Embroidered canvas on display at NTS Culloden
Despite the recent, lively debate about the value of the work undertaken by historians, we can agree that many of them generally spend the tenure of their careers involved with research, analysis, and output. Depending upon the era of study and subject matter, dutiful historians will go back to the primary sources when at all possible and critically address the lineage of information as well as its context. Following and challenging that data lineage is something about which I have repeatedly written, and this pursuit represents a significant role in the methodology of my everyday work, as I believe it is necessary in order to produce informed and precise history.
Precise historians will familiarize themselves with as many sources as possible and determine which are most relevant, accurate, and valuable to the arguments which they are asserting. Concurrently, sources that challenge those assertions must also be consulted and may lend valuable perspective to or even transformation of the historian’s original assertions. The honest scholars will admit those changes and influences along the way by showing their work while being as deliberate and precise as possible. Preciseness is not just the end goal, it is absolutely integral to the process. In that way, scholarly history follows a course that rightfully marks it as a social science.
A note about Edward Gibson, an important witness involved in prosecuting Jacobite prisoners
To reinforce our recent discussion of critical thinking about the historical data used within a project like JDB1745, this week’s post illustrates an example of that application in action. While looking through some of the published trial records related to government prosecution of the Manchester regiment, team member Bill Runacre found a data conflict that took a bit of detective work to iron out. In the 1816 trial transcript of Captain James Bradshaw, published in Vol. XVIII of Howell’s (or Corbett’s) State Trials, amongst the witnesses who took the stand against the Manchester officer was one Henry Gibson, allegedly a soldier in Elcho’s Jacobite cavalry troop. Some character notes about Gibson are described within the transcript:
Henry Gibson was also produced and sworn, who said, That he himself was unfortunately seduced into the rebel army, and entered into lord Elcho’s troop of horse-guards; that the prisoner, Mr Bradshaw, marched with them as a private man in the said corps; that the troop was drawn up at the battle of Culloden, and that he there saw the prisoner on horseback in the said troop, with pistols, and a broad sword by his side, and a white cockade, and that he continued with the said troop till he was taken prisoner by his royal highness the duke of Cumberland’s army.
Much of Gibson’s testimony against Bradshaw sounds quite similar to that of dozens of other witnesses brought in to inculpate suspected Jacobite prisoners in the years following the failure of the final rising. Pertinent details which the government found most helpful often included firsthand descriptions of the defendant’s presence within the Jacobite army and specific duties in that station, persons of repute with whom they were seen conversing, and the identification of clothing and arms that were worn during their tenure in Jacobite service. The collective depositions by Gibson and those of at least eight other witnesses were enough to condemn James Bradshaw, and he was thus found guilty and subsequently executed in London on 28 November 1746. As it turns out, however, Henry Gibson did not actually exist.
Account of Sick and Injured Confined in Stirling Castle, 3 February 1746
Though it is easy to get lost in the romantic historical record of a conflict like the Jacobite risings, occasionally a document comes to light that viscerally describes the dreadful effects of civil war from a time long past. Jail returns like this one, which registers some of the sick and wounded who were confined in Stirling Castle during the spring of 1746, tell us a number of things about the cost of battle in eighteenth-century Britain – both literally and figuratively. This particular return from the National Library of Scotland lists the names and conditions of twenty-six men held at the castle and treated by the doctor there, and some of the language used to describe the wounds of these men truly brings the past alive in a horrific manner.
Not all of these prisoners were Jacobite soldiers. Only six on the list are specifically noted as ‘rebels’, though three others are recorded as having been in league with Lord John Drummond’s troops in French service, who came to Scotland in the winter of 1745 to fight in the Jacobite army. A further three individuals are simply described as ‘Highland men’, but the implication is that they were also in prison for treasonable acts. At least two of the men appear to be deserters from British army regiments, and the other dozen are not identified by their crimes. Nonetheless, the grisly conditions recorded about many of these prisoners tell of their adversity.