The earliest documented reference to a Scottish ship sailing to North America has been discovered by a local researcher at Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives.
Thomas Brochard, an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, made the amazing find while he was reading a late sixteenth century Council Register when he noticed an entry relating to a vessel, the “William” of Aberdeen, having made a voyage to “the new fund land” (Newfoundland) in 1596. From an earlier reference in the same volume it is known that the “William” had arrived back in Aberdeen in May 1596 from Bordeaux with a cargo of wine, having stopped at Burntisland in Fife on route.
The entry in which the ship is mentioned as having crossed the Atlantic relates primarily to debts incurred by Patrick Donaldson younger, a burgess of the town, and burgess William Findlay, the master and skipper of the “William”.
Taken from the Herald newspaper in Scotland as reported by Jody Harrison. Pictures copyrighted to the reporter (heraldscotland.com)
The William (Aberdeen)
For more than 400 hundred years her crew’s achievement was forgotten by history, their adventures swallowed up by the mists of time, and but for a chance discovery by a researcher combing through a city’s archives, the exploits of the man who sailed aboard the good ship William would have likely remained unknown forever.
But now the vessel has been identified as the first Scottish ship to cross the Atlantic to North America, bearing a crew of hardy Caledonian traders to the New World.
Until now, the earliest documented Scottish ship to make the trip was a Dundee built vessel named the “Gift of God”, which sailed from Portugal in 1600. However, Thomas Brochard, an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, uncovered evidence that the “William” had already made the trip four years previously while he was reading a late sixteenth century Council Register.
The Aberdeen archives
In among the spidery script of the centuries-old handwritten ledger, he noticed an entry relating to the “William” of Aberdeen having made a voyage to “the new fund land” (Newfoundland) in 1596.
And as well as the ship’s name, he uncovered a wealth of information of the men who owned her and those who sailed on her four-year voyage across the Atlantic.
Mr Brochard said: “I was trawling through the records when my eyes chanced upon the words ‘new fund land’. This turned out to be an astonishing discovery. “I’m sure other gems like this are waiting to be discovered in the burgh records which are an incredibly rich resource for historians and fully deserve their UNESCO designation as nationally important documentary heritage.”
The entry in which the ship is mentioned as having crossed the Atlantic relates primarily to debts incurred by Patrick Donaldson, a burgess of the town, and his fellow burgess William Findlay, the master and skipper of the “William”. The records reveal that both Patrick and William were involved in the fitting-out and freighting of the vessel between it leaving Aberdeen in July 1596, and its return in 1600.
The other partners and owners in the Newfoundland venture are given as Archibald Smith and burgess Alexander Kempt, while a Colin Campbell is noted as being on board the vessel, as was a carpenter by the name of John.
In 1596, when the “William” made her long westward voyage, Scottish interests in North America were still very much in their infancy. The tentative trading contacts of the ship would have been making helped develop the settlements which became home to many in the Scottish diaspora during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Phil Astley, City Archivist, said: “Quirky and unusual stories quite often come to light when reading through original records – it’s part of the fun of working in an archive, however, it’s rare to have a find as historically significant as that made by Thomas. “It is even more remarkable that we know the names of several crew members.”
The precise nature of the cargo on the outward voyage is not known although from later entries in the same volume it becomes clear that the “William” returned to Aberdeen from North America via the port of Aveiro in Portugal where it picked up a cargo of salt, most probably destined to be used for preserving fish and meat.
Remarkably, several of the Portugal to Aberdeen crew are also named: John Barclay, Alexander Currie, David Morton, David Easton, William Brown, Robert Fleming, Paul Fraser, William Young, and John Dow.
It is possible that some may have been crew members on the Newfoundland voyage. They had paid money to Patrick Donaldson, one of the owners and the ship’s clerk, to buy their share of the ship’s cargo of salt.
On arrival in Aberdeen the owners refused to pay the crew their whole share as the cargo was spoiled due to a leak in the ship’s hold. The dispute then came before the Burgh Court and was recorded in the Council Register. After the, the ship’s fate and that of its crew become obscure once more as it drops out of the record.
Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Barney Crockett, said the discovery cemented the city’s place in Scotland’s maritime history. He said: “Aberdeen is a proud maritime city, and this is a hugely important historical find. It clearly demonstrates that Aberdeen was at the forefront of Scottish trade to the New World as far back as the 16th century”.
“Our archives are recognised as being of outstanding historic importance to the UK, and we are extremely fortunate that our city’s forefathers had the good sense to keep these records safe for future generations to learn from and enjoy.”
Phil Astley, City Archivist, said: “Quirky and unusual stories quite often come to light when reading through original records – it’s part of the fun of working in an archive, however, it’s rare to have a find as historically significant as that made by Thomas. It is even more remarkable that we know the names of several crew members.”
For more information on Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Archives visit http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/archives
Clan Carruthers Society and Aberdeen
We have a great affinity with the city and its people. Interestingly for our own clan society and accepting the huge amount of research going on since 2007, it was the influence of Ronnie Watt OBE ORS from Aberdeen, way back in 2010 who helped us on our journey. He spoke about his own reserch and journey and progressively put us in touch with our heraldic artist and partime genealogist and historian, who has been a Godsend in our work.
Again, in Aberdeen, this time at functions and awards ceremonies in 2015 and 2016, our Society was given a boost and assisted in following the right path. A meeting and discussion with Gordon Casely, a good friend to Ronnie and Albert and a heraldic historian of some renown, further led us to discussions with senior members of the Family Bruce, and members of the Lyon Court. One thing led to another and as well as speaking to other clan chiefs and those currently going through the process, we took advice from specialists in Scottish Clan Law and tartan history and
design, who we also felt should be brought into the equation. These individuals highlighted the importance of doing things in the correct manner based specifically on following protocol supported by researched facts and evidence.
All those people and many more, have in the past and in some cases still do, play a major role in the direction we have taken. Our work therefore has always been based on providing provable facts and our communications based on evidence, this is paramount when dealing with the Lyon Court, as well as acting as the representatives and face of Clan Carruthers and to date all that hard work seems to be paying off.
The early discussions in and around Aberdeen covered the following areas;
- That the documented Carruthers history proves, without doubt that we are a separate and distinct clan and family in our own right, rather than a sept of Bruce.
- Understanding of the process of confirmation is paramount, using as a template the Chief of the Irvings of Bonshaw and others, to include the Buchanans, and for the Irvings, their clan status based on their mention in the 1587 Act mirroring Carruthers.
- Advice on following that process for a Carruthers Chief where all documentation must be accurate, evidenced and proofed.
The necessity of understanding the role and judicial process involved in dealing with the Lyon Court, to avoid any pifalls previously encoutered by others along the way.
- That the confirmation of a genealogically entitled individual to bear the Chiefly Arms of a clan or family, gives them the legal recognition of being accepted as a Chief or Head of the Name and only the Lord Lyon has the legal right to do that.
- The strength of genealogical approach and the understanding of the patrelineal process. These are critical if seniors of the Carruthers chiefly line exist, as they do and therefore the importance of the correct manner in petitioning the Lyon Court.
- Understanding that genealogy will always supersede a gathering and derbhfine. The latter where a commander is elected to represent the clan for a period of time, rather than a chief.
- The formation of an Official Clan Society to support the confirmation of a Chief of our name, represent the clan and bring it together based on facts and evidence.
- The necessity of ongoing visual signitures of our clan to include its own tartan.
So, for the Clan Carruthers Society (International), Aberdeen has played an important role in who and what we are, and what we have achieved to date. Our final hearing is e in March 2019, after which the Lyon will deliberate on the evidence presented and then hopefully after a short space of time, will finally after 12 long years, confirm a Chief of Clan Carruthers.
We are contunally reminded and therefore we are led to believe, that all good things come to those who wait. An officially and legally recognised Chief of our Name, will be the cause of much celebration we are sure, and it is imminent.