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Culross and Tulliallan
Chapter XV. The Burgh Records from the Revolution to 1698


The Revolution has been accomplished and the new regime inaugurated, greatly, on the whole, to the satisfaction of the country—at least to that of the Presbyterians. Culross is affected by the change like other places, as is unmistakably evidenced by the meeting of town council which is held on 16th January 1689, in obedience to an order issued a fortnight previously by the Scottish Privy Council. This order itself had proceeded on a petition

“Presented by certain persons for themselves, and in name and behalf of the inhabitants of the said burgh of Culross, showing that the present magistrates of the said burgh were iUegallie elected, contrar to law and the constitution of the burgh, and have exerced the office of magistrates in the said place throw ther unwarrantable establishment since the month of Jany. Jaivic™-eightie-seven [1687], during which tyme they have misapplied the common good, and converted the same to their own uses; and for promoting the Popish interest and their designes, and siclyke, James Mackie and Daniel M'Donald, two of the present baylies, are truelie and actuallie Papists, and have been severall tymes at mass in the Abbay; [This must refer to the King’s Chapel attached to Holyrood House, which James 11. had converted into a Roman Catholic place of worship.] and not only so, but for to adde to their insolence and arrogance, for advancing Poperie they have reallie seduced Archibald Bowie, couper, in Glendevon, to comply with their hellish purposes and doctrine, and have also been using sinistruous methods to prevaill to that same purpose upon severall others.”

This is pretty strong language, but probably did not greatly overstep the truth, considering the general misgovemment since the Restoration, and the special policy and aims of James II. At all events, the Privy Council, who may possibly indeed have prompted the petition in the first instance, responded to it by granting warrant to those magistrates and councillors who had been in office previous to the usurpation by the Crown of the elective privileges of the burghers, to resume their functions, and continue in them till the following Michaelmas. At that date there was to be a new election, in accordance with the original constitution of the burgh; and the same Earl of Kincardine who had superintended the arbitrary nominations in 1687 and 1688 was now ordered to see to the proper reinstatement, as far as possible, of the old and regularly elected town council. A thorough “purge,” not unlike that of Pride and Cromwell, was accordingly carried out with regard to the existing magistracy and council, some members of which showed great recalcitration, both in giving up office and rendering an account of their stewardship.

In the succeeding month of February, a missive having been received by the town clerk “ from his Hienes the Prince of Orange, for calling the whole burgesses for electing a commissioner for representing the burgh at the meeting of the estates at Edinburgh on the 14th March next,” the council file out in grand procession to the market-cross, where the community are assembled. A tremendous uproar takes place there, in consequence of the two sons of ex-Bailie Mackie, the Papist, falling foul of the town clerk after he had finished reading the document in question, and hurling at him the epithets of “rascall and villain.” The magistrates order the arrest of these disturbers of the peace; but this is fiercely resisted by the Mackies, who, moreover, when an unfortunate deacon of the name of Halliday was endeavouring to aid the town officers in the exercise of their duty, “ did enter upon the said Alexander Halliday, and hang on his hair most masterfullie and cruellie.” Next, on the bailies summoning them forthwith to the court-house, James Mackie, along with ex-Bailie Dalgleish, “ did most insolentlie challenge and controvert their authoritie as magistrates.” Not being able apparently to enforce the attendance of the two last-named offenders, the council, on the report of the bailies, sentence, in absence, Mackie and Dalgleish in a fine of 100 Scots. It does not appear whether this was exacted or not; but the new magistrates succeed, at all events, in carrying out the nomination to the ensuing Convention of Royal Burghs at Edinburgh, and “ Mr William Axeskine, lawful sone to the deceast David, Lord Cardross,” is chosen.

The Mr Erskine thus chosen as commissioner for Culross was Colonel William Erskine, brother of Colonel John Erskine, the celebrated “ Black Colonel,” of whom we shall afterwards hear a good deaL The two brothers were the sons of David, second Lord Cardross, by his second wife, Mary Bruce, daughter of the second George Bruce of Camock, and sister of Edward and Alexander, first and second Earls of Kincardine. Their half-brother by their father’s first marriage was Henry, third Lord Cardross, who suffered severely for his Presbyterian, proclivities, and had to take refuge with his brother John in Holland, from which they returned at the Revolution with William of Orange. John Erskine, generally styled, from his complexion, the “Black Colonel,” became afterwards purchaser, by judicial sale, of the greater portion of the estates of the Kincardine family, and was thenceforward known as Colonel John Erskine of Camock. His elder brother William, now elected a member of the town council of Culross, became the proprietor of the estate of Torry, in the adjoining parish of Torrybum, and was the father of a Colonel William Erskine, who, from his fair complexion, has been generally identified with the personage known as the “White Colonel,” in antithesis to the “Black Colonel,” his uncle. But as I shall afterwards show, the idea is erroneous, the real Simon Pure or “White Colonel” being one of the Erskines of Alva.

