The Early Caldwells in Scotland
We can’t know for sure but it is generally assumed that the surname Caldwell and its variations have derived from the phrase ‘cold well’ and perhaps back in the mists of time the name was taken up by someone who lived near a cold water well. In other words, someone called, for example John, might have been referred to as ‘John who lives near the cold well’, or ‘John of the cold well’. Later on he might have started calling himself John Coldwell. In the Scottish dialect the word ‘cold’ is phonetically spoken more as ‘cald’ or ‘cauld’ and so perhaps in later generations, when people started to read and write, the spelling of the family name became Caldwell.
As we try to identify the early Caldwell ancestors, going back to the early 1700s, one particular problem, that we encounter, is variations in the spelling of the name (Caldwell, Caldwall, Cauldwell, Cadwell, … etc). However, Caldwell does seem to be the more common spelling.
The Caldwells of Beith
Searching records of births, deaths and marriages does bring up quite a few people, with the family name of Caldwell. In the early 1700s it can be seen that these people are spread around the United Kingdom, but the biggest concentration of Caldwells is in Scotland and in particular in the counties of Renfrewshire and Ayrshire. The records show a very high concentration of Caldwells living in the towns and villages along the road from Paisley down to Irvine (Abbey, Kilbarchan, Lochwinnoch, Beith, Gateside, Dalry and Kilwinning).
The town of Beith is almost equidistant between Paisley and Irvine and in the early 1700s it was a market town with a lot of trading taking place. Linen cloth and linen thread was a product that was actively traded but there must have been a lot of other goods also being bought and sold including some contraband goods (tea, tobacco, spirits etc). Paying tax was not popular and in 1733 it is recorded that a large group of disgruntled people from Beith travelled down to Irvine and sacked the Customs House to recover a lot of confiscated contraband goods.
In Scotland there aren’t any villages called Caldwell but there is an area called Caldwell and this lies approximately 5 miles to the east of Beith and just north of the village of Lugton. In the 1300s this area was an estate owned by people called Caldwell but in the 1400s the family name changed through marriage to Mure. The Mures of Caldwell then lived there for the next 400 years until 1909 when the estate was sold and the last Mure left. The ruins of the old mansion house of the Mure family still stand (Caldwell House). Nearby there is also a small crenellated tower, built in the mid-1500s, which is called Caldwell Castle.
In the search for my early Caldwell ancestors, the questions have been:
Who were the ancestors of my great x4 grandfather James Caldwell (1759-1838) of Linley Wood?
Where did they originate from and what sort of people were they?
Were they wealthy or poor?
Were they educated or were they illiterate?
Unfortunately the Heath-Caldwell family archive does not contain a family tree to show who these early Caldwells were. We don’t have a list stating that so and so was the son of so and so, etc. However we do have some clues, passed down in the family, and there are a few brief references to the Scottish town of Beith in various family documents, letters and diaries.
One inherited family item is James Caldwell’s collectors cabinet. This very old piece of furniture is believed to be Scottish and probably dates to the late 1600s or early 1700s. In its time, it would have been a very expensive item, so the person who originally brought it must have been fairly rich. It might be that James Caldwell (of Linley Wood) bought it as an antique but there is a good chance that it was originally bought by one of his ancestors and passed down to him.
One of the oldest pieces of family silver is a sugar shaker (or muffineer) dated 1738 and hall marked for Edinburgh. It does not have a crest or an inscription, so we don’t know who the original owner was but there is a good chance that it was bought by a Scottish Caldwell ancestor and then passed down in the family. As this would have been an expensive thing to buy, we can assume that the person who originally bought it in 1738 was someone who had lots of money.
Another possible clue is in the book ‘History of England’ 1706, which was once in the Linley Wood library and is still in the family. Printed at the front of the book is a large list of subscribers including ‘Mr John Cadwell Merchant’. The name John Cadwell could be a coincidence or it could indicate that there was an early ancestor by the name of John Cadwell (Caldwell). Was this book passed down to James Caldwell or was it an old book that he just happened to purchase 100 years later?
There was a John Caldwell of Glasgow who had registered a family coat of arms. He may be the same John Caldwell who was a preceptor of Hutcheson’s Hospital in Glasgow in 1666 and it is quite likely that he was a merchant but nothing else is known about him. There was also a much earlier Caldwell who was referred to as ‘Caldwell of That-Ilk’ but very little is known of him either.
Thomas Caldwell (1710? To 1765)
Many of the books that have survived from the Linley Wood library have inscriptions in them and so record definitively the name or names of the early owners. One book that really does give us some solid information is the book: Hexapla In Danielem, by Andrew Willet, 1610. Inside the front cover are two inscriptions which read: ‘Thomas Whitfield his book 1720’ and then ‘Thomas Caldwell est Hujis Librum annoque domini 1723 coast 2/6’.
