In answer to the questions you have sent me, in consequence of orders from the board of customs, be pleased to know, that I am forty-four years of age, have a wife and five children all under eight years; I am a native of East Lothian but for some years past have lived at Borlum in the parish of Reay and county of Caithness, on a farm belonging to Mr Innes of
Sandside.Others, with too much justice, complain of arbitrary and oppressive services, of racked rents and cruel taskmasters; but Mr Innes, my landlord, did everything in his power to render my possession convenient and profitable and in order to engage me to stay, offered me any terms I pleased: and certainly, had my situation in other respects been agreeable, I should not have been easily prevailed upon, with so young a family and at my time of life, to leave my native country and expose myself and family to the fatigue and dangers of a long voyage, in order to settle in an unhealthy climate in the woods of North Carolina: but by the barbarity of the country where I lived, I was in a manner forcibly expelled.
The people in my neighbourhood were extremely addicted to theft and pilfering, the constant attendants of slavery and poverty. I was fond of improvements in agriculture: I sowed field-turnips, but they were stolen before they came to perfection: I sowed pease and was happy if they left me the straw: my potatoes and carrots suffered in like manner: and, in short, I found it impossible to save anything
from their rapacity. I made many attempts, according to my circumstances, to check such misdemeanours: I dismissed from my farm several sub-tenants and servants for trespasses of this kind; but, according to the fashion of that country, in spite of all remonstrances and without scruple, they were received by others. I then resolved to prosecute criminally the first offender; and it was not long before I had an opportunity: a man of eminence in that way, stole a sheep from me and his examination discovered another renowned thief: I got them both presented, indicted and tried; the one before Lord Kames, at Inverness, I think in 1766; he was sentenced to be whipped and then banished the four northern counties. As soon as he was set at liberty he returned to my
neighbourhood; where, though he and his connections threatened my life, yet he was protected and sheltered by a gentleman of his name, not from any dislike to me, but in compliance with a popular maxim of that place, that a gentleman ought to protect from punishment all of his name, as well as his tenants and connections, whatever be their crimes. The other culprit, at the succeeding circuit, was sentenced by the Lords Justice-Clerks and
Pitfour, to be whipped and banished to the plantations; but, getting out of prison at Inverness, he returned to Caithness where he lives without molestation to this day; as does the other at Strathnaver. Thus, after attending two different circuits at Inverness and after much trouble and expense and loss of business, and not being in circumstances to continue a struggle against my licentious neighbours supported by gentleman of wealth and influence, I was obliged to sit down quietly with my loss, though highly dissatisfied with my situation and now more exposed than ever to the resentment of thieves and ruffians.
To complete my disgust, in the end of 1771 a ship belonging to Liverpool loaded with iron, deals and flax was driven ashore in sight to my house. I thought it was my duty to given an active assistance to save the wreck and the cargo from plunder; in resentment of which, some of the plunderers combined to destroy me and my family; and to execute their plot, in February 1772, seven desperate ruffians, armed with pistols and dirks, attacked my house in the night-time and set fire in two different places; and, had not some of the family providentially awaked, all must have perished in the flames. With much difficulty and expense I brought to light the perpetrators of this horrid deed: but, according to the use and wont of that country, a party soon formed to protect them and the sheriff-substitute,
Macleod, the very person who ought to have assisted me, the sheriff-depute being then at Edinburgh, was not ashamed of being their counsellor and agent. However, in spite of many powerful and vigorous efforts and many uncommon manoeuvres by him and his party to defend them from justice, some of them were brought to trial and condign punishment; the sheriff-substitute was publicly and severely reprimanded.
About that time my brother, a merchant in Wilmington, North Carolina, coming to visit me, and making me advantageous offers to go and settle with him, I was easily determined to leave the country, where, for want of police and due to the administration of the laws, I had found it impossible to defend my goods from being stolen; where, for an act of justice and humanity, my life was daily exposed to the resentment of murderous ruffians; and where the thief, the robber, the murderer and wilful fire-raiser, never hitherto wanted a gentleman, or rather a party of gentlemen, to patronize them - those gentlemen in Caithness whose judgement and approbation is valuable, will readily acknowledge the truth of what I have set forth; and many of them do lament, that, for these very reasons, their country is spoke of with reproach and detestation and they have confessed that I had but too much provocation to leave them. A list of the murders, robberies and thefts committed with impunity there during my residence in Caithness, would surprise a Mohawk or a Cherokee - without this detail I could not explain my reasons for emigrating; but such they are, I have declared them to you with that sincerity and freedom that I think becomes an honest man, though I suppose, the length of this letter will prevent them from ever being read.
With regard to taking so many people with me, I beg leave to observe that I neither solicited, took advantage of, nor inveigled any person; and that I rejected hundreds who warmly entreated me to find them a passage. I took none excepting my servants, but such as paid their own freight and had their honesty and character attested by their ministers. When we were shipped at Thurso our numbers were as follow:
My family, including servants…………...…16
Other passengers above eight years……174
Children under eight……………………...... 60
Besides sucking children ……………....…..30
The loss of so many people and the numbers they may in time draw after them, will probably be missed by the landholders; but let them learn to treat their fellow-creatures with more humanity. Instead of looking on myself as an enemy to my country , in being accessory to the carrying off so many people, I rejoice in being an instrument, in the hand of Providence, to punish oppression, which is by far too general; and I am glad to understand, that already some of these haughty landlords now find it necessary to court and caress these same poor people whom they lately despised and treated as slaves or beasts of burden.
I am, etc. JAMES HOGG"