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The Scottish Nation
Semple


SEMPLE, a surname of great antiquity in the west of Scotland. Mr. Lower, in his list of English surnames formed from baptismal names, gives Semple as derived from Sampol, a corruption of St. Paul (English Surnames, vol. i. p. 155); but this does not seem to have been the origin of the Scottish name. Hamilton of Wishaw, in his Description of the Sheriffdom of Renfrew (printed for the Maitland Club, 1831, p. 141), referring to the old tradition, which does not appear to have had any foundation, of King Robert II., called Blear-Eye, being cut from his mother’s womb, at a place near Renfrew, by Sir John Forrester of Elliestoun, says, “before that he was reputed a simple man – from whence the house of Sempill and lords thereof have their name and part of their estate.” The family of Semple, however, were known in Scotland at an earlier period. The first on record was Robert de Semple in the reign of Alexander II. (1214-1249). He was vassal in Elliotstoun, on the south side of Loch Winnoch, Renfrewshire, under the high steward of Scotland, about 1220. The family were heritable bailies of the regality of Paisley and sheriffs of Renfrewshire, under the lord high steward of Scotland, and had large possessions in that and the two adjoining counties of Ayr and Lanark.

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SEMPLE, or as it is now spelled, SEMPILL, Baron, a title in the peerage of Scotland, conferred in 1489 on Sir John Semple of the family above mentioned. Robert de Semple is witness to a donation of Walter, lord high steward of Scotland, of the church of Largs to the monastery of Paisley about 1246. His son, Robert de Semple, seneschal or chamberlain of Renfrew, in the reign of Alexander III., witnessed a charter of Malcolm earl of Lennox about 1280, also, a grant of James, high steward of Scotland. He had two sons, Robert and Thomas, both great patriots and staunch friends of Robert the Bruce, from whom the latter obtained half of the lands of Longniddry.

Robert, the elder son, seneschal of Renfrew, for his faithful services received from King Robert, by a grant under the great seal, all the lands in the parish of Largs, Ayrshire, which previously belonged to John Baliol, to him and his heirs for ever. He is witness in an agreement between the monastery of Paisley and the town of Renfrew, 1313, and in the collation of the church of Largs, 1318. He died before 1330. His son, William de Semple, steward of Renfrew, is witness in the ratification of Kilpatrick, granted by Malcolm, earl of Lennox, in that year. Under the designation of William de Semple of Elliotstoun or Ellieston, he witnessed a charter of Adam de Fullerton in 1344.

His great-grandson, John Sempill, the fourth designated of Elliotstoun, was employed in several negotiations of state, and in 1421 was one of the Scots commissioners appointed to treat with the English for the liberation of James I. He waited upon his majesty at Durham, 13th December 1423, on his return to his own dominions. He was knighted by that king about 1430, and died ten years afterwards.

His son, Sir Robert Sempill of Elliotstoun, had a charter from James II., of the lands of Southennan (a corruption of South Annan), in the parish of West Kilbride, Lanarkshire, 31st October 1401. Sir Robert’s son, Sir William Sempill of Elliotstoun, was made sheriff of Renfrewshire, and in 1474 he obtained from James III. a charter of the baronies of Elliotstoun and Castleton. His son, Thomas Sempill of Elliotstoun, sheriff of Renfrew, ninth in succession of the family, sat in parliament, 25th February 1484. He fell at the battle of Sauchieburn, fighting on the side of James III., 11th June 1488.

His only son, Sir John Sempill, first Lord Sempill, was created a peer by James IV. about 1489. The precise date is unknown, but according to Crawfurd (Hist. of Renfrewshire, p. 76), it was in the first year of that monarch’s reign. The collegiate church of Lochwinnoch was founded by him in 1505. He also erected, or rather rebuilt, near the eastern end of the loch, the castle of Castleton, the name of which he changed to Castle-Semple. He fell at the battle of Flodden, 9th September 1513. He was twice married, first, to Margaret, daughter of Sir Robert Colville of Ochiltree, and had by her two sons, William, second Lord Sempill, and Gabriel, progenitor, by his second son, John Sempill, of the Sempills of Cathcart; and, secondly, to Margaret, daughter of James Crichton of Ruthvendenny, widow of Sir William Stirling of Keir, without issue.

