US links to exiled 17th Century Scots soldiers revealed

The US descendants of dozens of 17th Century Scottish soldiers who were exiled following one of Scotland's most brutal battles have been informed about their long lost family members.

Monday, 16th January 2017, 10:35 pm
Updated Monday, 16th January 2017, 11:22 pm
Dr Anwen Caffell of Durham University with remains from the mass grave of Scottish soldiers. PIC North News And Pictures/2daymedia.

Investigations into those who fought at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 are progressing after two mass graves of Scottish soldiers were discovered several years ago in Durham.

Around 3,000 soldiers were imprisoned there after Oliver Cromwell’s victory in the battle which cost up to 5,000 lives.

Following the discovery of the remains, plans are being developed to give the Scots soldiers a proper burial close to where they were found with a ceremony and commemoration due later this year.

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Cromwell at Dunbar , painting by Andrew Carrick Gow 1848-1920. PIC Wikicommons.

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Researchers, meanwhile, have extended their inquiries to the United States where around 250 prisoners were sent as indentured servants.

Around 40 Scots were sold to work at the Saugus Ironworks in Massachusetts, now a historic site of national importance.

Following their release, it is known that many settled in North America and went on to forge prosperous lives.

One of the skeletons of a Scottish soldier discovered in Durham. PIC Durham University/NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia.

Details established by Durham University archaeologists working on the buried remains have helped build up a picture about the lives of the surviving soldiers sent across the Atlantic, such as diet and customs.

Heidi Thibodeau, 57, a library assistant of Connecticut, was one of the guests to meet the Durham University research team at Saugus earlier this month to learn about her Scots relation.

It is now known that her ancestor James Taylor worked at the Saugus Iron Works around 1653 after being transported on the ship Unity with around 100 others.

Ms Thibodeau,in an interview with the Boston Globe, said of the research: “It was an incredible experience. The research of those who didn’t survive brought my own ancestors alive for me.”

Cromwell at Dunbar , painting by Andrew Carrick Gow 1848-1920. PIC Wikicommons.

Around 250 Scots were transported in total.

William Munroe was another survivor of the prison at Durham. He fought against the English at the Battle of Worcester, the final battle of the English Civil War held a year after Dunbar.

Munroe’s living relative, also William Munroe, 87, said his ancestor was bought by a farmer in North Cambridge, now part of Lexington.

One of the skeletons of a Scottish soldier discovered in Durham. PIC Durham University/NorthNewsAndPictures/2daymedia.

“If you go to Lexington, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Munroe,” he told the Boston Globe.

Emerson Baker, a professor at Salem State University who specialises in colonial history said the Scots “stuck out like a sore thumb in Massachusetts.”

He told the newspaper: “At the time, the entire European population of Massachusetts was about 15,000 men, women, and children. So, those 250 men were not insignificant, especially as they provided a lot of cheap labour that was really needed to make the colony a success.”

Contemporary reports suggest anywhere between 300 and 5,000 soldiers were killed.

An estimated 6,000 Scots were captured with about 1,000 sick and wounded released to go home.

The remaining 4,000-plus undernourished and battle-worn prisoners were marched 100 miles south to Durham via Newcastle upon Tyne.

On the way, 1,000 men are believed to have died from hunger, exhaustion and gastric problems. Others were executed, while some escaped.

Of the remaining 3,000 sent for imprisonment in Durham Cathedral and Castle, it is estimated that 1,700 died and were buried in the City.

Work continues to glean as much information as possible about the soldiers’ remains found in November 2013 amid construction of a new café for Durham University’s Palace Green Library

The bodies had been tipped into two open pits at the southern edge of what was formerly part of Durham Castle.