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Traces of Scotland in Old Parish Cemetery

We are, of course, a nation of immigrants. Even as far back as the 18th century, there was diversity in South Dedham as people from many lands sought freedom and a new beginning. Here are a few “traces” of Scotland in Old Parish.


William Hugh Starrett (1691-1769)                             Lot 245


William Starrett was born on April 15, 1691 in Paisley Abbey, Renfrewshire, Scotland. According to one source, around 1696 he escaped with his parents from Scotland to the North of Ireland due to religious persecution. In 1724, he married Mary Gamble in Londonderry, Ireland. Mary had been born there in 1700.


The couple’s two oldest children, Margaret and Hugh, were born in Ireland; Hugh was lost at sea, perhaps on their journey to North America. A son David was born in Maine in 1738, son Thomas was born in Lincoln, Massachusetts in1739, and their youngest, William Jr. was born in 1743 in Francestown, New Hampshire.


At some point, the family made its way to South Dedham, where William Starrett died on March 15, 1769 at the age of 78. His wife, Mary Gamble Starrett died in 1786 in Warren, Massachusetts.  


Son William, Jr. was married to Abigail Fisher in Dedham but the couple returned to Francestown, NH where both William Jr. and Abigail had been born. He became a Deacon of the church there.


David Robertson (1772-1847)                                     Lot 246


David Robertson was born sometime in 1772. He was a native of Dumfries, Scotland. Dumfries has been a Royal Burgh since 1186 but it was thought that there has been a settlement and port in the area since Roman times. Dumfries is perhaps most well-known for its many associations with Robert Burns, who lived there in the 1790s.


It is not known when David Robertson made his way to South Dedham but by the 1840s, he was working in the tannery on today’s Endicott Street. According to Dedham records, Robertson died on October 3, 1847; the cause of death was listed as “mortification.” In medical terms, mortification refers to “the death of one part of the body.” The condition is more commonly, and technically, described as gangrene or necrosis. Robertson was 75 years old.


Robertson’s handsome gravestone, most likely erected by friends and colleagues, has the date of death as November 2, 1847. It is beautifully carved with an urn and weeping willow, a 19th century depiction of mourning. The engraving is still as crisp as the day it was etched into stone.


Thomas Rankine (1837-1839)                            Lot 264


Thomas Rankine was the son of James and Eleanor Rankine. James Rankine was born in Scotland circa 1793. His wife, Eleanor Thompson McNutt, was born in Nova Scotia, Canada. It is likely that James emigrated from Scotland to Canada, a common destination for immigrants from Scotland in the early 1800s.


James and Eleanor Rankine had four children: Margaret, Charlotte, Thomas and James Jr.


Thomas Rankine, their third child, was born in 1837. On September 27, 1839, while the family was residing in South Dedham, Thomas died. He was 2 years and 6 months old. By 1850, the Rankine family had moved to Rhode Island where James Rankine died in 1870. Eleanor Rankine passed away in 1895 in Massachusetts.


Thomas Rankine’s broken headstone and footstone have been reset and stand near the center of Old Parish Cemetery. Perhaps someday volunteers will recover the missing portion of the little boy’s stone.



William White, manufacturer


One final trace of Scotland was uncovered in Old Parish Cemetery during the fall of 2023. While resetting the stone of Louisa Ellis (lot 195), the fragment of a white clay (Kaolin) smoking pipe was found. It bears the mark “W. White” on one side and “Glasgow” on the other.


William White was a Quaker and business owner in Glasgow, Scotland. He began manufacturing pipes in 1805, initially in a small workshop. Although White died in 1855, the business continued and a large factory complex was erected at 42 Bain Street in Glasgow sometime between 1876 and 1879. The pipes were shipped all over the world. Shards of the pipes can be found in several collections including Harvard University and Museums Victoria in Australia.


As a general rule, the presence or absence of a country name rather than a town or city is an indication of the manufacturing date. After 1890, the United States required the country name to be noted on all imported items. Since the fragment found in Old Parish Cemetery has “Glasgow” but not a country name, it may be assumed it was made prior to 1890.

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