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Boswell collection : addition

Call Number: GEN MSS 150

Scope and Contents

The Boswell Collection Addition constitutes a small portion of the extensive body of papers in the Beinecke Library pertaining to the Boswell family and the estate of Auchinleck from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. The Addition primarily documents the complex administration of the debt-burdened estate of Auchinleck after the death of Sir Alexander Boswell in 1822. There are also papers relating to the careers and activities of members of the Douglas of Garallan branch of the family, along with some personal and family papers belonging to the Boswells of Auchinleck. The papers span the years 1634-1960, but the bulk of the material dates from between 1823 and 1857.

For further background information on the Boswell family and its complex archive, please see the register for GEN MSS 89, The Boswell Collection. In addition, the history of the various components of Yale's Boswell Collection has been told in two full-length studies: David Buchanan's The Treasure of Auchinleck (1974) and Frederick A. Pottle's Pride and Negligence (1981).

The papers in the Boswell Collection Addition have been organized in six series: Correspondence, Estate Papers, Land Records: Garallan Family, Financial Papers, Personal Papers, and Additional Papers. Oversize material is located at the end of the collection and has been placed in series order.

Most of the papers relate to two branches of the family. To the extent possible, the files have been organized accordingly. Material relating to the main branch of the family has been placed under the heading of Boswell of Auchinleck. Documents concerning the "Garallan branch" are listed under the heading Douglas of Garallan. The Douglases, it should be noted, were extensively involved in the affairs of Auchinleck, and information concerning their activities as executors and creditors of that estate can often be found in their papers, particularly in their correspondence.

Series I, Correspondence , is housed in Boxes 1-11 and is divided into three subseries: Boswell of Auchinleck Family, Douglas of Garallan Family, and Committees for the Estates. This third subseries contains draft copies of unsigned business letters issued in the name of the Committees for the Entailed and Unentailed Estate of Auchinleck, the group responsible for administering the properties during the minority of Sir James Boswell.

The correspondence filed under Boswell of Auchinleck Family is almost entirely concerned with the administration of Auchinleck following the death of Sir Alexander Boswell and the family's attempt to reduce his large outstanding debts. Nearly all of the files contain fewer than five letters; in many cases, only one letter. There are two pieces of correspondence dating from the time of James Boswell the biographer (1740-1795). A 1793 letter by Andrew Gibb, writing for Boswell, complains to Lord Mountstuart about damage done to Auchinleck by Mountstuart's hunting parties. It provoked an angry reply from John Kennedy, writing for Lord Mountstuart, disavowing any damages and asserting that "Neither you nor Mr. Boswell (who I cannot conceive as a gentleman would order you to write as you have done) have anything to do with the losses of the tenants."

The correspondence of Sir James Boswell principally concerns his indebtedness and his often difficult negotiations with the various groups of creditors. (Sir James's first proposal to them is located in Series IV, Box 18, folder 546.) Box 1, folders 15 and 16 contain letters by Alexander Hamilton, requesting payment of delinquent heritors' fees for the parish of Mauchline and offering legal advice. The correspondence of Tods and Romanes, a law office, concerns a threatened lawsuit by a creditor, W. H. Hill. Another creditor, Tilbury, Sons, and Clarke, rejected Sir James's claim that it should give credit in his account for an undelivered Tilbury: "Before therefore taking 10s. in the pound we wish it to be understood that we have no Chaise to allow for..." (Box 1, folder 28.)

Thomas Gibson was factor of Auchinleck during the minority of Sir James, and the correspondence filed under his name is also concerned with the settlement negotiations. In addition, there are several letters from tenants, many of whom were in arrears on their rent, as James Peden wrote in 1824: "If I had had any money to pay the arrears I would have done it long ago." (Box 2, folder 58).

The section titled "Related Correspondence" contains third-party correspondence connected with the routine administration of Auchinleck, particularly the collection of farm rents, and repeated delays of payments to creditors.

