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Social Life in Scotland
Chapter IV. - Births and Baptismal Registers

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 11 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 Cambridge-Duke-Campbell-Colin.

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 vicarage teind.

By his 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, godfathers."

By his 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 [1746]. 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.

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