The Charter-Hemphill Story


Chapter 4

Act of Union being read to Queen Anne, 1707

Scotland and England had shared a monarch since the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne from his double first cousin twice removed, Queen Elizabeth I. Although described as a Union of Crowns, until 1707 there were in fact two separate Crowns resting on the same head (as opposed to the implied creation of a single Crown and a single Kingdom, exemplified by the later Kingdom of Great Britain). It was not until the early 18th century that both political establishments came to support the idea, albeit for different reasons.

There was much popular resistance in Scotland to the proposed Union. The final barrier to union was the Article 22, which abolished the Scottish Parliament and fixed representation in the new British Parliament at sixteen Lords and forty-five Commons, a ten-to-one advantage for the English members. To opponents, no provision seemed to symbolize Scotland’s reduced status in the new union as much as did Article 22. The very principle of representative government for which both Scots and English had fought and died, first in the Civil War and then in 1688, seemed under attack.

It was going to be a fierce debate, and to lead it the Duke of Queensberry had chosen his right-hand counsel, the Earl of Stair; a man constrained by few principles or much sense of humanity. Stair, more than anyone else, was responsible for the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692.

As a public figure, Stair was viewed by ordinary Scots with alarm, even fear. Rumors had it that he and his family were possessed by the devil. His sister Sarah was said to be able to levitate over walls at will. His mother was popularly believed to be a witch, and when her daughter Janet married against her will, her mother had (according to scandalmongers) cursed her: “Ye many marry him, but sair ye shall repent it!” On the wedding night, terrible screams were heard from the bridal chamber. When the door was opened the next morning, the daughter was found dead, bathed in blood with the groom raving in the chimney corner, hopelessly insane.

The sensational story of the “the Dalrymple curse” became the original for a novel by Sir Walter Scott and memorable to generations as the Mad Scene in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Although the story is false (Janet Dalrymple died of natural illness two weeks after her marriage), the myth of a curse gave Stair a certain intimidating presence among his colleagues.

It was Stair who helped Queensberry draw up his list of pliant Scottish commissioners for the original signing of the treaty. It was Stair who proposed the original strategy for getting the treaty past the Parliament by offering up the molasses first, especially freedom of trade, before getting down to the sulfur, which meant Article 22, Now, it was this extraordinary and amoral man who rose to carry the treaty over the final hurdle.

His argument was characteristically direct and unsentimental. All this talk of principle would get Scotland nowhere. The real issue was who paid the bills. The only way to draw up any sensible comparison between the two kingdoms in representative terms, Stair explained, was not how many members each Parliament had before union, but how much each was will to pay in taxes. The English would begin by paying into the new British Treasury thirty-five more times the amount of revenue the Scots would pay. From that perspective, he concluded for his colleagues, the English were entitled to a thirty-five to one advantage in members. Take ten-to-one, he told them; at that rate, union comes cheap.

Edinburgh viewed from Castle Rock

The debate was furious and emotional. Stair stood like a rock, however, answering every objection and insult and in the end, on January 7, Article 22 passed by forty-four votes. Stair left Parliament House exhausted but exultant and threaded his way past the usual hostile crowds to his Edinburgh lodging. He retired early and never woke up. When his servant opened the door to his room early the next morning, he found his master dead in bed, a victim of a stroke. He was fifty-eight years old.1

The doomsayers were wrong. The Act of Union launched an economic boom. In the span of a single generation it would transform Scotland from a Third World country into a modern society and open up a cultural and social revolution. Far from finding themselves slave to the English, as opponents had prophesied, Scots experienced an unprecedented freedom and mobility. For the first time, the term growth began to apply to Scottish society, in every sense of the word.

With trade tariffs with England abolished, trade blossomed, especially with Colonial America. The clippers belonging to the Glasgow Tobacco Lords were the fastest ships on the route to Virginia. Until the American War of Independence in 1776, Glasgow was the world’s premier tobacco port, dominating world trade.

Other changes were in the mix. As with most economic revolutions, there are dislocations. The Lowland Clearances (1760-1850) were one of the results of an agricultural revolution, known as Farm Improvements, which changed the traditional system of agriculture which had existed in Lowland Scotland in the seventeenth century. Thousands of cotters and tenant farmers from the southern counties (Lowlands) of Scotland migrated from farms and small holdings they had occupied to the new industrial centers of Glasgow, Edinburgh and northern England or abroad, or remaining upon land though adapting to the Scottish Agricultural Revolution.

These clearances took place from the Central belt down to the Borders and affected an enormous number of people. It is likely John Charter, some evidence places him in Kirkcudbfloat-rightshire, in the informal Galloway area of south-western Scotland, emigrated due to these same forces. Kenneth Charter found him living in Edinburgh, a city cramped, dirty, and soot-stained from thousands of foul-smelling coal fires (giving it its half-affectionate nickname of “Auld Reekie”), before he immigrated to North America.

