Many fornication cases were dealt with in an almost offhand way: the parties would be summoned, would confess their guilt, and would be rebuked, sometimes before the whole Congregation, but often in a less publicly conspicuous manner, before the Session itself.
Other cases, however, were not so straightforward. For one thing, cases of adultery were treated much more seriously, and would frequently be referred to the Presbytery for their advice (which as often as not, amounted to telling the Kirk Session "You deal with it"!). From a researcher's point of view, though, it's much more interesting when the accused man denies paternity. When this happened, the mother and alleged father could call witnesses to provide evidence in support of their claims, and these can be truly fascinating, with cases sometimes dragging on for months.
The following case from Fossoway gives a good illustration of the process:
CH2/163/4 p. 14-15
Church of Fossoway, 5th Feb[ruary] 1826
Compeared Marg[are]t Wright residing at Powmill, and confessed herself to be with child, and being interrogated, gave up John Young, lately residing in this Parish, and now in the Parish of Orwell, as the father, and that the first time he was guilty with her was on the evening of the Alloa August market.
The Session direct their Clerk to request the Session of Orwell to cause the said John Young to be summoned to attend the Session here on this day two weeks, and as the woman mentions that he declared to her that so soon as he should hear of her giving up him as the father of her child he would immediately leave the country, the Session recommend to her to lose no time in making Oath to this effect before one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace, in order that the proper steps may be taken to prevent his departure before an end be put to this business. Closed w[i]t[h] prayer.
CH2/163/4 p. 15-16
Church of Fossoway 19th Feb[ruary][ruar]y 1826
Compeared in consequence of summons John Young, who on the 5th Febr[uar]y had been given up by Marg[are]t Wright as the father of a child of which she is pregnant in fornication. The declaration of Marg[are]t Wright was then read over to him. And being solemnly warned by the Moderator to declare the truth as in the presence of God and interrogated, denied being the father of the child, or that he has been guilty with her.
The Session in these circumstances direct John Young to wait upon them again on Sabbath next, and farther direct Marg[are]t Wright to be cited to attend, in order that the parties may be confronted together.
Closed with prayer
CH2/163/4 p. 16-17
Church of Fossoway, 26th Feb[ruary] 1826
Compeared John Young and Marg[are]t Wright, and being interrogated separately and then in the presence of each other, they both looking one another in the face, adhered to their former declarations, Marg[are]t Wright in accusing John Young as the father of her child and John Young in denying having ever been guilty with her. The Moderator then enquired at Marg[are]t Wright whether she could bring forward any evidence to substantiate her accusation, she named for that purpose Robert Ramsay residing at Craiglawhill, and Catherine Blackwood, wife of George Johnman residing at Crosshead Village. The Session direct the above named individuals to be summoned to give evidence in this case on Sabbath the 12th March in the Church immediately after Sermon, and the Parties are cited apud acta to attend.
CH2/163/4 p. 18-22
Church of Fossoway, 12th March 1826
Compeared Marg[are]t Wright and continued to accuse John Young as the father of her child. Declared that the first time she saw him at Alloa Aug[us]t Fair, was in a public house, about eight o’clock in the evening. That the did not stay long in the public house, but came away home in company with some others belonging to the neighbourhood as far as Forestmill, when they all went into a public house. That John Young and she came away alone as far as Woodside where they sat down together. That there then came up to them several persons who endeavoured to take her from John Young and that in the course of the struggle betwixt John Young and these persons, she came away alone, but shortly observing that she had forgot her bundle and umbrella she returned for them to the spot where John Young and she had been sitting. She again came away alone, and before reaching Blairngone, she was overtaken by Peter Cree who accompanied her as the plantation betwixt Devonshaw and Gartwhynean where he left her and she does not know what became of him afterwards. That when she reached home, being again alone, the door was locked and during the time she was standing at the window, the door having not yet been opened, John Young came up and joined her. That some others she thinks came up about the same time, but thinks that they came no farther at that time than the planting and that they went as she supposes into it. That John Young and she then went a little down the road leading to Garthwhynean, on the side of which they sat down, and that he was there guilty with her. That they afterwards returned to the house, when her father opened the door, and John Young went in along with her. That he sat in the house only a short time, she accompanying him only the length of the door. Declares the he continued to frequent her company till Kinross Luke’s fair, when she told him that she was with child. That he promised to come and confess his guilt to her father on the following Tuesday, but that he did not come.
