Letters  from the Past

"The poor wife of a Militiaman — Scotland, 1808 "

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This letter is addressed to "Mr. Brown from Long Island at Mr. H. McDond Buchanan's on(e) of the Clerks of Session Edinburgh", with an added note "In Mr Brown's absence to be opened by Mr H. Mcd Buch'n".

There are four postal markings :-
1) Inverness circular mileage mark 651
2) circular 3-line date stamp in red ink for Edinburgh AP 21 A. 1808, the ‘A’ being the identifying letter of the handstamp.
3) the original charge mark ‘11’ rate crossed out with three lines. This has been replaced with
4) another ‘11’. This is the correct rate of 11 pence, as Inverness is 651 miles from London, and Edinburgh is 395, so the difference is 256 miles and from 1805-1812 the rate for a distance of between 230 and 300 miles was 11d.

There seems to be no reason for the original 11 to be crossed out and then replaced, but it is possible that there was some confusion as to whether the postage would have to be paid as it was addressed to the Court of Session, and therefore may have been considered to be ‘official’ mail.

So now to the contents of the letter written by Captain John Grant, the Adjutant of the 10th Inverness, Banff, Elgin & Nairn Militia which was formed in 1804. It is a responsible attempt by an officer trying to sort out the financial circumstances for one of his soldiers.(Fig.2 part of the letter)

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I was surprised that the wife should have had a different surname from her husband at that time. However, I have been advised that it was a common custom in Scotland.

"Inverness 17th April 1808
I am induced to apply to you in this manner in behalf of a poor Woman now residing with the Parish of South Uist, named Mary McAulay and the Wife of a Richard Morrison soldier 10th or Inverness-shire Regt of Militia, who forwarded to this place a Certificate entitling herself and one child to the County Allowance granted to the Wives of Militia men, which she ought to have received from 24th Nov 1806 but from the Certificate not being (as required) signed by a proprietor or tenant worth not less than £20, along with the Minister of the Parish who have signed it very irregularly, the money cannot be recovered, it is therefore requested that in order to be the means of procuring this poor Woman her just claim, you will be pleased on receipt of this to transmit to me here a certificate as per the annexed sample which I hope will have the desired effect.
I am Sir
Your mst ob & hb Servant
John Grant, Capt Adjt Militia"
He then added an instruction as to how the certificate should be written


I — --- — ---- do hereby certify that Mary McAulay, wife of Richard Morrison soldier Inverness-Shire Militia, having one child under ten years of Age, born in Lawfull Wedlock, & having her residence at Coltinish(*) in the Parish of S. Uist is unable to maintain herself and family by reason of poverty

Signed — ---- — ----

Note (*) This is actually CALTERNISH in the atlas, so Captain Grant may not have known the place, and only heard it spoken, and wrote it phonetically. He was obviously a conscientious officer and realised that his request would have to be dealt with urgently so tried to cover all the possibilities, by adding a postscript.

Should this letter happen to be opened by Mr. H. McDond Buchanan it is requested he will have the goodness to Act for Mr. Brown in forwarding the Certificate as required as it will equally answer with Mr. Brown."

The letter is a comment on the times, that this poor wife was unable to support herself and her child while her husband was in the Militia. The fact that she was not being paid the approved allowance only because the forms had been filled in incorrectly must have made her life really hard. Red tape and bureaucracy do not change over the years.
This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

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