Recently I blogged about finding a previously unknown illegitimate Cavers birth. I’ve since received copies of the full case papers, which shed more light on the case.
The case was brought at Jedburgh Sheriff Court in 1832 by Elizabeth Murray against Thomas Cavers for support of the female child she apparently had with him. The papers record she was a residenter in Newcastleton, and she signed her name as Elisa Murray. Thomas was recorded as son of John Cavers, Joiner in Newcastleton, which identifies him as the son of John Cavers and Jane Douglas.
The language used in the case papers can be quite entertaining to a modern reader, but must have represented a very shocking family event. The decreet records that Thomas “prevailed upon the Pursuer [Eliza] to yield to his embraces and to admit him to a carnal connexion with her”, leading to the birth of the female illegitimate child on the 9th May 1831. Then though “the Pursuer has often desired and required the said Thomas Cavers Defender to filiate and provide for the said Child yet he refuses at least delays to do so”. She sought £1 Sterling for various expenses, and £1 10 shillings per quarter for the first 9 months from the birth for nursing fee, and £1 per quarter afterwards for aliment until the child reached the age of 10.
The next bit of the case papers includes Thomas’s responses to the charges. He declared that he was “not much acquainted with the Pursuer That she has resided for some years past with her Mother in the village of NewCastleton”. Then he says that he was in company with her on the night of Langholm Fair, in the house of Robert Elliot, but not alone with her. Various other apparently innocent meetings are admitted to, including another in the last summer or autumn when “he went into the Pursuers house along with the said Walter Oliver and there were in the house the Pursuer, her Mother and Walter Nichol Carter That this was after dark – That the Pursuer and Declarant left the rest and went round to the back of the house into a shade – That he cannot say while he was standing in the shade whether he had his arm around her Neck or Waist That he lay down in the shade with the Pursuer, but he had no carnal connection with her” And he further goes on to declare that he never had carnal connection with her, and is not the father of her child.
Thomas’s evidence is contradicted by Elspeth Elliot daughter of Robert Elliot in Newcastleton. She remembers the night of the Langholm Fair, and specifically that “the Defender came forwards and spoke to the Pursuer, after which he pushed her into the house, that after they were into the house the Defender took hold of the Pursuer and threw her into the bed, and went in beside her”.
Based on all this and other evidence the court’s judgement went in Eliza’s favour. But the case papers reveal that she believed Thomas was considering fleeing from Scotland to America “in order to defraud the Petitioner”. Thomas appeared before the court again, but denied that he had any intention of going to America “or else where out of Scotland” But the court didn’t believe him, and ordered the officers “to apprehend the said Thomas Cavers and Commit him Prisoner to the Castle of Jedburgh there to remain until he find sufficient Caution … that he shall present himself at the Sheriff Clerks Office in Jedburgh upon the fifteenth day of May next at Twelve oClock midday in order that he may be then and there accessible to the Diligence of the Petitioner against him for payment of the sums due to her as contained in the Decreet mentioned in the Petition”.
Thomas may not have settled in America, but he went to Canada, where he married and had many children. Meanwhile searching the 1841 Scottish census finds at Newcastleton 10-year old Janet Cavers living with 33-year-old Eliza Murray, 38-year-old George Murray (mealdealer), and 65-year-old widowed Janet Murray. Further research identifies these as Janet Cavers’ mother, uncle and grandmother.
Janet Cavers married at Newcastleton on 10th February 1855 to James Scott, a 28-year-old labourer. Because it was an 1855 marriage, in the first year of civil registration in Scotland, when all certificates recorded extra detail, the marriage certificate includes Janet’s birth details: she was apparently born 23rd July 1831 at Newcastleton. Her parents are named on the marriage certificate as Thomas Cavers, Labourer, and Elizabeth Cavers maiden name Murray. Obviously her parents never married, and the birth date differs slightly from the court case version, but the details otherwise fit.
James Scott and Janet Cavers had 5 children, all born at Castleton parish, probably Newcastleton:
- Eliza, born 2 Dec 1855
- William, b. 10 Mar 1858
- Agnes, b. 8 Jun 1860
- George, b. 25 Jul 1862
- James, b. 23 Jan 1867
Janet Cavers died at Newcastleton on 25th September 1867, aged 35, cause of death typhoid fever. Again her parents are recorded on the certificate, and match the court case: father Thomas Cavers, farm servant, and mother Eliza Murray, domestic servant.
Her mother Elizabeth Murray outlived her, dying on 12th November 1894 at Newcastleton aged 84 years. Her death certificate records her occupation as domestic servant, and her parents David Murray, shepherd, and Janet Murray maiden name Murray. The informant was her son-in-law James Scott, who was present at the death. Eliza was living with her daughter and son-in-law in 1861, and the census records her birthplace as Canonbie in Dumfriesshire.
James Scott died on 16th April 1909 at Newcastleton, aged 82 years. The informant at his death was his son William. Two years later the 1911 census for 40 North Hermitage Street, where the family lived for a long time, records two of his children still living in the house: Agnes, a retired domestic servant, aged 50; and her brother George, “Farm Labourer (Cattle man)”, aged 48. Also living there then was Agnes’s daughter Nancy Scott aged 17 (Agnes was recorded as unmarried) and her granddaughter Nellie Scott aged 5. It’s quite possible that there are living descendants today of this family.
And just to add a little extra colour to the story, here are the signatures of the two parties at dispute before Jedburgh Sheriff Court, as recorded in the original case papers.