Monday 31 July 2023

Bank Street, Greenock - Town Trail 3

Greenock Town Trail, Plaque 3, Bank Street, Greenock.  Download a leaflet from Discover Inverclyde.

As may be guessed from the name, Bank Street once housed a local bank - The Renfrewshire Bank.  The original bank building can still be seen on the eastern side of the street.  The Renfrewshire Bank, was set up in 1802 by a group of local merchants.  Unfortunately it failed in 1842 causing deep distress in the town.

Former Renfrewshire Bank building, Bank Street

Steps up from Bank Street lead to the Wellpark.  Once part of the grounds of the Mansion House of the Shaw family, it still retain an old well dating from 1629.  The park also contains Greenock's magnificent war memorial.

Mansion House well, Wellpark, Greenock

On the west side of Bank Street, behind the Wellpark Mid Kirk, once stood the old Greenock Gaol or as it was also known, the Bridewell.  The building was demolished to make way for the railway line to Gourock.

Picture courtesy of Greenock Burns Club

At the lower end of the street is a sculpture entitled "Hands of the Fallen" by Angela Hunter.  It is a reference to those locals who were killed or wounded in a riot in Greenock in 1820.

Hands of the Fallen sculpture, Bank Street

Leading off from Cathcart Square, Bank Street is worth having a look at.  Read more about Bank Street on this Blog -


Sunday 30 July 2023

Greenock's botched public hanging

At 3.15 on Friday 5 June 1812 a man, wearing “common clothes, vis a short blue coat, blue vest, white trousers and grey stockings”, stepped onto the scaffold which had been erected at the front of the Mid Kirk in Cathcart Square in Greenock.  His hands were tied behind his back, a white hood was put over his head and the noose adjusted around his neck.  There was a hushed silence from the large crowd assembled to view the hanging.  When he was ready, the man dropped a handkerchief as a signal to the hangman.  The drop was opened, and the condemned man fell to the ground.  There was a large gasp from the onlookers in the Square.  The unthinkable had happened – the rope had broken

Picture source - Greenock Burns Club

Half an hour later the process would be successfully completed and thus would end Greenock’s very first hanging.  The story which started some five months earlier, would have one more twist before drawing to its tragic conclusion.

On Sunday 11 December 1811, the Greenock police were informed that a burglary had been committed in Laigh Street (now Dalrymple Street) at the shop of James Jelly, grocer.  The area was described as “during the day a well frequented thoroughfare occupied by many respectable shopkeepers and men of business”. His shop, situated near the north end of what was formerly Harvie Lane, had been broken into.  About one o’clock in the morning the back door had been forced open and a large amount of goods had been taken.  The list of what was taken read – “a chest and a half of tea, 56 lbs of scale sugar, two loaves of refined sugar, 18 cheeses, 28 beef hams, 30 bacon hams; several flitches of bacon, value £15, 12 gallons of whisky, 6 pairs of bellows, 24 brushes, 10 stones of butter, 2lbs of tobacco £4 in British silver, 10 shillings in copper £2 in Irish Bank tokens, several shoe brushes, wine decanters crystal measures, tumblers, wine glasses, lamp oil, confectionaries, meal sacks and jars.  The whole valued at £130”.  Quite a haul!

With so much having been taken the police surmised that more than one person was involved.  A proclamation was read out in the town offering a reward of £50 to “any person or persons who will give such information as will lead to the recovery of the goods, and conviction of any of those concerned in the robbery.  Informants’ names will be concealed if required.”  Shortly afterwards Moses Macdonald “a quay jobber” and John Gray, were apprehended and charged with shop breaking.  They were imprisoned in Greenock and later indicted by the Lord Advocate to be tried at Glasgow on 29 April 1812 by Lords Meadowbank and Woodhouselee.  

