Letters  from the Past

“Capt. Alexander, Greenock, Scotland, 1800.”

This article concerns two letters written by Thomas Alexander of Greenock, to the Revd Mr John Ramsay of Kirkmichael.  This is in Ayrshire, about 3 miles from Maybole and 11 miles from Greenock.
Both letters have the same type of date stamp in red ink GREENOCK 8 DEC 1800 (Fig.1)

and GREENOCK 11 DEC 1800, (Fig.2)

however the one dated the 8th is charged 6  and the one on the 11th is charged 5.  On the face of it these both appear to be wrong as Kirkmichael is about 15 miles from Greenock as the crow flies, and at that time up to 15 miles, within Scotland, cost 4d. 

On checking with the map in Haldane’s book the route is not as straightforward as it looks, and the journey could  have gone  from Greenock to Glasgow via Paisley by mail coach, then another mail coach to Ayr via Kilmarnock, then horse post to Maybole and onto Kirkmichael, which is about 3 miles east of Maybole. The whole distance appears to be about 60 miles, and up to 60 the charge is 5d and then 60 to 100 is 6d. The only thing I can guess is that the letter which is charged 5d is addressed to Maybole, and the other is addressed Kirkmichael, without the Maybole part of the address, and that extra distance could just have tipped it into the next rate. 

Another option from these maps is a different route altogether going around the coast using foot post, gig and mail coach, ending up with a Maybole Penny Post to Kirkmichael.  I have no way of knowing which way the letters travelled, as there are no other postmarks to tie it down.

Both the letters are beautifully written, and perfectly legible, but there is something odd about them. In the first letter the spelling is quite individual, and some words appear to have been missed out, as if the writer was in a hurry.  In the second one the spelling is much more conventional with only an occasional odd spelling.
I have transcribed them as they were written, but inserted the missing words in brackets. (Fig.3)

 The first part of the letter concerns his marriage, and I have been unable to discover what he means by “a fanting”, and if any reader knows I would be pleased to hear about it. It sounds as though it might be a Scottish bridal custom. The first was written from Greenock on Monday 8th December 1800.

“My dear Friend

I recived your very kind favour of the 3d Inst in Course. I did not leave Ayr till the Thursday after I left you and did not gett hear til Fryday, every thing is now fixed and I am to <be> married upon  Miss  Ritchie  upon Monday the 15th cumin. She desires her kind compliments to you and all the Family. We do not as is usual here go a fanting after the occasion but remains at home – we are to live in her Fathers Family til our own house is completely furnished. Mr Ritchie gives me with his daughter 15 hundred pounds which he thinks is an equal proportion of his fortune.”

(Note:  that sounds like a good dowry to come with his bride.  The parish marriage records show that she was Janet Ritchie, and it confirms the date as 15 Dec 1800 in West or Old Parish, Greenock, Renfrew, Scotland….. but wait…as the letter continues, there’s more! )

“I gett a Shair in the Harmony, — If you can make it convenient to be here before I sail I shall <be> extremely happie to see you ~

 Any part of the Furniture that is not necesary for my Ants <Aunts?> may be sold it is of very little Value & I would esteem it a favour if you would accept of my deceased Fathers Cabinet as a remmimbrance of your old acquaintance. Be so kind as to buy silk gloves as liveries and charge me with the Amount”
(Note: A share in the vessel “Harmony” would have been a bonus.  I have found out that Captain Alexander’s father died in June of that year, and this sounds like the settling up of the estate, but I can see no reason for buying silk gloves as liveries.  He ends with greetings :)
“with my best wishes to you and Family

I always am, My dear Friend, ever yours
Thomas Alexander”

The filing notes on the outside in a different ink and handwriting, presumably written by the receiver of the letter. (see Fig.1).

‘Greenock 8th Dec 1800 Capt. Alexander – his marriage,  silk Gloves
Cap Alexander 1800.

