IN anticipation of a birth,
the women of the family prepared a large and rich cheese called the kenno,
as the males of the household were supposed to be ignorant of its existence.
After the birth, it was cut in portions and distributed among the matrons
who were in attendance. The mother and child were then sained, that
is, a fir-candle was whirled round the bed three several times. By means of
this rite evil influence was held to be averted.
The new-born child was
plunged in a vessel of cold water, into which was cast a live coal.
Thereafter was the infant, if a male, wrapped in a woman's shift; if a girl,
in a man's shirt. Before touching the little one, female visitors were
expected to cross themselves with a burning brand. The child was not to be
unduly commended, lest it should be forespoken, which implied
consequences detrimental to fortune. After the mother's recovery persons of
both sexes assembled to offer congratulations, also to drink to the child's
welfare. The occasion was known as the gossip's wake or cummerfealls,
and it was deemed essential to the infant's prosperity, that in drinking,
each should swallow the entire contents of his glass. In March 1645 the
Kirksession of Dunfermline enacted thus: "Taking to their consideration the
abuse of mixt meetings of men and women meerlie for drinking of cummerfealls
as they call it—and the inconveniences arising therefrom, as mainlie the
losse and abuseing of so much tyme, which may be better employed in
attending to businisse at home, be such as frequent the occasions
thereof—the prejudice which persons lying in child-bed receive both in
health and means, being forced not onlie to beare companie to such as come
to visit, but also to provide for there coming, more than either is
necessarie or theire estate may beare. Considering also that persons of the
better sort carrie a secret dislike to it, and would be gladlie content of
ane act of this kynd that there might be to them some warrand against
exceptions, which might be takein be freinds and neighbors if the ancient
custome were not keeped be such. Upon these considerations the minister and
elders of the sessioun discharges, and inhibits all visits of this kynd, and
for the end foresail under the paine of being for the first fault censured
be the session, and there to be obliged humblie to acknowledge their fault,
and for the nixt to make publick confession of their fault before the whole
congregation. And the session appoynts this to be intimat publicklie the
nixt Sabbath day, that none plead ignorance,—which was done."
When a child was baptized,
the infant was placed in a basket, on which was spread a white cloth, with
portions of bread and cheese; it was then suspended by a crook over the
fire-place, which was three times moved round. Thereby was destroyed, the
noxious influence of the fairies and of other malignant powers. When baptism
was to be performed in church, the bearer carried portions of bread and
cheese, which she offered to the person first met; if the offer was
rejected, bad luck for the child was apprehended. When several children were
baptized together, it was deemed essential that the males should be
presented first; when a girl was prior to a boy handed up, it was
apprehended that she would be disfigured by a beard. Without the pale of
their own communion the Scottish clergy did not admit of baptism being
performed. On the 31st December 1567, the Countess of Argyle, being
complained of for assisting at the baptism of the infant James VI. "in a
papistical manner," submitted herself to the Assembly, who ordained her "to
make public repentance in the Chapel Royal of Striveling ane Sunday in time
of preaching." So recently as 1716, the parish minister of Colinton near
Edinburgh, declined registration of baptism to the son of Sir James Foulis
Bart., one of his heritors, inasmuch as his infant daughter had been
baptized by an episcopal clergyman. The refusal was resisted sternly.
Procuring the Baptismal Register from the session-clerk, Mr Foulis, with his
own hand made an entry of his daughter's baptism—thereto adding the
following protest: "I, the said Mr Harry Foulis, advocate, was obliged to
write as above with mine own hand, in respect that Mr Walter Allan, then
incumbent at Collintoun alias Hailes, had discharged his session-clerk to
insert my children's baptisms in the register, because they were baptized by
an Episcopall Minister."
Some of the more zealous of
the Presbyterian clergy were included in the eight brethren who, in 1740,
formed the nucleus of the Secession Church. By the seceding ministers their
followers were enjoined to avoid making record of births or baptisms in the
parochial registers. The registrar of Stirling in his register at the close
of 1742 writes, "What mistakes or neglects may be found in these last two
years, is occasioned by the disorderlyness of the Associats." He adds at the
close of 1743, "If any names are wanting in this year, it is by the
disorderlyness of the Associats, who will not pay their dues."
