A Dad Defends His Position

In a previous post we had discovered that my wife’s ancestor Robert Milner Morrison did not have a bust in the lobby of the University of Edinburgh, but we also found out that he had graduated from there and taught at the university for a time in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

In addition, we had learned that he had been born on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, not Trinidad and Tobago as we had thought.

I was making plans to go to St. Thoma,s but there would have to be a delay since we had just finished a vacation. So during this travel pause, I did some research on the internet. I started with Robert’s known dates at the University and started looking at census records for Scotland for 1871 and 1881.

Here I encountered a small setback. The service I was using, Ancestry.com, showed a message when looked up the record. The message said something like, “We are sorry but we have tried to negotiate with the people who have these records, and they won’t allow us to show them like we do all our other census records. But we will have them all have transcribed before the originals are removed, and we will make these transcriptions available as substitutes for the original records.”

So initially I thought, “Okay, no problem. I’ll use the transcriptions.”

That is the response of a person who didn’t understand the importance of looking at original documents.

Back in the day, census takers not only didn’t spell names accurately and they didn’t really care that they didn’t spell them correctly. Their job was to get the names of the people who lived in that household on that day, and that was it.

So the result was the census taker listened to a heavily accented voice pronounce their name and then wrote down phonetically what they thought they heard AND then, centuries later, someone at Ancenstry.com who couldn’t make a deal with the Scots for their census records hurriedly translated the long-dead census takers good or bad handwriting into text. Luckily, names in Scotland and England are generally easy enough to understand even if they are misspelled, mispronounced, or transcribed in error.

Later on, when I was looking at original documents in the U.S. records, it amazed me how far from the truth you can get just by asking somebody their name and then writing it down. Simple Irish names like Cleary or Feehan can be garbled almost beyond recognition. You can imagine what happens to Italian, Eastern European, and Russian names.

Anyway, I found a transcription of the 1871 census showing a Robert M. Morrison, age 17, living in Edinburgh with a family headed by an A. M. Stewart. There was a wife, Jessie, several children, and three servants. The entry also showed him being born in the West Indies, which made me think this was the Robert Milner Morrison who also went to the University of Edinburgh a little later on.

This entry also listed him as a cousin.

A portrait of A. Moody Stuart (Stewart), with whom Robert Milner Morrison lived for a time.

I did not understand the huge significance at the time of finding family members other than husband, wife, and children living with the family. When you find cousins, in-laws, aunts and uncles, and you can find the connection, you start adding to the family tree by connecting whole families together and not just by adding one name at a time, which is what I would have done if Morrison had been living alone.

It is a little like the game of Risk where by taking over a country you get more armies so that you can take over more countries. With this kind of research, you get more families to connect to, and with them comes a bunch more clues, and with more clues you get more families, and so on.

So we have Robert Milner Morrison, a cousin of either A. Moody Stewart or his wife Jessie.

I started with A. Moody Stewart.

As it turns out, that isn’t even his name.

First of all, the name STEWART should have been STUART.

Secondly, his name was Alexander Moody, and he was a Presbyterian minister, a man notable enough that a quick search of his name turned up lots of information.

A drawing of the “General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland.” As part of “the Disruption,” a third of Scottish Presbyterian churches split from their brother and sister churches in rebellion against government and church administration interference in the appointment of ministers.

Live Free or Die Go Back to Your Old Church

The man changed his name from Alexander Moody to Alexander Moody Stuart because his father-in-law Kenneth Bruce Stuart had all daughters, and since there were no sons he made it part of the marriage contract that whoever married his eldest daughter would change their name and the Stuart name would live on. The eldest daughter was Jessie Stuart, and she stood to inherit the family fortune, which was considerable.

For another thing, Alexander Moody was one of the leaders of what was called ”The Great Disruption”.

The Great Disruption was a schism in the Presbyterian Church in Scotland in which one-third of all the ministers of the church walked out and started their own church. The reasons for walking out stemmed largely from whether the church or government had the final say on posting ministers to a church or the congregation itself had the final say on their minister.

