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Book Review – American Data from the Records of the High Court of the Admiralty of Scotland

What’s it about


Written by David Dobson this book covers the period 1675-1800. Scotland’s High Court of the Admiralty, which was established in the mid-15th century, had jurisdiction over civil, criminal & prize matters upon the high seas. The earliest extant records of the Admiralty Court date from 1657 & they are housed in the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. For this book, the indefatigable David Dobson has culled the records of the High Court of the Admiralty–mostly from the court’s Register of Decrees–for any reference to America between the years 1675 and 1800. The several hundred abstracts transcribed here concern cases dealing with pirates, privateers, colonial merchants, emigrants, slavers & seafarers & they are important because they identify the Scottish merchants & mariners who were trading with colonial America & Scottish agents & their servants who, as Mr. Dobson has said, “formed the vanguard of subsequent settlement there.” Although there is a great deal of variation between the cases, most of them involve a broken agreement or failure to pay what was claimed by the plaintiff in the suit. Witness the following one: “August 1, 1800. David Kennedy, mariner in Greenock & Laurence Crawford, shipmaster in Irvine, v. Captain Malcom Dugald, master of the schooner Matilda. In December 1796 Kennedy went on voyage from the Clyde to Demerara then to Martinique then to St. Vincent and from there to Trinidad where he was impressed in the Royal Navy. Kennedy claims for his unpaid wages.”


In all, nearly 3,000 Scotsmen with a maritime connection to the New World, who would otherwise be lost to our knowledge, have been rescued by Mr. Dobson in these abstracts. Each individual is readily identifiable in the full-name index at the back of the volume.



Our Review


Having Ship Master Ancestors from the Banff area I was curious to learn more about these records.


This 154 page book was published in 2000 & goes through entries from between 1675 & 1800 in chronological order. At the rear of the book is a handy alphabetical index of names, places & the names of ships.


The actual cases relate to a variety of topics such as claims for damages, lost monies, not accounting for numbers of slaves, assaults and much more.


To give you a feel for the kinds of entries you might expect I have provided a few examples:-


May 22, 1703 – Kenneth Bayne, a merchant in Edinburgh v William Troup, a merchant in London, for money owing on some stock ventured with a Mr Guthrie of Dundee to Maryland


April 9, 1734 – Hugh Vans in Boston, New England & John Starke, Merchant in Glasgow, his factor v Archibald Yuill & James Hamilton, Shipmasters & Merchants in Glasgow, re sale of the ship Brisbane.


June 7, 1776 – Hugh Ross, Jnr, Silversmith in Tain v David Ross, town Clerk of Tain & Charles Ross, late merchant in Tain, now residing at Smithfield, Virginia, for money due.


If you have seafaring Ancestors or even merchants, traders or emigrants then there is always the chance that they may be included in this amazing little book. It gives a reasonable amount of information on each case & would be an ideal starting point in taking your research further.


If you live in the USA you can purchase it the the Genealogical Website


Elsewhere you can purchase it via the Book Depository

 

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