In April 1812 at the Circuit Court of Justiciary Glasgow, before Henry Home Drummond (1783-1867), Advocate Depute, Moses Macdonald, John Gray and Alexander Gibson were indicted for breaking into the shop of James Jelly, grocer, Laigh Street, Greenock early on Sunday 15 December 1811 and stealing goods to the value of £130.  John Gray, defended by James Walker pleaded guilty, by being accessory after the fact.  Moses Macdonald, defended by John Jardine pleaded not guilty, and Alexander Gibson did not appear and was immediately outlawed

The jury consisted of “a number of country gentlemen and merchants" such as Colonel John Gerard of Rochsoles, William Napier of Miliken, John McAulay writer in Dumbarton John Lang, writer in Glasgow”.  Among the witnesses at the trial were the shop owner James Jelly and Catherine Clark, his wife.

The verdict was given the next day.  After deliberation the Jury found Moses Macdonald guilty by a majority.  John Gray was found guilty of aiding and assisting to remove the goods, knowing them to be stolen.  The court sentenced Moses Macdonald to be hanged at Greenock on Friday 5 June.  He was to be taken to Greenock and detained there until that date when he would be “hanged by the neck upon a gibbet, by the hands of the common Executioner, until he be dead, and ordains his whole moveable goods and gear to be escheat and inbrought to His Majesty’s use …”.

John Gray was sentenced to be transported for seven years with the addition that if he were to return before the seven years were up and found “at large in any part of Great Britain or Ireland without some lawful cause, and shall thereof be lawfully convicted, he shall suffer death in terms of the statute”.  He was to be taken to the prison at Greenock until “delivered over for transportation”.  The judge decided that the execution should take place in Greenock where the crime had been committed, as a warning to others.  Both men were sent to Greenock “in a cart” under military guard to be imprisoned until their sentences were carried out.  A petition had been addressed to the Prince Regent asking for a commutation of Macdonald death sentence.  Two days before the execution, Sheriff Campbell received a letter from the Secretary of State saying that His Royal Highness had “seen no cause to stay the execution on the sentence”.

Early in the morning of Friday 5th June 1812 a gibbet was erected on a raised platform at the railings in front of the Mid Kirk (then known as the New Church) in Cathcart Square in Greenock.  Greenock’s Chief Magistrate, Mr Crawfurd had previously been in touch with Edinburgh and asked to borrow their gibbet.  Four companies of the Ayrshire militia had arrived on the previous day and were stationed around the Square to prevent too many people coming in from the surrounding streets and congregating in the Square. 

Picture source - Greenock Burns Club

Described as being “a stout robust looking man about 35 years of age”, Moses Macdonald was a native of Ireland.  He had lived in Greenock with his wife and six children for several years.  He worked around the quays and harbours and “had lived a very ungodly life”.  Before the execution, at one o’clock on that Friday, ministers from various churches around the town visited the condemned man – it was reported that he was visited daily by a minister while he was imprisoned and that “every proper indulgence was allowed him by the Magistrates, and much kindness shewn by many of the inhabitants of the place”.

As they entered his cell, Macdonald was with his wife, three of his children and an official from the town.  He lay on a mattress with his leg shackled to an iron bar.  His wife sat with his head on her lap and “in silent agony she clasped him to her breast and kissed his forehead.”  He is reported to have said of her “she is an honest woman; and has been a good and dutiful wife to me, though I have used her ill”.

Psalms were sung and prayers offered up in the condemned man’s cell.  He was read a letter by Rev James Hervey of the Church of England and addressed to persons under sentence of death.  At 2pm he was taken from his cell to the front of the church.  It was reported that “During the whole of this awful transaction the man himself appeared perfectly firm and unmoved”.

Previously, on thinking about his actions he had said “I may blame my neglect of the Sabbath, I may blame my excess in drinking, and I may blame the bad company which I kept: but this would be to begin at the wrong end; for all the things I have to blame, as procuring my ruin, proceeded from this one cause – I had not the Fear of God before me.” (Many of the details appeared in a broadsheet published after the execution and written in very moralistic religious language.  These were commonly issued after hangings and emphasised the lack of religious thought in the minds of the condemned. The quotes from the prisoners can be taken with a pinch of salt!  This particular crime was considered especially bad because it had occurred on a Sabbath morning.)