The new regime having dow established itself on a tolerably secure basis, the Culross magistrates find themselves at leisure to turn their attention to domestic matters. The influence of restored Presbyterian strictness is evidently again beginning to exert itself in the regulations for the better observance of the Sabbath and suppression of nocturnal revels. But, as usual, the “middings” are still the bite noire of the municipal authorities, under all governments, Presbyterian or Prelatic.

On 15th January 1690 there is registered in the burgh minutes a “list and inventor of the books and registers lying in the register chist, belonging to the burgh of Culros, within the tolbooth therof, this present day truly taken up.” A supplemental list is made up on 24th January. These, and the discussions regarding them, form an important epoch in the burgh history, and present matter of equally the highest interest and regret. We learn from them that in 1690 all the books, charters, and papers mentioned in the two lists were in existence, and in the custody of the magistrates in the town repositories of Culross. They must have contained much valuable information, and ought to have been carefully preserved, whether their contents affected the material interests of the burgh or not. At least the town’s charter and accompanying documents, with the council minute-books, ought all to have been guarded with the most religious care. But how many of them are in existence now, or how many of them can be produced ? I am sorry to say, scarcely one ancient writ or evident from the charter of erection downwards is now to be found. There are indeed copies of the charters of 1490 and 1588, erecting Culross respectively into a burgh of barony and a royal burgh. But what has become of the rest, or where are they now? It must be admitted that almost all the registers of sasines of property within the burgh have been carefully preserved, as involving matters of tangible and pecuniary import. And all the council minute-books, or, as they are termed, “register books of courts and councills,” from 1653 to the present time, are now in existence. But the three minute-books recorded at the commencement of the list, extending from 1602 to 1650, are nowhere to be found. There still, however, exists the dilapidated volume (not included in the catalogue of 1690) of which I have already availed myself, as containing the history of the civic transactions from the erection of the burgh in 1588 to the end of the century. But it is most disappointing to find missing the records of so important a period as that from the accession of James VI. to the British throne to the commencement of Cromwell's rule in Scotland. As regards the disappearance of many of the individual documents, it appears that on different occasions they were lent to various parties. Lady Veronica, Dowager-Countess of Kincardine, seems to have had the town charter for a time in her possession; and in the many profitless lawsuits in which the burgh became engaged, its agents in Edinburgh would naturally have the town papers transmitted to them, and might sometimes retain them either in security of their business accounts or from mere forgetfulness. Antiquarians and others, too, might occasionally have the loan of them, and not be too scrupulous in duly returning them. They may even have been turned to baser uses. The eighteenth century is notorious for its vandalism, and for the ruthless and wanton destruction which took place during it of many interesting relics of the past, monumental and chirographic. And as regards the missing minute-books, there is some evidence to show that if they have not “melted into air, into thin air,” they have at least been resolved into elemental gases. There is a tradition in Culross, not altogether unsubstantiated, that a town clerk of former days, rather noted both for inebriety and impecuniosity, was confined by an importunate creditor within the walls of his own official tolbooth. Companions were allowed to visit him in the evenings, and mitigate, by jovial converse, the monotony of his captivity. They were all votaries of the fragrant weed, and pipe-lights were in frequent requisition. Acting on Dean Swift’s advice to servants to use whatever came to hand for the purposes of the moment, they are said to have dragged from their obscurity and most unceremoniously made light of the old council minute-books.

The following extracts serve to connect the town of Culross with the naval history of the time, when King James, with the assistance of the French king, was endeavouring to regain footing in England, and the Channel was the scene of various naval operations, terminating in the brilliant victory over the French fleet at Cape La Hogue:—

“3 February 1690.

“The quhilk day the councell, being convened within the tolbuth of the burgh, and conforme to the proclamation for voluntarie seamen, and the giving in of a list, and for the reporting of the samyne in manner and efter the forme and tenor of the said proclamation and letter direct be the Earll of Crawfurd for that effect: In obedience therto, and conforme to the Act of councell, the said Robert Blaw, one of the present baillies, past to the marcatt crose of Alloway and Clakmanan and Kincardine, as also Baillie Adam and Baillie Gray past to Torrie and Yaleyfield, and ther caused beatt drums to the effect and for the causes forsaid.

