In those early years civil law and order had already been established in Scotland and there were courts to deal with any individuals that failed to observe these laws, however to a lesser extent the Church and their Session Clerks acted as a community law keeper in recording the misdemeanours of locals and making them pay penance when they were naughty! This was in addition to the more mundane tasks of recording births, deaths, marriages, accounts of weekly collections and distribution of these and other funds for the support of the Poor.
Okay, now for the juicy and more interesting stuff. Unfortunately these refer to the southern parish of Arbuthnott rather than Portlethen but from this we can surmise that similar accounts and ďgoing onísĒ were occurring in the Portlethen neighbourhood in the 17th century.
The following are a random selection of titbits with the dates that they were reported, these I have quoted directly from ďA General View of Kincardineshire, or the MearnsĒ by George Robertson, dated 1810.
June 17, 1655.
Catharine Bran compeared before the session and now acknowledges that John Sherrat is the father of her child. Note. She had been twice before this examined on the subject, but gave evasive answers. John Sherrat sat three Sundays on the repenting stool for this.
July 16, 1656.
Robert Forrest and Robert Thomson being dilated for their scandalous carriage in scolding and striking one another, did evidence their repentance before the session.
September 28, 1656.
Lilias Kerr and John Fettes on the repentance stool for fornication.
May 10, 1657.
Two pairs of fornicators began their sitting on repentance stool. Continued three different Sundays.
June 18, 1657
Other two women dilated for fornication; one of them appears at the first summons, but the other escapes into the adjacent parish of Bervie.
August 30, 1657.
David Chalmers and Archibald Ker dilated for absenting themselves from church, and are ordained to evidence publicly their repentance, which they did accordingly.
December 20, 1657.
Another ordinance against buying and selling ale on the Lordís day, in which, besides being brought to a public rebuke the parties are to be fined each in 3 merks. Two men soon after punished on this act.
April 16, 1658.
Two women in Cotslack dilated for scolding and cursing and swearing. Are sharply rebuked, the youngest for two different days, because of her wrestling with her aged mother, and striving to take her plaid from her against her will.
October 3, 1658.
Katharine Bran again on the repentance stool for fornication, as also her paramour David Young.
From May to September 1660.
A notable cause occupied the Session, which was shortly this. One Jane Alexander had a bastard child, which she fathered on a James Sherrat, who took at first with the accusation, but afterwards denied, alleging that it was begot by a James Nidrie. There seemed to be an abundance of evidence for both parties. The session quite nonplussed with the subject, ended the matter in this manner Ė Ordaining that the child, who was a girl, should not at any after time be married to a son of either the one man or the other, lest she be married to her own brother.
November 25, 1660.
Two men rebuked publicly for sneaking away from church on the Lordís day before, when the minister was calling on them as customary, to answer some questions on the catechism.
December 15, 1661.
James Dorret publicly rebuked for thrashing on the Lordís Day. Also two Cotslack men for absenting themselves from church.
January 25, 1663.
One woman having raised a scandalous report of theft against another is fined 4 shillings to the poor.
May 3, 1663.
Katherine Bran, after 12 days sitting on the repentance stool, is absolved.
March 16, 1664.
John Lamb the Kirk officer rebuked before the session for drunkenness, and enacted himself, that for his next transgression he should do penance before the congregation and lose his wages. In the course of this year there were some fornicators did penance, also a man for scandalous behaviour during divine service; two men for getting drunk in the change house, and one man for carrying timber on the Lordís Day.
April 30, 1665.
Four people in Cotslack dilated for despising the ordinanees and being outlyers from the Kirk. Also three men for drinking after sermon on Sunday, until Monday morning.
October 25, 1665.
A Cotslack man and four Drunkards dilated for drinking the whole of the preceding Sundayís afternoon.
January 14, 1666.
A woman dilated for giving her daughter drink of herbs to procure an abortion. Both do penance.
July 12, 1668.
David Watt dilated for Sabbath breaking, in that he measured the length and breadth of his house on the Lordís Day, gets a penalty of a merk to pay, and a seat on the repentance stool for his pains.
August 9, 1668.
One wife does penance for scolding another, and next Sunday, the other wife does penance for scolding the first.
August 25, 1668.
Thomas Mill and Margaret Trail do penance for fornication before they are allowed to marry each other.
October 4, 1668.
Janet Sutor, who had long eluded the search of the session for fornication, by flying from one parish to another, at length surrenders at discretion and does penance very quietly.
February 7, 1669.
A man dilated for approaching the communion table without a token, makes a meek confession and gets off with a gentle rebuke.
April 16, 1670.
A man having accused another of theft, but not succeeding in his proof, is ordered to do penance in sackcloth. This he did one day, but not being thought very hearty in his remorse, is compelled to repeat it another day. Same day, a man did penance for mending his cart on the Lordís Day, and paid a merk of a penalty.
June 5, 1670.
A man who had been ordained to do penance in sackcloth, evades performance for long, he at length compromises the matter by giving two bolls of meal to the poor.
Katherine Bran, of merry mood, again dilated for her old prank of fornication, being now what they called quadrulapse, transgression. She is ordained to stand with her neck in the jugs, between the second and third bells ringing, and after to sit on the repentance stool in sackcloth. All this she went through for 14 Sundayís in succession, which seemed to have cured her, as she is not again mentioned.
Jannet Wishart complained to the session against Elspet Lawson, for slandering her as a thief; two witnesses brought to prove this, who did so, but said further, that both the women cursed and took the Lordís name in vain. Both the carlines got public penance to do for this, and to pay penalties. Same time; a man ordained to do penance for leaving the church just as the third bell rang, and if he did so again, was to be put in sackcloth.
The recording of these incidents in the church sessions gives you an insight into life around Kincardineshire in the 17th century and we can surmise from this that misbehaviour in the community isnít just a recent phenomenon and our ancestors were getting up to mischief and breaking the rules back as far back as the 1600ís. And what about our good friend, Katherine Bran? It seems that she liked to go out and have a good time on a regular basis Ė she must have enjoyed a bit of extra curricular activity if she was prepared to be regularly and consistently put on display, dressed in sackcloth, sitting on a repentance stool and eventually being put into stocks!