While landowners belonging to
the Episcopal Church were refused registration, those heritors who conformed
to Presbytery were in the baptismal registers honoured to excess. The most
inconsiderable landowner and his wife, who resided upon their estates, were
on baptismal occasions registered as "the laird" and "lady." Thus, when
Margaret Lauder, wife of John Fairholm of Baberton, brought him a son on the
21st May 1705, the session-clerk of Currie intimated in the register that on
that day "George, son to the Laird and Lady Baberton, was born."
According to the form
prescribed in "The Book of Common Order," every child was to be presented
for baptism by one of the parents, accompanied by a god-father. To
god-fathers usually attended, but these are in the registers, in
Presbyterian times, named simply as witnesses.
By parochial authorities,
deserted children were properly cared for, and efforts to discover their
parents diligently put forth. On the 15th November 1646, the Kirksession of
St Andrews having learned that "ane bairne was found in the West Burne Wynd,
layd doun at John Yule's stair foot," resolved that "the heall elders of the
several quarters and bailyies thereof shall go throw their own quarters with
their roues [rolls] and search if any tryall can be found, and to be
communicat to the Presbyterie that ilk minister may search and try his ain
parish for tryall thereof."
In the parish register of
Canongate, we learn that on the 19th June 1668, was baptized by the name of
Theophilus a child found three days previously. To the child's dress was
attached a slip of paper with the words "For Jesus Christ's sake, baptize."
The slip, is preserved on the margin of the register.
Foundlings obtained baptismal
names on no regular system. Some were designated after the parish or the
district or locality in which they were found. Thus, a female child picked
up by a market gardener in the parish of St Machar, Aberdeenshire, was
baptized Ann Garden. A child which, in 1736, was found by John Gordon at New
Park, Ordiquhill, Banffshire, was baptized "Charles Park." This foundling
surmounted the disadvantages of his birth, married, and became prosperous.
On the subject of foundlings
a brief narrative may be added. When George IV. visited Scotland in 1822, an
old man presented himself at Holyrood as " the Last of His Majesty's
enemies." This was Peter Grant, a sergeant in the Prince's army at Culloden.
Peter's statement was verified by the Hon. William Maule, of Panmure, and
the king, in acknowledging the visit, bestowed on "the last of his enemies"
a pension of fifty hounds. Peter was born at Braemar, and the circumstances
of his birth are thus detailed in the parish register of Crathie. "October
9, 1720, The gentlewoman that lately came into James Shaw's family, had
brought forth a child, and as they [the elders] were certainly informed, a
gentleman of the name of Grant is the father of the child, and that the
gentleman lived in the parish of Strathdown." Peter Grant died at Invercauld
on the 11th February 1824. On his tombstone at Invercauld he is described as
having reached the age of 110; his actual age was 104.
To the children of those who
were personally unbaptized, were in baptism denied the usual christian
names. Thus, when the child of one Pierce, the negro servant of Sheriff
Parkin at Forfar, was baptized in 1704, he was named "Offspring" Pierce.
Female children have been
baptized by names inappropriate to their sex. Thus, in the Edinburgh
register of baptisms, the wife of William Dick of Grange is named "Charles
Leslie." At South Leith in 1786, David Pitkethly had his daughter baptized
David. In the same year at Cramond, a daughter baptized to Hugh Paterson was
named Peter Rockhead. In 1803, Duncan Campbell in the parish of Kilninian,
gave his daughter his own Christian name.