John Young being then called, compeared, and continued to deny all guilt with Marg[are]t Wright. He was then heard in explanation of his conduct regarding Marg[are]t Wright at and after leaving Alloa Fair, and the statement made by him exactly corresponded with that made by Marg[are]t Wright, with the exception that instead of meeting with her on the day in question in a public house, he met her in the first instance on the street and afterwards in a public house. Denies that he joined her at her own house, or that he saw her again that evening at all, but declares that Rob[er]t Ramsay joined him a little west of Blairngone, with whom he came all the way till the separation of the roads, which is at Powmill Smithy, and considerably east of Marg[are]t Wright’s father’s house. Denies that he has ever been in her father’s house before or since the day in question, but admits that in passing he has frequently stopped and chatted with her at the door.
Robert Ramsay, a witness cited for Marg[are]t Wright, unmarried, and aged [space left blank] years, who being solemnly sworn, purged of malice, and partial counsel and interrogated depones, that on the day in question he met with John Young in Alloa first on the street. That on leaving Alloa and going so far as Forest Mill the deponent went into a public house. Depones that he was there in company with John Young and Marg[are]t Wright and others. That after leaving the public house he did not see John Young again till he was considerably west of Blairngone. Depones that John Young and the Dep[onen]t went on together by themselves to the west side of the Devonshaw quarry when they came up with David and Robert Morison, who came along with them till they arrived at the houses at Crossgates, when John Young fell behind, and the Dep[onen]t saw no more of him that night. Depones that he was joined about the Devonshaw and Gartwhynean march by Peter Cree, who together with the Morisons and the Dep[onen]t came within a little distance of the Powmill Smithy, when Peter Cree and the Dep[onen]t sat down for ten minutes, but that John Young did not again come up with them. And that all this truth as the Dep[onen]t shall answer to God.
Signed Robert Ramsay
Comp[eare]d Catharine Blackwood, a witness in this case cited for Marg[are]t Wright, married and aged 23 years, who being solemnly sworn &c and interrogated Depones that since it was reported that Marg[are]t Wright was with child, John Young called on the Dep[onen]t and said that farmers and farmers’ sons had been with Marg[are]t Wright as well as he, and this is truth as the Dep[onen]t shall answer to God, and declares that she cannot write.
Signed Peter Brydie Mod[erato]r
The Session delay the farther consideration of this case till this day’s two weeks.
CH2/163/4 p. 23
Church of Fossoway 19th March
The Session next took into consideration the case of John Young and Marg[are]t Wright. It being reported that Catharine Blackwood who gave evidence in this case on Sabbath last, can throw light of this business additional to what is contained in the evidence already emitted by her agree to meet at Easter Gartwhynean on the 7th April next, in order to re-examine her, and she is appointed to be summoned to attend the Session at that time.
Closed with prayer
CH2/163/4 p. 24-26
Easter Gartwhynean 7th April 1826
The Session proceeded to the consideration of the case of John Young and Marg[are]t Wright.
John Young and Marg[are]t Wright being called compeared, and both adhered to their former declarations.