At 2.15 pm, MacDonald was brought by a guard of soldiers from Greenock Gaol in a procession headed by the Sheriff and two Magistrates “with white staves in their hands” town officials and the Town Clerk, Ministers  Rev Robert Steele (Old West Kirk), Rev Dr John Gilchrist (East Parish Church) Rev John Hercus (Independent Church)  and Rev Bryan (Methodist Church), officers of the town along with Macdonald’s father, brother and sister all dressed in black.  In front of the Kirk, Macdonald was given wine by his sister.  The company sang psalms and prayed for almost an hour.  

At 3.10pm MacDonald “expressed his thanks to the magistrates and clergy for the kindness he had experienced and said goodbye to his family and friends".  He then stepped up to the scaffold accompanied by Rev Bryan who spoke to him as they walked to the “drop”.   His arms were tied at his back, the rope was put around his neck and a white cap drawn over this face.  When he was ready, he dropped a handkerchief as a signal to the hangman to open the drop.  Unfortunately, to the shock and horror of the onlookers, the rope broke, and Macdonald fell to the ground unharmed apart from some bruising.

Macdonald’s sister immediately ran to him, helped him up and supported him back into the church where it was reported “he nearly fainted, but soon recovered, and repeated distinctly the 51st Psalm and spoke with much firmness of his hope in the mercy of God through Christ”.  The gibbet was adjusted, and a new rope put in place.  At 3.40 he was brought back out and hanged without incident.  It was reported that “he made three or four feeble convulsive throes" – and was apparently dead in three minutes.  He was cut down at 4.20, placed in a coffin by his family and taken up to the bridewell (gaol) to be buried the following evening.

This being Greenock, there was much speculation in the town that the hangman, John High from Edinburgh, must have brought the rope with him as it had been faulty.  It was said that Greenockians knew all about ropes and it was eventually a Greenock rope that completed the task.  John High was accompanied by his “guide” or guard – a fee was paid by the town for his services.  John High was Scotland’s public executioner for nearly 40 years.  He died in 1817.

Just three months later the final twist in this story came to light.  In the Greenock Advertiser of 18 September 1812 there was an article stating that it had been discovered that James Jelly, the shop owner had “robbed his own shop and cellars of a variety of articles which he hid in various places.  The currency he gave to his wife to hide which she took to a neighbour’s house”.  Jelly aim was to defraud his creditors, he then absconded.  In order to avoid trial and punishment Jelly and his wife “petitioned for, and have been allowed to go into banishment, for and during the term of their natural lives under certification that if they are again seen within the liberties of Greenock, they will be committed to the Bridewell for thirty days, exposed on the pillory, and again sent into banishment”.  James Jelly and Catherine Clerk were married in 1807 in Ayrshire.  In March of 1812 Jelly had not seemed to have had money worries – he had feued ground from Sir Michael Shaw Stewart on the south side of Alexander Street (Roxburgh Street) and west side of Captain Street.  (Roxburgh Street Sugar Refinery was later built on that spot.)  He made over the ground “with a slated house of two storeys and garrets” to his wife and three sons.  But the property was seized by his creditors. 


Surely this raises several questions about the whole case.  Did Jelly pay the men to rob his shop and if so, could one of them be hanged for the crime?  Did Jelly and his wife petition for, and accept banishment as punishment to save the authorities the embarrassment of having a public trial and Macdonald’s execution be brought to the fore?  Was it all done quietly to get them away and stop any unrest that may have occurred in Greenock if the facts were known?  Was the quantity of goods taken from the shop not just slightly suspicious?  It must have taken quite a while to load the goods onto a cart to be taken elsewhere.  Later a woman named as Mrs Scott was accused to trying to sell some of the stolen goods.  There must have been more people than the three accused involved in hiding the goods or had Jelly found a cellar or safe place to store them?