Further research has shown that Thomas Caldwell was born around 1710 or possibly slightly earlier. The location of his birth is not known but it is very likely to have been Beith. We don’t know who his parents were but there is a good chance that his father was called William or John or James.
It is likely that Thomas had brothers and sisters but no records exist to say who they were. It might be that two of the brothers were John and Charles Caldwell, who emigrated to America in 1718, but if this is correct then they would have been very much elder brothers. One brother who does seem fairly certain, is an elder brother called William Caldwell who married Margaret Gate in Beith in 1714.
In the 1700s the population of Scotland was gradually increasing as more people got married and produced more children. Making a living in Scotland was not easy and over time a lot of young men moved away from the area to seek their fortune. Some like the brothers John and Charles Caldwell went to America. Others went to India or any of the many British trading posts being set up around the world by the East India Company and the various other trading companies of the time.
As it is, we know that Thomas Caldwell moved south and made a new home for himself in Nantwich, Cheshire, where he became a very successful linen merchant. There are also references to a Thomas Caldwell merchant in Paisley and it is possible that this was the same person and that he was carrying out business buying linen in Beith and Paisley and then selling it down south from his new base in Nantwich.
There is a reference in 1763 to a Thomas Caldwell and Robert Pollock, Merchants of Paisley, being in dispute with John Graham & Co, Merchants in Glasgow.
Thomas married Margaret but we are not sure who this Margaret was. It may have been Margaret Hunter of Hamilton in Ayr in 1736, or it may have been Margaret Caldwell in Lochwinnoch in 1740. Whoever this Margaret was, it would appear that there were no surviving children from this marriage.
Margaret died in Nantwich in 1759 and in the following year Thomas married Mary Graudlove who is recorded as a 25 year old spinster. Thomas is recorded as a 50 year old widower, so this would indicate that Thomas was born around 1710. On the other hand, he may possibly have understated his age, as he was about to marry a young lady who was considerably younger than him. We can’t be certain but it might be that he was slightly older than 50, in which case he may have been born a little bit before 1710. One thing that is fairly certain is that there were no surviving children from either of these marriages.
At some time, before 1747, it would appear that Thomas was joined in Nantwich by his nephew James Caldwell who helped to run the business.
Thomas Caldwell died in Nantwich in 1765 and in his will he left £1,200 to be held by his nephew James Caldwell and to be used to support Thomas’s widow Mary for the rest of her life. Thomas also left £50 to each of the children of his nephew William Caldwell (William was presumably James Caldwell’s brother). The residue of the estate was left to James Caldwell and his children. We don’t know what the final value of the estate was but if it was more than £1,200 it was certainly a substantial amount of money for the time.
Four months later, in early 1766, some land in Paisley appears to have been sold in the name of Thomas Caldwell, Merchant of Paisley. So again, assuming this was the same person, Thomas seems to have been fairly active in both Paisley and Nantwich but Nantwich was his final resting place.
William Caldwell of Beith (1695ish to 1750ish)
We know that Thomas Caldwell had two nephews (James and William) and we can assume that they were probably brothers. From the records of births, deaths and marriages we know that there was a William Caldwell who married Margaret Gate in Beith 3/12/1714.
William and Margaret had the following children:
Possibly a child born called Thomas in late 1715 but no record exists.
William born in Beith 23/09/1716 (to William Caldwell and Margaret Gate).
Possibly Robert who was born in Beith 07/07/1717 (to William Caldwell and ?)
John born in Beith 31/08/1718 (to William Caldwell and Margaret Gate).
Margaret born in Beith 31/07/1720 (to William Caldwell and Margaret Gate).
James born in Beith 01/12/1721 (to William Caldwell and Margaret Gate).
Possibly John who was born in Beith 28/04/1723 (to William Caldwell and ?).
Possibly Margaret who was born in Beith 24/07/1724 (to William Caldwell and ?).
Possibly Agnes who was born in Beith 23/01/1726 (to William Caldwell and ?).
We know nothing more about William Caldwell but we can see from the above that he definitely lived in Beith and he definitely had sons called James and William. He probably also had a son called Thomas who continued to live in Beith and who had a number of children (James, Margaret, William, John, Thomas, Anges, Susannah). These children would have been 1st cousins to James Caldwell of Linley Wood and in fact we can see from later family documents that he maintained contact with them.
We do have a book 'The life of the Most Reverend Father in God, James Usher, Late Lord Arch-Bishop of Armagh, Primate and Metropolitan of all Ireland' published in London 1686. On the front page is the inscription 'W Caldwell'. We can assume that the owner was someone called William Caldwell and very likely to be our William Caldwell or his father or a near relative. However, we can not be certain as this book was bought in 2018 from a book dealer and so its provenance is unknown.
End of biography. Click on the links above to get more info on close relatives.