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New research reveals fate of 17th-century Scottish soldiers who survived Battle of Dunbar


A new paper has been published examining the fate of the Scottish soldiers who survived the Battle of Dunbar of 1650 and were held captive in Durham. Read about the discovery of the skeletons of Dunbar soldiers in Durham.

Drawing on over 40 sources of documentary evidence, the paper, written by experts at the University of Durham, offers new insight into how those who survived imprisonment in Durham were sent to work at sites across England and as far afield as the USA and Barbados.
The Battle of Dunbar was one of the most brutal and short battles of the 17th Century civil wars. The Royalist-supporting Scottish Covenanting army, led by General David Leslie was defeated in less than an hour by Oliver Cromwell’s English Parliamentarian army. Following defeat, thousands of surviving Scottish soldiers were marched over 100 miles from Dunbar in South East Scotland to Durham in North East England. 
Around 3,000 soldiers were imprisoned in Durham Cathedral and Castle, at a time when the Cathedral (pictured) was empty and abandoned. Skeletons of some of the soldiers who died in the battle (pictured above) were discovered in 2013 at a site close to Durham Cathedral.
The new research paper uses sources including correspondence and state papers from the time, as well as research published on the subject since, to track the fate of the surviving soldiers. Following imprisonment, some of the surviving soldiers were sent to work at sites locally, including the salt pans in South Shields, whilst others were sent south to help drain The Fens in the East of England or on to France and Ireland for military service. However, it is those soldiers who were sent to the USA about which the most is known.
Through records from both sides of the Atlantic, Dr Pam Graves, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Archaeology and author of the paper has been able to develop a deeper understanding of how this came about and the life that awaited these men.
Dr Graves said: “There is a wealth of information about the fate of the Scottish soldiers during and after their imprisonment in Durham, but it is only when you draw all this together that you get a real sense of what became of these men.
“Many were sent as indentured servants, to work for a contracted length of time in order to earn their release. Documents from the time tell us the names of the soldiers sent to the USA, where they were sent to and even the name of the ship they voyaged in.
“Tracing their names through history also shows us what these men did once they were released from indenture. Some went on to become successful farmers and we know there are many descendants of these men still living in the USA today.”
The project team has recently travelled to the USA to meet descendants of some of the soldiers who were sent there nearly 400 years ago, and learn more about their lives.The new publication also explores the men who made up the Scots Army, the Battle itself and its aftermath in detail.
For more on the paper, and the Battle of Dunbar reburial project, visit the Durham University website.
(Images: skeleton copyright North News and Pictures; cathedral copyright tilman37)

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