As in the previous subseries, the majority of files in Douglas of Garallan Family contain fewer than five letters, mostly of a routine business nature. There are, however, several notable exceptions, primarly in the correspondence of Patrick Douglas of Garallan. The letters of Charles Douglas, his brother, fill two boxes and span the years 1784-1813. A planter of coffee, sugar, and occasionally cotton in Jamaica, Charles wrote frequently concerning family business and his own often confused financial affairs. Many of his letters detail loan and mortgage arrangements; attempts to settle John Bell's estate; purchases of supplies, cattle, land and slaves; and the fluctuating values of plantations and their produce.

Douglas also complains of the need for skilled managers and craftsmen in the colony. The letters describe the careers of many Scots and request Patrick's aid in recruiting suitable workers for Charles's own plantations. In March of 1787, for example, Charles wrote concerning two candidates for manager of Woodstock: "I want no warm heads and Poets must have them. The other lad you describe will do for me."

Slavery and the abolition movement are frequent subjects. Charles describes his purchases of slaves, his overseers' conduct with them, and his disdain for the movement to abolish the slave trade, which Patrick supported. On July 3, 1791, Charles complained that "the value of lands are fallen very much on Account of your making so much work about the Slave Trade/ a parcell of bad men (I had almost made use of a worse, though a Juster epithet) wants to raise themselves into popularity at the expense of their Country....and by the plausibility of what they call Humanity they blind the better sort...." He insists that without the slave trade, the produce of Jamaica would fall by one fourth in five years. In a letter of November 3 of the same year, he continues: "You say my sentiments on the Slave trade differs from those of Europe...I am convinced they are better than if they were free for their owners are obliged to find Doctors and to feed them whether they work or not, and must be supported after they are past labour. I am sure your poor or labouring people does not live so well."

Charles's fear of the abolitionists was increased as the wars of the French Revolution and then of the Napoleonic period began to have their effect in the Caribbean. A letter of July 2, 1793 carries his report of rebellions among the Negroes in Hispaniola and Santo Domingo, noting that "it is said that they were joined by the free people of Colour." From 1793 to 1795, the letters report disturbances on Jamaica itself, caused by a "rebellion among the Maroons" who hid in the mountainous areas of the island and attacked plantation settlements, and Charles' own command of a "loyal" Maroon militia. responding to political news from England in May 1796, he refers again to abolition as "silly--only Enthusiasm could cause it--nor would Mr. Pitt have gone into it but to support his popularity among the Dissenters."

The letters of the 1790s and early 1800s are filled with references to the wars as seen from the viewpoint of the Caribbean and complaints of lack of European news. "Kingston always thrives in a Spanish War," claims a letter of Feb 1797. Charles describes the disruptions caused by the blockades and the uncertain market for the island's products, the disputes within the colonial assembly, and the activities of Jamaica's militia groups. The island received word in April 1807 that the slave trade had been abolished, and Charles commented "the next day the price of new Negores rose from L110 to 140 & 150...poor settlers will be ruined."

From 1807 on, the letters grow shorter and less frequent, filled with references to Charles' declining health and resolutions to return to Scotland. Several describe attempts to sell part of his plantations. Information on the settlement of the estate of Charles Douglas can be found in Series IV, Financial Papers.

The letters of Robert Naismith (Box 5, folders 153-57) document other aspects of the Douglas family's life. The brother-in-law of Patrick Douglas, Naismith in 1787 sent his fifteen-year-old daughter, Kitty, to live at Garallan, fearing that her place in London was "too high" for her and would give her unsuitable ideas. Much of the correspondence of that year concerns his arrangements for Kitty's travel and his plans for her future. "Girls ought not to know what they are to expect, nor to have money at command," he wrote in January 1788, adding "I hope she will not be much trouble to you, but I am sure she wants advice."

Unfortunately, Kitty and a young Douglas cousin fell in love and insisted upon marrying, a step which displeased both men, especially Patrick Douglas. Naismith was, however, brought to consent to the match, and financed the couple's voyage to America. In the final letter we have, Kitty is reported to be recovering from the loss of her child in Virginia.

