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The Richest Man in the World
By Raymond Lamont-Brown
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Raymond Lamont-Brown
All rights reserved.
The Tree of Radicalism
A word, a look, an accent, may affect the destiny not only of individuals, but of nations.
Pattiesmuir lies on the southern edge of what was the boundary of the old parishes of Dunfermline and Inverkeithing in the Kingdom of Fife. Today, as when Andrew Carnegie's forebears lived there, Pattiesmuir – or 'the hamlet of the muir' – hardly seems a likely centre of revolutionary thought. Yet two hundred years ago it seethed with secessionism and radicalism. Once a part of the lands of the Benedictine Abbey of Dunfermline, Pattiesmuir fell within the policies of the Earls of Elgin & Kincardine, and it developed in the lee of the hill that slopes southward to the Firth of Forth.
Writing in 1793, the Presbyterian minister of Inverkeithing, Andrew Robertson, commented that the folks hereabouts were in general 'sober, industrious, and attentive'; he saw them as 'kind and hospitable' and 'much given to company and entertainments in each others houses'. They were, said the Revd Robertson, 'united in the same political sentiments and views', but he regretted that, 'Burgh politics, and the election of members of Parliament, had an unhappy influence upon the morals of the people'. The minister greatly disapproved of the 'animosity' engendered at election times.
Old Rosyth churchyard contains the unmarked Carnegie gravesand the burial places of the local folk described by the Revd Robertson, and the whole area, where the King of the Gypsies once had a palace, was later overshadowed by the nearby town and naval base of Rosyth established in 1903–9. Before that no principal highways came directly to Pattiesmuir, although the main route from the Queensferry Passage on the Forth to the north-west was nearby; nevertheless the hamlet enjoyed a vigorous life of its own.
Within this late eighteenth-century weaving society evolved Andrew Carnegie's paternal roots. The Carnegies were a Lowland family and were property owners in Fife; the county was then called Fifeshire (usually with the suffix NB for North Britain). Their surname was derived from a Gaelic place name – Caither an eige, 'fort at the gap' – and appears in Fife charters from the late sixteenth century. At that time, one Magister David Carnegie of Kinnaird married Elizabeth Ramsay of Colluthie, in the north Fife parish of Moonzie; his second wife Euphame Wemyss was the mother of David, 1st Earl of Southesk, and John, 1st Earl of Northesk, and of the founders of the principal branches of the Carnegie family in Scotland. Nevertheless the not well-off Carnegies of Pattiesmuir asserted no kindred to their wealthy namesakes, nor would they have wished to, although their rich descendant Andrew Carnegie was a friend of the noble Carnegies.
As far as Andrew Carnegie was concerned, his closest ancestor was his great-grandfather, sometime tenant farmer and weaver James Carnegie, who had moved from his ancestral Kincardineshire to set up home at Pattiesmuir around the year 1760, when the Hanoverian Prince William George Frederick, Prince of Wales, ascended the throne of Great Britain as George III. The new king's Scottish titles included the dukedoms of Rothesay and Edinburgh, and as he got to grips with the reins of government, James Carnegie tackled the problem of earning a living, and married a Fife woman called Charlotte Walker. Records of the Elgin estates show that James Carnegie had the right of 'turf and divet' – that is, the right to build for his own use a sod house at Pattiesmuir from local materials.
Something of a rebel, James Carnegie played a prominent part in the Meal Riots of 1770 and was jailed on a charge of seditious incitement as a result. Nevertheless he earned enough to raise a large family. Customers for his linen came from all classes of society – even Martha, Lady Elgin, wife of the 5th Earl, bought linen from Carnegie.
James's eldest son Andrew followed his father's craft of weaving. Being self-employed and constrained to sell their own wares, the weavers were more mobile than their agricultural neighbours who rarely, if ever, left their home milieux, even in the longest lifetime. So young Andrew – who would be the rich Andrew Carnegie's grandfather – knew Fife well, from the cobbled wynds of Culross to the old ecclesiastical capital of Scotland at St Andrews. And at nearby Limekilns he would encounter romance.
