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Journal of a Lady of Quality
Appendices: - XIII. Archibald Neilson


THE "stranger gentleman," to whom Miss Sehaw refers, and with whom she was destined to become exceedingly intimate during the last few months of her travels, was Archibald Neilson He was born in Dundee, Scotland, the borne of Governor Gabriel Johnston and his brother Samuel, about the year 1745. One who, as Miss Schaw says, had seen a great deal of the world, was highly educated, and conversant with many languages, can hardly have been less than thirty at the time of Miss Schaw's visit, even though Miss Sehaw does speak of him in one place as a "young fellow." We have no details of his early life, beyond the fact that he had been employed by "Mr. Grenville" in the West Indies (and if George Grenville is meant, this employment must have been before 1765) and it is possible that he there came into touch with the Martin family. He wrote to John Wilmot in 1788, "I had long been honored with the particular friendship of the deceased governor Martin on his being appointed to the government of North Carolina and, as I was at that time a young man without fixed line of employment, he in warmest and most friendly manner invited me to join him in his province. I accordingly joined him and lived with him in the most confidential manner. I was, so far as consisted, privy to the measures of his government, in forwarding many of which he did me the honour of calling on my services" (Audit Office Papers).

Neilson arrived in the province in 1771 and lived at New Bern, in the governor's "palace" with Martin for four wears, acting at times as his secretary. He was serving in that capacity when the troubles broke out in March, 1775, and in May aided Martin to escape in that eventful flight from New Bern to Fort Johnston, which cost Martin his influence in the province. He aided also Mrs. Martin and the children to make their way to New York, securing the vessel and seeing them safely on board. Free then from further obligation to remain at New Bern and "after some various escapes from the popular fury," one or two of which Miss Schaw recounts, he was obliged to take refuge with the governor on board the Cruizer, and there he remained until he left the province in November, 1775.

Neilson was appointed to the clerkship of the courts by Martin, an appointment contested by the assembly, and he also held an agency under the governor for the Granville Grant, neither of which offices seems to have netted him anything in the way of financial return. In January, 1775, on the death of Isaac Edwards, the deputy auditor, Martin appointed Neilson in his stead, and later, in October, while both were on board the Cruizer and after Samuel Johnston, the naval officer, had shown his strong prediliction for the revolutionary cause by acting as moderator of the provincial congress, Martin suspended Johnston and gave Neilson his place. But the progress of the Revolution destroyed the value of both offices, the emoluments from which came from fees; and it is noteworthy that when in the summer of 1775 one Pryce arrived from England with deputations as provincial secretary and deputy auditor, he was so alarmed at the disorder of the country and disgusted with the climate that he returned to England without even calling on the governor (N. C. R. X, 237, 263, 269, 332).

Neilson had no property in the colony, except two houses, two negroes, some furniture and books, all of which he left behind, "being obliged to flee suddenly." It is at least worthy of remark that he should have taken no advantage of his intimacy with the governor to obtain land or accumulate wealth by any of those means which place-seekers of the time knew so well how to utilize.

Miss Schaw adds greatly to our knowledge of Neilson's activities during the summer and autumn of 1775 and of his experiences with her and Fanny in the city of Lisbon. After returning from Portugal in January or February, 1776, he went to London, where he applied to Lord Dartmouth for a conirnissarvship or some similar post in the British army in America, his first letter being dated May 7, from "15 Orange Street, Leicester Fields." He was evidently unsuccessful in his application, for in the same year the Treasury granted him a temporary relief, on his offering to go as a volunteer to New York. At this crisis, however, his brother died at Dundee, leaving a widow and nine children, the eldest only thirteen, and Neilson was obliged to return to Scotland in order to care for an aged mother, two sisters, a sister-in-law, and all the children. There he remained until the end of his life. All further applications to the Loyalist Claims Commission had to be made in writing, subscribed under oath before the chief magistrate of the royal borough of Dundee. In 1783 he was awarded a yearly allowance of 60, which he drew regularly until his death in 1805. In the Loyalist Quarterly Pension Books the name of his attorney appears every quarter, until in the entries for January, 1806, the word "dead" is written in pencil at the side of his name and no payment is inserted in the column (Treas. 50 20). He never married.

During his life in the colony Neilson was on terms of friendship with Samuel Johnston and James Iredell and probably others. McRee in his life of Iredell prints a number of his letters, which show the keenness and vigor of his thought and the wide scope of his reading. In commenting upon him, McRee justly says, "He was, undoubtedly, one of the most highly cultivated men of his day and region, and though an adherent of government, highly esteemed by Iredell and Johnston" (Life of Iredell, 1, 201-202).


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