Examination of John Bruce, allegedly a soldier in Lord Sempill’s Regiment, 30 April 1746
Deceptions and mistruths in eighteenth century judicial cases are rarely different from those in the modern day. The indicted have always lied to save their own skins or to provide cover for people and institutions they wish to protect. Though overloaded with prisoners and casework by the end of the last Jacobite rising, the British justice system was fundamentally sound enough to make the necessary adjustments to expedite an effective method of processing that massive influx of suspected persons. Many of those lessons were learned in the aftermath of the Fifteen, wherein the first Georgian administration sought to balance victory and clemency, hoping to establish an indelible hallmark upon the nascent regime. Thirty years later, the system was much the same, and though the categories of punishment scaled with an increased number of prisoners taken from a significantly smaller number of total participants, a fair and accurate penal process was again pursued by many of the Hanoverian ministers who were in charge of prosecution.
A handful of high-profile Jacobite trials have since been published, offering readers a glimpse into the legal mechanics of treason cases against the Crown, but these are especially focused on prominent characters who were singled out to be made examples of. The best way to learn more about the regular folks who were involved in the last Jacobite rising is to go through the plethora of original documents housed in archives across Scotland and England, and sometimes further afield. The paper trails of these individuals are often fragmented on account of them facing examinations in the different places they were held, and subsequent prison transfers and other movements can sometimes make tracking them quite difficult. Nonetheless, the raw information left behind by the accused and by the witnesses in favor of or against them can shed valuable light on both the large and small events of 1745-6. It is worth the time spent piecing together these archive-driven stories, which is a focal objective of the JDB project.
The deposition of David Clark versus Charles Hay, 12 July 1746
Like many small towns in the path of the rapidly coalescing Jacobite army, the autumn of 1745 was an eventful one for the inhabitants of Coupar Angus. The annual drudgery of the harvest was interrupted across various regions of Forfarshire and Perthshire as swelling companies of rebel soldiers made their ways southward toward Edinburgh. In late September and early October, inhabited towns and villages along the army’s route were solicited by Jacobite recruiting parties looking for warm bodies to join the cause. Requisition officers wrote up strict demands for civic officials to provide supplies for the benefit of the Bonnie Prince’s war effort, and Gàidhlig-speaking strangers in Highland clothing were billeted in private homes without regard for the owners’ approval. Few political conversations occurred openly, as one never knew who was listening in. Clandestine meetings and furtive confabulation concerning treasonous topics were not uncommon occurrences in Coupar Angus, nor in any locality where Jacobite designs were taking shape.
According to the accounts of several common citizens throughout the rural Scottish Lowlands, this harvest season brought with it a palpable frisson that many regarded with equal parts excitement, trepidation, and ambivalence. Though the last Jacobite rising quickly gained momentum in its opening weeks, many participants knew even at that bullish time that success for Forty-five was by no means a sure thing. Matters were especially complicated for those who wanted to remain neutral or otherwise avoid being involved in such a dangerous gambit. And despite the profound vein of Jacobite support that ran through a broad range of disparate Northern Britons, the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s population was firmly set against the idea of a return to Divine Right monarchy under the Stuart kings.
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.