Select Williamson Miscellany

Here are some Williamson stories and accounts over the years:

Williamson Castle Relics near Peebles

There were four castles and fortified buildings within a four mile radius of Peebles that used to belong to the Williamsons that are now mainly relics:
  • Hutchinfield Tower, one mile from Peebles.  This tower passed to the Williamsons in 1659.  Little now remains of this tower house which was built in the 16th century.
  • Chapelhill Farm, one mile from Peebles.  This is a harled two story farmhouse held by the Williamsons during the 17th century.  It is a private house and still occupied.
  • Foulitch at Winkston, two miles from Peebles.  This was the site at one time of a Williamson castle.
  • and Cardrona Tower, three miles from Peebles.  This tower passed to the Williamsons in 1685 and they held it until 1794 when it was abandoned.  It is now a ruin.

Williamsons in the 1891 Scottish Census

Numbers (000's)
Scottish borders
Other Lowlands

Dainty Davie

The Scottish folk song Dainty Davie, which has been around since the 17th century, is believed to have been based on a preacher named David Williamson, the seven times married minister of St. Cuthbert’s church in Edinburgh.  The following story about him was well-known in Scotland.

In 1676 Williamson was said to have been staying at the house of a sympathetic family of landowners on the Scottish borders when a party of dragoons led by Captain Creighton arrived late at night.  Mrs. Kerr, the mistress of the house, hurriedly concealed Williamson in bed alongside her eighteen-year-old daughter, disguising him with her own nightcap, and went downstairs to "soften the hearts of the soldiery with liquor.”  While Creighton's men were searching the house, the story ran, Williamson and Miss Kerr became more intimately acquainted, with the result that he was later compelled to marry her.

She was in fact his third wife to that point, and he went on to be married three more times, making him the object of some degree of curiosity and ridicule.  Creighton in his ghost-written memoir added:

"This Williamson was alive in the reign of Queen Anne; at which time I saw him preaching in one of the kirks in Edinburgh.  It is said that King Charles the second, hearing of Williamson's behavior, wished to see the man that discovered so much vigor while his troopers were in search of him; and in a merry way declared that, when he was in the royal oak, he could not have kissed the bonniest lass in Christendom.”

The Rev. David Williamson was a real person.  He died in 1706 and his grave can be found at St. Cuthbert’s church.

The Extraordinary Story of Peter Williamson

Peter Williamson was born in his parent's croft and brought up by an aunt in Aberdeen.  In 1743, at the age of 13, he was kidnapped on Aberdeen harbor and taken as a slave to Philadelphia, where he was sold for seven years to a planter.  This planter died in 1750 as Williamson's period of indenture was coming to an end and he left all his possessions to him. Williamson remained in America and in 1754 married the daughter of a wealthy planter.  She came with a dowry of 200 acres of land in Pennsylvania.

In 1754 Indians attacked Williamson's farm and took him prisoner. After three months in captivity, he made his escape, only to find his wife had died during his absence. William then joined the British army.   At the Battle of Fort Oswego in 1756 he was captured by the French and became a prisoner of war.  He was subsequently marched to Quebec, and then put on a ship to England as part of a prisoner exchange.

On arrival in Plymouth he was declared unfit for further service because of a hand wound, given six shillings, and discharged from the army.  This was enough to get to him as far as York, by which time he was penniless.  He managed to persuade some local businessmen to publish his book titled The Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson, Who was Carried off from Aberdeen and Sold for a Slave.   This sold very well and gave him enough money to return to Aberdeen in 1758, fifteen years after having been kidnapped.

His book, however, caused outrage in Aberdeen: 

"That by this scurrilous and infamous libel, the corporation of the city of Aberdeen, and whole members thereof, were highly hurt and prejudged; and therefore that the said Peter Williamson ought to be exemplary punished in his person and goods; and that the said pamphlet, and whole copies thereof, ought to be seized and publicly burnt."

He stood trial and was found guilty.  He was told by the judge to lodge a document with the court confessing to the falsity of the book and to pay a ten shilling fine, otherwise he would be imprisoned.  This he reluctantly agreed to, leaving Aberdeen and moving to Edinburgh.

The story does have a happy ending, however.  In Edinburgh Peter contacted a lawyer and started planning for a legal challenge.  The year 1760 saw the start of an extended phase of courtroom battles against his persecutors in Aberdeen. The story of the kidnappings came out.  In 1762 he was successful in getting the result of the Aberdeen trial reversed and was awarded costs and a £100 in damages.

