The People of Fife, 1600-1799


Author: Dobson, David
Publication Date: 2018
Pages: viii 184 pp.
ISBN: 9780806358635


The County of Fife is on the east coast of Scotland and lies between two river estuaries–to the south lies the Firth of Forth and to the north lies the Firth of Tay. During the Dark Ages, Fife formed a distinct Pictish kingdom, but since the medieval period it has been fully integrated into the kingdom of Scotland. King James VI of Scotland [later King James I of England] described Fife as “a beggar’s mantle with a golden fringe” due to the prosperity of the coastal burghs from St Andrews in the east to Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline in the west, with several important fishing villages lying in between.

During the period 1600-1799, the economy of Fife was based on exports of fish, coal, salt, agricultural produce, linen, and other textiles. Its seafaring communities were engaged in fishing and whaling, with trading voyages to ports in Scandinavia, the Baltic lands, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain, and the Americas. These shipping links led in due course to emigration. Among such emigrants were John Cunningham, who led a Danish expedition to Greenland and Labrador in 1605, later settling in Norway; General John Forbes, who fought in the French and Indian War and is buried in Philadelphia; and Samuel Greig, 1735-1788, the founder of the Russian Navy. Another notable son was Adam Smith, 1723-1790, economist and author of The Wealth of Nations, who was born in Kirkcaldy.

This book is based on research into primary source material, both manuscript and printed, largely found in archives in both Fife and in Edinburgh. Dr. Dobson’s sources included the Kirkcaldy burgess rolls, the Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, and newspapers such as the Edinburgh Advertiser and Edinburgh Evening Courant. While the contents of the 2,000-plus entries of Fife inhabitants varies considerably, the following sample conveys an idea of what researchers may hope to find in the work as a whole:

WEST, JAMES, born 11 June 1791, son of John West in Kirkcaldy, emigrated to America in 1815, settled in Wood County, West Virginia, died in Fox Township, Ohio, in 1851. [OVG.125]

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