High class grifters

r/family_history - High class grifters in my tree. Litigious high class grifters.

Genealogy is my hobby and since I am now retired I am spending HOURS tracing my ancestors. I have been working on getting more information on my 5x great grandparents Samuel STEVENSON and Cecilia MILLAR from Scotland. They were, I think, high class grifters. He was a merchant and a Burgess in both Glasgow (1726) and Edinburgh (1742), which is very establishment – being a Burgess was a big deal.

So what did he sell? He made an excellent living selling Anderson’s pills, which seem to be quack medicine. A Dr Anderson developed them in the 17th century from a secret recipe from Venice. How did my Samuel get the recipe? Cecilia, before she married Samuel, worked for the family that made Anderson’s pills and it seems she stole the recipe; she was actually fined and imprisoned for selling the pills in Edinburgh.

Samuel and Cecilia married in Edinburgh about 1722, had 3 children there, then moved to Glasgow, where Cecilia died in 1728. That same year Samuel started marketing the pills. By 1736 he moved back to Edinburgh and in a 1739 ad actually bragged about Cecilia stealing the recipe: “… Tho. Weir only communicated the Secret to his Spouse, who out-lived him; and Mrs. Weir was assisted in making up the said Pills, for several Years, by my deceas’d Spouse, who revealed the Secret to none but myself, after Mrs. Weir’s Death. …”

Samuel traded insulting ads with Mrs Weir; at one point he likened her to a snake. At some point he lost a lawsuit brought by her (I am still trying to get those details). But he made enough money that he left a complicated will with money going regularly to his 5 grandchildren, who ended up suing each other after his death. That lawsuit dragged on for years. It came out in the lawsuit that one of the grandchildren (another Samuel STEVENSON, a surgeon and my ancestor) was not considered fit to administer the affairs of his not-quite-right sister Cecilia, so the cousins had to do it. That Samuel was known to be bad with money apparently.

One of the other grandchildren, Samuel Stevenson GRAHAM, became the Lt-Governor of Stirling Castle (a big deal) and is buried there. His biographer claimed that Cecilia (his grandmother) was related to some posh MILLARs, but I am beginning to suspect she lied because I cannot find that connection (and that MILLAR family is filled with ministers who I cannot believe would associate with my people). An early member of the other MILLAR family was actually the wife of John KNOX. I am not making this up.

Then there is the lawsuit by Ann McILWRAITH against her husband, Samuel’s son Alexander STEVENSON (another surgeon), to declare that the couple actually was married (although there doesn’t seem to be any record). They must have reconciled since they had 5 children (including my ancestor the second Samuel STEVENSON) after that lawsuit. Ann’s father was Andrew McILWRAITH a semi well known portrait artist and a Burgess in Edinburgh in 1735. And Andrew’s wife was Ann MOSMAN, the sister of William MOSMAN, another portrait artist, who some say was of Jewish descent.

There seem to be other lawsuits about various properties owned or in the possession of Samuel and his son Alexander STEVENSON; I am trying to figure all of those out.

I think I have enough material for a TV show. But who would believe it? I hope you find it all as amusing as I do. I just wish my father (who was born in Glasgow) were still alive because he would think this was all really entertaining.

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