Dr Henry Fraser later Dewar

The Revd Henry Fraser, Aughtermughty, 1796
Later Dr. Henry Dewar

This is one of two letters we hold addressed to the Reverend. There is no postmark, and no postal charge mark, it just has a note in the bottom left hand corner

‘"To Pafs & be delivered immediately’.

It is a very short letter, but it changed the Reverend’s whole life.

The address is The Revd. Hy Frafer, Minister of the Gospel, Aughtermughty. (Note this is now known as Auchtermuchty) it is in Fife, as is Kelty, they are about 12 miles away, so maybe this was sent by a servant and not through the post.

The letter inside is brief and informative, and the spelling of Laddy for Lady is transcribed as it was written. The illustrations show that this letter which is more than 220 years old is still legible and in good condition.

So now to the contents of the letter.


Dear Sir,
As I hear that you was earnest to know if there was any alteration about Lassodie House, I take this opportunity of informing you that the Laddy departed this life yesterday morning being the 10th M. 1796.

All from Sir
Yours Sincerely Richd. Stark
Kelty Bridge
March 11th 1796.

P. S. I wrote this the instant I heard of the change. R. S.

It was written using a quill pen and the ink has not faded at all. Note the use of the long S in the name of Fraser, which makes it look like a letter f.

On the outside is a note written in a different handwriting
intimation of Miss Dewar of Lassoddies death.

An internet search brought up a website, about the Lost village of Lassodie, by George Robertson, which notes that very little evidence remains of the once thriving West Fife village, which like its near neighbour Fordell, is now gone forever. The name Lassodie is thought to have a Gaelic derivation meaning ‘garden on the brow of the hill’. It was situated about four miles north east of Dunfermline, near the village of Kingseat and its nearby Loch Fitty. It lay on a gently rising hillside with an uninterrupted southern exposure, making it is easy to see where its Gaelic name originated. The whole area was agricultural until the mid 19th century when coal was discovered and mined.

The next information I researched was Henry Fraser and the Wikipedia entry has a lot of details about his life, but for this letter the only relevant pieces are that he was born in 1771 and became a Scottish minister of the Associate Church at Saltcoats in 1796 the year this letter was written.

His father was John Frazer minister of the Associate church at Auchtermuchty, in Fife, Scotland; his mother was Margaret Erskine. He became minister of the Associate Church at Saltcoats in Ayrshire, in 1796, but within months inherited an estate through his mother, at Lassodie, Beath, in the Fife coalfield. The inheritance required that he changed his name to Dewar: it originated with his great-grandfather Ralph Erskine and his first wife Margaret Dewar.

Henry Dewar (formerly Fraser) died 18th January 1823 and is buried in St Cuthberts Edinburgh and his grave has an ornate headstone.

I was unable to find any information about the writer of the letter, Richard Stark of Kelty Bridge.


The inheritance resulting from the news in the first letter leads to the second letter, written a couple of months later. It is a lengthy legal opinion from C. Bain Whyte, who uses some terms which relate particularly to the Scottish legal system. It is beautifully written, and the only words which are hard to decipher are these legal words. Fortunately, it is possible to find the explanation of many of these words on the internet now, so where I have found them I have put a note into the appropriate place on the transcription.

The letter is addressed to :-
The Revd. Mr Henry Dewar (Formerly Fraser)

Minister of the Gospel at Saltcoats by Irvine.

This has a very faint small Scottish Bishop mark of MY 14 and the charge mark of '3'. On checking the information in (For the port and carriage of Letters by David Robinson 1570-1840) it shows that the rate in force from 1784-1796 from Edinburgh within Scotland was 3d for a distance of up to 50 miles. Saltcoats is about 44 miles from Edinburgh.

The letter begins with a not so subtle hint that it has caused him a lot of work.

"Edinbh May 14 1796
Dear Sir
I have the favour of your letter of the 7th instant and after a laborious and more tedious investigation than could have supposed or expected into the record of
seasines for the County of Fife and also the General Register of Seasines kept at Edinburgh, for a period of near 40 years in each, I cannot discover any vestige of a seasine having ever been taken or recorded on the Contract of Marriage betwixt James Dewar and his wife in 1708, whereby the Lands of Lassodie were conveyed to him by John Dewar, his father and which contract was his only title to that estate.

Note : Seasine in Scots law is the delivery of feudal property, typically land. And there are eleven known different spellings of this word.

At this, I am the more surprised, that Mr Dewar in his deed 1736 affirms that he was infeft on that Contract, and had in the year 1720 burdened the Lands with a debt of £5533.6.8 borrowed from your great grandfather and for which he gave an infeftment of annual rent out of Lassodee of £276.13.4 Sesis which was discharged in 1731 and he afterwards in 1736 borrowed 5000 marks on the property from Andrew Aikers all which the records show.


Note: a) insest/ insestment /insestation signifies disposition or conveyance of lands.

Note b) I found it interesting that the currency was in pounds shillings and pence for the first amount and then Marks for the second loan. A Mark according to the OED is a denomination of weight for gold and silver, usually 8 ozs and was English money of account and worth two thirds of a pound which was 13s and 4d.

