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A Nanjemoy Resident Seeks an Inheritance from Scotland in 1817

Updated: Oct 11, 2022

Have you ever heard of Nanjemoy, Maryland or a "Writer to the Signet"? I never did until I began researching this stampless letter sent from Nanjemoy to Edinburgh, Scotland (or "N.B." for North Britain) via Liverpool, England on October 24, 1817.

Nanjemoy is a small town in Charles County, Maryland, about 43 miles south of Washington, DC. The Knox's and the Dent's were prominent families in Charles County in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and both are mentioned in this letter.

The letter writer was James Robertson, about whom I can find no information. He was writing to John Blair, a solicitor or "Writer to the Signet," living in Edinburgh, in the interest of securing property held by a William (?) Knox in Scotland that presumably belonged, via an inheritance, to a Robert Knox who resided in Charles County. The letter also mentions a Captain Dent who had the power of attorney in this case.

Mr. Robertson must have known Mr. Blair because towards end of the letter, there is a casual mention that "Ann & Mary are well" and that Mr. Robertson hopes to find Mr. Blair and his "in [the] same state."

In Figure 2, there is some handwriting in the upper left that is in a different hand than the body of the letter. It reads:

Nanjemoy 24 Oct 17

Jas. Robertson

For Robt D Knox’s

Power of Atty

Will send a copy of Robt

Knox’s will & proofs of

their pedigree

These lines neatly summarize the gist of this two-page letter, and my guess is they were written by Mr. Blair or his clerk.

Writes to the Signet were Scottish solicitors entitled to supervise the use of the King's Signet, the private seal of early Kings of Scots. The Society of Writers to the Signet dates back to 1594, and Mr. Blair was enrolled as a member on December 21, 1809. According to his bio in the Society's records, Mr. Blair was born in 1779 in Glasgow and died in 1858.

A London attorney by the name of Dobie also has some role in this case, since he is mentioned in the last paragraph. In 1817, there was a law firm by the name of Dobie and Thomas in London, with Alexander Dobie being one of the partners.

I have not been able to decipher the numbers at the very top of Figure 2, but the "4/ 7-1/2," or "4 shillings 7-1/2 pence," may indicate the postage for this letter to travel from Liverpool - note the stepped "LIVERPOOL/SHIP LETTER" stamp - to Edinburgh. The circular date stamp of December 11, 1817, is either when the letter arrived in Liverpool or Edinburgh. You also can just make out a boxed 1/2-penny Scottish road tax stamp; the "2" is clear. This shows that this letter traveled by coach for at least a portion of its journey from Liverpool to Scotland since the Post Office in Scotland was allowed to charge 1/2-penny on mail carried in a coach with more than two wheels over roads in Scotland.

Acquired at Vance Auctions, May 18, 2022, for C$210.00 or approximately $152.00 as of October 2022.

Figure 1 - Front

Figure 2 - Unfolded letter sheet

Figure 3 - Page 1 of letter

Figure 4 - Page 2 of letter

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