Alexander Gibson, although named in court as being part of the theft, did not appear for trial.  Could he have taken the reward money and informed on his comrades in return for an agreed outlaw sentence? 

Unfortunately this was not the last hanging to take place in Greenock.

Friday 28 July 2023

An Appeal to Heaven

The story of the ship Concord of Greenock gives an interesting look at some of the events taking place on the other side of the Atlantic during the American Revolution.  Many of Greenock and Port Glasgow's ship owners and captains must have put up many appeals to heaven for the safe arrival of their ships.  The problem was not just the Atlantic crossing itself, but the danger from enemy privateers patrolling the eastern shore of America.  The American privateers had their own flag - the Fir Tree Flag or An Appeal To Heaven.  The ship Concord was just one of many to have a run in with ships flying this flag.

An advertisement appeared in the Caledonian Mercury in 1775 giving details of the ship - "For Boston - The ship CONCORD, now lying at Greenock, will be clear to sail for Boston in New England by the 15th day of September next.  All letters and parcels for the Army or Navy sent, post paid, to Andrew Anderson & Co. Greenock, or Allan Blaikie and Co. Glasgow, will be taken particular care of.  The Concord is a fine new vessel, has good accommodation for passengers, and the time of sailing may be depended upon.  Not to be repeated.

The ship sailed for Boston, taking coal and woollen goods to supply the besieged British army in the town.  The valuable supplies did not get to their intended users.  Instead the Concord was intercepted in by an American privateer .  A newspaper clipping tells the story -


"Last Saturday se’ennight, a ship from Scotland bound to Boston, laden with about 350 chaldron of coal, and a quantity of bale goods, taken by Captain Manley, was carried into Salem.  She is about two hundred tons burden, and is almost a new ship."


A letter was published in the Caledonian Mercury giving a few more details of the events - 
Extract of a letter from a gentleman in Greenock to the Publisher, dated Jan 14.  Since I had the pleasure of seeing you at Edinburgh, have had no news from America, worth communicating, till now.  Last post brought a letter from Boston, dated 16th December, enclosing a letter from Captain James Laurie of the ship Concord of this place.  His letter is dated Cambridge, 6th December, advising of his being taken by a Provincial privateer, the Saturday before, within about 30 miles of Boston, after a hard passage of ten weeks and five days, five weeks of which he was within twelve hours sail of Boston.  Certainly our men of war are not in their duty to allow such proceedings.  I believe there is eight or ten men of war lying idle at Boston.  When I hear any thing worth communicating, shall advise you”.

British forces were garrisoned at Boston.  In April 1775 American militiamen blocked land access to the town so it was important that provisions and supplies were brought to Boston by sea.  However British ships were harried by American privateers trying to stop supplies reaching the British.  The siege ended in March 1776 when the British evacuated the town and moved their base to Nova Scotia.


Having captured the ship, the problem for the Americans now was whether or not Concord was a legitimate prize.  Was her cargo intended for the British or was she supplying the Americans?  The matter was put to George Washington who at the time was Commander in Chief of the Continental Army which had been created in June that year.  His reply, dated 7 December 1775, to John Hancock, President of Congress gives the answer -

"I am credibly informed that James Anderson the Consignee and part Owner of the Ship Concord and Cargo, is not only unfriendly to American Liberty, but actually in Arms against us, being Captain of the Scotch Company in Boston.  Whether your being acquainted with this Circumstance or not, will operate against the Vessel and Cargo, I will not take upon me to say, but there are many Articles on board Absolutely necessary for this army, which whether a prize or not, they must have.  I have the Honor to be, Sir."

So ship and cargo were confiscated and some of the crew and passengers imprisoned.  It was a good result for the Americans who were also running short of supplies.  However privateer Captain John Manley (1733-1793) of the ship Lee, had just previous to the capture of Concord taken a very valuable ship the Nancy which had a huge cargo of arms for the British.  Manley became quite a hero!

