The diary of an ‘ordinary working man’ has offered new insights into the devastating impact of the Jacobite rebellions on everyday life in Scotland.
The diary of Alexander Smith from Fraserburgh, which has been gifted to Aberdeen University, offers a glimpse into how working people not linked to the uprisings were affected by the events of 1715 and 1745.
Dr Kirsteen MacKenzie, a history lecturer at the university, described the diary as a ‘unique source for the period’ which offers new evidence from the perspective of an ordinary working man who appears to have had no affiliation to either the Jacobites or Hanoverians.
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Nonetheless, his life – like many others living in the Aberdeenshire town - was deeply affected by the events.
Smith, who was born in the late 17th century to ‘lowly stock’ was poorly educated but went on to excel in his apprenticeship as a square wright, similar to a modern day joiner.
His woodworking skills attracted the attention of the Aberdeenshire elites and by 1715 he was earning enough money to live independently.
But when the uprising began, he describes how this quickly ground to a halt as economic activity in Fraserburgh rapidly declined and soldiers came through the town. Without work and with his training finished, Smith was forced to move back in with his parents to survive.
After rebuilding his life, Smith was running a successful business and was commissioned to build furniture for the Duff family, of Duff House in Banff, and the Frasers of Philorth. He was also employed by the Church of Scotland to build manses.
However, the impact of the ‘45 rebellion impact on Smith and his family was even more devastating as the price of wood “shot up” and became in short supply.
Smith writes of the ‘temptation’ of obtaining material on the black market, a move which landed him y landed him in court in Aberdeen when he was caught trying to take wood from a shipwreck off the Aberdeenshire coast.
Smith also records the struggle to maintain a workforce with many of his colleagues abandoning their posts to join the Jacobite cause. The fear caused by the presence of soldiers in the towns and villages is also noted.
Dr MacKenzie adds: “Smith notes that when Jacobite armies come through the area, work stops completely. It is not hard to see why this would be the case - Smith is employed to build and repair homes and to make furniture - with armies in the region and the threat that villages could be destroyed, no- one wants to pay for this type of work. When it is time for Smith to be paid, he doesn’t get paid and never really recovers financially again.
“It is remarkable to have this level of detail available to us about the indirect effects of the Jacobite Rebellions and it complements the University’s other Jacobite holdings to help us build a more detailed picture of life in Scotland at this time.”
Dr MacKenzie shared details of Smith’s diary and the University of Aberdeen’s extensive Jacobite collection as part of a podcast for the popular Outlander series,
She added: “There has been a huge amount of research into the Jacobite cause, the key events and battles and the political and cultural impact of the uprisings but we still know little of how deeply they affected ordinary people with no direct connection to the rebellion.
“Smith’s diary changes this and we can see just how widespread the impact on ordinary men and women was.”