Limekilns, with its then comparatively new Brucehaven Harbour for the burgeoning trade in coal shipments, was the focus of a variety of industries from brewing to soap-making, and was also the home of the seafaring Thom family. Here Andrew Carnegie's grandfather met Elizabeth, daughter of the well-heeled ship owner Captain George Thom and his wife Elizabeth Wilkie. To her father's dismay Elizabeth announced that she would marry the moneyless weaver, and despite the threat of disinheritance marry she did – for love. The Thoms did not attend their daughter's wedding, and Elizabeth was further shunned when her father decided not to give her a vessel from his fleet as a dowry – which he had done when each of his other daughters married. Historian J.B. Mackie tells the story of how Elizabeth attempted a reconciliation with her family by promising that if she gave birth to a boy it would be given her father's name or that of one of her sisters if the baby was a girl. A girl duly arrived and at the baptism Elizabeth's family gathered at Limekilns Secessional Church to hear the child given a Thom family name. To Andrew Carnegie this smacked of bribery, and when the Revd Hadden asked what the child was to be called he declared: 'She is to be called Ann for my aunt of the same name.' Out of the church stormed the Thoms and there were no further inter-family exchanges.
Education had long been held in high esteem in Scotland. After the Reformation had swept away the medieval church, the Scottish Presbyterian movement's 'First Book of Discipline' (1560) set out a determination for 'one school in every parish'. Furthermore, the eighteenth-century education system that creamed off gifted Scots children had opened up many opportunities for the bright within an atmosphere of educational egalitarianism, but many could still not afford the pennies to buy daily formal education for their children, so self-education was popular among the less well off. Not until the Education (Scotland) Act of 1872 did the state first assume direct responsibility for the education of children. Yet at Pattiesmuir, Andrew Carnegie was already involved in a form of self-education.
At Pattiesmuir is a building which was known as the 'college', where local weavers and agricultural workers met for self-improvement classes in a multitude of subjects from politics and philosophy to economics and theology. Their spiritual father was the working-class hero Robert Burns, whose revelries at the Tarbolton Bachelors' Club in his Ayrshire homeland provided the template for the college. Soon Andrew Carnegie became a self-proclaimed 'professor' of this institution, which actually had as much to do with social drinking as self-education. Local tradition has it that the long-vanished Bull Head Tavern was the main campus of the college. With whatever spare money they had the members subscribed to the Edinburgh Political & Literary Journal, which first appeared in 1817 (becoming the Daily Scotsman by 1855), and clubbed together for the new Waverley novels produced by Walter Scott from 1814. If there were arguments or running disputes then Grandfather Carnegie was always at their heart. He was very much a man of his time.
For decades Dunfermline was renowned, or abhorred, depending on one's point of view, as the most radical area in Scotland, full of men willing to debate the politics of the day and pursue the philosophies of such men as Rochdale miller turned orator and statesman John Bright, free-trader Richard Cobden and the home-grown Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume. They would gather in groups to subscribe to the London broadsheets and listen to lectures by visiting radicals. It was a hothouse of revolutionary thought in which the Carnegies found a niche.
Andrew and Elizabeth's sixth child William was born on 19 June 1804. He duly became a weaver like his father, but in 1830 he became the first to leave Pattiesmuir for nearby Dunfermline where he could pursue his skills as a damask weaver. Andrew and Elizabeth undoubtedly encouraged their son to move to Dunfermline in an effort to better himself, for in 1826 the Elgin estates factor noted that the Carnegies were unable to pay their rent because they were 'very poor'. At Dunfermline William rented for around £8 per annum, paid on the Scottish quarter days of Candlemas, Old Beltane, Lammas and Old Hallowmans, a portion of a cottage at the junction of Priory Lane and Moodie Street. On the ground floor he set up his loom, living in the small attic room above.
