Edinburgh World Heritage - Find out more about Mitchelson’s life and travels


Find out more about Mitchelson’s life and travels

This gravestone commemorates David Mitchelson, who the memorial describes as ‘late of New York’.  But, as the memorial also explains, he was born in Kirremuir (in eastern Scotland, to the north of Dundee) in 1732 and died at Leith Walk (in Edinburgh) in 1802.  What lies behind this story of travel?

David was a Glasite, a member of a Christian sect founded in Scotland around 1730 who sought to follow the practices of the early church, as they understood them.  One of the Glasite leaders, Robert Sandeman, sailed to Boston, Massachusetts in 1764 and it seems that David Mitchelson sailed with him.

In Boston David worked as a seal engraver.  He also seems to have been one of the first people in North America to cast type for printing and to have been involved in newspaper production.
The 1760s and ‘70s were stirring times in Massachusetts and the other British colonies in North America.  Discontent with British rule was growing and would eventually lead to war, the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the creation of the United States.  

In 1770, in the tense atmosphere leading up to these events, there was a confrontation in King Street, Boston between British soldiers and local civilians.  The soldier opened fire, killing five men and injuring more.  David Mitchelson witnessed this incident and gave evidence at the soldiers’ subsequent trial.  They were defended by a young lawyer called John Adams who went on to become the second US president.  Most of the soldiers were acquitted.  

It is not clear what David Mitchelson did over the next few years.  But by 1790 he was in New York and head of a household of five people, including a slave.  By 1800 he was back in Scotland, at 5 Fyfe Place, Leith Walk.  We do not know why he made that move.  But the newspaper he is thought to have been involved in producing in Boston took a strong pro-British line.  That might explain why he moved to New York after the Declaration of Independence.  And perhaps he then decided he wanted to end his life back home in Scotland.

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