THEY survived defeat at the hands of Cromwell’s New Model Army and a forced march south to a brutal confinement which cost the lives of 1,700 of their countrymen.

Now fresh light has been shone on the Scottish soldiers who survived the battle of Dunbar, and the lives they carved out for themselves in the New World and beyond. 

Of those sent to the American colonies as indentured servants, newly unearthed records show the men thrived after serving their sentences they went on to hold lands, raise families and establish their fortunes under the stern gaze of the Puritan settlers.

In fact, such was their zeal for life, a common mention of the group is found in court documents from the time which list their names alongside charges of “fornication outside marriage”. 

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Their spirit of camaraderie also served them well, with one group establishing a charity to help others poor Scots which endures to this day.


The Scots were all young men captured during the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the 17th Century Civil Wars, when Oliver Cromwell's troops - outnumbered two to one - won an unexpected victory against Scottish supporters of Charles II.

The prisoners were taken south to Durham Castle where around 1,700 died of malnutrition, cold or disease after the 100-mile march. The deaths became part of the city's folklore and in November 2013 burial pits were found during work at Palace Green on a new cafe.

Bones that were eventually revealed to be the remains of 27 men were excavated from the site and now after five years of analysis archaeologists have revealed their conclusions in a new book 'Lost Lives,

New Voices', which also traces what happens to those who survived.
Professor Chris Gerrard, of the University of Durham's Archaeology department, was one of the leaders of the project and helped author the book.

He said that the discovery of the remains of so many men from the 17th century was extremely unusual and provided a rare opportunity to learn more about the Scots who fought against Cromwell.

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Prof Gerrard said: "These were men who moved around a lot and most were quite young. There was evidence in the bones of malnutrition and some had rickets from early life, indicating they were used to a poor diet.

"It's likely they were poor men pressed into service against an experienced and formidable army, which might explain why they fared so badly on the day of the battle." 


Those who survived captivity in Durham were put to work draining fens in England and France, or were transported to colonies in New England.

Around 150 veterans of the battle are known to have arrived in Boston, where they worked as indentured servants in timber mills, on farms and in the burgeoning iron industry. 

Once they had served their time, many branched out as farmers and landholders, with one, James Warren, eventually becoming a town official. 

Another anonymous Scot, ‘a slave from Dunbar’, is referred to in a letter in 1685 as ‘living now in Woodbridge [New Jersey] like a Scots laird’. He wished ‘his countrymen and his native soil well, though he never intends to see it’.

However, the behaviour of the Scots often shocked their Puritan neighbours, and the book recounts the take of smallholder William Paul, who was prosecuted for having an affair with an Irishwoman called Catherine Innes. 

For this ‘unclean and filthy behaviour’, court records show he was ‘publickly whipt’, as was Catherine for her ‘unclean and laciviouse behaviour.

READ MORE: No return to Scotland for bones of Cromwell's 1650 Battle of Dunbar prisoners

In an unusual turn of events her husband Alexander was also implicated, with officials deciding he had deserted his family and exposed his wife to temptation. 

The book says: "For this, Innes, seemingly the innocent party, was placed in the stocks."

The new-found wealth many of the Dunbar Scots came into led them to establish a 'poor box society', known today as the Scots Charitable Society and said to be the oldest charitable organization still existing in the Western Hemisphere.


Prof Gerrard said that researching the lives of the Scottish solders had been a touching experience.

He said: "It is a real sliding doors moment. These young men were probably conscripted into a battle that lasted just an hour, then were force marched across the country into a gruesome captivity where so many died.

"But others went on to have lives far beyond what they could have imagined, travelling to the other side of the world make their way in a new culture.

"It would have been like going to another planet for them, but they stuck together and helped each other grow and now their descendants are still with us hundreds of years later."