The elder son, William, second Lord Sempill, obtained a charter of the lordship of Semple from James V., with the consent of the Regent Albany, in 1515. By the same monarch, he was appointed justiciary of the regality of Paisley, with consent of his privy council. He was one of the nobles who assented to the project of a marriage between Queen Mary and Prince Edward of England, 25th August 1543, which was never carried out. In 1547, he purchased from John Bruntchells, the last of the family of Bruntchells of that ilk, the estate of Bruntchells (a corruption of Burnt-shields) in the parish of Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire. He died in 1548. He was twice married, but had issue only by his first wife, Lady Margaret Montgomery, eldest daughter of Hugh, first earl of Eglinton, two sons, Robert, third Lord Sempill, and David, ancestor of the Sempills of Craigletts, a branch of whom settled in Spain.

Robert, third Lord Sempill, the elder son, called the great Lord Sempill, had, when master of Sempill, with other charters, one of the office of governor and constable of the king’s castle of Douglas, 20th October 1533. He was taken prisoner by the English at the battle of Pinkie, 1547, and succeeded his father the following year. He was one of the supporters of the queen regent, Mary of Guise, against the lords of the Congregation. In 1560, his castle was besieged and taken, for having disobeyed the laws and ordinances of the council, especially, because he persisted in retaining the mass, and had beset the earl of Arran with a great number of his friends, while he was riding on his way with his accustomed company. He was faithful to the interests of Queen Mary till the murder of Darnley, but in 1567 he entered into the association to defend the young king, James Vi., and was one of the jury on the trial of the earl of Bothwell. At Carberry-hill he was one of the lords who commanded the rear-guard of the confederated force in arms against the queen and Bothwell. He was one of the lords who signed the letters to Douglas of Lochleven to take in charge the ill-fated Queen Mary. He had a command in the avant-guard of the army of the Regent Moray, at the battle of Langside, in 1568, and in consideration of his many valuable services to the king and government, he obtained from him, in 1569, a charter of the abbey of Paisley, on the forfeiture of Lord Claud Hamilton, but it was afterwards restored to the latter. He was one of the secret council of the regent, and after his murder he was taken prisoner, in 1570, by the Hamiltons, while riding home securely from the army of the earls of Lennox and Glencairn at Glasgow. He was carried prisoner to Draffen, whence in a few days he was removed to Argyle by Lord Boyd, and detained there for a year. He engaged in the great feuds between the houses of Eglinton, with which the Sempills had formed various marriage connexions, and Glencairn, or the Montgomeries and Cunninghams. These feuds lasted from 1488 to 1586. He built the Peel, the ruins of which still exist, on a small isle on Castle-Semple Loch. He died in 1572. He married, first, Isabel, daughter of Sir William Hamilton of Sanquhar, and had, with four daughters, two sons, Robert, master of Sempill, who predeceased him, leaving a son, Robert, fourth Lord Sempill; and Andrew, who, in 1560, got from his father the lands of Bruntchells, and was ancestor of the Sempills of Bruntchells and Millbank. He married, secondly, Elizabeth, a daughter of Carlyle of Torthorwald, and had, with three daughters, a son, John, whose wife, Mary Livingstone, one of ‘the Queen’s Maries,’ was the youngest daughter of the fifth Lord Livingstone. John Knox notices the marriage of Mary Livingstone the lusty to John Semple the dancer. He acquired the lands of Beltrees, and was ancestor of the Sempills of Beltrees, celebrated for their poetical talents (see next article). In 1577, John Sempill conspired against the Regent Morton, with the design of procuring his death. The conspiracy was revealed by one of his accomplices, Gabriel Sempill, who avowed it before the council, and offered to maintain the truth of his declaration against him in single combat. John Sempill then confessed, and subscribed his confession with his own hand, but instantly swooned, and could not hold the pen in his hand. When he recovered, he craved mercy, but was convicted by an assize, and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. At the intercession of his friends, however, he was reprieved, and committed to prison in the castle of Edinburgh, to remain there during the regent’s pleasure. He was not set at liberty till Morton resigned the regency.

