Peden was born at Auchincloich Farm near Sorn, Ayrshire, about 1626, and was educated at the University of Glasgow. He was a teacher at Tarbolton and then ordained minister of New Luce in Galloway in 1660.
After the restoration of Charles II, Peden had to leave his parish under Middletons Ejectment Act in 1663. For ten years he wandered far and wide, bringing comfort and succour to his co-religionists, and often very narrowly escaping capture, spending some of his time in Ireland. To hide his identity, Peden took to wearing a cloth mask and wig, which are now on display in Edinburgh's Museum of Scotland.
In June 1673, while holding a conventicle at Knockdow near Ballantrae, Ayrshire, he was captured by Major William Cockburn, and condemned by the Privy Council to four years and three months imprisonment on the Bass Rock and a further fifteen months in the Edinburgh Tolbooth.
In December 1678 he, along with 60 others, was sentenced to banishment to the American plantations. They were transported by ship to London, where they were to be transferred to an American ship. The American captain, however, on hearing the reason for their banishment, released them. Peden made his way north again and divided the remaining years of his life between his own country and the north of Ireland. His last days were spent in a cave on the River Lugar in the parish of Sorn, near his birthplace and his brother's farm in Auchinleck, and there he died in 1686, worn out by hardship and privation.
He was buried in Auchinleck churchyard. Six weeks later his body was exhumed by troops from Sorn Castle, who planned to hang his corpse from the gallows in Cumnock. However William Crichton, 2nd Earl of Dumfries objected to the hanging, so the troops buried the corpse at the foot of the gallows. In 1891 a monument was erected to mark the spot.
Prophet Peden receives a good deal of attention in Jack Deere's book "Surprised by the Voice of God" which records prophetic and other charismatic gifts practiced by historical reformed figures. In 1682, Peden performed the wedding ceremony of John Brown and Isabel Weir. He told Isabel after the ceremony, “You have a good man to be your husband, but you will not enjoy him long; prize his company, and keep linen by you to be his winding sheet, for you will need it when ye are not looking for it, and it will be a bloody one".
On the night of 30 April 1685, troops commanded by Captain John Graham of Claverhouse shot John Brown for Brown's refusal to take the 1684 Oath of Abjuration () or to swear not to rise in arms against the king. This Oath required the person taking it to "abhor, renounce and disown in the presence of Almighty God, the pretended Declaration of War [Renwick's "Vindication"] lately affixed at several parish churches, in so far as it declares war against his sacred Majesty, and asserts that it is lawful to kill such as serve his Majesty in Church, State, Army or Country, or such as act against the authors of the pretended Declaration now shown to me." This oath did not require one to proclaim the king, rather than Christ, as the head of the church. However, its inclusion of a reference to his Magesty's servants in the Church was obviously Erastian. It would have been understood by a Covenanter to be a promise not to resist the King's claimed supremacy in all causes, ecclesiastical as well as civil, as claimed in the 1682 Abjuration Act. Further, weapons and writings considered treasonous by the authorities were found in Brown's house.
The story that Claverhouse subsequently taunted Brown's wife about his death appeared some years after his death, written by men who were not present at the time. Peden was 11 miles away. He prayed with the family of John Muirhead in his home, "Lord, when wilt Thou avenge Brown's blood? O, let Brown's blood be precious in Thy sight." Peden told them of his vision of Brown's wife weeping over his corpse and of Claverhouse killing John Brown. Isabel Brown buried her husband in the sheet she had saved. Peden was well known for God's spectacular answers to his prayers.
Alexander Peden Stone
The Alexander Peden Stone was where Rev. Alexander Peden and others were said to have preached to Covenanters. The monument was erected around 1866 and is maintained by a local Covenanters committee. The stone on which the monument is mounted would have been used as the plinth by preachers.
- Tayler, Alistair and Henrietta. John Graham of Claverhouse. London: Duckworth, 1939.