Apr 122018
 

Our members are participating in the A-Z Blogging Challenge for 2018 with the theme People of My Place. Today's entry is from Viv Dunstan.

Andrew Kennedy was a court officer in Melrose parish in the 1660s. Melrose then had its own local court, and a number of officers were employed, each covering a different part of the large parish. Somewhat similar to a modern-day policeman, Kennedy was responsible for keeping law and order mainly in the village of Darnick, and performed other court duties.

Kennedy's job was certainly varied. He could be sent to properties to seize goods or to deliver a legal document. Obviously this could meet with resistance. Often he investigated disturbances or crimes, and took witness statements. Twice he stood beside the marker cross in the town centre, with a black and white ox found straying, calling out to try to find its owner. He also stood with the same animal outside Melrose church door on two Sundays. The owner was never traced.

Several times Kennedy was sent to remove a pile of turfs (grass) built on someone's property without their permission. No sooner had he removed the offending piles but the miscreants were back, either rebuilding the pile in the same spot, or stealing turfs from their neighbours!

We know that Kennedy sometimes acted as jailer. In 1667 Andrew Heiton portioner in Darnick was ordered to pay jailer wages to Kennedy and another officer for his time in prison. This was standard practice at Melrose, where prisoners were also charged for food and drink supplied to them in jail. Locals also paid court officers for carrying out legal services, such as the executors of the deceased John Lythgow of Drygrange who were ordered to pay Kennedy for "summoning, charging and poinding certain persons" on Lythgow's behalf.

Kennedy certainly had a difficult time with locals, but he also had some problems with his employers. For example in 1669 the Melrose procurator fiscal - the court prosecutor acting on behalf of the whole community - complained that all the court's officers were "refuising to put the decreits to executione" i.e. not enforcing the court's decisions. Kennedy was imprisoned, as punishment for his actions, which may have been particularly negligent, but also as an example to the other officers. All the officers were ordered to do their jobs as instructed in future. No doubt Kennedy was also charged for his time in jail too.

It's likely that officer Andrew Kennedy was the same Andrew Kennedy whose daughter Margaret was baptised at Melrose in 1685, before witnesses court judge Robert Faa and court clerk Thomas Wilkieson. There may be other references to him in the Melrose parish registers, but they are harder to identify, especially given gaps in the surviving registers and the often scant details recorded then.

Nevertheless we have the court records, and from these can build a colourful picture of his life, occupation, and the many contributions that he made to the local community. His job was not an easy one, but was a vital part of Melrose parish life.

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