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A History of the Gipsies by Walter Simson

Broken clans and masterless men


men to produce pledges and securities

for their good conduct. The Gipsies, under these statutes, would remain unmolested, as they would readily find protection by becoming, nominally, clansmen, and assuming the surnames, of those chieftains and noblemen who were willing and able to afford them protection.[79] Indeed, the act allowing vagabonds to find sureties would include the Gipsy bands, for, about this period, they seem to have been only classed with our own native vagabonds, moss-troopers, Border and Highland thieves, broken clans and masterless men. It appears by the act of 1609, that the Gipsies had even purchased their protection from the government. The inhabitants of Scotland being at this period still divided into clans, would greatly facilitate the escape of the Gipsies from the laws passed against them. The clans on the Borders and Highlands were in a state of almost constant warfare with one another; and frequently several of the clans were united in opposition to the regular government of the country, to whose mandates they paid little or no regard. The Gipsies had no settled residence, but roamed from place to place over the whole country; and when they found themselves in danger in one place, they had no more to do but remove into the district inhabited by a hostile clan, where they would immediately find protection. Besides, the Borderers and Highlanders, themselves plunderers and thieves, would not be very active in apprehending their brother thieves, the Gipsies. Even, according to Holinshed, "the
poison of theft and robbery pervaded almost all classes of the Scottish community about this period."

[78] There were 17 clans on the Borders, and 34 clans in the Highlands, who appear to have had chiefs and captains over them. There were 22 baronial proprietors connected with the Borders, and 106 connected with the Highlands, named in a roll, who were likewise ordered to find pledges.--_Glendook's Scots Acts._

[79] It sometimes happened, when an internal quarrel took place in a clan, portions of the tribe left their chief, and united themselves to another, whose name they assumed and dropped their original one.

The excessive severity of the sanguinary statute of 1609, and the unrelenting manner in which it was often carried into effect, were calculated to produce a great outward change on the Scottish Gipsies. Like stags selected from a herd of deer, and doomed to be hunted down by dogs, these wanderers were now singled out, and separated from the community, as objects to whom no mercy was to be shown.[80] The word Egyptian would never be allowed to escape their lips; not a syllable of their peculiar speech would be uttered, unless in the midst of their own tribe. It is also highly probable that every part of their dress by which their fraternity could be recognized, would be carefully discontinued. To deceive the public, they would also conform _externally_ to some of the religious rites, ceremonies, observances, and other customs of the natives of Scotland. I am further inclined to think that it would be about this period, and chiefly in consequence of these bloody enactments, the Gipsies would, in general, assume the ordinary christian and surnames common at that time in Scotland. And their usual sagacity pointed out to them the advantages arising from taking the cognomens of the most powerful families in the kingdom, whose influence would afford them ample protection, as adopted members of their respective clans. In support of my opinion of the origin of the surnames of the Gipsies of the present day, we find that the most prevailing names among them are those of the most influential of our noble families of Scotland; such as Stewart, Gordon, Douglas, Graham, Ruthven, Hamilton, Drummond, Kennedy, Cunningham, Montgomery, Kerr, Campbell, Maxwell, Johnstone, Ogilvie, McDonald, Robertson, Grant, Baillie, Shaw, Burnet, Brown, Keith, &c.[81] If, even at the present day, you enquire at the Gipsies respecting their descent, the greater part of them will tell you that they are sprung from a bastard son of this or that noble family, or other person of rank and influence, of their own surname.[82] This pretended connexion with families of high rank and power has saved some of the tribe from the gallows even in our own time. The names, however, of the two principal families, Faw, (now Faa,) and Bailyow, (now Baillie,) appear not to have been changed since the date of the order in council or league with James V, in the year 1540, as both of these names are inserted in that document.


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