I can only account for this either by supposing that Mr Dewar had mistaken in imagining that he was insest, that the lenders having confidence in him, had not very scrupulously examined the Titles, or that he may have been insest in a period between the 1715 and 1720, when there is a chasm in the record, owing to the Clerks malversations, and when the Seasine may have been taken and lost, as nothing but unauthenticated lists scrolls and copies appear lodged about that time.

Note: there are two more Scottish legal terms in this paragraph.
Malversation is Misconduct in the discharge of a duty or trust. Malversation in office subjects an officer to the punishment of fine & sometimes of deprivation as most public officers are held AD VITUM AUT CULPAM.

Ad vitam aut culpam is a Latin phrase found in Scots law meaning ‘for life or until fault’ which guarantees the right of a Sheriff Depute (judge) to hold office permanently or until they forfeit such by misconduct. The Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act 1746 used the phrase to guarantee a Sheriff's term office after they have held office for seven years.


The letter continues
I therefore have no hope of discovering an insestment on this Contract. there is only one other enquiry I can make, which is at the Clerk of the Freeholders of the County of Fife, to know on what title it appears by their record, he claimed and was admitted to the roll, but there is no doubt that an apparent heir of Line may be inrolled on his father or ancestors right, without making up Titles himself.

After this investigation, I have considered what may be the consequences of the want of this Seasine, and after all the attention I can bestow, it appears to me that there can be none that will affect your right to the estate. By the Contract, a compleat personal right was vested in Mr. Dewar, which would have been made real, had he been insest, but that right gave him a Power of conveying the estate as he pleased, as the contract, tho' it pointed out a destination, yet did not accompany it with any prohibitory clause, irritating Mr Dewars own title in case he altered the course of succession, or desolving any attempt he might make that way, Therefore I consider him as unlimited in the administration of the property and of course that he could make the Entail, and that it must regulate the succession.

This I say on the supposition that the Contract of marriage is a valid deed, which I think it is, and can be made and it is only on it that the heirs male could a claim, for supposing it out of the way, or that it could be overlook'd altogether, which I cannot admit, the heirs male have nothing to found on and would be excluded by the heirs of line of old John Dewar, who are the descendents of Margaret Dewar your great grandmother, sister of James Dewar, maker of the Entail. The heirs male therefore must proceed on the footing that the Contract is valid, if so, the Entail is likewise, they must stand or fall together, and if they are both reckoned inavailable, the Title of the heir male, is excluded by the right of the heirs of Line, and therefore they cannot be heard to claim or to object.

This idea I communicated to your father when here at the Synod, week before last - I have since ruminated on it, and believe it solid, at same time I think it may not be amiss, that before you take any steps to make up Titles, the advice of a Lawyer of eminence, Mr Adam Rolland or some other, should be taken, for direction as to the mode to be followed and whether your right can be questioned.


Note: the Wikipedia entry includes this information:

Adam Rolland of Gask FRSE (1734-1819) was a Scottish judge and philanthropist. He was co-founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, personal friend of Lord Melbourne and the basis of the character of Paul Pleydell in the novel Guy Mannering by Sir Walter Scott. He was born in 1734 the son of his namesake, Adam Rolland of Gask. His early education was in Dunfermline. He then studied Law at Edinburgh University alongside Ilay Campbell and Andrew Crosbie, and qualified as an advocate in 1758.He became an expert on feudal law and later sat as a Judge on the Court of Session. He retired as a judge around 1800, and had an attack of apoplexy. He also became severely deaf.


The letter continues with more legal queries.

As to the Query put in your last. I think the Tailzie contains an express order under a forfeiture, that the name shall be adopted to Dewar without any addition, and this being one of the conditions under which the grant was made, seems indispensible; your answering to your former name, can have no influence, it is your own act, not that by which you are addressed, that can be laid hold of, at same time, it may be not very material as you are not yet in possession but as you have made the Change, you should persevere in it. You cannot suppose everyone writing you should know the alteration, you might have a minute of presbytery on producing the Tailzie authorizing you to be called upon by the name of Dewar, which will come of itself in a short time, and I would not now recur to your former name as it might look like a departure from your right and a dereliction of the Entail which should not be done or any thing by you to infringe it.
I remain Dear Sir, Your most Obed Serv
C. Bain Whyte.


Note: Tailzie there are eleven different spellings for this legal term the definition of which is this.
Tailzie, in Scots law, is the feudal concept of the inheritance of immovable property according to an arbitrary course that has been laid out, such as in a document known as a “deed of tailzie”.

Mr Whyte then added this postscript.

P.S. Your father mentioned that a Mr Douglas of Dumf had made some searches for you of which the result was favourable. But I could not learn the particulars.

So at the end of all this, it seems that as long as the Reverend Fraser changed his name to Dewar, he could inherit the land legally. He did this and was thereafter known as Henry Dewar. This inheritance allowed him to cease being a Minister and train as a doctor at Edinburgh University, and had a successful career which then led to him being an author on medical subjects.

The interest in these old letters for me is not the genealogical one, as they do not relate to my family history, but each of the letters on our website leads to different areas of new knowledge and when we are contacted by visitors to the website for their links to the letters for their family history, this is a bonus.

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