Following on from the last two posts, in this post and the next I’ll be reproducing extracts from the Auchterless kirk session minutes that mention George Robb (or Rob). He was summoned on two separate occasions – in 1749 and 1751 – and, even allowing for the puritanical values of the time, the offences for which he was rebuked don’t present him in a very positive light.
We can’t be absolutely sure that the person referred to in these records is my 4 x great grandfather, but the evidence seems to point in that direction. Firstly, there appears to be only one George Robb mentioned in the Old Parish Registers for Auchterless for this period (and the minutes themselves don’t suggest a need to distinguish between different George Robbs). Secondly, the association with Mains of Badenscoth links the George mentioned here to the Robb family to which ‘our’ George is linked in the OPRs. Thirdly, the accounts in the kirk session records have this George associating with people, such as James Robb, who we know are related or otherwise connected to ‘our’ George Robb.
Finally, the dates appear to match. We do not know my 4 x great grandfather’s birth date: in fact, the first reference to him in the OPRs is when he marries Jean Syme in 1762. His children were born between 1763 (William) and 1779 (Charles, my 3 x great grandfather), and he lived variously at Logie Newton, Bruckhills and Fisherford. We know from later references in the records of his offspring that George was a flesher by occupation. If this is indeed the same George Robb, then these kirk session minutes are now the earliest record we have of him.
As you will see, on the second occasion that George Robb appeared before the kirk session, in 1751, he is named as one of a party of ‘young people’ of the parish, which implies that he was in his teens or early twenties at the time. This would suggest that he was born some time around 1730, and that he married at a comparatively late age – perhaps in his early thirties.
As always, historical records raise as many questions as they answer. What was George Robb doing between 1751 and 1762, and would knowing this explain why he married late? Were there further instances of anti-social behaviour, and did these get him into even deeper trouble, perhaps leading to a court appearance and imprisonment (as almost happened following of one of these rebukes from the kirk), and might this explain his delayed marriage? What about the family tradition that George was ‘involved’ in the ’45: is this incompatible with his later submission to Presbyterian discipline, and/or does it somehow explain his rebellious behaviour? And finally, how do we reconcile the George Robb who is here accused of slander, drunkenness and brawling, with the man whose sons became variously a merchant, clergyman and legal clerk, the last of whom (my 3 x great grandfather) confidently described himself to the census recorder as a ‘gent’? It will take further research, and perhaps the discovery of other as-yet-unknown records, to answer these questions.
The first reference to George Robb in the kirk records occurs on 20th July 1749, when a certain Margaret Tap appears before the session:
Also compeared Margaret Tap in Bruckhills and gave in a complaint upon George Rob in Mains of Badenscoth that he had defamed her by declaring to several persons that he had been living in a pact (?) of uncleanness with her for some time past, which she absolutely refused and earnestly begged the session would inquire into this affair, and in case the said George Rob shall be found to have defamed her they would censure him as a slanderer and vindicate her good name and reputation. It being represented that George Rob was waiting in the church-yard he was desired to be called and compearing acknowledged that he had been guilty of uncleanness with Margaret Tap, which she still persisted peremptorily to refuse and the session desiring the said George to condescend upon presumptions of what he asserted, he declared that he could prove by good witnesses that she had left her bed in the silence of the night to come to him into the open fields, and yet (?) he and she had been in a lock-fast house together without company several winter evenings and being desired to give a list of witnesses for proving these facts he condescended upon the following persons viz James Cruickshank, Alex Cruickshank servitors [= servants] to George Tap, George Menny and Isobel Steven all in Bruckhills. The session appointed their officer to summond these witnesses to a session to meet at the manse on Monday next by 11 of the clock forenoon at which time the said George Rob and Margaret Tap were cited to attend apud acta [= give evidence orally]. The minister likewise acquainted the session that John Gardiner servitor to John Panton in Neitherthird had come to him and delated [= accused] himself as guilty of fornication with the said Margaret Tap, and that he had desired the said John Gardiner to attend the session here this day,and and he being likewise called and not compearing, the officer was appointed to summond him to the said dyet [diet = assembly] on Monday. Session closed with prayer.
The Margaret Tap mentioned here is almost certainly the daughter born to George Tap in Bruckhills (probably the George Tap referred to in the above extract) in 1728, which means she would have been about 21 at the time of this incident. She would marry Alexander Peter in 1752.
I find parts of this account curiously affecting. The reference to George Robb ‘waiting in the church-yard’ while Margaret gives her evidence brings him suddenly to life: we can almost picture him pacing among the tombstones. And other sentences imply a latent poetic talent on the part of the parish secretary: ‘she had left her bed in the silence of the night to come to him into the open fields’ is a wonderfully vivid, rhythmic phrase with strong biblical overtones. Perhaps the minute-taker was captivated by this tale of youthful romance despite himself (and despite its acrimonious ending).
