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Proffitt family research by Dr. Fenwick 2011

R. A. Fenwick. PhD. FSA.Scot.
St Leonards Manse, 112 Dundee Road, Perth PH2 7BB, Scotland U.K.
Tel: (+44) 01738 627975.
14th April 2011.
Debbie Wells,
271 Mill Creek Lane,
Stuarts Draft,
Virginia 24477.
Dear Debbie Wells,
Proffit/Prophet and associated family history research
In our search for information about the origins of a Sylvester Proffitt who is given as born
circa 1698 in the united parish of Eassie & Nevay in Forfarshire (now County Angus), where he
may have resided up to 1715, we first note that prior to the late nineteenth century, when most of
our forebears began to become literate, there was no set orthography, clerks simply spelt the
names of people, and of places, how they sounded to them (even to this day there are several
ways of spelling names like Athole, Atholl, McLain/Maclean etc.). It is therefore not unusual to
find different spellings within one document, and even on the same page.
First we should consider research in the period from the late seventeenth century to the
1720s, as any surviving documentation pertaining to Sylvester’s possible relatives could still be
informative up to that time, as such were invariably recorded years after their original date.
Beginning with the easier to locate records, no variants of the surname were evident in the
1650 to 1730 period among the indexed Commissary (church) Court Testaments (some latter
wills). This is not unusual as only a small minority had something to leave at a time when the vast
majority of the population were accommodated in exchange for their labour. Even for the better
off, if there were no queries about an inheritance a will was unlikely to have been registered.
The Commissary Court Testaments are however only one of the Commissary’s sources,
there is a wide range of primarily un-indexed records such as the Registers of Deeds etc. kept by
the Commissary Courts and the local Sheriff Courts for each county.
Staying with the most likely of the readily available sources, the next collection to
investigate were the Registers of Teinds (church dues) for Eassie & Nevay parish:
TE5/vol. 220 Eassie & Nevay Teinds rental & heritor’s lists 1629-1650.
No variants of our surname were seen among the tenants mentioned in this source.
E69/11/vol. 1. Angus Hearth Tax 1693.
No variants of the surname Proffitt were seen in Eassie & Nevay parish, or in the adjoining
parishes of Airlie, Glames, Newtyle, Auchterhouse or Ruthven. These listing does however only
tend to include those of tenant rank and above who could afford to pay the Hearth Tax.
Eassie & Nevay parish came under the jurisdiction of the Presbytery of Meigle. The parish
of Meigle adjoins Eassie & Nevay to the north west, therefore although Meigle parish is in
Perthshire, we should be aware records pertaining to that parish, especially as farm workers,
which Sylvester is given as being, were likely to move from one location to another, as frequently
as the annual hiring fairs.
TE5/vol. 386 Meigle Teinds 1691.
No variants of our surname were seen among the tenants mentioned in this source.
E69/19/vols. 1-3. Perthshire Hearth Tax 1692, 1694.
No variants of our surname were evident in the Meigle Hearth Tax years.
RH9/3/vol. 81. Meigle rental 1630.
This source was found to list the main landowners only, none with our surname.
In Scotland information about all social groups is more likely to be found locally, the kirk
church Session consisting of 12 elders with the minister presiding, was to all intents the lowest
yet most effective local court in the land for (moral) discipline. But where a matter was deemed
too serious for the kirk Session to handle, it was referred to the regional Presbytery or Sheriff
Court. These Session minutes for moral discipline appear to be obsessed with fornicators. But we
must remember that the parish was responsible for welfare payments, and then as now one of the
largest burdens on the tax payer was the single parent. Therefore examples were made of any
behaviour which could increase this tax burden. More important the Session's accounts may
include useful lists of communicants, the fees paid for a marriage or mortcloth (a shroud placed
over the coffin at funerals), which are at times the only available evidence of such events. In some
instances these give the deceased persons age, location, occupation, and name a spouse.
Sadly church or kirk Session minutes do not survive for Eassie & Nevay parish for our
period of interest, but minutes do exist for the local Presbytery of Meigle which had jurisdiction
over the parish of Eassie & Nevay, Coupar Angus, and five others adjoining, to which matters
may have been referred that had been deemed to serious for the parish to handle.