Williamson used his legal winnings to buy a tavern in Edinburgh.  He embarked on many new commercial enterprises in the next thirty years, including a street directory and a mail service, and remained a tavern keeper there until his death in 1799.

Joseph Williamson, the Mole of Edge Hill

Having made a small fortune from his tobacco and snuff business, Joseph Williamson bought an area known as Long Broom Field in Edge Hill, Liverpool in 1805.   This was then a largely undeveloped outcrop of sandstone.  He began to build houses there "of the strangest description."

Following their construction he continued to employ his workmen and recruited even more to perform various tasks, some of which appeared to be useless (such as moving materials from one place to another and then back again).  Labor was plentiful at the time following the ending of the Napoleonic wars
 in 1816 and there were plenty of unemployed men in Liverpool.

He also used the men to build a labyrinth of underground halls and brick-arched tunnels.  The tunnels were built at depths between 10 and 50 feet and they stretched for several miles.  In the 1830’s he came into contact with George Stephenson
 who was building the extension of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway from Edge Hill to Lime Street stations and whose own excavations passed through those of Williamson.

The reasons for his building the tunnels have been widely discussed.  He tended to be secretive about his motives. This led to speculation that he was a member of an extremist religious sect fearing that the end of the world was near and that the tunnels were built to provide refuge for himself and his friends.  However, the most likely explanation was Williamson's own, that his workers "all received a weekly wage and were thus enabled to enjoy the blessing of charity without the attendant curse of stifled self-respect," his prime motive being "the employment of the poor.

The Williamsons of Maine

A family tradition has long existed that three brothers by the name of Williamson came to the Plymouth colony from England soon after the first arrivals.   There was a Master Williamson who was with Governor Winslow in March 1621.  But no other early records of the name exist until Timothy Williamson at Marshfield in 1657.  His descendants settled in Canterbury, Connecticut.  George Williamson fought in the Revolutionary War and afterwards made his home in Bangor, Maine.

His two sons William and Joseph were both to make their mark on the new state of Maine.

William in fact was a force behind the movement for Maine statehood.  In 1820 when Maine did separate from Massachusetts, he was the President of the State Senate, then briefly Governor, and then one of its first US Congressmen.  William was also Maine's first historian, writing a two-volume
 History of the State of Maine (from its first discovery in 1602 to its separation in 1820) in the late 1830’s.  This stood as the standard reference on early Maine history for the rest of the 19th century.

Joseph meanwhile followed his brother into state politics and served as President of the State Senate in 1833 before running unsuccessfully for Congress.  His son Joseph, like his uncle William, was also a historian of Maine, taking the story up to 1891.  The Joseph Williamson house in Belfast, built in 1844, is considered one of the most important historical architectural residences in the state of Maine

Joseph Williamson of Colac Township, Victoria

The following obituary related to the late Mr. J. Williamson appeared in 1911 in the Geelong local newspaper in Victoria, Australia in 1911. 

“To the long list of deaths that have taken place among elderly people during the past few months, there must now be added one more.  Yesterday the Universal Reaper claimed Mr. Joseph Williamson, who, we believe, was the oldest resident of the district.

The deceased, who had reached his 92nd year, first sighted Lake Colac in 1847 and has been a resident of the town and district ever since, for a period of 64 years.  This event carries us back to the day when Colac was a mere way-side town, with its "Cook and Plaid" as its central rallying point.  Mr. Williamson, although not actively engaged in public affairs, may be regarded as typical of that large class of humble workers - the rank and file - to whom we are so much indebted for the steady and uniform growth of the town to its present proportions.  

The late Mr. Williamson was born in Canterbury, Kent on the 23rd September 1819, his father being a Church of England minister in that town.  In 1823 the father was induced to emigrate to Tasmania, where the family resided for a number of years.  It was there that the son Joseph married his first wife.  In 1847 the deceased, with his wife and young family, came over to Geelong and were almost immediately engaged as employees by the late Dr. Stoddart who then had a station at Colac.  In the following year the family returned to Colac, purchasing an allotment of land at the east end as a site for a residence.  

When the gold discovery was made at Ballarat in 1851, Mr. Williamson, in company with several other local residents, was attracted thither, and being fairly successful, he returned and purchased 50 acres of land at Birregurra, where he engaged in farming pursuits for the next eight years.  

His experience there for the first two years were rather disastrous.  His first crop was burnt out by a bush fire and he estimated his loss at 300 pounds.  The next year he suffered heavily with the grubs, which were prevalent in the early days all through the district.   Returning to Colac, he purchased an allotment of land in Murray Street where he carried on a grocery store for some time.

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