Williamson, Peter (DNB00)

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WILLIAMSON, PETER (1730–1799), author and publisher, son of James Williamson, crofter, was born in the parish of Aboyne, Aberdeenshire, in 1730. When about ten years of age be fell a victim to a barbarous traffic which then disgraced Aberdeen, being kidnapped and transported to the American, plantations, where he was sold for a period of seven years to a fellow countryman in Pennsylvania. Becoming his own master about 1747, he acquired a tract of land on the frontiers of the same province, which in 1754 was overrun by Indians, into whose hands Williamson fell. Escaping, he enlisted in his majesty's forces, and after many romantic adventures was in 1757 discharged at Plymouth as incapable of further service in consequence of a wound in one of his hands. With the sum of six shillings with which he had been furnished to carry him home, he set out on his journey, and reached York, where in the same year he published a tract entitled 'French and Indian Cruelty exemplified in the Life and Various Vicissitudes of Peter Williamson … with a Curious Discourse on Kidnapping.' Arriving in Aberdeen in 1758, he was accused by the magistrates of having issued a scurrilous and infamous libel on the corporation of the city and whole members thereof. He was at once convicted, fined, and banished from the city, while his tract, which had passed through several editions in Glasgow, London, and Edinburgh, was ordered to be publicly burnt at the Market Cross. Williamson brought an action against the corporation for these proceedings, and in 1762 was awarded 100l. damages by the court of session. He was also successful in a second suit brought in 1765 against the parties engaged in the trade of kidnapping.

Williamson settled in Edinburgh, where he combined the occupations of bookseller, printer, publisher, and keeper of a tavern, 'Indian Peter's coffee room' (Fergusson, Rising of the Session), In 1773 he issued the first street directory for Edinburgh. In 1776 he engaged in a periodical work after the manner of the 'Spectator,' called the 'Scots Spy, or Critical Observer,' published every Friday. This periodical, which is valuable for its local information, ran from 8 March to 30 Aug., and a second series, the 'New Scots Spy,' from 29 Aug. to 14 Nov. 1777.

About the same time Williamson set on foot in Edinburgh a penny post, which became so profitable in his hands that when in 1793 the government took over the management, it was thought necessary to allow him a pension of 25l. per annum. Williamson died in Edinburgh on 10 Dec. 1799. He married, in November 1777, Jean, daughter of John Wilson, bookseller in Edinburgh, whom he divorced in 1788. A portrait of Williamson is given by Kay (Original Portraits, i. 128), and another 'in the dress of a Delaware Indian' is prefixed to various editions of his 'Life.'

In addition to 'French and Indian Cruelty' and the 'Scots Spy,' Williamson was author of: 1. 'Some Considerations on the Present State of Affairs. Wherein the Defenceless State of Great Britain is pointed out,' York, 1758. 2. 'A brief Account of the War in North America,' Edinburgh, 1760. 3. 'Travels of Peter Williamson amongst the different Nations and Tribes of savage Indiana in America,' Edinburgh, 1768 (new edit. 1786). 4. 'A Nominal Encomium on the City of Edinburgh,' Edinburgh, 1769. 5. 'A General View of the whole World,' Edinburgh, n.d. 6. 'A Curious Collection of Moral Maxims and Wise Sayings,' Edinburgh, n.d. 7. 'The Royal Abdication of Peter Williamson, King of the Mohawks,' Edinburgh, n.d. 8. 'Proposals for establishing a Penny Post,' Edinburgh, n.d.

Among the works issued from his press were editions of the Psalms in metre (1779), of Sir David Lindsay's poems (1776), and of William Meston's 'Mob contra Mob.' The 'Life and Curious Adventures of Peter Williamson' (a reprint with additions of his 'French and Indian Cruelty') was published at Aberdeen in 1801, and proved very popular, running through many editions, and appearing also in an abbreviated form as a chapbook.

[Printed papers in Peter Williamson v. Cushnie and others, 1761-2. v. Fordyce and others, 1765-1768, v. Jean Wilson, 1789; Robertson's Book of Bonaccord, pp. 9l-3; Kay's Original Portraits, i. 131-9; Blackwood's Magazine, lxiii. 612-27; Chambers's Miscellany, vol. ii.; Lang's Historical Summary of Post Office in Scotland, p. 16; Scottish Notes and Queries, iv. 39, v. 87, ix. 29, 47.]

P. J. A.