Thursday, September 3, 2015

Discovery of Scots Prisoners of War at Durham Cathedral in England! How is this important to New England Genealogical Research?

William Munroe, born in Scotland about 1625
Died in Lexington, Massachusetts 1718

The news hit the media just yesterday.  Two mass graves found next to Durham cathedral in England were found to contain the skeletal remains of Scots prisoners from the battle of Dunbar on 3 September 1650.  During the English Civil War the Puritans battled the Scottish Covenanters who supported the monarchy.   It was estimated that 6,000 prisoners were taken, and marched from Dunbar to Durham, but 1,000 died on the march.  Another 1,700 died during imprisonment at the Durham cathedral.  150 survivors were put on board the ship Unity and sold into servitude in Puritan Massachusetts.  Of these men, about 20 went to Richard Leader and his saw mill at Berwick, Maine.  62 men were sold to John Gifford for hard labor at the Saugus Iron works.

On 3 September 1651, exactly one year later, during the Battle of Worcester, again the Scottish Royalists were defeated, and thousands taken prisoner.  About 272 men were again sold into slavery and taken to Massachusetts aboard the ship John and Sara.  I had two ancestors,  Alexander THOMPSON and William MUNROE,  on the passenger  list dated 11 November 1651. 

Today is the anniversary, 3 September 2015, of both battles.  There will be commemorative services at the Durham cathedral in honor of these prisoners who died and were exiled.

I don’t know where my SPOW ancestors served their indenture, but Alexander Thompson settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts and married Deliverance Haggett in 1662.  He died between 21 November 1693 when he signed his will, and April 1696 when his estate was settled.   William Munroe settled in Cambridge Farms, now the town of Lexington, Massachusetts and had three wives and fourteen children.  His descendants spread throughout the area, and his grandsons and great grandsons were on the Lexington Green on the morning of 19 April 1775.

Many of these prisoners had names you might not recognize as Scots surnames (names like Jackson, Lowe, Jones, Wilson, Gunn, Perry,  Simpson, Robinson, etc).  You can read the passenger list for the John and Sara HERE.  There were about 422 prisoners sold into slavery, and most survived to have descendants.  I know that the 50 surviving Mayflower passengers from 1620 are estimated to have millions of possible descendants, so how many people could possibly be descendants of these Scottish Prisoners of War from 1650 and 1651?  

If you check the John and Sara  passenger list, you might find a familiar ancestral name.  Most of these men’s biographies will tell you where they lived and settled, which will be a clue for your research.  There are many books, websites and other resources listed below.  Local town and county histories in New England also have biographies and genealogies of these families. 

“Skeletons found near Durham Cathedral were Oliver Cromwell’s Prisoners”, The Guardian, posted 2 September 2015, accessed 2 September 2015.

Affectionately known as “SPOW”, the online research community is administered by Teresa Hamilton Rust at these three separate websites: 

Scottish Prisoners of War Facebook Community

Scottish Prisoners of War website by Teresa Rust

Some books:

Emigrants in Chains, by Peter Wilson Coldham, 1992

Directory of Scots Banished to the American Plantations 1650 – 1775, by David Dobson, 2010

Some of my blog posts:

My John and Sara passenger list blog post:

My blog post about William Munroe (about 1625 – 1718), SPOW,

My blog post about Alexander Thompson (about 1636 – about 1696), SPOW

I have many, many blog posts about William Munroe and the Munroe family.  You can use the search bar at the top of this blog, or click on the keyword MUNROE.

Also, this is a good summary of the Scots Prisoners and their relocation to New England (with name lists and a few locations):


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Discovery of Scots Prisoners of War at Durham Cathedral in England!  How is this important to New England Genealogical Research?", Nutfield Genealogy, posted September 3, 2015 ( : accessed [access date]).


  1. Very interesting. I have an unproven ancestor who came to the US as a Scots prisoner of war. He and his story are well documented but I still have to prove the ancestry.

    1. Good luck, Anna! Maybe some of the resources I listed can help you?

  2. Thank you for this article! I got excited when I started to read because I knew this to be my ancestor, Dan Mackhoe's (Daniel Mackhoe) fate after the battle of Worcester. Daniel changed his last name to Cone when he reached America. The good news is that Daniel became the servant of John Winthrop Jr and JWJ wrote about Daniel in his memoirs. Daniel Mackhoe Cone eventually became one of the founders of Haddam CT and married Mehitable Spencer. His father-in-law, Gerrard Spencer, was also one of the founders of Haddam CT. The Spencer line can be traced back to the Spencer line in England and Princess Diana.

    1. What serendipity! And I'm also related to Princess Diana through my Cogswell ancestors from Ipswich and Essex, Massachusetts.

  3. Excellent post as usual, Heather! Isn't it exciting to be part of this? I can't wait to see what more develops over the years!

    1. Teresa, I expect to hear some exciting news as the dig continues!

  4. Heather, one of my presentations at BYU in July was on this very group of people. I continue to be fascinated, and yet saddened at their fate. Thank you for yet another great post.

    1. Ooooh! I'd love to see that presentation, Peggy! Some of the best historians and genealogists I know have done presentations on the SPOW- including Diane Rapaport and Roger Thompson.