Durham researchers have been investigating what happened to around 3,000 Scottish soldiers who were imprisoned in Durham Cathedral.
After the Battle of Dunbar, in 1650 – between an English army commanded by Oliver Cromwell and Scots loyal to Charles II – the Scottish prisoners were marched down to Durham and herded into the cathedral, where they were held captive.
Now historians from Durham University have been examining what happened to the men and what became of their descendants.
Curiosity in the fate of the soldiers was sparked three years ago, when builders stumbled upon around 20 skeletons in an unmarked grave while constructing a new café for Palace Green Library.
It appeared that the bodies had been tipped into the grave without any form of ceremony. Staff at Durham University analysed the bones and discovered that they were the remains of some of the Scottish soldiers.
It is estimated that out of the 3,000 captives locked in the cathedral, only around 1,300 survived the ordeal.
After combing through historical records, Durham University academics have pieced together what happened to some of those survivors and their descendants. Many survivors became indentured, meaning they had to work for a certain period of time to regain their freedom.
As well as being sent all over England, many of the survivors were transported abroad. Historians have found evidence of the men harvesting salt at South Shields, draining fens in eastern England, and being pressed into military service in France and Ireland. Others travelled as far as the Caribbean and the United States, where they were employed as servants.
Dr Pam Graves, a senior lecturer in Durham’s Department of Archaeology, said, “There is a wealth of information about the fate of the Scottish soldiers during and after their imprisonment in Durham, but it is only when you draw all this together that you get a sense of what became of these men.”
“Documents from the time tell us the names of the soldiers sent to the USA, where they were sent to and even the name of the ship they voyaged in. Tracing their names through history also shows us what these men did when they were released from their indenture.”
“Some went on to become successful farmers and we know there are many descendants of these men still living in the USA today.”
Durham University researchers have visited the United States and have met some of the descendants of the soldiers who were locked in Durham Cathedral.
When the analysis of the bones is complete, the skeletons will be reburied in Durham, near to their original grave. Durham University also plans to hold a commemoration for the soldiers and to erect a plaque in honour of them.