The Gypsies
The Early History
Gypsies in Scotland
Gypsies in the Borders
The Yetholm Gypsies
Gypsy Families
The Faa Family
Jean Gordon

Jean Gordon

According to Murray, 'Jean Gordon is one of the best known of all the gypsy race.'

She was the wife of Patrick Faa, and mother of Alexander Faa who was killed by Robert Johnstone at Huntlywood in the year 1727. Johnstone was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. However, he escaped but was recaptured in England and returned to Jedburgh where he was hanged on August 28th 1728.

She and her family were well known in the Yetholm area, and were especially well received at Lochside. Unfortunately while she herself always 'abstained herself and tried to hinder others from committing any depredations on the farmer's property', one of her sons, she had nine, helped himself to a brood-sow. So disgraced did she feel that she left the area and went to live on the English side of the border.

Some years later, or so the story goes, the gudeman of Lochside, being unable to pay his rent, went to Newcastle to arrange a loan. On his way back, it was approaching nightfall, when he became lost on his way through the hills. Seeing a light shining out from a barn, he approached the door. On knocking, a well-known figure opened the door - Jean Gordon.

Murray describes Jean as being an unmistakeable figure - nearly six foot tall with remarkable features and dress. Worried lest there were others of her tribe in the area, as he had the money with which to pay his rent with him, he nevertheless accepted her kind offer of supper and a bed for the night. There was plenty to eat and drink, enough for at least a dozen, a calculation which did nothing to help his unease over the safety of his money. In the course of conversation with Jean, he was forced to admit that he was carrying a large amount of gold with him. Jean insisted that he give it to her for safe-keeping till the morning, leaving him with the small change. About midnight the gang came back, talking loudly of their exploits, which made the farmer fearful of his safety. When Jean told them who their guest was, she spun them a story about his going to Newcastle and failing to get the loan. Nevertheless they searched his clothes, finding only the small change, which Jean persuaded them not to take, as he had money problems enough already.

When morning came, Jean soon had him on the right road for Lochside, and when offered money as thanks, she refused, as she still felt guilt over the ill-doings of her son all those years before.

Jean's sons, however, continued in their dishonest ways, leading in May 1730 to the three remaining sons and two of their wives being tried for sheep-stealing at the court in Jedburgh. All were found guilty and sentenced to death. It is this trial that was the basis for the gypsy trial referred to by Sir Walter Scott in his introduction to 'Guy Mannering', where he says, 'All Jean Gordon's sons were condemned to die on the same day'. They were duly hanged on the afternoon of June 5th 1730.

Jean Gordon, now childless, and without anyone one to support her, herself appeared in the court two years later. She pleaded that she was old and infirm, and had long been held in jail, and promised if released to leave the country for ever. The court accepted this assurance, and accordingly released her and banished her for good. For many years she wandered the English side, still hankering after Scotland and the Jacobite cause. This love of Prince Charlie led to her death. In 1746, whilst in Carlisle, she forcibly expressed her support for the Stuart cause, which aggrieved the crowd around her. They took hold of her, dragged her down to the River Eden and drowned her. Her last words, according to tradition, were 'Charlie yet! Charlie yet!'.

Thus ended the life of Jean Gordon, widow of Patrick Faa, but she lives on as Meg Merrilees in Scott's novel, although perhaps the character is actually based on her grand-daughter Madge who was known to Walter Scott.

The Gypsies

Esther Faa Blythe

Charles Faa Blythe Coronation

At St James Fair 1907

At St James Fair 1907

Kirk Yetholm Green c1920

Kirk Yetholm - Muggers Row c1920

Looking up the hill to Staerough

Kirk Yetholm Gypsy Palace c1945

King & Queen and Palace

Gypsy Palace present day