On the heights beyond Priory Lane lies Maygate, where lived the prominent Morrison family. William Carnegie became a welcome guest here, for the head of the family Tom Morrison was a fiery radical. William eventually fell for the charms of Morrison's fourth child Margaret, and in December 1834 they married and set up home together at William's workshop-lodging. William and Margaret were to become the parents of the famous Andrew Carnegie. Thus history assembled the three great early influences on Andrew Carnegie's life: his father William, his mother Margaret (by far the greatest influence) and his grandfather Tom, although in his veins also ran the 'daft' blood of his eccentric, ebullient and exuberant paternal grandfather Andrew. Of the latter Andrew Carnegie would say: 'I think my optimistic nature, my ability to shed trouble and laugh through my life ... must have been inherited from this delightful old masquerading grandfather whose name I proudly bear.'
To assess these influences properly, it is vital to take a closer look at the main characters involved. William Carnegie was a hard worker, but was far more reticent than his effusive father. Family tradition has it that he was a keen reader and a solitary rambler on the roads and moors around Pattiesmuir. His artistic qualities enabled him to graduate from the plain designs of the weavers' looms to the figured material of damask, which had originally been worked in silk. Dunfermline was the centre of the damask trade.
The manufacture and processing of textiles, particularly wool and linen, appears to have been well established in Dunfermline by the 1400s at the very latest, and the textile industry continued as cottage labour until well into the 1500s. As the centuries passed, textile production became increasingly mechanised and better organised. The development of the damask trade at Dunfermline involved an interesting piece of industrial espionage.
Some time in the early eighteenth century a small damask-weaving manufactory was set up at Drumsheuch in west Edinburgh by craftsmen from the continent. The process by which they worked was secret. So in 1709 a Dunfermline weaver called James Blake set out to discover what he could about the damask process. He decided his best chance lay in impersonating an imbecile. He hung around the homes of the immigrant workers and distracted them with his amusing capers. Gradually Blake was allowed to enter their workshops and there he took note of their machines and practices. Absorbing as much knowledge as he could, he returned to Dunfermline and was able to establish his own damask industry. Thus damask weaving was established at Dunfermline by 1718. The process was revolutionised by the introduction of steam power in 1849, just a year or two after the Carnegie family had left. It should not be forgotten though that coal was mined at Dunfermline as early as 1291, when William de Orbeville, proprietor of Pittencrieff, granted to the Benedictines of Dunfermline the right to extract coal for their use. So steam power was an important innovation.
Politically William Carnegie had been brought up on the Scottish working-class radicalism of his father and his friends, who believed that every man should have a say in who led them politically and religiously, and supported a thoroughgoing but constitutionally social and political reform. Yet while his father could harangue a crowd, William loathed speaking in public; nevertheless, although slow to anger, William would speak out boldly if his principles were slighted. A regular attender at public meetings, on one occasion William took his young son Andrew to hear John Bright, engendering in Andrew a lifelong respect for oratory.
An anecdote from Andrew Carnegie's autobiography helps to get the measure of William Carnegie. A short while after his son's birth William attended a Sunday service at the Dunfermline Secessionist Presbyterian Church. The minister's sermon that day was on the damnation of infants. His Calvinist rhetoric underlining the sure and certain damnation of children and punishment in the fires of Hell for their sins triggered anger in William's mind. Somewhat out of character he stood up in his pew and said: 'If that be your religion and that your God, I shall seek a better religion and a nobler God.' William Carnegie never returned to the church.
While William Carnegie was fairheaded and reticent, Margaret Morrison his wife was dark and resolute, loyal and determined in all that was personal to her. She proved in marriage to be devoted to the needs of her husband and was a fine Scots wife, 'trig' (neat), 'scrimp' (sparing in economy) and zealous in 'warkin the wark' (carrying out her housewifely duties) as the Lowland tongue described it. Throughout her son Andrew's life she was the single greatest motivational force behind his success in business.