Robert, fourth Lord Sempill, succeeded his grandfather towards the end of the year 1572, and was left under the guardianship of James, earl of Morton. At the baptism of Prince Henry at Stirling in 1594, he “carried the lavyer with water,” and at the banquet afterwards in the great hall he officiated as sewer to the queen. He was one of the privy councilors of James VI., and in 1596 was sent ambassador to Spain. Being a Roman Catholic, he never held any other public office. At the convention of the ministry at Linlithgow in December 1606, certain popish noblemen were ordered to be confined to various towns, and among the rest Lord Sempill was restricted to Irving in Ayrshire. The presbytery of that place having, after long dealing and conference with him, failed to convince him of the errors of popery, the General Assembly, in August 1608, ordered him to be excommunicated as a confirmed and obstinate papist. As the ecclesiastical punishment of excommunication was in those days enforced by the courts of law, it involved also civil penalties, such as the confiscation of landed property, and on that account was always dreaded by the nobility and those who had anything to lose, even although they cared little for its spiritual effect. This formidable and powerful weapon in the hands of the clergy was put at end to at the Revolution, by a law being passed revoking and repealing “all acts enjoining civil pains upon sentences of excommunication.” Robert, Lord Sempill died 25th March 1611. He was twice married, first to Lady Anne Montgomery, second daughter of the third earl of Eglinton, and had one son, Hugh, fifth Lord Sempill, and four daughters; and, secondly, to Dame Johanna de Evieland, a Dutch lady, by whom he had one son, Sir James Sempill, who settled in the north of Ireland.

Hugh, fifth Lord Sempill, was one of the peers that sat upon the trial of Patrick, earl of Orkney, in 1614. He never went to court, or interfered in public affairs, but lived always at home in great splendour and magnificence. He died 19th September 1639. Like his father, he was twice married, first, to Lady Anne Hamilton, eldest daughter of the first earl of Abercorn, and had by her a daughter, Marian, Lady Preston of Valleyfield; and, secondly, to Lady Elizabeth Hay, third daughter of the ninth earl of Errol, and, with two daughters, had four sons, namely, 1. Francis, sixth Lord Sempill, who died, without issue, 3d November, 1644. 2. Robert, who succeeded his brother as seventh Lord Sempill. 3. Archibald Sempill of Dykehead; and 4. James, who entered a religious order on the continent.

Robert, seventh Lord Sempill, was never concerned in any state affairs, but from his well-known attachment to the royal cause, he was fined £1,000 by Cromwell’s act of grace and pardon, 1654. He died 8th September 1675. By his wife, Anne Douglas, daughter of the first Lord Mordington, he had two sons, Robert, master of Sempill, who died in his 18th year, unmarried, and Francis, eighth Lord Sempill, and two daughters, Anne, of whom afterwards, and Jean, wife of Alexander Sinclair of Roslin.

Francis, eighth lord, became a Protestant, and was the first of the Lords Sempill who had appeared in parliament since the reign of Queen Mary, being excluded on account of their adherence to popery. He married the sister of the first earl of Rosebery, but died without issue in 1684.

His elder sister, Anne, succeeded as baroness of Sempill. She married Francis Abercromby of Fetterneir, who was created, for his life only, Lord Glassford, his title being taken from an estate of the Sempill family of that name, 5th July 1685. Lady Sempill obtained a new charter of the title and estates, May 16, 1688, settling them on her female issue in default of male, with remainder to her heirs and assignees whatsoever. She died in 1695. She had, with one daughter, five sons. 1. Francis, ninth Lord Sempill. 2. Hon. Captain Robert Sempill, killed in the wars abroad, without issue. 3. John, tenth Lord Sempill. 4. Hon. Alexander Sempill, who died young; and 5. Hew, eleventh Lord Sempill, born after the entail.

