Many people with Scottish ancestry will find Agricultural Labourers among their forebears, because so many people in Scotland prior to the industrial revolution were engaged in working the land in one form or another. It was a time of political upheaval, of strong influence in people’s lives by the Church of Scotland and of superstition.
In the 17th century in the lowlands of Scotland, farmers were still essentially serfs who were given a plot of land to build a basic cottage and tend a few crops and in return were expected to labour and go to war for the landowners. In the 18th century most people stilled lived in the countryside and made their living farming. Few, however, would have owned their properties but instead did seasonal work in return for a meagre pay and a roof over their heads. Though often regarded as just cheap labour, the Agricultural Labourers had a wealth of knowledge about the seasons and their effects on growing crops and about caring for the land, and worked their landlords’ fields with experienced minds and hands.
Their wives usually worked as Farm Servants in and around the farmhouse so the landlords got two workers for the price of one, or more as the children were put to work as well. By the mid-19th century and the mechanisation that the industrial revolution brought to Britain, many people had moved to towns and made their living from mining or manufacturing industries.
Belief in witchcraft and faeries was commonplace and people who were believed to have ‘the gift’ – the ability to see into the future – were feared and ostracised.
The first chapter of Faeries, Farms and Folk details events that took place in Dumfries in the south-west of Scotland in 1659, when the social disease of witch hunting was at its peak. The names of the accused are the real names of the people involved. Witchcraft was part of the belief system at the time, and devils, good and bad faeries, and other supernatural beings were very real to everyone.