Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Paterson, Robert

PATERSON, ROBERT (1715–1801), ‘Old Mortality,’ son of Walter Paterson, farmer, and Margaret Scott, was born at Haggisha in the parish of Hawick in 1715. He married Elizabeth Gray, who had been at one time cook to Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, Dumfriesshire. Kirkpatrick procured for Paterson from the Duke of Queensberry a lease of a freestone quarry at Gatelawbrigg in the parish of Morton. The highlanders returning from England on their way to Glasgow in 1745–6 plundered Paterson's house, and carried him off as a prisoner owing to the violent opinions he had expressed against ‘the bloody and wicked house of Stuart,’ and ‘the abominable heresies of the church of Rome.’ Paterson became a member of the sect of hillmen or Cameronians [see Cameron, Richard], and contributed in a practical way to the perpetuation of their views by carrying gravestones from his quarry to erect over the martyrs' graves. Ultimately his religious zeal appears to have become a mania. From 1758 he neglected entirely to return to his wife and five children at Gatelawbrigg. At last Mrs. Paterson sent his eldest son, Walter, then only twelve years old, in search of his father, who was ultimately found working at some Cameronian monuments in the old kirkyard of Kirkchrist, on the west side of the Dee, opposite Kirkcudbright. Paterson refused to return home, and continued his wandering life until his death at Bankhill, near Lockerbie, on 14 Feb. 1801.

Dr. Laing was of opinion that Paterson died at Bankend, not Bankhill, and that he was interred in the churchyard of Caerlaverock, where Messrs. A. & C. Black erected a tombstone to his memory in 1869. His wife supported her family by keeping a small school.

The self-imposed task of repairing monuments was thus Paterson's sole occupation for over forty years. Mounted on a white pony, he traversed the whole lowlands of Scotland, receiving a hearty welcome at every Cameronian hearth, but maintaining a melancholy demeanour befitting his labours. ‘To talk of the exploits of the covenanters was the delight, as to repair their monuments was the business, of his life’ (Scott, Old Mortality). ‘Old Mortality’ had three sons: Robert, Walter, and John. The eldest son, Robert, long lived in Balmaclellan, in the Glenkens of Galloway. Walter, who was a stone-carver, like his father, died there on 9 May 1812, and was the father of the Rev. Nathaniel Paterson [q. v.] John went to America in 1776, and settled in Baltimore. He is sometimes said to have been the father of Elizabeth Paterson of Baltimore who married Jerome Bonaparte, afterwards king of Westphalia. The story, however, is quite erroneous, Madame Bonaparte's father having been William Paterson from Tanat, co. Donegal. The theme of Scott's novel of ‘Old Mortality’ was suggested by Paterson's career.

[Introd. to Old Mortality; Letters to his Family by Nath. Paterson, D.D., 1874.]

W. G. B-k.