Francis, ninth Lord Sempill, was educated in the popish religion, but after succeeding to the title, he became a Protestant, and took his seat in parliament, 14th May 1703. He gave the treaty of union all the opposition in his power, voting against every article. He died, unmarried, not long afterwards. His brother, John, tenth Lord Sempill, was very active during the rebellion of 1715, on the side of government, in promoting the training and disciplining of the Ayrshire fencible men. He died, unmarried, in August 1716. His only surviving brother, Hew, eleventh Lord Sempill, early entered the army. His first commission was dated in July 1709. He served with reputation in Flanders and Spain, and in 1718 was major of the 26th regiment of foot, or Cameronians. In 1731 he was lieutenant-colonel of the 19th foot, and 14th January 1741, he succeeded the earl of Craufurd as colonel of the 42d foot. During his command that regiment was designated Lord Sempill’s Highlanders. In 1743 he accompanied it to Flanders. In that and the following year the regiment was quartered in different parts of that country; and by their quiet, orderly, and kind deportment, acquired the entire confidence of the people among whom they mixed. The electoro-palatine wrote to his envoy in London, desiring him to thank the king of Great Britain for the excellent behaviour of the regiment while in his territories in 1743 and 1744, and for their sake, he adds, “I will always pay a respect and regard to a Scotchman in future.” Lord Sempill commanded in the town of Aeth, when it was besieged by the French, and made a gallant defence. He was appointed colonel of the 25th foot, 25th April 1745. At the battle of Culloden, 16th April 1746, he acted as a brigadier-general. His regiment was placed in the second line in the left wing of the royal army. IN the middle of August following, he arrived at Aberdeen, and assumed the command of the troops stationed in that quarter. He died in that city, 25th November the same year. His death was occasioned by the puncture of the tendon of his arm on being let blood. In 1727 he had sold the estates of Elliotstoun and Castle-Semple, after they had been for about five hundred years the property of the Sempill family, to Colonel M’Dowall, a younger son of M’Dowall of Garthland, and in 1813, William M’Dowall of Garthland and Castle-Semple sold the latter estate to John Harvey, Esq. of Jamaica. In 1741, Hew, Lord Sempill, bought the estate of North Barr, in the same county. The Sempill family at one period possessed property which at the present day would bring a rental of upwards of £20,000, but most of it has passed into other hands. He was the author of ‘A short Address to the Public, on the practice of cashiering Military Officers without a Trial; and a Vindication of the Conduct and Political Opinions of the Author,’ Lond. 1793, 8vo. By his first wife, Sarah, daughter and coheiress of Nathanael Gaskill, Esq. (called Gascoigne in Douglas’ Peerage) of Manchester, his lordship had five sons and six daughters. Two of his sons were officers in the army.

John, twelfth Lord Sempill, the eldest son, succeeded his father in 1746, and died at Sempill house, 15th January 1782. He married Janet, only daughter and heiress of Hugh Dunlop of Bishoptoun, Renfrewshire, and had Hugh, thirteenth Lord Sempill, two other sons, and three daughters.

Hugh, thirteenth Lord Sempill, an officer in the 3d regiment of foot-guards, (ensign, 24th December 1777, lieutenant, 26th February 1781), retired from the army in 1793. He died 25th January 1830. By his wife, Maria, daughter of Charles Mellish, Esq. of Ragnal, Nottinghamshire, he had two sons, Selkirk, who succeeded him, and Francis, died 2d January 1843, and two daughters, the Hon. Marie Janet, and the Hon. Sarah Sempill.

The elder son, Selkirk, fourteenth Lord Sempill, born 12th February 1788, died unmarried in 1835. The title then devolved on his sister, Maria Janet, second Baroness Sempill in her own right. She married in 1826, Edward Candler, Esq. of Morton Pinkney, a deputy lieutenant of Northamptonshire, who assumed the name of Sempill only, by royal license, dated 26th August 1853.