CH2/263/vol. 1, Meigle Presbytery minutes 1659-1689.
31 July 1677. Mr Silvester Lambie to exercise (give and or discuss a sermon) Mr John Profitt
schoolmaster at Eassie to add.
Brilliant, the date suggests that the foregoing Mr John Profitt might be our Silvester’s
father. It is possible to obtain an indication of who the preceding generation may have been, by
looking at the naming patterns which most Scots kept to then. This being the;
eldest son named after his paternal grandfather,
second son named after his maternal grandfather,
third son named after his father,
eldest daughter named after her maternal grandmother,
second daughter named after her paternal grandmother,
third daughter named after her mother.
Most of the children were born at an average of two year intervals, but we should look for
gaps, where due to high infant mortality then, a number of children who did not survive for
baptism may have been afforded names. Although these naming traditions can only be used as a
guide, on numerous occasions they have proven to be very useful.
Given that in 1727 Silvester names his eldest known son John, is very significant.
That Mr John Profitt schoolmaster in Eassie is afforded the prefix of Mr, indicates that he
may well have obtained a Masters Degree at one of Scotland’s universities. Unfortunately only the
matriculation rolls for the University of Aberdeen list a dozen or so graduates in the seventeenth
century, and any variant of our surname was not amongst them. Nevertheless, it was primarily the
sons of the gentry who obtained degrees at that time, therefore if Mr John the schoolmaster is a
forebear, then there could be other documentation about his family.
Heritors Minutes, are the minutes of the main landowners in a parish whose taxes paid for
the upkeep of the poor, the minister, and the appointment of the schoolmaster. Unfortunately
however the Heritors Minutes for Eassie & Nevay were found to be not extant until 1884.
Sylvester was an unusual surname in Scotland, but in the course of searching these
Presbytery minutes we frequently encounter this first name among references to the minister of
Eassie & Nevay at the time of our Sylvester’s birth. One wonders therefore whether our man may
have been named after him:
Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae vol. 5. (details Presbyterian church ministers).
Eassie & Nevay: Silvester Lammie, son of Silvester Lammie minister of Glamis,
admitted here on 22 Sep 1665, deprived by the Privy Council on 5 Dec 1695 for
nonjurancy, not taking the oath of allegiance to the Protestant King William (of
Orange) & Mary (Stewart). On 17 Apr 1701 Silvester withdrew the congregation
from the church and preached in the manse (parsonage or vicarage), he died before
17 Apr 1713. He married Margaret Melvill, their issue was: John D.D. minister at
Staines, Middlesex England, Silvester M.D. in Montrose, Helen married Lt. Col.
John Lammie of Col. Cunningham’s Regiment.
The foregoing indicates that Silvester Lammie was an Episcopalian, and possible
supporter of the Catholic Stewart monarchy. This therefore could be one of the reasons for our
name sake taking part in the Stewart rebellion in 1715 against the Protestant monarchy.
James VII of Scotland (II of England) had imposed Episcopalism on the former
Presbyterian Church of Scotland as a possible step towards re-introducing the Stewart monarchy’s
preference for the Roman Catholic Church. In 1688 however James VII fled and William & Mary
re-established the Protestant cause.
As many Episcopalians were semi-Catholics, this could be one of the reasons for there
being scant reference to variants of the surname Proffitt among the local Presbytery (Presbyterian)
church records for the Eassie & Nevay area at this time. At this juncture no Catholic or specific
Episcopal church records are known to exist in our National Archives for our period and current
geographical area of interest.
CH2/263/vol. 1, Meigle Presbytery minutes 1659-1689 continued:
28 Aug to 25 Sep 1677. Exercised Mr Silvester Lambie, and Mr John Profitt added.
Mr John Profitt to exercise & Mr David Paton to add.
13 Aug 1678. Mr George Ogilvy to exercise, next day: Mr Silvester Lammie to add
or else Mr John Prophet to add.
27 Sep 1681. Mr James Guthrie is noted as a schoolmaster in Eassie.
5 Feb & 27 Nov 1684. Mr Silvester Lammie minister at Eassie, was chosen as Moderator
for these days in the absence of the Moderator.