Just a part of the Nancy's cargo.

The Revolutionary war affected many local merchants - not just tobacco importers.  As the story of the ship Concord shows, ship owners as well as ship captains and crew and their families were impacted by events on the other side of the Atlantic.  An appeal to heaven meant something very different for those left behind in Britain.

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Alexander Knox, Brewer of Crawfurdsdyke

These stones once marked the burying place of the family of Alexander Knox of Crawfurdsdyke.  Alexander Knox was a brewer and owned the large brewery in Crawfurdsdyke or Cartsdyke, which he took over in the early 1760s.  He was born in Glasgow in 1722, the son of Alexander Knox and Ann Duncanson.  In 1762 he married Mary Allason, the sister of tobacco trader William Allason of Virginia and half sister of Robert Allason of Port Glasgow.  He corresponded regularly with William Allason, keeping him up to date about family members here in Scotland.  Alexander Knox died in February 1774.

Alexander's wife Mary managed to keep the business going with the help of advice from her brother in law, James Knox, bookseller in Glasgow, until her son Alexander (1763-1789) was of an age to take over.  Alexander unfortunately died young, and his brother James (1771- c1800) then took over the running the brewery.  Mary died in 1790.  James Knox sent books and periodicals out to William Allason in Virginia.

The brewery was a very successful enterprise.  James Knox was a respected merchant in Crawfurdsdyke, which at that time was separate from Greenock.  He was one of the first members when a corps of local volunteers was instituted in 1794 and was appointed as a lieutenant.  He also kept up a correspondence with his uncle William Allason in Virginia.  (Read more about the Allason family here.)

In his book Old Greenock, George Williamson states that the inscription on the stone "is the only Latin inscription in the churchyard".  It reads -

1769
Hoc
Est solum sepulchrale
Alexandri Knox
Cer(e)visiarii in Vico
Crawfurdsdyke
Patet
In longitudinem Octo
In latitudinem totidem
Hoc est
Sexaginta quatuor
Quadratos pedes

Williamson translates this as " The burial-place of Alexander Knox, Maltman (or Brewer) in the village of Carwfurdsdyke … it is 8 feet in length, the same in breadth, or 64 square feet".  

Old West Kirk - illustration from Old Greenock by George Williamson

They can now be found on the south wall of the Old West Kirk, Esplanade, Greenock.  The church and burial ground once stood at the north end of Nicolson Street, Greenock.  


When that land was needed for an extension to the Harland & Wolff shipyard, the building was taken down and rebuilt on its present site in the 1920s.
The Crawfurdsdyke Brewery was once situated across from the old quay at Cartsdyke.  After James Knox's death it was taken over by James Watt (no relation to the famous engineer).  This James Watt was Provost of Greenock 1834-1837.

Monday 17 July 2023

Allan Park Paton - remarkable Greenockian

Allan Park Paton was born in Greenock in 1818.  His father was John Paton,  a writer (lawyer) in Greenock and his mother was Margaret Park.  The family lived at East Blackhall Street. 

Allan had (at least) three brothers -

Robert Paton (1827-1869) - mariner.

Rev John Allan Hunter Paton (1831-1911) - minister at Duddingston.

James Fraser Paton (1832-1864) - doctor who died of typhus during an epidemic in Greenock.

His sister Mary Weir Paton (1830-) lived with her brother John at Duddingston.


Their father died in 1835 and their mother a few years later when the children were still very young.

In his youth Allan Park Paton travelled widely.  He studied law and had an office in Rue End Street, Greenock - he was also Land Factor for the Toward Estate, Dunoon.


 

In 1845 he published a book of poems which included "To My Native River".  Another poem about the local area was "The Road Round By Kennedy's Mill".   He published a second collection of poems in 1848.   He would later publish a novel entitled "The Web of Life".  He also wrote various pamphlets on literary subjects and was editor of the Hamnet edition of Shakespeare (Hamnet was the name of one of Shakespeare's sons).



