David Downie - Goldsmith and Traitor


David Downie was the son of John Downie, a watchmaker, and he first appears in the records when he was apprenticed to William Gilchrist, Deacon of the Goldsmiths in Edinburgh in 1753, which places his date of birth at around 1739.

Downie, David, s. to John D., watchmaker, p. to Wm. Gilchrist deacon of the goldsmiths 21 Nov 1753.1

An  older brother, William, had previously been apprenticed as a watchmaker:

Downie, Wm., s. to John D., watchmaker near Edinburgh, p. to James Geddes watchmaker (B.) 20 Feb 1745.2

No record of the births of either brother has been found so far, but William married Sarah Morrison in Edinburgh in 1752.3 David was married and had children, but no record of the marriage has so far come to light. The records of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths of Edinburgh show that David was a Roman Catholic and give birth dates of his four children, taken from parish records of the Established Church of Scotland.4 The Goldsmiths records also name his wife as Mary Drummond and one of his children, who became his apprentice, as Charles Stewart Downie, the name and middle name strongly indicating David’s Jacobite background. 

Charles’s baptism record confirms David’s close affinity with the most prominent Roman Catholic family in Scotland:

David Downie Goldsmith and Mary Drummond his Spouse in Tolbooth Kirk Parish a son born the 24th current named Charles Stewart. Witnesses Charles Lord Linton and Lady Barbara Stewart of Traquair.5

Lord Linton was Charles Stewart, son of John Stewart, 6th Earl of Traquair, and became the 7th Earl of Traquair in 1779 on the death of his father. Lady Barbara Stewart was Lord Linton’s aunt, who lived with her twin sister Margaret in lodgings in the Canongate in Edinburgh. Another sister, Mary, was the widow of the Duke of Perth whose family name was Drummond - this suggests a possible family connection with David’s mother Mary Drummond. 

David had left the employ of William Gilchrist by the time he was admitted Freeman of the Incorporation of Edinburgh Goldsmiths on 20 November 1770; he was described as ‘sometime apprentice to James [sic] Gilchrist in his application for an essay (test) ‘to be made in his former master’s shop’.6 He became a Burgess of Edinburgh in 17767, by which time he would have been aged around 37 and married. In Williamson’s Directory of 1773, William Gilchrist was listed as a Goldsmith in Anchor Close8 and there is no record for David Downie. In the same directory, David’s brother William Downie is listed as a watchmaker in Parliament Square, west end of luckenbooths9; he appears there the following year but in the 1775-6 directory the listing has changed to include David10. The Luckenbooths were situated in the middle of the modern High Street in front of St Giles Cathedral and the name probably comes from the old Scots word lucken, meaning locked, to distinguish them from temporary stalls which were open. 

By 1782 when his niece Sarah married John Macknight, a writer in Edinburgh, David’s brother William was deceased. In fact William probably died in 1777 as he was deceased by the date of the an advertisement for a roup or sale of his stock in trade in the Edinburgh Evening Courant of 12 March 177711. The next directory available online is not until 1784-5, when the entry appears under Downie and Aitken, goldsmiths and watchmakers, Parliament square12. The 1786-1788 directory lists the business as Downie, David, jeweller, Parliament square13, then the 1788-1790 directory lists Downie, William, jeweller, Parliament close14 with no mention of David. This is almost certainly a typographical error because the 1793-4 directory includes Downie David gold-smith, and optician, No 13, Parliament cl.15, and the listing for 1794-5 (now produced by Aitchison)  contains the same entry16. In addition, David’s brother William had been deceased for at more than ten years. The Incorporation of Goldsmiths records show that David Downie rented the shop previously occupied by Robert Clark in Parliament Close (to the south of St Giles Cathedral) from 1789 for £1 14s annually, and that he took over the lease of the shop on 31 January 1788. There is no listing for David Downie in the 1797-8 Aitchison directory.

The National Museums of Scotland has a sauce boat by David Downie, showing the maker’s mark DD. On 17 April 1788, David took his elder son Charles Stewart as his apprentice (without indentures)17. His Roman Catholic faith led in 1780 to his being denied the right to vote in the Incorporation of Goldsmiths, though his name appears intermittently thereafter in lists of members allowed to vote.18 He was elected a quartermaster of the Incorporation in 1782 and Treasurer in 1784.19

The latter part of the 18th century was a time of great political upheaval in Europe and America.