The event which triggered the Lowland Clearances was in response to the Industrial Revolution. For centuries, Lowland Scots had lived off the land. Tenant farmers, known as Crofters, rented land from the landowners, worked the land, and paid a portion of their financial or crop return to the landowner as a form of rent. Tenant farmers hired cotters, day workers, to assist at times of planting and harvesting. These day workers were one small step above destitution. This back-breaking work provided a meagre subsistence.

Where the Highland Clearances were swift and brutal, the Lowland Clearances were carried out over time. The landowners drew up leases for the tenants with several conditions that were required, including a more profitable and less communal form of farming. At the end of the lease, many of the leases were not renewed. Further, if the conditions were not met or not met to the satisfaction of the landowner, the lease could be terminated without recourse.

Runrig farming

Individual farms were replaced, not by sheep, but by larger, more commercial farms. The old system of run rig farming, a communal system where everyone shared in both the successes and failures of their portion of land with the rest of the crofters, was replaced with larger “Farmtouns” that were more modernized and resulted in larger crop yields. The handful of animals were no longer put to pasture on the outskirts of the crop fields. Instead, larger herd were put to pasture on the hills and crags well apart from the crop fields. The newer, larger, more modern farms essentially did away with the need for the day workers or cotters. An entire rung of the agricultural hierarchy was wiped out with the stroke of a pen at the signing of the new leases.

The option of paying rents in kind was eradicated with the requirement now being for cash payments. Those unable to pay had their leases terminated. In addition, the rents for the new, more modern farms were much higher than they had been for the crofting families. This created another “legal” means of clearing people off the lands as they were unable to pay their rents to their landlords.

The displaced cotters were forced into nearby towns and cities to find work. Some were successful in the manufactories, others were not. These men were unskilled for factory work and their adjustment to a new and unfamiliar way of life often had devastating effects from an economic standpoint.

The depopulation of the Highlands created mass emigration from the Highlands, whereas in the Lowlands, the depopulation was more sporadic, and so seemed less dramatic. Those cleared from the Highlands were often fortunate enough to have their passage to a new land paid for by their landlords. In many instances, they also had the luxury of land waiting for them upon their arrival in their new country. The Highland Clearances were much shorter lived than the Lowland Clearances and, in the end, resulted in lower overall numbers leaving Scotland.

The Lowland farmers were given nothing. They were expected to pay their own passage when to get to a new country. They had no land and no prospects of a job waiting for them when they arrived in the Americas. Large numbers of these Lowland Scots settled in New Brunswick and Ontario in Canada as well as in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina. Many then migrated from there to other parts of their new countries.

With the Highland Clearances, entire villages were removed from their land and ended up emigrating as a community. They also remained together in their new land, where they already had their support network with them, land to live on and make a living from. The Lowland Clearances affected a few families at a time. Because the farmers were left to their own devices, many migrated into the surrounding towns and cities and tried to find employment. The vast majority did not emigrate right away, but over time. They saw that their best option for prospering and to be able to own their own land, was to leave Scotland and emigrate to the Americas or Australia. Since these Lowlanders came in smaller numbers, they were more transient when they arrived. And based on their previous experience of trying to eke out a living in the factory towns in Scotland, they tended to assimilate rather quickly in their new homelands.

Edinburgh, the Canon Gate, Bull's Close

Between the Highland Clearances and the Lowland Clearances, some two million Scots left their homeland and emigrated to lands rich with the promise of new opportunities. John and Phebe Charter, and their three children left Edinburg, arriving in Montreal around 1770-1771. From there, they made their way to Vermont, according to John Charter of Orwell, Vermont and Some of His Descendants and Their History, by Kenneth Charter. (out of print). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in an entry on Orwell states, “The first settler is recorded as John Charter, a Scotsman who took up residence near what was then known as Rattlesnake Hill, now Mount Independence, in 1771.”   Kenneth Charter notes in his book, “. . . the A.A.A. Travel Guidebook has for years had the following words after the entry “Orwell”: “Settled shortly before the Revolution by the Scotsman John Charter from Montreal, Canada.”


Fares were lower to Canada than to the U.S. as the U.S. had more stringent requirements for passenger comfort and safety than did Great Britain; as the British leaders were enthralled with free market philosophy articulated by the Scottish economist Adam Smith. The fare for steerage from the British Isles to Canada was £6 which appears to be a bargain to 21st century readers, but that equates to $1.200 in 2018 dollars, a hefty price and accounts for so many immigrants entering indentured servitude. Between the 1630s and the American Revolution, one-half to two-thirds of white immigrants to the Thirteen Colonies arrived under indentures.  Not a few disembarked in Canada, their fare in some instances was subsidized by Great Britain, only to go to the U.S. where land prices were lower and economic opportunity were better. But about half of those whose destination was Upper Canada (now Ontario) disembarked in New York, as the sea voyage was shorter. But John Charter’s trip from Montreal to Vermont would have taken several arduous and expensive days in a cart.

