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The Blackwood Family background, Isabel Blackwood - 1900

The following is a transcription of a booklet prepared by Isabel C. Blackwood around 1900, found in the library of the Society of Genealogists, London. She wrote the booklet in response to a non-fiction book written on the House of Blackwood by Scottish novelist Margaret (Wilson) Oliphant (1828-1897), completed just before the death of the latter. Oliphant produced more than 100 novels -- several of which were serialized in Blackwood's Magazine -- almost 30 works of non-fiction, and more than 200 articles for Blackwood's during a writing career that spanned half a century.

By I.C.B.

Edinburgh 1900

Mrs. OLIPHANT in her able and loving memories of "The Publishing House of Blackwood " is hazy - decidedly hazy - regarding its forbears and their history, merely hinting at Adam the Scholar, and at a great loss which the family sustained by the Darien Scheme.

We must go back 516 years to find the first mention Blackwoods in Scotland. In the "Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland," Vol. iv,> No. 329, we find that on 30th December 1384 the Mayor of London was ordered to discharge from prison one "Robert Blackwood, a native of Scotland." This was in the reign of Richard II, about the time when the French and Scotch made a raid into England, so that Robert Blackwood was most likely a prisoner of war.

As to the part of Scotland from which the Blackwood family sprang, that is unknown; but family tradition points to Fife, though Kinross-shire is also mentioned in connection with them. In the old Churchyard of Tullibole, which lies at the top of Tullibole Castle Garden in Kinross-shire, are the graves of many Blackwoods, as recorded on their tombstones, though tradition is dumb regarding them. It will be observed that all down the family line the names are the same - Robert, William, Adam, John, occurring constantly.

The next information we get about the Blackwoods is in 1420, and is from Paris. It is contained in an old MS. called "Armorial de Berry", which is in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, and consists of a collection of arms made by Berry, King of Arms, about 1420-55. Here the Blackwood coat-of-arms is described as being, gules, on chief argent, a crescent and a mullet of the first. This coat-of-arms is not identical with that to be found upon the tombstones of John Blackwood of Bangor, Co. Down, and his descendants, but it is certainly suggestive of it.

I may, perhaps, here mention that in the MS. of Robert Forman, date 1560-66, in the Lyon Office, Edinburgh (which is sometimes, but erroneously, styled "The Workman MS "), the arms of Blackwood are thus described - Argent and saltier and chief sable, the latter charged with three oak leaves, or. Crest, rays of the Sun, p.m. This coat-of-arms was recorded in the Lyon Office in 1704, for Robert Blackwood, Dean of Guild, with the addition of a mascle gules for difference. It was used by his descendants, the Pitreavie Blackwoods; but it is most probably an incorrect one, as a saltire and chief almost invariably betokens an Annandale origin and it may be worth noting that this coat-of-arms is the same as the old Johnstone coat, except that they carried cushions argent instead of the leave of the chief. It is just possible that a wrong name had been put above it (which occasionally occurs in the MS).

Sir Robert Forman, or whomsoever compiled the MS. of 1560, may have made a mistake about the arms and the Lyon Office, in 1704, relied upon Forman being right and perpetuated the mistake in assigning these arms to Robert Blackwood, Dean of Guild. Therefore, as far as we see the coat-of-arms borne by Lord Dufferin and Ava, the present descendant of John Blackwood of Bangor, is the correct one.

Another mention of the Blackwood arms is found in a MS. styled "Gentlemen's Arms", collected about 1640 and which is in the Lyon Office, Edinburgh. The arms are thus described as "Argent, a fess Azure between a crescent and a mullet of the last in chief, and a mascle gules in base". William Blackwood, Vicar of Duddingston in 1584, bore this coat-of-arms on a seal, with the crescent and mullet transposed. The seal of the vicar of Duddingston is in "Laing's Seals", Vol. ii. Now we go back, and find Blackwoods living at Dunfermline, which Mrs. Oliphant calls, "that regal seat of the Scottish kings". One of the family, William Blackwood, who is described in old records as having been descended from an ancient and respectable family, was slain in battle - most probably the Battle of Pinkie, in the year 1547 - before his eldest son Adam was ten years old. Grief at her husband's death killed his wife, Helen Reid; and their three orphan boys - Adam, Henry, and George - were adopted and brought up by their grand-uncle, Robert Reid, Bishop of Orkney. Adam was sent by his uncle to Paris to finish his education and eventually he and his two brothers settled there.

Shortly before the Bishop's death Adam returned to Scotland, but ultimately went back to Paris where Mary Queen of Scots, then at the Court of France, gave him her support. He afterwards became her Councillor and friend, and a great and learned man. Adam's first work "De Vinculo et Imperii Libri Duo", was written in Paris in the year 1575. His next work, "Martyre de Marie Stuart Reyne d'Ecosse," on the unjust execution of his patron, Mary Queen of Scots, was written in Antwerp in 1588. Of Mary's cousin and enemy he thus writes - "Elizabeth tendra Vade, Jezebel tetra".

Adam lived for many years, at Poitiers, near Paris, where he died in the year 1623. He was buried in the Church of St. Parcharius there with great pomp, and a magnificent marble monument, bearing the following inscription, was raised to his memory: "Nobilis Scotus inclytorum majorum, in Caledonia natus". Adam has been described as a civilian, a poet, and a Divine, as well as a great and good man. He left four sons and seven daughters, the last male descendant of whom died in 1776.
Maximilian Blackwood, or Blacvod, (the French spelling of the name) a nephew of Adam, commanded Mary Stuart's bodyguard on her journey from Paris to her port of embarkation for Scotland. Adam's last direct descendant, Mlle. Scholastique de Blacvod, died in the first quarter of the last century.