There is little family correspondence to be found in the remaining sections of the subseries. Most of the letters received by Hamilton Douglas Boswell, his widow Jane Douglas Boswell, and their son John Douglas Boswell concern their roles as executors of the estate of Sir Alexander Boswell. The correspondence of John Bell of Jamaica with Hamilton and Jane documents the family's frustrations in their attempts to collect their inheritance from the late Charles Douglas's executors. The factor at one plantation repeatedly delayed payment, in one letter arguing that "some of the Negroes that were sold by the late Mr. Douglas to Mr. Donnan, have sent out an action of 'homine repliquendo' that is action to obtain their freedom, which they think themselves entitled to under the will of their first owner, that is the person from whom Mr. Douglas purchased them." (1828 Sep 8) Other information about the family's Jamaican connections is found in the letters of John Donnan and William Lambie.

The most extensive documentation of the legal troubles surrounding Auchinleck can be found in the correspondence of John Douglas Boswell. THe letters of William Bowie Campbell (Box 7, folders 235-42), principally concern the multiple problems involved in the ranking and sale of some unentailed lands of Ochiltree Estate. The correspondence is especially full for the period 1832-1834, when the sale was finally approved by the courts and officially advertised.

The letters of John W. MacKenzie fill Box 8 and document closely the executors' attempts to settle with the creditors of Sir Alexander Boswell as well as the legal complexities arising from Sir James Boswell's determination to break the entail on Auchinleck itself. His efforts drew a number of other parties into the proceedings, which further slowed the executors' efforts. In reference to another summons by Lady Boswell against them, MacKenzie wrote that "I am really at a loss to conceive what good purpose is to be served by such a multiplication of Law Suits, as they can have no other effect than to incur a great mass of Expense, and retard a settlement of the affairs of the various estates." Although Sir James broke the entail in 1854, the estate of Sir Alexander remained unsettled at John Douglas Boswell's death in 1863.

The final group of letters in this subseries also relates to the colonial experiences of a family member. These are the letters of Hamilton Douglas Boswell to his parents (Box 10, folders 314-23). Written between 1880 and 1886, the letters describe Hamilton's largely unsuccessful attempts to establish himself as a tea planter in India, and recount his financial embarrassments and investment schemes in great detail. Despite his father's apparent refusals to contribute to the purchase of a tea garden, Hamilton presented him with several such opportunites. As an assistant manager in Sylhet in November 1882, he wrote that "I want you to send me a tennis racket. I can't live here on what I get and as there seems small chance of getting more I don't know what to do." In November 1883, temporarily installed as manager in a relative's property, he noted that "Tea is a very dull life....We never do a single thing, never fasten our own boots and never do anything that it is possible for anyone else to do for us. It gets very tiresome."

In August 1884 he reported that "Half of the last planting is a complete loss," and the following year was apprently no better. His dislike of India is a strong theme of the letters: "there is nothing I should like better than to go to Australia" and "this part of the world needs a thorough clean-out" are typical comments. The final letter in the file, dated March, 1886 notes that "I am a little tired of tea and would like to leave it if I could, but...there is nothing so bad as having nothing to do."

The subseries Committees for the Estate of Auchinleck (Box 11, folders 328-40) consists of retained copies of routine administrative correspondence, such as demands for rent and notices of committee meetings. The letters have been chronologically arranged.

Series II, Estate Papers , housed in Boxes 12-15, is organized into two subseries, Auchinleck Estate and Ochiltree Estate and contains materials relating to the actual management of these properties, such as accounts, rental books, leases, tenant lists, and memoranda. In addition, the papers for Ochiltree Estate, which was purchased by Sir Alexander Boswell, include a portion of the progress of the writs and information on the lease arrangements for individual farms in Ochiltree. Papers concerning the financial and legal settlement of Sir James Boswell's inheritance, including papers relating to the legal status of the barony of Auchinleck, however, are located in Series IV, Financial Papers, with other material concerning the progress of the estate of Sir Alexander Boswell.

