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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

The Gipsies were a proscribed race


[227] The late Mr. Charles Alexander, tenant of Happrew.

During the American war, however, the tide of fortune again completely turned against the Gipsies. The Government was in need of soldiers and sailors; the Gipsies were a proscribed race; their peculiar habits were continually involving them in serious scrapes and difficulties; the consequence was, that the Tinklers were apprehended all over the country, and forced into our fleets and armies then serving in America. All the aged persons of intelligence with whom I have conversed on this subject, agree in representing that the kidnapping system at that period was the means of greatly breaking up and dispersing the Gipsy bands in Scotland. From this blow these unruly vagrants have never recovered their former position in the country.[228]

[228] We may very readily believe that almost all of the Gipsies would desert the army, on landing in America, and marry Gipsy women in the colonies, or bring others out from home, or marry with common natives, or return home. Indeed, native-born American Gipsies say that many of the British Gipsies voluntarily accepted the bounty, and a passage to the colonies, during the war of the Revolution, and deserted the army on landing. This would lead to a migration of the tribe generally to America.--ED.

The war in America had been concluded only a few years before that with

France broke out. Our army and navy were, of necessity, again augmented to an extent beyond precedent. It was not difficult to find pretences for renewing the chase of the Gipsies, and apprehending them, under the name of vagrants and disorderly persons. They were again compelled to enlist into our regiments, and embark on board our ships of war, as sailors and marines. An individual stated to me that, about the commencement of this war, he had seen English Gipsies sent, in scores at a time, on board of men-of-war, in the Downs.

But, rather than be forced into a service so much against their inclinations, numerous instances occurred of Gipsies voluntarily mutilating themselves. In the very custody of press-gangs, and other hardened kidnappers, the determined Gipsies have, with hatchets, razors, and other sharp instruments, struck from their hands a thumb, or finger or two, to render them unfit for a military life. Several instances have come to my knowledge of these resolute acts of the Scottish Gipsies. I have myself seen several of the tribe without fingers; and, on enquiry, I found that they themselves had struck them from their hands, in consequence of their aversion to become soldiers and sailors. One man, of the name of Graham, during the last war, laid his hand upon a block of wood, and, in a twinkling, struck, with a hatchet, his thumb from one of his hands. Another, of the name of Gordon, struck two of his fingers from one of his hands with a razor. Such, indeed, was the aversion which the whole Gipsy race had to a military life, that even mothers sometimes mutilated their infants, by cutting off certain fingers, to render them, when they became men, entirely incapable of serving in either the army or navy.[229]

[229] "When Paris was garrisoned by the allied troops, in the year 1815, I was walking with a British officer, near a post held by the Prussian troops. He happened, at the time, to smoke a cigar, and was about, while passing the sentinel, to take it out of his mouth, in compliance with a general regulation to that effect; when, greatly to the astonishment of the passengers, the soldier addressed him in these words; 'Rauchen Sie immer fort; verdamt sey der Preussische Dienst;' that is: 'Smoke away; may the Prussian service be d----d.' Upon looking closer at the man, he seemed plainly to be a _Zigeuner_, or Gipsy, who took this method of expressing his detestation of the duty imposed on him. When the risk he ran, by doing so, is considered, it will be found to argue a deep degree of dislike which could make him commit himself so unwarily. If he had been overheard by a sergeant or corporal, the _prugel_ would have been the slightest instrument of punishment employed."--_Sir Walter Scott: Note to Quentin Durward._


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