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The Sempills of Beltrees, Renfrewshire, were descended from John, third son of the third Lord Sempill. This gentleman, called “John the dancer” by Knox, married, as already stated, Mary Livingstone, one of the maids of honour to Queen Mary, with whom they were both great favourites. Their son, Sir James Sempill of Beltrees, was ambassador to Queen Elizabeth in the reign of James VI. He was an intimate and faithful friend of Mr. Andrew Melville. IN Dr. M’Crie’s Life of Melville, he is frequently mentioned. Being a great favourite of King James VI., Sir James was employed to transcribe the famous Basilicon Doron, written by that monarch, and having sent it to Melville to peruse, the latter took objection to some passages in it, and the subject was brought before the synod of Fife, by Mr. John Dykes, minister at Anstruther, in September 1599. The king sent Mr. Francis Bothwell to apprehend Dykes, but he escaped. This obliged the king, in self-defence, to publish the work entire. After Melville had been decoyed to London, in 1606, and committed to the Tower, Sir James Sempill exerted himself strenuously on his behalf. He first procured for him a relaxation of his confinement, and in 1611, with the duke de Bouillon, used his influence to obtain for him permission to retire to France. He became professor of theology in the Protestant university of Sedan, where he had Daniel Tilenus, a Silesian by birth, who held Arminian principles, for a colleague, and it is conjectured that at Melville’s suggestion Sir James Sempill engaged in a controversy with him. To ingratiate himself with King James, Tilenus proceeded to England, and published a pamphlet, entitled Paraenesis ad Scotos Genevensis disciplinae zelotas, wherein he defended episcopacy and abused the Scottish Presbyterians. This was confuted by Sir James Sempill in a work published in 1622, entitled ‘An Answer to Tilenus’ Defence of the Bishops and the Five Articles,’ and also in Calderwood’s Altare Damascenum. In this controversy Sir James obtained secret assistance from Melville, and public and effectual aid from Calderwood. Sir James was also the author of ‘Sacrilege sacredly handled, in two parts; with an Appendix, answering some objections,’ London, 1619, 4to; ‘Cassander Scotiana to Cassander Anglicanus,’ 1616; and ‘Sacrilege saved by Cassander,’ 1619. He likewise wrote ‘The Packman and the Priest,’ a satirical poem against the Church of Rome. In a letter, quoted in Calderwood (vol. vii. p. 183), to Sir James Sempill, from the eminent minister Robert Bruce, dated at Inverness, where he was in exile, 10th February 1613, he styles Sir James “Right Honourable Cousin.” When King James visited Scotland in 1617, an oration in the form of an allegory, welcoming his majesty, was pronounced in the great hall of the earl of Abercorn, by a very pretty boy, nine years old, William, the youngest son of the sheriff of Renfrewshire, Sir James Sempill of Beltrees. There can be little doubt that Sir James was himself the author of this oration. He died in his house at the Cross of Paisley in February 1625. By his wife, Egidia, daughter of Elphinstone of Blythswood, he had a son, Robert Sempill of Beltrees, author of an Epitaph and Elegy on Habbie Simpson, the piper of Kilbarchan, who died about the beginning of the seventeenth century, a poem of much local celebrity. A statue of the piper was, in 1822, placed in a niche of the steeple of Kilbarchan. In 1584, Semple wrote a poem, entitled ‘’the Legend of the Lymmar’s Life,’ on the journey of Archbishop ‘Adamson to and from London, and his behaviour on the road. He married a daughter of Lyon of Auldbar. His son, Francis Semple of Beltrees, was the author of the ‘Banishment of Poverty,’ a piece of considerable merit, and among other favourite Scottish songs, of the celebrated one, ‘She rose and let me in.’ The famous comic ballad beginning

“Wha wadna be in love wi’ bonny Maggie Lauder?”

Was written by him about 1642. Some epitaphs written by him are preserved in Pennycooke’s Collection of Poetical Pieces. The following anecdote of him is given in the fifth number of the Paisley Repository: “When Cromwell’s forces were garrisoned in Glasgow, the city was put under severe martial law, which, among other enactments, ordained ‘That every person or persons coming into the city must send a particular account of themselves, and whatever they may bring with them, unto the commander of the forces in that place, under the penalty of imprisonment and confiscation, both of the offender’s goods and whatever chattels are in the house or houses wherein the offender or offenders may be lodged,’ &c. Francis Semple and his lady, (a daughter of Campbell of Ardkinglas,) set out on a journey to Glasgow, accompanied by a man-servant, sometime in 1651, or a little after that, to visit his aunt, an old maiden lady, his father’s sister, who had a jointure of him, which he paid by half-yearly instalments. When he came to his aunt’s house, which was on the High Street, at the bell of the brae, now known by the name of ‘The Duke of Montrose’s Lodging, or Barrell’s Ha’,’ his aunt told him that she must send an account of his arrival to the captain of Cromwell’s forces, otherwise the soldiers would come and poind her moveables. Francis replied, ‘Never you mind that; let them come, and I’ll speak to them.’ ‘Na, na,’ quoth his aunt, ‘I maun send an account o’ your coming here.’ – ‘Gie me a bit of paper,’ says Francis, ‘and I’ll write it myself’.’ Then taking the pen, he wrote as follows: --

‘Lo doon near by the city temple,
There is ane lodged wi’ auntie Semple,
Francis Semple of Beltrees,
His consort also, if you please;
There’s two o’s horse, and ane o’s men,
That’s quarter’s down wi’ Allan Glen.
Thir lines I send to you, for fear
O’poindin’ of auld auntie’s gear,
Whilk never ane before durst stear,
It stinks for staleness I date swear.
Glasgow. (signed) Francis Semple

Directed ‘To the commander of the guard in Glasgow.’