Among the papers pertaining to Auchinleck is one 1795 account by Andrew Gibb for Sir William Forbes, executor of James Boswell's estate, but the remainder of the material postdates the death of Sir Alexander Boswell and details the operation of the farms at Auchinleck, with special attention to the potential and actual rental incomes. A list of tenants, drawn up by Gibb, remarks on their abilities as farmers and the condition of the properties. The executors also attempted to raise funds by sales of wood from the unentailed estate, and careful records were kept of these as well. While most of the records are from the period immediately following Sir Alexander's death, Box 13, folder 371 contains a draft of "Articles and regulations to be observed by the tenants" written in 1881.

The estate of Ochiltree is represented by a partial progress of the writs, consisting mainly of sasines and renunciations of liferent tacks in favor of the Countess of Glencairn; rental reports; information on the factory administration of the estate which followed the death of Sir Alexander; and a small group of records for particular farms on Ochiltree.

Series III, Land Records of the Douglas of Garallan Family, (Boxes 16-18) contains papers documenting the proprietorship and management of specific properties held by members of that family, and is organized alphabetically by name of property. There are fairly complete progresses of the writs for both the Newtown street property and the farm of Schang, the progress for the latter beginning in 1634. For Garallan itself there is little documentation, however.

Perhaps the most interesting group of material concerns Boig (South Boig?), including information on mineral deposits and railway leases, and a Report...of a Survey of the Projected Mineral Railway, from 1842. Probably related to the Boig papers, and for this reason filed with them, are a few items concerning the Parish of Cummock, in which Boig was located, such as a list of historical valuation of the farms in Cummock and a scheme of the rentals.

Series IV, Financial Papers , is located in Boxes 18-23 and organized into two subseries, Boswell of Auchinleck and Douglas of Garallan. The series primarily contains papers relating to the settlements of the personal estates of various family members. In the case of Sir Alexander Boswell, this includes the records of the settlements of both the personal and the heritable estates. Also included is a copy of Sir Alexander's 1819 life insurance policy, unfortunately not payable should he "die by Duelling," as he did.

Folders 532-52 contain the records of the first attempts of the executors and creditors to settle the personal debts of Sir Alexander Boswell. They include accounts and receipts, lists of the personal creditors, and the first settlement proposal by Sir James Boswell, made in 1828. (Box 18, folder 546) The proposal, made shortly before Sir James refused to enter heir to Auchinleck, details the amounts owing and relates that Sir Alexander had expected them to be settled by his "large Insurances...the whole of this source, to which he had trusted for the payment of his debts, was unhappily lost by the voiding of the Policies." His offer of eight shillings to the pound, to be paid over a period of years, seems to have been eventually accepted.

More complex and less successful were Sir James's efforts to settle the debts on the heritable estate. The progress of the settlement (not completed until twenty years after his death) is located in Boxes 19-21 and includes documentation of the ranking and sale of lands in Ochiltree (the Stirling sale) and the thirty-year record of the process of multiplepoinding raised by Matthew Montgomerie in 1834. Also included are the registers and discharges from the final closing of the executors' accounts in 1877.

(The record of Sir James Boswell's concurrent efforts to break the entail on Auchinleck, beginning with his first petition to excamb entailed for unentailed lands, can be found in GEN MSS 89, the Boswell Collection, Series XIX, Boxes 179-181.)

The subseries Douglas of Garallan contains papers relating to the settlement of the Jamaican estate of Charles Douglas and the settlements of the personal estates of Hamilton Douglas Boswell and his son, John Douglas Boswell. In addition, there are documents concerning Patrick Douglas's investment in the bank of Douglas, Heron & Co., the failure of which in 1772-73 ruined many small shareholders in Ayrshire. These include account correspondence with Patrick Douglas; circular letters and lists of the bank's debts, and Jane Douglas Boswell's attempts to claim Gilbert McAdam's debt as late as 1839.

