Guide to help determine if your ancestor was a Scottish POW

Updated: 05 March 2019
Page contributors: Dr. Andrew Millard, Teresa Rust

Unfortunately, the circumstances of how the Scottish prisoners of war came to the New World, ie., taken from the battlefield by hostile captors, marched, deprived, and shipped to the New World against their will, does not lend itself to a well-documented-paper-trail for us to follow.

The origins of these men in most cases is sparse and sketchy and requires us to be creative-problem-solvers using everything available in our contemporary genealogists’ toolbox.

On this page I would like to suggest some of the indicators, clues, and hints that could or should be considered when trying to determine if your immigrant ancestor might be a Scottish prisoner of war from the Battle of Dunbar, arriving via the ketch Unity, or the Battle of Worcester, arriving via the vessel John and Sara.

In no particular order:

1. Date of Arrival:

Did they arrive late December 1650?
—The Unity arrived in late December 1650.

Did they arrive in January or February 1651/2?
—The John and Sarah arrived in January or February of 1651/2.
—(See: Making Sense of Dates in Colonial Records)

2. Place of Arrival:

Did they land at Boston/Charlestown?
—Both ships arrived in this bay, near Charlestown/Boston.

3. Earliest Documentation:

When do they first appear in New England records?
—”The Unity men generally start to appear in the New England records between 1655 and 1660, after their period of servitude, and at the point when they start to acquire land, to marry, or become a citizen of a town.”
SEE: Christopher Gerrard, Pam Graves, Andrew Millard, Richard Annis, and Anwen Caffell, Lost Lives, New Voices: Unlocking the Stories of the Scottish Soldiers at the Battle of Dunbar 1650, (England: Oxbow Books, 2018).

4. No records found in New England PRIOR to December 1650 or January 1651/2.

—You cannot find any records for them prior to Dec 1650. Dunbar
—You cannot find any records for them prior to 1652. Worcester

5. First and Last names:

—Do they have a Scottish surname and/or Christian name?
—This is a bit trickier…but if your ancestor was Alexander MacDougal…he was probably not an English Puritan/Pilgrim. 😉

6. Age range:

—Do they fall within the common age range of the Scottish soldiers?
—SEE Dr. Andrew Millard’s age graph for SPOW.

Chart provided by Dr. Andrew Millard of Durham University.

7. Scottish yDNA:

Is their yDNA of Scottish origin?
—Have you had the yDNA of a male relative who carries the surname of your immigrant ancestor tested at Family Tree DNA and joined our Scottish Soldiers yDNA Project?

8. Named a Scot or Scotsman or Scotchman in a primary record:

Are they referenced as being a Scot or a Scotchman in New England records? There are a few records where in a legal deposition the man is described as being a Scotchman, Scot, etc.. SEE: Henry Makenney, a Scotchman in 1651.

9. Associations:

Do they have a close association with other known Scottish prisoners of war?
—Look for their Scottish prisoner of war neighbors, friends, coworkers, associates, etc. Often listed in wills and probate records.

10. Indentured:

Were they indentured? Are they referenced as having been indentured?
—Unfortunately there are no indenture records found for these SPOW coming on the ships Unity and John and Sara.

11. Family Myth/Story:

Is there a secondary source record or tradition passed down that they were a Scottish POW, though not yet proven?

12. Scots’ Charitable Society:

Is he listed as a founding member or member of the Scots Charitable Society?
—SEE: SPOW in Scots’ Charitable Society. and The Scots’ Charitable Society of Boston, Massachusetts. The Scots Charitable Society of Boston, Established 6 Jan 1657:
It is no coincidence that the Scots Charitable Society was established in Boston on 6 Jan 1657 “for the relief of Scotchmen”; around that time many of the Dunbar and Worcester veterans would have been ending their years of servitude.” “The Scottish prisoners of war who were sold into virtual slavery in New England were initially looked down upon by the English settlers. According to the Massachusetts Bay Militia Regulations dated 26 May 1652, “Scotsmen, Negroes and Indians, inhabiting with or servants to the English, from the age of 16-60 shall be listed and hereby enjoined to attend training.
From: Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1607-1785, page 36, by David Dobson c1994 paperback version 2004

13. John and Sara Passenger List:

Is your immigrant ancestor’s name on the John and Sara passenger list?
—SEE: Suffolk Deeds: Liber -I-II [1629-56]. pages 59-63.

14. Occupations:

Did they work at an Iron Works?

15. Places of Residence:

Some of the Scots sought the western or northern edges of society where they could practice their faith and culture without hassle from English Puritans.

16. Probate Records:

For instance:
The Maine State Probate Office has wills and testaments dating from 1640. Some seem to have been made by Scots who were banished by Cromwell to New England: Niven Agnew, Kittery, Maine, probate 16 September 1687; James Grant, York, Maine, probate 11 January 1694; John Brody, Kittery, Maine, probate 6 December 1681; Alexander Cooper, Kittery, Maine, probate 28 Feb 1684; John Taylor, Berwick, Maine, probate 23 February 1691; Robert Junkins, York, Maine, probate 2 January 1699; James Warren, Berwick, Maine, probate 24 December 1702; Malcolm McIntyre, probate 2 October 1705; and Alexander Maxwell, York, Maine, probate 8 October 1707.” From: Scottish Emigration to Colonial America, 1607-1785, page 36, by David Dobson c1994, paperback version 2004.