Book Review: Lost Lives, New Voices: Unlocking the stories of the Scottish Soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650

Lost Lives, New Voices: Unlocking the Stories of the Scottish Soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650 by Christopher Gerrard, Pam Graves, Andrew Millard, Richard Annis and Anwen Caffell

LostLives, New Voices: Unlocking the stories of the Scottish Soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar 1650. Christopher Gerrad, Pam Graves, Andrew Millard, Richard Annis and ANwen Caffell. Published by Oxbow Books, The Old Music Hall, Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 IJE, UK  www.oxbowbooks.com. £20. And Oxbow Books, 1950 Lawrence Rd, Havertown, PA 19083. www.casemateacademic.com/ oxbow. $35.00. 2018. xvi, 368 pp. Color and B&W Illustrations, index. Softcover. Also available as an eBook.

Though this book has a broad context in the stories of all soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, its Appendix A will likely be of most interest to the American researcher seeking Scottish ancestors. This is because no passenger list for the Unity that arrived late in 1650 carrying Dunbar prisoners exists, The appendix is divided into four sections: (1) Definite – men who appear in association with the Saugus Ironworks and are not on the John and Sara list: (2) Probable – men who first appear in records shortly after the likely end of indentures, or who have strong associations with groups of Scots in Oyster River, NH, York, ME, or Block Island, RI, or who are founders of the Scots Charitable Society, and who are not on the John and Sara list; (3) Possible – men with weaker associations, with slightly later appearance in the records, who possibly appear on the John and Sara list or where the team has failed to find evidence suggestive of their status as Scots and/or prisoners; (4) Doubtful – men who have been named as Dunbar prisoners in the past, mostly by George S. Stewart, but for whom no evidence seems to show they arrive in New England other than on the Unity, mostly because they appear on the John and Sarah list or they first appear well after 1660. Entries for each individual in the four alphabetical lists provide surnames (with known spelling variations) and forenames, residences listed by state, date of first known appearance in New England records, years of birth and death based on evidence contemporary with the name, and brief notes justifying the categorization or offering other items of interest, followed by sources.

Chapters 7 and 8 will also interest American researchers. They provide context and describe the experience of the approximately 150 Scottish Dunbar prisoners transported to New England in 1650. The majority were destined to serve five to eight-year indentures working in the iron works at Braintree and Hammersmith and in the northern timberlands on the frontiers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, though others were sold off to local farmers, merchants and craftsmen. The study shows that prisoners’ lives were very different from their former lives in Scotland. Descriptions illustrate, using both archeological and documentary evidence for personal living and working conditions and industrial context of the time. This information is applicable to anyone living in the area at the time, not just the Scots, though they are used as examples.

To get a stronger sense of the people involved and their lives, mini biographies are provided for James Warren, William Furbusch, Peter Grant, William Cahoon, and William Paul. Appendix B, also provides transcripts of New England wills and inventories for Nyven Agnew, Arsbell Anderson, John Berbeene, Alexander Bow, Alexander Bravender, John Clarke, Alexander Cooper, Patrick Fassett, Peter Grant, George Gray, Robert Junkins, John Maccoon, Robert Mackclafflin, Alister Mackmallen, Alexander Maxwell, Micom McIntire, Henry Merrow, James Moore, Finaly Ross, John Taylor, John Upton, and James Warren. These men, and the other Dunbar prisoners, are tied together through family, marriage, and mutual support networks, each illustrated. The men also have an impact on the naming of the places where they settled throughout New England.

The impetus for this book was an archaeological find. In November 2013 two mass burials were discovered unexpectedly while excavating the foundations of a new café at the Palace Green Library, part of Durham cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Thirty bodies were excavated, with other bodies left undisturbed, under the walls of the surrounding buildings. The goal was then to identify these men. One option, later confirmed, was that they were some of the thousands of soldiers taken prisoner at the Battle of Dunbar in Scotland in September 1650, marched south to Durham Cathedral and held prisoner. In putting this event in context, the book provides context for the battle and its results.

The book also describes in detail the archaeological dig to unearth the prisoners who died in Durham. It makes fascinating reading in explaining why this was a mass grave rather than an old cemetery and examining old maps and construction sites around the cathedral. The discussion of skeleton science showing which bones survived for which skeletons, identifying their preservation, fragmentation and completeness, whether young or mature adults, their dental health, and skeletal pathology (scars, inflammation, sinusitis, hollows, nodes, etc). For a non-archaeologist reader, this was in places technical, but clear and understandable. The scientific analysis of the teeth and bones provided impressive clues about where in Scotland many grew up, but also showed that a significant number had spent time in continental Europe, all under differing living conditions.

The book continues by describing the battle and then what happened to the survivors, of which the New England soldiers were a very small number, though the only group individually identified by name. Other survivors worked in the coal mines and salt pans in the Northeast of England, others were sent as laborers to drain the Fens, as soldiers to France, along with discussion of other places considered but apparently not acted upon – Crete, Virginia, West Indies – mainly because of political leanings.

The book is heavily footnoted, with an extensive bibliography, providing lots of additional options for further research. Certainly, for anyone with known or possible Scots ancestry in New England this book is a must read, but it is also of value to others wanting to understand life in New England. This book combines archaeology, modern DNA studies, and documentary research, illustrating life during the English Civil War, in the context of European and North Atlantic trade.

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