The desire of some parents to
designate their children by a plurality of names, has had singular
illustrations. The register of the Grey-friars' Churchyard, Edinburgh,
contains the following:—"July 7, 1785,
Washington-Franklin-Nisbet-Bruno-Fox-Aitchison, youngest son of Alexander
Aitchison, jeweller, Edinburgh, died the 5th July 1785, having been
previously half-starved, half-murdered by his nurse, and her drunken
husband, ceetutis eight months ten days and 11½ hours." Charles Christian, a
retired soldier, settled in the parish of Lochlee, has in the names of his
children commemorated old battle-scenes, and his former commanders and
comrades. To his son, baptized in 1866, he have the naives:
David-Walter-Charles-Essex-M'Laren-Hay-Robert. His daughter born in 1867, he
named Jean-Anon-Alma-Alayclyne-Lydia-Florence-Mary-Euphemia-Christina. His
daughter, born in 1869 he designated Jessie-Falconer-Betsy-Guthrie-Agenith-Catchka-Mamelon-Malakoff.
And to a son, born in 1870, he gave the expressive appellative of
From the Baptismal Registers
may be gathered examples of remarkable fecundity. In the register of Brechin
parish, we have the following:—"June 3, 1626, John Gib, skinner, spous to
Grizell Nicol had a man bairne baptized named James. June 4, the said John
Gib had ane ither man chyld baptized, born of the said Grizel, named John.
Upon the sext day of Junij the said Grizel brocht furth the thrid, quhilk
was dead borne, and thairefter died herself."
The occurrence of four
children at a birth, is in the register of Currie, thus notified:—"September
30, 1694, James Caldwalls and Jannet Frizzell in Currie toun had four
children at one birth; two of whom were born dead, the other two alive.
They were born the 29th of September and baptized the 30th day thereof."
A most extraordinary instance
of fertility is recorded in the Baptismal Register of Falkland. It is
therein set forth, that Ephemia Galloway wife of William Portor, blacksmith,
gave birth to twill children, boy and girl, on the 13th December 1858; and
that on the 18th November 1859, eleven months and five days thereafter, she
produced other three children, two boys and a girl, being five children born
of her within twelve months.
By a Parliamentary statute passed on the 7th
August 1854, it is provided that the parish registers of births and
baptisms, also those of marriages and deaths previous to the year 1820,
should be deposited in the "Registry Office," then constituted at Edinburgh.
In that office are now preserved registers which formerly belonged to the
Kirksessions of about nine hundred parishes. Many of these have been injured
by damp, while others have suffered from fire, and others from general
neglect. Banks are frequent. The majority of Births' registers commence
about the middle of the seventeenth century; only fifteen parishes possess
registers which extend to the century preceding. The Baptismal Register of
Errol, Perthshire, commences in December 1553, but the entries preceding the
year 1573 are transcribed from a former record which has been lost. Of the
same parish the marriage register for 1553 is actually extant.
Under the registration system as provided by the
Act of 1554, and by supplemental statutes passed in 1855 and 1860, parish
registers are kept by parochial registrars in strong iron boxes, while from
year to year the entries are inspected by examiners appointed by the
Treasury. The births and other registers prior to the year 1820, are in the
Registry Office, open without charge to those engaged in literary research.
To others, permission for a general search is accorded by the payment of one
pound. For a particular search the fee is one shilling and for an official
extract of any single entry is payable a further fee of 2s. 1d., which
includes stamp duty. Since the registration enactment of 1854, indexes of
the registers are prepared from year to year.
By some parish or session clerks in the
sixteenth century were chronicled contemporaneous events unconnected with
the locality. Thus the parish clerk of Aberdeen notifies in his register the
birth of James VI. which took place at Edinburgh. The entry, which was
evidently made subsequent to Queen Mary's abdication, which tools place on
the 27th July 1561, is in these words: "On Wednisday the nyntin day of June,
this year of God 1566 yeiris, oure Kyng grace, James the Saxt, Kyng of
Scotland, was boirin in ye Caistell of Edinburg, quha ryngis nowe aboye ws,
quhame God moitt preserve in guid helth and in the feir of God, to do
justice in punishing of wrayng and in manttinyen the trewht all the dais of
his lyfe. So be itt."
By the following entry in the Baptismal Register of the Canongate, a point
of literary history, hitherto misinterpreted, is made clear: "17 Apryll
1622. Baptized to Alexander Erskine, son to the Earl of Mar, great treasurer
of Scotland, a son named Alexander, gotten under promeis of marriage with
Mistress Anna, sister to ane nobill and potent Lord, John Lord Holyrudhouse."
