Saturday, October 04, 2014

The United Scotsmen - The Trials of James Patterson and David Black, 1798

For all the talk there is on this side of the water about the United Irishmen and their brief Rebellion of 1798 (often romanticised, and even propagandised, but not well understood) there is little or no talk about the United Scotsmen.

On 20 September 1798 the court in Perth heard the trials of two United Scotsmen - James Patterson and David Black, both from Dunfermline. The account of their trial can be read here.

' the course of the years 1796 and 1979, a number of seditious and evil disposed persons did, in different parts of Scotland, and particularly in the county of Fife, form themselves into a secret and illegal association, denominated "The Society of United Scotsmen"... the election of a National Committee of a Secret Committee consisting of seven members...'

Patterson and Black were accused of taking the secret oath of the United Scotsmen at some point in 1797 and of then administering the oath to others from August to October of the same year. In November and December they organised meetings in the houses of various people - John Nicol, Isobel Moutry, James Wilson, James Ritchie, James Henderson and Andrew Rutherford, and up until June of 1798 they distributed pamphlets such as 'The Rights of Man' by Thomas Paine and their own 'Resolution and Constitution of the Society of United Scotsmen'. They tried to persuade a soldier, Henry Keys of the West Lowland Fencibles, to join their cause. 

In denying the charges, Black said he had been directed to a house meeting being conducted by a man from Ireland, who refused to identify himself, but who had sympathisers in Glasgow. He claimed that 'some persons from Ireland were the original founders of the Society of United Scotsmen' - and that their secret means of communication with one another was to put a pin in the left sleeve of their coats, upside-down. There was also a handshake which involved 'clasping the hands together, by intersecting the fingers'.

Patterson was found guilty and sentenced to be 'transported beyond seas', and to be executed if he ever came back to any part of Great Britain.


The same document gives an account of the trial in Edinburgh of another United Scotsman, George Mealmaker of Dundee.


I have posted some articles about the United Scotsmen here over the years. Elaine McFarland's 1994 book 'Ireland and Scotland in the Age of Revolution' is an eye-opener and a refreshing change from 'Hibernocentric' accounts of the period, giving exhaustive details of the interconnections across the water. And William Steele Dickson's Narrative is essential reading, his first-hand account of his involvement when minister of Glastry and Portaferry, and his own role in forging the links with Scotland. You'll also find a contemporary organisation called the United Englishmen.