There is then a gap in these Presbytery minutes from April 1689 until June 1703, this
being the period in which Mr Silvester Lammie was deprived on the 5th December 1695 from
being the minister of Eassie & Nevay parish. The Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae shows that a Mr
Adam Davidson became the minister at there in 1702.
CH2/263/vols 2-5, Meigle Presbytery minutes 1703- June 1718 continued.
13 June 1705. Helen Galloway rebuked for having an illegitimate child baptised by Mr Sylvester
Lambie late incumbent in Eassie & Nevay who keeps a meeting house* there. 2.
* This would no doubt have been a Meeting House for the displaced Episcopalian
congregation in the parish of Eassie & Nevay. Queen Anne’s Act of Tolerance for other religious
persuasions here, did not come into being until 1712, but the Pretender of the former Catholic
Stewart monarchy, forebear of Bonnie Prince Charlie, still wanted the throne back.
14 Oct 1713. Presented that Jean Ogilvie in the paroch of Eassie, which she has now left, is
guilty of fornication with David Prophet in the paroch of Glammis
8 Feb 1716. The Presbytery to congratulate the Duke of Argyle for his pursuit north and success
against the rebels.
This concluded our search of the local Meigle and district Presbytery minutes up to June
1718. The findings of this exercise being that our Sylvester might be the son of a Mr John Proffitt
schoolmaster in Eassie & Nevay parish and colleague in 1677-78 of the then minister Sylvester
Lammie, an Episcopalian. This might explain why our Sylvester sided against the Protestant
Government. Supporting this theory is where our Sylvester names his eldest son John, but as our
Sylvester was born circa 1698, he may also have been the grandson of Mr John.
As to the David Prophet ‘in’ the possibly relevant parish of Glamis in 1713, when one has
gleaned what we can from the aforementioned local records, significant in deciding which of the
likely source to explore next, is the place of the forebear in a social hierarchy based upon the
possession of land. There is plenty of documentation about those ranked as tenants or above, but
very little about the subtenants or cottars from whose ranks the vast majority of our forebears
descend. This is often because until the late eighteenth century most of their transactions,
including rents to the tenant were paid in kind rather than cash. Therefore to ascertain the
difficulty factor for locating evidence of a person, it should be noted that the use of certain small
designations then was very important, for example for a person to be styled;
of, a place, indicated that they were the proprietor there.
in, a place, indicated that they were a tenant or subtenant in that place.
at, a place, indicated a temporary stay. Some school teachers were years 'at' a place.
Therefore the David ‘in’ Glamis who is in trouble with Jean Ogilvie in 1713, is likely to
have been an ordinary inhabitant there, or tenant at best, whereas a person with the designation of
‘Mr’ is highly likely to have originated from the gentry of a wealthy merchant.
Given that schoolmasters like ministers, could have acquired their position from anywhere
in Scotland, our next step was to see whether the name Proffitt may or may not have been local to
Forfarshire (now Angus), in this we consult Black’s work, Black does not claim origins, he
merely present evidence of where and when a name was located:
Dr George F Black’s The Surnames of Scotland.
Profe, Profat, Profeit:
William Propheta was a charter witness in Aberdeen in 1281.
John Profite was admitted burgess of the same burgh in 1446.
Thom Propheit appears ‘mair of the quarter of Brechin
and sheriff depute of Forfarshire in 1473.
Alexander Prefat in Dundee was charged with aiding the English in 1515.
With Brechin being 19 miles east of Eassie & Nevay, and Dundee 10 miles south of the
same, both in Forfarshire, it is pleasing to deduct that the immediate generations of our folk may
well appear in documentation pertaining to the local Sheriff court for that county, and among the
regional Commissary courts of St Andrews, and Brechin.
The next most likely source are the un-indexed Registers of Deeds in these local Sheriff
and Commissary courts, but first, the Books of Council & Session, from the Court of Session, the
highest court in the land, are indexed with gaps from 166 to 1715.
At this juncture the often multi-paged items of interest encountered therein are
summarised to that which appears to be the essential, although fuller copies and transcriptions can
usually be obtained of any item which may become important:
RD2-4. Books of Council & Session deeds etc. 1661-1702, 1705-07, 1715.