On 14 May 1794, David Downie and Robert Watt were arrested in Edinburgh20, and on August 15 the same year they were indicted for High Treason at a special court of Oyer and Terminer before  the King’s Nine Commissioners of Oyer and Terminer for the County of Edinburgh, and a Grand Jury of twenty three gentlemen, the Foreman being Sir John Inglis, Baronet of Cramond.21

On Friday 4 September 1794, David Downie stood trial at the Court of Oyer and Terminer for High Treason. He does not appear to have given any evidence, the report of the trial in Lloyds Evening Post22 detailing only the evidence produced by the prosecution. David Downie’s counsel, Mr Cullen, addressed the jury after it had heard the prosecution’s evidence and the Crown counsel, Mr Anstruther, was afforded the opportunity to reply to the defence argument before the Lord President summed up for the jury. The jury retired to consider its verdict and returned after forty minutes to give its verdict, reported thus:

Clerk of Arraigns said, Gentlemen, have you agreed on your verdict? Foreman, Yes.

Clerk of Arraigns, Foreman of this Jury, is the prisoner at the Bar, David Downie, guilty of the crime charged against him? Foreman, He is GUILTY.

Foreman, My Lord, I am desired by the Jury to say, that on account of certain circumstances, They unanimously recommend the prisoner to mercy.

On the following day, Robert Watt and David Downie were sentenced by the Lord President as follows:

Robert Watt and David Downie, you have been found guilty of High Treason by your Peers; the sentence of the court is therefore, That you be taken to the place from whence you came, from whence you shall be drawn on a sledge to the place of execution on Wednesday the 15th of October, there to hang by your necks until you are both dead, your bowels to be taken out and cast in your face, and each of your bodies to be cut in four quarters, to be at the disposal of his Majesty, and the Lord have mercy on your souls!

They were taken to Edinburgh Castle to await their fates, though David Downie was to have a much longer wait than Robert Watt, who was executed at the Tolbooth, close to David’s shop, on 15 October 1794. The part of the sentence relating to being disembowelled and quartered had previously been remitted, sparing him some suffering, but he was beheaded after death and his head held up to the crowd witnessing the execution.23 David’s execution had been set for but on 16 October The Times reported “Downie, who was to have been executed yesterday morning for High Treason, has been respited till the 15th day of November next. This grace has been obtained in consequence of his having been strongly recommended to mercy by the Jury.”24 Monthly respites, all seemingly at the last minute, continued until March 1795.

While David was languishing in Edinburgh Castle, his former shop in Parliament Close was burnt down on 19 January 1796 in a fire which had started in the premises of another goldsmith, Robert Bowman of no 14 Parliament Close, and which destroyed the entire contents of the shops, Goldsmith’s Hall and the Assay Office.25 Bowman’s business survived the fire and he appears at no 6 Parliament close in the 1797-8 Edinburgh Directory26.

David had to wait until April 1795 to learn his fate, Lloyd’s Evening Post finally reporting: “David Downie, condemned for High Treason, at Edinburgh, but recommended to mercy by the Jury, has received His Majesty’s pardon, on condition of being imprisoned for a year, and afterwards banishing himself from Great Britain for life.”27 The pardon was made official on Thursday 14 May the same year, when the Court of Oyer and Terminer reconvened in Edinburgh and David was called to the bar to hear the sentence of banishment: “on condition of his being imprisoned for a year from the 12th of March last, and then banishing himself from Great-Britain and Ireland for life.”28 

The Monthly Magazine or British Register Vol I no II, March 1796, page 175

March 12.-David Downie was liberated from confinement, on condition of departing from Great Britain and Ireland, and not being found therein during his natural life.

On Saturday last [12 March 1796] David Downie, sentenced to suffer Death at Edinburgh for High Treason, was liberated from his confinement in the Castle, in consequence of the remission granted by his Majesty on the recommendation of the Jury. The terms of the remission are, that he shall depart from his Majesty’s Dominions of Great Britain and Ireland within ten days after being set at liberty, and never be found therein during all the days of his natural life, under pain of the former sentence being put into execution against him; unless he shall obtain a license for that purpose.29

In fact he stayed in Scotland for more than the ten days specified, sailing from Greenock on 7 April 1796 for New York.30 The London Evening Mail of 15-18 July 1796 reported on David Downie’s arrival in New York, in a despatch dated 30 May that year31: “In the Amsterdam Packet, from Greenock, came passenger, Mr. David Downie and family, from Edinburgh, who was sentenced to suffer with Watt, for high treason. We congratulate him on his safe arrival, and with him all manner of happiness in this land of peace and freedom.”

