Sometimes a family historian will come across something, not directly linked to their family, but so fascinating it begs a bit of research.  So, when I was looking at Census records for Campbeltown, Argyle the mention of ‘West Indies’ as the birthplace of Eliza Ann Cordner drew my eye.  The vast majority of people in the area originated in Scotland and, indeed, most from the near vicinity.  An interesting story emerged that links a small Scottish town to the wider Empire and underlines the links between Scotland and slavery

Eliza Ann Cordner was born Eliza Ann Breakenridge in Jamaica in 1816.  The Breakenridge family had a long  association with Campbeltown; her father was William Breakenridge, a coffee planter in Port Royal Jamaica who had been born in Campbeltown in 1783 where his father was a provision merchant.  He was the brother of Isabella, Ann, Mary and Thomas Breakenridge, all had owned enslaved people in Jamaica.  According his memorial  in Old Kilkerran Cemetary, Argyll, William died  in Jamaica in 1818.  He was an owner of enslaved persons in Port Royal, Jamaica, the 1840 claim notes  ’24 Enslaved  with compensation of £571 3S 10D’.

Eliza Ann’s mother was Dorothy Hall, described as a “free Mustee,” a term that indicates she had Afro-Carribean antecedents in her blood line, it is unclear if William and Dorothy were married but their child clearly was of acknowledged parentage.  William left legacies of £142 17s in his will to his each of  his sisters Isabella  and Mary Breakenridge and to his daughter Eliza Ann, who was residuary legatee to one-third of his estate.  In 1833 the British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their “property” when slave-ownership was abolished in Britain’s colonies and it was a “compensation” payment of around £500 to William’s estate that boosted his legacy.  This was a tiny sum in comparison to the  £106,796 paid to John Gladstone, the father of prime minister William Gladstone.

Eliza Ann was in Scotland by 1833 where she married Gavin Cordner, a distiller, in Campbeltown in December 1833.  In May 1837 they had a daughter, Ann followed in June 1839 by a son, James.  In 1851 Ann Cordner is living with her Uncle, John Breckenridge, in Campbeltown’s Long Row and is ‘at school.’  In the same year her brother James is living with his mother  and a further sister Isabella born in 1841.  Eliza is a ‘semptress’ and described as ‘born in Jamaica.’  Gavin Cordner is not present.  In 1871 Eliza  was still at Longrow but this time in the household of Duncan McNair, she is described as a ‘Farmers widow.’  By 1881 Eliza is living alone in Longrow Street and an ‘annuiant.’  The last reference to Eliza in the census is 1891 where she is at Glebe Street, Lorne Place, Campbeltown, age 73, with her daughter Ann.  In 1900 she dies in Glasgow and her death is notified by her daughter Isabella McCallum.  Isabella had married Angus McCallum in Campbeltown in 1867.

There appears to have been a family dispute about the estate of William.  Peter Breakenridge, the son of Thomas made a claim.  It was countered by Isabella Breakenridge, a spirit seller in Campbeltown through her lawyer  Charles Harvey, of St Catherine, for a legacy of £142 17s given by William Breakenridge; from John Breakenridge,  a farmer,  and Mary his wife who was William’s sister, for a legacy of £142 17s  and from Gavin Cordner   and his wife Eliza, for ‘one third of the residuary estate devised by her Father’s will’.   A petition by Charles Harvey ‘praying that the claim of Peter Breakenridge may be overruled for want of title and that the counterclaims of Isabella Breakenridge, John Breakenridge, and Mary his wife in respect of their legacies may be preferred and awards made to them and subject thereto that the compensation money may be paid to Charles Harvey.’






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Witches and family history

Buried on Ancestry there are a number of fascinating records relating to witches.  These include Scotland, Names of Witches, 1658.  These are digitalized records in the possession of  the Wellcome Library, providing the names of  women and men who were accused of witchcraft during a period of Scottish history in which persecution of  witches was not uncommon.  The provide names, place of residence and some also have notes about the confession.

Also on Ancestry are North American records relating to the Salem witch trials New England, Salem Witches and Others Tried for Witchcraft, 1647-1697.  During this period over two hundred people were formally accused and tried for witchcraft. The  list is limited to individuals who were formally accused and underwent a trial process in a town court proceeding, many others were informally accused.  The database provides the year the accused stood trial, their first and last name, the place where the trial took place, and the outcome of the trial, which could include execution.

To set this in a more modern context, the last trial for witchcraft in Britain was in 1945 when Helen Duncan was convicted at the Old Bailey under the 1735  Witchcraft Act.   She was found guilty and jailed for nine months.  There is a back story to this case since the authorities seemed to be concerned that she was leaking naval secrets.  The Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1951, Helen continued her career in spiritualism and died in

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Wylie Blue

Wylie Blue was born Alexander Wylie Blue in Campbeltown, Argyle on 11 May, 1869.  His father was William, a master baker and his mother Mary Wylie.  He was one of at least six siblings.  He attended Glasgow University and by 1901 he is a Minister in the United Free Church in Glasgow’s Blythswood.  In 1902 he married Dora Gow.