Series V, Personal Papers , housed in Boxes 24-25, contains marriage contracts. professional papers, genealogical information, and other documentation related to members of the Boswell of Auchinleck and Douglas of Garallan families. Papers belonging to families related to these by marriage have been placed under the name of the family member in whose generation the marriage took place. (Papers relating to the settlement of personal estates and debts are located in Series IV, Financial Papers.)

In this series, there are few papers related to the Boswells of Auchinleck. Box 24, folder 659 contains the signed discharge for Lord Auchinleck of the wages paid the wrights and sawyers who worked on Auchinleck House in 1760. There are also copies of Sir Alexander Boswell's marriage contract with Grizel Cuming and of the inventory of her father's estate, and several twentieth-century articles containing information on Auchinleck and the family.

The family of Douglas of Garallan is more extensively represented. Early papers include a family account book kept between 1680 and 1700 and an "Account for the Laird of Garallan--Garallan's wedding suit" itemizing expenses for such items as gold-laced gloves and buttons. Documents relating to Patrick Douglas include four indentures for apprentices to be surgeons and apothecaries, marriage contracts concerning his wife's family, and a "diploma" of the Order of the Beggars' Bennison. The subseries also includes a memoranda of deaths in the family written by Jane Douglas Boswell containing her reflections on her husband's death; the process of a petition by Christina Hamilton for a pension for the Revolutionary War service of William Hamilton with the Royal North Carolina Volunteers, and genealogical information.

Series VI, Additional Papers , contains material seemingly unrelated to the primary family groups documented in this collection, or for which a family attribution has not been determined. The series is organized into two subseries: Other Boswells and Other Papers. Other Boswells is arranged alphabetically by name of individual and then alphabetically by type of material. The papers include the military commissions issued to Hugh Dalrymple, husband of Agnes Boswell of Leith, during the Napoleonic Wars; an inventory of the property of John Boswell of Barglachan; and a partial progress of the writs for the lands of Knockroon.

The materials in Other Papers have been arranged alphabetically by type. These include a "List of the highest Proprietors in Ayrshire with the amount of their Valuations" which ranks Sir James Boswell as ninth, with a valuation of L4800; a commonplace book, probably kept by a girl, which contains a draft fragment of a romance story and several biographical sketches of "female worthies" including Mary, Queen of Scots; and various printed items, including the program for a ball held in Ayr in 1831, an 1806 report on a proposed tunnel under the River Forth, and a satiric broadside from December 1820, on the "Grand Exhibition of the New Heathen Mythology at the Pantheon."


  • 1634 - 1960
  • Majority of material found within 1822 - 1857


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Box 30: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Boswell Collection Addition is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers are the 1993 gift of Patricia Boswell.

Associated Materials

For other holdings on the Boswell family, please see the registers for GEN MSS 89, The Boswell Collection and GEN MSS 153, The Boswell Collection Supplement.


14 Linear Feet ((30 boxes) + 2 broadside items.)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers primarily document the administration of the debt-burdened estate of Auchinleck after the death of Sir Alexander Boswell in 1822. They include business and legal correspondence; accounts, receipts, valuations and other estate records; the process of the settlement of Sir Alexander Boswell's heritable estate; and other financial and personal papers.
The papers also contain material pertaining to the related family of Douglas of Garallan, including land records, financial papers, and business correspondence. In addition, there are letters by Charles Douglas, a planter in Jamaica, concerning many aspects of his life and career, such as his ownership of slaves and opinions about slavery, immigrant life in Jamaica, and the impact of the Napoleonic Wars on the Caribbean. The letters of Patrick Charles Douglas Douglas Boswell describe his efforts to establish himself as a tea planter in India in the early 1880s.

Guide to the Boswell Collection Addition
Under Revision
by Diane J. Ducharme
October 1995
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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