The second letter is written on the following Thursday addressed The Revd John Ramsay,  Kirkmichael, Maybole.  It has the red GREENOCK date stamp for 11 Dec 1800 and a manuscript 5. In both these letters the Greenock date stamp looks as if it is only  800  not 1800.
In this letter the spelling is much better, apart from ‘menshuns’  for ‘mentions’  and ‘happie’ instead of ‘happy’.  At this time spelling was not standardised, and many of these old letters have words which are written phonetically, which I find adds to the appeal.  The letter is an appeal for advice and assistance from the Revd Ramsay, which sounds as though the minister was a knowledgeable and helpful friend. Oddly enough this second letter, which concerns the family situation after the death of their father, is addressed more formally – yet it is to the same person as he addressed as a friend in the previous letter. (Fig.4)

click here for larger image

“Greenock 11 Decr 1800
My Dear Sir
I wrote you the Thursday to which I refer.  I had letters from my Brother Robt per Packet of date the 17th Octr, he was then well and had a letter from Quentine some days before that, they have received Mr Dunns letter informing them of the death of my Father. Robt says he has been at Quentine again about going home, but in his letters to him he takes no notice of it ~  Robt menshuns his having sent my Father A  Power of Attorney for him to receive a legacy left him by his Uncle which was put into Mr Kennedys hands he hopes that it will be sufficient for me to act as his attorney he says that what money of his that is in Mr Kennedys hands he wishes to be taken up and paid to Mr James Duthie which is now at Stirling. Mr Duthie is Robts partner and holds a bond of Robts for the place he purchased from him. The Rum that Robt shipt per Harmony the proceeds was to be paid to Mr Duthie. I would be hapie to hear from you  if it would be convenient for you to pay Robts Bill and if you think it would be proper for me to receive the money and pay it to Duthie upon his letter. When you write I will <be> happie to hear what my Brother James is doing ~ with best respects for Mrs Ramsay and Family,
 I remain my Dear Sir your most Humble Servt
Thomas Alexander”

The filing note on the outside, is in the same writing as on the first letter. (see Fig.2)
‘Greenock 11th Dec 1800 Capt Alexander – His brother Robt. Money in Mr Kennedy’s hands

C. Alexander 1800.

It seems odd that in the first one which he began “my dear friend” he signs it “my dear friend, ever yours.” yet the second one,although to apparently the same person, he addresses it 'Dear Sir,' and finishes up with  'Your most humble servant,"  
My research for these letters led me to a very useful website for Maybole, http://www.maybole.org and the webmaster very kindly took the trouble to give me background information about the Maybole/Kirkmichael connections of Captain Alexander.
The Revd Ramsay was the minister at Kirkmichael until 1835. On the website  there is a drawing of the church, which I have had their permission to reproduce here  (Fig.5).

There is also a report praising him for being the founder and the first President of the Carrick Farmers’ Society, which deserved special notice as being one of the first, and for successfully promoting the interests of agriculture in the district.  Obviously Thomas Alexander was confident that the minister would help to sort things out since the death of his father, Thomas Alexander in Maybole, in June 1800.
That the writer of these letters is linked to the area is shown by a headstone in Kirkmichael churchyard, with this wording :
“Erected by Capt. THOMAS ALEXANDER Greenock to the memory of ROBERT ALEXANDER Mercht in Maybole his grandfather died 2 May 1747 aged 63. And THOMAS ALEXANDER Merchant Maybole his father died 03 Jun 1800 aged 79.”

Oddly enough, I could find no information about Captain Alexander’s business in Greenock, yet as he was then a ship owner, I would have thought it would be available. Because of the rum mentioned and date of letter received from his brother, I wondered if they were ship owners with trade in the West Indies. I have had surprising feedback from my articles, so maybe a Stamp News reader may know something about the Alexanders or Ritchies in Greenock.



References :
(Sources : ‘Three centuries of Scottish Posts’ A.R.B. Haldane; ‘Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839’  Alan W. Robertson)

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

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