In 1916 he moved to Belfast, to the post of Minister of May Street Presbyterian Church. A couple of years later he served in France with the YMCA.  May Street Presbyterian is in Belfast City Centre and in the early 20th century was a popular, fashionable. well-attended Church.  Wylie was an eloquent and admired preacher who, as his career progressed, toured North America and Australia.  He was politically active on the Unionist side of the complex politics of Ireland in the early 20th century, in 1919-20 he visited the United States and Canada as a member of the Ulster Delegation in opposition to Home Rule.   He was an intellectual and literate man with a deep interest in Campbeltown local history and  Scottish dialect.  He was the author of at least one novel, The Quay Head Tryst (1917).

He had five daughters Mabel, Nan, Maisie, Ailsa, and Dora.  Mabel married a Northern Ireland clergyman The Rev. Dr. Robert John Laughlin  and eventually settled in the USA.  Wylie Blue stayed in Northern Ireland until his death at his home in Cyprus Avenue, Belfast in 1956.

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In the 19th century and earlier decades of the 20th, large houses and estates employed servants.  Many of them stayed in service with the same families for decades.  But recently I have found the relationship between employer and servant extended to the grave.  Alexander Kirkpatrick (1817-1887)  was a wealthy Glasgow wine and spirit merchant with a large house in Hamilton called Allanshaw.

He is buried in Hamilton in Bent Cemetery alongside his wife Elizabeth Bryce (1818-1890), her sister Ellen Bryce (1823-1895) and his wife’s niece Elizabeth Jones (c.1842-1929).  It is common to find members of a family buried in the same grave, but also noted on the gravestone are two female servants ‘ Kythe Watson – housemaid for 50 years, Jane Baird – lady’s maid for over 50 years .’  In the 1881 Census Kythe Watson is a House Keeper in Allanshaw House, born in 1843 in Gairloch; she is still there in 1891 and in 1901 when Allanshaw is the home of  one of Alexanders relations , the Reverend Thomas M B Paterson.  Jane Baird is slightly more elusive, she is a lady’s maid to the Kirkpatrick family in 1871, when they are living in Logie.  She was born in Falkirk in 1885 but does not appear in the household in later census.  However, she maintains a close connection to the family for in 1881 she is a nurse in the household of Alexander Kirkpatrick’s married daughter, Ellen Bryce Kirkpatrick.

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James McNair 1746-1778

James McNair was born in Campbeltown in 1746, like many Scots at that period he left for America.  It is likely that other members of his extended family had moved to America during the 18th century and probably earlier.

He  died fighting on the American side in the Battle of Monmouth, NJ on 28th June, 1778. It was a battle fought at the height of summer in very hot weather and many casualties were killed by the heat.  It is remembered in association with the story of Molly Pitcher, the wife of solder who carried water around the battle field (hence her nickname) and took over from her husband as a canon firer when he collapsed from heat or injury.  James McNair died a gruesome death, he was decapitated by a cannon ball.  His nephew (or half nephew) John Smith, who emigrated to Willow Creek, Illinois wrote
“Tears like the morning dew should fall on the memory of the
heroes. At the battle of Monmouth, on the 25th of June last, fell Lieu-
tenant McNair of the artillery, an officer who deserves the tears of his
country. Born in North Britain, he came to America, and early embarked
in the cause against the tyrant. He served as a private in the first cam-
paign at Boston, and afterwards rose through the intermediate offices
from a private to a lieutenant without the least solicitation to obtain that
promotion and without the interest of one friend but what his merit
gave him. His captain, in a letter from the camp at White Plains, writes
as follows : ‘I cannot help lamenting of the death of so valuable an offi-
cer. He was cool, attentive to his duty, intrepid and brave, undisturbed
in the hottest engagements, and commanded with the firmness and courage
of a Roman. He was loved and esteemed by his officers, and loved and
feared by his soldiers. He had a warm sense of duty to God and lived
regularly and religiously. He was humane and extremely charitable. He
was humble in spirit, modest in manner, and steady in his conduct. He
possessed the highest sense of liberty and wished to establish the inde-
pendency of his country. He dies fighting bravely against slavery and
tyranny. Not less than a cannon ball separated his noble soul from his
body. It may be said of Britain what Solomon said of Sin : ‘Many has
she cast down wounded ; many strong men hath been slain by her.'”

These remarks were quoted by a descendent, David Smith in a pamphlet of recollections of his family published in 1915.

James McNair was known to  George Washington,who wrote on 17th August 1777 in a letter to the Maryland Delegates ‘I was just now informed that  Lt. McNair of the Artillery  has been arrested and stand over to the next Court to be held for Harford County for enlisting two men to serve in one of the Continental Regiments of Artillery.’  (The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript, Vol. 9).

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James Knapton Thompson : a civil engineer in the spirit realm.

James Knapton Thompson was born around 1850 in Yorkshire.  By profession he was a Civil Engineer and he  held a number of Patients in his professional field.  It was one of these that led him to be prosecuted and found guilty of the defamatory libel of Henry Leggott in 1892.  He appears to have believed that Leggott had stolen a part of one his patents on smoke-free stoves.  Thompson had written a number of letters, including a diatribe to The Lancet asserting  that his patient had been breached.  The editor of The Lancet noted  in 1892 ‘We have received a very lengthy communication from Mr. J. Knapton Thompson, C.E., of Leeds, claiming that a portion of the construction of Leggott and Marsh’s patent fire-range violates an invention and patent of Mr. J. Knapton Thompson.’