A few days later, on 24th July, the session meets again, and we read first of all that ‘session delayed the entering (?) upon George Rob, Margaret Tap and John Gardiner’s affairs until sermon to which time the meeting was adjourned.’ Later in the meeting we get the hearing, with detailed presentations from the witnesses who have been summoned, as follows:
Margaret Tap being called compeared and craved the session would continue to enquire into the slander raised against her by George Rob and also by John Gardiner. George Rob being called compeared and being interrogate if he persisted in his slanderous accursation of Margaret Tap declard that finding he could prove nothing material of what he had alleged, he was willing to repair the injury done to Margaret Tap’s character, in any way the session should think fit. But Margaret Tap and some of her friends insisting that the witnesses which he had named might be examined, the session proceeded accordingly to examine them and James Cruickshank in Bruckhills being called compeard a married man aged 49 years and being solemnly sworn and purged of malice and partial counsel and interrogate what he knew concerning the conversation of George Rob and Margaret Tap together deponed [= deposed, gave testimony] that he saw George Rob and Margaret Tap walking together in the night time, but at what hour he does not remember, the way to the said Margaret Tap’s father’s house and being interrogate at what distance they were from her father’s house when he first saw them declared that to the best of his rememberance it was about the distance of a ridge length or two, and being interrogate if he saw them sitting declared that he did not, but to the best of his remebrance they were rising up when he first saw them. Causa Scientia. He was coming from the Miln of Badenscoth to his own house and this is all that he knows in the matter. Sic subscribit James Crookshank.
Alex Crookshank in Bruckhills an unmarried man aged 23 years being called compeared and being solemnly sworn and purged of malice and partial counsel and being interrogate what he knew concerning the conversation of George Rob and Margt Tap together deponed that he knew nothing in the matter and further that he never saw anything amiss in Margaret Tap’s behaviour with George Rob or any other man. Cause Scientia. He has been her father’s servant since Martinmass last. Declared he cannot write.
George Menny in Bruckhills a married man aged 37 years being called compeard and being solemnly sworn and purged of malice and partial counsel and being interrogate what he knew of the conversation of George Rob ad Margaret Tap toether, deponed that some time in the end of harvest last as he was coming home from the meadows of Bruckhills a little after sunset he saw George Rob and Margaret Tap lying by one another but in no indecent posture and this is all that he knows of the matter.
Sic Subt. G. M.
Isobel Stephen a widow woman in Bruckhills age 45 years being called compeared, and being solemnly sworn and purged of malice and partial counsel, and being interrogate what she knew in the life and conversation of George Rob and Margaret Rob together deponed that George Rob and Margaret Tap had been several times in her house together, sometimes in company with others and sometimes by themselves but that she never saw anything indecent in their behaviour with one another either in words or deeds. And being interrogate if ever she locked them up together in her house declared that she has not had a lock-fast door for two years past. And being further interrogate if she had ever gone out of the house and left the said George Rob and Margaret Tap together and no company with them declared that she never left her house designedly for them, but cannot say but she has gone to well or flock (?) or any other businesss about her house while they weee in it without any other companu And further declared that she never observed any ting in the behaviour of Margaret Tap but what was decent and commendable and this is all she knows in the matter and declares she cannot write.
John Gardiner being called compeared and acknowledged that he came to the miister and declared to him that he had been guilty with Margaret Tap and was willing to give satisfaction for his lewd conversation [connivation?] with her. But now declared that it was false that he said and that he never had any ill behaviour with her and being interrogate what had tempted him to defame himself and her at such a rate declared that he had uttered rash words concerning his behaviour and hers in the mercat [market?] of Sinsain [?] Fair, and in regard that Margaret Tap had threatened to adduce witnesses to prove that he had defamed her, and being sensible that it was in her power to have done so, he was induced by George Rob to come to the minister and declare to him that he had been guilty with her persuading him that it would be better to confess to the minister than to have what he had said in the market judicially proven by witnesses.
The session considering that this case is of a very uncommon nature referred it to the presbytery for their advice and appointed their clerk to draw out an extract of it form the minister to be laid befoe the presbytery at their next meeting on the 3rd Wednesday of August next. Session closed with prayer.
The final chapter in this saga appears to occur on 27th August, when the minister reports back to the session on the verdict of the presbytery:
A.M. Session met and constitute. The minister reported that he had laid the extract of the process anent George Rob, Margaret Tap and John Gardiner before the Presbyery and that the Presbytery had given it as their advice that considering George Rob and John Gardiner had most maliciously and villainously defamed and slandered Margaret Tap they should be obliged to appear before the congregation upon the ordinary place for delinquents and publicly acknowledge the injury they had done to Margaret Tap’s character by making a recantation of the slander they had cast upon her and saying each of them in express terms False Tongue he had lied. And for the discouraging of such malicious practices for the time to come the Presbytery advised the session to be assisting to Margaret Tap and her friends in prosecuting George Rob and John Gardiner before the commissary of Aberdeen or any other judge competent and the minister having represented hat he had caused summond George Rob and John Gardiner to this meeting of session to hear the sentence of the Presbytery intimate to them, they were accordingly called and compearing the same was intimate to them, in which they acquiesced and craved that they might be allowed to make their appearance this day to repair the injury done to Margaret Tap’s character, and to be absolved, to which the session consented. Session closed with prayer.
It’s difficult to know what to make of this episode and George Robb’s part in it, at a distance of more than two and half centuries, and with only this account to rely on. As I suggested earlier, the story of young George and Margaret canoodling in the fields and taking long walks together seems like an everyday tale of youthful romance – if we can ignore the accusations of slander. Whether George Robb and John Gardiner were actually telling lies about Margaret Tap we have no way of telling. The evidence appears to be contradictory, and one suspects that the various witnesses had their own reasons for giving their particular versions of events. Modern readers will probably be less forgiving of George and John boasting about their supposed sexual exploits with Margaret to all and sundry. But even that might be put down to youthful high spirits, and George Robb’s character might have emerged from these records intact, if it wasn’t for his second summons to appear before the kirk session two years later, in 1751.
But that will have to wait until another post.