In 1852 he was secretary of a bazaar which was held to raise funds for additions to the Watt Library.  In 1866 the Museum was added to the Library building.

Watt Library, Union Street, Greenock

In 1868 he became librarian at the Watt Library, a position he held until the end of 1894.  "During the period that he acted as librarian he did much to foster an appreciation of good literature in the community, and enriched the archives of the library with many interesting letters and autographs of men famous in the world of politics, literature, science and art". He corresponded with many of the great names in art and literature.


He lived in a house at the corner of Margaret Street and Brougham Street "Pmalder Cottage" (red lamp backwards).  The red lamp, a navigation aid once stood on the Esplanade at the corner of Margaret Street.



He was instrumental in raising money for the 
Galt Fountain on the Esplanade, just in front of his home.

He was greatly interested in the restoration of the Old West Kirk and was responsible for sourcing the beautiful stained glass windows from artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.


Burne-Jones window in the Old West Kirk


In 1864 aged 46 he married 24 year old Annabella Rodger, daughter of Alexander Rodger and Eliza Buchanan of Bagatelle, Eldon Street, Greenock.  Annabella was the granddaughter of Walter Washington Buchanan more information here.)  The couple had two children, James Fraser Paton born in 1865 and Ida born in 1866.  Annabella died at Bagatelle in June 1870 shortly after giving birth to a still-born son.  After her death, Allan lived with his two children near the Library on Union Street.  He continued working there until he retired in 1894 aged 76.  His son James Fraser Paton (1865-1928) was an artist and his daughter Ida (1866-1943) was a poet and artist.


Home Cottage, Esplanade, Greenock

Allan Park Paton died in 1905 at Home Cottage, Roseneath Street, Esplanade, Greenock and is buried in Greenock Cemetery.


Greenock Cemetery - the grave of Annabella Rodger and Allan Park Paton

It is impossible to quantify what this great man did in the interests of the literary and artistic heritage of Greenock.



Friday 14 July 2023

Poetry panels - Cathcart Street

On 18 December 1909 a badly decomposed body was found floating in the sea off Mousehole, Cornwall.  Brought to shore, it was identified as being the remains of poet John Davidson.  He had disappeared from his home in Penzance in March of 1909. 

John Davidson was born in Barrhead in 1857 and his family moved to Greenock when he was just five years old.  His father, Alexander Davidson was a minister in Nelson Street Evangelical Union Church.  John was educated at Highlanders Academy and became a pupil-teacher there.  He worked for a while in the laboratory at Walker’s sugar refinery.  Later he moved to London.



Sculpture of Ginger the Horse, Cathcart Street, Greenock.

John Davidson was a poet and a writer.  The poetic lines on the panels come from his work A Ballad in Blank Verse on the Making of a Poet written in 1894.  The poem deals mainly with a son’s attitude towards the religious beliefs and expectations of his parents.  These lines from the poem, referencing the River Clyde, can be found etched on panels at the piazza at the east end of Cathcart Street in Greenock, behind the sculpture of Ginger the Horse.

His father’s house looked out across a firth
Broad-bosomed like a mere, beside a town
Far in the North where Time could take his ease,
And Change hold holiday; where Old and new
Weltered upon the border of the world. 

Now may my life beat out upon this shore
A prouder music than the winds and waves
Can compass in their haughtiest moods.  I need
No world more spacious than the region here:
The foam-embroidered firth, a purple path.
...

This old grey town, this firth, the further strand
Spangled with hamlets, and the wooded steeps,
Whose rocky tops begind each other press,
Fantastically carved like antique helms
High-hung in heaven’s cloudy armoury,
Is world enough for me.  

For this was in the North, where Time stands still
And Change holds holiday, where Old and New
Welter upon the border of the world,
And savage faith works woe.

