Factor in the Scottish prisoners of war

Quakers weren’t the only significant minority along the Piscataqua watershed in the colonial era.

One that doesn’t appear in my book Quaking Dover is the Scottish conscripts who had been defeated by Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan army at the battles of Dunbar in 1650 and Worcester in 1651, with some then showing up in what would become Berwick, Maine, and Oyster River in New Hampshire, now the town of Durham.

The Scots had sided with Charles II as king rather than Cromwell’s commonwealth. Hence, the “Bonnie Charlie” of the folksong lament, “Will yae ne’er come back again?” I now see the song also applying to the sons and brothers lost in the battles.

Despite their shared Calvinist theology, the Puritans took up to 16,000 defeated Presbyterians (Covenanters) as prisoners of war and treated them harshly. Many died in an infamous death march to Durham, England, or of illness later. Of the 3,000 survivors, around 900 of the healthiest were then deported to the American colonies, where they were sold for 20 to 30 pounds apiece (the cost of their passage) into indentured servitude, a form of slavery with freedom after five to eight years of satisfactory labor. The numbers of soldiers, I should caution, vary widely, depending on the source, at least until we get to the passengers on the ship Unity, 150 when it set sail late in 1650, and an additional 272 who reached Boston Harbor aboard the John and Sarah in late 1651.

I had come across passing references to some who had been sent from there to Berwick, Maine, but had not known of the enormity they endured or of their impact on the Piscataqua. One roadside historical marker, as I now understand, sanitizes their history.


The Old Berwick Historical Society has pursued the story of about 25 Scots who were brought to reconstruct and expand a sawmill on the Great Works river, on a site now on Brattle Street in South Berwick.

For full details, check out their website and its post, The Scottish Prisoners of 1650.

For an idea of the impact of that number, remember that neighboring Dover, the largest town in the region, had about 60 households.

The Puritans in the New World did continue to rub salt in the Scots’ wounds.  Before the town of Berwick was set off from Kittery in 1713, the English often called the settlement Unity, after the first ship that had transported the prisoners.

B. Craig Stinson’s Oyster River Scots, available online at the Scottish Prisoners of War Society’s thorough website, names another 22 who were taken to what was then part of Dover and then examines 18 of them. His list is drawn from the tax list at Oyster River, 1657-1659, most of them arriving on the John and Sarah. These are men who had fulfilled their indenture obligations, been freed, but were still in the settlement. Many of them later moved on to new locations.


Cultural clashes with the New England Puritans were inevitable. The records tell of Scots being taken to court for using foul language or bold confrontations with militia leaders as well as one husband put in the stocks for kissing his wife on Sunday and a minister being barred from preaching.

Considering the imbalance of European men and women in the New World, I am surprised by the number of Scots who managed to marry after they had paid off their indenture. According to the New England Historical Society, many of the brides were Irish housemaids who had been brought to the region, in this case likely Scots-Irish; a few others were even the daughters of the men’s former bosses. Notably, few of the former prisoners of war returned to Britain. Still, I’ve wondered if any of them had left wives and families behind and somehow reunited with them in New England.

In subsequent generations, I do see some descendants marrying into Quaker surnames, but not many.

One notable exception, told in my book, is Quaker Richard Otis’ third wife, Grizel, the daughter of Scottish POW James Warren of Berwick.

In the devastating 1689 attack on Cochecho Village, her husband and a stepson and stepdaughter were slain, while she, her three-month-old daughter, and other family members were taken captive to Montreal, where she was renamed and remarried to a French-Canadian farmer and had five children. After being widowed again, she returned to Dover without her children and established a prominent public house, or tavern.

The Otis story is part of my book.

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