Scotland’s High Court of the Admiralty, which was established in the mid-15th century, had jurisdiction over civil, criminal, and prize matters upon the high seas. The earliest extant records of the Admiralty Court date from 1657, and they are housed in the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. For this book, the indefatigable David Dobson has culled the records of the High Court of the Admiralty–mostly from the court’s Register of Decrees–for any reference to America between the years 1675 and 1800. The several hundred abstracts transcribed here concern cases dealing with pirates, privateers, colonial merchants, emigrants, slavers, and seafarers, and they are important because they identify the Scottish merchants and mariners who were trading with colonial America and Scottish agents and their servants who, as Mr. Dobson has said, “formed the vanguard of subsequent settlement there.” Although there is a great deal of variation between the cases, most of them involve a broken agreement or failure to pay what was claimed by the plaintiff in the suit. Witness the following one: “August 1, 1800. David Kennedy, mariner in Greenock, and Laurence Crawford, shipmaster in Irvine, v. Captain Malcom Dugald, master of the schooner Matilda. In December 1796 Kemedy went on voyage from the Clyde to Demerara then to Martinique then to St. Vincent and from there to Trinidad where he was impressed in the Royal Navy. Kennedy claims for his unpaid wages.”
In all, nearly 3,000 Scotsmen with a maritime connection to the New World, who would otherwise be lost to our knowledge, have been rescued by Mr. Dobson in these abstracts. Each individual is readily identifiable in the full-name index at the back of the volume.