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History of the Town and Castle of Dumbarton
Introductory Observations relating to our Local History


THE study of Ancient and Modern History, containing the rise and fall of Empires and Kingdoms, is just the study of fallen man in his varied condition on the theatre of time. On this account the public records of nations are most valuable—ought to be preserved with the greatest care, and handed down Unmutilated to succeeding ages. Of what is a Nation's history chiefly composed? It is composed not only of its conquests, and of its defence against invading armies, and the lawless aggressions of foreign foes; but it is also formed of the local history of its several provinces, its counties, and its burghs. We find, from ancient history and other authentic documents, that this County and Burgh has afforded only a very meagre share of material for the pen of the antiquary and the historian. Situated as our Burgh then was on the very verge of the highlands, and almost in the very centre of the civil commotions which convulsed the west of Scotland from the twelfth till the middle of the eighteenth century, we doubt not but her records could have furnished a considerable portion of interesting matter, tending to show her position and share in the momentous transactions of these early times. Even long previous to that epoch, we are proud to say that her name has been recorded in the early pages of our country's history—yes, even from the remotest ages. What of ancient musty manuscript documents may be in the possession of the burgh is unknown. How many valuable ancient public papers may be piled up amongst the private parcels, cased within the iron doors and ashler repositories of the Burgh and County, we know not; but we think, if an eagle-eyed antiquarian annalist was placed for a few weeks in the midst of the various piles, with a persevering research, he might yet shed a greater portion of light on some of the darker pages of our iational and local history. From the burgh records we learn that a most valuable ancient document was once in the possession of the Town Council, but is not now—a document that, to the Scottish historian, has thrown a flood of light on the public transactions of the west of Scotland during the eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries. We at present refer to the Chartulary of Lennox, which the Burgh was in possession of during the sixteenth and seventeenth and the former part of the eighteenth centuries. When or by what means we became custodiers of that record of former times is unknown. It is more than likely, however, that some branch of the ancient house of Lennox, during the convulsions of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, sent them to lie in the repositories and under the safe-keeping of the Burgh—herself being immediately under the formidable protection of the great guns of the neighbouring fortress in these troublous times.

In the Council records, dated 25th October, 1777, there appears a minute to the above import, at the end of which the Council enjoins the then Town Clerk to draw up a regular inventory of all the town's papers and other records, and for which, it appears, he was allowed the sum of 5: 8s. Of what this inventory was composed, where it has gone to, or whether it is yet in existence, are problems which futurity can alone solve.

From the Mortification Fund record it may be seen, that in the year 1685, during the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion, the Town Coanci1, being then afraid of their own records, sent them from the burgh repositories to the iron chest of the Mortification Fund, which lay in the Hospital or Alms' House attached to the Collegiate Church, 'erected here by the beneficence of the Duchess of Albany and Countess of Lennox, in the year 1450. It appears that this iron chest, in which all these valuable public documents were deposited, was in existence about the year 1750; however, no vestige of it or of its contents can now be found. In 1685, and even previous to that period, a great many of the burgh and other public and national records were either dispersed or destroyed.

In 1296, when civil commotions betwixt the two kingdoms of Scotland and England were at their height, and when Baliol, Wallace, and Bruce, fought for the independence of Scotland, Edward the First, the English monarch, wished to obliterate everything that could testify the national independence; and in order to this, after obtaining a partial victory at this period over the armies of the former Scottish Prince, he carried off and mutilated a great many of the national records, ransacking burghs, towns, and monasteries for them. John De Fordun, however, who lived in the fourteenth century, collected with pious industry the broken fragments of history that remained, and formed them into an authentic treatise.

Under the reign of Edward the Third, these charters, records, and documents thus carried off were, by King Robert Bruce, solemnly stipulated to be faithfully restored to Scotland in 1328.

During the short reign, and under the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell, many of the national and other records were again destroyed or lost, or by his orders pilfered and carried into England. Of these records, many belonging to Scotland were carried away by him, to secure our servile dependence on him and the English Crown. So many as eighty-five hogsheads of these records were lost on the 16th December, 1660, in a ship belonging to Kirkaldy, as she was returning with them from London. As to the Church records and registers, a great many of them were also amissing through the confusion of the then civil wars, or probably they fell into the hands of the prelates while prelacy prevailed in Scotland.

As to the ecclesiastical history of Dumbarton, little or no light can be thrown upon it apart from the Presbytery records, to which we doubt whether easy access could be found. In the meantime, we have only to allude to the revered names of the reverend Messrs. Blair, Anderson, Sideserf, Freebairn, and Oliphant, servants whom we believe laboured faithfully in the cause of the Gospel and of the Saviour—five noble champions of revealed truth, who spent their valuable lives in the service of their Divine Master; and whose worthy memories we hope will yet be snatched from unmerited oblivion by the pen of some heavenly-minded Dumbartonian.


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