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Little Rebellions - Something Rotten?

Little Rebellions - Something Rotten?

I beg the

favour you will come to my house this

day att half an hour after two precisely

about a piece of Necessary business. I am

Dr Sir


Hugh Blair

One of the benefits of working with a prosopographical database for historical research is being able to find commonalities in large amounts of data hitherto disconnected and most certainly unnoticed. Perhaps the most intriguing so far in my own studies is the discovery that about one-half of the active goldsmiths, or "hammermen", in Edinburgh during the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6 gave evidence against the other half citing rebellious activities to the government authorities. That this strange web of blame occurs nowhere else and within no other occupation with such frequency is striking, and while there is no direct evidence yet uncovered that marks this as anything other than an odd coincidence, one gets the feeling that there might be something else to the story. What we do know about Edinburgh at the time of the Forty-five – though it is not often written about – is that it was under significant economic duress; a capital town in the midst of civil war, infested with all the mania and fear that comes along with that terrible, rifting state. Questing Jacobites might have been the catalyst for this current round of finger-pointing, but numerous complaints had also been lodged against the stranglehold that the burgh's incorporated guilds had woven across multiple industries. There was a distinct feeling that there was too much competition and not enough wealth to support each struggling vendor and craftsman, not to mention the political influence lobbied upon the administration of Edinburgh by guild heavies. As brazenly illustrated by a "friend" of the protestor Philodinus Scotus:

"I judge Corporations of Tradesmen to be Nuisances to every Community where they are to be found, particularly to the City of Edinburgh; and moreover injurious to the industrious Tradesmen themselves…The City is at present under a vast Load of Debt; every Branch of Trade is overdone, and great Numbers are reduced to Straits, and even to Want itself. The Poor increase daily, and the Poors' Funds sink a-pace, while the Citizens become daily less able to support them."

It makes sense, then, that the Jacobite menace – Origo Mali to the Presbyterian majority of the burgh – could have been a timely bugbear unwittingly poised to help thin the ranks of competing industry. What better way than to disrupt the business of occupational rivals than to publicly accuse them of treasonable activities in the midst of civil war? In a time and place of an uncertain economic and societal future, where Jacobitism was considered by many to be the "Source and Spring of all the Evils" in the world, getting ahead by any means necessary does not seem so far out of bounds. To verify this definitively, more time would need to be spent with the Treasury Papers at Kew, whereupon the relevant trial records could be vetted and checked against the pattern of informants to discern if there was, indeed, legitimate proof against the accused. Few of the alleged Jacobite goldsmiths in Edinburgh appear in the lists of prisoners that also describe the fate of the condemned, and even fewer are listed in existing muster rolls. Examination of the records of the Incorporation of Hammermen could also shed some light on if the lines between guilded practitioners and skilled freemen were drawn in accusatory ink. As of now, there is no consolidated investigation of these men's final standings. JDB1745 will likely remedy that. In scanning the copious records of Edinburgh goldsmith Colin Mitchell's personal papers at the National Records of Scotland, there is no substantiation that he had any Jacobite leanings. In fact, Mitchell himself gave evidence against one alleged Jacobite: Robert Gordon, an alehouse keeper also resident in the capital. Though during and after the last rising, Mitchell appears to have frustrated numerous patrons by ignoring their queries about his long-overdue commissions, he appears to have been a prolific craftsman with a popularly positive reputation. The document posted above, then, is likely nothing so nefarious. But stumbling upon such a page, knowing the context of the place and period, conjures all sorts of interesting threads of intrigue on which to follow up.

JDB1745 is an online relational database specifically designed for the purpose of scholarly research and analysis of a large number of biographic entries. Drawing from a wide variety of sources, its goal is to eventually house every name that can be associated with Jacobitism in the years 1740-1759. Because much of the detailed biographical data of accused or suspected Jacobites are scarce or as of yet undiscovered, approaching this project using prosopographic analysis will help answer many questions about Jacobite constituency during the final rising against the Hanoverian government of George II. The usefulness of this interpretation is that it allows researchers to establish significant characteristics about a large number of subjects through a broad but detailed examination of facts: the entire collection of what facts are known about them and the way those facts interrelate.

No scholar has ever compiled these listings into one consolidated forum; eliminating duplicate names, comparing them against each other to see how the web of relationships was formed, and categorising them by a myriad of different qualifiers to be later examined by a concise and structured thesis. In effect, this database hopes to offer its users an accurate biographical, social, and cultural atlas of the ‘Forty-five.

This rich codification of Jacobite constituency will present everything we currently know about the participants of the ‘Forty-five - with infinite expandability to include future knowledge - and will also provide an invaluable tool for researchers in the fields of history, genealogy, and beyond.