Letters  from the Past

"Ayr to Edinburgh 1779"

This letter is one of those which poses questions to which I can find no answers. It is 225 years old, dated 17 Oct 1779 Ayr addressed to Charles Gordon Esq, 7 Braid, Edin.(1) (obviously the abbreviation for Edinburgh) (Fig.1)

address panel

click here for larger image

It was written by W. Finlayson of Ayr. The filing note (2) on the back of the letter is “Ayr 17 Octr 1779 Capt. Finlayson about the Recruits there".

It has two postal markings : the postmark (3) ‘AIR' is rather blurred, but it is a curved name stamp, which was unusual, the names were mostly in a straight line, but the spelling of AIR for AYR is surprising, as the writer of the letter has inscribed his address as AYR. The charge mark ‘2' (4) is the rate which was in force from 1765 for a single letter being carried a distance of less than 150 miles. According to the rates tables, Ayr was about 50 miles from Edinburgh.

The writing is a bit of a scribble, and as can be seen from the illustration he has embellished the address panel with a flourish of his quill pen. This is the last notation (5)

The address is a mystery as well, as there is no such street name in Edinburgh, but there may have been one in 1779! Towards the end of the letter some of the words are pretty much illegible, so I have marked them in brackets.

(Fig.2)

contents of letter

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“Dear Sir,
I had the pleasure of yours of the 12th inst — and have only to reassure you of my warmest wishes to serve you in the recruiting way & every other in my power. We have already received 7 Recruits here for Col Maxwell's. But what is wonderful, there has not yet been one scrape of a pen from him to the Duke or any friend upon the subject of his promotion — so that they are quite in the dark —

If any thing should prevent his step taking place cou'd we not fall upon measures to manoevre his recruits over to you?"

the next sentence is the puzzler — it begins clearly enough, then he puts 5 words in brackets, but the first word is illegible, and the last word of the sentence is obviously an abbreviation, probably for Aberdeen.

"I certainly can assist you more effectually here (letter (?) out of the question) by the caus of very active Sarjnts & my own aid join'd — than I cou'd even in Abdn

All I can say is I am ready and willing when at liberty and ever am Dr Sir your most Sincere obliged friend.
W. Finlayson"


To try to track down the persons named, I contacted the local history dept of South Ayrshire, but they were unable to identify either Capt. Finlayson, or the ‘Duke' mentioned in the letter. However, they did find references to Sir C. Gordon, Royal Scots Fusiliers Infantry Brigade, 1794 and Edward Maxwell became Colonel of the 67th Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1774. Both these references were found in "The History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers (1678-1918)" by John Buchan, 1925.

So it would seem that the recruits were for the army. The next question obviously was why did they need recruits in 1779? and I came up with three possibilities :-

Regulating Act: Introduced by Lord North in 1773 to cause the British Government to interfere in the administration of India.

Regulating Act: Passed by Parliament, 1774, for the subversion of the charter of Massachusetts.

Spain declared war on Britain in 1779.

However, at this late stage, I doubt if I could find out. Perhaps if there are any military historians amongst the readers who would know, I would be pleased to hear from you.

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

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