The Family of Sandwick
by John S Mouat

The Youngclause family surname is unique to Sandwick and Shetland, and isn't to be found anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Younglcause has been established since the middle of the 18th century in Sandwick, which is on the South Mainland of Shetland, opposite the Island of Mousa.

This unique surname had its beginning elsewhere in Shetland. On the 29th May 1702 Jacob Youngclause Hamburg merchant marine (servant of a Hamburg merchant) and Elspeth Sclater in Oxney were named in the Kirk Session of Tingwall as having breached the Kirk's moral code of discipline. Elspeth publicly confessed her guilt but her co-accused had already sailed back to Hamburg. Elspeth Sclater having confessed to her sinful act was made to appear before the congregations of Tingwall & Weisdale in sackcloth for some 26 Sabbaths, as a punishment for her sin. There is no record of the actual sin committed, but Elspeth's punishment is commensurate with that of another woman who bore children outside wedlock.

In the 18th and into the early 19th century, the Kirk sessions of the Church of Scotland were the guardians of moral discipline, and exacted punishment either in public confessions of sin before a congregation, or for a lesser sin, a fine was paid. In 1808 a witness to the bad effects of this system, Dr Edmonston, described the ordeal of "the fair, frail delinquents who for a single discovered imprudence, instead of being secretly reproved in the mild spirit of Christian gentleness, were indiscriminately stigmatized and repeatedly subjected to the sneers of a whole congregation." Dr Edmonston of Halligarth, Unst, studied medicine in Edinburgh and was fluent in several languages.

Oxney is the Island of Oxna, which is adjacent to Hamnavoe, Burra Isle. Elspeth may have worked as a servant at the booth of the Hamburg merchant - there was such a booth at Papil, Burra Isle.

The Hamburg merchants had been coming to Shetland since the days of the Hanseatic League. These merchants traded at booths of which there were about twenty throughout Shetland. The merchants bought dried salted ling and cod known as stockfish, which was Shetland's chief export at that time. It is estimated that Shetland produced about ten percent of the international supply of stockfish in the 16th century. Dried fish was an important winter food as it was both highly nutritious and easily stored. As well as stockfish the Germans bought butter, woollen cloth and fish oil from the landlords. In return the Germans brought fishing gear, hooks, lines, and salt for curing the stockfish. They also imported food, drink and household goods. The merchant traders sailed to Shetland in the early spring in a vessel about the size of a modern day fishing boat, taking about two to three weeks to get to Shetland. The Germans had an ingenious method of keeping their customers: a merchant would give a year's credit on the understanding that the Shetlanders in his trading area would sell their goods to him alone the following year. In this way, as long as the Germans kept coming, there was little chance of a local merchant class emerging.

Towards the close of the 17th century events signalled the end of the German trade. The feeling in Scotland was that too much trade was in the hands of foreigners. This attitude was reflected in higher customs duties being placed on the German merchants. The French Wars of the l590s and 1600s were the beginning of the end. French privateers repeatedly raided the islands and plundered the German merchants and natives alike. Perhaps the French didn't have it their own way all the time..

A story of this period was immortalized in the legendary tale of Madge Loutit, a maidservant of Alexander Craig, Minister in Unst, who pursued a marauding Frenchman and succeeded in strangling him with the neckband of the kishie he was carrying. As well as French pirates, Shetland was visited by famine, due to cold summers which resulted in crop failures in the 1690s. In 1700 there was a devastating outbreak of smallpox and hundreds of Shetlanders died. In that same year, ninety persons were prayed for in one day in Lerwick. This was one of the periods in Shetland history when it was visited by the allegorical figures of the Bible - the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War, Famine and Death. Sadly this wasn't to be the last time that such visitations of disaster were to befall Shetland. The final nail in the coffin of the German traders was the Act of Union of 1707. This brought the English navigation laws into force in Shetland which forbade the import of salt in foreign ships. Sometime afterwards the German merchants ceased to trade in Shetland and the void was filled by a new category of trader, the merchant laird. The above brief historical account of the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century, would have covered the period that Elspeth was born and lived through to womanhood, perhaps an achievement in itself.

Nothing further is heard of the Youngclause family until 1728. On the 10th November of that year Peter Youngclause in Ustaness, Whiteness (West Mainland of Shetland) had recorded in the Whiteness and Weisdale parish register the baptism of his son Patrick. It is assumed that Peter was the son of Elspeth Sclater.

The next record of the Youngclause family was the marriage of Peter Youngclause in the Parish of Whiteness to Janet Leslie in Sandwick. The marriage took place at Sandwick on the 11th January 1753. Peter and Patrick seem to have been used interchangeably at this period, and it is assumed that Peter of 1753 was the Patrick baptised in 1728. Janet was the daughter of Erick Leslie in Veester, Sandwick. The newly married couple returned briefly to Whiteness where Janet gave birth to twins - John and Erick - who were baptised on the l0th October 1753. Shortly after this the family returned to live at Cumliewick, Sandwick where the family lived for the next seventy-five years.

Last revision: 12/26/96

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