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.
List of the persons in Appin and Glencoe who were either at home or abroad during the Forty-five
In the days and months after the bloody defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden, the British government scrambled to obtain evidence of anyone and everyone who might have taken part in the rising. In addition to calling upon the extensive network of Presbyterian clergy spread across Scotland to be their eyes and ears, British officials instructed both local administrators and individual landholders alike to create rosters of those known to have refrained from treasonous behavior. A cagey measure that was no easy task for either regional authorities or private factors to accomplish, this method of information gathering would nonetheless yield a significant number of names for government prosecutors, in turn giving them a robust pool of leads into which to launch their investigations. Indeed, anyone not recorded in these lists of certified abstainers was essentially fair game.
In addition to soliciting lists of those who were thought to be ‘safe’, customs officers at both major and minor Scottish ports were required to tally registers of travelers known to have Jacobite inclinations, as well as those who were believed to have actually carried arms in the rising. Despite their appearance in writing, of course, not all of the included names were of men and women who were actually involved. A great many were jotted down by authorities and subsequently hauled in on suspicion alone, but most of these were soon set free due to lack of evidence or other exculpatory testimonies. Others were included due to faulty evidence from witnesses who simply got it wrong, and some were falsely implicated by those with distinct agendas. After all, what better time to strike at a personal enemy than during the chaos and confusion of civil war?
The intelligence report from Patrick Campbell’s Highland venture, Autumn 1746
Our last post explored some examples of the Highland cantonment schemes proposed by British government officials after Culloden, their locations largely selected based upon a combination of local banditry, general lawlessness, and noted recalcitrance toward the policies of the Whig administration of George II – defiance often manifested by varying levels of Jacobitism. Some of the loyalists who were responsible for influencing the creation of these garrisons had witnessed the violence and disorder firsthand – like Donald Campbell of Airds, whose own property was savaged, ironically, by soldiers of the British army. Nonetheless, the unpredictable and complex lattice of malleable alliances, divergent loyalties, and partisan politics in certain remote areas of Scotland essentially guaranteed that some kind of official program of regulation would be instituted after the brutal coda of yet another armed rising.
Access and control were collectively the name of the government’s game in eighteenth century Scotland. The Western Highlands bore the brunt of unconscionable retaliation and enforcement after Culloden not because it provided the largest number of rebels who bore arms (it did not), but because it was so difficult to regulate due to the remoteness of its communities and the severity of its weather and terrain. While the isolated villages and steadings in many regions of the Highlands provided distance and shelter for their occupants, that same isolation also enabled heritable chiefs to maintain control of their clans with little interference, as well as allowing currents of Catholicism to endure within a rapidly reforming Scottish populace. ‘The old way of life’ may have been desirable for some heritors, but plenty of others were progressive improvers with interests in both imperial ventures and global mercantile investments. This alone adequately disproves the popular myth that the Forty-five was a conflict of atavism versus progress.