You can read the whole poem here.  There are other lines (not on panels) which I’m sure will strike a chord with any one who remembers the Greenock that was –

... this grey town
That pipes the morning up before the lark
With shrieking steam, and from a hundred stalks
Lacquers the sooty sky; where hammers clang
On iron hulls, and cranes in harbours creak
Rattle and swing, whole cargoes on their necks;
Where men sweat gold that others hoard or spend,
And lurk like vermin in their narrow streets: 

The last words rest with Davidson who wrote in a letter to a friend -

Of all poets, I envy Homer, of whom nothing is known.  The lives of men of letters should never be written; only the lives of Caesar and Napoleon are worth writing.

Thursday 13 July 2023

Macknight of Ratho and Cartsburn

Christian Arthur Crawfurd was the daughter of ChristianCrawfurd and Robert Arthur.  She succeeded to the Cartsburn estate on the death of her mother in 1796, becoming the sixth Crawfurd of Cartsburn.  Born in Greenock in 1749, Christian married Thomas Macknight at Irvine in 1779.  In 1786 Macknight bought the estate of Ratho in Midlothian where the couple lived.  The area is now part of Ratho Park Golf Course. 

Ratho Kirkyard

Thomas Macknight (1738-1811) had a remarkably interesting life before settling at Ratho.  He was the son of William Macknight (d.1750), minister at Irvine, Ayrshire and his wife, Margaret Gemmil (d.1753), (daughter of Gemmil of Dalraith, Fenwick, Ayrshire).

In the 1750s Thomas Macknight, like many other young Ayrshire men set out for America and settled in the Currituck and Pasquotank regions of North Carolina around 1757.  He owned the Belville Estate which he describes – “The plantation on which I lived lay near the centre of the whole tract; this I had improved at a very great experience by enlarging the clear ground; by taking in meadow lands; by planting extensive orchards of fruit trees, carefully collected from different parts of Europe and America; by making a garden and pleasure-ground containing ten acres for which I kept a regular-bred gardener from Britain”.  

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Historical Marker Program

He also set up a shipyard on the North River and owned several ships, including one named the Belville, trading between America and Europe.  This is how he describes his yard – “I had erected on the north side of the river at a very great expense the most commodious, and I will venture to say the best shipyard in the province, where I had every convenience for careening as well as for building vessels.”  There’s a very interesting article about archaeological work undertaken at his shipyard - The Macknight Shipyard Wreck (click to read).

He owned other land in connection with business partners, fellow Scots - James Parker and William Aitchison in the company Thomas Macknight & Co.  He describes their joint land holdings – “The lands which we distinguished by the name of Campania were known by the name of the Great-Swamp, and lay in the counties of Currituck, Pasquotank, and Perquimans, adjoining the Virginia boundary line.  The soil of these lands was rich, but in general too wet for agriculture without a considerable expense in draining.  They were however immediately valuable on account of the excellent winter pasture they afforded to cattle, and still more so on account of the Juniper (or white Cedar) and Cypress Trees with which they were covered.  Of this timber the Shingles are made, which are used for covering houses all over America and the West India Islands.”  He was also involved in business with William McCormick who was his brother in law (his brother, James Macknight was married to Elizabeth McCormick).

He took part in local affairs and was a member of the General Assembly for the county as well as clerk to the county court.  He also was responsible for a church being built in the area.  Unfortunately, the Revolutionary War, brought all his work here to an end.  In 1775 as a member of the Provisional Congress of New Bern representing Currituck he refused to sign the Association - papers agreeing to stop trade with Britain.  He and his business partners had many trading links with Britain and the West Indies, and at that time much of the trade was conducted on the credit system.  A failure in continuing trade would mean having to settle large debts.  Branded a loyalist his home, land and businesses were confiscated, and he was in fear for his life.  He travelled to Norfolk, Virginia to speak to Governor John Dunmore to see what could be done.  His engineering skills were put to good use in building a defensive wall around the town much of which he paid for himself.

