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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - October/November 2004
The Other 70%


Dunbar, the birthplace of John Muir, who traveled extensively in the U.S. and founded the Sierra Club, which still exists, has played a couple pivotal roles in the history of Scotland. The city sits on the southeastern coast of Scotland where the Firth of Forth joins the North Sea in the East Lothian area. It is approximately 30 miles east of Edinburgh. It is believed that the Picts were once there, plus items from the Dark Ages and the Bronze Age have been discovered there. Nearby Doonhill was the site of a 6th century wooden hall and a 7th century chief’s hall. Scotland’s first king, Kenneth McAlpin, torched Dunbar in the 9th century and then in the 11th century the land was granted to Gospatrick of Northumbria (which was that area’s name at that time). It was he who founded the family and earls of Dunbar. The king’s of the area then were Duncan and MacBeth, whose names were made very familiar by Shakespeare’s MacBeth.

There were two major battles at Dunbar. The first in 1295 occurred when John Baliol, who had been set as king of Scotland by Edward I, turned and attacked England. Edward retaliated and routed him at Dunbar. The second battle was in 1650 after Charles I had been killed, and Charles Stuart returned from exile to Scotland where the Scots proclaimed him King Charles II of Scotland. Cromwell was then ‘in charge’ of all of Great Britain. The Scottish army led by David Leslie, the 1st Lord of Newark, was encamped ‘safely’ on Doonhill, and had trapped Cromwell’s troops in Dunbar when he decided to leave his advantageous position and set up camp in the lower area near Dunbar. In the night Cromwell attacked. The Scottish army was decimated, even though it outnumbered the English, and thousands of prisoners were sent to Newcastle, never to see Scotland again.

When Queen Mary’s secretary, Rizzio, was murdered in Edinburgh she fled to hide in Dunbar Castle. Shortly after her son, James the VI of Scotland, became James the 1st of England the castle was destroyed.

Andrew Spratt, who has sketched many of Scotland’s castles based on their ruins and the type castles being built in an era, has sketched Dunbar Castle as a red stone structure sitting on rocks or a spit of land jutting out into the North Sea. Beneath it is what are known as the Dunbar vaults. The main chamber of these vaults contains crystal clear water. Some of these vaults also have wooden floors.

From the Clan Dunbar website the earldom itself has had its own very colorful history passing through the women in the family at times when there was no male heir, rescinded by James I. Recognized as a clan in 1579, the current chief is Sir James Dunbar. The clan itself has a list of septs recognized by the clan and a list of acceptable spellings of the name. People whose names have been found in the area of Dunbar, but are not one of the above two clan related groups are still entitled to wear the district tartan of the Dunbar area.

The area has rich deposits of limestone and a few of the lime kilns used in the 18th and 19th centuries to burn the limestone to make the powdery lime used as fertilizer are still there.

In the 19th century Dunbar became a golfing resort, perhaps since it receives more direct sunlight than anywhere in Scotland. It is still an agricultural area and fishing port.


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