms it was said; God seemingly sending down screens of tempestuous fury with which to cover our man’s retreat. In one such event, he was remarked to have displayed a somewhat cavalier recklessness toward hypothermia; escaping from pursuing dragoons by plunging into a river all but iced over; leaving his pursuers on the far shore, none too eager to take the plunge in after him. And again, whilst pursued by Dragoons, our bold preacher was said to have prayed aloud to the Almighty for assistance, before a thick mist suddenly fell across the land, through which he was able to again make his escape. The event is described by one, Howie, in Scots Worthies: “Let us pray here , for if the Lord hear not our prayers and save us , we are all dead men…. “Lord it is Thy enemy`s day, hour and power; they may not be idle. But hast Thou no other work for them but to send them after us? Send them after them to whom Thou wiltt give strength to flee, for our strength is gone. Twine them about the hill, Lord, and cast the lap of Thy cloak over Old Sandy, and thir poor things, and save us this one time; and we`ll keep it in remembrance, and tell it to the commendation of Thy goodness, pity and compassion, what Thou didst for us at such a time.”
Undoubtedly, he was an individual well-versed in the reading of his fellow man; shrewd and up to date with the Covenanter goings-on; it is safe to assume that it was not so much divine intervention that aided our wily preachers survival, but his own innate intelligence; keen observations of men, politics, and a wariness garnered over many years of dogged strife. Yet, despite the sharpness of his mind and despite even the providence of God himself, our daring preacher soon found himself the ever increasing object of attention of the authorities. Enter the fabled mask (Whether or not he wore it before hand, I don’t know. He probably did. Yet now is as good a time as any to introduce it into the story)
Above, is the rather absurd looking mask in question, which he used to disguise himself during his travails amid The Killing Time. Rudimentary by today`s standards of course, it is made from leather, with real human teeth and hair. But despite its awkward construction, it evidently worked to some reasonable effect; was this Gods work? Considering the absurd image above, I’d be inclined to believe it might have been; either that or our man Pedan had an audacious sense of humor.
In June 1673 however, whilst conducting a conventicle at Knockdow, near Ballantrae, Alexander was captured by one, Major William Cockburn, and subsequently sentenced to four years and three months imprisonment on the Bass Rock. In October 1677, he was then moved to the Edinburgh Tolbooth for a further fifteen, to eighteen months. In December 1678, he and sixty seven of his fellow prisoners were sentenced to banishment, and then put on board the “St Michael“, a ship bound for the state of Virginia.
Praying for a fellow deportee, James Law, Alexander was remarked to have said: “lord, let not James Law`s wife miss her husband, until thou return him to her in peace and safety, which we are sure will be sooner than either he or she is looking for.”
On board the America-bound ship, our lone wanderer was said to have quipped to his fellows that; “If we were once in London we will all be set at liberty” Which I take to mean something along the lines of that once clear of England’s grasp, not to lose hope, or wallow in grief or in doubt, for freedom will be found among the free-spirited colonists.
And yet again, and as though by some higher power, Alexander made good his escape; the American captain, upon hearing of the reason behind the groups banishment; that they were good Christians and not a rabble of criminals as he had been led to believe; released them immediately, refusing to traffic in such cargo; an early American displaying that streak that would go hard in the proving of his kind. Received warmly by the people of Gravesend, Alexander and the majority of his fellow prisoners made their way back to Scotland shortly after. Another unlikely Prophecy fulfilled.
Spending his time between Scotland and Ulster, and referring to it as going “from one bloody land to the other bloody land“ He returned eventually to Scotland for the last time, to his brothers house, Ten Shilling Side, Auchinleck, in February 1685. Behind his brother’s home, there was said to be a cave on the River Lugar, in which our adventurous preacher would spend his nights hidden safely away from chance-discovery. When close to death, he was said to have left behind such damp conditions for the warmth of his brother’s hearth, where he was met by his sister-in-law. Fearing discovery, she was said to have pleaded that he return to his clandestine resting place; he refused, saying; “I have done with that for it is discovered. But there is no matter, for within forty eight hours I will be beyond the reach of all the devils’ temptations and his instruments in hell and on earth, and they shall trouble me no more.”
Within three hours of his words, the troopers discovered his cave, but, they did not discover our maverick prophet, for he had hidden in a pile of straw. After the soldiers had gone away, Pedan told his friends that, upon his death, they were to bury him where they would, and prophesied that he would be lifted again*; within a few hours, he was dead; buried then in Auchinleck Churchyard, in the Boswell family vault. Forty days later, *he was dug up by soldiers from Sorn Castle, and then hung from the gallows in the town of Cumnock. But once again, our wandering preachers old friend intervened, HE, and one William Crichton, 2nd Earl of Dumfries, to be exact, wherein, Alexander was cut down and buried at the foot of the gallows his corpse had swung from. The local people were said to have then steadily buried their dead around his resting place, so that soon enough, a veritable graveyard had sprung up around it. And, in 1891, a monument was erected to mark the spot. It reads:
[ A native of Sorn ]
THAT FAITHFUL MINISTER OF CHRIST, WHO.
FOR HIS UNFLINCHING ADHERENCE TO THE
COVENANTED REFORMATION IN SCOTLAND, WAS
EXPELLED BY TYRANT RULERS FROM HIS PARISH
OF NEW LUCE, IMPRISONED FOR YEARS ON THE
BASS ROCK BY HIS PERSECUTORS, AND HUNTED
FOR HIS LIFE ON THE SURROUNDING MOUNTAINS
AND MOORS, TILL HIS DEATH ON 26TH JANUARY 1686
IN THE 60TH YEAR OF HIS AGE, AND HERE
AT LAST, HIS DUST REPOSES IN PEACE, AWAITING
THE RESURRECTION OF THE JUST
SUCH WERE THE MEN THESE HILLS WHO TRODE
STRONG IN THE LOVE AND FEAR OF GOD
DEFYING THROUGH THE LONG DARK HOUR,
ALIKE THE CRAFT AND RAGE OF POWER.
Because of his penchant for masks, and what today would be viewed as comical disguises, I’ve often heard Reverend Pedan referred to as ‘Mad‘, or as an ‘Eccentric old hermit‘, as though he were little more than an old, and raving wood-bound fool; and yet, for one to be so committed to one’s own beliefs, that they would risk their very life over it, that silly mask doesn’t seem so silly in light of the reality of swinging from the Hangman’s noose. In Alexander Pedan, I see a somewhat endearing figure, akin to the old Druids; holding Covanticles in ancient, gnarled forests, and aside millennia old Standing Stones; braving wind and rain to boldly deliver his sermons to huddled, yet fervent gatherings. In Alexander Pedan, I see a defiant man of strong character, who willingly faced down death to be a guiding light for many an errant soul. And again, in his mask, I see a man struck with a courage better suited to that of a man of action, than a humble preacher, for God can hide you only so well.