“The same day compeared Robert Wright, John Peacok, James Peacok, Patrick Andersone, James Peirrie, John Stevensone, and voluntarly offered themselves as seamen for his Majestie’s service, conforme to the proclamation and conditions therin mentioned. The magistrats and town counsell offeres the pay conforme to proclamation, they always finding caution for ther entering to service when requyred.”

On 14th October 1690 we find the town council nominating their commissioners (probably for the first time since Cromwell’s conquest) to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. The individual chosen was John Erskine of Bal-gownie, one of the principal heritors in the parish, and an ancestor of the present Cunningham family, who through him are descended from the Earls of Mar. There is also made the same day an order for taking account of and returning a report on the number of hearths throughout the burgh, in view of the tax or “ hearth-money ” which had recently been imposed by the Government. It must have been a very unpopular impost, and almost as objectionable, on the score of health and comfort, as the window-tax, only abolished about thirty years ago.

A grand visitation is made to Culross in August 1691. The Convention of Burghs had appointed certain commissioners

“To be here at Culross, for taking trayell and inspection of the present condition of this burgh of Culross, and to be heare upon Mononday next; and for their attendance and giving trew information, with the magistrates they nominatt the persones following—to witt, Bobert Hunter, elder, laitt baillie, James Barklay, laitt baillie, the Dean of Gild and Theasorer James Blaw, James Neasmuth, George Gray, John Sharpe, and to be waitted and intertayned upon the toune’s expenses.”

It is evident that great expectations were formed of the benefits and relief which the town was to receive from this visit. It was resolved to spare no expense or trouble in propitiating the commissioners, and securing a favourable report from them to the Convention:—

"18 Auguri 1601.

“The qlk day being convened within the tolbuth of the burgh the magistratta and a pairt of the toune councell nominatt the last counsell day for waitting upon the commissioners of burrowes, who compered this day, John Mure, Provost of Aire, and Mr James Smollett of Bonnell, two commissioners of burrowes, for taking of information of the condition of this place, who is instantly admitted burgesses of this burgh, and admitted to the freedom therof, and hes given ther oath more, burgi honorifico, and Tobias Smollett their clerk, with their servants—who hes trewlie promised to shew forth to the borrowes the staitt and condition of the toun, and the debts therof, with the staitt and condition of the scoll, peire, and herbor, and for that effect hes taken ane nott of information allong with them.”

Some interest may be felt in the above extract when we see among the names of the commissioners that of James Smollett of Bonhill, afterwards known, as Sir James Smollett, one of the commissaries of Edinburgh, and grandfather of the author of 'Roderick Random/ He figures in that novel in no very complimentary guise as the hero’s grandfather. George Smollett, probably a son of his, was at this time the agent for the Convention of Burghs. And another son of his, doubtless, was the Tobias Smollett mentioned above, who gave his name to the great novelist, his nephew. Let us now see how the commissioners were entertained at Culross :—:

“22 August 1691.

“The quhilk day the magistrates and toune councell being convened within the counsell hous of the burgh, and conforme to the lait Act of toune councell, peust upon the 13 day of August current, appointing the commissioners of borrowes to be intertayned upon the toune’s expenses; and these commissioners having come, and hes taken trayell and inspection of the toune’s affares, and of the sad staitt and condition therofP, and of their debts, who is to report the samyne to. the borrowes; and being intertayned in Baillie Adam his hous, the expenses thereof and partiiculare accompt follows, viz.—

And which particulare accompt extends to sixteen punds three shilling sixpennies; and the counsell ordaynes the samyne to be payed with the first of the toune’s money that came to hand.”

Notwithstanding all this magnificent entertainment, including a grand dinner, a sail on the Firth afterwards, and a solemn bonailie at Dunfermline, whilst the very bell that welcomed them had a brand-new rope provided for the occasion, there is little reason to believe that any material benefit accrued to the town, from the visit. She continued to flounder on through her difficulties, and only experienced, after many years, a temporary alleviation of them through the generosity of Sir George Preston.

There now occurs a strange episode in the municipal history of Culross, which has repeated itself in our own day. An interregnum or deadlock, similar to that which took place recently, marks a period of four years in the last decade of the seventeenth century. From 1691 to 1695 the burgh was destitute of a magistracy, and an Act of the Scottish Parliament had to be procured for authorising the re-election of a town council and the imposition of a stent. Four persons are by the said Act appointed as overseers to conduct the levying and application of the impost—viz., the Earl of Kincardine, Sir Alexander Bruce of Broomhall, Mr William Erskine, and the Laird of Balgownie. There appears to have been in 1691 a resignation of the magistrates, from a dread of being involved in liability for the town’s debts.


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