The Scottish Prisoners of 1650

Why “Berwick”?
17th century tower in Dunbar, ScotlandUntil 1814, Maine’s three Berwicks -- South Berwick, Berwick and North Berwick -- were all one town, Berwick.

Why that name?

    Many New England towns were named for English towns -- Plymouth, Massachusetts or Dover, New Hampshire, for example. Some -- like Pittsfield, MA, or Wolfeboro, NH -- were named to honor great English leaders. Throughout the 1600s the area that became the Berwicks in Maine was part of the town of Kittery and known at first as Quamphegan or Newichawannock. But gradually the name Barwick or Berwick took hold, taken from a town associated with England’s old rival, Scotland. Why?

 17th century tower in Dunbar, Scotland

Except during brief intervals, Scotland was a separate kingdom until the Act of Union in 1707. The Scottish throne and boundaries had long been disputed with London. The town of Berwick-upon-Tweed (pronounced Berrick, and perhaps Barrick long ago in America) is only about 40 miles (64.5 km) from the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, and sits right on the contested Scots-English border at the mouth of the Tweed River on the coast. In previous centuries, Berwick was also the name of the Tweed’s old wool-producing inland shire or county vital to international trade. Vikings had first settled there, and Berwick meant “Corn Bay” in the Norse language. In the Middle Ages, the town became Scotland’s busiest port. Today part of England but Scottish in culture and dialect, Berwick-upon-Tweed has changed hands some 13 times during the past thousand years.

The former Scottish county of Berwick around the turn of the 20th century is shown on the map below. The town Berwick-upon-Tweed at right, at the mouth of the Tweed River, faces the North Sea about 40 miles (64.5 km) southeast of Edinburgh, Scotland, but is on the English side of the border. Dunbar is about halfway between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh.To enlarge the map, click on the small rectangle. The former Scottish county of Berwick about a century ago. The town Berwick-on-Tweed at right, at the mouth of the Tweed River, faces the North Sea about 40 miles (64.5 km) southeast of Edinburgh, Scotland, but is on the English side of the border. Dunbar is about halfway between Berwick-on-Tweed and Edinburgh.

    The year 1650 marked one such struggle. At nearby Dunbar, situated midway between Edinburgh and the Scots-English border, Oliver Cromwell won a battle that allowed him to wrest the Scottish capital from Royalists and unify Scotland and England for several years. The battle of Dunbar (and another at Worcester in 1651) led to the forced emigration of captured Scottish soldiers to work in the American colonies. About 60 Scots were sent to Saugus Iron Works in Massachusetts, and about 25 were brought to set up the Great Works sawmill at a site that is now on Brattle Street in South Berwick, Maine.

    When these young and impoverished prisoners eventually obtained their freedom they stayed, joining the English founding families of a tiny settlement. Among these displaced Scotsmen were said to be Niven Agnew, James Barry, Alexander Cooper, Daniel Ferguson, William Furbush, William Gowen, Peter Grant, George Gray, David Hamilton, Thomas Holme, John Key, Alexander Maxwell, John Neal, John Reed, John Ross, John Taylor, William Thomson, and James Warren (from Downeast Ancestry, Vol. 9, No. 3).

    As the years passed, the name Berwick began to appear. "Settleing Barwicke Bridg," reads the Maine Provincial and Court Records III, p. 32. of June 28, 1682. "It is ordered that the Select Men of Barwicke, do forthwith appoint 3 meete persons, to join with the committee impoured for erecting of a bridg over little Newgewwanacke [i.e. Great Works] River...” The choice of Barwick or Berwick as a name seems strange. The conscript soldiers captured at Dunbar had apparently come from all over Scotland, so Berwick wasn’t a common ancestral home. Their descendants would have made up only a fraction of the local population, and soon became assimilated, apparently professing English Congregationalism rather than the Presbyterianism of their homeland. To them the name Berwick, rather than symbolizing a treasured part of their past, more likely had negative associations with 1650 and with earlier battles in which the Scots went down to defeat. So why would the Scottish and English colonists of southern Maine have named their parish after the Scottish Berwick?

    Historian Emerson W. Baker thinks the name Berwick could have been a domination tactic forced on the settlement by the Puritan church authorities in Boston.

    “Massachusetts tended to name communities as [Boston] wanted, regardless of what the locals thought,” Baker said. “In the 1650s when they took over Maine, they renamed the communities now called York, Scarborough and Falmouth - all names of Royalist strongholds that fell to the Puritans in the late 1640s. The locals in these communities must have been angry and humiliated. Maybe ‘Berwick’ was a similar insult?”
    Warren family grave in Vaughan Woods
Warren family grave in Vaughan Woods State Park, South Berwick, Maine

    Berwick’s church congregation at the time was called the “Parish of Unity,” and perhaps this was another dig. Unity was also the name of the ship that had brought the Dunbar prisoners to America in 1650, and unity with Cromwell’s England is what the Scots had resisted. In 1702, the union of Scotland and England, which failed after Cromwell, was again under consideration with the succession of Queen Anne to both the English and Scottish thrones and with the advantages of trade cooperation benefiting both sides. In 1707 the Act of Union formalized the connection between the two countries.

    By then Berwick, Maine, was a place on the American map, and no evidence has been found of substantial conflict here among the Americans of English descent and those who had been Scottish covenanters.

    (Text and photos by W. Pirsig with research assistance by Bruce Tucker, Emerson W. Baker, and Norma Keim. Sources: The Scots at Hammersmith by Stephen P. Carlson, 1976; National Library of Scotland, “Scotland’s Pages; Scotland’s Written History”; Downeast Ancestry; Dunbar, 1650: Cromwell’s Most Famous Victory, by Stuart Reid, 2004; Pocket History of Scotland, by Dr. James Mackay, 2004; The Making of Scotland by Robin Smith, 2003; “The First Permanent Settlement in Maine,” by Everett S. Stackpole, 1926; Ironworks on the Saugus by E. N. Harley, 1957; “A Short Guide to Durham Cathedral,” 2003; The Chadbourne Family in America: A Genealogy, 1994, compiled by Elaine C. Bacon for The Chadbourne Family Association, and edited by Deborah L. Chadbourne; archives of the Saugus Iron Works.; From Kittery to Kansas: One Line of the Grants Traced through 400 Years by W. D. Grant, 2000; York Deeds, Vol. III, Preface.  Updated December 2020.)