San Diego Scottish Highland Games

2024 Highland Games June 22-23

2024 Highland Games June 22-23

Back From the Grave

Back From the GraveMargaret Halcro married, 1674, in her 27th year, the Rev. Henry Erskine, and died, 14th January 1725, in the house of her son, Rev. Ebenezer Erskine. She was buried at Scotland Wells, where her tombstone is still to be seen.

Those are the basic facts of Margaret Halcro Erskine’s life, but they don’t  give a hint of her most noteworthy experience.—

The Reverend Henry Erskine was a widower, when he met and married Margaret Halcro.  The two had fallen deeply in love, and both were overjoyed at this chance at happiness.  The minister was especially attached to his young, beautiful wife and lavished several pieces of valuable jewelry upon her — in addition to a fine ring.

So it was tragic when only a few months after the marriage, Margaret fell ill, and though her husband sought whatever medical care was available, she died after a brief illness.  As Mr. Erskine was arranging the details of his wife’s burial, he decided that she should be buried with her ring and all of her other jewelry as well.  He had given these jewels to her out of love and wished her to keep them, even in death.

But John Carr, the village carpenter and sexton of Chirnside Parish Church, has other ideas.  He had built poor Margaret’s coffin, and as he was preparing to close it, he witnessed the heartbreaking scene of the Reverend Erskine’s grief.  And he witnessed something else, as well — the valuable ring and other jewelry which Margaret Erskine still wore.  To John Carr it seemed a great pity and even a waste to bury such treasure.  It could do the dead woman no good, but it could be of great benefit to him.

So when he was to screw down the coffin lid, he did not tighten the screws, so that they would be more easily removed later.  And when he attended the burial, he only covered the coffin lightly with dirt, telling the Reverend that he would finish the job by daylight the next day.J

ohn Carr did not intend to wait for dawn to “finish the job.”  He returned at midnight, removed the dirt from the coffin, undid the screws and pried up the lid.  There, by the rays of a lantern, he saw the jewelry he wanted gleaming in the light.

He tried to remove the ring from Margaret Erskine’s finger, but found it to be stuck.  Unwilling to forgo his prize, he pulled out a knife, and holding her finger on the edge of the wooden coffin, he chopped off the finger.

But the shock of the sudden amputation woke Margaret, who had appeared dead, but was still very much alive.  She screamed with pain — and her scream was followed by a terrified shout from John Carr, who ran away as fast as he could, leaving Margaret to find her way home.

But her trials were not over, for when she reached the house she shared with her husband, the door was locked.  She knocked, and hearing the sound Henry Erskine was thoroughly unnerved, for he recognized the distinctive knock as Margaret’s.  It took time and courage before he could bring himself to open the door.  When he finally did so, Margaret, shivering in her burial clothes, rushed past him to warm herself by the fire.  When she was finally warm, she told the amazing story of trying to tell people that she was not dead, but being unable to utter a word.  She had been conscious during the funeral and burial, and had suspected that John Carr might return for her valuables.  So, although it was a painful shock to have her finger amputated, she was glad to see John Carr and to realize that the pain had given her back the ability to speak and move.

Some say that when John Carr was arrested, Margaret Erskine plead for lenient treatment for him, saying that if it hadn’t been for his crimes, she would have been buried alive. In any case, the Reverend and Margaret Erskine had several more happy years together, and Margaret outlived her husband by twenty years.

Marilyn McPhie

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