8 Aug 1670. Obligation. John Glendenning wright burgess of Edinburgh, grants that he has
borrowed from Jean Profeit daughter lawful of David Profeit indweller in Brechin
100 merks, - dated at Edinburgh on the 19th April 1669.
RD4/vol. 27.
20 July 1682. Tack (Lease). At Brechin on the 11th March 1681, David Profite as the heritable
proprietor, gives a tack of three years to John Bearne in Brathnish, of 2 acres of
land and yard called the Kirkdoor Keepers on the east side of the highway from
Brechin to Tarintie Muir.
RD2/vol. 58.
4 Janr 1696. Bond. John Livingston of Memus grants that he has borrowed from David Profite
merchant in Dundee, £70 Scots, - dated at Menus 14 April 1693.
RD4/vol. 78.
22 May 1697. Bond. Henry Craufurd merchant in Dundee, grants that he has borrowed from
David Profeite merchant there £29 Sterling - dated at Dundee on the 3rd March
1697. (3 merks = £2 Scots, £12 Scots = £1 Sterling).
RD4/vol. 80.
17 Nov 1699. Bond. Alexander Duncan merchant in Aberdeen grants that he owes to David
Profitte merchant burgess of Dundee, £40 Scots for certain merchant goods bought,
- dated at Dundee on the 5th July 1699.
RD2/vol. 83.
Fortunately Brechin and Dundee’s registers of baptisms are extant from 1612 and 1645
respectively. The indexes to these show a David Profeit and Isobel Adamson having children in
Dundee in our period, but none named Sylvester of John.
In Brechin however a David Proffeitt and Catharin Lindsay have a child named John
baptised on the 13th August 1660. If this David turns out to be the heritable proprietor in the
Council & Session deed of 20 July 1682 above, this might just be the gentry father of Mr John.
Especially as our Sylvester in Virginia names his second son David.
At this stage however our assumptions are still hypothetical, primarily because no baptism
or marriage records exist for Eassie & Nevay or Glamis for this period.
The next step is to look at the local and regional to Forfarshire, Commissary and Sheriff
Court collections of deeds, to see whether any wills, settlements, or other informative documents
have survived which can either refute, confirm or clarify our studies so far.
At this juncture it was time for me to forward to you this initial report. With all being well
it is my intention to try and have a further report ready for you within the next 2 to 3 weeks or so.
In this respect the following sources should be the next on our list to help us in our quests:
CC20 = Commissary of St Andrews:
The jurisdiction of the Commissary Courts was not confined to the boundaries of the civil
sheriffdoms or counties. Being a hangover from the old church or diocese courts whose activities
were merged with those of the local sheriff courts in the 1820's, their jurisdiction could cover a
number or parts of counties. The jurisdiction of the Commissary Court of St Andrews for
example, included most but not all of the parishes in the counties of Fife, with parts of Perthshire,
and Forfarshire. Therefore although we might be primarily concerned with noting items of interest
in the county of Forfarshire, in a search of the Commissary Court records we are likely to
encounter references to variants of the surnames in question, wherever this court had jurisdiction.
Some items of immediate interest in the St Andrew’s collections are:
CC20/11/vols. 1-10 Registers of Deeds etc 1623-1718 with gaps.
CC20/13/boxes 1-2. Warrants of Deeds etc 1649-1723 with gaps.
CC20/2/vols. 1-10. Decrees 1595-1713 with gaps.
SC47 = Forfar Sheriff Court:
SC47/56/vols. 1-20.
SC47/59/boxes 1-7.
SC47/22/boxes 1-9.
SC47/7/vol. 1.
Registers of Deeds etc 1623-79, gap to 1711-1718.
Warrants of Deeds etc 1620-1716.
Processes 1622, 1700-1714, gap to 1720.
Decrees 1711-1715, gap to 1749.
Warrants are the original papers from which the deed or Protest Bill for a small debt was
noted. These do at times fill the gaps in the Registers of Deeds.
Processes are the original papers in the Process of being heard by the court. Decrees are
only those Processes that reached a conclusion, and were not settled out of court before the judge
had Decreed his judgement.
I will be in touch. Yours sincerely,
Robert Fenwick.