The Battles of Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651)In 1650-1651 the Third Civil War of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms was fought largely on Scottish soil when Cromwell’s New Model Army invaded Scotland. The Scottish Covenanters’ army was heavily defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Dunbar on 3Sept 1650, and some 5000 prisoners were marched south of the border by the New Model Army to Durham, England. During the infamous death march, some escaped, some were shot as a warning to the rest, some were set to work around Newcastle and many died of famine fever at Morpeth after eating cabbage raw from the fields. Just 3000 survived to be ordered into their temporary prison of Durham Cathedral, where the dying from infection and fever continued. The order was given to transport 900 of the healthiest prisoners to the American colonies of Virginia and New England to be sold into indentured labour.
It is not clear how many of these were in the end transported, but on 7th November 1650, about 150 Scottish prisoners of Dunbar were transported aboard the Unity. After landing in Charlestown, New England, the ones who survived the voyage were sold for £20-£30 each as indentured servants, 60 of them to the Saugus Ironworks in Massachusetts. Up to 300 more may have been sent to Virginia too, although shipping records have not survived.
A year to the day from Dunbar, the Royalist army under Charles II went down to its final defeat at Worcester, and again several thousand Scottish soldiers supporting Charles found themselves prisoners of war in England. Again, many were ordered for transportation – and on 8th November 1651, the John and Sarah took sail with around 300 Scottish prisoners on board. 272 of them survived to reach Charlestown, where they suffered the fate of the Unity prisoners a year earlier. The names of these 272 prisoners have survived – in time, many of those who survived their indentured labour would settle in the colonies and have descendants today.
This project aims to research and discover more about the fates and descendants of those Scottish prisoners captured and transported in these two battles of the English/Scottish Civil Wars – the Battles of Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651). In America today there are many who believe themselves descendants of these men, and DNA will be used to explore family links between them. It is hoped that DNA can also help to identify relatives of the transported men who still live in Scotland today, to help answer the questions Where in Scotland had these men been taken from? And Who were the shared Scottish ancestors of the transported men and their modern Scottish relatives?
As more is known about the prisoners in New England, the first goal of the project is to work on discovering more about the Unity and John and Sarah groups. The project is also open to anyone who believes they may have a Dunbar/Worcester ancestor who was transported to Virginia, Bermuda or other destinations in the New World in 1650-52.
To learn more details about the study and to join, go here:
Scottish Prisoners of the Civil Wars (Dunbar and Worcester)
Published: 01 Jul 2014
Updated: 27 Feb 2019
Page contributor: John Cleary
Editor: Teresa Rust