Adam's brother Henry became a famous doctor, and was Dean of the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, where he died in the year 1613. Their younger brother, George, was a teacher of philosophy in Paris about the year 1571 and afterwards entered holy orders.

Another member of the family, John Blackwood of Bangor, Co. Down, Ireland, was born in Fife, most probably at Dunfermline, in the year 1591. On becoming possessed of property in Ireland he settled there, and died at Bangor in the year 1663. His great-grandson, Robert Blackwood of Ballyleidy, was created a Baronet of Ireland on July 1st, 1763. Sir Robert Blackwood's son John married Dorcas, grand-daughter of General Nicholson Price, who, after her husband's death in 1799, was in 1800, created Baroness Dufferin and Clandeboye. Her great-grandson is the present Marquis of Dufferin and Ava.

To a branch of the Irish family belonged Sir Henry Blackwood, who was with Lord Nelson when he fell mortally wounded on the deck of the Victory on October 21st, 1805. Sir Henry it was who the carried the dispatches announcing the Admiral's death and the victory of Trafalgar. Sir Henry died in 1832.

Another branch of the Dunfermline, or Fife family settled in Edinburgh about the end of the sixteenth or the beginning of the seventeenth century. Here a certain George Blackwood, who died in 1666, carried on the business of a merchant and silk mercer. His sons remained in the business after his death, and one of them, Robert born in 1642, was Lord Provost of Edinburgh from October 16th, 1711 till the end of 1713, and was knighted during his term of office. We hear of him in an old and lately discovered MS. note book entitled "Minute Book of a Keeper of the record of Signatures passed under the King's Hand", which dates from 1676-1681. The following is the extract ? "Escheat and liferent of Alexander Burnett, merchant burgess of Aberdeen, to Mr. Blackwood merchant burgess of Edinburgh".

Sir Robert Blackwood, his brother, sons, nephews and his in-law John Hay, who married his daughter Margaret, carried on for many years this business of silk mercer in Edinburgh. Some of the bills of the firm which date from 1691-1699 bear the signatures of Robert, William and James Blackwood and of John Hay, are still in the possession of the family.
Agnes, Sir Robert Blackwood's eldest daughter, married Sir John Trelawny of Trelawny, in Cornwall, and died without issue in 1777, aged 80. She was buried in her father's burial-ground in Greyfriars' Churchyard, Edinburgh.

About the year 1698 Sir Robert Blackwood lost £2,000 by the famous Darien speculation which, as Mrs. Oliphant remarks, ruined so many Scottish families. This was little wonder, as Scotland alone, by this disaster, lost the sum of £400,000 ? a large sum in these days. The loss of the £2,000, however, does not seem to have done Sir Robert much harm, as in 1711, the first year of his provostship, he purchased from the Earl of Rosebery the Fifeshire Castle and estate of Pitreavie.

Pitreavie was the scene of the last battle fought on the soil of Fife. It was fought on the 20th July 1651 by the Scottish troops, under General Holborn and Sir John Brown, against Cromwell's army, led by Colonel Overton and Major-General Lambert. Cromwell himself, it is said, watched the smoke of the fight from Barnbugle woods, where he was encamped.

Pitreavie was another Flodden. The Highlanders were led by Hector MacLean of Duart, who, with his sons and nearly all his clan, perished on the field. The few who escaped fled or shelter to the Castle of Pitreavie close by. But the Wardlaws to whom it then belonged, instead of offering them shelter, killed them by throwing down great stones from the roof. For this cruel act they were cursed by the dying Highlanders, and from that: day, says the old tradition, "The Wardlaws melted away like snow off a dyke." The Laird, Sir Henry Wardlaw, died very suddenly two years afterwards with a curse upon his lips. Pitreavie was sold in 1703 to the Earl of Rosebery.

Sir Robert Blackwood and the elder branches of his family occupied Pitreavie till about the year 1780, when a non-resident proprietor, the late Laird's nephew, Shovell (??) to it. Pitreavie, however, remained in possession of the Blackwood family till 1884, when Miss Madox Blackwood sold it to Mr. Henry Beveridge of Dunfermline, who now occupies it.

To Mr. Henry Beveridge courtesy, as well as to that of Thomas Hunter, town clerk of Edinburgh, and Mr. Thomas Ross, architect, Edinburgh, I am indebted for much of the information contained it this brochure.

One of Sir Robert Blackwood's nephews or grand-nephews Thomas, who died in 1737, left a son, Alexander Blackwood, born 1736. This Alexander, who married Janet Drysdale, and died in 1802, left three surviving sons, Thomas, William and John. Thomas and John in 1790 resuscitated Sir Robert Blackwood's business of silk mercer, which had lapsed after his death in 1720. The new firm took the name of T. & J. Blackwood, silk mercers, and became as renowned in their generation as the earlier house had been. The business, which was carried on for many years at 43 George Street, Edinburgh, after three generations, was brought to a successful termination in 1897.

William became the founder of the great publishing house of William Blackwood & Sons.

From these early families of Blackwood there went out various other branches, who settled in various parts of Scotland, but, as Mrs. Oliphant aptly and truthfully remarks "The Blackwoods are not a widely spreading race".

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