“When the captain received the letter, he could not understand it on account of its being written in the Scottish dialect. He considered it as an insult put upon him, and like a man beside himself with rage, he exclaimed, ‘If I had the scoundrel who has had the audacity to send me such an insulting, infamous, and impudent libel, I would make the villainous rascal suffer for his temerity.’ He then ordered a party of his men to go and apprehend a Francis Semple, who was lodged with a woman of the name of Semple, near the High church, and carry him to the provost. Mr. Semple was accordingly brought before the provost, and his accuser appeared with the insulting, infamous, and impudent libel against him. It was read; but it was impossible for the provost to retain his gravity during the perusal; nay, the captain himself, after hearing an English translation of the epistle, could not resist joining in the laugh. From that moment he and Beltrees became intimate friends, and he often declared, that he considered Semple to be one of the cleverest gentlemen in Scotland. On no account would the captain part with Beltrees during his residence in Glasgow. The time, therefore, that Francis intended to have passed with the old lady his aunt, was humourously spent with the captain and the other officers of Cromwell’s forces, who kept him in Glasgow two weeks longer than he otherwise would have stayed.”

It seems probable that these officers introduced to of Semple’s song into England before the Restoration; for they were both printed, and well known in England, in the reign of Charles II., the words and music being engraved by Thomas Cross. Henry Playford afterwards introduced the song of ‘She rose and let me in,’ in his ‘Wit and Mirth,’ (vol. i. printed at London in 1698). Gay introduced the air of Maggie Lauder in his musical opera of Achilles, printed in 1733. The same air had previously been used for a song, called Sally’s New Answer, set to the tune of Mogey Lauther, a sort of parody on Carey’s Sally in our Alley, as well as for a song in the Quaker’s Opera, written by Thomas Walker, and acted at Lee and Harper’s Booth in Bartholomew Fair, in 1728. (Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum, vol. vi. p. 477.) The Poems attributed to the Semples of Beltrees were published at Edinburgh in 1849, in one volume 8vo.

Francis Sempill was the last of the three rhyming lairds of Beltrees. He sold Beltrees, which is in the parish of Lochwinnoch, retaining the superiority, and in 1677, towards the end of his life, the family removed to a property in the parish of Kilbarchan, called Thirdpart, which he had purchased.

He had a son, Robert, who married Mary, sister of Sir Robert Pollok of Pollok, Their son, also named Robert, born 8th January 1687, died in July 1789, in his 103d year. In 1697, when only ten years old, he was present at the burning of the witches at Paisley. To prevent his going his parents hid his shoes, and he went without them. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1708, and at his death was probably the oldest judicial functionary of that or any other rank in the British empire. Sir John Sinclair, in his ‘Code of Health and Longevity,’ makes Robert Sempill’s age 105, and in the Old Statistical Account of Kilbarchan, it is made 108. William Semple, however, in his ‘Continuation of Crawfurd’s History of Renfrewshire,’ )Part II. p. 163), expressly states that the old gentleman was “born January 1687,” adding that, “on March 21st, 1782, I was in company with him, his daughter, his grand-daughter, and his great-grandson, all in good health.” William Semple was himself a native of Kilbarchan parish, having been the son of a farmer, and born 10th May 1747, as he has taken care to leave on record (Continuation of Crawfurd’s History, p. 128, note). In the New Statistical Account of Paisley (p. 165) he is erroneously called a native of that town. We learn from the latter useful work that the old man’s son, Robert Sempill, acquired some money and retrieved the circumstances of the family, but left it all to Mr. Hamilton Collins, who had married his youngest sister, -- Mrs. Campbell, the eldest sister, being entirely overlooked. The daughter of the latter married Mr. Stewart, a merchant in Greenock, and their son took the title of James Stewart of Beltrees.


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