The “Disrupters” called their churches “free churches,” as in free from interference from the church hierarchy or any political establishment.

So Alexander Moody Stuart was the minister of St Luke’s Free Church, which was located on Queen Street in Edinburgh. I wish I had known this when we were in Edinburgh. This is just a few blocks from where we stayed, and I would have gone down there and checked it out.

Anyway, research on the Moody family did not yield any obvious ties to Robert Milner Morrison, so I looked at Jessie Stuart and her family.

Now her father, Kenneth Bruce Stuart, was not as notable as Alexander Moody, so a quick search didn’t reveal a whole lot on him. However, his father was one General Robert Stuart and there was quite a lot of info about him.

A portrait of Robert Stuart, the kidnapped general.

Here Comes the General

Robert Stuart was a general in the East India Company, who had been stationed in India. He had married an Indian Princess — Princess Allam. Princess Allam was Kenny Boy’s (Kenneth Bruce Stuart) mom.

General Robert Stuart earlier in his career had been kidnapped while out on his daily ride in Northern India. At that time, in 1790, he was a Colonel. He was kidnapped by a band of Sikhs and held for nine months before he was released.

His captors allowed him to write letters back to the commander thinking they could up the ransom. Colonel Robert, however, kept exhorting the readers of his letters to attack.

Then another figure entered the scene as a negotiator. This is the shadowy, semi-godlike, sometimes brutal character of Begam Samru. The Begam negotiates the release of Colonel Stuart for 15,000 Rupees and has a painting hung on her wall of “The Kidnapped Colonel”.

The commander of the East India Company who paid the ransom was none other than Lord Cornwallis of the siege of Yorktown fame. He was then posted to India.

Now the story of the kidnapped general is a good example of two things.

For one thing, as I’m doing this research on the kidnapped general, I am very far from searching for anything relating to Robert Morrison cousin status. That issue doesn’t show up on the radar anywhere at the moment. I am caught up with everything I can read about the mysterious Begam, Indian princesses, Lord Cornwallis when he posted there, and on and on.  It takes me quite a while to return from this distraction.

So this is a good example of the distraction I was talking about earlier.

Secondly, it is a good example of where my son and I differ.

I keep saying these stories are great (like Tony the Tiger would say it). Everyone will want to hear about this, and Brian says, “Maybe…..but hasn’t it been done before? Are you sure this would be interesting?”.

Of course the implication is that it wasn’t all that interesting to Brian himself. So now I say, “I wonder if it is interesting.”

“Maybe it’s me not him”.

Hard for me to believe it’s me.

It has to be him.

Now most of the stories I come across seem like short stories to me. So, for example, the Reverend Alexander Moody and his friends breaking with the established church hierarchy and starting their own could be a good short story.

However, the story of “The Kidnapped Colonel” I always pictured differently. I see the “The Kidnapped Colonel” as a play.

On stage there are three parts. House left is Lord Cornwallis and his aides, house center is the sinister Begam, and house right is Colonel Stuart at a table. All of the characters remain on stage during the entire play. The house lights each one as they take part in the play and is dark when another one is speaking. If two parts are speaking then they are both lit. In no case are all three parts lit except perhaps for the climax or the finale.

The screenplay would be the interactions between Colonel Stuart and Lord Cornwallis (the letters), Lord Cornwallis and his aides, Lord Cornwallis and the Begam, and Colonel Stuart and his captors.

I can picture it very, veryclearly.

The only problem is that half of Colonel Stuarts letters are on file at a University in London and half on file at a University in Scotland (Dundee I think).

So it would be great to read those letters and write a screenplay of the drama.

Now I don’t have to be Kreskin to know exactly what the reader is now thinking.


To paraphrase another very notable character, Vito Corleone, “I swear on the souls of my grandchildren I will not be the one to prevent us getting to the Virgin Islands.”

However, there may be one more stop before we get there. Stay tuned!