In a note attached to a ballad which he entitles, "Lady Anne Bothwell's
Lament," Dr Robert Chambers writes: The present editor, by the assistance of
a valued antiquarian friend, is enabled now to lay a true and certain
history of the heroine before the public. Lady Anne Bothwell was no other
than the Honourable, Anna Bothwell, daughter of Bothwell, Bishop of Orkney
at the Reformation, but who was afterwards raised to a temporal peerage,
under the title of Lord Holyroodhouse.
As Miss Bothwell's father died in 1593, and as
Sir Alexander [Erskine] had a letter of provision of the abbacy of
Cambuskenneth in 1608, there arises a presumption, considering the age of
the parties, that the unhappy circumstance which occasioned the `Lament'
took place early in the seventeenth century. This indeed, is set almost
beyond a question by the occurrence of a poem, apparently the first edition
of Miss Bothwell's "Lament," in a publication of the year 1606, "The
Northern Lass; or, The Nest of Fools." In a subsequent work, Dr Robert
Chambers names as his "antiquarian friend," Mr Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe,
whose belief, he adds, was "founded on family traditions, supported by a
passage in Father Hay's manuscripts, contained in the Advocates Library."
In the light of the Canongate register the
respectable historical authorities, we have quoted prove severally at fault.
For Anne Bothwell now appears as daughter not of Bishop Adam Bothvvell, but
of his son, John, the first Lord Holyroodhouse, and to whom in 1609
succeeded as second peer, his son John named as "Lord Holyroodhouse," in the
Canongate register. By the entry we further learn that Alexander Erskine
made acknowledgment as to his promise of marriage, and presented his child
for baptism. That he did not fulfil his matrimonial pledge, was clearly
owing to the corrupt inclinations of the Bothwell family. In the Canongate
register, from 1623 to 1629, Lord Holyroodhouse appears as the father of
three illegitimate children by different mothers, who were severally
baptized to his valet. The association of the patriotic ballad "Balow my
boy," with the family of Bothwell is clearly unwarranted.
So long as Parish registers remained in the
hands of the local custodiers, biographical and historical writers were
liable to be at fault both in fixing dates and determining pedigrees. Thus,
Mr Donald Cargill, the celebrated covenanter, is described as the eldest son
of Cargill of Hatton, and as born at Rattray about the year 1619. By the
parish register of Rattray we learn differently. Thus: "6th April 1610,
Quhilk day Thomas Cargill, cotter, in Chappeltoune, and Janet Steill his
spouse, haid ane son baptized, callit Donald—the witnesses Donald Cargill,
vicar of Rattray, and Andro Quhyt in. Chapeltoune." The witness Donald
Cargill, was reader at Rattray, deriving a very small salary from the
biographers, the celebrated Marshal Keith is named James Francis Edward. The
Baptismal Register of St Fergus designates hint differently. Thus:—"June
16th 1696. The Earl of Marischall had a son baptized, called James Charles
Edward, before these witnesses, John Earl of Erroll, Charles Lord Hay, and
Sir William Keith of Londquhahairn." In some national works, the nativity of
Alexander Cruder, author of the "Concordance of the bible," is described as
occurring on the 31st May 1700, also in 1701.`` The Aberdeen register of
baptisms certifies thus:—"June 4, 1699, William Cruder, merchant, and late
Master of mortifications, and Isobell Pyper his spouse, had a son named
Alexander, baptized by Mr [John] Reid, minister of the gospell at [Durris].
Alexander Ray and Alexander Orem present bailies, Alexander Ray younger,
burges, and Alexander Lumsdell, son to William Lumsdell, burges and maltman,
biographers, James Boswell is described as born on the 29th October 1740,
but the Edinburgh Baptismal Register reports otherwise:—Thus, "Oct. 18,
1740; To Mr Alexander Boswell younger of Auchinleek, advocate, and Mrs
Eupham Erskine his spouse, a son named James, witnesses Walter M'Farlane of
that Ilk, Allan Whitefoord, receiver general for North Britain, and Dr John
Pringle, physician in Edinburgh. Born the same day in the morning, and
baptized by the Rev. Mr Robert Wallace, one of the ministers of the city.
