Thursday 23 May 2019

The remarkable adventures of Elizabeth Linning

In July 1684 a ship lay at anchor in Gourock Bay.  She was the Carolina Merchant owned by the Glasgow merchant Walter Gibson and captained by his brother James Gibson.  On board, in the hold were 35 convicts from the tollbooths of Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Their crime – they were Covananters – those who had been on the wrong side in Scotland’s recent religious wars.  The privy council in May 1684 had ordered the commissions of Glasgow and Dumfries -
“to sentence and banish to the plantations in America such rebels as appear penitent, in the ship belonging to Walter Gibson, merchant, in Glasgow.”  
“Penitent” was not perhaps what the prisoners were feeling, they had been given a stark choice – public execution or be taken to the Carolinas and sold as indentured servants (they would work for free for a set number of years, after which time they would be given their freedom).  The Gibson brothers would share the profit from their sale.

On the shore Elizabeth Linning waited to go on board.  She had relatives among the prisoners and was taking them some provisions and preparing to say her final goodbyes.  Once on board she completed her mission, but unbeknown to her, the captain of the Carolina Merchant had decided to take her with them to be sold along with prisoners.  Elizabeth managed to escape ashore while everyone was asleep, but Gibson sent men after her and she was brought back on board the ship and taken with the others to Carolina.  They arrived in Charles Town in October 1684.

Despite the dreadful conditions on the journey, Elizabeth Linning was not one for giving up!  After the prisoners had been taken ashore, she remained on board as she was indisposed.  She overheard Captain Gibson say “Since she is sickly, let her go ashore, but see that she come aboard every night till we get her sold.”  On hearing this she managed to get ashore  and found a way of getting to the Governor of the colony who believed her story and called for Captain Gibson to appear in court the next day. 

Gibson was questioned as to whether he had brought Elizabeth Linning from Scotland with her consent.  He made up a story that she had been on board to try and help the prisoners escape.  He stated that she herself was a rebel and that he had an order from Lieutenant Colonel Windram to take her with the other prisoners.  The Governor asked to see the order, to which Gibson replied that it had been by word of mouth.  The Court ordered that Elizabeth be set free -
At a Council held at Charleston, October 17th, 1684, upon the reading of the petition of Elizabeth Linning against Captain James Gibson, commander of the Carolina Merchant, in a full council, it was ordered as follows – Whereas, upon the confession of Captain Gibson, that the within written Elizabeth Linning was, without the consent of the said Elizabeth, brought to this province by force and by a pretended order from Lieutenant Colonel Windram, but the said Gibson producing none, it was ordered that the said Elizabeth be set at liberty as a free woman.

It is thought that Elizabeth Linning returned to Scotland, Robert Woodrow (The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland) when writing his account states that she was “yet alive, attesting this account”.

She must have been a remarkable woman.  To persevere throughout hardship and being forcibly taken to what must have felt like the other side of the world and still be determined stand up for herself and her freedom must have taken a lot of courage.  I would love to know what happened to her when she returned to Scotland.


  1. That is quite a story, she was lucky to get away from such an unscrupulous captain

  2. wow what a story, like you would love to know what happened on her return


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