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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part V - Biographies
Doctor David Olyphant and David W. C. Olyphant


DOCTOR DAVID OLYPHANT was born in Scotland in 1720, at "Pitheavies," the house where his ancestors had lived for many generations. The house, or castle, as it is called, is about one and one-half miles from the railway station at Perth, and is still owned by one of the descendants of the family in the female line.

In common with nearly all the branches of his race, he warmly espoused the cause of the Stewarts.

After the Battle of Culloden, in which he took an active part, his life was in danger, but he succeeded in escaping from Scotland, and, coming to this country, landed at Charleston, South Carolina, where he lived for many years practising his profession, and rising in it to the highest eminence.

Here, too, as was natural from his early training, he took a leading part in the political discussions of the time. In General Moultrie ‘s "Memoirs of the Revolution," we find his name among the list of members of the "Provincial Congress" held at Charleston. He was also a member of the Legislative Council of February, 1776, of which that revered patriot, the Hon. John Routledge, was President, and, at a later date, in a letter to Gen. Moultrie the Hon. Charles Pinckney says: "The Senate, I hope, will act wisely, though it is to be lamented they are obliged to act now without the assistance of yourself, Olyphant and others whose aid would give a lustre to their proceedings."

On the breaking out of the Revolution, he at once offered his services to the Government, and on the 4th of July, 1776, received his commission as Director-General of the Southern Hospitals, the duties of which he discharged with the highest honour, integrity and ability until the surrender of Charleston, when he became a prisoner of war, and, perhaps, because of his Scotch birth and early history, was subjected to treatment that called forth a protest from Gen. Moultrie to the English commanding officer. In addition to other offices, he was repeatedly elected to the Senate of South Carolina as representative of St. George, Dorchester.

His health failing, in the year 1785 he removed to Newport, R. I., the climate of which, "more like that of his native land," proved a complete restorative, and he decided to remain there permanently. In the year 1786, he married Miss Ann Vernon, [Miss Vernon was his third wife. He had one son by a previous marriage, who was accidentally killed.] a grand-daughter of Governor Ward, of Rhode Island, "one of the belles, and brightest wits of her time." He lived in Newport, continuing there the practice of medicine until his death in 1804, at the age of eighty-four years. One who knew his history well, thus wrote on hearing of his death: "Still will he continue to live in the remembrance of those who knew him, and the annals of our country will teach succeeding generations to stamp a high value upon his character. In private life he was an easy, polite and well-bred gentleman; an agreeable and instructive companion, he was always sure to command the esteem and regard of society according to the proportion of their acquaintance with him; and those who knew him best, valued him most."

He left one son and one daughter. In the naming of his son he showed the same loyalty of nature that led to his banishment from Scotland. On the rolls of the Society of the Cincinnati, of which Doctor Olyphant was one of the original members, it stands printed in full, David Washington Cincinnatus Olyphant, the first, a family name, then that of the friend whom he considered the noblest of earth’s heroes, and then that name which enrolled under its banner those friends who were dearest, and nearer to him because of the trials and struggles through which they had passed together. While anxiety may be felt for a child, weighted with such a name, we can sympathize with the feelings that prompted it, and rejoice that in this case it was carried without stain or blemish through long years of an honoured life as an eminent merchant of New York, and the founder of American Missions to China. The name, as indicated above, was but a sign of love and loyalty, the distinctive traits of the old Scotch family, and which led its historian to write: "But even the sternest foes of the Olyphant politics (in Scotland) will not grudge, I hope, some need of praise to that unflinching steadfastness which was ever ready to give life and lands, home and health, in behalf of a race of doomed Kings." The subject of this sketch was true and steadfast to what he believed to be the best for his native land and then for the land of his adoption. There may be a doubt, perhaps, which was the deepest feeling of his heart, love of freedom, or hatred of "the Georges." Perhaps the two were unified to him, but the Jacobite tradition was with him, wonder at it as we may, an abiding one.

It seems proper, in closing this sketch, to state that Doctor Olyphant apparently thought himself the proper heir to the title of Lord Olyphant, after the death of his uncle in 1770—the last who bore the title—and he had many papers in his possession that seemed to vindicate his belief. In his will, Lord Olyphant bequeathed to him the family plate, and then, providing that the residue of his estate should be invested for Lady Olyphant during her life, "directs that at her death, it should be transferred to his nephew, Doctor David Olyphant, of Charleston, South Carolina." The doctor, however, never entered his claim, perhaps thinking that the events which led to his leaving Scotland would be used as a bar to his success. He doubtless hoped that his son would secure it. That son, however, had other and higher purposes marked out for his life’s work. Let his descendants emulate his example, and never waste wealth—if possessed of it—in the pursuit of a title however noble, but rather, which is far nobler, endeavor to so live as to be worthy of it.

Doctor Olyphant ‘s uncle (referred to in the foregoing sketch) was thus noticed at the time of his death:

London, November 2, 1770.

Last Sunday morning died the Rt. Honourable David Lord Olyphant, at his house in Great Poulteney St., Golden Square.

The above nobleman, upon the death of Francis, the late Lord in 1751, claimed the honour which was allowed him, and became the 12th Lord Olyphant.

David de Olyphant, immediate ancestor of this family, was one of the Barons who in 1142 accompanied King David the First into England, with an army to assist his niece, the Empress Matilda, against King Stephen, but, after raising the seige of Winchester, the good King David was so closely pursued that, had it not been for the singular conduct of this brave person, that King had remained a prisoner. David, his son, succeeded him, and was greatly in favour of King Malcolm 4th, and his brother King William. Sir Walter, son of David, was one of the hostages for the ransom of the last mentioned Prince, who was taken prisoner by the English in 1173.

Another mention of the family is as follows:

Lawrence, the 4th Lord Olyphant, who served heir to his father in 1566, is represented in the memorials of the times as a man of singular merit, a great loyalist, adhering firmly to the interest of Queen Mary during all the time of the civil wars. His son married a daughter of the Earl of Morton. Few families had made a greater figure in Caledonian story than his. The race is traced to a noble Dane, who came over in the reign of Donald VI. One of the descendants is found witness to a Charter of a Priory granted by King David II. Another—William Olyphant—a man of great interest and power, married Elizabeth Bruce, daughter of the immortal King Robert.


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