Early writing

As we have seen, contemporary sources for the Dunbar story are scattered through various archives; the most important of these were written or dictated by Oliver Cromwell, the victor on the Dunbar battlefield, or by Arthur Haselrigge, the Parliamentarian Governor of Newcastle. We read examples of their letters in Week 3. They offer an ‘official’ and English perspective on events.

By the later 18th century, the Dunbar story was already being collated into more general regional and national narratives. The Newcastle antiquarian John Brand, writing in 1789, reported on the battle and the march of prisoners southwards, drawing on Haselrigge’s letters to describe the treatment of the sick. Others speculated on the damage which might have been caused inside the Cathedral while Durham antiquarian James Raine was the first to note in print that the Scots prisoners were ‘thrown into holes’. New sources were occasionally published too; the Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet Sir Walter Scott edited the memoirs of John Hodgson, an English Parliamentarian captain at Dunbar who saw the battle at first hand.

In North America the Dunbar prisoners have been a specific topic of research for genealogists and historians since the early 20th century. The Stewart Collection at the New England Genealogical Society in Boston contains the research notes of George Sawin Stewart (1870-1922) who attempted to reconstruct lists of Scots and their transport ships. In the 1920s Everett Stackpole then completed a manuscript entitled ‘Scotch exiles in New England’, drawing together as much evidence as he could gather from deeds, probate records and court records. Stackpole’s aim was ‘to show who the early Scotchmen were in New England and to give many persons a start in their family histories’. ‘It will’, he said, ‘be a surprise to some when they come to realise how much New England owes to its Scotch ancestry’. Stackpole was able to draw on the kinds of contemporary colonial records mentioned in Week 4 which are so rich in detail.

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Archaeology and the Battle of Dunbar 1650: From the Scottish Battlefield to the New World

Durham University