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Neptune’s baptism

A few weeks ago I came across a very unusual baptism record,  dated 12 April 1750, in the parish of Kirkwall, Orkney.  It was the baptism of “a Negroe usually called Neptune”.

Baptism of Negro called Neptune, Kirkwall, Orkney 12 April 1750. Snip from record.

Baptisms (OPR). Kirkwall, Orkney. Parish no. 21. Vol. 2. 12 April 1750.

He was “in the service of Mr Fraser Officer in the Military” and, the record continues, “after having Resided several months in this Burgh [Kirkwall] being desirous to be instructed in the Christian Religion in order to Baptism was accordingly taught a Competent measure of Christian Knowledge & Baptized by the name of Edward by Mr John Yule one of the Ministers after having made a profession of the Christian Faith & come under Baptismal Engagement before Wittnesses Doc[to]r Sutherland Baillie Sutherland Andrew Liddel & William Maneson Elders of the Session with the said Mr Fraser.”

This is an interesting baptism on several counts. Firstly the designation Negroe almost certainly means he was or had been a slave; in the service of skirts the issue. His original name, Neptune, is typical of the way slaves were often given classical names, the god of the sea in this case. What is much less typical is his location, Orkney. Estimates of the number of slaves in 18th century Scotland vary but one source estimates a figure of at least 90-100, with Ross-shire the northern limit. This sighting in Orkney considerably extends that.  How did he end up in Orkney? It seems that most slaves came to Scotland with masters who had been in the West Indies, the American colonies, or in the slave trade itself. This was presumably the case for Mr Fraser, the military officer, too.

Why baptism? Christian baptism was considered by some to make a significant difference to the case for freedom, though the case for and against was strongly argued in Court in the 18th century.  We can’t tell if this was Edward’s motivation but, without baptism and a Christian name, slaves were seen as no more than property.  Whatever the case, the witnesses to the baptism included some of the great and good of Kirkwall.

Slavery was abolished in Scotland in 1778 as a result of the case of Joseph Knight, a black slave in Dundee.

And Edward’s  new surname? Kirkwall of course. I’d love to know what became of him but that is research for another day.

Sources and further reading:

Valuation rolls – how valuable?

Valuation rolls give you: a description and location for the house or property, the name of the proprietor (owner), the name of the tenant and/or occupier and the yearly rent or value. Doesn’t sound very exciting? Read on…

I was researching someone last week and what I found in the valuation rolls changed the picture of him that I was beginning to build up. Firstly, I found that he owned his house, the adjoining smithy and he had “two small tenants” (their rent was too low for them to be listed individually).  Secondly, his occupation was different from that stated in most censuses and his death registration.  (The occupier’s occupation was frequently but not always included.) Thirdly, looking at the properties nearby, I have probably identified a brother. And that was only one year’s entry. Looking on ten years, someone else appeared to be managing the property for my person and he was no longer living there himself. I then found him as tenant and occupier of a house in another parish, the parish where he died, so the loose ends were beginning to come together. All that from one line in each of two valuation rolls.

Valuation rolls can be a great way of tracking your ancestors in between censuses but you will generally need to have a fairly good idea of where they were living. Only the main owner, tenant or occupier will normally be listed, not the whole household. The digitised versions make searching easier but if you are looking for a common name, it may be hard to identify your ancestor definitely.

The valuation rolls at ten year intervals from 1875-1925, plus 1920, are available online on the ScotlandsPeople website. Update: 1855, 1865 and 1930 Valuation rolls are now online too. You can search rolls for other years in the Historical Search Room at the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.  Local archives or the main library may have microfilm copies of some or all of the rolls for their area. More about valuation rolls and how they were compiled

Oh and one other thing, the address of the man managing my person’s property was “Turkish Baths”. 1865, Scotland. I had to find out more…

Card indexes and dentures

You never know what you will come across in genealogy. Like a set of false teeth made out of hippo ivory.  Seen yesterday at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow! Check this link for a view

Less unusual, but becoming rarer: a card index. I was searching one yesterday: manually checking for terms likely to be useful to my search, sifting through lots of cards, moving from drawer to drawer. And noting that several cards were not in their correct alphabetic sequence. The librarian in me really wanted to put that right! Those ‘errors’ were very very obvious – McCall filed after Photo of card index cabinetsMcDonald and so on. It made me think about whether we too readily put our trust in computerised indexes where the errors may be less apparent but no less a barrier to finding the correct record: misspellings, wrong transcriptions, gaps.  Not that I’m advocating a return to card indexes, computers have tranformed searching, but they are only as good as the information compilers and inputters.

Image courtesy of cooldesign at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Posted on 25 November 2014.   Filed under General