Andrew Carnegie's third great influence was his maternal grandfather Tom Morrison. Unlike the Lowland Carnegies, the Morrisons were of Highland stock, whose clan derived from the ancient Norse inhabitants of the Hebridean island of Lewis. Like other clans, their members were dispersed through feuding. Tom Morrison's immediate family had fetched up in Edinburgh in the mid-eighteenth century as leather workers. Tom was to inherit his father's leather business and married Ann Hodge, the daughter of an Edinburgh merchant. Writing in 1935 John Pattison noted how the Morrisons had a substantial house in Edinburgh with all the refinements of a lower middle-class family. Alas, Tom Morrison made some bad investments; the business was lost, Ann Morrison's marriage portion vanished and they moved to Dunfermline where Tom set up as a shoemaker.
Perhaps embittered by his own failures and shamed by the loss of his position, Tom Morrison took up the spirit of radicalism that was so prominent in early nineteenth-century Dunfermline, becoming part of a company of radicals bent on a programme of grass-roots political (but non-violent) action, which was a precursor of Chartism – a movement which began in 1836 for the expansion of political power to the working classes.
Tom Morrison suffered a bitter blow when his wife died in 1814, but the needs of his family and workbench did not stop him preaching the radical cause in the towns and villages of Fife. Should a representative of the successive Tory Prime Ministers the Earl of Liverpool and George Canning, or perhaps a Whig MP, speak at a political rally in Fife, there would be Tom Morrison heckling and promoting dissension. In those days his pen worked as quickly as his tongue to promote the cause of reform for the working-class masses. Around 1827 Tom Morrison gathered the skilled Dunfermline craftsmen into what was called 'the Political Union', proudly bearing on their banner the motto 'Knowledge, Union and Fraternisation', and thus Tom Morrison and his agitators were part of the pressure that resulted in the passing of the Reform Act of 1832, which initially gave the vote to the middle classes.
Tom Morrison was a friend and devotee of the English essayist and politician William Cobbett, and occasionally contributed copy for Cobbett's Political Register, which was begun in 1802 and appeared weekly. Andrew Carnegie was proud of the fact that his grandfather had appeared in the Register and had been praised therein by Cobbett; in particular Cobbett said Morrison's thesis on the need for technical education in Scottish schools was 'the very best communication I have ever received in my life'.
Keeping up the political pressure, Tom Morrison wrote and spoke against wealth and privilege. His series of letters attacking Archibald Primrose, Lord Dalmeny, the Liberal MP for Stirling Burghs, as a 'stoolpigeon for landed interests' are considered classics by socialist hagiographers. What Tom Morrison would have thought of his grandson hobnobbing with Lord Dalmeny's son, the Liberal leader Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, is a matter for speculation. Morrison even started a radical newspaper in Dunfermline; The Precursor was to appear monthly at 2d from January 1833 but it was too seditious for most printers to risk and the enterprise soon folded. Yet Tom Morrison continued to write for any publication that would publish his rantings. Andrew Carnegie said later: 'I come by my scribbling responsibilities by inheritance – from both sides, for the Carnegies were also readers and thinkers.'
Excerpted from Carnegie by Raymond Lamont-Brown. Copyright © 2013 Raymond Lamont-Brown. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Preface: The Making of Andrew Carnegie,
1. The Tree of Radicalism,
2. The Weaver's Boy,
3. Voyage to America,
4. The Industrious Apprentice,
5. The White-haired Scotch Devil,
6. War Clouds and a Silver Lining,
7. Bridging Gaps,
8. European Interlude,
9. New York and the Wolves of Wall Street,
10. Round the World,
11. Romance and the Charioteer,
12. Friendships Sweet and Sour,
13. Two Deaths and a Wedding,
14. A Honeymoon,
15. The Homestead Affair,
16. Fraud and Fraction,
17. A Daughter and a Dwelling,
18. A Rich Rector of St Andrews,
19. Pathway to Peace: Descent to War,
20. The Road to Sleepy Hollow,
Epilogue: The Conundrum of Andrew Carnegie,
Appendix I: The Development of the Carnegie Trusts,
Appendix II: Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum,
Appendix III: The Carnegies' Farewell to Skibo,