The trans-Atlantic voyage was not without risk. For shipowners and their captains, the emigrant trade began as a grudging afterthought, a means of making a profit on the westward run to load timber in New Brunswick and Quebec City. Emigrants, however inconvenient, were more profitable than ballast of sand or bricks.

Few emigrant ships had been built to carry passengers. Most were aging cargo vessels, three-masted barks and two-masted brigs, the workhorses of the North Atlantic, vessels of 350 tons or less with holds so shallow and wide that unless they were well loaded with ballast they rolled like a drunk in the slightest seaway. Some were ancient East Indian that had once carried tea or silk from the Orient under their mahogany decks, or superannuated frigates with cut-down masts, worm-eaten planking and ports cut into the bows to receive forty-foot baulks of timber. No matter how leaky and decrepit these coffin ships, a cargo of timber, it was hoped, would keep them afloat long enough to get home.

There is some evidence that John Charter was from Kirkcudbright

Once a ship discharged its timber, loose boards were laid over the bilges as temporary flooring and rows of rough berths little bigger than dog kennels were fitted in place and covered with straw for bedding. A couple of rickety wooden privies nailed to the foredeck scuppers completed the transformation from timber drogher to emigrant ship, where hundreds of women, men and children were fated to live for at least a month and a half, and sometimes as long as three months if contrary winds blew the ship off course. Even in fine weather with the hatches off there was little light or ventilation, but in rough weather with hatches battened the steerage was like a dungeon lit with smoky kerosene lamps and filled with a fog of sweat, spilled chamber pots, rotting scraps of food, and the vomit of seasick humanity. All around lay luggage, bags, sacks and boxes. No effort was made to segregate unmarried women from the men until the 1850s.

The evils began before a ship left port. Speculators chartered steerage space at the cheapest price they could and sent commission agents into the country to recruit as many emigrants as possible to fill the space. These men, paid by the number of emigrants they could produce, spun fanciful yarns of shipboard facilities, often claiming the vessels were twice as big as they actually were, and glibly assuring potential passengers that the voyage would be short, three weeks at most, and a kindly captain would look after their needs like a father. Passage could be engaged inclusive or exclusive of provisions, and in the latter case a master was required to furnish nothing but water and a berth. If an emigrant’s small stock of food—potatoes, oatmeal and perhaps some bacon or salt herrings—ran out on the voyage, as it usually did, there was nothing to do but buy whatever the captain had to offer at exorbitant prices. There were complaints that the captain’s cheese was so old it was fit for boot soles and sugar was sand and sawdust.

There were complaints of ships failing by as much as a month to meet their advertised departure dates, which meant the emigrants had to exhaust whatever savings they had put aside to start their new lives. They got no compensation, and some after waiting for weeks were forced to return home penniless. “Make your bargain for your passage with the owner of the ship or some well-known respectable broker or shipmaster,” warned those more knowledgeable. “Avoid those crimps that are generally found about the docks and quays near where ships are taking in passengers. Be sure the ship is going near where you contracted for, as much deception has been practiced in this respect.”

Glasgow Harbor

The brig William Henry arrived in Saint John with 250 passengers in “dreadful state” from lack of food and water. The brig Eleanor brought so much sickness to Chatham, New Brunswick, that the frightened town officials turn4ed some old sheds on Middle Island into an isolation hospital and buried victims at night so as not to alarm the town.

“It is notorious,” declared the Secretary of New Brunswick Agricultural and Emigrant Society, “that many of the poor emigrants were deluded from their homes by false but specious statements of brokers and shipmasters whose sole object is prosecuting the inhuman traffic appears to be that of collecting as many large cargoes as possible of their unsuspecting fellow subjects; and as the passage money is paid in advance, it is of little consequence to them in pecuniary point of view whether the helpless victims of their cupidity perish on the voyage or live to spread disease and death among the people on whose shores they may be landed.”


1James Douglas, 3rd Marquess of Queensberry (2 November 1697 – 24 January 1715), known until 1711 as  James Douglas, Earl of Drumlanrig, was a Scottish nobleman, the second son, and eldest to survive infancy, of James Douglas, 2nd Duke of Queensberry.

Stories describe him as an "imbecile" and violently insane. He was kept under lock and key from childhood at Queensberry House in Edinburgh, now part of the Scottish Parliament complex.

It is reported that when the Act of Union was signed in 1707, the disruption from either the festivities or the riots resulted in his escape. Drumlanrig, then around ten years old, slaughtered a young scullion in the house's kitchen, roasting him alive on a spit, and began to eat him before he was discovered and apprehended. He was afterwards known as 'The Cannibalistic Idiot'. The oven that he used can be seen in a room in the basement of Queensberry House, which housed the Parliament's Allowances Office until 2012, when it became a private bar for MSPs and their guests.

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