Letters from the Past

‘American prisoner Mr R. Livie, In London in 1777 ’

This letter does not look much good, as it is very dirty, and scruffy, but it has fascinating contents written almost 250 years ago, around the time of the Boston Tea party, when the government of King George III of England made decisions which lost the American Colonies to their independence. Was this man a spy? Or a soldier in one of the defeated armies, or a Loyalist who did not want independence from the Mother Country?

address panel

The letter was sent from London to Edinburgh, and has two postal markings.

1) London Bishop mark 30 AV (for 30th August), which was stamped across the fold, so is visible in two parts.
2) charge mark 6 in black ink, which was the standard charge to cover the cost of sending a single letter London to Edinburgh during the years 1711-1765.

It is addressed to John Russell Junr. Esqr Argylle Square Edinburgh. From the contents and the style of the letter, it is obvious that it is written to a close friend.

London 30th August 1777
Dear Russell
Being happily freed from Tyranny and Oppression, and now living in a Land of true Liberty, I with pleasure take the first spare time I have to enquire after my worthy friend's health - How have you been this long time John?

I hope prosperity and happiness has been your constant attendants, and I expect to hear that you are out of the List of Bachelors and a downright Benedick.

Note: Benedick is the word for a newly married man. The derivation according to my Oxford English Dictionary is from Shakespeare’s play “Much ado about nothing.”

I hope I shall be able to accomplish a design I have in view at present which is no less than paying my friend a visit this next winter. How happy shall I be once more to embrace my Russell! I will then relate to you my Persecution in America, my banishment from my native Country, my being taken prisoner at Sea, carried into Liverpool, and after a week’s detention released. At present my friend you must excuse my brevity, being about to go down into the Country with my friend Mr Greenwood to partake of the diversion of the season. However, any letters you may Honour me with will come safe to Hand directed for me at Messrs Greenwood & Higginson Merchts London.

As I have undergone the before mentioned persecutions on account of my Attachment to my Sovereign, it is necessary for me to wait attendance at present on my Lords North & Germaine. When I have finished my business with these great folks I shall be more at leisure to write you more frequent & fully.

Note : Lord North was Prime minister and Lord Germaine was Colonial Secretary at this time, so it would appear Mr Livie was moving in political circles, could he have been a spy?

I shall be extremely happy to hear of the welfare of all your good family to whom I entreat to be most affectly remembered & likewise to all acquaintances
I am, as I have ever been, Dear John your sincere and affectionate friend
R. Livie.

There is a note written at the bottom Ans'd 5th Septr.

I contacted my usual source of information about the history of England, and received the following information from our friend Dr. Marjie Bloy, owner of the website The Peel Web
I suspect that your Livie was a loyalist who'd been maltreated by the radicals in America who wanted independence, judging from his comments. A lot of Americans, born and bred, chose to go to England during the war, rather than live under the tyranny of the men who wanted independence. Thomas Hutchinson, the Governor of Massachusetts, is a classic example.. Is the “diversion of the season” grouse shooting (Glorious 12th and all that)?

I checked online to see when the grouse shooting was regulated, and found that the 1773 GAME ACT in England established the hunting season for the red grouse as August 12 to December 10. The 12th of August has subsequently become known as The Glorious Twelfth. This had therefore been legal four years before this letter was written, and is still the focus of popular shooting parties.

Messrs Greenwood & Higginson, Merchants have several internet references but none I found could say what was their business. But I could find no information about either the addressee or the writer of the letter, which was a pity, as this letter was written shortly after the Declaration of Independence was declared in 1776, and in the same year as the Stars and Stripes was adopted as the Continental Congress Flag, in 1777, so if anyone reading this has any knowledge of Mr R Livie, we would like to know about it.

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