Select Turnbull Miscellany

Here are some Turnbull stories and accounts over the years:

The Story of Turnbull

A legendary account of the Turnbull name was told by Hector Boece in his History of Scotland.  Boece told of the legend during the Wars of Scottish Independence that William of Rule saved King Robert Bruce by wrestling to the ground a bull that had charged at the King.  For this feat, the King rewarded William with the lands of Philiphaugh, now part of Selkirk, and dubbed Rule "Turnebull" (the "e" was later dropped from the name).

The poet John Leyden wrote in 1801:

"His arms robust the hardy hunter flung  
Around his bending horns, and upward wrung,
With writhing force his neck retorted round,  
And rolled the panting monster to the ground,
Crushed, with enormous strength, his bony skull;  
And courtiers hailed the man who turned the bull." 

But there are those that doubt the veracity of the story: 

“Like many other similar tales, the story is made to fit the name rather than the reverse.  If the surname was acquired through any achievement, it is much more probable to have resulted from a daring act in the brutal sport of bull-running, which was popular from time immemorial up to the last century."

In fact this story resembles other stories of clan leaders and their legendary exploits that were probably made up after the event.

A Turnbull Vanquished at Halidon Hill

Before the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, a champion on the Scottish side, a huge man named Turnbull, accompanied by his huge black mastiff, approached the English host and challenged anyone to single combat.  

Sir Robert Benhale, a Norfolk knight, answered the challenge.  He started
by killing the mastiff.  This evidently disconcerted Turnbull and the Englishman sliced off his arm and then his head.  He returned to the English host with the trophy of Turnbull’s head.

Bedrule Castle

The oldest and largest stronghold in the Rule valley was undoubtedly Bedrule Castle, some four miles southwest of Jedburgh, built in the 13th century by the Comyns.  The castle stood on a bluff jutting out from rising ground on the right bank of Rule Water.  

On the death of the Red Comyn at the hands of Robert the Bruce in 1306, all the Comyn's lands were forfeited.  Before 1320 the castle had been added to the Douglas possessions.  Sir James Douglas soon installed a Turnbull as its occupant and members of that branch of the family remained there for many generations.

The Turnbull fortunes
declined in the 1500's with Sir Thomas Turnbull of Bedrule.  Bedrule castle itself was destroyed by the English in 1545 during a devastating raid.  The Turnbulls continued in heritable possession until about the end of the 18th century.  An American Wally Turnbull acquired the land recently.

Turnbulls in the 1891 Census

Numbers (000's)
Scottish Border counties
(mainly in Roxburghshire)

Elsewhere in Scotland
English Border counties
(mainly in Northumberland and Durham)

Elsewhere in England

Andrew Turnbull in Florida

Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician from Melrose in Roxburghshire, had married the daughter of a wealthy Smyrna merchant.  Her money enabled him to mix in London political circles and to secure some large land grants in the new and unsettled territory of Florida.  In 1767 he assembled 1,400 putative colonists recruited from a number of Mediterranean countries and they set off for Florida in eight vessels.

Turnbull named his new colony New Smyrna after the birthplace of his wife.  But his inability to produce marketable crops in quantities large enough to satisfy his investors cost him their support, as well as that of the British government. Half of his colonists died in the next ten years.  The end of the New Smyrna colony came in 1777 when the plantation was virtually abandoned by most of the surviving colonists who fled to the safety and security of St. Augustine.

In the inevitable accusations and lawsuits that followed the settlement's demise, Dr. Turnbull was temporarily imprisoned but then released.  He and his family moved to Charleston on the South Carolina coast, where he lived out the remainder of his life.

Thomas Turnbull in Upstate New York

The town of Rossie is located by the St. Lawrence river in the northern part of New York state.  The town was founded in 1813 and an iron foundry was built there two years afterwards.  Thomas Turnbull arrived with his wife Elizabeth from Jedburgh in Scotland some fifteen years later.  Thomas was a farmer there.  He also owned a sawmill and a shingle mill and became one of its civic leaders, serving as a Justice of the Peace. 

Thomas enjoyed writing poetry and one of his poems is shown below: 

“Jesus my savior ever dear  
O! bind me by loves sacred tye  
That casteth out all doubt and fear  
And hold me steadfast till I die  
O! grant to me that living faith  
That works by love and purifies  
That triumphs in the hour of death 
And anchors safe beyond the skyes  
Here Jesus my dear Savior's gone  
A mention to prepare for me  
That I may stand before his throne  
Acquitted in Eternity.  

Thomas died in Rossie in 1882 at the age of 85.

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