In 1876 he had published a pamphlet Decimal Acreage … Shewing … the comparative and relative value in statute measure of any decimal part of an acre.  However, in a letter to The Teesdale Mercury dated 3 January 1877 L. Railton writes that the pamphlet had been written by himself and W.H. Boynes some time earlier.  The letter implies that Thompson had plagiarised their work and published it as his own.

However, it is in a totally different area of activity that Thompson became deeply involved.  Spiritualism was very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and mediums were common.  Many of these were consciously fraudulent.  In 1907 E. Katherine Bates published Seen and Unseen, a book about her experiences in the psychic world, including details of some séances she had attended in New York.  At a séance held by the medium Mrs Stoddart Gray she recounts

‘During this visit to America I also came across a Mr Knapton Thompson, a hard-headed Yorkshire man, who had invented a new kind of smokeless combustion stove, which must have been a good one, for our shrewd American cousins were employing him to put up these stoves in several public buildings, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.’

Mrs Stoddart Gray had been outed as a fraud – one one occasion her son, who used the name De Witt C Hough, had ‘manifested’ as the deceased wife of a bereaved merchant.  The role that Thompson played in her séances appears to have been to add the gravitas of a serious professional man to the occasion.  He was described in a newspaper report at the time of her death as ‘ a man who bad been more or less identified with her ventures for years Dr Thompson Knapton.’  He appears to have had a relaxed attitude towards his name.

It was her death that brought Thompson’s name into the American press   and attracted the attention of the New York police. She was holding a séance under an assumed name of Mrs James A. Snyder in early August, 1904 when she died.  Both her son and Thompson were present at the time. The séance appears to have been a stressful occasion as the neighbours reported it ‘ was a very noisy one and that they could not sleep because of the racket in the house. It broke up in a lot of yelling and moaning.’   Mrs Stoddard Gray was in her early seventies  and appears to already have had a series of ‘attacks’ which she treated by ‘transferring the vitality of her followers.’  The death had not been formally notified and the funeral director attending her body contacted the Coroner who subsequently involved the police.  Her son explained  that  ‘Mrs Gray was a demonstrator of the philosophy and science of life commonly called a Spiritualist and like all Spiritualists she did not mind these earthly ills. She regarded these breakdowns of hers as simply psychic manifestation and not to be treated materially.  She has had such attacks for twelve years and has always been kept up by a transfer of the vitality of her followers to herself.  I have frequently treated her myself by kneeling at her bedside and gently managing the region around the heart at the same time saying soothingly “Mother you are not ill God will give you strength. Don’t you feel that He is now transferring strength to you” This method always worked until today.’ (The Evening World , 3 August. 1904)

The Coroner reported that  ‘all those present,  seemed to be in a highly wrought up condition. Especially was this the case with Mr. Knapton. He assured the Coroner that the Spiritualist séances would go on though Mrs Snyder was dead, and that she would return and tell them about the spirit world. He wanted to explain the doctrines of the cult to Coroner Scholer, despite the fact that the official told him he had little time to listen to anything save an official explanation of the woman’s death.’  Thompson (using the name Knapton and claiming to be a barrister from the Middle Temple) and the son were eventually arrested.  (New York Times, 4 August, 1904).

De Witt Hough  continued to be active as a medium, in December 1904 he is working with a partner, Mrs Conklin, in New York.  In 1907 The Moving Picture World noted cynically  ‘we paid a visit to a materialization séance by the Rev.(?) De Witt Hough  … and saw some beautiful spirits (?)  materialize to the number of fifteen, which held seventeen dollars’ works of audience spellbound.  James Knapton Thompson was still alive in 1911.  One of his sons, Alban Ruddock Thompson died in the First World War.

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David Alderdice and a ‘female cannibal’

Life was not always easy in the 19th century.  Here is the sad story of David Alderdice, a pawnbroker in Charlemount, Loughgall, County Armagh, as told in the local press of the time –

The Armagh Guardian September 23, 1845 Armagh, County Armagh

A FEMALE CANNIBAL.—On Thursday, Mr. DAVID ALDERDICE, a respectable pawnbroker in Charlemont, had a dispute with a woman about a forfeited pledge, whom, on account of her violent conduct, he endeavoured to eject from the shop. While in the act of so doing the infuriated tigress sprung on the old gentleman with a savage growl and seized one of his thumbs in her ruthless fangs. Poor Mr. ALDERDICE, convulsed with agony, cried loudly for assistance, but was obliged to pummel the vampire (which, for a septuagenarian, he did to admiration) with the hand that was at liberty, before he could be rescued from her blood-thirsty clutches. She was finally removed by the police, and committed by W. OLPHERTS, Esq., J.P., to Armagh gaol—a sorry consolation to Mr. ALDERDICE, who continues to labour under the terrors of lock-jaw.

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