David was not to find that happiness in New York: A letter from New York, dated June 22, to a person in Edinburgh, contains the following paragraph:

I have had the opportunity of seeing Downie, who was confined in the Castle of Edinburgh; but he was soon obliged to leave this place, for the old country people are all Tories. When he came here, he was almost killed one night in a porter-house, for drinking Success to the French, and he was forced to leave the town.”32

In his letter to the friend in Perth, David does not refer to his experiences in New York but he does mention that his eldest daughter had been found a position teaching the daughters of Mr Dallas, Secretary to the State of Pennsylvania, and that he had hopes of finding a position for Charles in New York. Alexander James Dallas, born of a Scottish father in Kingston, Jamaica, went on to become the 6th United States Secretary to the Treasury (1814-1816). One of Dallas’s two sons, George Mifflin Dallas, born 1792, became Vice President of the United States in 1845, and was later US Ambassador to Great Britain. The letter goes on to say that David and ‘the other two’ intended to go to Georgia where he would exercise his business and buy 300-500 acres of land at 5s an acre.33  

His biography in the Incorporation of Goldsmiths confirms that David did indeed settle in Augusta, Georgia, where he carried on business as a silversmith, employing at least two apprentices, up to his death there on 25 December 1816. His son Charles may also have worked with him there 34.


Incorporation of Goldsmiths of Edinburgh http://www.incorporationofgoldsmiths.co.uk Registration Archives for David Downie I and his son Charles Edward Downie. Access to this information is by registration only (free of charge). The information is based on biographical files compiled by Henry Steuart Fothringham.


1Unknown author (2001-2) Scottish Record Society The Register of Apprentices of the City of Edinburgh 1583-1800. Online at http://www.scotsfind.com (now defunct - 2012)


3Scottish Record Society Edinburgh Marriages Downie, William, watchmaker in S.E. p., and Sarah, d. of deceased Walter Morrison, clerk in the Customs, both in S.E. p. 15 Oct 1752

4Biographical file on David Downie by Henry Steuart Fothringham in archives of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths, Edinburgh

5General Registers of Scotland; Edinburgh Births and Baptisms 1774 page 263

6National Records of Scotland GD1/482/6: Records of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths of Edinburgh; Glasgow Goldsmiths Company - Minute Book 1768-1790

7Watson, Charles B. Boog (1929-30) Scottish Record Society Roll of Edinburgh Burgesses and Guild-Brethren 1406-1841. Edinburgh, Scottish Record Society

8archive.org: http://www.archive.org/stream/williamsonsdirec1773dire#page/32 viewed 7 Sep 2012

9ibid, page 23

10http://www.archive.org/stream/williamsonsdirec17751776will#page/26 viewed 7 Sep 2012: Downie, W. and D. watch-makers and goldsmiths, head of the luckenbooths

11Smith, J. (1921) Old Scottish Clockmakers. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, page 115

12http://www.archive.org/stream/williamsonsdirect84will#page/n29/ viewed 7 Sep 2012

13ibid, page n155

14ibid, page n295

15ibid, page 32

16http://www.archive.org/stream/directoryforedin17941795aitc#page/68 viewed 7 Sep 2012

17Edinburgh Goldsmiths’ Minutes, Volume 6. Item 808, pages 293-4 in biographical file on Charles Edward Downie by Henry Steuart Fothringham, Incorporation of Goldsmiths, Edinburgh

18Incorporation of Goldsmiths Minute Book 1768-1790


20The Times, 2 January 1795 page 3, Principal Occurrences of the Year 1794

21The Times, 19 August 1794, page 3

22Lloyds Evening Post Issue 5947, 7-11 September 1794

23New Annual Register of 1794 page 53, reported In Howell, T.J. (1818) A Complete Collection of State Trials (Continued) Vol. XXIV pp 198-199 London:

24The Times 16 October 1794 page 3

25Daily Advertiser (London) Issue 20950 25 January 1796


27Lloyd’s Evening Post (London) Issue 5868 6-8 April 1795

28Evening Post (London) Issue 5886 issue 5886 May 18-20 1795

29St James Chronicle (London) 15-17 March 1796, Issue 5695

30Letter dated New York, June 22, 1796 from David Downie to a friend in Perth, in Weekly Messenger (London) of Sunday 4 September 1796, Issue 19

31Evening Mail (London) 15-18 July 1796

32Letter dated New York, June 22, 1796  in British Evening Post Issue 6029 11-13 August 1796

33Letter dated New York, June 22, 1796 from David Downie to a friend in Perth, in Weekly Messenger (London) of Sunday 4 September 1796, Issue 19

34Biographical file on David Downie and Charles Edward Downie by Henry Steuart Fothringham in archives of the Incorporation of Goldsmiths, Edinburgh