A usually accurate chronicler, the late Earl of
Crawford, in his "Lives of the Lindsays," describes his relative, Lady Anne
Lindsay, afterwards Barnard, authoress of "Auld Robin Gray," as born on the
8th December 1750. From the Baptismal Register of Kilconquhar, we have the
following; "December 1, 1750. The Right Hon. James, Earle of Balcarres, and
his Lady Anne Dalrymple, had a child baptized named Anne, witnesses, Mr
James Dalrymple and Robert Hamilton of Kilbrackmont, Esqs., and Doctor James
Smith in Pearth. Born on the 27th November 1750."
Biographers differ respecting the birth of John
Home, the author of "The Tragedy of Douglas." In his sketch of the poet,
Henry Mackenzie alleges that he was born on the 22d September 1722, old
style, while by the editor of the "Scottish Nation" he is described as born
at Ancrum, on the 22nd September, new style. The Births Register of South
Leith records Home's birth in these terms: "Alexander Home, clerk of Leith,
and Christian Hay his spouse, had a son named John, born 2d and baptized 3d
September 1722; witnesses, John. Hay, Inspector of His Majesty's Customs,
Alexander Douglas, merchant, Joseph Gibson, chirurgeon apothecary, and
Alexander Innes, depute-clerk there."
On his tombstone at Portmoak, the poet Michael
Bruce has his natal day described as the 27th March 1746, and his various
biographers concur. But the Portmoak register informs us that the
short-lived poet was baptized some days previous to that named as his
birthday, Thus: "March 24 . Baptized Michael, son to Alexander Bruce,
dissenter in Kinnesswood."
According to the memoir-writers, Professor Sir
John Leslie, the celebrated mathematician, was born at Largo on the 16th
April 1766. In the Largo register we have this entry: "April 17, 1766. Was
born John, son to Robert Lesslie, wright in Kirktown of Largo, and Ann
Carstairs his spouse, and baptized 20th of same month, in presence of the
congregation." By his biographer, Mr George Robert Gleig, is the
distinguished General, Sir 'Thomas Munro, described as born on the 27th May
1761. The Glasgow register has the following: "Alexander Monro, merchant,
amid Margaret Stark, a lawful son, Thomas born 25th May 1761."
The Ettrick Shepherd, James Hog, imagined
that his birthday was the same as that of Robert Burns; he was born, he
reports in his autobiography, "on the 25th January 1772." But the register
of Ettrick parish shows that the Bard of the Forest saw the light sooner.
Thus: "December 9, 1769, James, lawful son to Robert Hogg and Margaret
Laidlaw, tenant In Ettrickhall, was baptized."
By the editor of the "Scottish Nation" we are
informed that Professor John Wilson was born at Paisley on the 19th May
1785. In the Paisley register we react, under the year 1785, "John, lawful
son of Mr John Wilson, merchant and Margaret Syme, born 18th May."
Hitherto the parentage of Mungo Park, the
celebrated traveller, has been unknown. But the Selkirk register informs its
in these words: "September 11 (1771) Mungo Park, tenant in Foulshiels, and
Elspeth Hislop, his spouse, had a child baptized by the Rev. Mr George
Lawson, of the Associate Congregation in Selkirk, named Mungo."
Baptismal registers show that the philosophers,
Adam Smith, James Beattie, and David Hume, were each baptized on the day of
his birth. Hume was the first of his family who substituted u for
o in his family name. His baptism is thus notified in the Edinburgh
register: "1711, 26 April. Mr Joseph Home of Ninewells, advocate, and
Katherin Falconer his lady, a son named David. Witnesses, George, Master of
Polwarth, Sir John Home of Blackadder, Sir Andrew Home, advocat, and Mr
Andrew Falconer, junior, advocat. Born this day."
By the Act of 1854, the registration of births
is made compulsory. A supplementary Act for the recovery and preservation in
the Register Office of Births Registers connected with Dissenting churches
is still desiderated.