With the increase in hostilities, he returned to Britain and while in London attempted to obtain compensation for his losses - land, ships, slaves and merchandise - from the British Government.  Macknight filed a claim to recover his losses in the sum of £23,183, but received much less in compensation.  Back in America his plantation of Belville was sold off. 

The summary of his petition to the Government in connection with compensation for his ships reads -Thomas Macknight … “His loyalty having rendered him obnoxious to the Rebels in America he was obliged in October 1775 to leave North Carolina to avoid assassination.  Seizure of a ship of his by the rebels, in December of that year.  Recounts the subsequent capture of this vessel by one of His Majesty’s ships of war, her first detention having prevented her beginning her voyage till after the Prohibitory Act took place.  Other losses he has sustained.  Prays reparation for them, and that their Lordships will grant redress, instead of allowing him to suffer by the effect of British laws.”  His business partners were in the same position, and there was also the difficulty of agreeing how any compensation should be shared between them.

Though unable to receive full compensation, Thomas Macknight returned to his family in Irvine and married Christian Crawfurd in 1779.  He bought the estate of Ratho in 1786.  Like his estate in North Carolina, Thomas Macknight was responsible for many improvements to the land in his time at Ratho. 

Christian and Thomas had three children – Christian born in 1780, Elizabeth born in 1781 and William (who would succeed his mother as seventh of Cartsburn) born in 1785.  Two other children, Robertina and Thomas died in infancy.  The Macknight family grave is in the kirkyard of Ratho Parish Church.  


The centre panel of the grave marker reads:-

In memory of
Thomas Macknight Esquire of Ratho who died April 1811 in his 73rd year
Christian Crawfurd of Cartsburn his wife who died 12 April 1818 in her 60th year
Margaret and Robertina their daughters who died in infancy
Thomas, their youngest son Who died January 18 in his 7th year
All buried here. 

The lower section reads:-

In Memory of William Crawfurd Esq Of Cartsburn their eldest son who died November 1855
Jane Crawford his wife Who died 12th December 18 aged/ ?
Thomas William Allan Macknight Crawfurd their grandson who died February 18?
These are interred in the burying ground of Cartsburn at Greenock. 

Another part reads:-

Sacred to the memory of the late Miss Elizabeth Macknight.
Second daughter of the late Thomas Macknight of Ratho
Born 24 December 1782 died at Edinburgh on the 16th March 1864

 Thomas Macknight died in 1811.  A curious passage in his will reads -

I have a high value and esteem for the said Mrs Christian Crawfurd, and am sensible that her conduct as my wife has been uniformly and highly meritorious in very trying circumstances, although her income after my decease will be ample from her having lately succeeded to the Estate of Cartsburn, the rents of which after my death will be at her free disposal.

Ratho Street in Greenock was probably named because of the Macknight family connections with the area and perhaps Belville Street also in Greenock was named after Thomas Macknight’s estate in North Carolina.  Both these streets are in the east end of Greenock, land that was once owned by the Crawfurd family.

Thomas Macknight's Family 
Thomas Macknight’s brother was the Rev Dr James Macknight (1721-1800), a minister in Edinburgh.  James was married to Elizabeth McCormick (1828-1813), the daughter of Samuel McCormick, General Examiner of Excise in Scotland.  Elizabeth’s brother William McCormick was a friend of Thomas and fellow merchant and loyalist.

Once again trade links between the west coast of Scotland and pre-Revolutionary America are very much a family affair and once again there is the Greenock, Port Glasgow/Ayrshire link.  For more examples of these trade links, please click on the names Robert Adam, Richard Brown, Robert Allison to read about other early local traders in America.

Wednesday 12 July 2023

Two ships at Greenock

Two very different ships at on the River Clyde at Greenock today.

At Custom House Quay is the beautiful ship Tenacious.  Part of the fleet of the Jubilee Sailing Trust.



Over at Greenock Ocean Terminal the cruise ship Regal Princess was berthed.


I certainly know which ship I prefer.