Catharine Blackwood, who has given evidence in this case on the 12th March last being again called compeared. Depones that John Young did speak to the Deponent with regard to Marg[are]t Wright’s being with child in presence of Isable Blackwood the Dep[onen]t’s sister. Depones that this conversation took place on New Hanselmonday last. Depones that John Young came into the Dep[onen]t’s house and began to swear seemingly in a passion because the Dep[onen]t had said to him that he was blamed as being the father of Marg[are]t Wright’s child. Depones that he then on leaving the house said to the Dep[onen]t that farmers and farmers’ sons had been with Marg[are]t Wright as well as him. Depones that John Young was in the Dep[onen]t’s house not above ten minutes, and that the Horse and Cart which he had with him was going forward in the meantime on the road without a guide. Depones that she mentioned this conversation afterwards to her brother-in-law Robert Johnman and that she used to him the very words which she now does, but does not remember of mentioning the matter to her father-in-law at all. Depones that she mentioned this conversation also to Ann Morgan and Helen Morgan. Depones that John Young said to the Dep[onen]t on the same occasion that he had been in Glasgow and Edinburgh and that he had not met with a damneder whore than Marg[are]t Wright. Depones that the conversation betwixt John Young and the Dep[onen]t was wholly taken up about Marg[are]t Wright’s being with child. Depones that it was after the Dep[onen]t had blamed his as being the father of Marg[are]t Wright’s child that he began to swear. And that all this is truth as the Dep[onen]t shall answer to God, and declares that she cannot write.
Peter Brydie Mod[erato]r
John Young states that about the end of Harvest he came west in James Taylor’s cart as far as the road which leads off to the Cocklaws. That this might be nearly ten o’clock at night. That he saw Marg[are]t Wright’s door open. That he tapped on the window, but that Marg[are]t Wright did not make her appearance. From the circumstance he is of opinion that she was engaged with some other person. That he then returned home without making any enquiry whether Marg[are]t Wright was any wise engaged with any other person or not.
The Session delay the farther consideration of this case till a future opportunity, of which due notice will be given to the Parties. Closed with Prayer.
CH2/163/4 p. 28
Church of Fossoway 11th May 1826
Compeared voluntarily before the Session John Young and confessed himself guilty of the Sin of fornication with Marg[are]t Wright. Acknowledges the paternity of her child, and expressed his regret that he had aggravated his sin by so long persisting in his denial of it.
The Session delay the consideration of his case till this day two weeks, and John Young being admonished by the Mod[erato]r to lay his sin to heart in the mean time was dismissed.
Closed with Prayer.
CH2/163/4 p. 28
Church of Fossoway 25th June 1826
John Young rebuked pro primo
Comp[eare]d John Young guilty of fornication with Marg[are]t Wright, who having professed sorrow for his sin, was rebuked by the Moderator, and directed to continue his appearances on this day two weeks. Closed with prayer.
CH2/163/4 p. 29
Church of Fossoway 9th July 1826
John Young rebuked pro secundo
Comp[eare]d pro secundo John Young, guilty of fornication with Marg[are]t Wright, who having again professed sorrow for his sin, and resolutions of amendment, was directed to procure a certificate from Kinross, for the time he has resided in that Parish, and lodge the same with the Session here on this day two weeks.
Closed with prayer
CH2/163/4 p. 29
Church of Fossoway 23d July 1826
Comp[eare]d John Young, and produced a line from Mr Joseph Hardie, one of the Elders of Kinross, certifying that he had known John Young since he came to reside in the Parish, and that so far as he knew his behaviour had been decent. He was then examined as to his knowledge, and was directed to compear before the Congregation on this day two weeks, in order to be restored to communion with the Church.
CH2/163/4 p. 30
Church of Fossoway, 6th Aug[us]t 1826
John Young absolved
Comp[eare]d publicly John Young guilty of fornication with Marg[are]t Wright, who having been solemnly addressed by the Moderator as to his future conduct, was restored to Communion to the Church.
CH2/163/6 p. 94
Aug 6 To fine of John Young for fornication with Marg[are]t Wright 5/-
We are gradually rolling out a lookup service for Kirk Session records across Scotland. If your ancestors were from Fossoway, you can see the records we can check for you here. For other parts of Scotland, start here.