Monday, October 31, 2011

Amanuensis Monday: James P. McPherson and an 1841 Letter of Political Content

My transciption for today is a letter that was written to my great-great grandfather James P. McPherson in 1841 and shows that he was involved in the political activities of that era. The People's Charter promoting universal (male) suffrage, which was signed in 1838, was the rallying vehicle around which the supporters of universal suffrage, the 10-hour work week, the anti-corn and Poor Law, unionization and better working conditions coalesced.  This was a period when the wage-earning working people were beginning to plead their agenda not only to employers but to the national political forces.  The following letter was written to 26 year-old James P. McPherson, a Dundee flax dresser,  from a man who wanted to obviously wanted to stand for election to represent Dundee:

My transcription of the letter requires a few notes and comments.  I believe the word preceeding the date is Hull.  There is a HULL in Yorkshire and one of the postmarks does clearly show the word HULL.  However, a Scots genealogist and a friend of mine, thought it might also be MULL, as there is an island by that name of the SW coast of Scotland.  Personally, although the first letter does indeed look like an "M,"  my vote remains for HULL  --- but then in my first transcription I thought it read,"Thu A,"  so there is plenty of room for discussion.
Regarding the sender of the letter, it looks to me like the name is "T. Pemset Thompson."  However, all I am comparatively sure of is that the first three letters are "Tho".  A quick check of the UK census reports yielded no helpful information about this individual.

J.P.'s address on Horse Water Wynd can be Googled.  When J.P and his mother lived there it was in the shacks near the flax mill located on the waterfront;  now Horse Water Wynd  is in  a parking lot near the university.  You just have to love Google Maps 

Transcription of the letter:
Hull. 26 June 1841

Dear Sir, 
      Finding, as I always suspected that measures have been taken by the Whigs to render my election next to impossible, I beg to state that if there were a probability of returning me for Dundee with requiring my actual presence, I should gladly make myself responsible for any moderate expenses connected with that object. 
                                                                             I am, Dear Sir, 
                                                                               Yours very truly and sincerely,
                                                                                       T. Pemset Thompson
Mr. J.P.McPherson
8 Horse Water Wynd
Scouningburn, Dundee

The back side of the letter is folded so as to make the envelope. Although HULL is very clear, there are a couple of  postmarks which I don't understand. The envelope is addressed to:

Mr. Jas. McPherson
8 Horse Water Wynd


Comments and suggestions are welcomed. 

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© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications



  1. Your recent posts make me wish that I remembered more of my British history. It's so interesting how working people were beginning to become involved in political activities. And, it's hard to imagine how, once upon a time, a 10-hour work day was considered short.

  2. And that children worked, 9-13 worked a 10-hour day--but no night work. Yikes.